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#549: I was promoted above my peers and now they are punishing me and #550: Do I need to tell my boss I’m looking around at other opportunities?

WAREHOUSE 13 -- "Pilot" -- Pictured: CCH Pounder as Mrs. Frederic -- SCI FI Channel Phot

Did that sound like a request? It wasn’t.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a relatively young professional and just got my first promotion (yay!). My question is about how I respond to/keep things upbeat and professional with my coworkers who are a little miffed they got passed over.

Several of my coworkers and I all applied to be moved up; only I was promoted. Now some of my coworkers are being very snippy (ie: “New dress, huh? Must be nice to have that extra money in the paycheck”) some of them are always mysteriously busy when I need to delegate a task to them, and one of them keeps initiating conversations about who should have gotten the job instead of me (ie “Coworker X is bilingual! She would have been much better at this than you.”)

On the one hand I kind of understand why they’re upset: I am the most junior person at my workplace, so even though I have a stronger education and background in this field, it seems like I kind of leapt over them. On the other hand, I do try hard to do well at work and I believe the promotion process was fair. I was hoping it would just take a week for the dust to settle and we could get back to business, but it’s been more than a month now and it’s hard to do my job well when my coworkers all suddenly go to lunch when I need their help, or derail work by asking me if I think I got promoted because our boss thinks I’m pretty (No, no I don’t). I try to redirect the conversation after these comments (ie “Let’s focus on work, okay?”) but the next day it’s just the same song and dance.

How can I smooth things over and get us back to normal?

- Just Trying to Work

S. Epatha Merkerson as Anita Van Buren

Anita Van Buren is wise to your antics.

Dear Just Trying:

Congratulations on being promoted! I’m sorry this is happening to you in the aftermath. You didn’t have the final say in whether you were promoted or not, and it’s not fair for your coworkers to punish you for going after the exact same opportunity they did or for the boss’s decision to give it to you. Being young and female (going by your email name and coworker’s comments about your dress, etc.) is no excuse for your coworkers to treat you as they do.

I don’t know what you do, what your job title is, how supportive your boss & HR department are likely to be. I do know that you can’t be less young, or less female, and you can’t by yourself magically stop people from being bullies or by using the right magic words. But I think there are some things you can control about your interactions with these coworkers that *may* lead to better results:

  • Better interactions than you have now, at least with some of them.
  • A better chance of getting the work done.
  • A path toward censuring or, frankly, firing the people who refuse to work with you.
  • A way to test things out and figure out your management style, which is what you are in the process of learning right now.

Let’s dive into tactics.

1. Identify mentors.

Your bosses promoted you, so they like you and believe in you. Is there one of them who would be a good mentor figure? If you trust them, this can be an active mentoring relationship, as you ask for regular meetings for guidance and help, or more passive, as you see what they do well and model your own “boss” behaviors accordingly.

Also look at fictional mentors. Mrs. Frederic from Warehouse 13, pictured above? I’m not even particularly into that show, but that lady is AWESOME at being the boss.

Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison

Jane Tennison does not appreciate your sexist remark.

The next two things I’m going to recommend are gritty, dark police shows about extremely troubling sex crimes, so if that material is unbearably upsetting to you, skip ‘em. But if you can hang with the subject matter, Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect and Stella Gibson in The Fall have a lot to teach about staying on task in the face of passive-aggressive sexist jealous bullshit from coworkers and taking zero shit from anyone. You could find worse models for how to be at work. Women-in-charge are underrepresented in media, but this post contains a passel of them – find one that inspires you. Don’t imitate everything they do (leave out the terrible ethics, in many cases) but….how does she speak? How does she deal with dissent in the ranks? How does she assert authority? How does she wield influence and power?

Once you find a few role models, I want you to put on your best work ensemble, and practice saying this in the mirror until you believe it:

It’s not a request, actually. Thank you.” + turning and walking away.

2. NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR BEING GOOD AT YOUR JOB.

Actually, unless you physically step on their foot or spill hot coffee on them accidentally or whatever (some clear, immediate transgression), never apologize to these assholes, period. “I’m sorry” is useful when apologizing for a transgression. It is not useful to you in other interactions, like, for instance, in assigning work.

3. This is a performance issue.

Stop thinking of assignments as favors they are doing you or as “help.” If you are responsible for delegating work, and your coworkers are shirking their duties by avoiding you or not getting things done, they are not doing their jobs. Assigning a task or delegating a responsibility isn’t a request, it’s an assignment. So phrase it as such.

It’s the difference between:

“Hey, um, coworker? Could you please help me out with this thing? I’m sorry, I know you’re busy, but if you’ll just take a few hours to get this out of the way I’d appreciate it sooooooo much. Thanks!”

Hi, Coworker, how is your day going? I need you to focus on x for the next day or so. Can you get me a decent draft by tomorrow? Thank you.”

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope

“My coat is flawless and my execution is flawlesser. What, that’s not a word? It is now.”

They are testing you, for sure. They are bullying you, for sure. They may never be nice to you, but they do have to get their work done. Your company mostly (almost entirely) cares about the work. So if you are assigning work, and the work isn’t being done, that is not a bullying/personality issue, that’s a performance issue. Present it to your team that way (by outright assigning tasks and tracking their completion) and document (see #7, below) it that way.

4. Solving this problem IS your job right now.

I’m sure you have deliverables you have to output or efficiencies you have to maximize or solutions you have to optimize and deliver (efficiently!) in your job description, but right now, getting a handle on working with your team is your priority.

This means:

  • Forgive yourself for encountering a learning curve. Managing people is a skill unto itself and it takes time to pick it up even when people aren’t actively undermining you.
  • Read everything you can get your hands on about being a good boss, being a first-time boss, etc. See if your employer will provide or can direct you to training. Management training? Assertiveness training? Something that lets you practice scenarios.
  • Don’t procrastinate about addressing problematic behaviors. It’s not getting better on its own, so you gotta jump in.
  • Your demeanor and your relationships at work will change. Being one of the gang isn’t on anymore. You do have to communicate with more authority. You won’t necessarily be liked or be a part of social activities or the gossip loop.
  • As much as possible, view it as “practice.” You’re trying out a bunch of things trying to see what works for you, what feels comfortable for you. That’s okay, it’s part of the process.

5. Divide and conquer.

No matter how warranted, nobody wants to listen to a “Come on, guys, can’t we just be a team? I’m the BOSS, dammit, and today you’re gonna start treating me like one!” group talk from their manager. It really is the most awkward thing, for everyone involved. It will do you no favors. Also, sending a blanket “Everyone needs to do x from now on, ok?” email almost never works. The people who are doing it correctly resent being included in the batch with the people who aren’t. The people who actually need to hear the message assume that it doesn’t apply to them and skip merrily on with what they are doing. So you need to address issues one-on-one, case-by-case, in a structured and specific way.

It’s rare that I have real classroom management issues when I teach, but when I have, what’s worked best with a disruptive student is to address things individually and privately. After class, on the class break, whatever, I pull them aside for a private conversation. It’s a little different than a boss/employee relationship, but there is some overlap, in that the result I want is for the student to be motivated. What works best for me is:

  • Ask.You seem not yourself/distracted/upset today. Is something going on with you that I should know about?”
  • Angela Bower as played by Judith Light on "Who's the Boss?"

    “So the punchline is…the boss is…a lady? I do not understand your jokes.”

    Honestly name the behaviors.You are interrupting me.” “You’re talking over other students.” “You are making sexist comments (about actresses in movie clips, uggggghhhhhhh, the worst).” “Your critiques are mean and not constructive.” “You didn’t do the assignment, and you are hijacking class time to review material you should have already prepared.

  • Make a direct request. “Please write down your questions as they occur to you and save them for the end.” “Please wait to be called on.” “Please keep comments about physical appearance of performers to yourself.“Please make an appointment to go over things one-on-one during office hours.”Please set your cell phone to silent, and step outside if you need to make or take a call.”
  • Be consistent. Gently remind them if they mess up. “Can you hold your questions until the end of the presentation, thanks! Write them down if you need to.”
  • If things get better, remind them of that, too. “I appreciate the way you’ve been speaking up during class discussions, your critiques have really improved.” Also, check in on their overall well-being and point out the things they DO do well, privately and publicly, so it’s not all a rain of negative feedback.
  • Refer students who are having problems to appropriate campus resources.
  • Document ongoing issues and refer them up the chain.
Gillian Anderson as DS Stella Gibson in The Fall

“Even my blouse is embarrassed by your display of incompetence.”

This was really hard for me to do, at first. I wanted to be the “cool” professor who treats everyone like an adult and can count on everyone to act like an adult. But not everyone knows what to do and how to be, and when they don’t, it does no one any favors to keep letting them fuck it up without saying anything. It took a lot of practice to figure out a working praxis and to get over that hurdle of “I’m young, I’m female, if I say ‘you’re doing that wrong, please stop’ everyone will hate me forever” in a professional environment.

Mostly what I’ve found is that showing that you notice, care, and will consistently follow up is enough to turn the working relationship around, and where it isn’t, there are bigger problems than my pay grade going on. To adapt this for you, let’s talk about the thing where your coworkers are always at lunch when you need something from them.

It’s not entirely clear from your question if this is an office environment or a retail/service place. If it’s an office environment, and you all have company email and a computer that you use, make your requests primarily over email. That way the request is made no matter when the person goes to lunch. That way you can document that you asked them to do it and document when (or if) it got done. Multiple reminders get cc’d to your boss. If the culture has not supported this so far, that’s okay – this is about finding a management style and a way of delegating that works for you, and your voice can’t go all quavery if you’re telling them stuff in writing. If there’s no email system, you’ll have to delegate in person. Document that you did so and when you did so. Then check back when the work should be done and see if it’s done. If it’s not done, document that, too.

Hetty Lange from NCIS: LA

“Thank you for noticing my sexy outfits. Now, about that deadline you missed…”

Here’s another thing you can sort of control: Triage better and communicate sooner. Managing the workflow is part of your job, it sounds like, and it sounds like you’re still getting the hang of it, which is okay! If you’re getting swamped midday, every day, then your business is one that has a busy period during lunching hours. So anticipate it. If creating more structure around lunch breaks will help you get your job done, then it falls on you to do it.

  • Could you stagger lunch breaks so you have better coverage?
  • Could you let people know in the morning that there is a deadline or pile of stuff to deal with early afternoon, and plan accordingly? “I need this by 2 pm today, so however you want to make that work with your lunch break is up to you. Thanks.”

If people are always mysteriously “at lunch,” chances are they are going over their allotted lunch breaks or doing something that’s against company rules. I know, I know, I would also hate to be the person who has to time people’s lunch breaks and talk to them about it! (I KNOW! )But you wouldn’t have to be the lunch police if they weren’t abusing the system. The most diplomatic way to do this is to individually approach the chief offenders in the morning and say, “Can you check with me before you head to lunch today? We’re going to have a bunch of work coming in in the early afternoon and I want to plan.” Or, while they are at lunch, send an email (or leave a note) – “Please see me when you’re back from lunch!” – and delegate whatever it is to them then. This allows you to keep the work flowing through your department and also communicates “I notice your comings and goings” in a diplomatic…ish… way.

At first, you are going to have to check back and then double check. You’re going to have to say a lot of versions of “I asked you to see me when you came back from lunch. Now that you’re here, please do ______. Thank you,” in a neutral tone (and then document the request & conversation).

On the optimistic side, handling things one-on-one is going to help you figure out who can be managed and who can’t. Few people can really keep up a shitbeast facade during a respectful, direct, one-on-one interaction. Pretty soon someone is going to respond positively, or at least neutrally, to your direct, clear requests and the others will put themselves in a position of, shall we say, actionable rebellion. A person who doubles down on the jerky behavior can be written off, as in, your goal is to tolerate/neutralize them in the short term and build enough documentation to fire their disrespectful ass in the medium term. Someone who mutters a grudging “sorry” and starts getting their stuff done is probably going to come around in the end.

6. Confront inappropriate behavior directly.

Comments on your physical appearance are not welcome or appropriate. Practice your best Robot Voice, because “Wow, that’s inappropriate. Let’s change the subject to Work Thing. (Work thing)” is going to be your go-to for ANY comments about how you dress or your appearance or suggestions that you are flirting with the boss or whatever.

If you’re like me, you’re going to feel like the world’s worst nagging bitch when you have to start checking up on when they come back on lunch or remind them that comments on appearance, your competence, the boss’s fictitious attraction to you, etc. are not welcome. What are you, their mother? And that stereotype, of the female boss as the nagging bitch (and I use that word on purpose, because that’s the word they are calling you inside their head, or, at least you suspect they are, and it’s the word used to punish us and make us smaller, and there are books with unfortunate covers written to “help” us not be this terrible, terrible thing). But as the boss, you still have to say “Please do this,” and if they don’t do it, you have to let them know that you notice that they didn’t.

You can eventually have a “We need to talk about this behavior, in general” discussion at a performance review or in conjunction with your manager and/or HR, but those are a lot easier to initiate if you’ve had a round or two of “Hey, knock it off” moments and can show you tried to address the behavior directly. More on that here.

Also, keep this script up your sleeve:

“Even if what you say is true, the position is still mine. So, about that thing you need to do….”

Connie Britton as Tami Taylor

What would Tami Taylor do, you ask? She’d toss her hair and tell you that remark was inappropriate and that she didn’t appreciate it. And then she’d work circles around your no-account ass.I

7. Make the paper trail.

Create a file on your computer or in a notebook called Shitty Insubordinate Things People Do (you can rename it to something more professional later, for now, call it whatever will make you feel better) and start documenting things as they happen.

For example, when the coworker says “So and so would be so much better at this than you,” you can say “Wow, even if that were true, that’s really inappropriate. So, about work thing…..” Then document the incident in your file. If it happens again, “I thought we addressed this. Comments like that are inappropriate and rude. Please stop.” (Document) Later on, when either you/your manager/HR do a performance review or have a conversation about this employee’s snide comments and terrible attitude (see also: sexual harassment, re: the comments on your appearance), this material becomes part of that conversation.

You’ll never send that file to anyone as is, you’ll selectively share examples from it. Hopefully you will never need it, but if things escalate, it will prove invaluable.

Khandi Alexander as LaDonna in Treme

“What are you drinking? What I tell you to drink, that’s what.”

8. Call in the cavalry.

Tattling on coworkers who don’t do their jobs is probably going to be wicked uncomfortable, and I suspect from the group passive-aggressive tactics in play it’s something that your coworkers frown intensely upon among their own.

Guess what.

It’s your job now.

You assigned work?

You monitored whether it was being done?

You asked employees to correct inappropriate behavior and complete assigned tasks without hassle?

They didn’t do it/aren’t doing it?

Well, what are you going to do? Secretly do it all for them? Pretend it’s not happening?

Miranda Bailey from Grey's Anatomy

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Excuse.”

This is a Catch-22 for new managers, especially of the young, female (see also: not white, not able-bodied, not straight; basically anything that people use as an excuse to discriminate in other contexts is relevant here) variety. If your coworkers become “unmanageable” enough, and your organization is sexist/racist/ableist/QUILT*BAG-phobic enough (which is depressingly likely) the question becomes about your management abilities instead of their insubordination. So speaking up to superiors is not without risks.

However, your bosses promoted you into this job, so even without knowing them personally, I think you’re okay in assuming that they want you to succeed and believe in your abilities. How & when you approach them about issues is going to depend on their personality, the culture of your workplace, and the specific issue in play, but you can ask for backup.

Sometimes, it’s in-the-moment backup. “I can’t find Ashley & Trent (I have mentally named your jerky coworkers Ashley and Trent, k thx), and I need them to work on x task right now. If you see them, can you ask them to come see me?

“Ashley & Trent have both taken long lunches every day this week. I feel petty bringing it up, but it’s affecting x service. Can you have a word with them?”

Use email, if it’s available. “Ashley, Trent, we need to send the presentation to the client, can you let me know when you will have x & y ready? Those are the last two pieces.” cc: YOUR BOSS*

Patty Hewes from Damages

Patty Hewes is her name and short, declarative sentences are her game.

Sometimes it’s I’m new at this/mentor me” backup. “I’ve tried addressing x issue with Ashley and Trent. Do you know a better way to go about this?”

Have you ever been in a situation where you are suddenly supervising peers? How did you approach that?”

Sometimes it’s “I’m formally bringing a situation to your attention” backup.

I’ve asked Trent to stop making comments about my dress, my appearance, etc. on three occasions (documented here), and he’s still doing it (documented here). I would like you to have a more official word with him.”

*A side note on using the passive-aggressive or aggressive-aggressive CC:

People often loathe this and see it as being unnecessarily hostile or micromanage-y. That’s because you are publicly blaming them for why something isn’t done yet in front of the big boss, so, yeah. It is those things, kinda.

My personal rule is: Never start there (unless the boss needs to be in the loop from the beginning on every stage of the project).

Request 1:Ashley, how is x project coming? Can I see a draft by Wednesday? We want to send something to the client by the end of the week.” (sent only to Ashley)

I always try to let people know how whatever it is fits into the bigger picture if I can. No one likes arbitrary deadlines.

Request 2 (Wednesday, end of day):Can you update me on how it’s coming? I can adjust deadlines, if you’re swamped, but I need a progress report. Thank you.” (Sent only to Ashley)

If I don’t hear back? Oh, it’s on.

Request 3 (On Thursday): “Big Boss, we’ve got all the pieces except for Ashley’s piece. Ashley, any word?” (Sent to Ashley, Big Boss, and possibly other team members)

If Ashley feel shitty and embarrassed, Ashley should have emailed me back the first two fucking times. I don’t want to embarrass her, I just need the shit to get done and if there’s a problem somewhere I need her to tell me so I can make a plan B. If you are the Ashley in this situation, and you feel like the “What’s the status? CC: Boss” email happens to you a lot, I’d believe you if you said your coworker is an annoying micro-manager, but I would also suggest that you could tighten up your communications game, bro.

Try some things out, make sure your game is generally tight, don’t take shit from anybody. If things don’t improve in this job, you’ll have learned some valuable lessons to take to the next one.

HELL'S KITCHEN: Chef Ramsay (L) screams at Tom (R) during dinner

What a reasonable and kind mentor you are, sir!

Dear Captain Awkward:

I have a job/professional advice question I’m hoping you and the army can help with: should an employee notify their employer of their decision to begin looking for a new position?  If you don’t, how do you handle potential positions that explicitly ask for current supervisor contact information?

Background:  I’ve been in my current job for 3 years, and although I get along with my supervisor (for the most part), there have been a handful of instances in the past that have shown me that she is not someone that I would consider “safe”. She typically praises my work and seem honestly happy with me, unless she is upset with me. Then she is unfairly critical, nit-picking, and assigns me a lot of busy work. Honestly, it feels like she tries to punish me. The types of things that upset her are difficult to predict, and usually she is perfectly courteous and professional.  But the last time she was upset with me, she went 6 months making my working life pretty miserable.  While she has moved on (maybe the holidays helped?) and things are calm again, I’m recovering from going home from work every day in tears.  I want to leave and am looking for something new, but I’m feeling a bit hesitant to rock the boat again, especially if I have a hard time finding another position.

In general, I feel like the professional thing to do would be to give my supervisor notice that I’m looking for something new. I’ve also run across a couple of positions I’ve been interested in that explicitly state they want a current supervisor as a reference. But I’m concerned that if I tell her she’ll be upset about what this would mean for her (primarily additional work to find a replacement) and make my life miserable until (if!) I find a new job.  I’m also worried that instead of giving a good recommendation, she’ll be spiteful and say negative things about me to potential employers.

I feel paranoid for thinking this, but we’ve had some very strange interactions in the past where she has reacted very, very poorly to things that seem completely benign. 

So, what’s the “rule” for disclosing job searching? Any suggestions on how I can protect myself or minimize damage? How do I handle applications that require contacting your current supervisor?

Sincerely,  

Fear and Loathing in Fort Worth
Montogmery Burns from The Simpsons

“This is the Spruce Goose. Get in. I said…..GET IN.”

Dear Fear & Loathing:

Give my regards to your fair city! Thanks to you, I am dreaming  of the deli at Central Market.

Replacing employees is costly and annoying, so of course employers want as much notice as possible, that doesn’t mean you owe them endless notice.

Look at it this way: If your company wanted to fire you today, you’d be outside with your stuff clutched awkwardly in a cardboard box within the hour. The more old and the more white and the more male you are, the more they would consult with legal first and use words like “healthy severance package” (seriously, White Collar Bros, hook me up with some of that ‘we will literally pay you many thousands of dollars not to work here anymore money’!) but don’t kid yourself: The second you stop being useful to an employer, you are gone.

That doesn’t mean you should burn your bridges, or that there aren’t expectations around how much notice you’ll give, but keep it in mind if you feel anything resembling guilt setting in, ok?

You have an untrustworthy, mercurial boss. So the right time to tell her you are looking is:

  • (Ideally) When you have a job offer in hand and are giving your 2-weeks’ notice; or,
  • (Not ideal, but workable) When you’ve had a successful interview, an offer is imminent, and the new employer is checking references.
Donald Trump

This guy seems so chill and reasonable about everything, I’m sure giving notice at his company is smooth sailing!

If you had a great, beloved boss that you trusted to support you in whatever you do next, or if you were in a very senior (VP + above) role, that notice-giving period might be longer. A month. Three months. “I’m applying to a few positions, here’s what that process looks like, here’s when I will know.” Know that even the best boss who supports you has to plan for the future and get their work done, so know that once you let the “I’m thinking of leaving” cat out of the bag your boss will most likely not include you in future plans. Raises, promotions, even continuing past a certain date will be off the table.

But if your boss is gonna give you a bad reference or punish you for leaving, she may spin some lie about how it’s because you didn’t give more notice, but really, there was no perfect way or time to tell her. She’s untrustworthy. She punishes you unfairly. Opportunities come up all the time, and you have to live your life. She’s gonna do what she’s gonna do. Behave as professionally as you can, and kiss the rest of it up to fate or what she ate for breakfast that day.

The good news is that employers don’t usually waste time checking references of people they don’t avidly want to hire. It’s just too awkward and time-consuming to waste time on it otherwise, so it’s usually the very last step before making an offer official. Most job applications have a “May we contact your current employer? Y/N” question on their somewhere. Checking “N” in that box is code for “My current employer doesn’t know I’m looking yet, be cool, new company!”

If it comes up more specifically, know that if they are asking for your references at all it’s a good sign, and tell them:

I’m happy to put you in touch with my current employer once you are serious about making an offer. In the meantime, here is info for other supervisors and colleagues who can give you a great sense of my work.”

Lumbergh from Office Space

“I’m gonna need you to go ahead and work for me, unhappily, forever, mmmkay?”

Or:

My current employer doesn’t know I’m looking. If you’re serious about making an offer, I’d appreciate being the one to tell them, so please let me know before you call them for a reference so I can lay the groundwork.”

Don’t badmouth your boss or talk about your weird dynamic. It’s a red flag if you do. If she gives a scathing review of you on the phone, which is pretty unprofessional and possibly opens her & your current company up to legal issues, her brand of “off” will likely say more about her than it does about you.

When negotiating with your new employer, work whatever notice you’d need to give into your anticipated start date. “If you need me right away, I can start ________ (2 weeks from the date of the offer + at least a few days off to rest). However, if it’s possible, I’d like to give my current employer a little more notice, which gives us a start date of _______.”

Any prospective employer who finds that unreasonable is not going to be a good fit for you!

A quick note on reference-checking, in general:

Companies should probably be way more thorough and intense about this than they are; in The Gift of Fear the author notes that the number of people with easily Google-able violent histories who are hired to work in security jobs that give them all kinds of access to firearms and restricted information is, I think the word was, staggering.

However, and I say this as a former recruiter, most reference checks are a formality. You’ve made a great impression, you fill their needs, the company wants to hire you, so they check your references for red flags, obvious lies (like verifying employment dates and salary), and weird silences. Your prospective employer met you when you were on your best behavior and at pains to make a good impression. Does that image hold up if we poke at it a little? Does the story hang together?

And a good rule about negative information is: If I hear it from one person, it’s worth checking into a little, but might ultimately be just a bad fit, a personality clash, whatever. After all, this person is leaving their current job for a reason! If I hear it more than once, from everyone, it’s a big deal.

Miranda Priestley from The Devil Wears Prada

Whatever field you work in is probably a small world, so your boss may pleasantly surprise you.

People are actually very reluctant to give even a very bad employee a bad reference. There are legal implications, sometimes, or, if they seem to be on their way out maybe you don’t want to prevent them from becoming someone else’s problem! So they might refuse to give a reference, or fall back on “I’m only allowed to confirm basic information, like employment dates and compensation, sorry,” but they’ll rarely full on complain, and if they did, I’d definitely know why you were trying to flee working for that person! Exception: The person I’m calling for a reference for you is someone I already know very well. That person will give me the real scoop, because their relationship with me is more important than (sorry) their relationship with you, and they want to save me from working with someone they think is a dud.

So if I ask, “Would you hire this person again, given the opportunity?” and every person I talk to hesitates for a long time before saying something non-committal? Or everyone volunteers something like “Well, s/he really prefers to work solo rather than in a team….” Hrm…..interesting. I am being told this person does not play well with others. Considering that I’m calling people that they told me to, at very least, the candidate doesn’t have a good self-awareness about who would make a good reference.

If 2 out of 3 people say great, positive things, and the third person is noncommital or weird, it’s more likely to be an outlier. Usually what I’ll do at that point is to call a 4th or 5th person.

It would be great, Letter Writer, if your boss could be trusted to sing your praises, but she alone cannot torpedo your career. Do what you can to mentally write her off as a factor in what comes next, and tell her what’s going on when you have something to actually tell. Two weeks is sufficient notice. Three is generous. More than that? Rather than pour any more of your precious beautiful life into a job you dislike, take a vacation to recover from working for this lady before you start your new jam.

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84 comments
  1. Anon21 said:

    Great advice, as usual. I think the “serious about making an offer” language in the Captain’s scripts for LW#2 might rub some prospective employers the wrong way (“As opposed to being fanciful about making an offer?”) or come across as impatient with the speed of their hiring process. I would think about substituting “once you reach the offer stage” or “once you’re narrowing down the final candidates.” As the Captain points out, employers are aware that employed candidates frequently cannot let their current supervisors know they’re looking for work until they have a firm offer in hand, and any reasonable prospective employer is going to accommodate you on this.

    • JenniferP said:

      I totally back this language, thanks!

  2. LW1: I love the Captain’s advice.

    LW2: Every place I have ever worked will fire you as soon as they find out you are looking for another job. I have heard tell of places that do not do this, but most of the places I have worked have done this.

    Rules to live by – Do NOT send resumes from work. Do NOT let your potential employers call your current gig. Do NOT mention to anyone you work with that you might be looking, and do NOT take calls during work hours.

    DO – UPDATE YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE. If you don’t have one, sign up, add old coworkers, or people you went to school with. Avoid adding people at your current job if at all possible, as they can see new activity. Recruiters are using LinkedIn heavily now. It is also a great tool for searching and showing off your skills.

    DO – Talk to recruiters who specialize in your area.

    I hope you find an awesome new gig that is awesome.

    • The main exception I can think of is when the workplace is attempting to downsize anyway, which is why all my oldest sister’s coworkers were totally supportive of her job search. Any other situation, tread carefully.

    • J. Preposterice said:

      “LW2: Every place I have ever worked will fire you as soon as they find out you are looking for another job. I have heard tell of places that do not do this, but most of the places I have worked have done this.”

      YES. I know someone who was on a contract that was ENDING IN A MONTH, so he was looking (because they liked him fine, he had good reviews, but the project was ending so, you know, see you later), and happened to mention to his boss that he was looking. He didn’t think it was a big thing, because: contract ending in a month with no prospect of renewal, so of COURSE he was looking.

      His boss fired him on the spot and called security to monitor him cleaning out his desk/march him out of the building.

      • Re: LW2.

        Wow! That’s intense. I was going to chime and and say that being in a contract position might be the only exception to the “don’t hint that you’re looking until you find a new position” rule.

        I’ve been in several contract roles that I’ve enjoyed and, luckily, I’ve been able to stay with the same employer for 2.5 years through successive contracts. A script that has worked for me in the past is “Hi Supervisor, as you know, I’m currently in a contract role that will finish on x date. I really enjoy working at y company and, if given the option, would be happy to stay on longer in my current role. I recognize that that might not be an option, so I may begin looking for another opportunity elsewhere. If necessary, would I be able to ask you for a reference?”

        This script works particularly well if you have a mentor-like relationship with your supervisor.

    • Key said:

      “Every place I have ever worked will fire you as soon as they find out you are looking for another job.”
      I was about to say the same thing. Surely varies by industry, but, “Oh, you don’t wanna work here? Don’t let the door hit you!” is all I’ve seen (with one exception of my longest-held job where I had a very good relationship with my bosses and told them I was going to be moving to another city at the end of the month – but with most other people leaving to go to a rival firm it was “ok, get out”). A lot of companies consider you a security risk or client-stealing risk as soon as they have an inkling.

      (Sorry if I double-post – login issues)

  3. Mary said:

    Can I do another Ace Police Lady Drama recommendation? I doubt it’s made it to the US yet, but everyone should add Scott and Bailey to their Omg Awesome Police Ladies list. It’s about three female police officers in Manchester, and two of the stars are writers, and it’s just a police drama that’s … written like women are people or something? Like the main characters are women who are doing their jobs, and the crimes are sometimes committed by women and sometimes by men, but are never pure men-killing-women? Anyway, the female manager in that is sometimes presented as a bit harsh and sometimes as very reasonable and friendly, but she certainly doesn’t have problems with authority.

    (It’s also very wrong if you live in Manchester, because you find yourself saying things like, “wait a minute, you can’t show them driving along at 30 miles an hour on an empty road and then a driveby of Deansgate!”)

    On a totally different note, I also really recommend Ken and Kate Back’s Assertiveness at Work. It’s got loads of scripts and role plays for assertiveness in different situations, as well as thoughts about what makes being assertive hard and all that kind of thing. I am recommending it all over the place because I just think it’s great.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thank you! I keep thinking of more (the nuns from Call The Midwife) but I had to post sometime. ;)

      • Ace said:

        Yes! The nuns! Everyone should have a Sister Evangelina part of their personality.

      • alias said:

        Gloria Akalitus from Nurse Jackie would also have been a good choice, but it was excellent to see Olivia Pope made the cut

        • JenniferP said:

          Olivia Pope was well above the cut.

      • I wanna add pretty-much-all of the lady lawyers from the Good Wife too. One of the recurring female characters is their go-to whenever someone in the firm gets sued (and is non-neurotypical enough to fail a psych test when she gets arrested, but *absolutely brilliant*), and another can gleefully be described as their baby-toting evil nemesis (I love Patti Nyholm). The main firm of the story has a male-female partnership, and Ms Lockhart *never* has a problem laying down the law.

        • StarlikeSilences said:

          Seconded with the Good Wife and adding Dr. Cam Saroyan from Bones. She comes into a hostile work environment and not only wins over every persnickety scientist but feels completely comfortable with asserting her authority.
          Good luck letterwriters! You both sound awesome!

    • Scott and Bailey is GREAT and I love love love Amelia Bullmore’s DCI character so much. Also good, the vice-principle in the middle school in The Wire in Season 4, and the Language Arts teacher. “If you weren’t heading for the office before, you are now…”

  4. Brookfield said:

    If I could add on to your excellent advice, I’d really recommend that LW#549 check out Manager-Tools.com. They have about a thousand (no kidding) free podcasts about making the transition into management, and step-by-step advice for handling just about any situation you could come across at work. The podcast that I immediately thought of was this one: http://www.manager-tools.com/2011/04/how-manage-a-disgruntled-non-promoted-direct-part-1

    I don’t work for MT and don’t get any kickbacks from recommending it… I can just tell you that it totally changed my work life when I started listening to their stuff and following their advice. I’m a director now with 35 people on my team – and I’m a young-ish woman in a male-dominated IT industry. It works. Good luck!
    -B

    • JenniferP said:

      Second rec for Manager Tools, so it must be pretty good. :)

    • Wow is their background music hilarious. Thanks for this rec, I’m having some ISSUES.

  5. Thank you! I needed #550 today! Best of luck to both LW because being miserable at your place of employment can suck you dry!

  6. hellodangergirl said:

    LW 1, I recommend the Manager Tools series of podcasts. There are TONS of them (like, 7+ years worth) that cover a variety of topics, not all of which may be applicable to your situation, so pick and choose as necessary.

  7. Number Whisperer said:

    I work in the professions, and my take on it, FWIW, is that:

    LW1: The bosses promoted you and not the others for a reason. Perhaps their immaturity and lack of professionalism is known to those in charge already? I work with one of the most dismissive, contemptuous, rude dipshits in the entire world and even he would not dare to openly diss me in front of the bosses. And that is because in terms of qualifications, experience and ability I outstrip him and he knows it and so do they. We are polite to each other in public and in meetings, I help him when he needs help and if he wants to be a jerk the rest of the time then that’s on him. I pay no attention whatsoever to it.

    So if these people are constantly undermining you, then I think that the Captain has given you some awesome scripts to work with. Documentation is your friend, so is professionalism in your approach and demeanour and putting some space between yourself and your former “friends”. It’s like a mask you put on, at least at first, so that you can give the appearance of confidence even if inside you don’t quite have it yet. Later on, you will have it, and doing your job will be as easy as breathing.

    You need to ensure that the work is done, and that your orders/requests/assignments are carried out. Lunch breaks can’t last for eight hours so there will be some time during the day for you to interact with these people to get the work projects handed out and progress monitored.

    It might be worth in the short term scheduling a daily or weekly meeting to discuss work matters, get feedback on difficulties your team may be having, and hand work out. The meetings should be compulsory, otherwise you will have an added issue of “X doesn’t show up to the meetings” and perhaps the boss can be cced into the meeting invitations as a way of letting them know that they are happening and also giving them the chance to attend if they so wish.

    Congrats on your new position and best of luck with it!

    LW2: You owe this boss precisely squat at this point in time. Even if you were to ask her for her blessing, and even if she were to publicly offer to give it, it means nothing. I was laid off by an employer who got into (self-inflicted) financial difficulties. He offered me a reference, but when promising opportunities that were all but sown up suddenly fell through, I began to smell a rat. I had my sister pose as a potential employer to find out what he was saying, and it was NOT what he had promised to say by any means. Nor was it true.

    Example: I had offered to work weekends to help him with his backlog in sending out bills to clients, which was impacting cashflow. He refused my offer, insisting on keeping control of that process, and falling further and further behind to the point that he had to bank cheques each morning before he could pay me. Pay cheques bouncing – wunderbar. And then said in response to recruiter questions that I was “solid, but not willing to go the extra mile.” Grrr.

    Given that this woman is already making your life a misery, and is known to be somewhat erratic, it would be a mistake to use her at any point in the recruiting process. If there is anyone else in the organisation who could stand in her stead, use them (her boss maybe?), but if using her is unavoidable, leave it as late as possible and ensure that you have other references from people you have worked with and/or character references as well to provide a contrast to whatever she might say.

    I hope you find a better job, and when you do, you owe your present boss the minimum notice period and no more. As the Captain says, if they wanted to be rid of you, you’d be out on your arse and locked out of the building within the hour. If your position is more key to them, the new job one that does not require an immediate start, and you’re feeling generous, then give them longer. But you’re not obliged to. Your contract, if you have one, will set out the notice period required, and you are entitled to stick to it.

    Best of luck with your search! :)

  8. allreb said:

    LW #1, a great resource for you might be askamanager.org. I started reading it about a year ago when I first took on a managerial role and had to hire someone to work under me, and it was ENORMOUSLY helpful. I still check it daily and she has given a ton of advice on how to manage people who are behaving like jerks.

    Regarding your situation, please keep in mind you were promoted above these people for a reason, and that reason is because you are great — you were better than the other candidates. Their feathers may be ruffled, but that is okay. I know this can be hard, but a huge thing to remind yourself of is: you don’t need them to like you. You just need them to do the work.

    For me… I am a very different person at work than I am outside. Work Me is way more blunt and way less conflict avoidant. In my non-work life, I am someone who can’t stand the feeling that maybe something I’ve said or done has upset someone, because I love my friends (etc etc). But at work? It is about Work. I am friendly (we have a very relaxed, informal office culture) and sometimes my coworkers and I hang out outside the office, but when it comes down to it, I will let people know what they need to do and when, period, because that is my responsibility and people’s feelings aren’t. Not that I would ever advocate for being a jerk — but don’t second guess yourself or psych yourself out of asking people to do what they’re supposed to. When you send all of those emails the Captain outlined? You are doing *your job*, at which you were promoted, *because you are good at it*.

    I also definitely ditto what the Captain said about finding a mentor, or if nothing that formal, looking around at who you admire in the levels above you and modeling yourself after them. There’s a woman in another branch of my company who used to really intimidate me — she was very blunt and unapologetic when she asked me to do projects for her. Then one day I saw her give a a presentation and field questions in an upper-level meeting and realized the scope of everything she knows, and how little BS she is willing to put up with. She gets amazing results, due to a combination of those things. I’ve started actively trying to mimic that, and it has made a huge difference in how I communicate and how I perceive myself at work. And it has made me much, much better at my job, and a better manager to boot.

    • lizinthelibrary said:

      I’m unlurking to completely agree with askamanager as a great site. I started management as a young female and I’m still a young-ish female manager but now I’m higher up the food chain.

      And document everything. Take people at their word and include it during documentation. Emails like: I’m sorry you can’t help with xyz task because you are busy at excusetask but please let me know as soon as you are done with excusetask since xyz task is our next priority. And follow up on this email with, at this point xyz task is a bigger priority than excusetask so please accomodate the task by timeframe, you’ll have the paper trail that shows that they are evading work, your reasonable attempts to work with them, etc.

      A few years ago a person working for me claimed that he wasn’t getting my emails changing procedures because his email box was randomly losing them, in fact he would often never receive emails due to an email issue. I asked him to stop everything else and call IT that very second because in my industry that would be a very big problem. I made it clear that I would be following up with IT to make sure that this wasn’t a systemwide issue as we had to depend on our email system. Low and behold he found the “missing” emails without calling IT. But by calling his bluff I stopped that problem dead in its tracks and he didn’t try that kinda tomfoolery with me again. We actually developed a pretty good working relationship after that.

    • Darcy Pennell said:

      I second the endorsement of askamanager.org! I feel like reading her column has helped me a lot to understand how to deal with my own manager more effectively. Also how to recognize that my manager has needs & priorities that aren’t always apparent to me, so what might seem like “being mean” from my point of view may be necessary and reasonable from my manager’s.

      I had an interaction with my manager today that I was dreading — I literally lost sleep over it last night — and it went a lot better than I was expecting. I think that was a lot to do with Ask A Manager’s advice. It was about an ongoing problem that’s stressful and upsetting to me, and in the past I’ve never been able to get through a meeting about it without getting emotional and ranting a bit (sometimes a lot, to be honest). Which led my manager to dismiss my concerns, which made me more upset, which made discussing it rationally even harder. This time I forced myself to keep it all about “This is the situation, it is affecting my job in this way, this is how I tried to solve it on my own, this is why that didn’t work, now I need your help.” No complaining and nothing about emotion. And it worked! It’s too soon to know if there will be long-term improvement in the problem, but my manager did take my problem seriously and has begun to address it already. I don’t know if I would have been able to do it if I hadn’t been reading Ask A Manager.

    • BookLady said:

      Fourthing the recommendation of Ask A Manager! To the nth degree.

  9. LW2, I will impart to you the greatest wisdom imparted to me on this matter; only be as loyal to a company as they are to you. In this case it sounds like your supervisor has not made life easy for you, so don’t go out of your way to make it easy for her. I once worked for a company for 4+ years and my reference amounted to, ‘Yes, X worked here,’ because my manager left just after I did and none of the new managers had ever worked with me. References aren’t the be all and end all. Good luck looking for something new :)

    • miss_chevious said:

      Yeah, my version of this is “you can love your job all you want, but it will never love you back.” In other words, LW, you look out for you.

      I second and third and fourth all of the recommendations to leave your current boss out of your job search for as long as humanly possible. She is not trustworthy. Quite often, while recruiters will ask for current information, they will not try to contact current employers if you indicate that that would be a bad idea.

      Also, it is completely professional to give notice without having given warning to the employer. Your current boss, if she is professional, might be sad or upset that you are leaving, but will also accept that moving on is part of things. I had a great relationship with my boss at the last job I left, and my reasons for leaving had nothing to do with her in any way, but I still didn’t tell her I was looking for a new position until I had one, and she was happy for me (in addition to be concerned about the change in workload) and we are still friendly now. In other words, professionals are professional. So far, LW, your boss hasn’t demonstrated that she can always be professional, so don’t give her the opportunity to act out if you can help it.

  10. LeighTX said:

    A great resource for managers (new and … I was going to say “old” but let’s say “seasoned”) is http://www.askamanager.org. Her site is easily searchable and like our good Captain, she gives solid, common sense advice.

    • JenniferP said:

      Yes, I like AskAManager.org’s work a lot. She beat me out for the Bloggies last year, and I was like, well, that was deserved.

      • MuddieMae said:

        It’s a mutual admiration society – your blog is recommended a lot over in the comments at AAM.

  11. popesuburban said:

    LW1, I think I know exactly why these people didn’t get promoted. You’re undeniably awesome, yes, and these people are also massive shitlords. I’ve worked with some nasty and unprofessional people in my time, and a) I never resorted to acting like that at them, come on, and b) even THOSE PEOPLE were not so bad as this. Fuckin’ A right they didn’t get promoted, because they are behaving worse than children, and I would bet good money your higher-ups see that, at least in some dimension. So if you’re feeling cagey about the situation, consider that. You’re probably not the only one to have noticed, and you’re probably not going to be thrown to the wolves if you bring formal complaints.

    • Queen of scarves said:

      Exactly! If one of them had been promoted instead of you, LW, would you be acting like they are acting? My guess is no. And that sort of attitude doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so it’s highly likely other people in management have seen it.

      A similar situation happened in the company I worked for last year: there was a promotion round and one of the people promoted had only worked there for just over a year and had only recently transitioned from temp to permanent.

      Anyway, a couple of other candidates for promotion had been working there for years and were pretty disgruntled, but the thing is this guy who got promoted? Had been demonstrably determined, worked hard, was *never* late, didn’t abuse breaks, tended not to indulge in whining about customers (this was a helpline type call centre which can be pretty thankless – but although the people on the phone don’t hear the whining, the team leaders do), etc. etc. The attitude of the others was… not that.

      So go you! Attack that learning curve, use all the advice here to get those management skills, and keep being awesome!

  12. Michelle said:

    I just wanted to add a quick note to LW#2 – I had a situation at a former job where my employer asked me many times whether I was looking for another job. I was, but couldn’t afford to lose the one I had until I actually had a new job to leave from, so I kept telling her no. (She was a a very insecure person, and I think was aware that I was overqualified for the job but needed it out of desperation. And her self-esteem was very wrapped up in having someone with my qualifications working under her).

    First of all, even if you are thinking of leaving, keep your game up at work, don’t slack off, start arriving late, etc. Don’t give them any fuel to complain about. Secondly – after the upteenth time my boss asked if I was looking for another job (and I lied and said no), I did a quick Google search to see if this was even ok for employers to ask. I didn’t consult any lawyers, but from what I could find out online, employers are allowed to ask, but you are not legally required to answer honestly.

    Good luck! I hope both situations are resolved soon!

  13. Awesome post, Captain! And loving all the hilarious glasses, especially the gigantic 70s ones!

    • JenniferP said:

      I think Judith Light is still my mom’s style icon.

  14. I have zero knowledge on managing and working in a real job with real people etc, however I know a lot of TV shows with kickarse lady characters!
    I highly recommend:
    The Closer

    Major Crimes

    Nashville (already mentioned by the Captain but I thought I would second it)

    Rizzoli and Isles (not so much of the management issues but plenty of “but when are you having baaaaaaabies” issues)

    Bomb Girls (it’s Canadian and finished but if you can get your hands on it – AWESOME)

    VEEP (It’s a comedy. Perhaps more of a what-not-to-do…)

    Reign (I don’t care what anybody says – this show is great. See also “You’re too beautiful to be smart and savvy!”)

    The Paradise (“You only got the job because you’re dating the boss!”)

    Nikita (because NIKITA!)

    Killer Women (OK so it’s about chicks killing peeps BUT female Texas ranger copping loads of sexist shit from jerk? Check.)

    The Rebels (only seen the pilot thus far, but watch this space for “But you’re just a cheerleader” – “Well hope you enjoy the view while my football team kicks your arse”)

  15. emdashing said:

    I have a quick follow up question to that reference advice, so I apologize if this isn’t the correct space to do it (I wish you well, LWs!). If you know, with 100% certainty, that your current employer will sabotage you, what’s the best way to proceed? Can you just not include them in your references? That seems like it would be a red flag. Is there a safe way to explain the situation to potential new employers?

    I’m not currently facing this situation, but I have in the past and I solved it by going back to school, but that’s obviously not a viable solution every time this happens. It was great then–I didn’t need Awful Supervisor to write me a rec to get in. Once I graduated, enough time had passed that none of the new places I applied seemed put off that I didn’t include Awful as a reference. I’ve always wondered what I would/could have done if school hadn’t been an option and I’d love to hear from anyone who solved this another way.

    • JenniferP said:

      Find someone else at the organization to be your reference if humanly possible! Even a trusted friend/colleague who is not a superior.
      Otherwise, leave it off and don’t give it unless new employer specifically asks for it. Employers are hip to the idea that if your current employer gets wind you’re leaving, but the offer/job somehow falls through, you will be in a bad position.
      Also, if you have to have to give it (like, new employer insists) have a friend call and do a dry run/faux reference check so you know what they are likely to say.

      • I have got around this in a position where the person who officially managed my team was not the right person to say anything about my work, because she never saw me except at meetings which everyone attended.

        So instead of using her as a reference, I asked someone who was just below her in the hierarchy, but who was someone I reported to, and who worked in the same office as me, rather than down the hall behind a closed door.

    • octopodey said:

      I had that happen – my supervisor and I had a very bad relationship and even though I’d done excellent work, I was very concerned about what he’d say. I gave him as a reference because they specifically asked for supervisors, but he solved my dilemma by conveniently never answering his phone and never returning their calls. They actually called me about it. So then I was worried about what would happen due to that, but I did have another reference lined up from that job. The person I had as a back-up was higher up in title (a VP as opposed to a Sr. Manager) and her position was more relevant to the job I was applying for anyway, and new-job was happy with that. So my advice is to make the non-supervisor reference as attractive to the reference-checker as possible; they want your supervisor since they can speak to your work, so maybe explain how this other person can do that as well?

    • Anisoptera said:

      This has happened to me – I left a job where my immediate manager was a genuine hard core bully who hated me and took every opportunity to sabotage me. I got a reference from the next manager up the chain and another from a different manager I’d interacted with a lot, plus my direct supervisor from a previous job. No way in hell was I letting her talk to prospective employers. Thankfully no one asked to.

    • mehting said:

      I know this is very Not Doable for many people, but I found volunteer work in my field, did it weekly and faithfully and used that as a current rec instead of my unreliable dishonest employer. The only reason I was able to do enough hours for this to be viable was that my employer was violating employment law in his treatment of me, and he knew I knew it, so when I negotiated working different hours (10 hour days, weekends) and being permitted to volunteer certain work days, hinting around that illegal behavior without directly addressing it made him give in.

  16. Laura D said:

    LW 2: The advice given is spot on. I’m in HR and it’s not at all unusual for applicants to ask that we not contact their current employer. We do understand that you might, you know, need your job to eat and pay bills and that tipping off your current employer that you’re job shopping could end up getting you fired. Also, reference checks are a total pain. We generally don’t call unless we’re ready to make an offer to a candidate and at that point one off reference is going to say more about your boss than it does about you. I second the recommendation to see if there’s anyone else at your organization that you could list as a reference when the time comes, though. It’s always nice to know that the person you’re listing is going to give you a solid, honest reference.

  17. Context warning: Live in Australia, conventions may be different in other countries I guess!

    When I was hiring people I would never have expected to get a reference for a current employer unless they were something like a call centre casual in a big call centre where they are always hiring and training new people and expecting people to move on.

    Is there someone superior to you but in another department that would be a reference for you and not give away that you’re looking? Is there someone who used to manage you but has moved on to another position that you can list as a reference?

    Of course: Always be honest about who you are listing as a reference and their relationship to you. Always let your references know when you submit an application so they can be prepared if someone calls. If one of your references lets you know they were contacted by a potential employer get excited! I’d only do that for someone I was seriously considering because it’s too much of a pain in the ass to get in touch with people!

    • OH ALSO if you can speak to someone who works in recruiting for your industry or something very similar find out what the expectations are. Things are different in IT compared with health services or sales and what’s acceptable/accepted to list as references was one of the biggest differences I noticed between mine and my siblings resumes when we compare as we all do very different things.

  18. Anisoptera said:

    LW1 I don’t have any better advice than others have already given, but I have been there with staff who wouldn’t respect me as their (temporary stand in) boss and it sucks. One dude literally wouldn’t come to any of the regular team meetings until the next boss up the chain decided to attend one. When I stood my ground in conversations with him he would tell me I was “scary” and a “hard arse” in an attempt to manipulate me into backing dSo have Jedi hugs and know that you were promoted because you are awesome and your bosses know it.

    LW2 – I would be very very wary about trying to “do the right thing” by your employer. Only tell them you’re looking if you know for sure it won’t cause you problems – as in, other staff have given early notice and looked for new things and it was totally cool and nothing bad happened. I have literally only worked at one place where management was this cool, and at every other job looking for something else had to stay secret until you were pretty sure you had the new role. The good news is that most places won’t ask for a reference until they’re pretty sure they want to hire you – it’s the absolute last thing they check. So hunt away until you get to that final stage, and then talk to your boss just before that reference check. It’s nice to be professional and provide loads of notice, but it can get you instantly fired in a worst case scenario (happened to a friend of mine who mentioned he was moving cities in a few months – they had him out on the curb with the cardboard box that same day).

    • Anisoptera said:

      Uh – accidentally hit send mid edit – that missing word is down. Dude would say this to me while I calmly and simply tried to coordinate work flow with him – I wasn’t being angry or insulting or anything.

    • melaniethetongueless said:

      When I stood my ground in conversations with him he would tell me I was “scary” and a “hard arse” in an attempt to manipulate me into backing down.

      May I just stand and admire this for a minute? Because who in the whole-wide universe thinks this is going to actually make such a person into a more biddable being? My own impulse would be an answer like, “Yes, and I still want those third-quarter results yesterday,” or otherwise double down on determined effort to reach my goal.

      (Returning to lurking now; also checking out how my shiny new sign-on works.)

  19. lenidl said:

    Can I may say that Stella Gibson and her blouse are not going to put up with any guy’s stupid bullshit? Cause they’re not.

    • I only just watched that show last week, and Stella is *AMAZING* and I want all her outfits. Also The Fall is full of kickass women, each with their own approach to Getting Shit Done.

  20. rooflizard said:

    LW #1, I am also a young lady supervisor (about six months in this role).

    I totally, totally agree with the Captain’s advice. Here are some of my tips:

    Up your style game. What items in your wardrobe make you feel the most powerful? A well-cut blazer, heels that make that satisfying click when you walk, Batman costume, etc.? Basically, cosplay as the boss you want to be.

    Remember that people do not have to like it. You are not here to win hearts and minds. This is a cheerocracy, not a democracy. (As soon as I read that someone actually said to you that someone else would have been a better choice, my immediate thought is that I would have responded, very drily, “And yet, here we are.”)

    Find out if your organization has a strict policy for how to document performance issues/terminate someone. Do you need to first have a verbal warning, then a written warning, then a Performance Improvement Plan, etc., or is it more loose? Know exactly what steps are available to you to indicate problems to employees.

    Do you have any capability to reward people who shape up? Better assignments, schedules, etc.? If some people get their acts together, consider showing that you notice and appreciate it. (This is really tricky, to avoid being punitive or showing favoritism, and this may not be feasible. But if Trent objects that Ashley got a better assignment, you can honestly respond, “You have repeatedly failed to meet deadlines for several weeks now, and I have to ask you for updates multiple times. Your communication skills are not up to what I need for this particular project.”)

    Much like how the Captain reminds us that when you speak up about people hurting your feelings, you are not breaking the peace, it was already broken — bringing employee behavior problems to the attention of your supervisors isn’t getting them in trouble. They are already in trouble of their own making. You want to work here, close.

  21. Story related to LW2…

    I’m a certified vet tech and used to work for a veterinary hospital. For some reason (I don’t even remember why), I interviewed around. Whatever the specific reason was, it was related to poor treatment for management. Wanting to do the ‘right thing’ by my boss, I informed her of such.

    In the short term, it actually worked out. My employer offered me a substantial raise, which made me suddenly the highest paid person in the practice. I decided to stay and worked there for several more years.

    In the long term…I started having problems with one of the other employees, to the point I was absolutely miserable. It was basically a matter of her spending 30 minutes out of every hour outside smoking, forcing me to cover my job and hers, so I was always behind in my own tasks. It got to the point where I was actually seething with real hatred, and it wasn’t doing my mental or physical health any good. Attempts to talk to the employee or get help from management had failed, so I just up and quit a few days after the situation actually drove me to tears in the middle of the office.

    At that point, the boss spoke to me and got very snide…asking if ‘offering more money would help like it did last time’ and saying I ‘threatened to leave before.’ Apparently all that time the boss and I had very different interpretations of how that prior situation went down (I never felt I *threatened* them…I was trying to be polite because it was the type of job that one absent employee is a huge ordeal.) She also told me that ‘young people never stay long, no matter what you do for them.’ Yeah, short term I got more money, but I had wanted to leave earlier for a *reason*, and I should have listened to my instincts and spared myself several years of primal frustration. And looking back, I did not owe anyone an explanation. Jobs and coworkers can come to feel like family (albeit very dysfunctional in many cases.) We’re socialized young that you can’t leave your family, even when they’re toxic. So when a job manages to hit that sweet spot between fulfilling and really stressful, I think we get flooded with the same emotions we do toward our families, with the end result that we feel like we *owe* that job in a myriad of ways. But remember…we actually are allowed to cut ties with abusive or toxic families! And when that happens, we don’t owe it to them to hold their hands and soothe their hurt feelings! There’s also the other factor…two years ago, I was laid off from a different job..and you know what? They didn’t give me notice, offer me long explanations, or try and reassure me. That’s something to keep in mind…if your boss wanted to fire you, they would just *do it*, and life for both of you would move on. It works the same in reverse.

  22. neverjaunty said:

    LW, this is fantastic advice except that I have to get all handwavy and “noooo don’t split the party and go in the basement” for part of #7. You should keep a paper trail. You should ALSO assume that someday you may have to show it to someone whether you want to or not.

    I respectfully must disagree with CA that it’s a good idea to give it a vent-y name and change it later (for one thing, you might forget or not notice that it autoarchived a copy for you in the original name). Call it something tediously appropriate, like “Supervisory Incident Log”. Make sure all of your notes are neutral and professional, even if you are (understandably!) very upset.

    The reason for being fussy about this is, there are many situations where somebody other than you might get to look at your list. Say that your company gets sued for something completely unrelated to you, and your company has to turn over all supervisory documents for the last six months. Somebody is going to see your list. Or your boss finally fires one of the underbozos, and he or she sues: now all of your supervisor emails and documents are going to get picked over for evidence of bias and unfair treatment. If it comes to light that you called your list “Shitty Unprofessional Behavior By My Former Friends” that will look awful.

    Also, keep it somewhere private. If everything is on a shared network then don’t put it on a part of the network where other people have permission to access it. If you keep it on your work computer/laptop, password protect it. Make a copy on a thumb drive every so often. This will prevent your doofus coworkers looking at it if you forget to log off all the way on a break, or if there is a computer failure.

    • Anisoptera said:

      Yes to keeping it private and professional right from the start. Also, as someone who works in IT – there is probably* no computer or network share at your work that your sysadmins and IT helpdesk can’t get to, and if asked to by HR they can usually restore those files to the state they were in in the past.

      *there are exceptions to this but they’re rare.

    • frock 'n' roll said:

      Also, if you work for an organisation that needs an actual, physical paper trail, you know better than to leave a file open on your desk for anyone to see. Which is what happened with an ex manager of mine and my file… sadly, he stayed in the job for another 9 months and left of his own accord.

      • neverjaunty said:

        This is certainly true! Stuff does happen though, ranging from human error (“Whoops, it didn’t ACTUALLY log me all the way out”) to deliberate snooping by co-workers. And yes to what Anisoptera said about nothing you do on the network being truly hidden.

    • mehting said:

      emphatically agreed. Giving it a title like that unless it’s on your passworded home computer is asking for trouble. Same thing in a handwritten doc. Too many ways a title like that can go wrong: the risk isn’t worth the catharsis the name could give.

      • Fibi said:

        My advice for this kind of a log is to actually keep a log – a good, old fashioned pen and paper log. Then HR and IT and all the others can’t see it unless you want them to.

  23. anonymous this time said:

    i’ve heard the advice that former supervisors will generally avoid giving actively *bad* references a great deal. However, my personal experience is that one cannot count on this. i have had a former supervisor lie to my face about giving me a good reference. result: i interviewed for job after job where i got enthusiastic feedback at the interview and then never heard another peep again. eventually, one of the people who i had interviewed with took pity on me and clued me in that my previous supervisor was saying ghastly things about me over the phone. i had not previously considered this possibility, because i had been assured by any number of people that employers almost never give actively bad references; that my supervisor would probably give me a great reference to get rid of me as soon as possible, etc. in my case, that’s not what happened. in my case, my supervisor was the passive-aggressive vindictive sort who could not be bothered to bring up their problems with me personally, but was delighted to vent about me over the phone to a stranger. so i would say consider what you know about your supervisor’s personality before assuming that they will avoid giving you a poor reference for reasons of self-interest. be especially wary if you hear your current supervisor complaining about people behind their backs, especially if that complaining is gleeful. also tread carefully if, like my former supervisor, there is essentially no chance that a lack of diplomacy could possibly come back to bite them.

    • datdamwuf said:

      If I found that out, I would have gone all lawsuity on the supervisor, there is a reason why most don’t say anything except confirm your employment and salary…I’m sorry that happened to you.

      • neverjaunty said:

        Oddly, one of the reasons they often don’t say anything other than confirming you worked there is they don’t want to give POSITIVE reviews. Say you got fired because your boss was a bigot who hated you for your national origin, and you sued them. When they try to argue (as they would) that you were fired because you were a terrible employee, you’d be able to point out that they gave a glowing reference.

  24. Kim said:

    Related question – What is the best way to deal with going to interviews when you work regular business hours? Coming to work in “interview clothes” is a dead giveaway, but taking a whole day off for every interview is going to lead to trouble. How do people handle it from the recruitment side?

    • attica said:

      Kim, either make your usual work clothes closer up the spectrum to ‘interview clothes’, or keep a sharp blazer in your car/locker to change into.

    • datdamwuf said:

      It’s been years but the last time I was doing this our business casual was jeans. When I went to interviews I told the truth, that I didn’t dress due to not wanting to clue my coworkers I was interviewing. I had several job offers from those interviews. Caveat – I’m an engineer in IT and I think we kinda get a pass on clothes, even if female. One of those interviews was a group thing at BAE. I was a bit taken aback when I walked in and there were 25 interviewees in the room with suits and dresses and briefcases…whoa. But hey, they wanted to hire me anyhow.

      • Kim said:

        This is good to know. I work in IT too and what I wear to work is super casual, so while I’d tidy up somewhat for an interview, if I could wear “neat geek casual” to an interview and not be penalised, that would be awesome.

      • Hah, it’s true. Mr. Bells is in the games industry. “Interview clothes” means that he wears a shirt with buttons.

    • Tallulah said:

      I’m grappling with this at the moment – what I have seen most people do is take a half-day off if your company allows this, so you have time to go and change into/out of interview clothes. At my workplace, it can be easier to come up with reasons why you want to take a half-day off (dentist/doctor’s appointment; playing catch-up on that thing people know I am studying in my spare time; going to the bank to discuss Important Financial Things (can also explain why you’re dressing smartly!)) However, I’m starting to worry that my manager will notice I’m taking too many days off, so another thing one can do at my workplace is work from home (go out and back for the interview and if asked why you weren’t accessing emails say you turned it off to work on something in-depth, which often happens) or leave early for e.g. a healthcare appointment. Interviews falling on the same day as other reasons to look smart (presenting in a meeting and “wanting to feel confident”, an external client coming in to see you) can also be fortunate.

      But I’m very lucky because I’m allowed a certain degree of flexibility… and I’m still worried my manager is starting to suspect something! There’s been a lot of staff change and re-organising recently so I sort of feel anyone will wonder “Is she…?” if someone ducks out for a random half-day, even if they have a perfectly good excuse for why.

      (I’m really paranoid now someone will comment expressing horror at how dangerous the above strategies are or something, but it is tricky – especially if you are applying for lots of jobs and are lucky enough to get a few interviews!)

    • neverjaunty said:

      “I’ll be out this morning for a doctor’s appointment”, then change before you come into work.

      • SarahTheEntwife said:

        Or even just “appointment” — most people won’t ask what sort, and then they can’t accuse you of lying if they find out it’s an interview.

        • neverjaunty said:

          True. I’m more familiar with ‘doctor’s appointment’ because it’s got that flag of ‘don’t ask me for details about the appointment, because it’s probably personal and maybe more than you wanted to know’.

  25. Alexis said:

    LW2:
    I just got a new job, and chose not to tell anyone at my now-former employer until I had offer in hand, including coworkers, even though it meant I couldn’t use them as references. After I had decided to accept one of my offers, I talked to my original VP at the company (who I had a good relationship with) about how difficult it was to do that, because I very much wanted to be upfront and I felt bad about keeping them in the dark. He confirmed that he thought I had done the right thing, for the reason the Captain said: once people know you’re leaving, they’ll cut you out of things, if they don’t fire you right there. I also hadn’t decided for sure I would leave (I was looking for new challenges more than getting away from anything) and so for me that factored in to not telling them sooner, since I couldn’t know until I actually saw the offer whether I would take it, and if I didn’t, I didn’t want them to have any idea I had ever been looking.

    What I did to make sure I felt okay about it: I was scrupulous about not using work time or resources for job-hunting, and not lying about where I was when I was out or taking phone calls (I was just vague — you’re not obliged to answer specific questions from coworkers about what personal business you were taking care of). I spent any spare time I had at work trying to make sure I was documenting information and processes that my eventual replacement would need. I gave them two weeks notice officially (with the offer negotiations it was more like 2.5 weeks) and worked right up to the last minute to ensure a smooth transition, as much as I could. I also had previously told my manager and VP, several times, that I thought we were understaffed and they were making a mistake by not replacing someone who was fired a few months ago, so I felt I had done my due diligence is trying to get us to a point where my departure would be less painful and it wasn’t my fault that I was leaving them with minimal staffing.

    Everything really worked out; I was nervous that people at my now-former company would be angry with me, or that my prospective employers would think it was weird that I didn’t provide anyone from my most relevant job as a reference, but I think most decent people understand the reality of the job search processes and in my case everyone was super about it all and the whole experience turned out really well. I just started my new job and it’s fantastic. I hope the same thing happens for you, and that you’re able to keep your troublesome supervisor out of the process as much as possible using the clever strategies suggested by everyone here. :)

  26. attica said:

    #549, I’d like to second the Captain’s reassurance that learning to manage people doesn’t happen overnight. When I think back on some of my earlier managerial experiences, I shudder. It got better; it gets better.

  27. shapelle said:

    Re: #549 – I went through an almost identical situation a few years ago, when I was a newish, young female who got promoted over much older staff members who’d been there for years. Despite the fact that these people didn’t even APPLY for the job, I got crap from them for months. One thought that since she’d trained me initially, my success was really her doing, and expected me to back her on ridiculous requests to management, and the other quite obviously tested my knowledge, constantly trying to catch me out.

    My tactic with the first was to politely encourage her to develop her ideas herself, keeping my name out of it, and with the second, to confidently answer what I did know, with proof and examples, and when I didn’t know, to openly admit it and say I could help him find the answers.

    These two eventually came to see that I was promoted fairly, and got off my back. However, there was a shifting over time where the other people I’d previously socialised with came to see me as management (which I wasn’t, just senior staff), and stop seeing me as a friend. While this is painful when you first experience it, I now see it as virtually inevitable in this situation, and eventually decided that if they were going to act so immaturely, it would pay to value my own professionalism and success over their fickle friendship.

    So, TL;DR, my main advice is to keep yourself above reproach. Accept that your relationship with your colleagues will change/has changed, and make sure that you do your job well, admit things you still need to learn, and behave professionally (e.g. I had to be careful not to share with ‘friends’ the confidential material I was now privy to, which others would try to pry out of me). They’re no doubt waiting for you to slip up, and you can only call them on something like long lunch breaks if yours are always on time, but if you’re straight up, they won’t have a leg to stand on if/when you escalate issues.

    The greatest thing will be when you get new subordinates who never knew you as anything other than their superior, who will hopefully not behave like children in the workplace!

    • Darcy Pennell said:

      Shapelle, I don’t know your particular situation but I think that when one person from a peer and work-friend group is promoted over the others, it’s normal for the friendship to diminish — and if the new position is in any way supervisory, it’s essential. It sucks that your coworkers acted immaturely about your promotion, but in general I think gently letting go of the friendship is a mature thing to do in that situation.

  28. Liz said:

    LW2, you don’t owe your employer anything but two weeks notice and a good faith effort to make that a smooth transition. We’re not living in a world anymore where being loyal to a company pays off for employees. Most people change companies multiples times over their careers. I don’t think most prospective employers would expect you to list your current employer as a reference, and you’d have to have a pretty special boss who’d be willing to vouch for you for competing companies. Ask for the reference after you leave, sure, so that if you change jobs in the future you can use them. But keep your current employer in the dark for now. The period after you’ve informed your coworkers that you’re leaving is often awkward and uncomfortable. Don’t drag that out for more than two weeks.

  29. datdamwuf said:

    Only thing I can think of to add, if you are not wanting your prospective company to call your manager; in interviews I would tell them that I really would like to give my current employer 3 weeks or even 4 weeks notice. You know, because I’m such a dedicated employee, only humbly said… This always seemed to impress them. But, reality was that when they made offers they would always say that they needed me asap anyway…

  30. Jae said:

    I had a peer once who got promoted over all of us. I never had the problem that I begrudged him the job. Instead I learned from him. His first act as team manager was to have a private talk with each of us. His first words to me were: “You know, I’ve never done this before, I lack experiences in team leading, I’ll need your help if we want to succeed as a team.” He then proceeded to say that he would be glad about any hint or tip of help, whether he was doing good or made a mistake. His openness of saying “hey, I’m no better than you are, and I take advice” was so great that we worked well together for the rest of the time. And his willingness to have an open ear made him a great leader. Maybe one or two of your now-team-members may be open to this, too. You need to be the judge there.

    One thing (from my experience) will change though: Your employees are no longer your “friend”. If you are responsible for giving them tasks, appraising them, or giving them raises, they will change their behaviour around you. You are no longer the buddy to bitch about the boss with. You *are* the boss. So, a bit of a friendly but professional distance may help.

    I hope you grow into that new job of yours. Good luck!

  31. Zillah said:

    LW #2: Please, please, please do not say anything to your current boss until you have a job offer in hand and have accepted it. Even when it seems like it’s just a formality, that’s not necessarily the case, and it’s impossible to suss that out with complete confidence and without making your potential employer feel super uncomfortable.

    You will know they want to hire you when they say, “We want to hire you. Here is our offer.”

    Until then, operate under the assumption that they do not – even if you’ve had a good interview. Someone else may have also had a good interview. Someone else may have someone inside the company going to bat for them. Someone else may have slightly better qualifications than you. The funding for the position may fall through. The employer may do reference checks before making anyone an offer, and decide that the other person sounds more suited to the company. A million things could happen, and a verbal statement of interest isn’t good enough.

    That said, you should be able to explain that your current employer doesn’t know that you’re looking, so you don’t want them contacted. There may be some employers that that’s not good enough for, but honestly, are those really employers you want to be working for in the first place? Someone who doesn’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to give a current supervisor as a reference probably isn’t very understanding in general.

  32. LW#2, I have so much sympathy for you; I’m in pretty much the same boat right now.

    In my situation, it was not possible to avoid telling my boss that I was looking. (I am looking in a city 200 miles from where I currently live, so interviews are a FULL DAY off work and a 10-hour roadtrip, because I can’t go into The City and not run other errands; the current job market in my profession, which is in municipal/state government, is brutal, and the job hunt could drag on for a long time; my profession is very small and gossipy and there’s a good chance that my future boss knows my current boss pretty well, or that a conversation will get back to her through the grapevine.) So I did not tell her until I had my first interview in hand, and then I told her, verbally and then as a followup in email:

    1.) I am not looking to LEAVE this organization (lie); I am looking to MOVE to something BETTER (truth). Better in pay, career opportunities, better location. This is not a play for a pay raise (truth; there is no budget for that and we both know it.) I have a very narrow idea of what I’m looking for, I am not entertaining positions outside that framework, and it could take two to three years to land something, so this is not imminent (truth). I am not going to jump ship frivolously, and I am not going to leave you hanging without notice (truth).

    3.) My job hunt will never interfere with my work. My work shifts will always be covered. I will never lie to you about where I am or call off sick for an interview (truth). I will ask your input on prospective positions (keep your enemies where you can see them) because I respect your opinion (LIE LIE LIE).

    And then I went and told HER bosses, who are elected officials, all the same stuff, and was assured that my position was secure from elimination out of spite.

    Since then, I’ve fed her as little information as I could get away with, while stroking her ego and without SEEMING to withhold. It’s worked so far (eight months and counting, with some very promising leads in the works right now). It sucks (especially when she does things like tell me that she wants to take me shopping because I don’t know how to dress professionally – fuck you, lady; I’m better dressed than you are) but it’s worked.

    The thing that gets me through the day is treating this position like an open-ended but short-term temp gig. I am here to do one thing: accomplish as much long-term good for this organization as I can in the limited time I have here. No relationship-building, no long-view plans, but lots of work with lasting value (articulating workflows and writing best practices for my replacement, clearing backlogs, etc.).

    Good luck! I hope your hunt is shorter and less stressful than mine!

  33. CKinIL said:

    LW #2: I completely concur that you don’t owe your current boss any more notice than the 2 weeks that you give when you’ve accepted a new position and ready to go.

    Do what you can to find other people to be references for you. It sounds like you are fairly young and don’t have a long work history. Talk to professors who saw your work on significant projects, and alert them that you may be listing them as a reference. Talk to the people who oversee where you volunteer. Talk to past employers, even on your part time jobs. There are lots of sources for references outside of your current boss.

    Of course, if you really have only this current job under your belt, then it is logical that they will want a reference from your first “real job” (apologies if you’re more seasoned than I’m picking up). Is there someone else at the company you could list as reference? Of course, follow all the other advice here about specifying that your current employer doesn’t know you’re looking and you would like this reference to be checked as late in the hiring process as possible.

    Then in your interview there are ways to indicate that your current boss is one of the reasons you are looking to leave, and you can do this without badmouthing her. When you are asked questions directly about working with your current boss, you will only answer the questions with her good qualities and talking about the things you’ve learned from her. When you are asked why are looking for a new job, you can say that you are looking to work for a company with real opportunities for growth, a company who values mentoring and developing its employees to achieve more and more, a company that achieves great things because the team all works together to create that magic “the whole is more than the sum of the parts” result. And you can’t wait to work for new company and new boss because all your research shows that they are great at all of these things.

    You also get to ask questions of the interviewer. Your questions can include ones on the environment of the new place, and how managers assign work, support people as they’re being trained in a new role, etc. By all means, look up interviewing skills/practice. Your school’s job placement office can help too.

    An astute interviewer will see that this is lacking in your current place of employment, even though you didn’t directly badmouth your current employer. That also ought to give them a clue as to the context in which they should place any feedback they get from your current boss, should they end up talking to her.

  34. Courtney said:

    Something I have done in the past when I felt weird about giving my current supervisor as a reference was listing someone else in authority at the company with whom I had worked and had a good relationship. I have also listed a former employee of my current company (Director level or above) with whom I had worked before he left. When all else failed, I listed the name of the HR Director as the person to contact from the current company.

  35. MaryKaye said:

    Some years ago I was hiring for an IT position, and interviewed someone who said “Please don’t contact my current employer–I get along very badly with them.”

    I hired them, and they got along very badly with me, too. Only person I have ever had to fire. It was a painful and expensive experience, especially as I had to rewrite all of their code once they were gone (they were adverse to safe coding principles, ouch).

    I don’t know how much of a red flag a statement like this really is, as it only happened to me once. But it certainly was in my case.

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