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HR Handled Right

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Many workers love their bosses and respect them. Of course, not much of that sentiment shows up in On the Job’s mail.

It’s just the conflicts that workers want resolved. How do you cope with the domineering, demanding boss? Or the one who talks about you behind your back? These are the concerns workers are worried about in these queries.

Q. My boss is a poor manager. She talks about her employees, never nicely, to anyone who will listen. She doesn’t support her employees and will leave them out to dry if anyone questions anything she has done. She’s just plain irritating. I have had many bosses and she is just about the worst one I’ve worked for. Any suggestions?

Managers who show no discretion in their comments about their subordinates are among the low lifes of the office world. Dealing with such a person can certainly be unnerving, but two people who regularly advise corporate clients on workplace issues offered a variety of advice to this worker that could be useful.

Deborah Keary, who each month answers hundreds of questions for the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, said that if the boss “is just irritating, then you’ll just have to live with it. If she’s gone beyond irritating, then I’d go to the boss’s boss. Of course, that is going to alienate the boss. You may not get anywhere.

“But if there are ethical concerns or if she’s making the environment such that you can’t get your work done, spell this out to the manager,” Keary said.

Keary also said the worker “should suggest a 360-degree evaluation” at the company, a type of work review in which everyone can rate co-workers, subordinates and bosses, as opposed to the more common top-down evaluations that managers do annually at many companies.

“It’s a good way to get feedback, and it can be anonymous,” Keary said.

Joni E. Johnston, a psychologist for WorkRelationships Inc., a Del Mar, Calif., firm that advises clients on employment and legal issues, said that one thing the worker should not do is start other back-stabbing conversations about the boss.

Rather, she said, the worker ought to “document the instructions the boss gives you, so you can show exactly what she asked you to do.”

Johnston also said that some firms “empower employees to go around that person, to human resources, to a mediation system or an ombudsman” to seek some kind of resolution of the conflicts.

Aside from that, however, Johnston said, “I’d be looking for another job. There are many things we can put up with, but trust is a pretty fundamental requirement.”

Q. How do you deal with a boss who won’t leave you alone? I have been to human resources and I have filed complaints, yet she refuses to change. She doesn’t think that I will quit, but what if I threaten to? I know that I’m valuable and she would get in a lot of trouble if I did quit since her boss is aware of her “problems.” Should I threaten to leave? She’s always on my case, micromanages everything.

Threats rarely produce a worker victory in the office, Johnston said.

“It’s a no-win situation,” she said. “Make sure she has another job. Never threaten unless you’re willing to follow through and do it.

“The micromanager needs to feel on top of things,” Johnston said. So the worker ought to “take charge of the micromanager so that [the boss] does know everything that’s going on. Try to negotiate some kind of strict feedback system” to keep the manager abreast of the worker’s progress.

Keary added, “I’d probably sit down with the boss and say, ‘I’d really like to understand your expectations better. If I know that better, then I could complete this work to your satisfaction. If you tell me when it has to be done, then I’ll get it done.’ ”

With that plan in place, Keary said the worker then may be able to fend off the micromanaging boss since both will know what the expectations are.

Q. I have a question about a previous manager who was fired. I had a good working relationship with this manager, but she had problems with higher-ups and was let go for related reasons. Now she has moved on and is having a difficult time finding another job. I am hoping to use her as a reference in the future, but I am worried about using someone with this sort of employment history. Am I worried for nothing?

Both Johnston and Keary said this worker should have no worry about using the deposed manager as a reference.

“If she’s used as a reference,” Keary said, another employer is “not going to ask what her job history is.”

Johnston said, “If the manager can attest to the good work qualities of the worker . . . I wouldn’t worry about it.”

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