Q: Several months ago one of my former employees, who’d left our agency, returned as my immediate supervisor. It’s been hell ever since.
Before his return, I had been respected and allowed to function semi-autonomously. I’d myself been a supervisor, overseeing one employee until he left and management decided to shift the duties he’d handled to another department. I received excellent performance evaluations for my accomplishments.
My former employee rules commander style and micro-manages me, sucking all the joy out of my work life. He treats me with contempt, criticizing my work and me personally at every opportunity. It’s not only wearing on me, but I worry what he’s telling upper management about me and what this means to my future. Things recently went from bad to worse. He placed me on a performance improvement plan and asked me to consider whether I am a good fit for my position. When I protested that I’d had three years of positive performance reviews, he said that this was because no one had looked carefully at what I was doing and that he considered this his job.
I think the root cause is that I threaten him, as I have multiple degrees while he has only a high school diploma. At the same time, our senior manager considers him a “boy wonder.” What should I do?
Some, facing the circumstances you report, vote with their feet and leave before their supervisor can shred their morale and potentially tarnish their reputation. Alternatively, if you loved your job before your former employee returned, you may choose to fight what’s happening. Despite what your new supervisor said, an employee with three years of excellent performance evaluations has a track record that demands respect.
Before you decide to fight, you need to ask yourself tough questions and perhaps face hard truths. What led your upper manager to bring back your former employee rather than promoting you? Are your old employee’s allegations correct? – Have you been allowed to skate by with minimal performance under prior laissez-faire supervisors? If so, that time has ended, and you need to get with the program.
If, however, you accurately assess the situation as one in which a former employee now guns for you because he’s threatened by your knowledge or for other reasons, visit either your HR officer or the manager above your supervisor and explain what’s been happening. Bring copies of your performance reviews and bright, objective information concerning your recent achievements, and let them know he’s asked if you are a fit for position for which you’ve received excellent prior ratings. At a minimum, they’ll look into the situation.
If they agree with your assessment, they may instruct your supervisor to back off or may potentially mediate between the two of you. If something in your prior treatment of your former employee led him to gun for you, this might partially resolve the situation. Further, your supervisor appears to need training; for example, to learn he can’t treat any employee, even a marginal performer, with contempt.
Finally, your “boy wonder” comment leads me to wonder if age-related prejudice could be part of the issue – toward you or from you. If senior management calls him a “boy wonder” and promoted him above you, do they see you as “toward the end of your career” and see your new supervisor as part of their “team going into the future”? If so, you may have legal recourse under age discrimination.
Alternatively, do you disparage him and resent his status over you? While he may not have your degrees, perhaps he has analytical or other abilities that equip him to handle situations you’ve not successfully managed, and that’s why senior management brought him back – and placed him over you.
Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is the author of “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and Regional Director of Training & Business Consulting Avitus Group, formerly The Growth Company. Send questions to email@example.com, follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or at www.workplacecoachblog.com.