Second Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about difficult second boss:

I work for a doctors’ lab. The main boss is Cedy and Ken is boss when she is gone. There are 6 techs and we mostly work 2nd shift. (3 techs work a night) We have 7 rooms to the lab and then there are approximately 20 offices with office employees from HR, computer guy, CEO, secretary, billing, etc. The office staff doesn’t have any idea about how a lab is run and about downtime. They think when we are talking and not working, we are goofing around. We have around a 2 hour window between couriers who bring in samples from offices where we have dinner, chat, etc. Office staff has been seen down the hall listening to our chats. They have told the CEO we are not working a lot and why can’t they fire us and just have MA’s do our job?

Cedy asked me to pick up extra hours (I am part time) when she and another tech were going on vacation for a week. I agreed and she put it on the schedule. The first night the computer on one machine went down. We tried to contact the computer guy but he didn’t take our call. We called Ken, who was also out of the office, and left him a message. He did return the call and said call the computer guy. The computer guy returned our call later said he would call us back about the computer. There was no problem doing the other work we had to do. I went to the kitchen and heard voices in the conference room so I asked a secretary if Ken was there. She said, “No, he was here earlier.” I said okay, we have a problem with a computer. Eventually we had to call the computer guy and he admitted he forgot about the computer and over the phone he was able to get access to our computer and fixed in about 2 min. The next day Ken is mad and says what happened last night. I said the computer went down. He says, “I told you to call the computer guy.” I said, “We did but he didn’t do anything and we waited 3 hours and called him again. He forgot about us but he got it working.” Then Ken says, “Why did you tell the secretary you had a problem in the lab?”

I said, “I just asked if you were in the meeting and she said no. I said we had a computer problem.” He says, “She told everyone how you were saying nothing could be done in the lab without a working computer and how the techs can’t do anything without me here.” I said, “That is not true and you know how they exaggerate and lie.” He says, “Yes they do but you gave them ammunition to do it.” Then he says everyone knew he was going to be gone all afternoon and you and the other tech were only to come in early on Mon. I said,” No one knew you were going to be gone. Your light was on and door open. I asked other people if you were coming back (we thought he was at lunch) and no one knew anything.” He said, “Don’t come in Wed at all and don’t come in early the rest of the week.” I said, “No, Cedy called me into her office when she was working on the schedule and it’s on the schedule for me to come in early on my days off and work.” (It takes a few hours to get the machines up and running). He says, “No, only Mon. and I don’t want you or the other tech coming in early.” Of course he never told the other tech this when I was there. I did catch the other tech before he came in the door and told him what happened in the hall. I know when Cedy returns she will get an earful from Ken and he will not be totally honest with her about what happened. We are a small lab and don’t have enough techs to cover when someone wants off. I have picked up extra hours when I can but after this I don’t want to work extra hours. But I know if I don’t, then if I want off, I could be told no. I know I will never get an apology from Ken nor will I say much to him anymore unless I have to.

We have had a few other run-ins over the last year so our work relationship hasn’t been easy. On top of this, we all rotate working Sat. Ken will make “mistakes” and it’s not accidental either. I mentioned it to Cedy a while ago when I first saw what he did but nothing has changed and he continues to make mistakes. I don’t say anything since his initials are on the work. How do I handle this? I am so upset about how he treated me and didn’t even ask the other tech what happened until I left. We need to talk to each other but I am going to try and not say much anymore, do my work and keep to myself. My bosses have had no complaints about my work and I get good evaluations but then Cedy gives everyone a good evaluation, even one coworker who calls in or is a no show about 2 or 3 times a month.

Signed, Trouble With Second Boss

Dear Trouble With Second Boss:

Because your email describes in detail a difficult working relationship, I will not post it or my answer until I can disguise it so as not to make your situation worse should either of your bosses chance to read it. You may not be able to repair the conflict you have with your second boss. Apparently he is angry. He thinks you made him look bad because you disclosed he was not available when probably he should have been. So maybe the best you can do is to do as you say, “I am going to try and not say much anymore, do my work and keep to myself.” However that probably will not solve past or future working relationships with him and others in you department. For example you accuse others of gossiping and degrading those on your lab and you baldly accuse some of lying. Such accusations are symptoms of trouble and/or misunderstandings. Therefore, if you are to survive within such a climate, you have some choices. One choice is that you have come to; to not say much to anyone. In short, tending to your own business to the best of your ability. Another choice is to schedule time out with Ken and to hammer out a clear understanding about what happened and about how you will each behave in the future. This might best be handled in a three-way meeting of Cedy, Ken, and you. Yet another option is to request of Cedy that she initiates inter-department team building between the lab and the office staff. The rationale for this is your perception that the office staff doesn’t know what you do, dismisses what you do as goofing around and gossips about the lab personnel and that you in the lab think they lie about you. The goals of such an interdepartmental team building effort would be: more efficient and effective delivery of you services to internal and external doctors/clients/patients; cutting wasted supplies, time and energy; and most of all making working together more friendly and satisfying for the doctors you serve and ultimately the patients. The benefits of interdepartmental team building are improved performance, quality, happier workforce, and profit. Cedy or your Human Resource offices might have the expertise to facilitate such a team building program or she could bring in a consultant/trainer. One meeting will not solve problems that have piled up over the years. It probably will take a series of meetings or at least two to three sessions within a couple of months. Obviously not everything can stop for such a session and sessions. Separate team meetings within the lab and within the office staff should improve your functioning and generate material for an inter-departmental confrontation. Then representatives from the lab and office staff can meet to work through the concerns that emerged from each side. This is to suggest that you have two concerns that need to be addressed: first, the most pressing is re-establishing a good working relationship with Ken, and second, to spur Cedy to do what she can to improve the working relationship between the lab and office. Possibly, allowing Cedy to read this Q&A would be one way to help her work on both of these matters. Finally, I suggest that you guard against allowing the conflict with Ken to obsess and sour you. Yours in not the only workplace that has conflicts that make work harder. Avoid gossip and complaining. Doing that causes sores to fester. Determine to find good in spite of hurt feelings. Look for positives. Make your daily goal to spread cheer and the caring attitude that is the overarching mission of your lab and health facility.And if you choose, feel free to keep us posted on what you do and how it works or fails. I hope you will understand the hidden meaning of my signature statement and make it a part of the way you think: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden