When it comes to your job, your work environment is more important than some people give it credit for. Just think, you could absolutely love the responsibilities assigned to your job and be amazing at those responsibilities, feeling a huge sense of accomplishment and achievement as your complete each of your tasks. But coming to work were there are catty co-workers, overbearing supervisors, passive aggressive conflict resolutions, constant overtime that goes un-thanked, all of those enjoyable aspects of your job seem to pale in comparison.
It becomes particularly complicated when your boss or supervisor is the source of the problem. Being in a superior hierarchical position from you can create a “your word against mine” scenario and make you feel as though you have no professional allies. Sometimes the environment is blatantly unhealthy, for example, your boss criticizes you for your age, religious beliefs, appearance, etc. Or it may be more subtle, for examples, proper boundaries were never set and now it is assumed that you will work an insane number of hours every day with no extra pay or compensation otherwise you are “slacking”.
Because of their position of authority, handling the situation becomes a very nerve-wrecking endeavor that can cause a great deal of anxiety. However, for the sake of your long-term sanity, the situation needs to be addressed and handled. Here are a few suggestions for how to deal with this situation properly and maturely.
- Sit down and discuss the situation with your boss directly. Yes, this prospect could sound absolutely terrifying to you, and it is most certainly easier said than done, but it is the best way to try to solve any misunderstandings that may be involved and demonstrates respect. Depending on your situation, it may require a conversation where you present the topic by touching base with your boss to make sure that your dynamic is as effective and productive as possible for both of you. Or you may need to explain to them that sometimes you feel the way they address you is inappropriate and suggest preferred communication practices. If executed properly, with all due respect and professionalism, this can be a great conversation to set up professional boundaries and troubleshoot the boss-employee relationship.
- Follow up with your boss if the behavior happens again. If you boss reverts back to old habits and items that you addressed during your discussion pop up again, immediately (or as soon as you can speak to them alone) point it out to them as a real-time example of that behavior.
- Bring in HR to act as a moderator. If the troubling behavior continues further still, it’s important to alert your company’s Human Resources Department. You need to discuss the matter with them in a way that is calm and professional, using specific examples so they can best and fully understand the situation (this is why that second step is so important). You will need to be prepared for HR to bring the matter to the attention of your boss and, depending on your company’s HR procedures, that may be alone or with you in the room to discuss the matter openly together. This is why maintaining your professional integrity at each stage is so important.
If you are not in the room discussing with your boss and HR representative, ask HR for a follow-up as a simple confirmation that they acknowledged and addressed the issue (any further details may be confidential).
- If the problem persists after that… If the problem continues even after HR has intervened, you must continue to keep HR in the loop. As always in a professional and mature way, inform your HR representative that the behavior is continuing as you need to help them accountable for stepping in and taking action.
Unfortunately, some problems wind up with one party or the other leaving and when the conflict is with a supervisor, it is often the employee that steps away and leaves. While this may be unfair, it is an outcome where, if the problem is serious enough, you need to plan ahead for. Taking care of yourself, while remaining respectful of all parties, is of the utmost importance in these scenarios. You should never work in an environment where you are miserable and planning ahead for all feasible options, including leaving your current company, can help to give you back a sense of control and put you back in the driver’s seat.
Knowing yourself and what is the best path for you to take will be a conversation that you will need to have with yourself as you decide how best to take action. During this time, it can be very valuable to have a life coach, professional mentor, or trusted friend to analyze options with, but ultimately the final decision must be yours.