Business/Economy

New manager on high horse critiques employee’s personal life in performance evaluation

Question: I loved my job until seven months ago. That’s when our former chief executive officer retired and our board hired “Tim.” Tim’s decided it’s his job to critique not just my results — which even he agrees are excellent — but my methods and personal life.

Tim has lived a sheltered life. He married his childhood sweetheart and joined the Air Force. He’s very proud he’s on his “first and only” marriage. He regularly comments on politicians and others who are divorced.

When he left the Air Force, his father-in-law hired him. They sold their company just before the pandemic hit. While this may have been luck, as no one knew the pandemic was coming, Tim considered it “genius.” Tim took his share of the money and got a master’s in business administration. He now thinks he knows everything about everything.

What’s scary is he controls my future. Unless I “please” him, I won’t receive future raises or bonuses. Yesterday, he gave me my first performance appraisal. He started by saying, “You could be so much more than you are.” He told me that while clients love me and I produce great results, I needed to work in a more structured manner. Tim wants everything documented at a micro level in Excel spreadsheets. He loves Excel.

When I said I didn’t need Excel spreadsheets for my projects and could provide him detailed, bulleted summaries, he said, “Your refusal to organize tightly and to do what’s asked of you are problems.” When I said I wanted to use organizing methods that better fit my projects and working style, he said, “Since you bring “style” up, you need to upgrade your personal style. Others don’t take you as seriously as they would if you dressed more professionally, in blazers rather than sweaters, and styled your hair. And again, your stubbornness and unwillingness to accept feedback might be why you’re on your third marriage.”

I was speechless.

I know the simple answer is quitting, but I’ve worked here for five years, and like my coworkers and clients. I like everything except Tim. He’s a short, prejudiced man who doesn’t like tall, independent women. This makes us oil and water without my even opening my mouth. What can I do?

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Answer: Tim doesn’t control your future. You do. While Tim affects your job satisfaction, you have four options. You can go undercover, go along to get along, approach your board or a regulatory agency, or resign.

Many employees who view their managers as jerks choose undercover status and silent defiance. Without knowing more, I don’t know whether this might work for you or whether Tim has valid concerns about Excel documentation. Those who work in a structured way often want to impose their methods on those who accomplish good results in a freestyling manner. If your lack of Excel use poses problems to your coworkers, Tim may have a relevant concern.

If you choose to go along to get along, give Tim the spreadsheets he seeks and invest in a blazer.

Tim inexcusably stepped over the line when he commented on your personal life. Nothing in his managerial role gives him this right. Tim did what many do when they vault onto their superior high horse because they’ve benefited from luck or good circumstances. Because you’ve had more than one marriage and he remains married to his childhood sweetheart, Tim assumes this makes him a better person. Perhaps you made bad marital choices or possibly you had more challenges than Tim and are now a stronger, better person than Tim will be because of the lessons you’ve learned. Regardless, multiple marriages have no bearing on your job.

Next, does your board of directors have a policy that allows employees to file a grievance with them? If so, consider doing so. Your five-year track record and good results give you leverage, as does the fact that Alaska, like California, Connecticut, Florida, Delaware, Illinois and Washington, prohibit marital status discrimination. Although one comment alone rarely constitutes discrimination, marital status discrimination protects employees from employer discrimination due to their legal status of being married, single, separated or divorced. If your board members have common sense, they’ll tell Tim to stop his personal jabs. If not, start taping Tim’s comments about divorced people, particularly if he again chastises you, and file a complaint with the Alaska Commission on Human Rights or the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission.

Finally, while you like your job, you may want to vote with your feet and go out the door.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Navigating Conflict,” “Managing for Accountability,” “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully,” and workplacecoachblog.com. Curry is president of Communication Works Inc. Send questions to her at workplacecoachblog.com/ask-a-coach or follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10.