Manager weirdly harassing at work, how to deal?
October 5, 2018 12:26 AM   Subscribe

A manager is targeting me for my "attitude" despite my work being strong and ruining my reputation. I have the support of many colleagues but he just lashed out at me at an office social, over a question I raised about bias in the workplace. I feel like I'm being bullied and I want to figure out how to cope. Details inside.

I work in a creative field, a few months ago a new manager from a branch office joined our team who seems to have had it in for me from the beginning, upbraiding me several times when I tried to preempt issues I saw might become a problem down the road, also twisting what I said in an office wide gender and diversity meeting to confront me about targeting a young male intern, who was actually furthest from my mind when I made the general comment. For what it's worth, the manager is male and gay, I'm female and straight.
Then after a few weeks when things had settled down, he issued a Performance Improvement Plan to me, involving the sole, grossly under qualified HR person in the office (of 100 people) who he seems to have become very close friends with. He had in previous meetings told me explicitly my performance was not the issue but my "attitude". The evidence was so thin it was laughable. I shared the letter with teammates who were appalled, a couple of them welled up after reading it. He keeps saying a lot of people have issues with me and everyone I've talked to assures me that's not the case. I actually work well with most of my colleagues and many are good friends outside of work, some senior colleagues offered to act as references if I decided to look for a new job.

When the partner handling the project returned from vacation he asked to meet with me and assured me that he and other partners did not want to see me depart from the office and that "perhaps" what was done was not thought through. I asked him if he had read the ludicrous letter and he said he had not and did not want to! The letter said there would be a follow-up in two weeks, that was 2 months ago and they haven't scheduled a follow-up meeting yet.

Our project ended a few weeks ago and we're not working together anymore, but today we were at team drinks for the old project, and a conversation about management styles began, that I did not initiate. A colleague talked about how she felt stymied at a previous job and This manager, who I should confess I am deeply upset with, started saying things like "the cream always rises to the top" to which I asked if he thought prejudice or bias, about say race or gender play a role in how people make their way up, and how they are perceived. He totally and almost immediately lashed out at me, in front of my colleagues who had to intervene and get him to stop. He went on to say he had wasted enough time trying to get through to me, and how no one could work with me, how I just liked to provoke him. I left a couple of hours later saying to him we needed to get lunch, and that what happened at the bar should not occur again, and that I meant it for both of us.

I've been told repeatedly by colleagues that I'm smart and talented, I perform and deliver, but we all know that doesn't amount to much. He's here on a two year transfer and returns to the other office in just over a year. But he's ruined my reputation with everyone who hasn't worked with me which is half the office. This job has many downsides such as the presence of this guy, almost no HR right now, but also a little comfort and flexibility that let me pursue other interests and flourish in them. When I recently won an award outside the office he came over to congratulate me.

But, I feel bullied, and I'm usually very resilient. I'm not sure I understand what his problem is with me. To be sure I'm a strong woman, I look slim and petite but I express my views, and I'm fighting to be recognized. When I felt I had a role lower than my experience and qualifications, and pointed out that I might be well suited for more responsibilities, he asked me to check my ego at the door. I know this is the story of women everywhere. Tonight when he lashed out at me he said so you think your issues are because you're a woman? It's like he's totally oblivious to the present moment of feminism, but I'm hyper aware of it.
I'm looking for a new job but I don't want to make a sideways shift where I might have to put up with a variation on the theme anyway. He's ruining my reputation, and triggering me a little bit too, how do I deal with it?
posted by whatdoyouthink? to Work & Money (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
First, yes this is that bad and yes you should leave asap. I would not want to work somewhere where I was so obviously and outwardly unappreciated.

Also, upper management is part of the problem. This is maybe on the cynical side but it rings true for me: Management always wants everything. The important question is, what's the priority? What do they want enough to devote resources to? It doesn't mean anything if the partners want you to stay or not. If they can retain an employee and prevent a problem from blowing up by simply being reassuring for one conversation, of course they will do just that.

A middle manager is getting into arguments with a subordinate at social events, taking bureaucratic steps to get rid of a good employee because of a personal agenda, and upper management is dodging meetings about it. This is dysfunctional past the point of repair.

What I would do is I would talk to the senior colleagues who offered to act as references. Ask them about opportunities in their network. They are aware of what's going on. The offer was essentially a statement "I will help you leave". Also, while it is both kind and normal for senior colleagues to offer references, it is also not at all normal to offer a reference without being asked, and for a colleague who still working alongside them. This is a huge red flag.
posted by cotterpin at 1:17 AM on October 5, 2018 [41 favorites]

You need to bail. A PIP is about creating a paper trail so they can fire you and prove it was for cause, not because of the sort of behavior you're alleging. Document, document, document. But also look for a new job.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:18 AM on October 5, 2018 [24 favorites]

Leave. Is it fair? Should you have to? Hell no. But management have proven that they’re not on your side and these things tend to escalate. Right now you have colleagues on your side who will help you get to your next job and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
posted by Jubey at 2:00 AM on October 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

One of the more difficult truisms I've learned in my life is that whenever you put people together, it gets ugly eventually. Some Darwinian-Lord of the Flies stuff happens and there's always a few who begin jockeying for position, who perceive others as threats who must be eliminated, who spend far more time working on building reputations by being social than actually working, and people who just don't get how this works and end up on PIPs.

They're telling you to look because it's not a good fit. It may be that this person is a jerk, but you may be inadvertently contributing to the issue. When you were out for drinks, there was no reason for you to press this guy about racism/sexism. You're not friends, it's not a spirited discussion--the guy is your manager at work (and this is why I think it's such a bad idea for coworkers to all hang out and drink outside of work).

I think you should leave but also consider if you did inadvertently contribute to the situation with this guy.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:44 AM on October 5, 2018 [15 favorites]

I left a job in a creative field a couple of years ago after experiencing similar bullying and harassment from a creative director. I've since learned that some studios and agencies just have really sick cultures, and you owe these places absolutely no loyalty. Talk to recruiters, get your portfolio in order, maybe consider freelancing. Either way, get out of there. Working in an environment like this is legitimately harmful, and it's just not worth it.

Edited to add: my career has flourished since I left that role under that abusive creative director. It sounds like this job is holding you back.
posted by nerdfish at 2:54 AM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sorry, time to go. If management isn't supporting you explicitly in this situation then they are part of the problem.

What I don't understand is whether he is "A Manager" or your direct manager. If he is not your direct manager, then I would immediately go to your direct manager and document the incident at the bar. I would consider filing a statement with HR because as you describe it, he's edging into discriminatory territory. But if he is your direct manager and if as you say HR is vestigal then there isn't much you can do. I also don't understand the role of the Partners versus your Manager.

I'd get gone while the getting is good, personally. But if you really would like to take a throw at staying, you could try making an appointment with a Partner (assuming I read your hierarchies correctly) together with HR and say you feel there is a personality issue with Manager X which is impacting your daily work and that the manager expresses himself about you in a public forum in an inappropriate way. But I wouldn't really hold out much hope of it doing any good.

I would definitely avoid any further conversation with this guy, no matter how irritating he is being.
posted by frumiousb at 3:29 AM on October 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

If you feel like upping the ante while you look for another job, start documenting this by writing emails to this manager, cc'ing yourself and your personal, non-work email address, as if you were gathering evidence for a gender discrimination lawsuit. Read through a few threads here on how to document in-person conversations via email for legal purposes, then what the hell, go right ahead and talk to a lawyer once you feel you have enough.
posted by tapir-whorf at 4:09 AM on October 5, 2018 [12 favorites]

I’d recommend asking Alison at for advice too, if you haven’t.

And definitely polish the resume. I think the pre-existing PIP bodes really poorly for you here, unfortunately. I suspect if this manager either left that conversation wanting to get you fired, or in hindsight thinks that he needs to fire you to avoid getting into trouble himself, that that PIP will give him the cover he needs.

I will also say that attitude problems can actually be performance problems. That’s not to say this manager is right, just that I get the sense that you separate the two things in your mind in a way that is not helpful. (Personally I would call “yells at subordinates while under the influence” a thing that is both an attitude problem and a performance problem, for instance.)
posted by eirias at 6:08 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Document everything. Use your phone to tape him if you can. Send an email from your work email to home, stating what happened, when, where, and who was there. Talk to your manager, tell them that you need to be sure there's no merit to his accusations, and ask them to tell you if your attitude is at all difficult. If you go for drinks and he's there, sit far away, and do not engage with him. This kind of crap makes people's lives hell, and if you can make a case that he is breaking company policy or discriminating on gender, or bullying, he may go back home sooner. Bullies pick on people they perceive as weak, portray yourself as strong, as much as possible.
posted by theora55 at 7:01 AM on October 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Where do you live? It sounds like he’s very clearly discriminating against you based on your ideas about race and gender equity. In some states that’s a big problem - others, not so much.

What I would advise is for you to start keeping a work journal. This is what we use for people in the process of unionizing but it really applies to a lot of other workplace problems. Date it, and each day write down any bullshit that happened with that manager. It will be super helpful if you need to show his discriminatory behavior later.
posted by corb at 8:02 AM on October 5, 2018

Action A, regarding this: I asked him if he had read the ludicrous letter and he said he had not and did not want to!

Email: "Dear Partner, the last time we spoke about this situation you 'didn't want to' read this letter. The situation is such now that it is necessary for you to do so and for us to discuss. It is attached, and I will follow up with a meeting invite for an available time on your calendar."

Action B, email those involved from "in front of my colleagues who had to intervene and get him to stop" asking if they're willing to go on the record officially about the incident. Anyone who doesn't want to, don't bother them again (unless you need to refer HR or your lawyer to them). Anyone who will, ask if they would send you an email with a description of the incident for HR purposes. If you want to CC someone on these - if you have either a management ally or someone who's going to be scared of legal action - you can, or you can hold them until you need to present them to...someone, possibly a lawyer. Forward everything relevant to your personal email.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:38 AM on October 5, 2018 [11 favorites]

(Obviously you need to be working on finding your next job, but if you can manage to leave this one while getting that motherfucker fired for making the company legally vulnerable, do it.)
posted by Lyn Never at 8:41 AM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Don't quit!

Don't worry about getting this loser fired, either. Get fired yourself.

PIPs are designed to get you to quit. They are supposed to be hard. A LOT of people quit when they are put on a pip, because they find another job and then they take it.

BUT - if you FAIL your PIP because your are so busy looking for other jobs, while still showing up and appear to be doing work, and get fired, you get magical severance.

Then, you take your favorite job. Boom - double your income!
posted by bbqturtle at 9:20 AM on October 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

Lots of people above are suggesting you leave, which is a totally legit choice if you feel like you're done.

However, it sounds like you do have a lot of people on your side, and the problem is really with just this one person who is leaving in a year.

I agree you should document everything, and I love Lyn Never's suggestion of rallying all your supporters and being more adamant about the partner reading this letter. If the partner values you as an employee, they should be making it their beeswax to deal with this situation.

In the context of diversity in the workplace, the phrase "the cream always rises to the top" has quite alarming connotations of richness and whiteness... not to mention that it's an idea that's in direct conflict with policies that enhance diversity like affirmative action. If you have sufficient evidence that he has negative opinions of diversity requirements and practices at your company, that's certainly also worth bringing to the partner(s) and upper management. Even better if he's actively and vocally dismissing them.
posted by ancient star at 9:22 AM on October 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Please do not record anybody at work surreptitiously unless you understand the laws around this in your state. In many states this is itself illegal.
posted by eirias at 10:32 AM on October 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

BUT - if you FAIL your PIP because your are so busy looking for other jobs, while still showing up and appear to be doing work, and get fired, you get magical severance.

Um please review the terms of your specific PIP and employment before taking this advice. This may well not be the case at your company.
posted by limeonaire at 10:43 AM on October 5, 2018 [12 favorites]

Agree with limeonaire; where I live in socialist Canada, failing a pip results in termination with cause and no severance. This may also limit your ability to get unemployment.
posted by some chick at 12:16 PM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I agree with ancient star. Yes: document. Write your own answer to this letter, with your reading of the attitude problem and that meeting. Share that when there's a follow-up of the PIP. If you are invited to a follow-up PIP at any time in the future with only under-qualified HR person and this manager, ask to have some other senior manager, or the partner you spoke with, present. Get legal advice on PIPs. I'm not sure if one thin PIP meeting with a neglected follow-up would be any ground in the future for firing you or pressuring you. But you want to make sure.

Take care of yourself in any case, do that first. Then decide what you want to do.
You could lay low, play a long game, not let it center around you. If there is a general issue with this guy other than in relation to you it will emerge and you can see what you can/want to do then.
You can leave, for sure, but I don't feel the situation is that you have to because otherwise you'll get fired. So if you want to leave, let it be a choice that you make, don't feel pushed out.
You can fight on your personal behalf, with lawyer. But fighting this guy or the next idiot/pigeon should be your choice. These things cost a lot of energy, and you don't want to continue them just because someone got you started. It's your precious life and energy. If he got you triggered, like you say, it can be like you're not making active choices anymore, but reacting. That's a less powerful position.
posted by Litehouse at 9:07 AM on October 6, 2018

Share that when there's a follow-up of the PIP.

Not just that - document that there has not been a follow-up in the stated timeframe.
posted by Candleman at 9:45 AM on October 6, 2018

« Older How to automate my email with filters, tags and...   |   How to ask for soft, comfortable t-shirt material? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.