Manager says there are rumors, tactics or another issue?
July 27, 2018 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Put in a request for unpaid leave according to some company rules of saved-up hours for that purpose, which I want to use for finishing a degree, not related to my current job, that I am paying for myself. In a meeting with my manager they haven't agreed just yet, but have said there are rumors about me by some coworkers that I don't do enough or not the right tasks, it's not very clear. Although my numbers are fine. This is the second time this has happened in a couple of months. My studies are delayed, which means I'm paying an extra half year tuition cost (if I hurry). Is this for real, a problem of my coworkers with me? Or is this just tactics? Details below.

Trying to get unpaid leave, according to some rules I have accumulated about 15 workdays in hours in the last years that are not regular free days but can be saved for when one wants to work less for a certain amount of time. If you quit, they are paid out (taxes still have to be paid over this amount). I am trying to do the last part of a second masters' degree that I paid for myself, which is the reason I want to use these 15 workdays and have a day off per week for some months.

A while ago the manager has said they have to think about this, but have paired it with the remarks that although my numbers are fine, there are rumors among my 25 coworkers that I don't do enough or that I don't do the right tasks. I was startled, horrified at the idea of coworkers having a bad opinion of me, panicked, worked overtime for a while, thereby not taking time off for my studies. This is also the workplace of a previous ask. Since then, difficulties between two groups of coworkers within the department have become more apparent. I am a senior, but more on the periphery as I've always combined this job with another department or other jobs. Also, I am trying to stay out of the culture a bit, preparing my exit.

Months later, new manager, I have put in the request again. Numbers in the organisation are down and I understand that that gives reason to pressure workers to produce more. This week I finally had a meeting where me and the new manager would talk about whether I could have this unpaid leave, she said this would be difficult because of other workers leaving and working less hours, and I was late in asking (I contested that referring to the earlier request this year) and that there were rumors about me not doing the enough work, or the right work. Because of "privacy" she said she couldn't say who had said that. She herself thought my numbers were fine. I hadn't expected this to come up again so was a bit thrown, I expressed this. She asked me if I still liked working here. I replied I didn't like the issue of the rumors, while I don't know who said it, and what it means. I couldn't really word it better or react better at the time, unfortunately. The team is down in hours since the last two months, and they are not replacing two workers on maternity leave etc. So they need the work, I get it. But I had requested this leave in February, and am now behind on the studies where I have to pay more tuition (thousands of dollars, we're talking). We finished the meeting by agreeing I would make a plan of exactly how I would want to take my unpaid leave and email her. She will then discuss with the other manager and decide.

After the meeting now I'm wondering why my manager would give me this (vague) message of unnamed others, without a clear demand from herself to me as her employee. Isn't workload something that she should decide directly with me? Shouldn't a manager themselves tell me to do more, and what to do? Instead of giving me messages from others and nothing to work with?

This message, if I take it literally, makes me feel insecure and strange around my coworkers. If there's an issue shouldn't the manager arrange for the coworker to talk to me?
Or should they not take the rumor as information and then see what they think themselves, decide, and then let me know what they exactly want from me more or different?
If I take it strategically, then it just seems they don't want me to take unpaid leave, and will do any weird thing to put pressure on me.
I am still planning to leave after the studies. If I don't get the permission to take the leave and work less per week in order to finish the studies as soon as possible to limit the extra tuition I'll have to pay, then I am thinking of leaving sooner. What do you make of this?
I just can't believe that the managers would handle this situation in this way. I may be naive. Maybe it's simply a way of trying to push back one last time, before they have to grant me the unpaid leave because I am actually in my right. That I am just a bit of a pushover (I am) and they're just trying to see if I cave (like I did last time in Feb!). I also wonder if this is something like a known management technique: to corner someone with telling them there are bad opinions on them, and then not naming the people involved so there can be no direct solving or discussion of differences, and it's actually just used to weaken the 'opponent'.

Added info: Most of my coworkers are women, my managers are women, and the workplace is not careful with their seniors/specialists in general. The department has one part of the team thinking that they are better, and passing a lot of judgment on the other part (me and others), this issue has just been discovered and not yet addressed. I could be part of aggressiveness between split camps in the team.
posted by Litehouse to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would chalk it up to tactics and not worry about it. (I know, easier said than done, but as much as you can.)

That's a nutty way of your supervisor to communicate anything, and I think you're best off just sort of bulling ahead regardless. "All right, but do these rumors mean there's any reason why my taking my banked time off is a problem? If not, let me just schedule it for dates x, y, and z." If the manager wants to say you can't take the time, make her do it explicitly. There's no way for you to tell if there really were any rumors, or if they're inflated or garbled by the manager, so there's nothing productive for you to do about them other than ignore them until someone says something concrete.
posted by LizardBreath at 1:26 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

She wants you to voluntarily give up time off you are entitled too so she can avoid backfilling empty positions, force less people to do more work and make herself look better. Don't fall for it. You are entitled to those hours, take them.

If they keep hinting at "rumors" send an email saying that management has said they are unhappy with your work and you'd like an explanation and specific instances in writing plus a plan of what they want improved within 3 days. Say you are unhappy to be told your work needs to improve but to be provided no evidence it is lacking or direction. They'll back down right away
posted by fshgrl at 1:30 PM on July 27, 2018 [45 favorites]

And definitely get a new job as soon as you can, these people sound like idiots.
posted by fshgrl at 1:30 PM on July 27, 2018 [27 favorites]

I would suggest to speaking to a labour lawyer about your situation because you don't know what you are dealing with, and by the sounds of things, they are playing games with you that may bite you back. You need to know what you are dealing with and what your rights are at this point. If you get a good idea of what your options are, you can make a better plan of getting what you want.

Good luck.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:46 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm not quite clear on what the timing would be here. If you finished school on time, when would that be? If you have enough savings to leave this job now and finish school on time, that may be the best course of action since you're already planning on leaving. But if you still have several years of school left, then that would be a different situation. Is there an opportunity to take on part-time work while you're finishing school so that you still have some income? What would your health insurance situation be if you left this job? Lots of considerations here.

But based on this question and the previous one to which you linked - there is definitely an issue with the work culture. There are issues with how management handles their job. If you *can* leave, you probably should. And the gap on your resume can easily be explained by saying, "I needed that time to focus on and finish my schooling."

On preview: the advice above about knowing your rights is also a useful thing to consider.
posted by acidnova at 1:46 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

@acidnova The time needed to finish school would be half a year more approximately, combined with parttime work. I fear the hassle of leaving, interviewing for a new job (has to be in the same field or I'll not earn enough to work parttime and pay for studies) then starting the new job. This will also cost a lot of extra time, that will probably delay me further.
Gap in my resume and health insurance are both not an issue in my situation.
posted by Litehouse at 2:17 PM on July 27, 2018

I try to give folks the benefit of the doubt when they seem to be acting out of malice - usually they just don't know how to do their job very well. This has saved me a lot of personal stress and generally if it ends up having been malicious - well ok then, at least I attempted a good attitude and had less stress. I work in the US where except for two states workers essentially don't have any rights whatsoever - so this will also color my answer. This seems less like a "known management tactic" than a manager giving feedback poorly. It's basically their duty to pass negative feedback to you, even if they do not agree; seems this manager is either unwilling to break confidentiality from whomever is complaining or may not themselves know the real reason behind the rumors, but they did acknowledge they find this bad feedback to be false. That this was brought up in a meeting with an entirely different agenda/topic and the meeting seemed to go offrails could either be a tactic or simply a new manager trying to do their job. It could even be a mandate from their boss to demotivate you to stop asking for ... fifteen unpaid days off :(. In a perfect world yes, the feedback from the manager would give you something to work with, but it sounds like she is happy with your hours/numbers/workload, and that is probably why she didn't bring that part up with specifics (she doesn't have any complaints there).

You have to cover for yourself and I would recommend sending your manager a quick email "recap" of the last meeting regarding the negative feedback being received, your manager disagreeing with said feedback, that you have yet to be provided with any actionable items or areas of improvement, you are open to receiving something more actionable in the future if it comes up, thanks for letting me know, yadda yadda, and referencing your time off plan. I'd send a second email with your leave plan (separating the two as far as paper trails go), make sure to flag you already requested this time months ago (dates and names and as much detail as you have should go there) and continue to push even if the "other manager" says no.. yes you could get fired for any of this, or for other arbitrary reasons that were never raised to you, but it sounds like they sorta have to keep you (you meet your targets; you are low drama; they are weak on resources but still have the same amount of work needing to be accomplished).

Retain all of this and whatever else can cover you by: printing it out, forwarding it to your personal and then delete the forwards, usb stick (whatever isn't going to be noticed or get you flagged for doing it, depending on your internal policies etc) for your own records in case they do try to fire you and you have the resources to hire an employment lawyer should that happen - sounds like a good wrongful termination case. Worst case scenario you have to do extra work to find a new job after leaving a toxic one while trying to finish school - certainly not ideal but again, sounds like they need you.
posted by love2potato at 2:30 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Absolutely force them to view these issues separately. As someone said above, follow up with an email to all managers saying "I have been informed there is an issue with my performance. Can we please meet so that I can better understand what the exact issues are as well as devise a plan for improvement." This forces them to do what they should do!

In a separate email, you say, I'd like to use my 15 days and copy and paste the policy. Are there any rules about this?
posted by k8t at 4:14 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

First, let me say you're a superstar for being so committed to this job and getting another degree. You sound like you have your head on straight but this workplace is messing with it.

You said it yourself: your department is divided in two. One half doesn't see what the other half does. No doubt someone from the half you're not in has complained about you to both managers. Why? Not because you're doing something wrong. No. This is them trying to complain about THEIR workload and inability to complete it by blaming you, the non political, not best friends with anyone important, person who is known to be 'distracted' because she's getting another degree, who is in the other division. You are an easy target.

Your managers didn't say anything to you because you are doing your work.

So, yes someone complained but its THEIR strategy to get something they want, whether its more resources or an excuse for underperforming.

The managers aren't lying about the existence of the complaint as a strategy to get you to drop your request. The complaint exists, but its a load of bull so the managers didn't have any feedback for you. What they are doing is using it to guilt you into ceding your request for leave.

Your performance is a non issue. Its a diversion. And I would definitely side eye your coworkers from now on. Also I would keep quiet about your degree. From your previous question its clear your department is very enmeshed. Your getting a degree in an unrelated field makes it clear you are not "all in" and is either making people uncomfortable or making it easy for someone to scapegoat you.

This is not to make you paranoid, but is just what I learned, and then sometimes forget and relearn, to my chagrin, in the workplace: some people are insecure, some people will not be happy for you, some people will see your choices as reflecting on their choices when in reality you are not thinking about them at all.

Good luck with your degree and your bright future!
posted by charlielxxv at 6:29 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sorry, by keeping quiet I didn't mean don't ask for leave. You should absolutely follow up with your managers about it.
posted by charlielxxv at 6:55 PM on July 27, 2018

After the meeting now I'm wondering why my manager would give me this (vague) message of unnamed others, without a clear demand from herself to me as her employee.

I think you are being abused. The "rumors" tactic is a form of cyclical abuse, using the nebulous rumors and lack of answers to build tension, which you're feeling right now, towards a confrontation where you will either be fired or give up your education goals (you will never be presented with the option to quit), followed by a reconciliation of knowing you would do the right thing and a return to normalcy. In this case, it's probably sheer incompetence rather than malice on the part of your management, but your emotional state seems very much that of someone who is being gaslighted and manipulated by someone else in order to maintain authority over you.
posted by Revvy at 7:18 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Trying to get unpaid leave ... If you quit, they are paid out
Could you clarify, are these unpaid days or not? Why would you be paid for not taking unpaid time?

Regardless, you are entitled to take this time because you earned it. Ask to schedule it. Keep the discussion of your performance separate. Their staffing problems are not your problems. Make them fire you if they want to go that far, which is unlikely if they are already short staffed and you are meeting your numbers.
posted by soelo at 10:02 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

unpaid leave according to some company rules of saved-up hours
In the US, if you are working any hours, you must be paid promptly. If you work overtime, you must be paid time-and-a-half unless you are exempt, which you sound like you aren't. It sounds like your company is breaking the law on this and has the guts to try to deny you not only wages, but even the less-than-wages they promise. You can call the Dept. of Labor in your state for advice. Getting back time-and-a-half would be very sweet, and employers who pull this crap should be penalized.
posted by theora55 at 9:39 AM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thanks so much, everyone! You're lifesavers. This helps me a lot in planning my next step. A lot of you pointed out there are two separate issues here, that I should address separately. As I have a tendency to doubt myself the rumor-thing easily throws me off. So Fshgrl and others, that's really helpful advice! As is considering it tactics or messy management instead of malice, plus knowing my rights and understanding my position (charlielxxv: the non political one, not best friends with anyone important, easy target). I've been wondering how to understand it all. But mostly, I need to not get distracted too much by all the weirdness and focus on my goals: working ethically and finishing my studies.

Soelo "Trying to get unpaid leave ... If you quit, they are paid out."
Could you clarify, are these unpaid days or not? Why would you be paid for not taking unpaid time?

Right, sorry for the confusion here, I meant I first asked for a reduction in hours, then for unpaid leave and then found out I have these special life-phase-budget-hours saved up, a standard benefit for all employees for exactly this purpose, namely life-circumstances where you'd want to work less hours for a period of time. In the occasion you change jobs, leave/quit, before you've used them, they're paid out in extra salary. So using them is effectively 'paid leave'. I think management prefers not to save up but use them as you get them each year. This is supposed to be an item in the annual interview I never have because of organizational chaos/reasons.

k8t yes, rules on these hours are part of the collective labour agreement. Substantial use of the saved up hours should be requested 4 months in advance. Since I've been requesting since February, I think I can argue this point.

Thanks, and if anyone has more thoughts or ideas, I'd be grateful. I'm preparing to send an email to management tomorrow.
posted by Litehouse at 9:28 AM on July 29, 2018

Last update: Management gave permission to start using the saved up (paid leave) hours. After the advice from everyone here, I chose to ignore the rumors-part and wrote emailed asking for a decision on the saved up hours, because I needed to plan. The other (!) manager replied (one more time pushing for me giving up) saying they couldn't miss my senior position a day per week. I replied that I up until recently had been working the same smaller amount of hours because I had been working for another department as well, and if they would decide promptly as timepressures would force me to start considering other options (as vague as that) if I wouldn't get the permission. A couple of days later they replied with the permission.

That was a month ago and I haven't heard anything on the rumor-part since. If that returns I'll ask them to be concrete in writing etc. So from this experience I can conclude it was used as a tactic. Also, if it had been more than tactics, they would have addressed it clearly distinct and apart from the request for the leave.

Thanks so much all, for your reactions and helping me detangling things and getting towards a to the point and factual handling of my interests!
posted by Litehouse at 7:38 AM on September 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

That was a month ago and I haven't heard anything on the rumor-part since

Upon rereading, I think it's now certain it was a neg and a bluff. You called their bluff, they relented, and the rumors they were trying to use to whip you into working more magically disappear.

Good luck with your degree!
posted by rhizome at 11:35 AM on September 9, 2018

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