When the company I worked for hit the skids during the pandemic, a large national competitor bought up our assets and client list. They also took aboard our best talent, including me. Although I once ran a branch office for a national corporation, I decided to step down into a lesser role when my husband and I moved to Alaska so I could spend time with our kids. Since I’d always loved technology, I took a job in IT. Like others who secured a position with our new employer, I breathed a sigh of relief. As my kids are now grown, I like the idea of working for a national corporation with advancement opportunities. That was before I met “Karen,” our Alaska office branch manager.
Karen held an initial meeting with those of us being onboarded. She outlined what she expected of everyone in her branch. I wanted Karen to know I was glad to join the new company and called it “our” company. She startled me by bristling at my words and responded, “Our company but my branch”.
Since then, and despite everything I’ve done to build rapport, our relationship has grown worse. Although I was told I report to the corporate IT manager, Karen let me know she supervised me because I worked in “her” office and that she would conduct my performance reviews. This didn’t bother me. I’ve always been appreciated by whoever has managed me. Also, the corporate HR manager told me the leadership team considered Karen a rising star in the company.
Karen makes it clear I’m not to send emails she hasn’t pre-approved to anyone on our corporate leadership. When I told her the corporate IT manager set challenging targets for me, she loaded me down with multiple low-level “grunt work” projects with tight deadlines. I’ve been told she’s disparaged me to my coworkers. She also “forgets” to invite me to meetings, making it hard for me to perform key elements of my job.
Because I know I need to build bonds with the coworkers who don’t yet know me, I’ve offered to provide in-office training for them. Karen told me she’d allow that after I’d proved myself. When I outlined my first quarter accomplishments to Karen, she belittled their importance, saying she felt my predecessor had laid the groundwork for them.
Yesterday, Karen showed me a log she’s keeping of my tardiness. Although I regularly work nine-hour days and am often the last to leave the office, her log shows each time I’m even two minutes late in the morning or returning from lunch. It doesn’t show my departure times.
I’m not sure what’s going on, and I don’t have anyone to ask about this. I also don’t know if it matters, but we’re both African American and the only two African American individuals in our branch. What do I need to do?
Three possibilities come to mind. Karen may simply not like you. You may have qualities or behaviors such as arrogance, pushiness or a refusal to follow office protocols that get on her nerves. Or, and most likely, your presence in “her” branch threatens her.
Here’s what leads me to suggest that. Your corporate leadership views Karen as a rising star. She may feel you intend to share that limelight and possibly outshine her. She may sense your ambition, having heard from others that you’re excited to be in a larger corporation that allows advancement. Since you’ve managed a branch office, she may worry you see her position as your next steppingstone.
Her actions — loading you down with low-level tasks, forgetting to invite you to meetings, downplaying your accomplishments and disparaging you to others — are ones an insecure manager might use if threatened by a competent employee.
Here’s what you need to do: Maintain your professionalism. Assess your own behavior and see if there’s anything you need to change. Acknowledge your manager’s authority. Build a strong, positive relationship with your IT manager.
Reduce the ways in which you appear to be a threat. Don’t broadcast your interest in advancement — unless your IT manager wants to know if you’d like a position elsewhere in the country. Avoid entering into a power struggle with her; right now, she has more power than you do.
Keep a record of what’s been happening. At a minimum, be prepared to counter your manager’s record of the times you’ve been minutes late by documenting all the times you’ve stayed late.
Finally, you may need to research other positions, as your manager may be building a case against you.