From an employee perspective on when to go to human resources
I started out my career working in the hotel industry, where there was a clear set of rules as to who to report to. If you had an issue with your manager, or what they told you, then you went to their manager (“chain of command”). It was more like a military framework or a supervisor and subordinate hierarchy model.
Your manager and your manager’s manager (and higher ups) usually had more experience than you. If you and your manager did not get along, you had to learn how to upwardly manage. You learned how good management in action can go well, and by default, how bad management does not.
Management is so different in different work environments and in today’s world. Management is complex and your manager can be less experienced (and younger) than you. Your manager can be in a different remote location than you, changing the office dynamics.
When I went to work in the technology industry, managers had many cross-functional “dotted lines” to other manager. Lines were blurred. Reporting to a manager was more like having someone to “sign off” your time sheets and day-to-day responsibilities.
This cross-functional manager’s role was to manage a work function and area, and not so much serve a supervisory role. For example, you could be the only graphic designer on the marketing team which is managed by someone with a different skill set.
You could be less dependent on your team to get your work done. Or you could be part of a team with individual responsibilities. You could work with other departments without your manager’s approval. That usually is part of your job to get your job done. Interdependence.
You love your job if you love your work. And if you love your boss.
In good organization’s they will even “fire” their customers, if their employees are mistreated. The cost of an employee is much too valuable.
But what if the company or organization you work for doesn’t have good management (mismanagement)? Which then trickles down, and heat boils down to your managers. And they come across to you as mean, hard, or impossible to work with? Essentially, you hate working for your manager.
“Hate” is such a strong word, but let’s be real, many employees use this word to describe their job or manager. You can hate your job, but love your boss, and be happy. They provide you with support and the possibility of new responsibilities. But if you don’t like your boss, then you are miserable (at least during certain times) at your work.
Your tough manager could be a micro manager where they watch your every move. Like “Big Brother” from George Orwell’s book 1984. That was required reading for me in school.
In micro managed situations, your manager could treat you unfairly or even bully you. If the latter, then they are giving you frequent destructive feedback (written or in conversation) or making you feel like you “have your tail caught between your legs”.
But, they are your manager, after all. So you have to comply and do what they tell you to do, right?
Your manager can make or break your work life, which can be 35–60 hours per week for full time employees.
If they are a bad manager, they may not have learned how to properly manage. They may be in the process of learning, and you unfortunately, are one of their guinea pigs to practice on. You may have to work with them and endure through their lack of experience (until they get experience). But if they target you in the form of micro-management, then you need to learn how to address them head on.
What to do if you report to a micro manager?
First, over communicate — share everything you are working on and copy your manager on every email (unless and until they tell you to stop). This type of manager especially does not like surprises and operates on fear.
Reasons for their micro-management style could be:
They may not get along with their boss (or feel unsure around them).
They could feel like his or her job is in jeopardy, whether or not that is truth.
They could be new to the company or organization, and/or previously had been reprimanded for not performing or doing something correctly. They are protecting themselves.
They could have come from other work environments where they were micro-managed, and modeling repeated bad behavior. Micro-managing may be effective in the short-term but not usually in the long-term. Most employees like being managed (for structure), but not micro-managed.
They could be managing direct reports (like you) for the first time so they want to keep a “tighter leash” (to your demise).
In any case, don’t over analyze, fix the problem!
Ask your manager, “what can I do to make your job easier?”. I know that’s not why you were hired, but by knowing and performing this to some degree, you will have a better relationship with your boss. You will learn what makes them “tick”. You may have to ask the question several times to get the “real” answers. They may give you canned answers in the beginning, like providing your individual performance goals only. They could open up more as they get to know you, and learn to trust you.
If they work over hours regularly, then they probably have too much on their work plate. Maybe you could help tackle some of that work (if you are meeting your given goals)?
If they work remote and you have few chances to meet in person, ask if you can setup a phone meeting if they aren’t communicating with you regularly. Any meeting will be better than none at all.
Meetings or conversations will help give you a clue as to where your manager’s head is at, as it relates to you and your responsibilities. You will have something to think about, instead of the last thing that they told you to do, which could be ancient history. Direction provided to them for what you are working on (affecting your work), could’ve already changed by then.
If after you’ve been trying, what if your manager and you do not get along?
-Know that your manager is under a different set of goals and rules. They have direct reports (at a minimum, you). They have responsibilities managing you. Try to understand this and see it from their perspective. Perhaps they hate their job. Not an excuse, but try to see them as a human and not an ogre.
Find out your manager’s best free times to meet and best ways for them. Remember, micro-managers like for you to over-communicate.
How and When to Go to HR
- If problems arise (like you feel like you’re in a workplace bully situation) and you don’t know what to do, you have the option to go to your human resources (HR). If your company or organization has a solid and functional human resources department, then one of their main jobs is to protect employees. They should serve as a third-party, not biased towards titles and roles (but remember they work for the organization so be self-aware in conversations, that they will protect that first).
- Keep your focus on improvement and sell yourself to them, that you are dedicated to the organization so they will want to work on your behalf. Leave coming up with potential solutions up to them.
- The less you go to HR with separate complaint cases, the more they will trust that you are not just a complainer. Be respectful to this HR representative (and his or her time) as they could be your biggest liaison in the workplace you are in. It is not often safe to go to your manager’s manager with problems about your manager, as they most likely will side with your manager. They could’ve probably been the one to approve the hiring of your manager, so there is not looking bad to the company (“saving face”), at stake.
- Document all your meetings with your manager (recording dates and times), with an overview of what you discussed, what went well and not well from that meeting. Things should improve as HR works with your manager and you.
If you are still having an uphill battle over a reasonable amount of time, then it may be time to seek other opportunities. Life is too short to be miserable and live with long term stress. If you decide to “stick it out” then try to leave any unhappiness for the day in the office or at work. Do something healthy after work like take a walk or go to the gym. Tomorrow will start a new day (with new possibilities). And the weekend is just days (or a day) away.