Oh my Captain!
I’m working at a temp data entry job, where I scan and index files prepared by another team. When I started this project, the supervisor told me to go to her if I had any questions, or noticed anything unusual. I’ve been doing that, and I’ve been catching a fair few errors. After about a month of this, the supervisor decided to point a couple of the more common errors out to the prep team, so they can avoid them.
When this was pointed out to them, they seemed wounded, said they were shocked to find out there had been mistakes, and said I should bring questions to them first, so they can correct them.
I’ve been trying that for the past few days, but it’s been going… weirdly… Here’s an example.
I have three files, one each for Alice, Bob, and Carol. They put all three under Bob’s name. When I point this out, the prep team said that all three shared Bob’s ID number. This is incorrect. I know they know it’s incorrect, because they use the correct ID numbers elsewhere in the file.
I’m inclined to go back to just asking my supervisor, but I’m worried that the prep team will take offense again. If they wanted to, they could make my job really difficult. I feel like they don’t take anything I catch seriously, possibly because I’m considerably younger, female, and a temp.
Thanks for looking this over,
Not Trying to Make Trouble
Dear Not Trying To Make Trouble:
Your job is to catch errors before they become indexed. You aren’t doing it at anyone or doing anything wrong. You aren’t making trouble.
You could ask your supervisor to sort this out for you. Script: “You wanted me to bring you errors, but Alice, Bob, and Carol asked me to bring errors to them first so they can correct them. What’s your preferred workflow?”
If supervisor says “Keep coming to me, it’s easier for you to just consolidate everything in one place” then keep doing that. You may want to ask a follow-up question, like, “Thanks, Boss! Can you let Alice, Bob, and Carol know that’s how you want it to be?”
If supervisor says “Try bring them to the team first” then do that. If Alice, Bob, and Carol bug you about it, refer them to supervisor. “Boss asked me to do it this way, can’t help, sorry!”
As for the specific instance you suggest and future errors, honor their request! Start returning files with errors to Bob, Alice, and Carol and point out the errors. Attach a typed list of errors & corrections to the stack and save a copy of the message (email a copy to yourself and/or enter it into a log).
Hi Alice, Bob, Carol,
The ID# on the first page is Bob’s, but the other ID#s don’t match. Can you clarify whose file is which?
Do that with every error – physically return the things, with an attached memo documenting the problem and asking for a correction, and then add the notice to your saved files/error log. By doing this, you are being professional, honoring their request, and making it very easy for them to fix the mistake. You are also creating a written record, which cuts through some bullshit.
Possible outcomes: 1) They are going to be cool and fix the errors, 2) They are going to double down on the errors and insist mistakes are correct or 3) They are going to be annoyed that their workflow seems to stop periodically as piles of their mistakes circle back to them and take that annoyance out on you. If they choose the second or third options, circle back to looping in your supervisor: “As requested, I’ve been going directly to the team members when I find an error. That seems to produce a lot of friction. Any advice?” “I asked Bob, Carol, and Alice for clarification on this error, but it it’s still wrong. Can you clarify it for me?”
Saving the documentation you created is to cover your own butt if Carol, Alice, and Bob blame the errors on you. “As you can see, I sent these files back for corrections on May 19, as the team requested. Can you tell me again what the issue is?”
It’s bad management to set the temp up as the enforcer of your policies on your full-time team. Hopefully your supervisor gets that!
Dear Captain Awkward & Team,
I work with Sauron, nicknamed for the way she acts like the Lord of the Rings eye, in a small office in which we share the space with another team (basically it’s two different teams within a bigger company working in the same physical space, but completely different practices). There is always someone within hearing distance AND she and I sit about 3 feet away from each other.
What can I do to protect my boundaries and being consistently disrespected from a colleague (that is practically regarded as God in the office – I kid you not)?
Backstory: I have known Sauron for 10+ years and I suppose we’re “close friends”. We have always had an unhealthy dynamic between us from the outset. She is my “clingy” friend who has controlling behavior, though loyal and capable of doing many good deeds. Every single friend I know disapproves of the way she behaves towards me and says she acts like a “jealous boyfriend”.
I’ve had a dawning realization during my 2nd year (starting 3rd now) that Sauron really puts me down, makes me feel inferior, and acts in a way that shames others. She behaves that way to others but as they are in a different practice, she has no “ranking”. She will go out of her way to yell across the office to someone who forgot to turn off the faucet (it’s really sensitive so it’s easy to leave it dripping and not notice) in an accusing way, whether it’s me or our boss. She will give me “pop quizzes” (even now!) I invariably fail because they are all questions that do with tasks I very RARELY do (or have learnt about in a passing conversation weeks ago). Am I competent worker? Yes. Do I have a background in this complicated field before this job? No. Am I as “on it” as I could be? I could be better, definitely. These incidents of shaming me or making me feel and look inferior happen more when she feels upset (about anything). Once, she went “Mynamehere! Come here.” So I dragged myself out of my chair and walked into the room she was in. She pointed at old documents in a client binder and informed me I had stapled it wrong. Our boss prefers it vertical, she said. I know that – and I do it as such when I remember, but I’m also human, damnit! Did she really need to wield the proof of crime in my face? I’m not 5-years-old and it could easily be resolved with “Hey mynamehere, just a reminder that Boss likes things done thisway and not thatway! Thanks!”
The other part of the problem? She was instrumental in getting me this job (and I love my boss and the pay is decent). The other thing? We train at the same martial arts school together (although I’ve arranged it so that my training schedule only overlaps with hers once a week), which is a whole other issue in itself. I want to preserve my job and don’t feel I am free to be as assertive as I’d like while still employed here. She is the type to take criticism very poorly and will hold long grudges. My solution so far has been to keep my own mental health up and basically “emotionally armor” myself against her attacks.
Resigned until my resignation
Your strategy of keeping your emotional health up while trying to GTFO seems sound to me, as well as emotionally armoring and bracing yourself for her treatment.
Is Sauron your supervisor? You say she doesn’t have ranking – does that mean you have the same job title/level? Because if she’s not your supervisor, my script for you when she summons you about something trivial is:
“I’m on a deadline/ in the middle of something. Is it important?”
Like, stop automatically jumping up when she calls you over.
Fair warning. She won’t like this, and she’ll take it as the challenge that it is. She will also insist that everything is important enough to interrupt you. When she does, go over to her and find out what’s so important. Then, I want you to mirror back what she says as much as possible. Don’t argue with her, agree with her.
Sauron: “You need to staple the papers vertically, not horizontally!”
You: “I need to staple the papers vertically. Got it.”
Sauron: “You need to turn off the faucet!”
You: “I need to turn off the faucet. Got it.”
Be very flat, neutral, and boring in response to whatever she says. No sarcasm! But also, try to keep it really terse and resist the temptation to apologize or self-flagellate.
The pop quizzes are ridiculous. Stop taking them!
Sauron: “Quick, let’s quiz you on policy x and y!”
You: Choose your own adventure:
- A long, blank stare before turning back to your work, like you are coming from a place of deep contemplation and don’t quite even know what she’s talking about.
- A long, blank, awkward stare before asking her an actually relevant-to-work question.
- A flat “I don’t know off the top of my head.” Repeat that like a robot to every quiz question, even the ones you know the answers to, like a person in a police station asking for a lawyer. She can’t ‘catch you out’ if you don’t play the game.
The survival strategy here for dealing with her is to keep your work game tight and to be completely boring in the face of her bullying. Do the best work you can. Come in on time. Be well-groomed (within the norms of your industry/workplace). Be kind and polite and reasonable to everyone. Keep your workspace neat. Document your work for your boss – sending a brief weekly status update email is great for that, in that it helps your boss actually manage the work and serves as great evidence for “I do my work” if she tries to come at you that way.
You could loop your boss in, but you’d have to do it in a way that was about business. Your boss doesn’t want to know about the personal history y’all have and won’t really respond to anything that isn’t about making his or her job easier. If you get desperate, you could try, “I’m grateful to Sauron for bringing me onto the team, but sometimes her attempts to “train” me lately are interrupting my actual work. Any thoughts on how to handle this with her when she wants to give me a pop quiz about things?” Chances are Boss is going to say “ignore her, that’s just her way” or worse, chalk it up to “drama” between friends, which won’t help you, so my suggestion is to save the Boss for a) if Sauron does something really openly and obviously abusive b) making an explicit request that she not be involved in your performance reviews.
Speaking of performance reviews, if it’s been a while since you’ve had one, ask the Boss to give you a brief, informal one. “Boss, I just want to check in briefly and make sure things are on track here. Is there anything about my work you’d like to see improve?” You’re in year three of this job, so while Sauron helped you get the job, you’ve kept the job on your own. Everyone make mistakes, and people make more mistakes when they are being bullied and undermined, so be nice to yourself. Hopefully you’ll get some useful feedback, and possibly you’ll get some ready answers for Sauron, along the lines of “Yes, Boss and I talked about that, I’m on it, thanks!” or “Boss didn’t say that’s a problem when we talked yesterday, where are you getting this?” I’ve had to deal with the micromanage-y peer who sets herself up as the one true oracle of what the Boss really wants, and it’s irritating as hell. Sometimes the answer is to ignore it, sometimes it’s to give in, and sometimes the answer is to say “Cool, let’s go ask Boss, so we can be completely clear on what to do!” Once upon a time I had to do a complex project in a cubicle right outside a busy conference room, and it turns out that my actual boss did not in fact care if I wore headphones or find them “unprofessional,” much to the office manager’s peeve and chagrin when I called her bluff and looped him in. If periodically Sauron makes a big deal out of something, and you don’t agree, forcing her into the position of having to either bother your boss with it or STFU is not the worst move.
- Speaking of headphones, if you can wear them for at least part of the day, especially if you’re doing something that requires concentration, do it. It will make her nuts and she will try everything she can do to get you to take them off, but it will let you literally tune her out some of the time.
- While others may walk on eggshells around her, especially if she’s really good at what she does, I guarantee that there are other people in that office who see through her. In fact, I’ll bet that she has bullied and/or undermined others in the way she is doing it to you. So, make friends with other people in the office: other practice areas, other people at your same level. Go to happy hour, etc. even if she’s there, and have cool side conversations with others you work with. Try to expand your influence and network outside of your immediate team. Maybe the pay you like and the job you like exist for you on the other side of the building.
- Be very security-conscious. Back up your work to the server, organize your files, consider a passworded screensaver for your computer, log out of all personal email/social media accounts when you leave your computer, clear your browsing history/cookies/saved passwords regularly, make sure you keep copies of essential documents – esp. stuff that’s important to your boss – in a place that you can easily find them but she can’t. She has “controlling person who would snoop through your personal shit” written all over her.
- Should go without saying, but do not gossip with her about your boss or other employees. The people I know who behave like her (overall) have a strategy of sharing some tidbit or badmouthing somebody to get you to drop your guard and do the same. Never fall for this where she is concerned. Sauron: “Isn’t boss so annoying when they do x?” You: “Huh, I never noticed/If you say so/Hrmmm, interesting.”
- If y’all are social media friends, use your filters to make sure she doesn’t have real time constant access to your life. Don’t unfriend or block yet – you’re in a covert ops phase until you’re free of that workplace – but filter so she sees only really general, occasional posts.
- Schedule 5-10 minutes in your day to actively engage her. I know. I know. I know you do not want to do this. But build it into your to-do list – “10:30, go to break room for water, ask Sauron if she wants anything. Make brief small talk about how the weekend was.” Some of her bullshit might be about getting your attention, so if you give her measured bits of it in a way you can predict and control it will throw her off balance. Also, ask her questions about her life, but don’t volunteer stuff about your life.
- Buy an African Violet and keep it on your desk. Look at it for comfort when you need to. When you leave the company, you can give it to her with a card that says “Dear Sauron, thank you so much for helping me get my foot in the door here. I wish you and the rest of the team all the best. Signed, Resigned.” And then you are going to be “busy” when she contacts you. A lot. She doesn’t have to know that right now.
Finall, a reminder that SELF CARE IS ESSENTIAL.
- Eat well, get enough sleep, get regular health checkups/haircuts/massages.
- Seek out new friends, seek out friends and family who lift you up and encourage you. Minimize contact with people in your life who are super-critical or who drain your energy.
- Find hobbies and social spaces that are not near Sauron.
- Got vacation time? USE IT. Start planning one now.
- Send out resumes often. Make your LinkedIn profile a thing of beauty. Network like a motherfucker. Look around in your industry for other places you might fit. Other people will value your competence and ability to get along with others.
Good luck, and get out soon! I predict that you are going to thrive when you’re away from this lady.