Want To Get Ahead But Held Back By A Supervisor

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about promotion held back because of a warning:

I want to start by saying I have a very strong personality and very confident nature, but I’m not arrogant. I have been with my company 3 years come November, if I make it that long.  I work for a credit monitoring service, so we handle incoming calls for people that have signed up for the service. We basically get mentally abused for 8 hours 5 days a week! The job in itself is very stressful. I was promoted to a client team 6 mos after being with the company. The Manager at the time recruited me from the main floor with rave reviews of my work and skills. Soon after being in the client room we got a new boss who is 2 years older then me. When I work I get focused, and was taught always do your best. But I do chat with my superiors and coworkers at times because I don’t want to appear stuck up or uptight.

Well, the new boss seemed to have an issue with me from the beginning. I, trying to be the bigger person, mirrored people she seemed to like, but that didn’t work, so I just avoided her unless it was work related.       After about 6 months of her being the boss, the nit picking began. I spent so much time in her office I felt as if I was never able to get my work done. She was picking on my calls, bringing up what so and so said I said, and basically pulling stuff out of the air to make a big deal over.This went on for sometime and I just rolled with the punches which was mentally taking a toll on me.

Then she then got new supervisors in there who kiss up to her any which way she asks, so she had them start writing down things that I was not doing correctly. I have some college behind me and always produced good results, otherwise I would not been employed!I want to be promoted and started working toward that after about a year with the company. This is not common in workplaces to be promoted so quickly, but here it is. This is when the real troubles began.

Each time I would apply I would get the first interview and the second interview and then they would come back with “You just are not what we are looking for.” I would ask for feedback but get nothing.This happened five times, when I finally took control of what was affecting me and went to the site supervisor. We had a good long meeting during which I did not go in with a negative attitude just as a employee looking for good feedback. I did not talk bad about anyone or use names. This was all about what I could do better. He told me he would follow up, but to this day I have heard nothing.

The newest incident has put me over the edge. I again applied for a promotion and got the first interview where I was told I had a verbal warning for my occurrences. I am not negative in general and would never be negative in an interview, so I made a mental note and informed her I was not aware of that. She finished the interview. I thought she wanted to address the verbal warning but assumed that because I got an interview it was not being factored in. I planned on following up with my immediate supervisor to find out what she was talking about. Friday came and the person who interviewed me for the new position stated “We could not provide you with a second interview because of that verbal write up.” To which I said, “Thank you for the interview. I understand.”

I went back to my immediate supervisor at this point and asked if we could discuss this verbal warning I had, because I was unaware of it. He looked in his reports and said, “You are not on a verbal”, to which I replied, “Then why was that used as the reason I did not get a second interview?” His response was, “I need to check with the big boss.” (The one who has not respected me from the beginning.)  He was in there for about 30 minutes. When he came out she came out and called me in. She brings out a paper and says I am being written up for a negative discussion several coworkers had, and which they later said I headed up.

I informed her I was not the person who started the conversation but I was wrong to get sucked in to the conversation and I would never let it happen again. She wanted me to throw my fellow coworkers under the bus which I will not do, because work place talk happens and I am mature enough to take it and move on.When I did not provide her names she said, “I will not fire you because you will win so your option is to take this shift in another department with these hours.” I responded, “I am a single mother with 2 children and could not afford nor do I have someone to keep my kids for that schedule.”

She then said, “These are your options.”I requested we go to HR, so we did and they sided with her of course. But she omitted half of the details and every time I tried to speak she interrupted.I feel like I am in a damned if you do damned if you don’t situation. I did nothing wrong, in the sense that mistakes happen. Now I am being demoted and she wants to drag me back into that building knowing I was demoted and she can go around saying “I won I won.”I want to go above her head again back to the site director just to get his take. Do you think this is wise or will this situation never end until I quit or get fired?I am not guilty and I know walking away makes you appear guilty, however I don’t want to be in a building with that woman who has thrown me under the bus and will continue to do so.

Also since I signed the paper and placed “I am not guilty but am signing to say I received the information”, what would happen if I just called in until they fired me? I know they will fight the unemployment but I believe that I will eventually get it even though I signed the paper. Or, should I go back and hold my head high? This place and that woman have caused me so much stress I have been to the doctor on several occasions for my nerves. Could I get out of the job for a medical reason? I have helped this company make money, lived within the rules and I feel that I deserve unemployment yet I am stuck with the decision to either take the hours that will not work for me and have her feeling all powerful, causing me to always watch my back and never trust anyone, or walking away with nothing.What is the most dignified way of handling this situation?

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

It seems there are many things going on in this situation–and it all comes together to seem to create a dark wall for you! Let me share some thoughts, which might provide you with ideas for how you want to proceed.First is the decision about whether you want to stay in that job or not. I am usually not inclined to suggest that people quit a job. For one thing, jobs are not easy to find and for another, I believe most people can find a way to adjust, adapt, improve, change as needed or wait out almost any situation. However, consider what you have said about your work: Apparently your new work schedule will cost you more money in child care, essentially lowering your disposable income; you don’t feel good about the work itself and you don’t find it fulfilling or enjoyable; you don’t like your manager and she apparently does not like your behavior and/or performance; your supervisor apparently doesn’t feel strongly enough about it to go to support you or correct problems before they become big problems; you are not likely to be promoted any time soon; your coworkers aren’t friends enough to speak up and tell the truth when you get in trouble on their behalf; you don’t feel you have done anything wrong nor do you see anything specific that you need to or could change immediately.

So, where does that leave you? In a very unhappy place! And, it doesn’t appear there are easy answers. In fact, it appears there will need to be major, major changes or adjustments on your part and/or the part of those above you in the chain of organization, if things are to improve. Your description of the situation doesn’t make that sound likely. That is why, this is one of those times when I WILL suggest that you consider finding a new place to work. Dr. Gorden calls it “voting with your feet” by leaving.If you think you can find another job offering equal benefits and opportunities, I believe you would be wise to leave. But if you don’t think you could right now, I think you should stay until you can line something up–then go to a workplace where you can find enjoyment in work and where you can work more effectively with the supervisory and managerial team and they can work with you.That’s the first issue: Should you go or stay? That’s a big decision of course, but seems to be the quickest route to a better future.The next things to consider have to do with other options for leaving. We are not a legal resource, so I don’t know about unemployment benefits or issues related to mental health reasons for quitting. But, I would doubt there would be any way you could claim a mental or medical reason for being unable to stay at the work.

Consider this, from a hearing officer’s perspective:

*You were working in one area and were moved “up” to another area, so you had a good opportunity.
*You have been warned, counseled or reprimanded many times in your current work, but have not lost money or any other benefits because of it. In fact, you have been kept there for almost 2 1/2 years with the new manager who has pointed out problems but never took serious action about them.
*You applied for a promotion to supervisor but didn’t get it. That’s not uncommon, especially if there is a record of even minor work issues.
*A recent event involved a complaint that you were part of a conversation that apparently was viewed as very negative about the company or about someone. You admitted that you were part of the conversation, but denied you started it. You were asked who did start it but you wouldn’t say.
*Your manager decided to move you out of your current assignment, back to the former one or something similar. You don’t say if that will lower your salary or not, but it doesn’t sound as though it will lower it a great deal.
*You went to HR and they felt the manager was correct in her decision, or it may be they simply have no reason to overturn a staffing decision by a manager, which is what this was. An outsider looking at that would say that while you may have a boss who doesn’t like you and may even be unfair in her judgments, you have not endured more than many other employees do in other lines of work, if they and the managers just don’t have a good fit of style, personality, skills and approaches to communication–and if there are documented cases of interviews, warnings, corrections and redirection.

That brings us to the final issue of what you can do if you choose to stay. First, find a way to not focus on this being a win/lose for the manager or for you. You can’t control that but you can control how you respond to the events that are happening to you.If you choose to stay, it appears your primary option is to simply focus on doing your work in a way that is completely in compliance with rules, policies and procedures. You don’t have to avoid talking to people and you don’t have to watch your back, if you don’t give anyone something to use against you. And usually, the “something” is in the form of comments, facial expressions and tone of voice when communicating with coworkers.Has anyone ever hinted, joked or complained directly about your style at work? Take those to heart and see if there are ways you can adjust those areas. You say you are confident but not arrogant. Arrogance is one thing, “in your face” is another.

Consider if your style is more bombastic or more confrontational than others are comfortable with. Many confident people feel that they are the way they are and everyone has to learn to live with that. But in a workplace that’s not necessarily the case! People complain and managers listen. Manager’s complain and HR listens!That may not be the situation with you, but it is something to consider. One thing is for sure: Unless every other employee is being moved this week, you have been singled out for some reason. It’s highly unlikely there is not even one area in which your own actions added to the problem. That’s just he reality of life. I’m not saying it to say you are the whole problem, but I would be remiss if I took the approach that it’s all the fault of the manager or supervisor.I don’t think you will be able to negotiate a work situation that doesn’t involve the move you dislike. So, I’m concerned about the cost and availability of child care. But, apart from that very real problem for you, I think you CAN find a way to go to your new place and do well, maybe even to prosper there and show yourself to be someone who is worthy of respect for how well you handle adversity and personal frustrations.

You may find it helpful to talk to the site supervisor again. It would be good to start by asking for complete honesty about how he sees the situation. I often suggest that employees ask: What should I do more of? What should I do less of? What should I never do again?That provides some structure for the person to whom you’re talking. Those would also be good questions to ask your supervisor and even the manager with whom you’ve had problems. Other ideas: *Keep the lines of communication open between you and your supervisors. Ask, “How am I doing?” now and then. *Smile genuinely and be someone who adds to the team.
*Focus on your life outside of work. This is the time to become the most fit, the most healthy, the most happy you can be. You can’t control work but you can control most aspects of your personal life. Perhaps you have groups to which you can give more support. You may have a faith in which you can become more involved. You may have hobbies you can enjoy more than before. What you don’t want to do is to let your life be as problematic as work!A good guideline is: If it isn’t making you healthier, happier, stronger and a better person, don’t do it–either at work or at home! That sounds very saintly, but it’s still good advice!I hope these thoughts are helpful for you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens with this situation.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.