Must Teach New HR Boss Old Boss’ Job!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about new HR and trouble: I have reported this and well, but nothing is being done about it. I have asked for help in training my boss, suggested outside training for myself and my boss so that we can do our jobs better, and let the VP of Operations (my boss’s boss) know about the grabbing.

New Boss, tough times. Nine months ago, management let my old boss (the Manager of HR) go and hired a Director of HR. I was told about it on my current’s boss’¬† last day, and met my new boss on his first day. I still do not know why my Manager was let go, and while this is the background story, this is not the problem. The problem is that I have had to learn my old boss’s job (he took care of all 401(k), employee loans, and payroll auditing + justification issues) and teach it to my new boss. It’s been a challenge mostly due to my new boss’s lack of retention of the information I have been training him on.

It has been nine months, and he still asks me the same questions he asked in the first few weeks. I have had to show him, write him step-by-step guides, and sit with him as he does things over and over again. I sincerely believe he has some sort of learning disability or condition that impairs his short and long term memory. I mentioned this to the President and VP of Operations (who hired my boss) and I have paid for it ever since. Every error my boss makes is brought up to me — according to the VP of Operations either I’ve not trained him well enough or I should have overseen the work since I have been here longer.

My work is suddenly being audited, and any errors found are being addressed via e-mail to me with my boss CCed. I have been threatened to be written up if there were any more payroll errors. I’ve been here 4 years, and have gotten excellent reviews in the past — including one from this new boss. Now I’m going to be written up because I am making mistakes on a job I had to teach myself… {The VP Of Operations said he doesn’t like the review my boss just gave me, and even though my boss and I signed off on it, he wants to re-do it.}

My boss is often abusive to me — grabbing my arm to make me stay and help him even when I have a deadline to meet of my own, and threatening me in a low voice so no one outside the office can hear him. I have reported this and well, but nothing is being done about it. I have asked for help in training my boss, suggested outside training for myself and my boss so that we can do our jobs better, and let the VP of Operations (my boss’s boss) know about the grabbing. No help, and my harassment complaint was investigated but I was told there was no proof so nothing has been done. What should I do?

Signed, Helpless in NJ

Dear Helpless in NJ:

Usually when we consider a situation involving problems with a supervisor, manager or executive, there is someone, somewhere in the organization who is at a high enough position to care and take action. In order to get anything done, that has to be the case–unless there is clearly a legal issue. Neither seems to be the situation here. You are not helpless. But it appears you have little recourse for getting help in your current job!

1. To consider, as you think about how you can approach this: Do you think you will be dismissed over the errors that have been made, whether or not you feel you can show that you are not responsible for the errors? If you think you have been targeted for removal anyway, you have little to lose by trying to have your voice heard at a higher level–if there is one–or trying other approaches. If you think you can weather the storm and things will somehow get better, then you might want to be more cautious. Only you can read the environment enough to know that. Keep in mind that all the same players will likely be there for some time.

2. You may want to consider consulting an attorney for a free consultation to see if he or she thinks you have any other recourse. You will be able to provide that person with detailed information and a good foundation for deciding if any aspects of your employment have been handled illegally. It doesn’t appear, based on what you have said, that a law has been violated or that harassment has occurred. But there may be some issues that an attorney who specializes in employment law, might spot.

3. If you weren’t there, who would do the work? Perhaps you need to find a way to be gone for a while, while still retaining your employment. Ask an attorney about your rights if you were to need to take some time away to deal with emotional strain. I hate to suggest that, because it sounds so manipulative. But sometimes that’s the only way to get the attention of management. That would require seeking medical or psychological treatment, but as you likely know from your HR work, it is something that happens in businesses all over, when employees feel they have an issue that is bothering them to the extent that they can’t function effectively at work.

4. You didn’t say the size of your company. Is it large enough to have an attorney or legal department? Perhaps they would like to be consulted about the issues related to grabbing you and so forth. I have found that attorneys will often advise action when others don’t see something as a problem. I usually recommend that people talk to HR, but that won’t help in your case!

5. When you mentioned your concerns in the past, did you do so casually, or did you put it in writing, with examples? That’s what you need to do now. Do not continue to talk about something when you could have it in writing and have documentation. You need to write a time-line for what has happened. If you have any emails or other material that you have used to train, include that. If you have emails with questions from your boss, include those. The next time he asks something that you’ve already trained him about, write him the answer or write it after telling him, and find a way to indicate this is something that has been covered before. It may be that your casual comments were viewed as too negative or as inappropriate complaining. Perhaps if you explained the entire situation in detail, those at the top would see it differently.

6. When you were asked to do this training, did you consider it part of your job? If not, did you express a concern then? How strongly did you let them know you were concerned? Did you get a raise for taking on new work? They may think that since you indicated you could do it, that you should be doing it and they feel you weren’t honest with them.Is there some part of your job you can’t keep up with because of this? Has anything had to slide? Those are things to include in a written statement. Is there any other employee who is aware of how you have sincerely tried to do the training? Perhaps they could provide support as well.

7. You say your boss threatens you. In what way? If he says he’ll hurt you, that’s one thing. If he says he’ll report you or write you up if you leave the room when he has told you to stay, that is within his authority. As an employee you should not be leaving the room if he has told you to stay for a business reason—even if you feel you have other work to do. He may feel you are being insubordinate.He should never grab your arm and that you should stop by saying, “Don’t grab my arm. That frightens me and makes me think you’re threatening me.” Then, if he does it again, write a formal complaint about it again. At least then you’ll have some documentation for an attorney. But, if that only happened once and was quickly over with, that would be viewed differently. It sounds me to me that the lines between boss and employee have blurred too much because of the training aspect. You are his supervisor in that area in some ways, which must be very difficult for him to deal with–especially if he feels he’s not learning the skills. You should not be training your boss, except in the most cursory ways. Now that you’re involved with it, you may find that you need to be open with him about how awkward you know it is. Is there a chance you have sometimes treated him in a way that he or others view as demeaning, because of your thoughts about his potential learning disability? Keep in mind that if he has one, he may have more legal protections than you might have! Do you know him well enough, after this length of time, to be open with him about how difficult you are finding it to do the training? It is HE who should be asking management for outside help, not you. Rather than you taking on so much, why don’t you try to have him fulfill his role more fully with those higher up? Rather than treating him like the enemy, consider that you both are victims of a bad situation. Having him and you cooperating about what needs to be done would be much better than you going around him to get things done.

Perhaps it would help to ask him if there is some aspect of the way you are training that has made it more difficult for him. Or, ask him if he has ideas for ways to make it work better. At the same time, ask if there are other areas, apart from that, where he’d like to see a change in your work or behavior. You may find that there have been concerns that haven’t been expressed to you. And perhaps the fact that you were part of the former manager’s team is part of it. You indicate you have gotten a good review from him–which indicates he is trying to be fair. I feel sorry for both of you, caught in this situation!

8. In addition to all of that, consider the training process. Is there a chance that, because you weren’t hired as a trainer or because you are not yourself familiar with the process, that you have not had the skills to train someone else properly? Might your boss have examples where you have made errors or given him the wrong advice? That wouldn’t necessarily be your fault, but would indicate that the issue is with the training as much as with the student. Certainly the company should have provided you with training. I just wonder if, because those higher up don’t realize how complex the task is, it appears you simply haven’t done well with the new work given to you. That might explain their behavior. Do you have a way to contact your former boss? Might that person have material to assist you or ideas about what you could do? Did you have to learn the new work from the very beginning, after your boss left? If so, who taught you or how did you learn? Is the payroll a program for which technical help is available through a vendor? Is there anyone else in the office who might be able to help?

9. Why do you think the VP and others have taken the approach they have taken? Is this like them? Is this something that has always gone on and you just now noticed it? Or, is there some other issue? I wondered if you have fully expressed your issues to them. Or, are there others in the chain of organization who has clout with them, who would be your ally? Consider all of those things as you think about what to do next.

10. That brings me back to my original thought that, while you are not helpless, you are limited in your options. It appears that those are the highest levels do not support you right now and your own boss–while apparently not completely lacking in support–is not trainable or not trainable by you. It also appears that the lines of boss and employee have gotten very confused. That alone may be causing some of these issues. If none of the things I’ve suggested are feasible or, you have tried them already without success, you may need to, as Dr. Gorden sometime says, “vote with your feet.” Certainly there would be a major catastrophe after you leave, according to what you say. That is scant consolation, but it would be a measure of justice! I hope these thoughts at least trigger some thinking of your own. If you have the time and wish to keep us informed about what develops, please do so. Best wishes as you work through this very challenging situation!When not working in a winning workplace, strive to make WEGO mindedness policy and practice, or vote with your feet.

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.