Poor management = unhappy employee
February 22, 2007 8:43 AM   Subscribe

How can I complain to my boss's boss about my boss?

Important details: Civil service (union too) position. Boss has 20-odd years in and extremely poor/nonexistent management skills, plus she's a lousy communicator and doesn't care or seem to know anything about customer service. I'm a "trainee" with about 1.5 years in, who's received little to no training. Fortunately I didn't need much, and I'm cognizant of things like good customer service practices. Boss's boss is a micromanaging meddler who is probably somewhat aware of the situation, but maybe not of the full extent.

I'm obviously looking for another job, but I really think someone higher up should know about this. Any help, advice, cheer-up hints welcomed.
posted by scratch to Work & Money (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you tried going to human resources or your shop steward? That would be the most likely place to lodge a complaint.
posted by parmanparman at 8:53 AM on February 22, 2007

Well, if you're worried about getting fired or some sort of retribution (which would be illegal on their part anyway) I would suggest writing a letter and mailing it to your boss's boss. However, that wouldn't be as good as writing a letter and allowing your boss's boss to discuss the situation with you. As long as you're keeping your feedback constructive then you should be OK. Plus, having a written record also protects you somewhat in case they do fire you over it.

Now, I don't have much experience with union rules, so you may have a specific process for escalation of complaints. If that's the case, you may want to speak to your union rep for guidance. Remember, providing this feedback to your superiors is actually a good thing. In the end it'll be better for the company and you may just learn how to better get along with your boss.
posted by tundro at 8:55 AM on February 22, 2007

Why do you want to shine a light on the situation?
posted by crhanson at 8:58 AM on February 22, 2007

Save it for the exit interview. I doubt a simple complaint will do much against a 20 year veteran, especially if you are on your way out anyway. I hope you dont think this complaint will suddenly fix anything. If this person is as bad as you say they are there are bigger problems at your workplace.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:08 AM on February 22, 2007

Nothing goes on paper. Drop into his or her office at some point, and ask for five minutes.

State your case and leave.

Don't expect much to come of it.
posted by tkolar at 9:08 AM on February 22, 2007

I had a bad experience trying this once. Could you express your concern to your boss first, expecting no decent response, and then escalate to your boss's boss? That way your boss can't say that you didn't try to work it out with him/her first.

Or, and probably even more realistic, accept that it won't change, do what you need to do, and talk about it at the exit interview.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:12 AM on February 22, 2007

Sorry, you're hosed. You have a bad boss but it doesn't sound actionable.

I suggest scheduling a discussion with your boss's boss anyway. The agenda for the meeting shall be your future at the civil service agency. Talk about your career goals and how boss's boss can help you achieve them (through training, transfers, etc). You may mention that you don't think you'll be able to stay your current position very long due to differences with your manager. Do not mention anything about your boss's incompetence unless asked to cite specific examples of lousy behaviour.

I don't know how it works in the civil service, but in my neck of the woods if your performance is satisfactory and the alternative is leaving the company, then the management will help you transfer. You want the boss's boss to cooperate with (and maybe even facilitate) your transfer. Don't go badmouthing your boss and fuck it up.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:14 AM on February 22, 2007

Complaining will very likely achieve absolutely nothing, and could just make you come across as.. well, a complainer.

If you're on your way out, let it go. This person has been there for 20 years?

Cheer up hint? Relax. You're probably not the first person that has complained/wanted to complain.
posted by drstein at 9:15 AM on February 22, 2007

I agree with most posters. Forget it. Suck it up and keep looking for a new job. When they ask why you left, say the truth.
posted by PowerCat at 9:33 AM on February 22, 2007

A careful letter cc'd to everyone up the chain sent on the day after you leave the job is generally the best way to accomplish this. But, as is clear from everything else said here, that has to happen after you leave.
posted by koeselitz at 10:12 AM on February 22, 2007

HR. That's what they're there for. Most companies I've worked for have very understanding HR people when it comes to this sort of stuff. The benefits of this route are 1) they often keep the source of the complaint private if requested (probably not as important if you're leaving), 2) it probably goes on your boss's file for future reference so they can spot the trend later on, and 3) having HR approach your boss's boss will have more weight than you approaching him/her.

You boss may be incompetent, but it would be disrespectful to not try the appropriate channels first before approaching the uberboss directly.
posted by chundo at 11:47 AM on February 22, 2007

Best answer: Be careful here...do you really want to burn bridges? That's why I would shy away from sending letters to each and every person in your chain of management. You also don't want your complaints or criticisms to come out of left field because its easier to dismiss them as a fluke or as being something wrong with you.

If you want things to change (rather than just getting everyone up in arms for awhile) then you need to keep track of what is wrong and what you did to try to fix them and the results that you got. Then with this data (and its key that its data rather than ancedotal stories) you can make your case to HR, or your boss' boss or the union steward or the board of directors or whomever or whenever you want (i.e. before you leave or in your exist interview).

And if you want something to change then might I suggest not telling your boss that her behavior X is wrong and you should do Y...might I suggest that you suggest that you do Y to help improve things for whatever good reasons you can suggests. That might be a better way of phrasing things. In any case, this is how you collect the data that you will need when making your case.
posted by mmascolino at 1:18 PM on February 22, 2007

I agree -- save it for the exit interview. I did this once and my boss was relieved of her managerial duties after I left.
posted by mingshan at 3:01 PM on February 22, 2007

Best answer: Think about it this way. If you tell your boss's boss that your boss sucks, you are telling him that he made a bad choice in putting your boss in place. I have never known it to work for anyone.
posted by slavlin at 4:36 PM on February 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all your responses (though in my experience, chundo, HR is not on the employees' team but the employers'). Oh, and crhanson, I want to shine a light on the situation because it's negatively affecting the quality of service our department is able to provide to our customers. It's embarrassing, basically. It simply isn't possible to do a good job there. Anyway...I'll mull it all over in the spare moments when I'm not trolling the job boards. Thanks all.
posted by scratch at 4:37 PM on February 22, 2007

Best answer: I've also been in a situation where HR is on employer's side, not employees. Complaining to them did nothing except have them mark me down as the "complainer". :P

One of my old bosses used to always say "Don't come to me with problems, come with solutions". They HATE when you complain without having several options for a solution ready.

Maybe a better tactic would be to somehow start making suggestions for improvements in service (to your boss or boss' boss)- only if you have the opportunity though and it makes sense for you to be making suggestions. They also hate it when you start telling them how to do things better and you're a noob in their eyes. :)

If you have meetings where stuff like this can be addressed, make a suggestion that makes the most sense and which obliquely references your boss' behavior (like, "I've noticed customers respond much better when we do X. Is there any way we can make this policy?) Keep all the wording positive, so no one feels directly attacked.

Unfortunately I've never successfully pulled this off, so can't really offer helpful suggestions that I know work- but I HAVE been on the bad end of this- where I got fired basically because I was considered a trouble-maker who wouldn't keep her mouth shut. *sigh* When of course all my suggestions were reasonable and true- but no one wanted to hear it. They didn't hire me to improve their company or established system of dealing with things- they just wanted me to do my job and shut up.

The things I learned from it- most jobs are much more about politics and how you can work with your team than about the actual quality of your work or what you contribute to the company's product. Most people can't see the big picture and understand that you complaining may help them improve their business in the long run- all they see is you being annoying and making more work for them.

I've also learned that your REAL job is to make your boss look good and make their jobs as easy as possible- which sucks if they're totally incompetent. But that's life- not fair at all. :)
posted by thejrae at 6:33 PM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

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