Did I just recommend s*cking up?

Photo by: iampeas

Photo by: iampeas

This week I contributed to the “Nine to Five” column in the Globe and Mail, responding to a burning question by an employee whose boss is playing favourites. A couple of online readers interpreted my recommendation to mean that the employee should s*ck up to the boss in order to get his/her contract renewed. (Hint: If that were really what I meant, I would have surely added, “You kids and your ‘healthy work environment’! You’re lucky to have a job!”)

Here it is. What do you think?

Reader Question:  I have been having issues with my manager since before Christmas. I kept my feelings to myself until recently, when I found out that others were having similar issues. In a team of four, my manager and one other team member have become very close, to the point that it often seems as though there are only ever two people in our meetings. It was also evident recently, when the team member in question had a few days off and our manager failed to come into the office to say good morning and check-in.

I feel that my manager’s behaviour presents an impression that she only values one team member’s feedback and advice. It has become so bad that an eight-year veteran of the office resigned unexpectedly a few weeks ago. This is a particular concern, since I am on contract and would like to renew at the end of August, but I feel as though that will be severely hindered if my manager has any say.

How do I raise this issue of team dynamics and make her aware of her behaviour without it being perceived as “petty” and ruffling any feathers?

My Answer:  You want to find a nice way to say to your manager, “You’re playing favourites, everybody knows, and I have proof.” Truth-telling, even delicately worded, is risky. As a coach, I help people clarify their goals and the path to get there; I typically encourage risks. In this case, I’m not convinced it addresses your immediate priority: keeping your job. I agree that a conversation with your manager may improve your working environment, but if the contract ends in August, it nullifies the issue.

Your focus must be proving your value, because it’s being overlooked. Update your manager twice weekly on your work, offer insights and ideas that support her goals, and relay positive feedback from others. Ideally, speak in person and follow up by e-mail. (Bonus points for copying other stakeholders on relevant “wins.”) Granted, it may be uninspiring to launch this one-way campaign, but it’s your best shot to get your contract renewed.

Implementing practices to cement your renewal will have the side effect of strengthening your relationship through frequent connection. If your manager’s behaviour is still subpar, bring it up after a few weeks. Instead of pointing out your manager’s favouritism, make it about you. (Just you, not your colleagues.) Reflect on what you need that you’re not getting – for example, opportunities to contribute in meetings. Brainstorm a whole list. Then choose the items that would have the most impact on how you feel about work. Explain to your manager with an optimistic smile how these changes can help the team and also why it’s important to you.

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Please allow me to further clarify: No one should have to suffer in a demoralizing work situation. I’m simply suggesting the employee be cognizant of the order of operations in trying to solve the problem. First, if you believe positive change is possible, solidify the job by shining a light on contributions that matter from the manager’s perspective. Second, give the job a fair shot by getting clear on what’s missing and asking for what you want. Third, reassess your progress and employment options after a couple of months.

This is not about rolling over and conceding to do whatever makes the manager happy. That would be entirely giving up power. Rather, this approach is about fully embracing the power this brave individual does have in the situation.