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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Manager Troubles

What is the best way to deal with a team leader who is constantly putting others down verbally, cussing me and other employees, and milking the time clock for overtime? I have been to the HR dept. here and all they have done is get my team leader to sign a paper saying he will not use inappropriate language. Of course he never quit being a jerk. It's getting very frustrating for me.

I am a maintenance clerk at a company that makes car parts. I am responsible for ordering whatever maintenance needs and doing inventory on a monthly basis on the parts we have. Other people who have had my job in the past have been to seminars to learn about maintenance duties and the programs that I use, but when I ask if there is anything I can do to further my knowledge they tell me I can't go. I feel really ignored and looked over.

Please help if you have any suggestions on how to deal with this or at least how I can make my days go a little smoother. My motivation for my job is just about disappearing.


Unfortunately, being a jerk isn't illegal, as long as he's an equal opportunity jerk, which I'll assume that he is.

I'm going to caution you right now, that my advice may result in you being fired for insubordination, depending on how much power your team lead has and how wimpy your HR department is. I'm sure my brilliant readers will have better advice that will magically turn your team lead into the nicest person on the planet, but I don't know what that is.

First, I'm going to ask you to read something that you'll think is totally bizarre in relationship to your question. This is an account of a woman who thought she was going to be attacked and how she handled it. For those of you too lazy to click, a brief summary is that she was in a parking garage, alone, and there was a man there not acting how one would expect. As she's walking in, she knows he's behind her. This is what happened next:
Then I abruptly turn around and ask “Can I help you with something?” while making sure to stare straight in his face. When I did this, I discovered he was not more than a couple steps behind me. He had gotten way too close. My abrupt turn and question caught the Character off guard. The look on his face was priceless. He managed to mumble a ‘no’ and walked past me as I stood there watching him

The security camera later shows him running away--not what a normal person would have done in the parking lot.

Why do I share this? Because jerks are jerks because they can be and no one objects. This potential criminal changed his action when someone objected. I think you can apply the same concept to your team lead.

The next time he's a jerk, say calmly, "That behavior is not appropriate and I won't be treated like that." This is especially effective if there are other people in the room. If he continues to yell or undermine or whatever, just repeat, "You are still acting inappropriately. I am happy to do whatever work is necessary, but I will be treated with respect."

The first time you do this he will probably be so shocked he won't know what to say. Or, he may fire you. As I said, there is definitely danger in this, but I've found that bullies really are so not used to being confronted that it stops them in their tracks.

As for training, stop asking if there is anything you can do to improve your skills. Start asking directly. "There is a training class for X on June 5th and 6th at Y location. This would directly benefit my position because it would teach me Z. I've filled out the registration form and I just need your signature."

I'd be shocked if he said no, but if he does, then be prepared. "Is there a specific reason I can't go? The three previous people in this job attended this class." or "If there is a scheduling conflict, it will be taught again in September. I'll go then. Here's the form for that."

Force him to give you a reason why you can't go.

As I said, this may fail miserably and you may get fired (and never come here for advice again! Although, think of the free time you'll have to surf the net!), but you don't have a great desire to stay there anyway. Polish up your resume before you start your jerk training. Document EVERYTHING. This will be needed proof when you apply for unemployment.

14 comments:

Special Projector said...

Great advise, EHRL.

You are correct that it's fraught with risk (my new favorite phrase) but the alternative is being unduly subjected to bullying behavior.

I'd be curious to know how many other co-workers will step forward and support her (for some reason I assume she's a she) in this endeavor.

Dr. Smoot said...

No need to doubt yourself on this one EHRL. Despite the risk of getting fired, this person needs to start the act of not letting a bully get the best of them, now. Otherwise, my experience tells me, that this person is going to stay in the job and be burdened with emotional and physical health problems. And if they leave without dealing with this bully, they are going to turn into damaged goods and no matter how good the new workplace is, they'll just be waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop.

William the Coroner said...

Sam Horn had a decent book, Take The Bully By the Horns. I'd recommend it.

Yes, the risk is he may fire you. Document, document, document. Clean up your act. Don't give them a handle to attack you with.

And yes, do not tolerate abuse and bullying. Do it calmly, do it with witnesses--have a small tape recorder running.

You have to take a lot at work--you don't have to take abuse. It is wise to brush up your resume and begin looking--having options automagically makes you less vulnerable.

Anonymous said...

A swift punch in the nose also does wonders for bullies--there is a down side to that behavior though

(army)Wife said...

William~
While the tape recorder is a good idea, in some states you are not allowed to tape someone without their permission. Any recordings made without their permission are not permissible in any court proceedings.

Anonymous said...

Recording conversations without the consent of all parties is illegal in several states, so check your state law before considering this. You might be subject to prosecution, not just having your "evidence" declared non-admissible.

Mike Doughty

ellenhrpro said...

This is one of the top reasons why companies have high turnover in certain departments. While the HR dept may overlook one person's complaint (they may be perceived as a chronic complainer or a whiner). Trust me when I tell you that there is strenght in numbers. Get several of your team members to go to HR together. If nothing is done, take the group to the Director or VP of the dept. And for goodness sake, SOMEBODY get this guy into supervisory training and coaching!

Anonymous said...

It may not be admissible in court--but writing down what they say--or taking out a little recorder and turning it on in front of them, both of which I've done personally changes the tenor of the interaction markedly. I live in Ohio, which does have one person permission, btw.

Even if you can't use it in court hearing someone rant or use abusive language like the big boss or an HR type can cause a change in behaviour.

William the Coroner

Anonymous said...

This person is a "team leader", not a supervisor/manager/executive. Does he even have the authority to fire, or does it have go higher up?

Jessica said...

Brilliant idea William! Rather than take the risk of legal problems by taping someone without their knowledge, just pull out a tape recorder and say "I'm feeling quite umcomfortable here, so if you don't mind I'll be recording this discussion from now on."
How interesting to see what happens next!
Be warned, I know of many people who may lose their cool in this situation - but then you have it on tape...
Please let us know how you go.

Teri said...

I think a lot of you are forgetting that this is a clerical employee. He (?) is likely to not have a private office and may not even have very much privacy for documenting such things. If he is a he, then he may not be in a situation where he can risk his job. A man who takes family responsibilities seriously cannot "take this job and shove it" without severe social AND personal emotional consequences.

I have had to deal with bully bosses several different times at different stages of my career. This is a long response with precise advice.

The first thing is, figure out the things that are most important to you. If you have a family that depends on your paycheck, you need to plan carefully how to deal with this, because the first bedrock requirement of your strategy is that you NOT be fired from your job for cause.

2nd: You'd rather not lose your job involuntarily, (a separation) even though it might be a relief to be on unemployment for a while because you are just so tired you can barely stand it anymore.

3rd: There is too much going on right now for you to put a lot of effort into a job search. If your boss is such an unmentionable word as I suspect (and you said he is a he), the tiny signs of you looking for a job would likely be pounced on just as much as whatever tiny things cause his illegal harrassing behavior. I once had a bullying boss claim that I had paperclipped paperwork incompetently because one item he had to sign got caught in the clip of the item in front of it. My fault for incompetent paperclipping, not his fault for not noticing. (And grandma says, why does it have to be anyone's fault? It was accidental.)

Okay. What to do.

1) Ensure that you have a solid support network in place. If you are a guy, this may be a foreign concept, but you have to sit down and very clearly think about what you are going to do to help yourself tolerate this situation until you can find an honorable resoloution.

You need to find people, places or things that make you feel better, that you can either go to when you feel bad, or at least close your eyes and think about when you can't go anywhere. If you possibly can, find someone you trust OUTSIDE YOUR WORKPLACE to talk to.

This is so that you can vent about the injustice, and once that's out of your system, be able to discuss your ideas for what to do next.

You can have two or more people or groups, one for venting, another one for strategizing. You will just have to repeat things a little, but that's not terrible because the more you can talk about it with people who can say, "Boy that sucks, life is hard, but you know that we love ya babe, so we're here for you" the easier it will be to let the injustice wear off so that you have the emotional capacity to deal with this responsibly and positively.

You do NOT need people who say "Boy that sucks, you should take a gun to work." Those people, you back away slowly from and then turn and run like hell.

2) Next, document. Uptight white businessmen want to go into their office and shut the door and write a memo.

You don't need a memo.

You need a little notebook. One of those little 2 x 4 jobs that will fit in your shirt pocket, or your pants pocket. It's ok if it gets grubby, as long as it's basically readable. Lawyers love source documents, and the more authentically messy the better.

Write something on the first page, something funny and light that will make you smile when you read it. Don't say, "My documentation of what a jerk my boss is." You are essentially becoming a spy, because if your boss is such an unmentionable, you don't want to let him know you are documenting or he will find new hard-to-document ways of making your life miserable.

One time I used "Anthropological Study of Prepubescent Male Herd Behavior." If your boss is a jerk, he may be stupid, and he may not get this insult. You are calling him an 11-year-old bully in the nicest way possible.

This may not float your boat. Just find something that will make you giggle a little, or I guess guys chuckle rather than giggle, and help you start calming down from the actual nastiness that just took place so that you can remember the details as accurately as possible.

3) Whever something happens, once you realize it is happening, once you get past the emotional shock of being treated badly by a horrible person, try to fix your mind on remembering the things that the person is saying and doing, the other people who may be around (whether or not they can hear what's going on) and any other little details that will make your record sound (and be) as authentic and specific as possible. This is because, the people who see something went on but didn't hear the details, may be able to at least corroborate that the incident took place if you can mention a detail that triggers their memory. And not the lawyer's "At 12:22 on Tuesday the 2nd." Nobody but lawyers and accountants really think like that.

You want to say "Right after the Fedex truck came, the day we got the big widget shipment, while Betty was sorting out the packages, Herb came over and told me . . ." Because Betty was there, she was sorting packages, sorting packages is relatively easy and sometimes boring, so she might have caught a few of the words between you and Herb, or seen him gesturing, or someting. And Betty knows when they got that widget shipment, and she can look it up, and then the Fedex records will show what time it was, and then the lawyer will reduce his fee because you have done half his work.

4) As soon as it is practical, go to the bathroom and record everything you can remember in your little notebook. I know that guys have those urinal things so it's not as private, but develop a sudden problem with chronic constipation so you can use the stall. Constipation is also good because it gives you an excuse to be there for seven or eight minutes, as long as you need to write down the details.

You can sit on the stool without taking your pants down. Yes, the stool has people's butt germs on it, but if you don't want them on your pants, why would you want them on your bare legs? Wipe it off. Sit down. Your pants will not get wet because the water cannot magically splash six inches up by itself.

Write fragments, words, whatever you can. You don't need complete sentences. You want the nasty phrases, and you also want the things that when you write them down sound stupid because the problem wasn't the words, but they way they were said and the body language used. Go ahead and write them down no matter how mundane. "Herb came over and said 'Good morning Fred, what have you got there.' "

As you do this, you will be able to get past the shock quicker and remember things better each time. Because these creeps don't have a big vocabulary, and it's likely that they say the same annoying things over and over again. As you master the art of recording the words, start adding the body language. "Herb came over and scowled and sarcastically said 'Good morning FRED, what have YOU got there?' He sneered at me and looked in my empty inbox. He rolled his eyes and walked off in disgust and kicked my trashcan as he walked out." You have just made an EEO or DOL guy very, very happ.

4) Be patient. This is not a quick way to resolve the situation, but it will work, and it will either let you quit your job with a fantastic reference letter and a big settlement, or else let you have such an offbeat sense of humor about it that you can spend less time with your support crew venting and more time polishing your resume for the better job that you are going to look for in such time as you have. And although it will be hard to schedule interviews and dress nicely for them without tipping everyone off, you will manage because you know that you are the master of your situation. You are doing the win-win thingie. You are taking charge of your situation, you are being proactive, you are being decent and honorable, and you may just hit the jackbot and get Herb in a heap o' trouble.

All because you figured out how to beat management with their own tools. Ha ha.

Oh, I guess I should say what you should do when your little notebook is about half full. This notebook is precious and worth its grubby stained weight in platinum.

Go to Kinko's on a day off, they are usually open 24 hours, and photocopy every single page of your little book. Do not remove the pages. If you have 40 pages of notes, you may pay $4.50 for a letter sized sheet of paper that has only one 2 x 4 note on it. No biggie.

Now for the strategery. Call EEOC if you're in a protected class, if you're not they don't care how much of an unmentionable your boss is (probably). If you're not sure, start with them, the worst that can happen is they say, no, we don't handle that, but you should call XYZ.

Call ZYX. Find out their procedure. Tell them you have documentation. Describe it if they ask. What you have is a contemporaneous record of several of the incidents that demonstrate the illegal harrassing behaviour. It's illegal to create a hostile workplace, even if you are a young white guy who is handsomer than the beach boys.

ZYX may ask you to work through your company structure, the HR department, or whoever would be your boss's boss. If you're not used to dealing with people who make three times as much as you and play golf whenever they want, take heart. Either they are empty suits who will have a heart attack when they see your little book, and will realize that they are in deep doodoo for letting Herb get away with it this long (because you can be sure that they know, and that Herb has been doing it for a long time.). Or they will be honorable (yes, honorable managers exist, my dad is one and so am I) and they will take it where it needs to go and help you resolve the situation. The honorable ones will be glad, because either they know Herb is a creep and they haven't been able to document it themselves (because he sucks up to them) or else because Herb is such a sleaze that they really didn't know what he was doing.

If somehow the person you go to manages to confiscate or destroy your notebook, ha ha, this is why you went to Kinko's. Make lots of copies of your first copy, then start going to people, and add a new note for everyone who confiscates or destroys or loses your notebook copies.

Well. You're a smart guy or else you wouldn't be ordering parts for maintenance and doing inventory. You can see how this will go.

It will take time, and it will not always be pleasant, but trust me, there is something very therapeutic about patiently taking the boss's crap and then going in the crapper to give him his just . . . . well, not desserts, because you're in the bathroom. But we've all watched enough Seinfeld we can come up with our own irony.

My friend, I wish you the best of luck. Know that other people have been through this and come out the other side much better off.

Teri said...

Hey Fred, I forgot one of the most important points.

If anyone sees your notebook, just smile a teeny bit like you're a little embarrassed, and say that you're thinking about becoming a writer, and the book you are using suggested that you carry a notebook with you to write down ideas that you get and interesting little things that you see.

If you want, you can actually get such a book from the library, or take a Communiversity class in creative writing, or something like that. Honesty is always the best policy, but you don't have to say all the truth all the time. Saying part of the truth is not lying. Grandma actually told you that, because she said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything." And do you have anything nice to say about Herb?

Ha ha haha!!!

Jacob Johansen said...

"...when I ask if there is anything I can do to further my knowledge they tell me I can't go. I feel really ignored and looked over."

You are ignored and looked over for sure. While we appreciate when our companies offer us opportunities to grow and learn, they just don't care sometimes. Remember, you are only as good as the opportunities that you create for yourself.

They don't control you nor are they holding you back, only you can advance your career aspirations; don't wait for someone else to do it for you.

www.noworkplacebullies.com said...

HERE HERE! Evil HR Lady - your response is awesome!

Too much out there portrays the victim as a poor sucker who just can't help that he's victimized. Thanks for the slap in the face reponse - I agree wholeheartedly. Learn to communicate with them in such a way that it pushes back on their behavior.

I doubt you'll get fired - what you'll get is respect.