Manager promised what she couldn't deliver
March 19, 2012 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Feel like I got massively screwed over at work for being a trusting idiot - should I make a fuss or just let it go?

Hired on a six-month contract. Three months in, learned that it would be made permanent, but due to "rules" it would have to be advertised again. I informed my immediately line manager that I'd probably apply, but that I would be starting to look for other jobs too, since I wasn't guaranteed to get the permanent version of my temporary job.

Line manager: "Whaaat! Absolutely don't worry about it. You're my staff, you're perfect, we all love you, I'll make sure the position is only advertised internally and we know there's no one here who can do what you do (which was true)." I also knew that she, herself, had recently gone from temp-to-perm with only a perfunctory "internal only" application process, so it seemed to make sense.

So I (stupidly) smiled and merrily went along thinking everything was fine. Last month, job is advertised - externally. I only realised this because I still get a weekly newsletter of jobs going in my field. I got the email from HR telling me that applications were open exactly three minutes after I saw the job in this external newsletter.

I ask why it was advertised externally, and why I wasn't told. Line manager tells me that she thought it WAS only going internal and she's just as surprised as I am. She'll bring it up with HR because they should have let her know - but it's OK, she says, she's on the interview panel, she has the final say. I'm not as happy about the situation as I was before - I let TWO really good jobs pass me be because I was betting on this one, which we she and I had discussed repeatedly.

Long story short, over 150 people apply, I go through THREE rounds of interviews, don't get the job. Line manager says she was "outvoted" by the other two interview panel members. I can only describe her affect as "shifty" when she tells me this. I am fairly sure that the candidate that was chosen is a former employee who is friends with most of the members of senior management, but I'm not sure at this point.

Now - if I come forward with the fact that my immediate line manager promised me the job, repeatedly discouraged me from seeking other employment, and generally showed complete ignorance of the entire process, what will I end up with? I wouldn't want the job now even if the other candidates all turned it down. Ideally, in order of importance, I would receive garden leave for the remaining month of my contract, some kind of non-disclosure agreement to ensure that no one in management would disclose the fact that I raised this issue in any casual, networking or work reference situation (last thing I want is to be branded as a troublemaker) and a month's salary as a buffer, since I missed out on a significant amount of time that I could have been using to find work - and will now find myself unemployed for the first time in ten years. Is any of this even remotely feasible, or will I get laughed out of the place? Are there any laws or any organisations that will back me up? I work in public higher education in the UK, if that makes a difference.

Unfortunately, union representation isn't an option. I was informally discouraged from joining the union by some colleagues (not by anyone in management, though) because of some crap that went on before I arrived, and, again, stupidly, I listened. I most assuredly won't make that mistake again.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Look, I know that it is hard to lose a job opportunity you were counting on, but from here it does not appear that you were "screwed over", but that you made a mistake in trusting that your manager was correct about the information and advice they were giving you. She may have been "shifty" because she felt somewhat guilty about inadvertently leading you astray. I think that making a fuss will only serve to put yourself in a bad light, so take it as a learning experience and move on to your next position without burning any bridges.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:32 AM on March 19, 2012 [11 favorites]

I'm sorry you were misled, but you don't have grounds to complain (or file a grievance for that mater).

Your line manager made an unethical promise to you she couldn't keep. And you were hoping to benefit from her manipulating the hiring process to ensure that you would be hired for the permanent position. That seems particularly unfair, especially to the 150 people who applied for the position once it was advertised externally. You certainly don't owe anything to the company or your line manager... but they owe nothing to you either. As long as they fulfill your six-month contract, they're in the clear.

Ultimately, the friend of senior managers won out over the friend of a more junior manager. It's as simple as that.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:34 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think your boss promised you the job. She said that she wanted to hire you. And she said that to the best of her knowledge you'd get the job. Since she's not the only one making the hiring and budget decisions, she wasn't able to deliver on that. You've learned a lesson about how much things like that are worth. I've learned the same lesson in the past. Basically you screwed up by not continuing to look for a job. I can't see that complaining does anything but hurt you. You're there on a six month contract. They are obligated to pay you for six months of work. That's pretty much all they "owe" you.
posted by MsMolly at 9:35 AM on March 19, 2012

Is any of this even remotely feasible, or will I get laughed out of the place?

Well with any sort of agreement you have to realize that neither side is going to agree unless it benefits both sides. What does the company get out of agreeing to your relatively significant demands? You'll be gone in a month so making you happy is not going to give them any direct benefits in the future. Are you threatening to sue or otherwise cause problems for them if they don't agree to your NDA and whatnot? If so then that might give you some leverage but you would almost certainly burn some bridges. To me it doesn't look like they have reason to renegotiate your contract or otherwise make agreements that favor you over them just because your line manager handled this situation very badly, so I doubt you will get much out of asking for them to do it other than as you said get a reputation as a troublemaker.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:41 AM on March 19, 2012

I think the issue here is about the line manager discouraging you from looking for other employment rather then not hiring you in the end. She told you specifically not to plan for events that did actually happen. That's a thing.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:48 AM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Was any of that communication about the job delivered in writing? If not, at best you'll be told that your supervisor was not authorized to make you any promises, sorry, and at worst she'll say she never had any such conversation with you.

Without documentation, you have no leverage.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:51 AM on March 19, 2012

Does the company use a "preferred candidate" model? As in, a job may be advertised externally but the website or official job listing will carry an annotation like "A preferred candidate has been designated for this position"?

And then, was the job actually filled?

These are things to know and depending on the answers, possibly you could make some noise (which may be a very bad thing to do). But without something in writing, you're sol. Keep in mind that you are surely not the first person this ever happened to in that company or most companies - it happens all the time.

Your boss lied and/or is incompetent. That is the best thing to know, and act accordingly.

Good luck.
posted by caclwmr4 at 10:03 AM on March 19, 2012

Yeah, I don't think complaining is going to do any good here. I'm sorry this happened to you. I'm in a similar position--verbally promised a job that the promiser then took for herself (and offered me a shitty job she knew I wouldn't take). They don't have any reason to want to make you happy, so they're not going to give you anything. I suppose you could talk to your supervisor in the hopes that she'll be more careful in the future; it sounds like she was promising something she didn't have the power to deliver.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:07 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Now - if I come forward with the fact that my immediate line manager promised me the job, repeatedly discouraged me from seeking other employment, and generally showed complete ignorance of the entire process, what will I end up with?

You'll be down one good reference. Seriously, it sounds like your manager did what she could but corporate HR policies and other powers got in the way. As an FYI, managers will typically deter you from taking jobs elsewhere as they want to keep you.

Your manager will be a lot more helpful in getting you your next job than they would be on the wrong end of this. I would ask them to see if there is anyone outside of the organization they can put in a good word to.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 10:15 AM on March 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

She told you specifically not to plan for events that did actually happen. That's a thing.
I am not a lawyer, but I think this is called "detrimental reliance".

Lots of people here who have no clue about the law in the UK, so take everyone with a grain of salt and see if there's a local labor board hotline or legal service.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:19 AM on March 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Don't complain. Tell her you're sorry it didn't work out and that she should keep you in mind if they get another full-time position, and ask for a letter of recommendation.
posted by Mad_Carew at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2012 [10 favorites]

Wow. I had almost the exact same stuff happen to me in a high school job in Washington...only my replacement actually started showing up to staff and department meetings before they would even tell me my job had been re-filled.

I wish I had some meaningful advice here, but at the very least I want to validate what you're saying. This isn't bizarre and you shouldn't feel any self-doubt over your take on this. Shit like this actually happens to people; it's not just you.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:25 AM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Something similar happened to me and I felt like I was kicked in the gut. I think you need to suck this up and move on though. I would feel angry and in my case, I was nearly hysterical (although, luckily none of my coworkers saw this). Use the manager as a reference. It sounds as though she likes you and maybe you can play off her guilt to get an amazing recommendation. If you start making demands, you might lose the recommendation.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:44 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

OP, I just wanted to chime in that you aren't an idiot in the least.

Assuming I understand what happened, part of the issue is that you had a possible 'bird in the hand' situation of other employment opportunities. It sounds like you made a good faith effort to tell your boss of your situation and ask her for assurances, and believe that you heard them.

When it didn't pan out, it also sounds like she could have stepped up, apologized, and made a good faith effort on her part to 'do right by her word', and help you find other employment. She's not doing that, and that's awfully unprofessional on her part.

Not a lawyer by anyone's stretch of the imagination, but the young rope rider is right - it might help you just to see if there is some inexpensive legal aid that might be able to talk you through your situation, or see if there is some UK version of detrimental reliance, and whether your situation meets the criteria. It's unlikely that anyone other than a solicitor would be able to hear the details of what the communication was between you and your manager to determine if anything is actionable. For example, did you actually have another job offer in hand or did you just consider applying for other positions? Did your manager repeat the assurances that you would be hired/had a good chance of being hired after you let them know this? I don't think that the absence of documentation should be the criteria for whether or not you consider it 'worth' it to follow up with some legal advice. If it were me, I'd at least get a quick consultation, after all, Jon_evil's right; it could be a thing.

Whatever happened in this tangle of a mess - you aren't an idiot.
posted by anitanita at 10:50 AM on March 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

What this boils down to is "Don't trust anyone who makes you promises." Promises are worth nothing in this world. Always keep on applying for other jobs even if someone swears up and down something is a sure thing. Whether she lied or not, it may not have been up to her to ensure alone, and in the end, it wasn't. That may be why she's acting shifty, that she feels bad that she inadvertently screwed you over.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:56 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh man, how awful. I feel for you. Like others have said, it sounds like your manager wanted you and really thought she could swing hiring you. It's possible those above HER were stringing her along, and then did a 180, leaving her to deal with breaking the news to you. So you probably weren't the only one who messed up. And it doesn't sound like she was hostile.

I've been in a similar situation - I had a boss, Dick, who had hired me part-time, and meanwhile kept telling me I had a shot at a full time job with the company. He encouraged me to apply "through formal channels," so I did, and kept waiting - meanwhile working my butt off in my lesser position. Whenever I would ask Dick the status of my application, he would make me submit my resume and materials all over again. He had six versions of my resume and ten demo tapes enmired somewhere in the rubbish heap of this desk by that time (and probably never looked at any of my stuff. )

Meantime, a new person showed up one day at a staff meeting and hadn't been introduced to anyone. She must have known about me, though, because we locked eyes and it was uncomfortably electric for both of us - it was like meeting your doppelganger (we even looked like each other). Next week, everybody finds out this woman has been hired for the position I had been encouraged by Dick to apply for - six times, to be precise - and I'm clearly SOL.

I was enraged, but I knew it was over. With nothing to lose, I applied for a long-shot position at a company where they weren't even hiring for the kind of work I wanted. Somehow it worked out - they loved me! An extra frisson of satisfaction arrived when I found out that Dick, who had SO loved the power trip of being able to keep me waitin', wishin' and hopin, was later let go! Yeehaw! Two years later, Dick stays in touch - he's sends me plaintive emails, asking if I know of any open positions. LOL

Long story short - no matter what happens to you next, it's going to be WAY BETTER than what you just went through. That's how it works. So happy karma, and good luck! :)
posted by cartoonella at 11:33 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This has happened in my group. An opening came available, one of our contract employees did a great job at his interview and was the presumptive hire. Then we got an applicant who was dramatically more qualified for the work. We had to hire the external applicant because it just made more sense for what we needed at the time.

There are other examples. My point is, it happens all the time, and it sucks for those who have been promised behind closed doors that it was going to be their job. It's not your job until you sign the employment contract.
posted by cabingirl at 12:04 PM on March 19, 2012

Nope. I work for the same type of company politics when hiring. There definately is an "out voting" procedure that happens. And yes, it's wrong. The person who wants you should have the most/final say. Well in a lot of corporations it's a peanut gallery due to office politics and political correctness in the name of democracy. I.e. Bullshit.

I've learned the following:

1. if you want a job, apply for it. Never wait for the manager, company, etc. to tell you. They won't. They're busy and if they wanted to hire you direct, they CAN find a way through a promotion, etc. But if it's this external vs internal free for all--that's what it is--a free for all and nothing is guaranteed.

2. never stop applying for OTHER jobs outside the company. I.e. never put your eggs in one basket.

3. never trust corporate life or bosses. They can be your best friend but in the end, everyone is in it for themselves and that means playing the game. The company signs their checks so that's who always has the upper hand.

I'm so sorry that this happened. You are a good person and unfortuantely, good people get the shaft all the time in corporate. Learn from it.
posted by stormpooper at 2:01 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can't think of anything else that you should have done. In many ways, the public sector's a lot harder for this type of thing than private sector, because process has to be followed. But yes, I think the learning from here is to always nag your boss about what's happening with the hiring process, get as involved as you can with writing the job description and everything like that. That's all OK by the process.

I suspect that the UK tends to do this more above board than most other places. I know I certainly more than earn my keep, but I only got the panic spread up the hierarchy when I handed my notice in, and they fixed all the problems, matched the other (much duller, and over an hour's commute each way) job conditions wise.

And no, your boss won't necessarily have your best interests at heart. I know my previous boss didn't. I think my current one does, but I know he's got an awful lot of other priorities which may mean that job security I've been promised may not turn out to happen.

Yes, I understand that for many people, including me, it's a big psychological unbalancing factor to have too many irons in the fire as far as job applications are concerned. I think it's one of those things that in the long run one has to get less attached to.

Lastly, never forget to make sure that it's not just your boss that knows what a good job you do, but also their boss. There's normally an email or two a month that it wouldn't hurt to cc: them into.
posted by ambrosen at 4:31 PM on March 19, 2012

I would certainly complain and make some demands. Learn from this, and don't expect anything, but it can't hurt to ask.

Well, I don't know what your field is. If you're worried that word might get out that you raised this issue, don't raise the issue. Decide which is more important to you, understanding that you might not get anything even if you complain.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:00 PM on March 19, 2012

You made an earlier mistake too:

I informed my immediately line manager that I'd probably apply, but that I would be starting to look for other jobs too,

Good chance you lost your job right then and there. Don't inform management you're looking for another job. They're not your friends; doing this signaled you might leave, and why make you permanent?

Don't let your boss know what you're thinking, and don't trust what they tell you.
posted by spaltavian at 7:23 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you unwittingly baited your manager by making demands (that you'd look for other jobs since you weren't guaranteed to go permanent).

Plus, in business, don't believe anything anyone ever tells you ever.
posted by mleigh at 7:54 PM on March 19, 2012

I'm so sorry this happened to you. I've experienced something like it, and it was AWFUL.

The only advice I have is not to assume that the union can't help you. For one thing, here at least (Australia) you can join the union at any time. If you joined today, they should be able to represent you right away. Secondly, the union representatives are people. If you ask to speak to one informally, they might be willing to talk even if they can't represent you. It is worthwhile to them to know what goes on in situations like this. I have had good experiences with my (higher ed) union even at times when I was not a member, and the one time when I had a serious issue and joined the union right then specifically to get help with that issue (and have been a member since).
posted by lollusc at 8:12 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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