my boss is resentful when I do well, contacting the company that fired my husband, and more — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. The better I do, the more resentful my boss gets

I’m a manager in a technical field and my boss used to be a huge micromanager. He is one of those senior leaders who is good at delegating tasks, but not at delegating decisions or leadership responsibilities, so he wants every decision, big and small, to go through him. Classic case of a person who worries nobody else can do it making that fear into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Recently the company has been going through a reorganization, which has been distracting him from his normal micromanagement. Because he’s not inserting himself into routine work and making himself a bottleneck as much, my team has been knocking it out of the park — about 20% above our targets on the year, largely attributable to better process efficiency.

The thing that’s confusing me is this: The better my team does, the more moody and resentful he seems to get. If I, as a manager, had a direct report who was firing on all cylinders, I’d be thrilled. Yet, the better my team does, the more sour he looks, the more he makes backhanded comments to me in front of my team, and the more dismissive he gets of my ideas and input. I don’t get it. He’s the sole owner, so it’s not like I can threaten his role.

I’ve been looking for a new role for a while, but for personal reasons I don’t have the freedom to be without an income right now. So in the short term, I need survival strategies to keep myself sane. What’s driving this behavior of his, and what can I do to keep the peace while I continue my job search?

He feels important by feeling essential. You’re threatening his self-image by showing that not only is he not essential, your team actually performs better with him out of the way. A more secure manager would think, “Great! I’ve hired great people and set them up well, and their achievements are a credit to me.” (And even if they couldn’t take any credit, they’d recognize that having a successful team under them was still good for them.) But he’s not a secure manager, so he feels threatened and resentful.

You have two paths. You can decide to ignore his moods and resentment and keep knocking out achievements that you’ll parlay into a better job for yourself. Or you can choose to cater to him a bit: find things to let him weigh in on so he can regain some confidence and feel important again, give him credit even where it’s not deserved, and generally play to his ego a bit so that his ruffled feathers are smoothed. Which you pick should probably depend on how much ability to has to affect your day-to-day quality of life, how petulant he’s being, and which you have the stomach for.

2. Should I contact my husband’s old company about how bad his boss was?

Should I tell the HR person of my husband’s former supervisor’s inappropriate and incompetent managerial skills?

My husband was hired by a company under the old department head. His direct supervisor did not like him for the role, and expressed that to my husband. The department head left, promoting the supervisor to department head. Since then, the training my husband was supposed to receive has been lacking to none, he was written up for asking questions about a new skill he is learning, and he was put on a PIP a month after being told everything was going great. None of the items on the PIP were addressed prior, denying him the opportunity to improve before a PIP. Three weeks after he comes off the PIP, he is fired, without a conversation to improve. Directions given throughout his tenure were incomplete and vague, yet the chief reason for his firing was that he failed to follow instructions. Essentially every instance where the manager was supposed to support and improve, he set my husband up to fail, all while telling my husband to his face that everything was going fine.

The company culture purports to be supportive, open to initiative, and embracing of the skills people bring. It claims to encourage people to think outside the box, use their skills in creative ways, and propose new solutions. For my husband’s role, it also required someone who could work independently. His boss was none of those things in action, and barely in verbal context. Essentially his boss set my husband up to fail by not being clear on expectation or instructions and moving the goal posts with every task. My husband would finish a task, his boss would say good job, and then a week later would pull him aside and tell him how he didn’t do a good job on the task. Not there in the moment, when it would have been appropriate, not the next day – a week. The toll of this repeating over and over caused mental anguish in my husband. He would come home feeling good about himself and proud of his work and then suddenly would come home and say things like “I’m such a loser” because of some interaction with his boss where my husband thought everything was going well, and out of the blue his boss would say something to the opposite. He’s a bad manager, and as a manager myself, this behavior is appalling to me.

You should not contact your husband’s former company on his behalf. It would be incredibly undermining to him, and it wouldn’t carry any weight with the company. They don’t care what someone outside the company who they have no relationship thinks about how they manage people, and any merit to your message would get overlooked because of the weirdness of a spouse weighing in. It would get talked about, but not in a good way.

Your husband had a bad boss. It happens. Your husband sounds like he was really suffering from the experience, and that’s hard to watch as a spouse. But your role is to support him, not fight his professional battles for him. You can help him see who he is and who his boss is, but you can’t seek justice with the company or set the record straight there or tell off his old boss. The impulse to do those things is very human, but you don’t have the standing to do any of them in an effective or credible way, and they’d make the situation worse, not better.

3. My boss gave me thank-you money in secret, but it feels like hush money

I work as an office support member. There were some minor issues with some seasonal employees in my area who didn’t like some changes I made, so they went to one of the bosses who abruptly dismissed the changes and put old ways back in place.

Fast forward to after our busy season. A week ago, my boss called me to his office and thanked me for all my hard work and gave me several hundred dollars — stressing it was from him personally, not our firm, and not to tell anyone else about it, and specifically stating not to tell the other bosses or aforementioned coworkers.

Although I didn’t know the exact amount of money at the time because it was folded up, it felt a little weird. I asked several times why he was doing this, and he assured me it was a thank you.

I have held onto the money for about a week. I’m a single mom and could use it, but it just felt like a strange situation, especially since it was done in secret.

A couple days ago, I just found out that the other bosses knew about the issues previously mentioned and are unhappy with those employees and that particular boss for undermining me. Suddenly it hit me — I think he was giving me a sort of “hush money” to make him feel better and to buy my loyalty. Am I wrong?

Although I could use the money, and he has demonstrated generosity in the community, I feel like this makes me beholden to him and is just not professional. Am I wrong? If not, how do I give it back without creating more issues?

I don’t see any reason to assume it’s hush money, like that he’s paying you to not talk about what happened. Using money to make you feel better, yes, but not hush money. It sounds like he felt guilty about what happened and wants to smooth it over, so is handing you some cash from his own funds and hoping it functions as an apology/morale-boost. A smoother boss might have taken you to lunch or bought you flowers. Cash makes it weirder, but it doesn’t mean it’s hush money. I read it as “I F’d up” money.

To be clear, if it will feel like hush money to you, you shouldn’t take it. If you’ll feel obligated not to raise issues you’d otherwise want to raise or to downplay what happened, you shouldn’t accept the money. And if you’d just feel better returning it, do! You could say, “I appreciate the thought, but I don’t feel right taking it, especially if it’s something others aren’t supposed to know about.” But I think you’d be fine keeping it if you want to and if you can see it purely as appreciation and nothing else and if it won’t make you hesitant to speak freely.

4. Should a 25-minute interview trump a year of great performance?

I’m a reading teacher. My job was a one-year position that became permanent, which is why I had to interview for my current job. I received “stellar” reviews in all four observations and throughout the year. I voluntarily attended meetings to learn, grow, and become part of a new school community. I went over and above because that’s my nature and they noticed this.

Admin urged me to apply, saying the job was 90% mine. I prepared for the interview and I didn’t rest on my laurels. The interview didn’t go well. I was very nervous despite how prepared I was.

They said that the interview didn’t go well and that was the sole reason they didn’t pick me. They choose another candidate who has never done the job. I am not overqualified for the job. Can a 25-minute not-so-great interview really trump 150 days of a “stellar” performance?

It depends on specifically what happened in the interview and what made it so bad. If you were just nervous and stumbled through a few answers, no, that shouldn’t trump what they’ve seen of you on the job. On the other hand, if you couldn’t answer key questions or answered crucial things badly — not just fumbling a little, but truly badly … well, maybe. I’d still hope they’d compare that to what they’ve seen of you actually doing the job and allow for nerves, and maybe even suggest a redo, but I can also imagine interviews going badly enough that they could end up being prohibitive.

It’s also possible that they were bound by internal hiring policies. For example, if they score candidates on a rubric and commit to hiring the best scorer, the interview could definitely do you in, regardless of what your actual work on the job has been like. (And if they do using a scoring rubric like that, they might not be able to offer a redo on grounds of fairness to other candidates.)

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