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How do I handle the imminent return of a supervisor with whom I feel I have a toxic relationship?
May 30, 2011 6:35 PM   Subscribe

How do I handle the imminent return of a supervisor with whom I feel I have a toxic relationship?

Back in February I had a wonderful day at work. My supervisor, a person whom I had grown to strongly dislike, would no longer be my supervisor. Why did I dislike her so much, you might ask? That's a long story.

I started working for her in 2008. For two years I worked diligently and to the best of my ability under her, doing everything she asked and often more. And we had a good relationship. Everything was going swimmingly. She would often comment on what a great job I was doing. On one notable occasion, when I had led a major months-long project to a successful conclusion, she made it clear to everyone in the office that if it wasn't for me, the project most likely wouldn't have been a success.

But I was eager for a promotion. Because of the structure of our company, I knew that there was no chance of getting one within that office; all the higher positions were so high relative to where I was that a jump into one of those positions would have been a big ask. However, positions routinely opened up in other offices so I knew that there would, eventually, be an opportunity in another one of the company's offices. In August 2010, shortly after I finished the aforementioned project, I went to see her quietly and said that although ideally I would love to be promoted up within our own office, I knew realistically that that wasn't an option. However, if an opportunity came up in another office, I'd like it if she put in a good word for me with one of the other supervisors. She said that she'd be happy to, and I left thinking that we'd parted on good terms.

Around three weeks later, just before I was due to go on a couple of weeks holidays, she called me in to her office and said that she was concerned about my work performance. She said that it appeared that I was not interested in my job, that my work performance all year had been shoddy and that if there wasn't an improvement on my return from holidays, I'd need to find somewhere else to work. What's more, I was due for my annual salary increase at that time (something which is usually just rubber stamped), and she told me that based on my performance, she couldn't justify giving me my salary increase.

This came out of nowhere so needless to say, I was shocked. I offered some rebuttals to some of the specific incidents she referred to (mostly misunderstandings) but by and large I took it on the chin, and went on leave.

While on leave, I thought about what she said and started to realise the very contradictory nature of her criticisms when compared to her near constant praise of my performance for the 1.5 years leading up to that moment. It also made little sense given that she had said she was quite willing to give me a reference for a promotion only three weeks prior to telling me how terrible my performance had been that year. If I had been in her position and had really felt that my employee's performance had been terrible, I would have said "sorry, I can't give you a reference and actually, this is an opportune time to talk about how unsatisfactory your performance to date has been."

I came back from leave determined to talk to her about this, but a few days into being back at work, I decided against it. I thought it would achieve little to have an argument with my supervisor and just decided to do my job even better than before. And things seemed to settle down and become cordial between us again. Indeed, at Christmas, I got a small present from her with a handwritten note that said "Thanks for your hard work all year"... which confused me further. I saved the note in case she did end up deciding to fire me.

Skip ahead to February 2011. There was a major restructure within the company and people from all the various offices got moved around to other offices. The up shot of this for me was I was in a new office, with a new team and a new supervisor. And for the last 3 months or so, I've really enjoyed work. My new supervisor was telling me I'm doing a great job, was considering promoting me and I'd been given new responsibilities I'd really been sinking my teeth into. All was well.

Last week my new supervisor says he's leaving the company. And then yesterday I found out that my old supervisor is being moved across to replace him. My heart sank. It was like going back to Square One.

My first thought was just to up and leave but one of my colleagues, who knows my history with her, suggested I give it a month, which I've decided I will. Given the changes in the company, things could be different but I'm doubtful that they will be. So I'm wondering if I should be more proactive, perhaps having a conversation with her early on where I discuss my concerns? I still want to be promoted. I don't know if I can risk being kept from promotion (and another pay rise, due in a few months) if she has a personal problem with me. A discussion could make things worse, but similarly, not discussing my concerns could also be a hindrance.

Basically, what would be the best game plan for me to follow from here on in?
posted by Effigy2000 to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Start looking for a new job now, don't wait a month. Get a good reference in writing from your current supervisor. Do your best and see how things go with the old supervisor while you're looking. Greet old supervisor with enthusiasm and let her know you're excited to be working with her again. It doesn't matter if you don't mean it. DO NOT MENTION your concerns, which I think would poison the well against you given her reaction last time You may get offered another job and then you can decide whether to stay or go. Document all your accomplishments and keep all emails from everyone where you've been praised or thanked for your hard work. Good luck.
posted by shoesietart at 6:47 PM on May 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


Agree with shoesietart -- document, keep copies of all your performance evaluations, and start looking for a new job. This woman sounds like a toxic supervisor--you are wasting your time working for her.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 7:27 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


This could be an opportunity to be a hero. Your former supervisor will be a little at sea in a new location with new duties and staff. You're a familiar face: a responsible, competent person on whom she previously relied. Definitely get the recommendation from your current supervisor and have it put in your file if possible. That will also prime the pump for your current supervisor to tell the old/new one how wonderful you are.
posted by carmicha at 7:42 PM on May 30, 2011


I would not get together with her to hash things out. Seems too likely to make things worse, with limited upside.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:50 PM on May 30, 2011


Was any of her "near-constant" praise of you actually documented? Because if not, she didn't praise you.

How about the warning she gave you? Was that documented? Was it documented with your full awareness and consent? Because if you didn't sign anything, she will still have documented this or otherwise made sure she can use the warning against you.

Had you had any performance reviews before she gave you a warning about your performance? Since then? If not, only the warning counts. The warning is the sum total of your performance record.

What is the procedure in your company for warning people before you fire them? How many warnings are you supposed to get and in what form?

You had a significant attack on your livelihood and you seem to have taken it remarkably pleasantly. You're lucky you didn't find yourself out on the street with no reference, or a negative reference (yes it is legal to give negative references) which would have been supported by her having given you a warning. All because she didn't fancy the inconvenience of having you move to another department. You are as good at your job as your supervisor says you are, do you understand that? Whatever your supervisor officially documents about your performance is what goes into a reference, do you understand that? So, if you were let go tomorrow, and the only documentation of your performance is your supervisor's warning, they can and will use that to support a negative reference (which can in fact be given perfectly legally). All it takes is for a sleepy HR person to answer the phone and think "I'll just draft something from her file".

Secure a reference from your current supervisor now. Start looking for another job now. Don't bring any of this up with her. She will do you as much damage as she feels like doing, purely for her own convenience.
posted by tel3path at 12:05 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


U need to document everything with dates, times, witnesses. Do u have an hr? Document EVERY interaction with her through email. Annoying, but very effective when shit goes down.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:42 AM on May 31, 2011


I guess I don't know, but this doesn't sound like a crisis, no need to change what you're doing. Seems like you can work with her, she's just a bit irrational some times. Get a new job, but in your own time. Don't use her as a reference obviously, since you can't trust her.
posted by wilful at 7:35 PM on May 31, 2011


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