Subordinate Is Trying To Discredit Me

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a subordinate who is trying to get her/him fired: This employee has had three managers prior to me, all of which he has had an issue with. Don’t know what to do.

I recently went through an investigation where my direct subordinate went to our Ombudsman instead of using the chain of command. I just came back from open-heart surgery to hear the accusations against me, which were that I did not do my job on a recent business trip. After a grueling two weeks (and it only took two because I told them I could not take the stress physically anymore) I was exonerated of all charges.

Now the employee is giving old emails to my HR department and stating that they are an act of reprisal from me, which they are not. Most are just banter between us as I want to keep the relationship open and act likes this did not affect me at all. Now I am asking, what is next? It seems like harassment to try and discredit me or get me to quit, as he knows medically I cannot take too mush stress. Doctors added more strength to my blood pressure meds, as it was too high during this period. This employee has had three managers prior to me, all of which he has had an issue with. Don’t know what to do.

Signed, Stressed

Dear Stressed:

You are working scared; scared that you will be found guilty of getting back at the subordinate who accused you of something for which you were exonerated. You say, this individual is continuing to blame you, saying you sent emails that demonstrate reprisal. When reprisal is alleged, management has reason to think it must investigate. But if, as you say, you did nothing that was reprisal, that you sent only “banter,” then another investigation will also exonerate you.

Obviously, from here, I can’t predict that you will absolutely be exonerated. You might have to be interviewed, as you may have been in the course of the first investigation. You don’t know what to do. My advice is that you can survive. You’ve done so before. Work-life has stress. That’s its nature. There are pressures of numbers and quality. There is the pressure caused by interpersonal dispute. There is the pressure of ill health.

You undoubtedly have and will experience all these stressful phenomena on the job. Trouble is the name of the game for some positions. How do we survive? By doing the honest best we can and shedding the flack. Within the work setting, that calls for a competent knowledge of one’s job; both in product/service operations and in managing people. I assume those, who put you in a position of leadership, thought you had these two capabilities.

Apparently, you need to look in the mirror and talk to yourself. Tell yourself what you were told when appointed to the position you are in. Allow that talk to bounce back. Hear it and let it be assuring. You also might need to attend to your recovery with a plan of exercise, yoga, and some avocation that relaxes the stress you now feel. What to do will not be resolved by working walking on eggs. Perhaps, you will decide to schedule a confrontation with the subordinate, one that has a third party to facilitate and work through the events that prompted the accusations and follow-up claims of reprisal. Your boss, the ombudsman or HR could be that third party.

Once this follow up investigation is complete, it would be good that your superior spell out what is decided and affirm support for your role. Hopefully, clarification of what happened will then evolve in setting forth the rules needed for effective boss/bossed communication. Hopefully such a confrontation will be more problem solving than blaming. Hopefully, too, the more important goal of such a confrontation will be a mutual commitment to collaborative boss-bossed interaction.

There has not been a quick fix to what appears to be an adversarial with this direct report. What to do is not to do anything. The goal of cooperation and getting past the accusations will only happen with assertiveness. That goal likely will require clarification of job description, chain of command, respect for authority, and how to communication assignments. And that will not be accomplished in one sitting.

Rather, with this individual, it might entail a series of weekly give and take sessions. The reason you and this direct report are paid is to produce. The success of each of you hinges on the value you both add to your work organization. Sooooo don’t think more medicine will make you strong enough to see this thing through.

If you are not strong enough because of heart surgery, you might need to bow out. But I predict you can see this through if you will understand that clarifying and defining roles are par for the course of supervision. Do any of these thoughts make sense for your situation? If not, feel free to get counsel elsewhere. Possibly scanning some of our many Q&As will speak to your “what to do.”

My signature sentence sums up my best thinking on what it takes in situations such as yours: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Your direct report might be beyond understanding the deeper meaning in that. Even if you can genuinely demonstrate that your care, that direct report might still be one who does not take well to whomever is his/her superior. There are some things that can be transformed; and some that can’t. But you should not go to work scared.

William Gorden