Good idea, bad idea: Boss's horrible attitude.
April 4, 2016 12:18 AM   Subscribe

Should I have a meeting with my boss and her boss about her horrible attitude and work ethic before I go on leave for a month? Way more inside.

In a couple weeks, I am going to go on leave for a month, due to some medical issues that can no longer be avoided.

Work has been busy, and very stressful for my team. We are in a project cycle that is dealing with a lot of changes, and not all of them work, and it's our job to figure out what works and what doesn't. We have a set of deliverables that we have to meet by the end of the project, but due to all the issues, we are not as far as we should be. Upper management (my boss's boss and the rest of his level) know that all the changes (and the failures of some of those changes) are keeping us from meeting certain milestones. Boss's boss is fine with this (according to him, directly to me, when I expressed my concern about meeting deliverables).

Boss, however, is being extremely passive-aggressive about us meeting goals, even though Boss's boss told me that he told her it was fine, and that due to all the changes, Boss's boss knows we will not be hitting dates for certain deliverables. Boss, however, is constantly berating our entire team (raising her voice, treating one of our coworkers (whom she does not like at all) horribly in front of the rest of us, snapping at all of us), and being extremely passive-aggressive in check-in emails/meetings for the project (I thought you would have hit more deliverables by now, why isn't this happening, etc.), even though Boss knows exactly why this is happening.

Complicating factors is the fact that Boss is... not good at giving us correct information related to the project. We lost a couple weeks of deliverable time because Boss was not being diligent about making sure that we had certain information to meet some of our deliverables. Also complicating factors is the fact that whenever any of my team walks by Boss's desk, Boss is screwing around on Reddit or watching Netflix. This has not escaped Boss's boss's attention, but Boss's boss is extremely busy, and is kind of a nice guy when it comes to working with people and trying to keep the team happy in trying circumstances, so he hasn't had a lot of time to deal with Boss's apathy. Boss also has major, un-dealt-with anger issues - she is prone to yelling outbursts, which the rest of us find really unprofessional (and also make her extremely unapproachable). As a result of all this, my entire team is stressed out, hating our jobs, and really resentful about the position we're constantly in. Boss's boss has been great to us, but I don't think he and Boss are communicating a lot, because Boss's boss is in meetings about the project all the time, and Boss has blown off some meetings with him (I do not know what her reasoning was for this).

Before I go on medical leave, I am thinking of having a sit down meeting with Boss and Boss's boss and laying it all out on the table - how morale on our team has hit epic lows, how we resent being told that we are not doing our jobs by someone who is clearly not doing theirs, how we need better communication - but I am not sure this is the best idea. I'm also not sure how I would present any of this without looking like I was just being a whiny employee. I have pretty good senority, but I still need this job pretty badly (as we all know, NYC is not a cheap place to live), and what I do is unfortunately pretty specialized, so not a lot of people do it. But I really like my team, and we work well together, and I'd hate to see any of them leave due to my boss's issues. Other than Boss and her bad attitude, work is not great, but not horrible, either.

I guess I'm looking for guidance when there are many odds stacked against me. Is this a horrible idea? Should I just put my head down and try to weather the constant storms as well as I can? I am actively looking for another job, but progess is slow with openings in my field (people tend to stay until retirement), so this might take a while. I am already in therapy.
posted by baddecisiondinosaur to Work & Money (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So, the idea is that you would have a meeting where you tell your Boss, in front of her Boss all the ways that she is screwing up. And then you leave for month - giving her plenty of time to stew about how your lack of loyalty and how you threw her under the bus?

Given everything you said about her, I don't see anyway that type of confrontation would produce a positive result. If you think she might be influenced by your opinion, talk to her privately. Going over her head and talking to Boss's Boss might have a small chance of influence but it sounds like Boss's Boss is already aware of the issues and choosing not to do anything (at least not yet). Plus, again, you won't be around to monitor or influence what happens next.

Bad idea.
posted by metahawk at 12:42 AM on April 4, 2016 [56 favorites]

I don't see what you would hope to accomplish from such a meeting. I'd start with your goal and then figure out how you get there. If your goal is for your boss to stop being resentful and crappy to you guys, this meeting seems like a surefire way to make it continue and not stop, if anything. If your goal is to get your boss fired, I think there are better ways to do this that don't make you look like a troublemaker or make you your boss' #1 enemy. Overall, I just don't see what you'd gain from this meeting.

If you think she'd be open to being a better manager, you could try to speak with her. Maybe she doesn't realize morale is low? Maybe she doesn't realize you guys are finding it impossible to meet deadlines? However, based on your description of your boss, I lean toward guessing that there there is nothing you can do to make her a good boss. Not just the fact that she is rude, which I think managers honestly may not realize, but the fact that she watches Netflix at work -- she is not invested in this job and just wants you guys to do work so she doesn't have to, and gets annoyed that you don't. She doesn't seem at all concerned with being good at her job, is the problem.

Maybe you and your colleagues can present a united front to the boss' boss. Let him know that you guys are all having concerns -- she is regularly miscommunicating vital information for your jobs, she is rude and dismissive, when you need her she is watching Netflix in her office, and team morale is really suffering. Be specific and never personal, always results-focused and work-oriented examples, and do not ask for her to be fired -- just make it clear it's become a difficult situation for you all. (Do not do this directly with your boss in the room!) If he is already aware she sucks, a broader coalition pushing him may be what he needs to address it.

If one of my employees ambushed me for a meeting to complain about me in front of my boss without ever raising it to me directly, I'm sure either consciously or subconsciously I'd be throwing them under the bus the first chance I got. So I definitely wouldn't do this, especially in a drive-by method where you throw her under the bus and then leave for a month, unable to put any effort into your working relationship. That just makes it look like a hit-job, not a sincere effort to fix anything.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:12 AM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is what working there is going to be like.

BigBoss doesn't care to do the hard parts of managing people, so you can look forward to his direct reports being dicks.

Having a meeting with them both and telling them of their faults (especially together!) is incredibly ill-advised. That would be acting like you are their boss.
posted by Trifling at 1:12 AM on April 4, 2016 [13 favorites]

If you have so much seniority, I'm amazed you would think that calling someone out in front of their boss, without ever having so much as warned them you had an issue, is a good idea. And planning to do this right before you leave, thus avoiding the immediate fallout? Total dick move.

She's not your report, it's not up to you to be keeping track of how much Netflix she is or isn't watching (I thought you were busy? Busy people don't usually have room in their brain for petty shit like that).

You should address the issues that are genuinely and directly relevant to you and your team, such as the yelling and the misinformation, preferably with her first, only escalating if she does not take your feedback to heart. If you think she's truly too unreasonable to even try, then a private meeting with HR is probably in order.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 1:15 AM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is the equivalent of dropping a grenade and running away. They are only going to remember you as the one who threw the grenade and they had to clean it all up. While you are gone you will have no control over the narrative. This is a horrible idea.
posted by like_neon at 1:19 AM on April 4, 2016 [15 favorites]

I just can't see what you hope to gain by doing this-- it really doesn't seem like an approach which is going to change behaviours. It instead seems like an approach which will do nothing but make you look bad, even if it makes her look bad as well.

As mentioned above, I always am suspicious when I hear about a bad boss but a really good boss' boss. You have no idea what pressure is being put on her or how he is communicating with her in private. For all you know, he's smiling to your face about missing deliverables, but is raging at her over email for allowing the situation to happen. At the very least, he's responsible for her performance, and the fact that he's really busy doesn't absolve him from that responsibility.

If you are very very careful, you could have a small talk with a peer of your boss where you tell them you are worried about morale in your absence. Bend over backwards in this conversation not to attack your boss but this *might* give you a sense of where things stand and whether a quiet complaint to HR would be helpful/welcome or instead be career shortening.

You mention angry outbursts and yelling-- this is something you or someone else should be documenting as it happens. That's the kind of stuff which really might lead to change if she does it often enough. Be aware though, her boss will have a lot invested in her success. I had an alcoholic boss once, who showed up drunk to clients, and it took 3 months of HR complaints to get it fixed. Don't expect miracles.
posted by frumiousb at 1:48 AM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Lord a-mercy, this is a truly BAD idea --- I like the analogy above about dropping a grenade on them and running. This would be an amazingly bad idea even if you •weren't• about to be gone for a month, but it's even worse since you are.

Just go on your leave, and let your boss self-destruct on her own.
posted by easily confused at 2:30 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

As everyone above has said, sadly, your proposed approach will probably not end well. (But it's definitely a scenario I've fantasized about on more than one occasion - it's just not something that will work with real live people.)

Okay, so I'm guessing that your question next week would be "I'm going on medical leave for about a month. My boss is unsupportive, uninvested, unprofessional and downright rude to me and my team. Her boss is more pragmatic, and understands delays when presented to him in context, with a plan to get things back on track (or a new, more realistic, plan). How do I support my team and make sure that the project doesn't go under while I'm gone?". I'm paraphrasing somewhat, but that's the question I'm going to answer...

You have a couple of weeks. If you don't have it already, I would develop a high level dashboard / timeline, with the key milestones and dates highlighted. Again, if you don't have it already, I would back that up with a Word or Excel document that provides the status, issues, and resolutions plans for each of the key milestones. I would encourage someone in your team to update that weekly and send it to both your boss and your boss' boss. Your boss' boss will probably only be interested in the high level dashboard / timeline, but having the additional information means that if he wants more information, it's there. That stops your boss misrepresenting the project to your boss' boss. It also provides your team with a structure for reporting successes, delays and issues, and hopefully reduces the yelling. It also highlights any "missing" information that hasn't been passed on to the team.

If you are comfortable with your team contacting you while you're on medical leave, let them know (particularly if it's a "I won't be able to deal with day to day work stuff, but if there is something you really want to talk to me about, drop me an email and I'll find a time to talk to you" - i.e. don't quit until you've talked to me!).

Good luck to you and your team!
posted by finding.perdita at 4:20 AM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you're the team lead, you need to let your boss know what you need from her. You can frame it as a "before I head out" kind of meeting. Document it in an email that you send to her and keep in your records.

Another thing I'd do is present a revised time-line so that she has a realistic expectation of when you'll be completing certain milestones.

If there are decisions or information you need from her to move forward, document that as well.

Try to put the team in as good a position to work well while you're gone.

It's tempting to want to blast everyone and leave a mess to clean up, especially when you know you're out for a month. Don't. Do. It.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:13 AM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

The kind of people who need this sort of talking to are, pretty much by definition, not good at receiving it. Yet another "don't do it".
posted by anaelith at 6:20 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might not know what is actually going on behind the scenes as far as your boss is concerned. They might be looking for her replacement right now and that's not a level of information you're privy to. If there are serious problems with deadlines and deliverables being behind, executive level is aware of it and they're aware that it will cost them customers/clients if it's not fixed soon.

You might find out while you're on leave that your boss has been replaced and you didn't have to do or say anything. Go take care of yourself and let the big guys handle your boss.
posted by hollygoheavy at 7:03 AM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your boss's boss' job is to mentor your boss. To keep an eye on their work and find ways to make them an effective boss. Your job as a "team member" is to make your boss look good. Everyone is failing here. Do not do this meeting this way.

Take your leave, use this time to recenter and focus on your health and needs. Re-assess when you return.
posted by amanda at 7:20 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wait until you get back to see what shakes out while you are gone. The stress of being a person down might actually bring this stuff to a head.

You will never be in a position to lecture upwards on this, unless you want to do it when you already have another job elsewhere, which is something you might start working on toward the end of your leave.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:43 AM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

You say your boss's boss is forgiving about missing deliverables due to circumstances while your boss is not. I wouldn't be so sure this is the case behind closed doors. Your boss might be getting a lot of heat from your boss's boss, who then turns around and wants to play the good guy in front of the rest of the staff. Could be a classic good cop/bad cop scenario, where the boss is the bad cop and boss's boss is the good cop. I've definitely seen more far flung machinations.

Regarding your plan, I think speaking up in any way before you leave would be a tactical mistake. You would be laying a lot out there, but then have no way to defend yourself or manage the situation afterwards. If you want to make waves, do so in a way where you can exert as much control as possible on the immediate outcome. Otherwise you're opening yourself up to a lot of liabilities and could find yourself under a bus when you get back from leave. Good luck!
posted by slogger at 8:29 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Eponysterical. Yes, this is a terrible idea. You've mentioned that the big boss is already aware of these problems, so there's nothing to do here. Having this meeting would only make YOU look terrible right before you're away for a month and unable to defend yourself.
posted by MsMolly at 9:07 AM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Chiming in to say this is a bad idea, for all the reasons above. It would be a dangerous thing to do if you were going to be there, but even worse when you are not around to manage the fallout afterwards.

If you want to do something constructive for your team, work on documenting your conversations with both bosses and preparing a revised timeline with what can be expected of your team while you're gone. If Boss is as incompetent as you describe, they might need to fall back on those documents to explain where they stand on the various deliverables.

Let her and her own boss sort out their relationship, including his expectations of her. It's very possible that your absence will show him how bad the situation is with her, and he will take action. but that's up to him. Your responsibility is to your team.
posted by rpfields at 11:38 AM on April 4, 2016

No, do not have such a meeting; Boss will target you for Bad Things. I met w/ a Boss to discuss what I could do to make our working relationship more effective. No Blame whatsoever. Consequences were Dire.
posted by theora55 at 11:56 AM on April 4, 2016

This is a dynamic that happens, and it happens because the Boss' boss does not want to have to replace the Boss. The reasons may vary; they are friends, Boss' boss is lazy or overcommitted or apathetic, the job is hard to find a replacement for, Boss' boss thinks you are all lazy liars, things are doing well enough from his/her POV that it's not worth rocking the boat, and so on.

As someone who has definitely been in your shoes, I can tell you: you are not going to be able to change this dynamic. You just aren't. So you can either live with it, or leave.

In my opinion, in general, it is pointless for subordinates to attempt to change who their supervisor is or how they behave. Companies are extremely hierarchical entities, and they simply care more about the wants and needs of people higher up the chain. That's why so many people have to actually sue when they are mistreated; their company choose not to believe them or not to care about their issues when they were reported.

The most effect someone lower down the line can have is in the aggregate, by increasing turnover or decreasing production or both to the point that the company decides to make changes. Even then, it is rare for the problem boss to get booted. They might get moved, or quit on their own, but past a certain level, incompetence almost seems to cease to be important, at least till it becomes embarrassing or costly enough (by pissing off a large client, say).

One exception; if Problem Boss pisses off someone higher up the chain. Then they could get booted.

So what are you going to do about this? I would recommend a. take your leave and b. once you are sufficiently recovered, freshen up your resume and look for a better situation.
posted by emjaybee at 2:30 PM on April 4, 2016

I think you can talk to Boss's Boss privately about the morale problem, IF you're confident they won't rat you out to Boss.

And/or, you can talk to both of them about the project status, in a "here's my update before I go on leave" sort of way.

But if you have one foot out the door, don't bother doing either one of these things. Or at least not the former.
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:48 PM on April 4, 2016

Should you piss off people more powerful than you, then expect them to patiently wait for you to come back without taking advantage of your absence to retaliate? I mean, it sounds bad when I put it that way, right? A lot can change in a month, and I wouldn't count on it being the good kind of change.
posted by ctmf at 11:21 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

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