Step Down and Train My Replacement! No.

I have been working for a company for 6 months and have been receiving a lot of hostility from an employee that was overlooked for my position. The previous manager before me did not recommend him for the position due to his lack of experience. Since this, that said employee has been hostile towards me and creating a toxic work environment. He also makes the office uncomfortable due to his hostility and anger towards other office personnel within the department.

This employee has raised his voice at other management staff to fire employees that he doesn’t like. He has also raised his voice at me in front of my immediate supervisor complaining that he had to teach me how to use our system, since I was not familiar with the software. He has also complained about my work schedule, which my immediate supervisor had approved prior to my hiring. My immediate supervisor is aware of these incidents and nothing has been done. The only thing that I have been told about this employee is that he is the most knowledgeable in my department. So since this employee has complained about being overlooked for my position, I have been told to step down for 30 Days to give him a chance at my position and to train him on everything that I do. I was also told that I will not be losing my pay or my schedule. What should I do?Signed–30 Days Uncertain

Our Reply, Dear 30 Day Uncertain: You are facing a difficult 30 days, and perhaps more. I begin my advice with brief comments by my associate workplace doctor Tina Lewis Rowe. She raises several questions you need to ask to get a clear understanding with your Manager about the implications of this “step down” time. Will this individual who is to take your place and you share credit for work when it’s done? Will this individual who will take over your job then be given it permanently? It seems there are many unanswered questions about this unusual arrangement. In simple language you need to ask, “Mr. Manager, what do you mean by “step down?” And, most importantly, “What happens after the 30 days?” 

Six months is long enough to know if your work is satisfactory or unsatisfactory. If they’re going to keep you just long enough to train your replacement and say, or if that is problematic, you had best start a job hunt before you are told “That’s door. Don’t let it hit your backside.” I imagine it is difficult not to allow this matter to rumble about in your head. Some sharing with selected friends and family might be better than bottling it within and bearing it alone. Choose to whom you talk. My general advice in this situation is to only talk through channels within your work organization. If asked about it by coworkers be brief and say this is an unusual arrangement your superior wants to try, and you are cooperating. Avoid gossip at work. When you talk to yourself, tell yourself you are not only what you do at work–that you have interests and a life. At a time like this, do something you like to do: read, sing, yoga, cook something different, redesign your apartment, workout, tutor, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity or for a candidate for city council, etc. 

Of course your career matters and learning to cope with the ups and downs of jobs takes grit and resilience. For now treat yourself well. You were hired over those within your workgroup because you were seen as superior–because you had the experience and attitude desired. You still have that despite the unpleasantness of this individual who was passed over for your job. Now it is time to fight for yourself or to consider if you should  seek employment elsewhere.                                                

Your options are: 

  • Stay mum and to train the hostile subordinate who was passed over for the job. Swallow your hurt pride and ignore abuse by that person. This is a poor option.                      
  • Candidly confront your immediate superior and manager stressing your displeasure and being asked to step down and be replaced that hostile subordinate. Make the case that it cost you to take this job and that no such probation and termination was stated in the letter in which the job was offered and/or negotiated. Possibly you could negotiate a transfer to a comparable or better position within the company or severance pay. 
  • Request an investigation by Human Resources of the strange order to step down and to train a hostile subordinate. And prepare to spell out specific instances of hostile behavior toward you and others by that subordinate.
  • Consult a labor attorney. 

Answers to questions suggested by my associate Tina will help you decide what are your next steps. In order to not refer to you as Employee A and this individual assigned to work in your job as Employee B, I’m giving you a name of Kim and name of the subordinate, I’m naming Jamie. I shared your question with Mark Mindell, PhD, who has worked as a Vice President in Human Relations in several major companies. I’ve modified his advice because, as is our policy that your name and gender, are anonymous. Excerpts of his reflection upon reading you question, provide evidence of how unusual is the 30 days order to train someone to take your position. His reply began with:

“Wow:  this is a tough one and extremely unusual in my experience.  Without more information and assuming we have the whole story, it seems the immediate supervisor he is not doing his job well.

This is difficult because it would be good to know what HR is like in this company (trustworthiness, skill, power the hold and the like).  All things being equal Employee Kim, at this point, cannot argue any informal or formal breach of contract (as far as I know) because his/her pay had not been cut or level changed (i.e. has not been demoted).  But if it were me I would either first sit down with my immediate supervisor or with HR.  I would point out that (1) I was hired to do a particular job and the message I’m now getting is I am being replaced for no apparent reason(s); (2) that I am not the only one who has significant problems with Employee Jamie and my supervisor should know that he is risking his department from a morale-perspective (whether or not that’s actually true is irrelevant) and (3) when I was brought in everyone knew that someone I would have to work with someone who was overlooked for my position, and I still took the job because I had every reason to believe that the Company would look out for me (plus, of course, I love working at the company …).  
There are so many choices in this situation that it is particularly difficult to know exactly how to advise Employee Kim.  Most importantly are: did she/he leave another job to come to this one (in which case she/he is being harmed) and does she/he enjoy her/his work and really want to make things work?  Employee Kim is being treated very badly (if everything he says is true) and I think he should consider going directly to HR and spell that out. The Company is, for all practical purposes, ‘telling him to leave’.   If HR has any level of professionalism and ‘power’ they will immediately get Employee  Kim back into his original job and inform his immediate supervisor that he has handled the situation very poorly.  Minimally, they should, and really have to, investigate Employee Kim’s complaint.  And HR should keep in mind that, by complaining to HR, Employee A is reasonably well protected.
I don’t know why but this is a case where I would be happy to talk directly with Employee Kim (if she/he would be interested in doing so).Of course I would need more specifics to feel comfortable in providing direction.”

Your inquiry and Dr. Mindell’s discussion should enable you to decide what options you might take. Also my associate workplace doctor Tina Lewis Rowe might add her thoughts if she thinks of other things you might do. Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. –William Gorden  

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