I am a junior manager in a service-related business. On my first day back from vacation my supervisor told me that she had gotten a couple of complaints from customers about me. She also said that one of my staff had mouthed off to a customer. Then she said she had talked to my staff and told them that I needed to shape up and that they needed to shape up too or risk being fired. I think my boss has gone off the deep end. Maybe she has PMS nor something — she shouldn’t have talked trash about me, so I trashed her back by putting in a call to her boss to complain. I told her that she should have talked to me before talking to my staff, and she had to tell me who complained. She got very angry and said I’m an incompetent manager with an incompetent staff. Then she said she was writing me up for poor performance and if it continued, I would be fired. My friend in human resources told me my boss should have been very clear with me if there were problems, what they were, and that she should have given me a chance to fix those problems before writing me up and threatening my job. I’ve been at this company for three years and until now, I’ve gotten passable performance reviews. I don’t know why this woman has her proverbial knickers in a twist. When her boss calls me back what should I say? –Susan –
When someone leaves for vacation, it gives a hostile boss an opportunity to “clean house” No one should be afraid to take time off, but absence doesn’t always make the boss’ heart grow fonder. The minute you leave your desk it is an opportunity for you to be pushed out of it for good.
Let’s get to the heart of the issue: There is some right and some wrong on both sides. Your boss blew her stack for some reason neither of us knows at this moment but it probably was the culmination of a lot of things. No matter what the issues, she should have given you a chance to respond and fix the problem. Alas, whether the accusations against you and your staff member are true or not, you added fuel to the fire by losing control of your emotions. You need this person’s respect and cooperation, and you’ve lost it by getting angry and going over her head. Now, due to the pecking order in the company, you paved the way for her to fire you, if she really wants to. Going over your boss’ head is overtly hostile and if her boss can verify this, you have just helped to validate your supervisor’s other accusations which up until now, were simply hearsay.
This may or may not be a lost cause. You can apologize and chalk it up to whatever excuses you can come up with, but right now, shut up and “lay low.” Your boss is your supervisor, so she does have the right to talk to your staff, although it doesn’t make her look good to say negative things about you. Now that you are back and in charge, it’s a good time to have a staff meeting. Use the time to tell them that you feel the department has some issues, and hear what they have to say. That puts everyone on notice that you are aware of what’s gone on in your absence, without going into any more detail.
As to your own performance and your relationship with your boss, obviously things have built up over time and you haven’t noticed. Were you oblivious to the clues? For example, just “passable” reviews aren’t the same as good or great reviews. A passable review means your performance is just barely acceptable and it needs improvement. Has your supervisor been waiting for improvements from you (that were discussed at past reviews) that didn’t materialize? Could your work relationship with your own staff be hampering your judgement and harming relationships with customers and you aren’t aware of it? This is the time to really think about what’s going on at work with a fresh view. You can’t afford to simply be angry. Your boss may have had a bad day. She may be a terrible communicator. She didn’t give you a chance to fix the issues with the customers that complained before threatening to write you up. She said customers complained about you, and she didn’t have to identify them, but she should have told you something about the circumstances. How can you improve if you don’t know what you did wrong? But I don’t think she wants you to improve, I think she wants you to go. If you want to stay, you have to try somehow to turn things around, or start looking for another job.
As a person who gives relationship advice, I am supposed to be impartial. I don’t have a crystal ball that can tell you what the ultimate outcome of this will be. If you stay calm and quiet, this may all blow over, but if you can’t get to the underlying issues, nothing good will come of this. The key to success here is to put your emphasis on “how can I do a better job? and not “why am I being attacked?” And Susan, for the future: don’t ever “talk trash” about your boss unless you want to get fired. If you get a return call from her boss, simply say you dialed by mistake, or the issue has been resolved, and hang up quickly. Do not discuss this matter with anyone else. This is good advice for everyone: make sure your resume is updated and ready to send out at a moment’s notice. You may need to job hunt, or you may simply find that a fabulous opportunity comes up and you want to pursue it.
*what do you think of this advice? Do you agree with it? What would you do, differently? Please leave your comments!