Petty Complaints By An Unhappy Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about former boss’ emails:

My supervisor has recently moved up the ladder into a position with more authority. I am now doing the priorities of her old job and my old job. She recently said something to the effect that she could no longer ignore the fact that there are aspects of her new job that are stupid. After that statement, and over the last two weeks, she has repeatedly nicked me for what I think are petty complaints such as beginning e-mails to her with “Hey” – something I’ve done for 8 years. I’m starting to feel that she is complaining about these petty things because she is unhappy and jealous that I sort of have her old job, which she did like. Do you think this is a fair assessment on my part, and if so, what should I do about it?

Signed, Envied and Resented

DearĀ Envied and Resented:

You may be correct about your supervisor’s feelings–or you may not be. (That doesn’t help much, does it?!) It’s possible that she is feeling irritable and frustrated because work isn’t as much fun or as satisfying as she had hoped it would be when she received the promotion. She may see you doing what she formerly enjoyed and she wishes she was back there again–but knows it wouldn’t be easy to make it happen now. However, her irritability may not have much if anything to do with the fact that you’re doing work she used to enjoy.

She may simply be more aware of frustrations now than she used to be–and some things are frustrating her a great deal.For example, she may feel that using a casual greeting like, “Hey”, isn’t appropriate any longer. I received an email a few weeks ago from a manager who wanted to know how to stop an employee from writing what she considered to be overly casual emails to her. She said she felt snobbish to say it, but she didn’t want to be treated like a peer, she wanted to be treated like a manager. So, perhaps that’s part of your supervisor’s thought processes.Another aspect of it is that she may be seeing many parts of work and behavior a bit differently now. Things that didn’t seem problematic before, do now. Or, she may have been advised to deal with things differently than before and she is following that advice.One thing that is almost certainly true is that while she may have made a negative statement about her new job, that doesn’t mean those feelings will last.

When it comes to promotions or new jobs, rarely is it as good or bad as it seems in the first few weeks. So, while she might miss some aspects of work, she probably is happy to have moved up and will adjust over time.If you can’t know for sure what is bothering her, can you do anything to make things better? I think so–at least in part.1.) As difficult as it may be, try to set aside that you’ve worked with your manager for such a long time before this. If you didn’t know her so well, how would you write to her, talk to her and interact in other ways with her? That doesn’t mean you have to be excessively formal, merely that you won’t be informal either. Follow the guidelines you would give a new employee about job titles, demeanor and the culture of your workplace.

2.) Put your focus on doing high quality work. Don’t let the issues distract you. That will not only help you, it will help your manager, which is turn will help you even more. I often say it takes three things to have influence: You have to be credible, valuable and communicate effectively. Being valuable to your manager will help your relationship a great deal.Your manager may be irritated and frustrated but if she feels that you are her strong right arm, she is far more likely to respond well to other things you do.

3.) Communicate with your manager about a variety of things. Keep her as part of the communication loop, even though she may have withdrawn a bit. Help her feel included and not isolated in her new role. I would suggest not asking about how she likes her work, since that could be seen as digging for negative news. Just make regular conversation, keeping it brief but being available.

4.) You may want to simply ask her if there is something going on about your work that is frustrating or irritating her. You could say, “I get the feeling you’re upset with me in some way.” You don’t have to say anything more than that and your supervisor will respond to either deny it or confirm it. At least it will start a conversation.I think time will help smooth out all of these things for both of you. But, I imagine your relationship will change somewhat. That isn’t a bad situation necessarily, just part of work life.Best wishes to you as you meet this challenge and find ways to overcome it. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this works out.

Tina Lewis Rowe