Q: My supervisor is gunning for me.
When I got my job, it was not with his blessing. He wanted a friend of his hired but was out of town when HR called with the hire offer. His friend apparently turned down the salary, thinking he was a shoo-in for the job and could negotiate a higher wage. His attitude ticked off the HR manager, who called me, the No. 2 choice.
I immediately accepted, excitedly taking the job. I didn’t know there’d be a problem or why my supervisor flipped out when he learned I’d been hired. Apparently he was told he was stuck with me because the rest of the hiring committee favored me and I’d already started work. I’ve also since learned my supervisor is in some kind of power struggle with another supervisor who was part of the hiring committee. This supervisor is the one who later told me the back story and said I should just hang tight, that my supervisor would relent once he got used to me.
This other supervisor is not, however, the one who has to put up with allegations that I shirk assignments, regularly arrive late to work, intentionally or stupidly fail to follow my supervisor’s instructions or most ridiculously, that I took an afternoon off without filling out a PTO slip.
Despite this, I want to stay with this employer as they’re the leader in our industry. What should I do and how do I protect my reputation?
A: If you’re sure you want to run this job gantlet, keep careful notes documenting the situation -- and keep them off-site. You accepted a job offer in good faith and deserve fair treatment. If you don’t eventually receive fairness, your notes may gain you the protection you need to keep your job or at least save your reputation and provide you a hefty settlement to cushion your search for a less complicated job situation.
Next, build in layers of protection. From this day forward, email your supervisor or another supervisor a note the moment you arrive in the morning. These notes can be simple confirmations of the day’s assignments or priorities.
At the end of each day, send your supervisor, a co-worker or even yourself a note confirming what you’ve handled that day or the next day’s projects. These emails serve as an audit trail affirming your attendance and on-time arrival.
You can’t be accused of failing to follow instructions if you send professionally-worded emails confirming your understanding of each major assignment’s scope and schedule and complete every task by its deadline. When your supervisor makes baseless criticisms of you, for example saying you shirk assignments, ask him which ones and let him know you’re ready and able to prove yourself. If he gives you a landslide of tasks intending to bury you, ask him to prioritize them so you can complete the most important first. Confirm your understanding of these priorities by politely-worded emails. Your professionalism and good work may earn your supervisor’s grudging respect and even turn this situation around.
If not, reach beyond your supervisor to build your reputation in your company. Arrive at all meetings on time, mentally present and prepared. Take your new co-workers to lunch and casually ask the about your department. What you learn about the power struggle may provide you all the answers you need to navigate this situation. Visit the HR manager to let her know you appreciate being hired. If she asks you questions and you feel you can answer professionally, without trashing your supervisor, brief her on the situation.
Finally, no one deserves to have to hang on by their fingernails to a job they accepted in good faith. If things get worse, take your story to the level above your supervisor -- or give me another call.