Help me stay sane and employed during a difficult work situation
August 27, 2010 9:08 AM   Subscribe

How can I stay sane and employed during a difficult work situation?

I work for a large corporation doing web related work.

Last month, my boss (call her Boss 1) resigned and her last day was 8/4. The following day, my boss's boss (Boss 2) resigned and will be leaving tomorrow (Friday). This leaves me without a real supervisor. My new "boss" (Boss 3) is an upper level executive. He has no idea what my job entails and we barely know each other.

After Boss 2 announced his resignation, I contacted Boss 3 to ask if we could meet so I would have an idea of what my responsibilities were to be going forward. When I contacted him on 8/6, he said he was "too busy" to meet with me for a couple weeks.

My department is extremely slow with replacing people who leave. Upper management continually promises to hire replacements, but literally years go by before they find someone new (which is strange because my department is very monetarily successful – although the success is slowly dwindling since they never replace anyone).

Since Boss 1 left, I have been doing most of her job. Although, no one directly told me to do her job. My co-workers rely on me to do the things my boss used to do because no one else knows how to do those things. I like my co-workers and don't mind the tasks, so I always do them. If I didn't do them, they wouldn't get done and it would cause major headaches for the department.

I spoke to HR and they told me the situation can't go on for months and months. Boss 3 will have to make a decision about my position and Boss 2's position before months elapse. (Although, I was not given a maximum time frame.) The HR rep told me that I could refuse to do Boss 1's job and I would not be fired. This just doesn't seem tenable to me since I want to stay with the company. However, Boss 1 was paid more than double what I am paid. I resent having to do Boss 1's job when I know that the tasks are worth much more than I am being paid.

HR suggested that I set up a meeting with Boss 3 (using the Outlook ). I decided to give him 3 weeks. He didn't respond for the first 2 weeks and today wrote back saying that meeting was "premature" and said he wanted to wait another week.

Now, I feel extremely angry and hateful towards Boss 3. I have decided that he dislikes me even though he doesn't know me and that makes me resent him. I am so angry that I just want to go into his office and slam a resignation letter on his desk and leave and never come back.

The reality is that I can't just quit without having another job lined up and recent interviews I have gone on have yielded nothing.

Besides quitting, does anyone have any ideas on how to make this situation better?

I am considering the following:

-Going back to HR and telling them that nothing is changing and Boss 3 is still refusing to meet with me

-Taking days off when my presence is especially needed in the office. Since Boss 1 left, there are tasks that only I know how to do. I could take off an key days, which will delay the tasks and cost the company money

-Refuse to do any of Boss 1's work

-Keep up what I'm doing and hope something will miraculously change.

Does anyone else have any ideas? If you've been in a similar situation, what did you do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, it sounds like you are in a very interesting situation. If I were in that situation, I would start to think about how I could leverage myself into a combination of your 2 bosses positions. I would write up a proposal of duties as well as ask to be responsible to hire a backfill for my old position. This would, of course, be a huge promotion with everything that comes along with the promotion.

Unless you don't want to be doing your bosses' jobs, and want to stay where you are, I would be proactive.
posted by TheBones at 9:13 AM on August 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

Write a formal email to your acting supervisor, cc'ing HR, explaining the job duties that your position entails. Tell them what you want. Ask for it directly.

Do you want to continue doing only what you've been doing? Say so. Do you want to be promoted to do your former supervisor's job? Say so.

Assess the answer's they give you, then act based on that information.

If you're doing work outside your job (and pay!) that no one is asking you to do, you're probably doing exactly what they way, working for free. Stop it.
posted by jardinier at 9:20 AM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't think Boss 3 hates you; I think Boss 3 is just really busy and has no idea what you do or why there is a problem. I'm with TheBones - I would write up a proposal, or at least a memo, outlining what it is you are doing/were doing/want to be doing. Explain that you'd like clarification (and a raise). Send it to Boss 3 and to HR.

Or, since you have talked to HR, take it back there - but I would do it in a "I know that Boss 3 is really busy, but I need some clarification, soon please" kind of way, not a "he refuses to meet with me" kind of way.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:22 AM on August 27, 2010 [9 favorites]

I think that you have the right idea. Send Boss 3 a message saying that since he doesn't have time to meet with you, you have decided to take a month off, starting (let us say) next Tuesday - you will still be available on Monday if anyone needs to talk to you before you go. Perhaps he will have time to meet with you when you come back. Then see if the company can do without you for a month, or whether they are motivated to do something about this situation. Also, you do have to carry through with your threat. Never make empty threats, because if you do people will stop taking you seriously.

And of course, during your month off you will have more time available to check out other employment opportunities.
posted by grizzled at 9:23 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had to deal with executives like this. Argh, it makes me stressed just thinking about it.

OK, you have legitimate concerns for your work and your ability to deliver on projects, I totally understand. However, regardless of how you feel or what you have or have not chosen to do during your workday, you need to understand: Boss 3 likely does not care about something so far down the chain as your work situation, and may not even consider him/herself your direct manager at this point. Constant requests for a meeting will make Boss 3 aggravated, and that will simply delay you actually getting to talk to this person. It sucks, but bosses at too high a level will simply not drill down into the details of day-to-day activity unless there is a crisis.

HR won't help too much here, other than to give the advice you've already recieved. Don't forget, they're preparing HR reports that the bigwigs see anyway, so the fact that there's no-one in Boss 1 and Boss 2's chairs is already known to them.

What would I do, given my past experiences? I would do my work, and only my work. Do the best job I can, but don't insert myself too deeply in the mix. Let the other stuff simply not get done.

What this will do is:
1) preserve your sanity
2) send a clear signal to Boss 3 (but not from you, specifically) that this particular area needs his or her attention, because things aren't getting done.

Whatever you do, don't get on Boss 3's radar. Remember, having someone at this high a level focus on you can be like putting on the One Ring and finding Sauron staring down at you.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 9:28 AM on August 27, 2010 [11 favorites]

I am 200% with TheBones. You are such a lucky fella.

If I were you, I would show Boss 3 that Boss 1 and 2 are not at all needed and you can do their work. Think about it very seriously and if you can really do their job with little more effort. Prove to Boss 3 that you really can (if you can). And if you can try to go one step above to Boss 1 or Boss 2's level. Ask for monetary and benefits increase within 6 months or at the time of next appraisal.

If you take leave and I am Boss 3, I would fire you ASAP. The reason, this company needs you and you are taking days off, just to prove your point? Things are not bad (at least from your post) Everyday people work in lot worse condition than yours to put food on the plate and here you are, caressing your ego. (Do you see the point why our jobs are going to India and China?)

This is a perfect time to get to know Boss 3 very well and get in good terms with him/her. In the long run, it will be a very smart move in career development.

On the other side of the coin,
I would write him reminding of the need of a meeting, cc ing to HR guy who you talked to previously. If there is no response, follow the steps suggested by other posters.

If you REALLY don't want to do Boss 1's work, your choice (but this could get you in hot water with Boss 3, even before you meet him/her.)
posted by zaxour at 9:54 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

You have a couple of different options available to you. All of it involves *documenting* and not just talking.

Write a memo outlining what your job description is. This is important because, as you have noted, Boss 3 probably doesn't even know what it is that you do.

To this memo, say "And since the departure of Boss 1 I have been performing the following duties which were formerly their responsibility," and list them IN DETAIL. State that there is no one else qualified to do the work (if that is true - even if there are other people, list them, it will demonstrate knowledge and that this isn't about you), and that you have picked up the work in addition to your core duties because of - and this is important - CONCRETE REASONS X, Y and Z. You state above that if you were to take an absence on certain days, it would cost the company money because tasks A, B and C would not get done. You need to demonstrate the cause and effect.

You need to say "I started doing the weekly widget inventory on Tuesday afternoons because we need to phone the widget orders in on Wednesday morning due to our special arrangement with Bob's Widgets. If we do not phone in the order on Wednesday morning, then we lose the 50% discount we have arranged with Bob's Widgets by placing our orders earlier in the week." I'm oversimplifying things, but you see the point.

You end the memo by saying, "Since it is in the best interests of the company that these tasks previously performed by Boss 1 continue to be completed, I am happy to take on this work on a temporary basis." Then name a date in the future - 2 weeks, 4 weeks - that you will STOP doing the job because it will start to impact the work you were hired to do. "At that point I will document the work I have been doing and supply that documentation to Boss 3 to use in the transition to a future hire."

Or, this is the place that you ask for the job. ASK for the sale, you have to ask for it if you think you're qualified and you want to do it. Document how you are qualified.

Send the email to HR and Boss 3 and STICK TO IT. If you said you'll stop on the 15th, stop on the 15th, document everything send it to HR and Boss 3 and go back to doing your old job.

You say you don't think it's "tenable" for you to ignore what needs to be done because you want to keep your job. Keeping your job involves you doing your job, not everyone's job. It also involves you flagging risks, not catching every baby falling out of the sky yourself.

Finally, I will give you the advice my most valued management mentor gave me: If you keep doing everything, everyone will assume that there isn't a problem, and let you keep doing it. But if you stop doing everything and tell everyone that there's a problem and then they begin to see it, THEN they will probably do something about the problem. Until then, there isn't a problem.

But document. Do not do things verbally. Email. Keep hard copies. Put HR on everything.
posted by micawber at 10:05 AM on August 27, 2010 [8 favorites]

Just chiming in to add another voice to the "opportunity!" viewpoint.

Boss 3 wants a solution, not a discussion. Come up with a solution (include compensation numbers too), and send it to him, CC your HR people so they're aware, and maybe set up a meeting. Odds are if you're working in a BigCo, then the person you're talking to doesn't have time to think beyond "Yes/No" decision making - underlings bring solutions, he/she okays them.
posted by clicking the 'Post Comment' button at 10:44 AM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

micawber is right. As far as I can tell from your post, Boss 3 has not been informed, by you or by HR, that you took on Boss 1's responsibilities. This is the first thing you need to take care of if you want the situation to improve.

Actually, that's the second thing you need to take care of. The first thing is to figure out what you want. Now, I'll tell you what you're not going to get: you're not going to get Boss 3 (or anyone else) falling over themselves with gratitude because you picked up Boss 1's responsibilities without being asked. So, do you want to give back these responsibilities, or do you want to be compensated for them?
posted by shiny blue object at 10:59 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

The reason why Boss3 is not returning your calls is because s/he had Boss1 and Boss2 to deal with the administrivia, and they are no longer here. It's a pain in the ass to think about these details, so s/he does not.

At some point Boss3 will need to make a decision to hire someone to do the departed Boss's responsibilities. S/he will send some bullet points to HR, they will confer for about 1 hour with Boss3, and the position will get posted. Interview will happen, and the position will be filled.

I'm not sure if I see an opportunity for you here.

You need to somehow develop a relationship with whomever the decision-maker is, and it would seem to be Boss3, who does not want a relationship with you.

Be prepared to fill-in as a manager. Document what you do, and make sure HR sees it, and validates it - you can put it on your resume.

Don't be crushed when they hire someone else from outside with more pay to do the job you are doing off the side of your desk.


Don't take Boss3's snubs to personally. It's not personal. It's a communication style. How have you approached him? Through email and Outlook requests? How many of these do you think he gets in a day? Dozens?

If you really want to approach Boss3, make a phone call. Phone between 7:00AM and 8:30AM. Don't leave a message. Try phoning early in the day for 5 days in a row.

Prepare a pitch. Figure out how to get him seated in a room.

Believe it or not, this is how managers operate. You need to get into the brain of this guy, and figure out how to speak his language. It is not easy. With Type-A personalities, a misstep or two will damage your credibility.

But you have to try.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:01 AM on August 27, 2010

I hove no concrete examples of what you should do, but I will say that if an action you're considering feels like spite, or if it feels especially good and cathartic to do, then it is not a good choice. (If you want to keep this job.)

Good luck in a terrible situation.
posted by thatone at 11:24 AM on August 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

This exact thing has happened to me. I was not proactive, and I regretted it. i did end up getting a promotion, but only for a tiny portion of what I knew my boss had been making, and I did the work of a 3-person department by myself for over six months. You need to really start pushing this and making sure that you get credit for all the extra work you are doing (and let's face it, you really aren't going to refuse to do any tasks that don't belong in your job description, that is just unprofessional and would reflect poorly on you)
posted by coupdefoudre at 12:24 PM on August 27, 2010

Nthing the present a solution, not a problem to boss 3 and boss 3 can do what boss 3 is paid to do which is make a decision, not solve a problem. He has bosses 1 and 2 and their equivalents in other departments to do that.

So if you want to take one of these jobs you present this as an easy and efficient solution and you don't expect him to find time between his back to back meetings, which are about things he considers much more important than your perceived crises, to analyse your situation and work out how to fix it. As for your three meeting requests - people at boss 3s level have PAs who spend a large chunk of their day doing nothing but arrange meetings with other boss 3 level people via their respective PAs, so your three meeting offers being turned down is just standard effort required to get face time with busy high up people. Once you have got your proposed solution get him really early in the day before the marathon of meetings and conversations that constitutes his working day starts. You could even pop up to see him - only consider doing this if you are able to adjust how you feel about this to detached, up beat, problem solving pro-active employee mode and manage to bring your pitch down to about 5 minutes and have previously emailed it copying in HR, bringing a copy of your email because it will be lost in his inbox.

In practical terms you have to work out what you want, e.g. your boss' job and how this might be achieved and communicate that as best solution. To be honest though your question sounds as if you want them to find you a new boss asap so you can go back to your normal role. In that case leave boss 3 alone and HR and boss 3 will get round to opening the position and interviewing in due course.

To reduce your burden in the shortrun you do not just pick up the work boss 1 did, you delegate a chunk of your normal work to the rest of the team - 'until we have got a new management team we need to work together to keep things ticking over'. You say the team is looking to you to do these things because you know how to do them. They will probably also accept your lead in this and take some of your tasks on until a permanent solution is found. You're not the only one feeling lost and ignored in all of this, they do, too, and they are looking to you to fill the void so fill it, make the current situation sustainable in the shortrun, and keep your sanity.

Also, if you really just want them to get you a new boss asap think very long and hard which of the tasks boss 1 & 2 did were mission critical and which were not - only take on the bare minimum to keep things ticking over.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:39 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't take it personally that Boss3 isn't meeting with you, he's just busy.

I think your best bet is to keep everything running smoothly without causing Boss3 extra headaches. This will show that you should be promoted and given a large raise. Even if you don't get the promotion/raise, you will have an excellent story to tell in a future job interview about how you handled the situation.

DON'T try to fuck with people by not showing up to work, refusing to handle the stuff that needs to get done, pitching a shit-fit to HR, etc. That is really petty and will just burn bridges with coworkers and destroy your professional reputation.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:01 PM on August 27, 2010

What Jacqueline just says, 100%. And don't copy HR on a memo to Boss 3 concerning business matters. Boss 3 could righteously fire you, on general principals, for that sort of nonsense.
posted by MattD at 6:03 PM on August 27, 2010

Nthing "don't be manipulative." However, keep in mind that no one will pay you more for work that you're doing for free. If you are performing Boss 1 & 2's tasks for your current compensation, and Boss 3 feels you will continue to do so, he/she has no motivation to increase your pay. You may need to be willing to walk away if they try to milk your work ethic; your knowledge of the job will likely be your safeguard.
posted by shopefowler at 6:59 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best advice so far is not taking any action that will burn bridges. I would suggest you send a piece of correspondence for Boss 3 to sign that recognizes your working as "acting" boss 1 & 2 since (dates) and ask/direct HR to so note in your files and pay you at the Boss 2 level since day 1. The draft correspondence should also direct you to assume the acting position of Boss 2 for a finite period of time or date along with the authority to fill your former position with an acting person from among your staff, with appropriate pay. Watch out for your staff, rumors will be rampant of impending doom, esp. with the resignation of Boss 1 & 2.

You can pull this off and keep your sanity. Whatever you do document what that you filled both positions and why as well as your attempts to sort this out with Boss 3.
posted by KneeDeep at 2:15 PM on August 28, 2010

If you want Boss1 or 2's job, ask for it. Document that you can do it, and then ask for the compensation that the position deserves.

Don't work for free. Companies will always take advantage of those employees willing to work for free.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:39 PM on August 28, 2010

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