Should I Speak with HR?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about boss disinterest:

Relationship with my boss has been deteriorating for the past few months – and I have no idea why this has happened. I got an excellent review in July (which was a month late), but it seems that even though I work independently, he rarely makes time to meet with me when I do have questions, etc. It’s gotten to the point that I am feeling completely ignored. He does make time to see other employees (though I am the only person who actually reports to him). The only time he does want to talk to me is to point out any small administrative errors that may occur (which is NOT often).

The last straw was when I noticed that my paycheck was still not reflecting my raise since the beginning of July (with 30 days retro pay since my review was late). When I asked our payroll department about it, they told me that my boss never put the paperwork and that I had to talk to him. This just happened this past week – end of September. I forwarded the e-mail I received from payroll to him and politely asked him about it. All I got was a “sorry”. One of the other managers in the department had to put the paperwork through for him. That manager told me this.

My boss is an attorney; none of the other attorneys in the department have people who report directly to them, and I’m beginning to think that I shouldn’t be reporting to this attorney, either. He is completely disinterested in my work or anything that might be going on with my responsibilities. I don’t feel comfortable speaking to him directly about this, but I don’t feel it’s right to go over his head and talk to our VP about it although our VP has an open door policy. I feel my only option is to talk to my department’s HR representative about this situation. I know the best way to deal with these types of situations is to speak with the boss, coworker, etc., directly, but my boss has become so hostile and difficult to speak with that I really don’t feel comfortable speaking to him. Should I go to HR first, or should I speak with the VP first?

Signed, Reporting To An Attorney

Dear Reporting To An Attorney:

Speaking up for your self is essential to becoming a mature person and a respected employee. If someone felt disappointed or angry with you, would you want her or him to go to your boss to report that or to first come to you? I assume your answer to that question would be, “Talk to me first.”

From what you say, you have not met with your attorney boss to discuss your role and working relationship. Rather, it seems you have bottled up a feeling of being ignored and unappreciated. The times you say your attorney boss has spoken with you has been to correct a minor error, but you do not mention how you get your assignments, what is the process for clarifying instructions and for seeking approval of tasks completed.

Not all bosses know how to manage. Those that don’t can learn how to make assignments clear, how their subordinates want to be addressed and consulted, and what can make themselves and their subordinates maximally effective. They can learn IF those that report to them think through the kind of boss-bossed communication that makes for an effective working relationship and then have the professional assertiveness to speak up for themselves. Bad habits of how bosses and the bossed communicate build up over time and cannot be transformed by one session of complaint. But they can be changed by assertiveness on the part of at least one party. How? By scheduling weekly sessions–time outs–to talk about what needs to be done and the kind of communication that can make both the bossed and boss more effective. If after you confront your boss about scheduling such sessions and he is unwilling to, in my opinion, this is the time to tell him that you feel that you need to talk with the V.P or HR to find how you might have a good working relationship; one in which you might really make a contribution to this firm.Does this make sense? But before to act, take time to weigh these suggestions and consult in confidence with someone you respect either within or outside your workplace. However, I think it would not be wise to gossip with co-workers or others about your boss’ shortcomings. That could get back to him and make your situation worse. Work is hard enough without having a boss who fails to communicate; So put your faith in communication. That is the sin qua non for a good working relationship; one I call WEGO.

William Gorden