It's still nepotism even if it's not your nephew, right?
August 22, 2017 2:34 AM   Subscribe

I found out that the new colleague, who was referred by the supervisor as a professional acquaintance, is in fact their partner, and their entire professional profile was constructed by said supervisor to make them appear as the ideal candidate. Please help me navigate this professional landmine.

I work in a field that demands proficiency in a very specific area of knowledge and the quick and accurate translation of complex data. It can be very stressful at times but also very rewarding.

As I happen to really enjoy the nature of the work, I quickly ended up on projects with the leadership team and as a result of that I developed a friendly professional relationship with the managing supervisor (we're both women, mid 30s). However, due to the hierarchy conflict, I left the initiatives of non work related interactions entirely up to her, and just participated accordingly when she did so.

A few months ago, a new person was hired which we knew was referred by the supervisor as someone she knew professionally and it so happened that they sat right next to me, so I was naturally receiving a lot of questions which I answered gladly.

I was oftentimes baffled by some of them, as they seemed to be extremely rookie questions which would not generally be asked by someone with their supposed credentials, but since I knew they had limited prior experience I chalked it up to the stress of a new job.

Alas, that was not the reason, and in the most accidental-confession-due-to-rambling I've ever witnessed, the supervisor unintentionally revealed over lunch that her new direct report is her boyfriend. I awkwardly asked her if she mentioned that in her referral and she said of course not, and no one could find out about it. She seemed momentarily alarmed to have revealed this, but after I reassured her that I would not discuss it with anyone, she was perfectly content and unbothered by how this makes her look.

I understand that it's not unusual in the private sector for people to refer their friends or family, however in this case there is a direct hierarchy conflict and from what I've seen, the person is not at all qualified for the job.

Her defense was that although he has no direct experience besides a vague past one "in the broader field" you can just learn the job with enough exposure to it.

But since she has repeatedly made offensive comments in my presence about my colleagues' performance (which would make me visibly uncomfortable), I find that argument extremely hypocritical and self-serving . Also please not that for reasons, the hiring took place during a somewhat chaotic period and the decision was based mainly on first impressions and reassurance from the supervisor on his qualifications.

Since I found out I've started observing his work when he is at the office and the reports he sometimes produces overnight, and they are night and day in their accuracy and overall appearance; I have absolutely no doubt that she is doing them for him because the difference is too steep to be explained by anything else besides repeated temporary strokes.

Meanwhile, when discussing things in person, his questions show that he comprehends the field in the same way someone who just googled it would, despite being way past the training phase. Picture being a doctor and the new doctor asking you why you can't use antibiotics for AIDS.

I have been really distressed since I found out because a lot of the performance on this job is judged by the quality of those reports, and he is being given direct instructions and editing which no one else receives; if the rest were to request that level of assistance, our ability to do the work would be questioned.

I am also concerned that in the blunt absence of work ethic exhibited, this could affect my chances for professional success, as the supervisor is the person who prepares the performance reviews and something tells me his will be raving.

I understand that there is a chance that his incompetence could end up outshining the help he receives but due to the size of the company and other factors, it is extremely easy for this to go unnoticed for a long time.

I have tried really hard to not let this affect my work but I get angry every time he asks me a question that before I would have excused as "new person ignorance". The supervisor has been a lot less chatty since she told me this, which is a relief, as I have lost all respect for her to the point of resentment (to be fair, it was pretty limited before due to her comments about my colleagues and her difficulty understanding the more complex, overarching concepts of the field).

I am in a really delicate position as she revealed this involuntarily and asked me to obviously not discuss it, which is fucked up on its own given the imbalance of our relationship. I have no idea what would happen if someone found out and she thought it was through me.

Is there any course of action to be taken here to ensure this does not affect my job negatively, or should I just suck it up and learn to live with the elephant in the room? Is there a way to re-frame how I see it, so I can stop getting angry whenever I see them?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
In my industry I'd end up with a far worse reputation for not saying something about this. Can you go to the board or somewhere above her head and report this? Is there a whistleblowing scheme? It's not only so hideously unethical, it's also damaging your business's reputation. Don't let her behavior sink you as well when someone invariably finds out about this.
posted by ozgirlabroad at 2:55 AM on August 22, 2017 [10 favorites]

If you want to take action, I think you have to go to HR, or possibly supervisor's manager (if you have a relationship with them) and lay out what you know: supervisor has, without disclosing their relationship, hired someone to report to them, who is not qualified for the role.
What we don't know is how responsive your organisation might be to that, and how it might blow back on you. This is a clear ethical breach so in a big company I'd expect there to be non-retaliation policies, but that may not mean anything if they (for instance) fire the new guy and the supervisor gets a rap on the knuckles. That's really the calculation you have to make.
In terms of re-framing - imagine if you'd walked into this situation already in place: incompetent co-worker, supervisor is distant, and rumours that the two are in a relationship. I think a lot of people would shrug and just carry on doing their job - it's within the bounds of normal workplace crappiness.
posted by crocomancer at 3:00 AM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

It really depends on your organization but your bosses response is a clue that she thinks it is an issue.

My workplace is very very strict about these things and it would likely cause her to be fired. In my workplace, family when disclosed can never be direct report ever. It's just too complicated.

Also sexual relationships with direct reports is a legal minefield.

In addition, what would mistakes at his job cost? Is it company time, fines, reputation, business?Could the boss blame you instead?
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:09 AM on August 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

Yeah this is super unethical on both of their parts - does your company have a formal policy on relationships between employees? Would they have hired NewGuy if they'd known about the relationship? I would feel weird about the relationship aspect alone, and having one person managing another person who is also in a relationship with that person - it can't be an impartial/best-for-the-company management relationship with that additional context.

I know it feels weird when you gave this person your word you wouldn't mention it to then mention it, but I don't think you have a lot of choice. You have a bad new hire in an unethical setup and that's not going to work out well in the long term. Your loyalty is to your own job/wellbeing and to the company before it is due to this person, who has shown you that they seriously lack professional judgement. You don't owe them cover up for their egregiously bad choices, no matter what you said in the moment when you were surprised.

If I were in management in this situation and found out you'd known and not said anything, I would be having serious thoughts about your professional integrity. You need to say something soon to someone trustworthy higher up in your organisation, and not worry about promises made to this person with very bad judgement.
posted by terretu at 3:14 AM on August 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry this is happening at your job, I know it's really frustrating. Personally, I would not get involved in this other than polishing off my resume and starting to look elsewhere, because life is too short to work with unethical idiots. It will work itself out in the end without your direct involvement. Secrets like this don't typically last long in an organization (as your question shows!), and the chips will fall where they may. It may well be that upper management already knows and just doesn't care. I just don't see a scenario where they will be grateful you brought this to their attention and your supervisor doesn't have an opportunity to make your life unpleasant.

To reframe it, this is just people being people... I would try hard to not dwell on it and just focus on my own job and career goals.
posted by machinecraig at 3:44 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

What she's done would be a fireable offense at many places I've worked.

Do you have concerns that she might try to throw you under the bus, especially if his shoddy work causes problems? If so, at the very least, you need to start documenting the issues.
posted by Candleman at 5:34 AM on August 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

Document it as best you can. If you think the company culture towards accountability is strong enough, then go to HR or a more senior manager that you can trust to handle it with discretion. If it were my team, I'd want to know about it.
posted by arcticseal at 5:41 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't think MetaFilter knows your workplace's politics well enough to give you the best possible advice here. Do you have a mentor or someone else you could ask, maybe without naming names? I suspect you'll end up being advised to report this; the question is, to whom and how?
posted by salvia at 5:42 AM on August 22, 2017 [8 favorites]

It was extremely unethical for her to do this, and it's also unethical to browbeat a promise out of you not to spill the beans. If you do not take this to HR, it is also a major risk to your own reputation and job when --- not 'if', 'when' --- this is found out by others. If only to cover your own butt, whistleblow now!

Meanwhile, you are not the boyfriend's supervisor, right? Then stop training him how to do the job: that should be his supervisor(GF)'s concern.
posted by easily confused at 5:43 AM on August 22, 2017 [16 favorites]

. If you do not take this to HR, it is also a major risk to your own reputation and job when --- not 'if', 'when' --- this is found out by others. If only to cover your own butt, whistleblow now!

I agree that the situation sounds very unethical, but I'd also caution that whistleblowing can be risky. Even in a situation where the company treats it seriously, you might end up in a situation where she gets reprimanded but stays in her job as your supervisor -- how much fun is that going to be?

My gut would be to not get involved unless things start directly impacting you (like bad reviews, or having to redo work this guy has done) and to consider if it might be time to look at other options.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:56 AM on August 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

Is there any external evidence that they're partners, like from social media or something? If so, could you (possibly even anonymously) call that to the attention of her supervisor or HR? These people don't exactly sound like masters of covert operations.

Your supervisor would still suspect that you were involved because she knows you know. But it seems really likely your supervisor and her partner are going to get fired over this at some point, and if higher-ups know that you knew and didn't disclose it could be bad for you too.
posted by mskyle at 6:37 AM on August 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

I agree that they will be discovered eventually and your inactivity will make you look almost as bad as them. This person was hired under false pretences and you are now complicit in that situation.

Could you whistle blow anonymously? If they are followed home from work that should reveal the relationship. But if they are discovered then your knowledge will also be discovered because ... why wouldn't she? At which point you could reveal that you are the source.
posted by epo at 7:07 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Then stop training him how to do the job: that should be his supervisor(GF)'s concern.

Agreed with reporting to HR, but in the meantime, stopping the training is a good intermediate step. It reduces your work which is not actually part of your job, and will demonstrate that you didn't just go along with these shenanigans when it all blows up. Which it will. Training him makes you an enabler of this whole mess.

If he's been there 'a few months', it's perfectly reasonable to say "Dude, I can't keep carrying you, you need to pull your own weight here", and walk away.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:22 AM on August 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

Wow, what a difficult situation, I'm sorry that you're going through it.

You say the hiring process was hurried, but do you have confidence that this was a very one-off way for the company to deal with hiring, or is the general culture at this company?

If that's the way they do things, I think it might be better to stay quiet and try to find a new position elsewhere.

If you are confident in the company itself, can you try for a lateral transfer, out of your supervisor's group? Step one.

Can you quietly gather evidence of your concerns regarding his reports? Copies of the ones he wrote to compare with the ones she wrote? Is there any sort of body that can review these and then go back, once your group is not in a "hurry up" mode and go over his qualifications a little more closely?

Are you close with any managers that are not in your group, with whom you could have an informal conversation about ethics in general, and who could possibly give you some direction? Someone with a fair amount of experience in your company who may have been through this before.

Whatever conversation you have, I think you will need to stress that you need to be transferred out of this supervisor's group immediately. She knows you've got something over her and I can almost guarantee you that a poor evaluation is in your future. She's already distancing herself from you.

Make sure you start documenting all instructions and conversations with her now. "Hi supervisor, just to be clear, when we spoke today you advised me that the deadline for zzyy report is September 1, and the scope includes a, b, and c. Please let me know if anything changes. "

When you request to be transferred be sure to stress the importance that she not be told of your attempt to get out of her group until it's a done deal, to prevent her from bad-mouthing you.

As far as dealing with him, I would suddenly need to make a phone call, or just be on my way to Smith's desk to drop something off, or give me a minute, I was just headed to the ladies' room, or oops, I'm just on the middle of getting some more paper for the printer. You could bolster your position regarding his lack of experience by following up your "busyness" by adding "shoot me an email with your question and I'll get you an answer when I get back to my desk."
posted by vignettist at 8:26 AM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Document everything. Many supervisors will happily lie when their butt is on the line, even in the face of uninterested witnesses, and often get away with it. Written records of what was said/done, etc. are you only real defense, and even that depends on a decent HR group.
posted by wierdo at 8:55 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

the supervisor unintentionally revealed over lunch that her new direct report is her boyfriend. I awkwardly asked her if she mentioned that in her referral and she said of course not, and no one could find out about it. She seemed momentarily alarmed to have revealed this, but after I reassured her that I would not discuss it with anyone, she was perfectly content and unbothered by how this makes her look.

This is blatantly unethical and it sucks that you are in this. Supervisor friend, I've thought a lot about what you told me, and I can't remain silent. I've arranged a meeting with you and Representative from HR and boyfriend this afternoon. You can tell them, or I can, but this has to happen.

This person has done a stupid thing and has now implicated you. That's rotten. If she and BF get fired, that's sad but would be a logical outcome. If this is uncovered and you are found to know about it, your job and your reputation are at risk. Don't delay on dealing with this. Talk to your manager asap and bring in HR.
posted by theora55 at 3:13 PM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm going to be unpopular for saying this, but if I were in your shoes I'd be looking for another job.

I've been in senior management in 2 different professions, and what you indicate to me is she already knows you're uncomfortable and is withdrawing from you. In anticipation she is probably already gathering some evidence to suggest you are not all that, you mentioned you came in at a relatively junior level so I would be worried about exactly how she would protect herself if the shit hit the fan. I have never witnessed whistleblowing where the blowee didn't suffer professionally and personally.
posted by Wilder at 12:34 AM on August 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

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