In the January 27, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is fed up with a boss whose idea of management is bad politics.
I work for a failing organization that brought in a new manager to turn things around. The problem is that the new manager has threatened to dismiss me. He clearly hates me. I have never been in this situation before.
Earlier this year I was given a merit raise and was told by my manager’s boss that they were very happy with my work. I’ll be resigning, but how do I insure that this company doesn’t say negative things to a future employer? Should I see a lawyer? How should I handle this in the meantime?
You’re going to have to play politics, because your new manager started the game. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t play because it’s distasteful. This is part of managing your career and work life, so learn to play well. The key is not to go it alone. I’ll offer you some suggestions, but remember that your judgment matters more than mine because you’re in it, and I’m just watching.
First, assess where you really stand.
I’d go talk to your manager’s boss about what’s happened; that is, to the person who told you what a good job you were doing.
How to Say It
“I just got a merit raise and you gave me some nice compliments on my work — this motivated me to work harder and smarter. Now I need your advice. What am I to make of this threat to dismiss me? I want to do the right thing, for the company and for myself. But it’s very distracting to have my new boss threatening me. Can you please advise me?”
You must find out whether you have support, or whether the company will let the new manager toss you aside. It’s hard to say whether the big boss will come to your aid. Managers don’t like to battle with one another, but you must ask for guidance. Hopefully, you’ll get the help you need.
Regardless, you must also take action to protect yourself.
Second, establish a record.
Visit HR and get the facts. What does HR have on file about this matter?
Then create your own record. Start a written log of events (including names, dates, times, conversations), which may be helpful in the event you take legal action. Bring this with you to the HR office, where you can inquire about the problem you’re facing..
How to Say It
“For the record, have any negative reviews or complaints been filed against me? I have not seen a PIP (employee Performance Improvement Plan). Is there one on file?”
When you ask HR these questions, also submit them in written form. HR relies on records; you should, too. It’s part of playing politics well. If your manager is planning to fire you, HR will use a PIP to document your “problem behavior” and the company’s attempt to help you correct it. HR uses the PIP as a kind of CYA action to protect the company legally. It will tip you off to how serious your new manager is about canning you.
If there’s nothing like this on file, then I suggest letting HR know that your manager has threatened you. Bring along a short letter to HR that states what you’re about to say, and include accurate quotations of (a) what your manager’s boss said to praise your work, and (b) what your manager said to threaten you. If you wind up taking legal action, these documents may be helpful. When HR sees this in writing and observes you taking notes, you may not need a lawyer — your manager may need more help than you do.
Then ask HR for help.
How to Say It
“I’d like to ask your advice and help. My manager has threatened to fire me, but his boss recently said XYZ about my work, and I was given a merit raise. So, I’m confused and very concerned. My performance has been praised and rewarded, but now I’m threatened with dismissal, but there’s no warning in your files. Should I be talking with an attorney?”
While it’s a bit risky to bring up hiring a lawyer, providing HR with written documents puts HR on notice. Now, HR — if it’s got any integrity at your company — has to take this seriously. (Do you question HR’s integrity? See What’s HR Got to Do With It?) Ask for a response in writing. If HR doesn’t give it to you, log that fact, too. Lawyers love logs. Whether you go to a lawyer is of course up to you. I’m not advocating that, but I want you to be prepared with information a lawyer may need to help you.
While you’re meeting with HR, let HR see that you’re making notes about your conversation — and doing your own CYA. It’s part of playing politics, whether your idea of winning is a lawsuit or merely quitting and moving on.
Coming Next Week: A special edition about how to leave your job.
Did you get fired? About to get downsized? Ready to quit? We’ll discuss how to protect yourself so you can move on — on your own terms! Don’t miss it!
Third, develop options.
Now that you’ve assessed — and let HR know — where you stand, the third part of politics is to get some insurance.
Gather a few written references from managers and co-workers, if you can do it discreetly. If you have a good enough collection, you may not need to include your current manager as a reference when you go job hunting. Other managers will suffice. One negative reference that you can explain as a bad egg may not matter much, as long as you have the support of others who know you well. (For more about this thorny problem, see How can you fight bad references?) You might be surprised at how much support you have when you make your move — even if these same people can’t help you protect your job.
(See Take Care Of Your References.)
Then take this a step farther. Have a friend who is a manager at another company call your current manager, his boss and the HR office, and ask them for references. (Caution: Do not fake this. You need a real manager asking for real references. Never lie. But there’s nothing wrong with playing more politics.) You’ll quickly learn whether they’re torpedoing you. If they are, you may need to talk with an attorney who can put a stop to it.
Just remember that you can’t lead with your references. To be a truly potent job applicant, you must lead with your ability to show an employer how you’re going to contribute to its success. (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.)
Of course, your most important insurance is to line up interviews with other good employers. Even if you take legal action, your best option is a great new job, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing another employer values you and treats you with respect.
I don’t know whether your boss really hates you, but if he’s threatened to fire you, that triggers HR processes, and that’s company politics. If you don’t believe me, you will when you realize that HR’s first job is to protect the employer, not you. So CYA. That means playing politics to protect yourself. Be prepared to fight fire with fire.
HR: Friend Or Foe?
While HR might be very sympathetic and helpful, it can also be your opponent — whether you’re leaving your job or trying to get hired. For more about dealing with HR, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4, Overcome Human Resources Obstacles.
Now for my disclaimer: My suggestions can be risky. I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. So use your own judgment and do the best you can.
Have you faced a boss who hates you in spite of your good performance? What did you do to protect yourself? How did it turn out? How would you advise this reader?