High Rating In January, Reprimand In March

Question:

I have been with my company for 2 1/2 years. Consistently I have been rewarded for superior performance. In January I was given an exemplary assessment rating. By March, an employee who I support and whose “numbers” were low, chose to point all the blame toward me.

This supportee reported to his own manager that he could not sustain proper performance levels because I was not pulling my weight. His manager ruled from many states away and is not my manager. His manager took his complaint to my manager and – far too soon after receiving such a fine assessment – I was written up for making donut runs, doing non-work at work, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. My management hierachy did not even bother to question me with regard to the accuracy of these accusations. I received a horrendous writeup full of non-truths. With tears in my eyes, I denied these accusations, to which my senior manager replied, “well, that’s the perception.” My immediate lead had to be asked to be quiet by the HR rep who attended the meeting because she was acting giddy (she is at least 30 years my junior) as we discussed one of my disabilities. It was one of the most awful meetings I’ve ever been a part of. At 56 years old, I’ve been in the business arena longer than my lead has even been alive. She is constantly breaking HR laws but has the backing of her own manager (who chose the lead simply to decrease her own workload). My first question is how to get this awful stuff out of my file so that I might take advantage of any new opportunity within our company. I asked our lead (from our corporate office) what chance regional employees like us had of being promoted (those in the corporate office are continuously growing, being elevated). She told us flat out that only if we live in the city of our corporate office did we have any hope of promotion. Because of the lie told on me, I am stuck with this awful writeup in my file and am now required to send an IM or e-mail when I go into the office in the morning, when I go to lunch, when I return and when I quit for the day. So is my office mate. We feel particularly mistreated. We’ve polled our fellow “regional counterparts” and learned that none of them is required to follow such a rule. We are also required to file a daily report outlining everything we have done during the day. Our office is a busy one and it is an extra burden (and serves no purpose locally) to write all this stuff at the end of the day. We are nagged unmercifully and could find no other way to cope than to pray together every day. My office mate cannot afford to lose her job (she is a temp and has served us faithfully for two years) because she is her mother’s sole support, so she stays. I have a retired, out-of-work husband, a daughter who, like me works full time and is also a full-time college student, and four grandchildren to care for. I cannot afford to lose my job, either, especially because of a contracted employee who is trying to make himself look good – he has said that he told his manager that if he were not made permanent, he would leave. Clearly, he intended to take down whoever he had to to ensure he is portrayed in good light. I should add that, all the players in my own office, I am the only one employed by my company. My other co-workers are contracted. I want to point out that I could have acted quite differently when I learned that it was my own supportee whose lies caused the writeup but I chose a different approach. I began to meet with him several times a day – asking what I could do further to help him meet his own goals. I began to assure him that his goals were my goals and that if we could manage to have a meeting of minds, we could become a formidable team. We have reached that goal and are well-respected as a two-person team who just gets things done. Yet that awful writeup is still in my file. I’ve considered going to our Ethics department or the EEO but I’m not sure how or if I should do this. Despite the claims of our different departments of equity, I remember that all of our salaries are paid by the same entity. My lead continues to nag, criticize (mind you, before the complaint of the supportee, I could do no wrong), minimize. My office mate and I consistently send her merit certificates that we receive from our respective office – none of which she ever even acknowledges. During our monthly meetings – which my co-worker and I attend via telecon – only the accolades for corporate office co-workers are publicly acknowledged. Fortunately for my office mate, former temp, she will be taking a position with one of our local departments (she was requested by one of our senior folks to work with him) so she will no longer have to deal with this madness. Meanwhile, because of the writeup, I can go nowhere. I will be 57 on June 12 and as a Human Resources professional, recognize the difficulty in securing a new position at this age. While no one would ever admit that I did not get this or that job because of my age, all of us would know that that is exactly the reason. I would just like to know how you feel about all of this and would appreciate any suggestions. Thank you so much.

Signed,

Hurt and Angry


Answer:

Dear Hurt and Angry:

I can understand why you feel frustrated and very concerned over what has happened. The situation seems to be complex and perhaps there is no real solution to it. But, let me see if I can share some perspectives and ideas that might be useful.

1. It appears you work for a large company with a headquarters component and field offices. There are nearly always challenges for both components. Communications between offices and regions is more complicated; and often not very effective, as seems to be true in your situation. It may be that until now that corporate situation hasn’t created a problem. Obviously it has now. Those things are probably always going to be present in that organization. So, you may have to come to terms with that reality before you can be happy there. It’s particularly frustrating to not have your accomplishments acknowledged as you’d like, when others seem to be getting recognition.

I’m not saying nothing can change. But probably it won’t change in time enough to make a big difference for you anytime soon. At least, that’s a good approach to have, to see if you can handle it or if that’s not the work situation you want to have.

I think you’ll find a way to simply work within the situation and accept some aspects of it as something you tolerate even if you don’t like it. It seems you like your work, just not the corporate culture right now–and not the actions of those above you as they relate to your work performance.

2. Let’s look at the evaluation from a strictly rational approach. You received an exemplary evaluation for a prior rating period. But a couple of months later you received a write-up (a written reprimand I presume). Those are not contradictory, even if they are not valid from your viewpoint. It is quite possible to be doing excellent work but do some wrong things for which you are corrected. (Or, to have managers think you have done something wrong, even if you don’t agree.)

Another way to look at it is that an employee can get a bad evaluation, then two months later get a commendation for an excellent job on one or two projects, and those aren’t contradictory either. Another way to see it is that your managers might say, “We wouldn’t have given her such a good rating if we had known about these things.” So, by sending reports regularly they will know what you are doing and can once again justify a high rating.

Your problem here is that the actions during a performance period may be included in the next evaluation. So, you will want to be talking now to the person who evaluates you, to find out what would help you ensure a high evaluation again.

3. About the write-up: I’m sorry, but I don’t think there’s a chance you will get the write-up removed, unless the person who complained is willing to say he or she lied about it or was completely mistaken. I doubt that would happen. There is no reason for your organization to rescind their actions, unless you present evidence that clearly shows they were mistaken in their actions.

I don’t know what your relationships with managers were before all of this; but it certainly seems they were quick to take the word of someone else. It seems they either have evidence they considered valid for supporting what he said or other employees supported the person who complained, or someone else had noticed a situation that concerned them as well.

That’s a very unfortunate situation and I can imagine your heartache and anger over it. I think your focus will need to be on overcoming it to such an extent that it is seen after the fact as either completely unlike you or maybe an error (but still not changed.)

4. About the notifications to your managers during the day: Your managers will certainly be able to see you are not the one creating problems for other employees who are having trouble with their work output! From that perspective it gives you a chance to show what you are doing on a daily basis. You feel your work is not appreciated, so this will give you a chance to show how much you actually do over time.

Realistically, the reporting will not continue forever. It’s a hassle to receive those messages too! One approach is to do it for a few months, then ask if you can reduce it to only one reporting time a day and finally to no more reporting. Your managers have the right to ask it of you (and not ask it of anyone else). And, actually they have the obligation to do it if they have doubts about the work of the office.

Again, this seems to be based on concerns about the way work is being done and the only solution is to ensure there is no doubt about your work focus.

5. Everything you have described seems to revolve around only one main issue: You (and perhaps you and your office mate) were perceived as not performing the work of your job description to the standards desired by those above you in the organization.

There are no EEO violations involved and it doesn’t appear there are ethics violations either; except for the alleged lies told by the person you now say you are working well with. So, I don’t think filing a complaint will be helpful.

Probably there were small issues going on all the time, but apparently they didn’t create a big problem. So, until the write-up you were able to deal with the situation.

6. So, the bottom line issue is how you want to continue and what your responses will be in the future. You seem to not respect some of the people above you in the organization and feel that you and your coworkers are treated unfairly. Yet you want to keep your job (and certainly having a job nowadays is a gift for many!) That is often the case for many employees; many mixed feelings about the work!

You also want to be viewed in a more positive way by those above you. But, as you likely know, if you are polling your regional counterparts about your concerns, they are likely telling your managers about it; so that may not be a good thing to do.

It would seem to me, if you want to stay there, that you will feel better and respond better if you purposely put your focus on your own world of work and shut out the distractions about external issues until you can move past this recent frustration.

The requirements for extra reporting aren’t harmful or too challenging, so just do it. You don’t have to pretend to like it or think it’s right, but you can show that you believe in overcoming adversity through a positive approach. You can develop plans for training the new person who takes the place of your current office mate. You can focus on how to improve the work there or how to make the place more organized or more clean or more something!

Work to gain influence. When you have influence people trust you, listen to you and ask for your viewpoint. To have influence you have to be credible, dependable, valuable and an effective communicator about what you can do for others and the business, as well as what you are doing in general. I don’t know how that will be adapted to your work, but you can consider it for yourself and develop some plans of action to fulfill each of those to a high degree. One thing I do know–it is never good to be viewed as feeling sorry for yourself or put upon unfairly. That comes through in everything and people get tired of it really quickly!

I see that all the time and wish I could convey more definitely to employees how they are seen when they act as though they feel they have been treated badly. Rarely do managers agree that the employee has been treated badly, so it just adds to the overall negative feelings about the employee. On the other hand, an employee who moves past negative things is often rewarded more than otherwise, as a thank you for the continuing support in spite of adversity.

As I mentioned at the beginning, there is likely no immediate solution to this situation. It’s a routine work event that happens often in all businesses: An employee is counseled about perceived problems and the employee feels badly about it, but the managers are moving on to something else and they don’t see a need to say or do anything to reaffirm the value of the employee. There ought to be a better way! But, there probably isn’t and over time this will fade as new issues take its place.

Best wishes to you about this. I would like to see you be able to once again find strong enjoyment in your work, since you do need to be there. I think that can happen as you move through this in a positive way.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.