Mistreatment Downplayed By Mgmt

Question:

I’ve worked here for 6 years as a bookkeeper. I had a baby last October. We hired another bookkeeper (older with more experience, but she applied for the job)to do what my assistants have done and help with my work while I was gone. My work was split between the other bookkeeper (lets call her B) and our HR/Office Manager (lets call her P). I came back seven weeks after giving birth. With the owner’s permission, I came back part time (three days one month, four the next and finally five). I used my vacation time for all of the days off.

Since I have come back, B has screamed at me three times and repeatedly calls me a CHILD. She says that we are EQUALS and she does not have to answer to me. I have complained and the P says that it’s not screaming, she’s just excited.

This all started when B got a raise and was making as much as I was. I complained and was given a raise and less hours to finish school. B didn’t deserve the raise, nor was I ever asked to evaluate her. I am the head bookkeeper. The owner admitted that he only gave it to her because the HR person (P) kept insisting. B has said several times in front of P and BB2 (big boss #2) that she only cuts checks. That is not what she was hired for.

We (B, P, BB1, BB2, a vice president and I) sat down and discussed the situation. B said I was controlling and that I talked down to her. She also said that P could not do anything without me, until she (B) got here. Not even go to the bathroom! Yup, she said that! She also thinks that the accountant and I are changing things to make her look bad.

The accountant and I found several large and many small mistakes that should not have been made by someone who has the experience she claims to have. I now have to fix it all.

To make a long story short. I’ve now been told by BB1 that when we move (to a new space), I have to sit with both of them in the same room. Our HR person(P)is supposed to be the buffer! BB1 & BB2 have told me that they think it is because B & P want my job. B&P think they did a good job while I was away and want to continue to do it, but all the mistakes found by myself and the accountant proves otherwise. BB1 also beleives that it is personal and that there really isn’t anything he can do about it.

I don’t think I’m being taken seriously. This friction is really stressful. I work, go to school and have two children. I don’t need this, but I can’t leave before we move. What should I do?

Signed,

Stressed


Answer:

Dear Stressed:

It appears that the biggest cause of conflict is the discrepancy between what you view as your role in relation to your leave replacement (B), and how your organization views your role. It would benefit you to clarify that, so you won’t feel so frustrated by some of the actions about her.

If you have been told you have supervisory authority over B and she is subordinate to you, and that you are responsible for her evaluations, for directing her work, for commending her and for all other supervisory functions, you should be fulfilling those functions and asking your managers why you are not being supported in them.

But, if you do not have formal supervisory authority, B IS equal to you in every way except seniority. That is likely very difficult for you to accept, but it may be the truth.

For example, you say B didn’t deserve a raise and you weren’t asked to evaluate her. But in many organizations HR develops raise schedules and implements them without consulting anyone except managers. Be certain you clarify your role in relation to B, and everyone else.

It also sounds as though the HR person, P, feels more comfortable with B than she does with you. Whatever the cause for that, it will continue, and you will probably always feel the affects of it there. That may be something for you to self-evaluate about. There may be nothing you could have done to make a difference, but obviously B earned P’s loyalty and you do not have it. Figuring that out might be helpful.

But the bottom line is your question about what you can do to hold on as long as you need to financially. Some suggestions: 1. Focus on your own work. If it is your job to correct B’s work, do so. If it is not, give it back to B to do and document your actions, but don’t report every error she makes unless that is part of your job to do.

2. Limit your conversation with B to courteous and civil comments about work. If you feel angry, close the conversation or leave the room. I doubt that B would have screamed at you if the conversation had not been heated to begin with. Avoid that kind of conflict by keeping to your own work and if something she does interferes with that, asking P in HR to help you find a solution.

If she reacts in a way that sounds like screaming, see if there are other employees around who could be a witness for you when you make a formal complaint.

3. Let your bosses know that you want to be productive and not in the middle of a dramatic conflict all the time, but you also don’t want to be blamed for the mistakes made by others. Ask them what they want you to do if B makes errors such as the ones you mention. Just make sure the errors are serious ones, not nit-picking.

4. It also appears that managers above you are trying to stay out of squabble and may not be as open and honest about how they see the situation, as they should be. For example, I can almost guarantee you that if a face to face meeting is being scheduled, with the approval of managers, they think you are equally to blame for any conflict. They may tell you all kinds of placating things to your face, but they think you are as much to blame as B is, or at least partially to blame. If they didn’t they wouldn’t require the meeting. You may sometime want to ask directly, “If you were to give percentages, what percent of this problem do you think I am contributing? I really want to know, so I’ll know what I need to fix.” If they say, “Zero”, good for you! If they state a figure, you’ll at least know how they really view it. And assume they are giving you a lower number than they might think, to be nice.

5. It seems that your employer has been helpful to you in many ways: Flexing your return schedule, giving you a raise and helping you with your school schedule. Whether or not these were a result of demands by you, they approved it when they did not have to do so.

Think about this as well: If your bosses gave B a raise only because P insisted, then it must be that P has enough clout to get that done. When you demanded a raise, P apparently approved it too, because she could have nixed it.

So, apart from this conflict with B, your work environment works for you. You likely felt strong ownership for the job you were doing. But one of the problems with taking leaves of any kind is that if the work can be done while you’re gone, the person doing it starts feeling ownership too. And when the person on leave returns, it’s hard for things to go back to the way they were.

If you want to keep this job, you will have to find a way to get along with B. You certainly don’t want it to be the opinion of your bosses that things were easier when you were gone!

What it will take for you to do that is something you can best decide. You may be able to avoid the face to face meeting if you can show before then, that things are better between you and B. It might really be helpful to you and your future if you can show you took the first steps to reduce the conflicts and develop a better working relationship. You don’t have to be B’s friend, just a dependable worker in the team.

Best wishes as you work through this. It won’t be easy, I know. But it will present you as a mature, capable person who doesn’t have to be the winner of the conflict. In that way, you WILL win–but it will be a much better accomplishment.

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.