In Constant Conflict With Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about picky boss loading more work:

I have been employed at this company 11 years. This past year I got promoted to a different department. In my old department I had around 11 supervisors and never had any conflicts. It was non-exempt so everyone one was a team. In this new department my boss has several of her own rules. I have clashed with her from the first week. I have faced my demons so to speak and decorate a desk outside her cube for different holidays, dress her little stuffed iguanas, put candy out for everyone etc. She still picks at me.

I asked off on a particular day using my personal time and she tells me 2 people are off I can’t. Then I see the schedule in which 4 people are off! Usually the same group that are her pets. She has called me out at the copy machine before, out loud so the department can hear, and has given me the worst performance evaluation in my whole career of 11 years. She also lectures me on making sure I have 72 hours in my personal time bank in case I have long term illness. She lectured me on my tuition reimbursement that she could not approve 2 classes only one and I had to get a manager’s approval. She then drug her feet in getting the paperwork done until I had to confront HR to get reimbursed.

I have posted out recently to my old area for a supervisor position and now she has called me in her office every day since I have done so, saying I must be unhappy in her dept. and she is giving me extra work etc. She even told me to watch out on my time because someone was watching me. I never cheat. What should I do? If I don’t get this job am I just going to have to work like this and grin and bear it or should I ask to be moved to the other supervisor? Help I am miserable?

Signed, Miserable at Work

Dear Miserable at Work:

There may be no answer to your situation, except to move to another area or get another supervisor. But, those might not be the perfect solution either, because a supervisor is managed by someone too, and changing supervisors might not make a big difference.

Consider these thoughts as you decide what to do:
*It sounds to me as though you and your boss have two different approaches to work, and maybe two different feelings about work. Certainly your perception of your own work is different than hers. And, the fact that the work group is structured differently than the place where you worked before, makes it doubly difficult to handle. But, you say you were promoted to this new place, so at least that was a positive thing.
*It’s possible that, though you were doing fine in your other work, this job is testing your adaptability. Many people are shocked to get lower evaluations than they have in the past, without considering that they may have been over-evaluated in the past, or the current job or work environment is just not a good match for them. Those are not good things to consider, but they are sometimes true.
*It sounds as though you have not talked to your supervisor about the problems that seem to exist. Consider doing that. You might do it at evaluation time, or the next time she seems unhappy with your work. Be direct and say, “I get the feeling you’re not happy with my work. I want to do well, so I can develop my career with the company. What are the things you’d like to see me do more of or less of?” You might also add to that, “What would you say are the things I do the best and that are my strengths?” That forces her to consider those!*Since you have an HR section, and have talked to them in the past, you might want to talk to them about the behavior of the supervisor when it came to reprimanding you in a public place.On the other hand, the nature of the issue she was reprimanding you about, and the severity of it, might make a difference in whether she would be viewed as wrong.
*It sounds as though your use of time off is a recurring issue. Review your time and the company policies to see if you are doing OK in that area. If you think there is no problem, ask her if she thinks there is. You might say, “You’ve mentioned this issue of having 72 hours in my leave bank, several times. Do you think I don’t have it, or is there some other reason you’re mentioning it to me?” Make her talk to you, and you talk to her! This is another time when you would be better off getting it out in the open. You aren’t getting a better relationship by saying nothing, so you might as well try to talk about it. When she tells you that she thinks you must be unhappy, I hope you tell her the truth, because that might be a way to start making a difference. She apparently doesn’t want you to leave, or doesn’t want it to look as though someone wants to leave, so you are in a good position with that.
*The bottom line is that she is organizationally over you, and will continue to be unless you can move to another assignment. You have several options, including a mix of each: You can find out what would be considered good work and a good approach to work, by your supervisor, then do those things, no matter how much it irritates you.You can study the situation to see what it is that makes her treat some people differently than she treats you, and see if you can do and be the things she values in those employees.

You can talk to your former supervisor and ask for input and advice. Often once the boss-employee relationship is over, a supervisor will talk more honestly.You can get copies of your former evaluations and review them with your current supervisor to see what things have changed.You can work to be an active member of the team, to help you keep from feeling as though it is you against your boss and a few other employees. This might take considerable effort on your part, but might have good results.

You can talk to HR and/or your supervisor the next time you feel your supervisor does something so unfair that it would be a violation of policies or procedures. Document exactly what happened and what led up to it. Also have in mind how you think the situation should have been handled.You can develop your career to the point that you can move to another assignment. You can ask for another supervisor, if that is possible in your company–realizing that you might have some negative reputation as a result. On the other hand, if you could get into a better fit for you, you might find all your problems would get better and any negative rumors would be eliminated.

There is no easy answer about conflict with one’s boss. But, hopefully these thoughts will help you see a way to make things better–or at least to feel better about the way they are. Best wishes. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. Your experiences may help someone else.

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.