Did I Just Err With My Boss?
December 14, 2008 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Did I just make a massive mistake during my staff evaluation meeting with my boss? Or not?

I'm a guy. I just had a staff evaluation meeting with my male boss. Everyone in our office is doing one, so it wasn’t just me alone.

The questions were given to us ahead of time. They were the usual sorts of questions that get asked at these things. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses and where can you improve? What do you have to say about the management of the office? The usual.

My evaluation started off well enough. He asked me my strengths and I rattled off a few things, all of which he agreed with, and then offered a few perceptions of his own about what my strengths were. So far, so good.

And then came the weaknesses. My boss said that a couple of people in the office had made mention that I don’t work very hard and that I’m the sort of person who is the last to arrive and the first to leave. This shocked me; truly shocked me because I consider myself a very hard worker. It also shocked me because I’m usually the first (or second) person to arrive in the mornings (usually by 7:50am… well before our expected start time of 9am) and I usually work right through the day. I do accept that sometimes I have left right on 5pm (we are ‘expected’ to stay beyond that but not always) but I only do this about twice a week. Three at the most.

Now, before I tell you how I reacted to this, you need to know that there are two women in the office who dislike (possibly even hate) me. Truth be told, I don’t know why they dislike me, especially given the fact that I get on very well with everyone else in the office, men and women alike. All I know for sure is that they do. I also know that they get on very well with my boss.

As I said earlier, everyone in our office is doing one of these and I was third in line. The two people who went before me? That’s right; the two women who hate me. So it’s no stretch to say that the info no doubt came from them. Infact, my boss admitted it did come from them (more on that later).

So, how did I react when my boss told me that there were concerns over how hard I work? I was a bit flustered of course; I simply didn’t except that criticism to be one that could or would be levelled at me. So I calmly explained that I fully rejected the accusation that I show up late and that I regularly show up before 8am, and that while I sometimes leave at 5pm it’s not all that common an occurrence. I also explained that his two predecessors (I’ve had the same job now for three years with three different bosses) had never expressed dissatisfaction with how I worked.

And then this is possibly where I stuffed up.

My two previous bosses had never got on well with these two women who dislike me. However when my current boss showed up on the scene, the three of them instantly seemed to bond. It clicked in my head at this point that he must have got this information from them so I said that if he was getting his information from these two co-workers of mine, as I suspected, he should take it with a grain of salt because they don’t like me and never have, despite my attempts to try and get them to like me. He did then admit that the info had come “primarily” from them and he noted my comments. The rest of the meeting went pretty amicably.

The reason I feel I’ve erred is because I’ve directly criticised two of my co-workers, which was something I hadn’t intended to do going into the meeting because I didn’t think it would be professional to do so… and so of course I went ahead and did it (in self defence, your honour!). Worse still, I’ve criticised two people whom he gets along well with and he is therefore likely to believe over me. I also think it’s unlikely that anyone else will criticise these two women in their interviews with my boss because as far as I know, they seem to get on well with everyone else (barring maybe one other person) and again, it’s just not professional to do that. And since I'm usually here before everyone else, there's only a couple of people who could verify that I get here so early (should he ask anyone else to verify my claims).

I need some outside perspective. Do you think that this is going to come back and bite me on the ass? Or did I do the right thing? Do you think I at least handled it as well as I could have?

Do I need to start mitigation strategies? If so, what do you reccommend?

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"He did then admit that the info had come “primarily” from them and he noted my comments."

Well, so he already knew that, an knew they disliked you. You managed to refute their lies. So you're better off than you were, but still not in a good place. Start documenting your hours (and the two lovely ladies').
posted by orthogonality at 2:43 PM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

I don't think you did anything wrong, and I don't think you have to do anything more to mitigate this. Hopefully other people supported you in their own interviews (hopefully he was smart enough to ask for other points of view on the matter). You were honest; you didn't exactly criticize or badmouth anyone, you just acknowledged a tense area in your work relations with other people. That's not a huge liability, everyone has them.

As long as you don't follow this up with any negative or spiteful behavior, I would think he would respect what you said. And if you take pains to make sure that your actual punctuality is noted, then you'll have made your case just fine without dragging anyone else into it.
posted by hermitosis at 2:48 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

The reason I feel I’ve erred is because I’ve directly criticised two of my co-workers, which was something I hadn’t intended to do going into the meeting because I didn’t think it would be professional to do so… and so of course I went ahead and did it (in self defence, your honour!). Worse still, I’ve criticised two people whom he gets along well with and he is therefore likely to believe over me.

Here's the thing. You had to defend yourself. Defending yourself takes priority over not criticizing those two loony women. Let's say you had "been professional," and not criticized them; the unfounded allegations against you would have been left unexplained.

Even if he's friendly with them, he can still recognize they are conniving and unfair.
posted by jayder at 2:49 PM on December 14, 2008

I wouldn't worry about it too much. The facts seem to speak louder than words here, and the fact that there are two senior (I think?) members of staff who can vouch for you in terms of punctuality and hard work would outweigh what the two women think.

At the end of the day, if you know for a fact that you've done nothing wrong, there is nothing to worry about. It just sounds like a bit of a bad atmosphere in the office.
posted by hnnrs at 2:54 PM on December 14, 2008

You did right.

Without being melodramatic, these two people made an attempt on your job. They told on you to the boss, they tried to get you fired, they tried to take food off your table in a shit economy.

If you want to keep working there, you needed to do exactly what you did: state your case firmly and honestly but without venom.

Of course there is the possibility of it backfiring, but if you're in a situation where the boss takes the word of evil, spiteful people over you, there's no good solution anyway. I don't think that's necessarily the case here, but I have been in situations like that several times. There would have been no winning no matter what I did, but at least I felt good for having stood up for myself.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:00 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I said that if he was getting his information from these two co-workers of mine, as I suspected, he should take it with a grain of salt because they don’t like me and never have, despite my attempts to try and get them to like me

Wait, so did you criticize them as people or as workers, or did you just try to undermine their objectivity as witnesses? If you didn't go on to add any other negative comments, then it doesn't seem that bad to me. I do think there might have been a slightly more diplomatic way to make the same point, and the goal of any mitigation might be to reduce an "us vs. them" division, or at least show that you'd like to do your part in removing one. You could come back around to it in, say, three or four weeks. [Helpful / non-defensive / matter of fact tone of voice:] "I just wanted to let you know that since there were some questions about my work hours, I've started documenting them and would be happy to share them with you if you want more information. I really do try to work hard, so those comments from Karen and Susan took me by surprise. [Maybe pause for a response here.] As I mentioned, I've been wondering why I sense some tension around them, so if you have any insight or suggestions -- any particular tasks they'd like me to be doing that I'm not, or any strategies in general for improving my working relationship with them -- I'd definitely appreciate them." That would give you a feeling about where you stand, and if he's starting to see their points ("well, yeah, I do think it bothers them that you never answer the phones") then you'll get early warning and can adjust to address the problem before it gets out of hand.
posted by salvia at 3:00 PM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

While directly implicating these two women probably wasn't THE most politic thing to say -- it would've been more diplomatic to vague it up a little and reference "two colleagues who seem to have developed a personal dislike for you" more obliquely. But given the fact that you had to think on your feet I think you did fine. Good for you for calmly rejecting the claim. (And you're vindicated by the fact that your boss acknowledged that these women were the source of the information.)

Just keep on being professional and getting your job done. Watch your back and keep your game face on around these women, but remain civil and don't instigate any drama or dignify their pettiness with any accusations.

In an ideal world, your boss's job is to NOT let his friendly relationship with these two women unduly affect his assessment of you. Of course it is nearly impossible to be completely unbiased, but the idea is to try.
posted by desuetude at 3:01 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

as an addition, if your company has any type of mediation services it may be good to think about using the service with these ladies. It must be frustrating not knowing what their main complaint is with you, perhaps it is a misunderstanding that has been left to fester... or whatever...

but, as far as how the interview was handled sounds like you did fine.

If there is direct access to higher ups it also may be good to have it one record with them that you feel X and Y co-worker may be spreading misinformation about you. Not, so the higher up will do anything directly about it, just so that groundwork is established if needed in the future.
posted by edgeways at 3:15 PM on December 14, 2008

I think the fact that he directly confronted you with the information provided, and admitted that it had come from them, indicates to me that he was trying to sort things out and is not wedded to your coworkers as reliable sources of information. Like others have said, document your professionalism and their lack of and be as nice as pie.
posted by mrmojoflying at 4:05 PM on December 14, 2008

In an ideal world, it's a good thing that your manager knows of the issue between you and these two women - it's his role to ensure a smooth functioning team. They badmouthed you first, you did the right thing to lay out your case and defend yourself calmly. If your boss is at all competent, he won't simply take their words at face value, but brought it up specifically to get your take on it. Professionalism also includes working to resolve a problem, and the person who should be your first port of call is your boss.

It sucks, but there isn't anything better you could really have done; if they're gunning for you via your boss, you needed to make it clear that they may have another agenda.

It's unfortunate you don't have existing evidence to refute their accusations, as they would clearly nail them as liars from the get go - and any evidence you collect now is potentially tainted as you 'only shaped up because you were called on it'. Still, the best thing is to carry on as you are, and document as you go. Record your hours worked, and the time you spend during the day and what on. Doing your own timesheets, even if it's just recording blocks of time on outlook against various tasks is an effective defence against accusations of slacking off.

I hesitate to suggest tackling the women directly, or going over your bosses head to try and take pre-emptive measures, as they could well backfire. I would ask for another private meeting with your boss in a couple of days, as you've had a bit of time to think it over.

Lay out your concerns simply, but without attacking anybody personally. Explain that you were dumbfounded by the accusation, and you're afraid that it's going to stick to you unfairly. Say that you want to work well with these two women, as you do the rest in the office, but you get the feeling they dislike you, and you don't know why. Ask for his help in trying to resolve it, as you don't want it to affect anyone's working environment. Possibly the best approach would be a meeting between you, the boss, and one woman at a time. It likely won't fix much, but you may be pleasantly surprised.

Letting it fester won't do anybody any good over the long term, and 'being the bigger man' by wanting to talk it over calmly and politely should do you no harm in your bosses eye in anything like a workable environment. I've had personal conflicts with staff members before; often, sitting down and talking about it, while involving a moderator such as my boss did help immensely. Usually, it was a misunderstanding of some sort, or even just a perception of a misunderstanding, and fixable by tackling the root of the issue.

So to sum up - I don't think you need to repair the damage of your evaluation, as I don't think you did anything wrong. But I do think tackling the issues between you and these two women - or at the least, pulling the rug out from under them saying bad things about you behind your back - is important for a work environment you can live with in the future.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:13 PM on December 14, 2008

Oh, and if you do end up in a sit down with each woman and your boss, don't accuse her directly. Ideally, your boss will bring it up, but otherwise you want to phrase it somewhat neutrally. "I wanted to sit down and have this chat with you, because I feel we're not working together as well as I'd like. I was wondering if there was anything specific I'm doing that's making your job harder, or if there's any other thing about me or my work that bothers you so we can sort it out."

By giving her a direct forum to air her views in public, it makes it much harder for her to make private complaints later on, while also forcing her to be polite back to your face. The prescence of your mutal boss should prevent it being a personality clash, but force it to any legitimate issues. And who knows, she might have a legitimate grievance over something trivial you hadn't considered. Or she may not - either way, it forces her to work it out on your terms, in front of your boss, not behind your back.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:26 PM on December 14, 2008

You did as well as can be done when caught unawares with these things. Yes, there could have been a little more diplomatic way to handle it. But I think diplomacy went out the window the minute these women tried to get you fired.

Are you salary or hourly? A simple look at your time records would clear this mess up if you're hourly and happen to clock in when you arrive.

If you're salary and they really want to get that into it, email timestamps can work too. Perhaps make it a point to dedicate the first hour of your day to answering some email? It's being a little on the paranoid side, but it's always best to cover your ass. A written log of your own is a little less concrete, since you can write in any times you want.

This may very well be the last you hear of it. It's still good policy to cover yourself for the future. These women don't seem to have any qualms about spreading lies to get what they want.
posted by arishaun at 4:46 PM on December 14, 2008

You did the best you reasonably could under the circumstances, and it was important to correct the record about your typical reporting time.

Now, in addition to watching yourself with your antagonists, you need to face up to the fact that your typical departure time is at issue. Indirect or not, your boss was suggesting you stay later more often. Up to you whether or not you follow that advice, of course, but have no doubt that such was the advice rendered.
posted by MattD at 4:51 PM on December 14, 2008

You are in a no win situation.

Don't bring this up again in any way, because you do not want to be the problem. If you are complaining, bringing this up with your boss again, asking for mediation, then you are being the problem. You're attitude needs to be "I have no problem", which suggests the problem is all theirs, and that therefore the headache is all coming from them. If you say anything more to your boss, I would say "I just want you to know I don't have any problems with anyone in the office, I hope my comments didn't come across that way. I generally come in around 7:30 and leave around 5."

Other than that, you can try making a concerted effort to get to be your manager's friend, or at least get to know him better. Take him out to lunch, etc. Talk about anything during these times but work. The only goal for these times should be to make your boss aware that you are a human being. It's much harder to fire or accept blindly accept criticism of a human being. Seeing you with your manager will also confuse your evil co-workers. These two are bullies, and only attack those they perceive as weak.

Btw, if you are coming in at 8 am and leaving at 5 pm you are putting in a full day. You have nothing to apologize for on this front. You are absolutely right to defend yourself. You PERHAPS made a small office politics faux pas by bringing up the coworkers, but even that's debatable. At this point I think your strategy should be to let it lie.
posted by xammerboy at 5:10 PM on December 14, 2008

MattD is right. You need to tell your boss your schedule, and make sure he's okay with it. You come in at 8 and leave at 5, scheduling permitting.
posted by xammerboy at 5:16 PM on December 14, 2008

Do I need to start mitigation strategies? If so, what do you reccommend?

Log your hours. Just keep doing your job well, stay very professional, but log your hours. You need to keep a true record of what you're doing. If at all possible, log in and send an email first thing each morning so you can see a 'sent mail' from your account when you've arrived. That'll quell that concern - if it ever comes up you can say "I log my hours daily and I can show you I've been in before eight on 98% of my workdays. I even have timestamped emails to corroborate that."

And watch your back. The next time, sadly, the attack probably won't be around hours worked. It'll be something else. Stand up for yourself. Keep a desk diary showing what you've accomplished each day. Take every opportunity to communicate with your boss on your projects and where things are.
posted by Miko at 5:26 PM on December 14, 2008

Oh and DO NOT engage these women directly on this subject. This is the surest way to make this the sort of big huge melofuckingdrama that makes you look bad.
posted by desuetude at 5:54 PM on December 14, 2008

Do I think your job is in danger? No.

However, I'm going to say something you don't want to think about.

Prepare, right now, as if you are going to lose your job in the near future.

About six months before I got laid off in October, I thought to myself, What happens if I'm laid off? My job category could easily be amongst the first cut. It ended up getting me so nervous I worked my way around to convincing myself that my reputation for hard work would prevent me from losing my job (that my performance would be a factor were cuts to be made), and that my salary was too small of an expense to be worth cutting. About four weeks after I stopped worrying about it, guess what happened?

Point being: it is massively helpful to start preparing for a job-loss situation when you have even the faintest whiff that your job might be in danger, because you are preparing whilst you are employed. Very big example of one stitch in time saving nine.

How can you prepare?

Take a look at your budget and cut it now. Figure out what you could cut even further were you to lose your job. Take whatever discretionary income you have and put half into savings — i.e., if each month you send $200 above the minimum payment to credit card companies, then start sending $100 above to them and $100 to a high-interest savings account. Right now, and for maybe nine months (at the very least until the economy upswings), your watchword is: save, save, save, save, save, save, save.

Update your resume now, and print out a number of resumes. Make sure you have all the specific details needed for job applications (former employer addresses, etc.). Look up the telephone number and submission procedures for unemployment in your state, and determine how long it lasts. Start making sure your professional network is intact. Set yourself up on LinkedIn. Might not be the worst of ideas to contact your former bosses, if they thought well of you, and see if they'd be willing to give you a reference next time you're on the market.

The purpose of all this is to build a pile of hay beneath you so that if you do fall, you're not going to hit packed dirt but instead have your fall cushioned. For anyone in this economy, this is a wise move; given the circumstances you describe, to not do so would be highly imprudent.
posted by WCityMike at 6:25 PM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Your situation is annoying and no doubt frustrating, but you did nothing to worsen in in your meeting.

As folks above have said, start documenting the hours for all three of you now. Don't use it, don't do anything with it, don't mention or admit to doing it.... just have it.
posted by rokusan at 8:08 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

rokusan: "Your situation is annoying and no doubt frustrating, but you did nothing to worsen in in your meeting.

As folks above have said, start documenting the hours for all three of you now. Don't use it, don't do anything with it, don't mention or admit to doing it.... just have it.

Just wanted to 2nd what rokusan said.
posted by demagogue at 10:21 PM on December 14, 2008

In workplaces I've dealt with, the people who get their stuff done and leave on time get as much respect (generally more) as those who slog away for hours longer. It's all about setting a pattern at the start where you do the normal hours unless specific circumstances demand otherwise, but it's really hard to change that later.

The best answer would've been for you to calmly and confidently mention that you get in early but yes, you often leave on time when you've had an efficient day as you've found it leaves you fresh to do the same the next day. You're happy to discuss any specific issues with your work or level of productivity.

If you're the first or second person in, virtually no one knows how early you're there, right? You could probably turn up 40 minutes later and leave 20 minutes later and everyone would think you're working harder if it's that kind of office.
posted by malevolent at 11:54 PM on December 14, 2008

I usually work right through the day

You work right through the day, or you're there all day? When my staff start pointing fingers at somebody else's times, it's not because they're working shorter hours - it's because they're slacking off during the day, so people start to watch them.

It's also possible that your office has a culture of starting later and working later. By starting early and finishing right on five (and, by the way, two or three times a week is a common occurrence), you're going against this culture. Perhaps your colleagues believe you're just faffing about when you come in early, and perhaps they think you leave when there's still work to be done. I know I expect my staff to stick around when there's work to be done - in return, I'm not a clock-watcher when they need time off to get personal stuff done.

Ultimately, other people's perceptions about you are pretty much the reality you have to deal with. You can't change them - they're not the slightest bit interested in facts, particularly if they've decided they don't like you - so you can either change yourself, or leave. I'd be tending toward the latter.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:13 AM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Definately sounds like you did no wrong here- I'm not an expert on intra-office relations/politics, but I have made it a practice to do two things, and I think it has worked out well for me.

1- Tell the boss when there are personality conflicts, even if they might be your fault. I'd rather my boss think I'm an asshole than for her to think I'm a slacker. "Joe and I don't get along, I don't think it's my fault but maybe I'm not helping as I admit that he grates on my nerves. But I do not let that get into the way of my work output."

2- Always defend myself when there are implications of bad things. And/or, tell stories that refute said implications. Say the office troublemaker is spreading rumors that you are slacking off. Well, next time the boss asks you a question, make sure you mention that you tried calling Client X at 8am, but they weren't in the office yet. Or that traffic was NUTS on Telegraph ROad at 7:30. Make sure it's always true and always nonchalant. You are just making sure that the boss has information that refutes the rumors.

It definitely sounds like you are going against the culture of the office with your work hours. Nothing wrong with that, but as you are finding, it causes people to get defensive. These two people appear to have made politics more important than work, and you'll just have to ignore that. My experience is that this happens when you don't join, or they don't let you into, the clique. They are turning the office into high school. My experience is also that this happens when you are upsetting something they believe to be their "right"- maybe you are getting too much work done and making their inboxes build up. Instead of improving their own performance, immature people like this will make it their business to trip you up, to show you up for "showing off".
posted by gjc at 6:29 AM on December 15, 2008

It's okay to wait several days, then ask to see him and be honest. Say that you're concerned because you don't like to comment on co-workers, and just wanted to respond. You were, not surprisingly, startled to hear some unpleasant comments.

Then ask him for advice on how to best work with the problem individuals.
posted by theora55 at 3:56 PM on December 15, 2008

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