Normally, my new employer’s office manager hires and supervises administrative assistants, but she was on a cruise in March and due to the pandemic didn’t return to work until late May.
A senior manager, “Keith,” was frustrated by the amount of administrative work that had backlogged and the quality of the temps and decided not to wait for the OM to return to hire a new AA. He interviewed me, we hit it off and he hired me.
When I asked him “what are my marching orders?” he told me, “Full steam ahead. Clean up the backlog.” During my first weeks, I found many inefficient systems that needed revamping and set about making improvements while tackling the backlog. When the OM returned, she made it clear I worked for HER. Instead of being grateful for what I had accomplished, she immediately ordered me to undo all the positive improvements I’d made.
Apparently, she’s upset I was hired with her approval. Worse, she acts like I got my job because Keith “liked” me. When he came into our department yesterday, she asked, “Keith is coming by, should I leave the two of you alone?” This comment made me feel slimed, but I can’t go to HR because she handles HR.
She’s also apparently run off three prior administrative assistants in the two years. I’ve made it clear to her that she messes with the wrong person when she takes me on. I told her, “I don’t want your job and you’re not going to run me off from mine.”
I don’t want to be squashed. How do I fix this?
Keith unintentionally started the problem by telling you to motor full steam ahead in your supervisor’s absence. You compounded the problem by revamping systems. If you want to turn this around, view this situation from your supervisor’s perspective. When she returned from vacation, she discovered she supervised a new employee who had made major system changes without asking her.
You tried to fix this by telling her you don’t want her job, a comment that indirectly insults her for wanting her job and tells her you think you might be able to get it if you tried.
None of this excuses your supervisor’s catty comment. She either resents you or has issues with Keith or both. If she truly has run off three prior assistants, you need to exercise caution.
If you decide you want to keep this job, change your course. While Keith hired you, the office manager supervises you. Now that she’s back, realize she created the current systems and you need to work in partnership with her if you want to change them.
Next, consider what part of this problem you own. Did you overstep when you took Keith’s go ahead on the backlog as permission to change your supervisor’s systems? Did you translate “full steam ahead” into “I can be a steamroller?” Could part of the problem be you come on too strongly? How have you made it clear that she messes with the wrong person if she takes you on? Have you been acting like you know best or you’re in charge even though she’s returned? If any of this is true, you own a chunk of this problem and need to rein yourself in.
Alternatively, you may have acted reasonably when you fixed broken systems, particularly if you needed to revamp them to clean up the backlog. If so, contact Keith concerning the sexual innuendo, which is inappropriate, particularly coming from an individual charged with HR. If senior management learns a supervisor who has run off three employees appears intent on squashing and thus running off a fourth, senior management may decide “one too many.” While you take a risk if you escalate this problem; it could pay off.
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016) and “Solutions” (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.