Got screwed over by my boss, but I still have to work with her
September 18, 2019 5:08 AM   Subscribe

I got screwed over by my boss but I still have to work with her. How can I move past my feelings and work better with someone I now feel is untrustworthy?

The short version: went through a years-long process to be eligible for permanent jobs. Finally achieved ‘eligible’ status and interviewed for one of these jobs. Unbeknownst to me, I was the only applicant, which is neither my fault nor my problem as I followed all the required steps.

Boss hired me with the proviso that my contract was pending approval by HR. At the last minute, she decided that she couldn’t hire to permanent after just one interview with one person. She submitted the paperwork as a one year contract, not a permanent position. I didn’t find out until HR emailed me to confirm my ‘contract posting.’

She said a bunch of stuff after I asked her about this, how she ‘left the door open’ with HR to maybe change it later etc. I am not sure I believe her or if she’s just saying that to placate me. I do know that I can’t get another job without a reference from her, so I need to be able to work with her until the end of the contract so I can evaluate my next move.

This is a big deal though. I have been working on contract for several years already, going through the steps they told me to go through. I thought my time had finally come to have that stability of knowing I wouldn’t have to go through this process every year. This has put all of my plans for that back and I wish they have been more transparent with me. Even if I excepted on good faith she ended the interview hoping to hire me, the bottom line is she knew at a point before I got that email that it wasn’t going to happen and didn’t tell me. I feel very betrayed by this. But I need to get over that and make the best of the situation. Advice?
posted by ficbot to Work & Money (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a union where you work? Have you considered talking to your union rep about the situation? Having people who *should* be full time, permanent employees being designated as temps can be a big deal to a union.
posted by Reverend John at 5:38 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Have you signed the contract?

Are the option options either a one-year contract or a permanent job?

What is this boss like in general? Do you interact with/see them often? Are they generally good to work with?
posted by bunderful at 5:42 AM on September 18, 2019

First off, do you have a sense of where you are on the valuable-to-disposable scale for your boss (and the org)? What would happen if you pushed back and said, "Last year, you told me I would be hired on permanently after a year. I can't keep working here on contract." Of course it's possible that you can't afford to take that risk (that she would just say, "OK, I understand, time for you to go," and you'd be out of a job, and that you can't risk that). But it's a useful thought experiment.

Regardless, basically you've learned that this boss can't be trusted on stuff like this and that she avoids difficult conversations. What would you do if you knew they were never going to hire you permanently? It might not be time to quit but it's absolutely time to be looking at other options (either within the organization but under a different boss/department or outside of your current organization). If you don't like your options, can you think about what else you might be able/want to do and how you could get there?

I totally understand how this feels like a personal betrayal, but I find that it's usually more useful to look at shitty bosses like they're a natural force that's out of your control, like a rainstorm (or, sometimes, a hurricane). You can't change a shitty boss, but you can plan for a shitty boss and be prepared for the next time they're shitty.
posted by mskyle at 6:06 AM on September 18, 2019 [10 favorites]

My advice on working better with someone who is untrustworthy is to operate as if they are untrustworthy.

Do not expect them to give you appropriate credit - speak up in meetings and make sure you are talking to other managers about your contributions.
Do not believe their friendly gestures - be polite and friendly yourself, but don't extend yourself socially.
Continue to do your work at a high level - but don't necessarily do much more than what is expected of you.
Start looking for another role in your company or another job - go to networking events, update your LinkedIn profile, ask for informational meetings and do what you need to do to move to a place where you are valued and have a chance to develop an grow professionally.
posted by brookeb at 6:32 AM on September 18, 2019 [21 favorites]

I just want to address one specific thing here:

I do know that I can’t get another job without a reference from her

You absolutely can. First of all, not every job is going to even ask for references (most do, but not all.) Many of those who ask for them, never follow up with them. And it absolutely can be anybody you've worked with and who you've spoken to about being a reference - not just a manager. My past references have included former managers, freelancers I worked with, colleagues in other departments I collaborated with, and I know people who've also listed clients and (trusted!) current coworkers.

References from current managers are not unheard of but pretty rare - if only because telling your current boss "I want to leave, and soon" is an incredibly risky move even when you have a really strong relationship with that manager. I'm fairly confident my boss would be willing to serve as a reference in the future; I would under no conditions ask her to be one today because she's still my boss.

You have experience and skills and a shitty boss. Keep the first two and bail on this person who screwed you over and didn't even do it to your face.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:51 AM on September 18, 2019 [26 favorites]

Are you an independent contractor, or are you farmed out via an agency? If an agency, technically, you work for them, not your boss. If you are your own contractor, it's just you.

I used to do a lot of temp work, and this was a common scam. They'd hire a temp, promising temp-to-perm, then yank the rug out from under me, just when I thought I'd get better pay and some decent benefits. At the time, most temp agencies didn't offer vacation time or affordable healthcare. So I was being treated as an employee, with zero benefits. If there was a day off after a holiday, for instance, the day after Thanksgiving, I didn't get paid. Sick day: no pay. Kid got sick & had to take a day off, since I had no vacation days: no pay.

Yet I was expected to act as if I were a full time regular employee. This went on for at least 2 years. I finally got an offer that was substantially lower than the other employees made, so I turned it down. Even HR was aghast at the grade level & rate of pay ("we don't even hire anyone in at this pay grade anymore"). But instead of changing the forms and making me a new offer at a higher grade & pay level, it was "oh, the VP doesn't want to hire anyone right now, sorry, you'll have to stay a temp, we only got him to sign this one because he was in a good mood that day, oh well."). Excuses, excuses. "We don't have the head count." Lie! I had replaced a woman who had retired, so her head count slot was still open!

I did get hired, but by then the boss I liked had transferred out of country, and there had been so many re-orgs and shifting of bosses and the like, I ended up with a crappy new boss, who I hated, and think the feeling was mutual. I left about 8 months after I became a permanent employee, disgusted.

I do recall, somewhere back in time, that Microsoft had gotten their wrists slapped for the practice of hiring temps and treating them as employees, 2 years and beyond. Think your best bet is to move on and get another job, unless you want to consult a labor attorney and ask a few questions. They might just cancel your contract due to "budget reasons" and find someone else tho', if you push back too hard on this issue. Yes, it's wrong, and I frankly felt my job performance sliding, because I just didn't care anymore, after all the career development options were cut by the new boss, who told me that I would NEVER get ahead there, because I didn't have a degree (even tho' the jobs I was doing didn't require a degree in any way shape or form, and I'd attended classes at our in-house training facility to develop my computer skills). What a jerk, I'm glad I don't work there anymore. It's demoralizing to have promises made and then taken away on someone's mercurial whim.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:27 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

At the last minute, she decided that she couldn’t hire to permanent after just one interview with one person

I want to highlight this point. This might be a reasonable position if you were a stranger to her. But it sounds like she's managed you for some time now. If she thought you were good enough, she would've hired you permanently. That means even your contract position is pretty precarious. Find a new job, friend.

It's unfortunate that people will almost always treat you better if they know you can and will walk out of a situation. It's doubly unfortunate that when you're a woman especially, sometimes the only way you can convey that is by walking out.
posted by praemunire at 8:36 AM on September 18, 2019 [10 favorites]

Yeah, seconding the absolute truth that you can get other jobs without a reference from a crappy boss. Most companies won't confirm anything except the fact that you did/do work there and maybe perhaps confirming what your salary was. There's just too much liability for companies in letting crappy managers like yours say crappy things about you to other potential employers, so they generally don't let managers do that. This is kind of an industry standard thing.

This boss and company are clearly happy to string you along for as long as you'll stay in this contract position. My advice would be to start devoting a non-insignificant portion of your week to finding better non-contract work somewhere else. You clearly can't trust the boss or the company, so ask yourself why you should feel any loyalty to them.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:45 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Read the terms of your contract, but you may be better off breaking this contract in order to accept a permanent job elsewhere. So, the way you deal with this betrayal is to look for other jobs, and don't wait a year. Currently, if you're US-based, unemployment is low and job seekers have a lot of leverage. In a year we may be in a recession (or "contraction"), and a job search will be harder. Get a permanent job while the getting is good!

At work: smile, do your duties, and imagine the pleasure you'll have when you tell your boss you are moving on to better opportunities.
posted by sdrawkcaSSAb at 9:55 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

At the last minute, she decided that she couldn’t hire to permanent after just one interview with one person

Remind her of this every day.

Boss: "Can you do this task?"
You: "Sure, after I do my paperwork for --contrtracting company you actually work for--"

Boss: "I know it's 5pm, but we're still not done; you'll have to stay late."
You: "I'll call my real boss at --contracting company--, and ask whether they'll OK that."

Boss: "Good morning"
You : "When are you going to re-open interviewing for this open position you promised me and even told me I had?"
posted by at at 1:12 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a dim view of HR departments. It's their job to talk about you behind your back (with your boss), to judge you based on second hand, subjective information, and to compare you to other employees. With that as a starting point, how could they not abuse their privileged position. Still, it's their job to keep your boss honest, and I would direct my disappointment at the HR department rather than confronting your boss which could easily make things worse. Of course, HR will probably talk to her, and she'll could blame you for going over her head.

Talking to HR, I'd be indirect. "From where I sit, this job offer was changed from permanent to temp and no one thought to tell me. You can see how hard it is to trust have in the process."
posted by SemiSalt at 2:47 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

The phrasing from at is openly hostile and unprofessional, and I don't see how openly hostile behavior helps you in any way so please don't say those things. It makes you difficult to work with and provides your manager with grounds for firing you. Better to leave on your terms than hers. Plus, a toxic mentality is corrosive and will hurt you more than anyone else.

Getting back to your original question: now that you know your boss is untrustworthy, act accordingly. No need to make a scene. Do your job at some minimum level and be more proactive about putting your interests first. Your work goal from now on is to set your future self up for increased success at every opportunity.

If a non-essential last-minute work request comes in that helps the manager but doesn't help you, respectfully turn it down with "I'm sorry, that's not possible. I have a previous commitment." Even if that commitment is to get home, change into pajamas and cuddle your kitty. Setting boundaries like that can be immensely empowering! That, in turn, helps create the positive energy you need to find a better job. Win-win. So, take back your power instead of letting a bad boss drain it.

One more thing: we're all always learning how to handle our careers and lives better, so maybe find gratitude for any lessons you can take away from this experience? For example, learning to always get things in writing so that you're in a stronger position to hold individuals accountable as needed. Trust, but verify.

Your feelings are real and valid, so I hope you don't feel the need to ignore or discount them while you continue at your current workplace. It may help to instead accept that your feelings happen to coexist with your (I assume) financial reality of needing to keep your job until you find something better. So, do what you can to acknowledge your feelings and channel your energy towards finding something better. I'm a lazy job hunter but being mistreated at work powers up my motivation by, like, a thousand.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 3:03 PM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

It's not helpful to view interactions at work through the lens of betrayal or trust.

Fact: you will be lucky to find a handful of people in your whole life who look out for your interests over theirs, and those people will likely be your parents and partner. Many people don't even have that.

All bosses look out for themselves first of all. They need to balance the demands of multiple stakeholders above them, their peers, and the demands their employees make of them. Their resources are constrained and limited. The salary they pay out doesn't belong to them. I mean, I'd make all my workers permanent and pay them $200,000 per year if I could - it's not my money to begin with! The easiest way for a manager to lose whatever small measure of influence they have in the organization is to make a decision their senior management disagree with.

It's more helpful to frame it in terms of competence and power. If I have more power and influence as a manager, I can secure more resources for my employees. If I am competent, I will have transparent conversations with my employees, and be able to help them build up both their capabilities and the perception of competence among the senior managers. Most managers get thrown into their role with zero formal training about how to do these things. Only a small portion gain competence at these tasks. Every kid get taught how to play Chess, and how many achieve expert level skill without formal instruction?

So you have an incompetent boss. That's ... surprisingly normal, incompetence exists at every level of the organization. As mentioned above, treating these bosses as natural force that's out of your control, like a rainstorm, is a very apt way to looking at it. I think - whether on purpose or not - your boss has given you some pretty clear hints that you're not wanted at their organization.

References from your current boss aren't worth much. As a recruiter, why would I believe them? There's a really perverse incentive at play here: if the employee was bad, their boss might have an incentive to say how good they were, so they would be more likely to get recruited and leave. Whereas if the employee was good, the boss might say how bad they were, so they wouldn't get hired and have to stay at their job.
posted by xdvesper at 8:29 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

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