My Boss Wants Me Out

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about displeasure of administrators: When I tried to point out to her that I work with 300 plus students by myself and oversee, set up and ensure over 15 college course sections per semester by myself- none of these facts registered as accomplishments.

I’ve been working in an Early College program bridging a college and HS school together. Last fall it came to my attention that the students were not meeting the standards and I brought this sensitive issue to my boss-a college Dean. The Dean reached out to the Principal and from then on, I’ve been put on notice so to speak.

In Jan. I received a very bad performance evaluation stating I need improvement and have not been doing my job appropriately. I was then asked to be re-evaluated every 3 months. I kept a detailed log and documented all the tasks I was asked to do. Still not good enough for my boss. Between my boss and the Principal I was asked to do things that took me away from my priories and then they gave me very little time to work on a BUDGET. They bombarded me with tasks (other things that were not a priority and felt like a waste if time). After raising concerns, my boss said I could have extended time to work on the budget, but then she gave me 35 hours and that it was a poorly written document….But the truth is the report was a draft which she asked me to revise with unclear remarks such as, “there are negative comments” find them…you use unprofessional comments such as, the professor was liked vs the professor established a rapport….etc. Although, there may be a discussion for improvement here….to say this makes me incompetent is ridiculous.

The Principal also is playing a role in all this. Recently, my boss gave her a message to give to me and the Principal never relayed it. She then wrote an email to my boss stating that she did relay it, but that this is just further evidence of my poor performance and lack of communication.

My union told me to rebut it and I did, but it only made matters worse. In a meeting with my boss she basically said I am hopeless and she has little faith that I can improve. She said I am unwilling to accept blame and set up a plan of improvement for me which I was not able to accomplish. When I asked for what should I accept blame for-she went on to discuss hear-say and ad hominem attacks about me-so many frivolous and catty things that had very little to do with my performance.

When I tried to point out to her that I work with 300 plus students by myself and oversee, set up and ensure over 15 college course sections per semester by myself- none of these facts registered as accomplishments. My Union already suggested an involuntary resignation….they feel I have little hope left. How can I turn this very bad situation into a positive….should I just be the scapegoat…I feel as if I am dammed if I do and dammed if I don’t. Any suggestions or advice?

Signed, Paralyzed

Dear Paralyzed:

This situation has apparently been getting worse since, at least, last fall. Your Dean and the Principal are probably on a timeline for working with you toward improvement. They may have talked to HR and are following their guidelines. If they have continued to work with you this long, maybe they will view some renewed efforts as a positive sign. That might be all that is needed to start the turn-around.

When relationships and perceptions have degenerated to such an extent, it’s worthwhile to take the time to develop a foundation for your actions and to clarify for yourself what you want to accomplish and what you are willing to do. Here are some questions to consider:

1. How important is it for you to stay? If you have other job opportunities and aren’t tied to this particular job or location, you may decide it will be easier to just move to something different and better for you. You don’t say how long you have worked there, but if it is for more than a couple of years, it would probably look on your resume as though you simply gained experience then made a change. However, if your specialty is such that jobs are limited or would require too many other changes, you may feel that you must do whatever it takes to keep this employment. If so, the next question is particularly applicable.

2. What are you willing to do to keep your job and to gain better working relationships with your bosses? That is a key point because there probably will be a price to be paid, mentally and emotionally. For example, you ask, at the end of your letter, if you should be a scapegoat and take all the blame for this situation. You also say that the Principal accused you of refusing to take responsibility. Whether it’s called “taking the blame” or “taking responsibility”, it will be tough to accept all of either of those; especially when you think the Dean and the Principal have been unreasonable and wrong in their accusations. That doesn’t mean you have to apologize profusely or say repeatedly that something is your fault. But, you will probably have to choke back a denial when the Principal tells you to change your approach or tells you that you were in error about your views or that you’re not doing enough work. If you feel that you cannot do that, ethically or morally, you will have a decision to make. Usually it’s not a matter of ethics, it’s more a matter of ego, which is understandable. It’s very, very hard to feel that you were doing a good job, but suddenly have to do things differently just to show a boss that you’re “improving”. Or, worse yet, to do things the same way and have a boss take credit for improving you! You may also need to humble yourself considerably to comply with what you think of as unfair requirements of the Principal and Dean or to ask for their approval, or to listen but not argue when they say something with which you don’t agree. All of that may be very, very irritating and may seem unjust; but it may be the only things that the Principal and the Dean will view as improvement.

3. This next question is also a necessary one for you to consider: What is the real origin of this contention? It seems unlikely you had a great working relationship with the Principal of the school before this happened or that you were among the most highly evaluated of the staff. Maybe that was the case, but usually it’s not, when things fall apart to this extent. Recognizing that there were already some issues, if there were, will also help you focus on the overall problem rather than viewing the actions of the Principal and Dean as solely being retribution for your comments about standards. A large part of it may be. But, you can bet they have documentation that, at least in their minds, prove their points about your work. More than likely they have talked to HR and are following some of their advice as well. So, there is a bigger picture in their minds than that one conversation. Work to see that bigger picture as clearly as they do, so you can show them that you’ve changed the things that concerned them. Until that happens this unpleasantness will continue.

4. Is this mostly about Performance or is it mostly about Behavior or is it about both? Often employees focus on the performance critiques, not realizing that they could probably get by on their performance but their behavior is irritating, obnoxious or offensive; usually irritating; and that is the real problem. When we don’t like the way someone acts, the easiest thing to criticize is their work. 5. Are there other people at work, in a position to understand your work quality and quantity, who have expressed support for you and said they think the evaluations made by the Principal and Dean were incorrect? At least that can help you feel you are not alone in your challenge. Perhaps one or two of those people can be resources for feedback or proofreaders or reviewers now and then. You would need to handle that carefully, but it could be a way to ensure that some of the most important documents you submit have been pre-evaluated, and that your conversations upward are productive.

That brings us to what you can do right now and in the immediate future to help things get better. These are just things for you to consider and adapt.

— Follow the instructions of the Principal and your Dean to the letter, asking for clarity if there is a chance you’re not understanding something. Avoid the urge to take each request apart to decide if it’s unreasonable or not reflecting a priority or whatever. Just do it and do it to the standards you know are required; and that you know reflect the best practices for the task you’re performing. You apparently have a high level of expertise in your skill area. Apply that same high level of work to the areas the Principal and Dean are most likely to critique.

— Based on what you have been told by the Dean and Principal, develop a list that essentially answers the following: *What about my performance and behavior should stay exactly the same? *What should I do more of? *What should I do less of? *What should I add to what I’m now doing? (Knowing what to do INSTEAD of what you are now doing is a crucial factor.)

— Communicate in a positive way to as many people as possible. This will especially be valuable if you’ve gotten into the habit of avoiding some people or, if you’re so stressed about work that you have just tried to stay under the radar. I often refer to Instant Impact Communications. Those are brief messages through words, facial expressions, gestures or other ways of quickly conveying a thought.

— Make sure your work area is very, very well organized and presents you positively. In an academic setting there is a tendency for some to be eccentric and haphazard, and that is sometimes held against them. Besides, it sets a poor example for those who look up to you. You will feel better about working if your surroundings are as attractive and tidy as possible.

— Make it a goal to have most of your conversations focused on the positive aspects of work. Express enjoyment in the work you’re doing or appreciation for learning something new. Really try to find something that makes it pleasurable for others (especially the Principal) to talk to you. When you have a chance to discuss your work as part of evaluation or critique, make an effort to talk reasonably about how you feel and how sincere you are about trying to fulfill expectations. You probably have been given similar advice by many people and some of it is more applicable than others. Hopefully, all of this combined can help you develop a plan of action that will allow you to shine in your work and demonstrate how valuable you are. Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

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.