It's time for your quarterly new boss
January 27, 2011 1:44 PM   Subscribe

New boss, reorg after way too much chaos. How do I stay unemotional/not bitter? And keep from freaking out? And keep my job?

I have a new boss. This is boss #4 for me in the last 2.5 years, with a larger department that's been in serious chaos.

My department is running well, I'm always in budget, my reviews have been stellar, but I've been working under the promises/reassurance that it would all be better soon.

However, my new boss (over the larger structure my team fits under) appears to have gotten no briefing on any of his report teams--the history, the structure, the accomplishments. There doesn't appear to be any acknowledgment of the larger structural issues that have led to hideous conflicts in the past. My parallel coworkers are either in backstab or neurose (or both) mode, ready to throw each other (and me) under the bus to try to get attention from the new boss. And at the same time, my HR rep has changed as well so I don't have anyone who knows me well supporting my boss in that avenue either.

So after a pretty tough go of things--I've worked very hard and dealt with some emotional damage from at least one truly terrible boss--I honestly can't work up the care to do the ass-kiss once again. I don't have the emotional patience to take yet another person through the strategy without a new plan or vision. I don't appreciate the new boss's well meaning, but oh-my-god-is-this-going-to-be-awful, team building and "how would you structure the team" meetings.

Logically, I know I should be honest, do the work, not worry about my coworkers' feelings, put forward suggestions that are proactive and start from scratch with an open mind and a hopeful heart.

But emotionally, I'm disheartened and bitter. I love the company, but I feel betrayed by getting another boss who doesn't have the company resources or political muscle to make necessary changes. I'm reluctant to be honest and say that some of the people I'm working with, and like as people, don't really fit together and are redundant. I certainly wouldn't want to report to any of them. And I just don't have the personality or energy right now to make a power play to try to be their boss, either.

I'm upper middle management. The larger company is amazing, but oddly structured. I don't have a close enough relationship with the exec staff that I have a high powered ally enough to be protected. My results are good, but hard to quantify beyond the basic metrics of efficiency and the satisfaction of the other groups that work with us.

I need the money and the benefits, so I can't just quit. Also, after building my functions almost from scratch and accomplishing everything I have, I'm not ready to walk away from it if I can somehow push through this.

tldr; I'm bitter about having yet another new boss. How do I emotionally deal with a toxic situation and get myself "reinvigorated" about doing all the same stuff all over again? And how do I fake being positive and proactive so I don't get demoted/reorged out?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I've been working under the promises/reassurance that it would all be better soon.

I worked under that reassurance for three years. Then I left. I am a much happier person now, even tho I earn a little less. Those who stayed - well, they're still in exactly the same boat.

That is to say, I can't give you specific advice how to handle this 4th boss in a row, but it seems from your description that things have been pretty awful for a while (tho you don't say why there is such a high turnover). Why should they improve, soon or ever?

If you have the energy to start looking for a new job, I'd do that. Oh and btw, just looking around and seeing that "it doesn't have to be this way" sometimes makes a bad situation more bearable already.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:16 PM on January 27, 2011

I've recently gone through something similar.
I started looking for work, just in case, and it paid off.
After years of hard work the new boss decided I had an attitude problem and I was fired.
The result was that I landed on my feet in a new job, unfortunately I couldn't use my previous employer for any kind of reference.

My strong recomendation is get out, on a possitive note, before you quit or are forced out.
posted by Ignorance at 2:20 PM on January 27, 2011

How do I emotionally deal with a toxic situation and get myself "reinvigorated" about doing all the same stuff all over again?

Your situation sounds awful. Mine isn't bad, but recently I started various non-work activities that reset my view of things. I'm doing Tai Chi and Qi Gong, and a lot of walking, which help me ignore stress from work. Although my job still has the same daily slog, it's not affecting my morale now.

Changing your job is ideal, but moving your mind onto other things will help in the meantime.
posted by anadem at 2:35 PM on January 27, 2011

The thing I keep learning in hindsight after leaving a job that became crappy is that I stayed too long. Loyalty is totally misplaced except to the degree that it keeps the company's interests in mind while you're working there. Sad but true, unless you own the company. I always always tell myself to remember to start looking for a job the *first time* it occurs to me that the company is lame, but I never listen.

If your peers are all transfixed by the drama (which there will always be, because some people are helplessly drawn to any drama "HEY WHAT'S GOING ON?"), then you can be a comedian about it. It will allow you the emotional distance required to keep your own interests in mind, and also give you a way of interacting with people on a consistent basis without having to mire yourself in backstab or neurosis (both of which are contagious, since in an office environment you have to fake getting along through odious situations all the time, which affects your general attitude: if you're always commiserating with the downers, it's natural to get all downy in response). "So, you're my boss this week?"

But yeah, it probably won't get better unless you're interested in reducing the number of people above you in the org chart.
posted by rhizome at 3:00 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your situation sounds awful. Mine isn't bad, but recently I started various non-work activities that reset my view of things. I'm doing Tai Chi and Qi Gong, and a lot of walking, which help me ignore stress from work. Although my job still has the same daily slog, it's not affecting my morale now.

Yup. I try, year-round, to do volunteering. Now my volunteering is environmental, but your desires may vary. It helps :)
posted by zombieApoc at 4:05 PM on January 27, 2011

I've been in a similar situation, and here's what worked for me.

1) Keep doing good work.

2) Even if your new boss doesn't know your track record, other people in the company will.

3) You will become known as a person who does quality work, and isn't backstabby or neurotic.

4) You should end up with a better situation, or at least some good references.
posted by fixer at 5:00 PM on January 27, 2011

I'm going to give you some contrarian advice to all of the other posters. This is based on 10 years of holding C-level positions and having experienced getting a new CEO or CxO boss many times.

1. First of all, your situation isn't toxic. It is what it is. 4 new bosses in 2.5 years is excessive, but not absurd. In my experience, that is just life in the C-suite. The farther you get up the org chart, the less stable your job is. Partly because personal loyalty plays an increasingly important role, and you may have to start over on that if you get a new boss. That boss may decide to bring in people he or she has worked with before or just wants a clean start. You may get recruited away to a new job by a former boss or by a rival company. The difference between leaving for a better job, getting fired for performance reasons, getting fired for symbolic reasons, and getting fired because of personal chemistry (or lack thereof) all blur together. You just can't take getting fired personally. I walk into my job every day with the assumption that there is some small chance I'll be fired. It isn't paranoia, there really is a small chance, and I've said goodbye to any number of HR directors, General Counsels, CFOs, COOs, etc. over the years, and sometimes its me they are saying goodbye to. It can be wonderfully focusing to think: if today is my last day at this job, what do I really, absolutely need to do? It also make it easier to speak truth-to-power.

2. Your expectation about your new boss showing up knowing what to do -- "my new boss (over the larger structure my team fits under) appears to have gotten no briefing on any of his report teams--the history, the structure, the accomplishments" is misplaced and very passive. Who in the world do you think would have given him that briefing? His boss? The board? His peers? My playbook in this situation is to immediately meet with my new boss, hand him a book with things he'll need to refer to (org chart, budget, P&L statement, list of in-flight projects, etc.) and propose a series of briefings to get him or her up to speed. I'll circle up with my peers to get them on-board and ignore the ones who want to go it alone. Everyone understands that it is in our collective best interest to have a clued in boss, so consensus is pretty easy to get here.

3. A seasoned executive is going to assume they will be parachuted in with no briefing, so generally they'll show up and hand you a list of what they are looking for. There is a whole genre of books that cover what to do in this situation, like The First 90 Days or The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan: How to Take Charge, Build Your Team, and Get Immediate Results. The fact that your new boss didn't show up with a list tells me that he may not be very experienced and my suggestion #2 would be very helpful to him.

4. The next play in my playbook for a new boss, once he/she has their feet under them, is to spend some time briefing them on exactly what I personally do, how I manage my people, and have a brass tacks conversation about whether any of that needs to change and how I should be reporting up. I've held the same position through four CEOs and my job responsibilities have changed significantly with each one. Again, that is just life in the C-suite.

5. Though I said in #1 that your situation isn't toxic, I don't mean to imply that it isn't stressful. A couple of posters mentioned Tai Chi, walking, and volunteering. I agree with that advice -- outside of work, you need to have a stress reliever. For me, it is going to the gym or going running immediately after work.

6. Corollary to #1: if you assume that on any given day you could get fired, it makes sense to keep a more or less continuous low level job search going. Not the kind where you engage a recruiter -- they'll want to push you into a new position as soon as possible -- but more where you keep your contacts warm by occasional phone calls to exec recruiters to keep you in their contact lists, going to networking events, making sure people know you are "open to new opportunities." That will result in a few opportunities to interview. If/when you do part ways with your company, your job search will already be in first gear instead of at a dead stop. And, you might have a great new job pop up out of the blue. It certainly helps with the attitude at work, because you won't feel like you are at the mercy of your company.

tl;dr summary: don't be so passive about your situation, there is plenty you can do to affect it, which should in turn help with the "disheartened and bitter" feelings. Good luck with your situation.
posted by kovacs at 6:31 PM on January 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

Why do you still work there?

If you love the larger company, find a way to transfer to a completely different part of it.

Otherwise, find another job. Chances are it will be better. If it's not, find another another job. By rejecting bad situations you will eventually end up in a good situation.

Work doesn't have to be as bad as you've described it. Going to the office can even be a joy that you look forward to every morning and every weekend. So stop wasting your life on this bullshit!
posted by Jacqueline at 12:10 AM on January 28, 2011

Stop caring and reverse your priorities. Many of us get involved -- invested -- in workplaces with the concept that "I care and therefore my care should be matched with reciprocity from the organisation". Perhaps shifting to "The company is not reciprocating my care, therefore, I will cease to be as highly invested."

As you've said that you love the company and need the job, perhaps a little lateral thinking may help as well then. When I was in a similar situation a while back, I took a multi-tiered strategy.

In brief, I went to the senior executive and mentioned that there were some issues in the organisation that I would like to discuss with him outside the company. He offered an invitation to afterwork drinks at his house.

At those afterwork drinks, I mentioned the inefficients that were arising in certain areas however at that point, no names or specific things related to people were mentioned, only impacts on costs and output.

He heard me. And nothing changed immediately however he did mention that he appreciated my attentiveness to the issues and thoughtfulness about them.

I continued for several months before another massive problem arose and I called him on a Saturday morning at 7am. I described the problem, he provided several options to solve it. Then I mentioned, "you know, someone should really sort this out. this is an on-going problem, it's costing us time and money and negatively impacting the employee morale."

"Okay, you can sort it out. They're [30 people] part of your team now [3 people]. Let me know your plan for the quarter in two weeks. Thank you for taking this on."

I raise this anecdote to provoke a few lines of thinking:

1) Is it more important that things change and are resolved? Or that YOU are the one who resolves them (ie. promotion and equivalent compensation). Often, the best person to solve the problem is not the person who identifies the problem. However, conversely, you must accept that requesting a change is a risk and in some cases, that risk may result in your termination in the worst-case or in a new workload without commensurate compensation in a less-worse case.

2) More can be accomplished with senior management by focusing on the results that you see the potential for. Specifically offering anecdotes or targeting a certain person or process appears as playing politics and looks like personal beef. Senior management is nearly always primarily concerned with the overall health of the company.

In the adage "don't give me problems, give me solutions," if you can identify a problem with output (not process, that comes later) and a set of solutions, you are showing yourself to be a selfless individual who is less interested in personal gain than the overall functioning of the company. That is well-liked.

3) Most importantly, sit down and get very realistic about a plan. Do that in an un-emotional way. If you do the above steps and can carve a safe niche for yourself with the potential of a promotion, become immediately uninvested in the politics and BS and solely focus on your own objective, which is getting promoted to a level where you can solve these problems. Everything else becomes background noise and you will have a single-minded focus on achieving that goal. Every problem is an opportunity to prove yourself. Every backstab or break of trust is a demonstration that you deserve this opportunity more than your fellow staff members. Become the duck and let the water roll down your back and off your tail.

4) If your un-emotional assessment is that you cannot carve this niche out and the company is not going to provide you with the opportunity to move into a position where you can actively contribute to the solutions for these problems, you must decide where you are going to take a path of safety or whether you are going to take a risk to achieve your desires. The former means basically accepting the way the situation is and expressing yourself via other avenues outside of work. Maybe you are cold, maybe you are lifeless at work, but you are safe. The latter means that you must begin the process of transitioning out of the company and into a place where you will have the opportunity to focus on career advancement rather than fighting against the tide to remain in the same position.

If you want to look at an analogy, imagine you are dating a wonderful partner that has a few moderate emotional problems. It behoves you explore a reasonable set of solutions to help assuage the impact of those problems as long as they want to improve the quality of their own life experience. If they do want to improve and will take the steps to improve, you have a singleminded focus on the outcome, forget dealing with the individual impacts of the problems and focus on achieving a result -- life with those problems diminished. If this partner does not take the steps to resolve those problems, you have two options: 1) accept, or 2) leave.

In either case, love or work, continued effort to create positive change in a person or entity that is not working with the same or greater effort in the same direction is analogous to rolling a boulder up a hill for all eternity.

Chances are you know the answer already. If the answer is to stay and fight, you may be afraid of the risk of rocking the boat. If the answer is to stay and become silent, you may be afraid of a life where you accept -- and potentially become -- the mediocrity and problems you see around you. If the answer is to leave, you may be afraid of leaving a great company for destination unknown.

Regardless of the fear holding you back from taking pointed action to relieve your discomfort, the sooner you decide to enact a course of action and change the situation with only regard for what you can do yourself, you will begin on a road that will ensure this problem is ameliorated.

I suggest you detach yourself from the outcomes here and really get clear on what you want and if your current job situation can deliver that for you.
posted by nickrussell at 3:57 AM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've been working under the promises/reassurance that it would all be better soon....I love the company, but...

You have been working under a sick system. Read that post, brush up your resume, treat yourself to some comfort food, and start looking for a new job. Once you realize that you deserve better and that you can do better, you'll be surprised at how much brighter the future looks.
posted by Gator at 4:16 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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