Am I overreacting?
February 9, 2011 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Am I justified in bringing this is issue to HR, or is it something I need to just suck up and deal with?

I received an e-mail yesterday that is really messing with my emotions and my work environment.

The e-mail was from a manager; not mine specifically, but one at the same level as mine, with whom I have moderate interaction. The underlying discussion isn't important. What is important is the tone of the e-mail and the attitude it portrays.

The whole issue started as a side discussion between myself and two coworkers (neither of who are on my team or in my direct area). One of those coworkers reported some of the discussions to his manager, who then sent the e-mail in question. As written, the manager was directing the response to the third member of our discussion, but in addition to us three, also copied on the e-mail were his own boss, my boss, and my boss's boss.

Again, the specifics are irrelevant, but this manager has a history of using slimy, dishonest or juvenile tactics to get what he wants, and this I more or less get... some people just are that way; that's their method of success. Mine is different, whatever, to each his own. But this e-mail took things a step further, IMO.

The e-mail contained the following key points:
  • Grossly misleading statements which could be construed as true only if viewed completely out of context from the original discussion.
  • Patently false statements and suggestions, many of which I can directly prove false with documentation (or, indirectly, the lack thereof).
  • The suggestion that some members of my team and I made a mistake by choosing a particular job focus / path (internally, when we were given a choice during a moderate organizational restructuring a few years ago).
  • The insinuation that his staff, though on the same 'level' as me and my team, are smarter, possess a better skill set, and/or are simply better than us.
I am thoroughly disgusted with this person and their tactics, and I personally take offense with the last two bullets in particular. But this probably happens a lot - no workplace is golden, I think a large percentage of people deal with "that guy", to some level. Maybe I've been coddled by the fact that we are non-profit, and until recently have not had to be subjected to the more dog-eat-dog world of corporate / for profit business.

My main question, o great and powerful Oz hive mind, is whether or not this warrants bringing to HR. I know in all the respectful workplace meetings we have, they point out the key is the 'perception of the victim', not the intent of the accused. I'm not, and don't want to be, seen as one of those whiny crybabies who will run to HR every time someone makes a funny face. I've been here a decade and a half, and never once felt debased enough to consider going to HR, but this particular response I felt was hostile, and not becoming of a manager. I'm not sure how I can effectively collaborate with, and provide services to, someone for whom I have absolutely no respect.

tl;dr: Manager (not mine) lied, roped in other managers like a kid tattling on someone, and suggested we made wrong job placement decisions and were less skilled / valuable as a result. Am I out of my gourd by thinking I might want to make a formal complaint to HR, or am I overreacting, this is how corporate America works, welcome to the real world, shut up and deal with it?

Thanks in advance!
posted by SquidLips to Work & Money (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My advice is that you stop adding to the drama. Try to be above it. Practice saying "Oh that? That kind of thing doesn't bother me."

You carefully avoid saying what actually started this, but if you were being gossipy or back-stabby, stop doing that.
posted by fritley at 9:01 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I've encountered this sort of issue in the past, the upper management always expressed a preference to discuss the matter in person and certainly to take it off email. I would have an informal conversation with my boss and see what they say.
posted by Dragonness at 9:03 AM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Nothing good can come of going to HR. They will look out for the manager more than subordinates. You may end up hastening your termination.
posted by anniecat at 9:05 AM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

You don't really have anything to go to HR with. What did s/he say? His/her people were smarter and that you chose poorly? Let it go.
posted by fixedgear at 9:05 AM on February 9, 2011

Best answer: How is your manager taking this? It's hard to say without knowing anything about your employer, but most places observe a kind of territorial etiquette whereby it takes a real spectacle (or history) of failure for anyone but your own immediate boss to decide that you're in trouble.

You might want to stop by your boss's office and, in a very low-key way, let him know that you can sit down with him and refute Email Manager's claims line by line with documentation, if he were interested in hearing that. Purely for his benefit and to help sort this out, not because you have any particular opinion of Email Manager, etc.

I would imagine he will either not want to have to conversation because he knows about Email Manager already, or he will because when you insult someone's direct reports it's meant to reflect upward on him too.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:07 AM on February 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

If your boss doesn't care, you should just shrug it off. Every office has annoying assholes running around judging the work of others. They have no real power and everybody hates them. Best to just pretend they don't bother you.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:11 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

You should express your feelings to your manager and they can bring it up at a higher level if they feel the need. This isn't really what the employee relations department is for (keeping the company from getting sued) but they probably are required to investigate to some degree if they're contacted at all, it will be a huge hassle for everyone and everyone will end up knowing it was you who brought it on.
posted by ghharr at 9:14 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

HR is not your friend. Never go to HR unless you are 1) higher in the hierarchy than the person you are complaining about or 2) in possession of evidence that the company has violated a law.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:16 AM on February 9, 2011 [20 favorites]

Am I justified in bringing this is issue to HR, or is it something I need to just suck up and deal with?

The latter.

Don't make job-altering decisions based on a "tone" that you think you're reading in e-mail.

That's right up there with getting involved in a land war in Asia.
posted by rokusan at 9:17 AM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

I feel like the specifics do matter here (not that I am recommending sharing them), because we may not be getting the full picture as to why this email is so upsetting.

I don't see what you would talk to HR about, and I don't see what HR could do that would actually help you (I see it hurting you more than helping). (Assuming this is a vicious and hostile email that kind of trashes you but not quite.)

Make sure you are straight with your own manager, and sit down and talk with your manager about it. Before you do that, do something (not in the office) to get the emotion and stress of this out of your system - tell a friend, write it down and burn it, smash some plates, whatever works for you. You will have to keep working with Mr. Emailer, and you don't want to do something now that will make that more difficult for you in the future.

Assuming the email was not true and was written in a bad tone, it reflects more poorly on the emailer than you.
posted by mrs. taters at 9:20 AM on February 9, 2011

I would only go to HR if his behavior is demonstrably preventing you from doing your job, or if you have an idea of what a fair and simple resolution to the problem may be.

Another thing you could do is just forward the email to your own supervisor, saying something like "FYI, and I found the (last two bullet points) were confusing. Once again, just thought you would like to see this email, and please let me know if you have any questions."
posted by KokuRyu at 9:22 AM on February 9, 2011

Best answer: The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but it's also really annoying. Nobody likes a pain in the ass, even if they are justified. That's why you shouldn't go to HR and it's why this manager, as described by you, is probably less liked by his boss (and your boss) than you think. But as bosses, they can't -- or certainly shouldn't -- show that. Remember that when dealing with things like perceived tone.

But as far as the untrue statements, I think you should go to your boss as an aside and say casually, "I know you probably know this but X, Y, and Z *provable fact* in that email isn't true and I wanted to give you that heads up in case anyone else brings it up/a higher-up asks you about it."

It's important, however, to focus on the stuff that's a fact. The other manager's opinion -- that you made job focus choices that weren't best for the team/company -- is just that, and even if you disagree, there's probably nothing you can say about that without seeming defensive. If this is something that worries you, I'd check in with your manager on this as well -- you'll be better off if you ensure that this opinion isn't more universal -- and that if it is, you can start doing something to change it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:28 AM on February 9, 2011

I agree that a conversation with your boss is the best approach.

I'd also suggest that you pull together the documentation refuting his claims, especially if its possible that it would be otherwise lost. Keep it to yourself, and only use it if things really escalate.
posted by rube goldberg at 9:28 AM on February 9, 2011

Nothing good can come of going to HR. They will look out for the manager more than subordinates. You may end up hastening your termination.

Quoted for emphasis. HR is not your friend. HR will look out only for the manager.
posted by letitrain at 9:35 AM on February 9, 2011

I would not go to HR, but would continue to collect documentation disproving the false statements in case this weasel tries to go anywhere with it. If your relationship with your own superiors is good, I'd fish for an opinion as to whether you really need to address it. If no one is listening, there's no need to give credence to his thoughts by responding.
posted by Hylas at 9:37 AM on February 9, 2011

Keep in mind that HR does not work for you or exist for your benefit. HR is not an honest broker your can take problems to or an employee advocate. Their main priority in these situations is to limit the company's chance of being sued; they're secondary function is to do what management wants. Is this a problem that senior management needs to know about? Is this situation going to expose the company to extra liablility?

Do you have a union grievance process? They can be your advocate in these sorts of situations, but be aware that that tends to be the scortched-earth nuclear option when dealing with employers.

The proper person to take this up with is your boss. Your relationship with your boss is what you need to be concerned about. Does S/he understand how big a deal this was to you? Could you get them to address this with upper management? If S/he doesn't think this is important, then drop it. If you need to deal with these allegations, then your boss is the avenue you should take.

If you don't feel your boss is dealing with it properly, or if you still feel that this is hanging over your head, you may want to start thinking of a transfer to another group or even start looking for another situation.
posted by bonehead at 9:40 AM on February 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

Seconding bonehead.
posted by Quietgal at 9:46 AM on February 9, 2011

I agree with everyone who says don't go to HR.

What I would do, while it's fresh in your mind, is to write up your objections to the e-mail in a completely neutral tone. Simply state the facts as you see them.

Then I would save this rebuttal document and not show it to anyone.

After that, I would, as others have suggested, have an informal talk with your boss and see how they feel. If they don't care, why should you?

If this is an issue, you can share the rebuttal document you wrote with them, but not before proofing it and making it as objective and neutral as possible. And remove ANY and ALL negative references to the other person. Just stick to the facts.

Good Luck.
posted by cjets at 9:55 AM on February 9, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the quick responses so far... boy, I guess I'm glad I came here before doing anything. A couple data points that may be relevant:

1. I have a good relationship with my boss and boss's boss, and in the past they both have shared the same type of frustration / bad vibes about the manager in question. We are more or less powerless to do anything about it because of the buddy-buddy relationship this manager has with the CIO, and isn't afraid to drop the CIO's name to intimidate us or make their own rhetoric seem somehow more meaningful. That's not exactly uncommon I think; it's just frustrating. We have not discussed this particular incident at all, and I believe that if it was something they wanted to discuss further I would have heard something by now.

2. This manager has a long history of snide comments, questionable honesty, and going behind people's backs; we're used to it and we've grown to ignore it and it eventually does go away. The difference this time is the personal level to which his comments elevated to. It's one thing to argue business practices and the intricacies of our jobs; it's another to publicly deride someone for their internal career choices and claim we are inferior to them and their staff because of it.

So far, none of the recipients of the e-mail have responded to it, or asked me anything about it at all... just something about his comments struck me really wrong, but I appreciate everyone smacking me out of my grumbling, I-should-take-this-to-HR funk. I think I'm just going to let this one go unless it is brought up to me. It's also good to get reminders that people like this are everywhere, and it would be dumb to entertain thoughts of changing employment on the basis of one, when I'll likely run into the same guy, just in a different suit, at the next place. Additional thoughts still welcome but thanks for the reality check.
posted by SquidLips at 10:09 AM on February 9, 2011

really this sounds like you discussed non work related items at work with others...these are not your friends and now have set you up to make a fool of your self or cause inter department do not have friends at work you have coworkers most of whom love drama do not go to HR unless you think you are going to have some one fired or are looking for a transfer.basically you got trolled at work . suck it up and go back to work
posted by hatefull at 10:23 AM on February 9, 2011

my boss and boss's boss[...] both have shared the same type of frustration / bad vibes about the manager in question

Then you're golden. Do nothing. Everyone involved who matters knows that the guy who sent the email is just waving his dick around.
posted by ook at 10:50 AM on February 9, 2011

I have a good relationship with my boss and boss's boss, and in the past they both have shared the same type of frustration / bad vibes about the manager in question

Oh, in that case! Just walk by your boss's office, say "did you check your email lately?" with a mischievous grin and an eyebrow raise and/or jokey eyeroll, then on a more serious note, say "let me know if I can help with any sort of response."

This is really your boss's problem, not yours. It's her job to go to bat for the team in the institution. You should offer to help her. It's not only your boss's job to deal with your team's organizational reputation, but it's also her job to maintain your morale. So if you need to complain to someone, complain to her. Your boss could go tell Bad Manager not to email her staff those sorts of emails because it is very disruptive to the team's productivity and morale. But by needing a bunch of emotional maintenance, you do add to the problems that your boss has to deal with. It would be even better if you can just let it roll off your back, make her job easier by not compounding the drama, offer your help, and be compassionate that she has to deal with this.
posted by salvia at 11:02 AM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think it's important to note that, by taking the course that pretty much everyone else here is advising you to take, you're taking the high road. While responding in the manner you were originally inclined toward would make you feel better in the short-term, you'd be shooting yourself in the foot long-term because it makes you look weak and defensive. It sounds like it's obvious that the guy who wrote this email acts juvenile, so you're show your maturity by taking the high road.
posted by hootenatty at 12:46 PM on February 9, 2011

The couple times somebody has written something nasty or passive-aggressive to me in an email, I've gone directly to them and told them to stop sending me stupid shit. And they did. Generally, email bullies are cowards in real life.

I know, this is a manager, but I've found that pissing off other managers is OK, as long as your own manager likes you. The other fella has to get through your manager to get to you, and the modern bureaucracy makes that damn near impossible.
posted by Nahum Tate at 1:36 PM on February 9, 2011

Document everything. If you receive an email which contains false information, document it - ideally by sending a copy to your superior. Document, document, document.
posted by aroberge at 2:17 PM on February 9, 2011

Salvia's reply nails it, IMO. If your manager and your manager's manager have your back and think this other manager is a jerk, you're in about the best situation of this sort it's possible to be in. Document, document, document; check in with your manager to see how best you can support what she's doing (or not doing) about this matter; and do your very best not to add any additional drama to the mix.
posted by Lexica at 3:17 PM on February 9, 2011

Document the rude, snide, off-color, inappropriate comments/jokes. If they are persistent and offensive, someday the person may be nailed for them. Do not ever indicate that inappropriate comments are welcome. So, even if 1 out of 20 puerile jokes is pretty funny, don't welcome it, and try not to laugh.

Be as neutral with this person as possible, and try hard to either not ''get" jokes or snideness, or to not respond to it, as you think "juuuuveniiiiile" to yourself, displaying nothing outwardly. Don't just be civil, be polite and friendly, just don't get close.

When you reply to any email, be very friendly, acting as if lies were honest errors or misunderstandings. Don't use more words than required, don't schmooze. This person will use any information against you.

People like this are bullies. They are often successful in browbeating and cheating to get what they want. Nope, not fair. The best you can do is be teflon, so the shit doesn't stick to you.
posted by theora55 at 4:30 PM on February 9, 2011

When someone is being an asshole in an email and cc's other people, you need to understand how he is usually perceived. It seems from your follow-up that he is generally perceived as a moron, which means that all recipients of the email just rolled their eyes and said "Here he goes again". In this case, not only is it okay to do nothing, but it's your only good course of action. Replying in detail about how you're right and he's wrong will just drag things out, and risk having you become perceived as an asshole too.

To relieve your bad feeling (now or in the future), just think to yourself that instead of insulting or impugning you, he has just done that to himself. Stand up from your computer, go for a short walk, and come back confident that everyone knows the real story.
posted by Simon Barclay at 5:22 PM on February 9, 2011

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