my boss is upset I went over her head, I overheard damaging gossip, and more — Ask a Manager

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

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

1. I went over my (bad) manager’s head and she’s upset

I work in a very specialized field of medical research, on a very small team. Shortly after I was hired, upper management filled the vacant role of my team’s manager with someone who has no direct experience in this type of research (though she does have a background in a scientific discipline related to what we do). It’s been a nightmare. Aside from having to train my own manager in a complex field, she is also a weak leader, and a lot of things go right over her head. One of her major oversights was not arranging for coverage while she and all the other members of our team were traveling internationally for 2-3 weeks (all PTO that she approved); this meant that I was the sole person providing coverage for nearly two weeks. As a result, I am nearing burnout from overwork.

When a change in upper management resulted in more support for our team, I started to talk to my grandboss about the issues that I feel stem from my manager’s lack of management skills and absence of relevant background. I guess the grandboss had a meeting with my manager to discuss a number of unacceptable issues that had occurred, including the lack of a coverage plan for absences. After this, my manager called a 1:1 meeting with me. She told me, in pretty specific detail, about her meeting with management. She was visibly upset and asked if I had anything I needed to talk to her about. Even though I have already brought up some of my concerns with her in the past, I (delicately) went through them again, and she was incredibly defensive. She kept saying that the criticism she got was just a matter of opinion, and it was unfair to receive discipline for it. She said there were no bad outcomes as a result of the issues they discussed, so she didn’t understand why they were problems. I had to explain that her lack of a holiday coverage plan meant I had to work every day for 17 days straight, and it made me miss out on time with my family; I consider that a bad outcome. The meeting ended with her in tears. It was incredibly uncomfortable.

I like her as a person, and I feel bad for going above her head, especially now that I’ve seen how upset she was … but she really just sucks as a boss. I was already resentful of the extra work her ineptitude has created for me, but now I feel super awkward at work too.
How do I move forward with this? I have a suspicion that she was put on a PIP, which would make anyone upset. I want to support my team and the research we do, but this is too much for me to take.

It sounds like you were absolutely right to go over her head since when you did, her boss agreed these were serious issues that needed to be addressed. Your boss’s meeting with you afterwards was further evidence of lack of management skills; she shouldn’t have put any of that on you — and I suspect her boss would not be happy if they knew she did that.

In any case, her feelings about her boss’s feedback on her work are hers to manage; don’t let her make them yours. If you have decent rapport with your grandboss, I’d seriously consider filling them in on what happened, and definitely keep them in the loop on any additional problems that occur. It sounds like they’re on it, and that’s a good thing.

2. Senior colleague disparaged self-defense training for women

Yesterday I was at a legal department meeting and mentioned I was taking advantage of some of the great training courses my company has offered lately – an AI boot camp, a CPR class, and a self-defense training course.

I’m a paralegal, and a senior attorney asked why I’d want to take self-defense training. At first, I thought he was kidding and I said, “Take a look at me, I’m tiny and getting old.” (I’m female, almost 60, and weigh about 110 pounds). He persisted though, and I realized he was serious. He started into this rant about how people are “so afraid of everything these days and for no good reason.” I was incredulous that he would have to ask why a woman might be interested in learning to defend herself and said, “Attorney, if you have to ask me that question, I don’t think I can have this conversation with you.” He kept pushing so I said, “I’m a woman, Attorney.” He responded that it has nothing to do with being a man or a woman. I said, “Of course it does” and repeated that I couldn’t have that conversation with him.

Then he says, “Seriously, who do you know that’s ever been attacked?” I just turned and walked away from him. I wasn’t going to tell him in front of all those people that I have been attacked and I personally know several women who could have used self-defense training in real life (who doesn’t??), not just to ward off an actual attacker, but to learn to avoid danger and to gain confidence that you can take with you going forward. I was so angry I was shaking!

After that, he ignored me. He wouldn’t make eye contact or anything even though he was sitting near me. He’s acting like I disrespected him or something by walking away from him. I’ve known this attorney for eight years. He’s very adversarial and loves a good argument, but we previously had a pretty good relationship so this saddens me — but I’m also super pissed. I don’t know if I should try to get through to him to salvage the relationship, or wait for him to apologize to me (because really that’s what I think should happen). The hierarchy also plays into it, as he is very senior to me and it would serve me to stay in his good graces. I’m not sure where to go from here.

Can you just leave it alone and see if it resolves on its own? It’s possible that the reason he wouldn’t make eye contact with you afterwards is because he realized he’d F’d up. Simply proceeding as if everything is fine may let you both move forward, especially if you look for an opportunity to have a normal work-related interaction soon, where you can demonstrate that you are behaving normally, which may make him more inclined to as well.

To be clear, he should apologize to you. With the hierarchy and politics of a law firm, he may not.

3. I overheard coworkers spreading damaging gossip

I work in a community hub-type location. It’s a place where many service providers spend time in order to reach vulnerable people, which means that I have regular but brief contact each week with employees from many different community locations. Everyone generally plays well together in the sandbox, and we pride ourselves on collectively problem-solving on behalf of participants. There is no hierarchy and no one is in charge.

Here’s the problem. I recently overheard two service providers (Jane and Barb) talking smack about another service provider (Ann) to each other and to someone else in the community on speakerphone. What they were saying was petty, untrue, and could be damaging to Ann’s professional reputation. (Think: taking something vulnerable that Ann shared during a moment of extreme emotional overwhelm and making it a defining point of her character.) I despise drama and tend to stay out of anything that could turn into a brushfire, but I am wondering if I have some sort of moral responsibility to warn Ann that these two might not be trustworthy and it might be a good idea to keep some walls up when interacting with them moving forward. Also, I am on the fence about whether or not I need to bring this up to Jane and Barb as well.

I have a very good relationship with all three, but now I am questioning whether or not I misperceive my relationship with Jane and Barb. Ann will be blindsided by this, so there is a good chance that I have also been, um, discussed. I love our working environment and I don’t want to cause problems by stirring anything up, but ignoring it feels icky too. Thoughts?

I’d be most inclined to say something to Jane and Barb directly, pointing out that what they said was untrue and harmful to Ann’s reputation (just as you’d presumably hope someone would do if they overheard something similar being said about you).

Talking to Ann herself is more of a judgment call, and it has the risk of creating more drama … which doesn’t necessarily make it the wrong choice, but you’d want to factor it in. If this seems like a one-time thing, I might just call it out with Jane and Barb directly … but if you see repeated evidence of them using things Ann trusts them with to trash-talk her, then you do have more of a responsibility to discreetly clue her in.

4. How much notice to give when you’re the only employee

How much notice should you give if you’re leaving as the only employee in a small department or business? And does it change if the business has a hiring process long enough that there’s very little chance of being able to directly train a replacement?

Two weeks. The purpose of a notice period isn’t to give your employer time to hire and train a replacement; very few professional jobs would be able to do that in only two weeks! It’s to give you time to transition your work to whoever will be covering in the interim and answer questions about key projects.

Obviously many employers would like more notice, but two weeks is standard even in this situation. (And that’s a good thing because otherwise it would make job-hunting much more difficult; lots of jobs won’t wait months for you to be able to start.) That said, the manager of anyone in a position like this should be making sure the work is always documented and the employee isn’t the sole repository of crucial knowledge — since job changes aside, anyone could be hit by a bus tomorrow and no notice is ever guaranteed.

5. Announcing a pregnancy when you’re remote

I read your advice about announcing a pregnancy at work, but I’m having trouble applying some of it to my situation because I work 100% remotely. Telling my boss was straightforward since we have regular 1:1s, and I told HR after that. But now I’m not sure how to tell my coworkers.

My work is very project-driven and involves close collaboration with another team. I do not have regular meetings with this team where I could share the news, and sending them a random Teams message seems rather unnatural and attention-seeking. If I worked in an office, I would tell each team member in person (e.g., at lunch or when we’re arriving to or leaving work). Is an email appropriate or is that too attention-seeking? Should I ask each team member for a quick Teams call? In case it isn’t clear, I do not manage this team, some of them are peers and others are diagonal to me in the hierarchy.

An email isn’t attention-seeking, and it’s easier and faster than setting up separate calls with everyone. An email is a very normal way to do it (and you could even do one group email to everyone you want to tell).

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