Modern Morals: My manager hates me — I am dreading going back to work in the new year. Should I report her to HR?
Question: I work for a large tech company where there is a fairly rigid corporate hierarchy and a lot of micro-managing. I never liked the structure, but it became even harder to tolerate when a new manager joined last year. We didn’t get on from day one and even my colleagues have said she has it in for me.
hings got worse in the lead-up to Christmas. She criticised me in front of my colleagues, assigned me with tasks that could never be completed in time and then organised after-work drinks — but didn’t invite me. It’s subtle bullying, or maybe I’m being managed out? I’m already dreading going back to work, mainly because I don’t know how to deal with this situation. Should I report her to HR or will that make things worse?
Answer: This sounds like a nightmare scenario and, sadly, one that a lot of employees are experiencing. For all the lip service corporates pay to diversity and inclusion, many of them have an insidious culture of managing out employees with some of the tactics you’ve described.
I shared your dilemma with strategic career consultant Rowan Manahan who delivers frank career advice. And having weighed up the pros and cons of your situation, he ultimately concluded that it’s time for you to move on.
“The letter writer’s conjecture of being ‘managed out’ sounds spot on to me,” he says, “and I would surmise that the manager’s next move will be a very negative quarterly review, followed by a PIP with unreachable goals — this person would be far better to jump the gun and have their CV out in circulation ahead of any such move on her part.”
If you really want to stay with the company, Manahan says the only “salvation word” in your letter is “large.” “Maybe it’s possible you could get yourself transferred or re-assigned to another area, under a new manager?” he suggests.
“But given that you ‘never liked the structure’, my recommendation is that it’s time to vote with your feet. A bad boss can make a job feel like purgatory; a bad boss in an organisational culture that you don’t like is more like hell, and a wrong culture with a bad boss who seems to have malicious intent toward you? That’s the lake of fire and no one needs to put up with that.”
Manahan advises you to “take fast stock of what you have accomplished and contributed above and beyond your job description, polish up your CV, and hit the market”.
He acknowledges that this might feel like admitting defeat, but based on the information you’ve shared, he thinks what you have described as bullying doesn’t amount to a strong enough claim of constructive dismissal.
“I appreciate that this feels like hiding behind the bike shed and then running away from the bully, but you need to pick your fights and this does not sound like a fight you can win,” he says. “There has been no overt bullying, she can label the public dressing-down as ‘constructive criticism’ and the inbox-overload as, ‘we’re all having to do a bit more in these difficult times’. HR are unlikely to even entertain any complaint you make here, unless you have been keeping a meticulous diary of every instance, preferably with ‘notes to file’ emails along the way.”
Of course, you still need to return to the office next month so, for now at least, it’s worth thinking about what you can do to make it a more positive experience. You’re clearly in survival mode, which can lead to a blinkered outlook and a defensive attitude. So what changes can you make to take back control?
That’s the question I put to workplace mediator Luke Monahan of the Mediation Foundation of Ireland, who says the first step in overcoming this situation is “self-awareness”.
He suggests you consider some important questions before making any sudden decisions. “Ask yourself, ‘What is this doing to me, how am I looking after myself and what am I noticing in the triggers?’”
Monahan also encourages you to consider the ways in which you might be avoiding accountability, with questions such as: “Is there anything else contributing to this, or in how I’m responding to this behaviour, that I need to take responsibility for? Is there anything I can clarify and that I can make sure is addressed?
“Replace the mindset of victim with the mindset of taking responsibility for how it is that you constructively and definitely address this difficult behaviour,” he adds, “and remember you have options.”
Monahan suggests starting with the options that are easiest to address. “Can you get some support in confronting the person and the behaviour? See what that is like. Play it out. Role play it out with a friend, even.
“If that’s not working for you, can you approach the manager’s manager and talk about the behaviour that you find acceptable and clarify your expectations?”
You have HR options too, Monahan adds, but he suggests that you ask yourself some “deeper questions” about your values and how they align with this organisation, before you file a complaint.
“Is this an organisational company culture that you want to work in?” he asks. “Does it share the working values that you want to be part of? Or do you need to strategically plan and accept that this is not a place for you, even if you get this issue satisfactorily resolved with this person?”
It’s telling that you opened your letter by describing your issues with the company at large, as opposed to the person in question. So perhaps this is the ultimate question you need to answer. But first, try to shift your perspective and, as Monahan says, “remember you have options, you can take control, you have autonomy”.
If you have a dilemma, email [email protected]
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