My boss is driving me crazy. Should I ask the head of HR to mediate, or go it alone?
November 14, 2004 6:50 PM   Subscribe

My boss is driving me crazy. It's time to have a sit-down. Should I ask the head of HR to mediate, or go it alone?

BTW, part of the discussion will include the issue of mind games: as perceived by me, as practiced by the Boss. This is a huge risk, but life has gotten unbearable. (Thanks in advance.)
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (16 answers total)
Just start looking for another job now. Seriously.

Unless your boss is doing something illegal, or your HR person happens to be angelic, I don't think involving them will help you.

You listed no reasons in your question as to why you like or want to keep your job. So look for a new one, quit, and when you quit make it explicit that your boss' mind games are the reason.

posted by falconred at 6:57 PM on November 14, 2004

learn to play chess. no, I mean really learn to play chess.

this will make the mind games
(a) child's play
(2) highly entertaining
posted by dorian at 7:29 PM on November 14, 2004

does your work offer an ombudsman program? I'd try that if they do.
posted by quibx at 7:37 PM on November 14, 2004

You're stating it's a huge risk which means that you anticipate the possibility that both your situation won't be improved and your boss might be vindictive. I also assume that you actually want to keep the job rather than find another one.

If I were in your position I'd make sure I have a way out, whether it's enough savings to tide you over to a new job or a firm offer in hand. Then call a meeting with your boss. I can't give you advice on H.R. If your H.R. will be helpful invite them along, if not then avoid them. In my case I'd avoid them, part of the problem with my particular company is that H.R. is treated as an important business unit while our actual business is making computers. So they have status and to maintain that status they'll kiss any manager or executives ass.

Having H.R. involved could possibly escalate it as well, there's a difference between a chat with a purpose and an official talk.

When you're interviewing don't mention personal problems with your boss as a reason. It might be honest, and he may be a complete ass, but hiring managers get nervous about stuff like that.

One important thing whatever your decision: Make a list of what you want out of it and set a criteria that if violated starts the wheels in motion for your departure. Having a conversation with your boss might be cathartic and result in positive changes in the short term. You need to honestly judge if the outcome is positive in the long term.
posted by substrate at 7:45 PM on November 14, 2004

Give it a couple more days before you do anything. Looking for another job in the meantime is a good idea. Take it from someone who just had this conversation with their boss, this talk will go nowhere.
posted by xammerboy at 8:05 PM on November 14, 2004

If you ARE going to do this, bring in your HR person for documentation.
posted by xammerboy at 8:06 PM on November 14, 2004

Write your concerns down. Review them with someone else (friend or family member). Revise them based on that feedback.

Then, talk with a career counselor about what strategies for a) resolving the concerns, or b) exiting the situation with dignity might work for you before you talk with anyone at work.

The more you plan and rehearse this, the better it will go. The less you plan and rehearse it, the more likely it is to be a disaster.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:16 PM on November 14, 2004

If you're willing to loose your job but also hoping for the best improvement if all goes well, talk directly. I've had to do this at work (have a little pow-wow with my bosses who piss me off) and talking to the bosses straight up has worked wonders in terms of what I thought they were doing wrong. However, at the moment I was talking to them, I'm suprised I wasn't fired on the spot. Also, before you go in, make sure you know EXACTLY what you want to say, and have a response for whatever they say to you. If you come off as weak or aren't very convincing in what you have to say, chances are things'll backfire.
I've also talked to HR people and the problem is they really do want to chances are you geviences will be reduced ot make it more kosher sounding to your boss.
posted by jmd82 at 8:41 PM on November 14, 2004

Involving HR will have different results depending on the size or degree of formality of your company. In a large concern, or one with fairly formalized roles, it will tend to escalate the issue -- it will immediately become something larger than either of you. In large firms, HR tends to play by policy, rather than by judgement. Bringing them in may trigger certain automatic actions that can't really be stopped; you may unexpectedly discover that some particular thing that you do is sufficient to get you discharged, thus "resolving" the issues without further ado. You may as easily find that the policies play out in your favor. But in my observational experience, it's kind of a crap shoot.

In a small firm, you'll be more likely to see HR siding with the boss by reflex, since s/he will often have a direct role in managing the HR manager.

In any case, sad to say, this is typically a serious CLA [Career Limiting Action]. The better, though obviously less ethically satisfying, solution, is to find some other job, inside or outside the company.

I've seen a few of these things play out, and I agree, you're taking a big risk by even broaching the issue. One vital first step is to document everything before hand, and make sure that trusted friends -- ideally including co-workers -- know and understand the issues, and that you can somehow corroborate your discussions with them by date. If I thought there was a significant chance of knee-jerk response, I'd take the step of making sure that the issues were notorized and entered in my personnel file, as well as cached with one of those aforementioned friends.

The other standard steps (resume in order, personal network connections touched, hard drive cleaned and important personal belongings removed from cube) are standard. I've made it a personal policy to always keep a couple of plastic grocery bags around at all times, and I always keep a batch file that wipes all my personal data -- basically, just good policies for a "contingent worker", anyway, so those things don't in and of themselves indicate that I'm paranoid, BTW....
posted by lodurr at 8:45 PM on November 14, 2004

Remember: if you are an "at-will" employee (many Americans are), you can be fired for any reason or no reason.
posted by falconred at 9:03 PM on November 14, 2004

What lodurr said. Be wary if you work for a small firm and think that the HR person is someone you can go to with grievances, and one who will go to bat for you. I was in a similar situation a few years ago (the boss wasn't playing mind games, exactly, but my superiors enjoyed adding and subtracting various duties from my job description whenever the mood suited.) I visited the company's HR person and soon realized while talking to her that my boss had already briefed her on what I had come to talk about. She was no help.

Best of luck.
posted by emelenjr at 9:27 PM on November 14, 2004

What do you hope to accomplish with this sit-down? What is your goal?

I'm guessing that you're not very clear about your goals - you're probably upset and haven't quite gotten that far yet - or you would've posted them in your question.

You absolutely MUST have your goals in mind before you try this, or you won't accomplish them. You probably won't accomplish them anyway.

If your goal is just to stop your boss from playing mind games with you, I respectfully suggest you're bound to fail. He's your boss - you do not dictate his behavior, except where it falls outside the bounds of legality or company policy. And if you are taking issue with illegal or anti-policy behavior, you don't need HR - you need a lawyer. And a new job.

On the topic of HR/ombudsmen/etc: I submit to you that involving any third party in this discussion is likely to backfire/make things worse for you, unless it causes your boss to be fired or you to be transferred out from under him. You can harm your boss - and believe me, anyone in a supervisory position who gets complained about is going to be very angry about it. If you think it won't come right back around to you, then you must think your boss is a saint. And if he's a saint, why do you want to complain about him in the first place?

HR and ombudsmen will accomodate your request; bear in mind they're doing so solely to prevent you from gaining success in an eventual lawsuit. They do not have your interests in mind.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:05 PM on November 14, 2004

Just start doing a really half-assed job.
posted by krisjohn at 12:29 AM on November 15, 2004

As a former manager, I can say with a high degree of confidence that HR's job is to help your manager weasel out of your complaint in a legally satisfactory way. I guarantee their presence won't aid your cause, but a lone confrontation isn't likely to do much, either.

Find yourself a new boss.
posted by majick at 7:26 AM on November 15, 2004

General rule: Never involve HR unless you absolutely need to. They're there to tell you they're your friends, but would your best friend be the one that includes a color-coded note (usually the generic pink) with your (final) paycheck? In other words, they aren't there to help you -- they're there to keep you under control, and they're generally on your boss's side of things to begin with. You're a lot more disposable than he is.

If you need to have a chat with him, have a chat with him. Lay things out and be blunt.

I will say that dealing with head games is a skill that you need to develop if you want to climb the corporate ladder. My dad, who's a strategy/chess nut, enjoys spotting the game before it starts and then setting up an end-run on a person.
posted by SpecialK at 9:44 AM on November 15, 2004

IANAL. Start documenting everything. Document any significant events in a clearcut manner. Document ways in which your work meets and/or exceeds expectations. It should be measurable. If you bring in HR, couch it in positive terms, i.e., "Bozo and I are not communicating clearly, and I want to improve that." Read the Employee Manual and make copies of any relevant sections. The company is required to abide by their own manual. All this is in case you want to sue the company. And you don't want to sue the company.

If there's anybody you can treat as a mentor, sit down and have a talk and get advice. I've been in this boat, and I wish I'd done that. Maybe Bozo's done this before; maybe Bozo's a known idiot and you'll get sympathy from someone who can help you; maybe there's going to be a great opening in another group, and you can get bailed out.

HR is less than useless. Their job is to make sure you can't sue the company. Only bring them in if you need to show that you've done everything possible to resolve any issues. They will generally back management to the hilt.

If you want to stay in this job, then find a way to work with Bozo. It's legal for Bozo to play head games. It's legal for Bozo to be a flaming jerk. If Bozo wants to make your life miserable and be unfair and set you up to be fired, then you're screwed.

In my case, while I was trying to decide whether or not to take a new job, Bozo got worse. Leaving felt great.
posted by theora55 at 6:08 PM on November 15, 2004

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