A reader writes:
I'm working at my first full-time job, and I've been here for just over a year. The company is pretty small, only about 20 people, but still much larger than my last job where there was about six of us. We were all very close, and any issues were usually dealt with quickly and in a friendly manner. Smaller things were ignored - we figured that everybody did something that irritated other people, and we all learned to let the small things go.
At my new job, I'm having some issues with my manager and I don't know what to do. I feel like they are small things, but there are so many of them that I find I am stewing over them constantly when I am at work, making me snap at others, and I am brooding over them at home, making me a bore to my family and friends. Things like:
* He constantly checks his email when he and I have meetings in his office.
* He often talks for 20 minutes about his personal life in meetings and then wants to race through the work issues I need to discuss because he has another meeting to get to.
* Not giving me enough information about tasks, and ignoring requests from me for the missing information, which results in me stuck halfway through a project.
* A lack of energy in projects not his own - anything he wants has to happen immediately, anything I request happens when he feels like it, after two or three reminders, or when the General Manager asks for an update.
* A lack of willingness to understand what other people do, and very bad listening skills; he constantly cuts people off and interrupts them.
* Not keeping any company stationary in his own office and when he wants an envelope, etc. he walks over to my desk and goes through my pile of envelopes without even asking me, while I'm sitting at the desk (rather than go to the stationary cupboard).
* Having a "sense of fun" and a "relaxed atmosphere in the office" which equates to him doing and saying things I dislike and find completely inappropriate for a work environment. On one memorable occasion, I returned from two weeks away to find a colleague who sits right outside his door would flinch every time I screwed up a piece of paper. When I asked what was going on, she said the manager was now in the habit of screwing up paper and throwing it at her. This has now stopped, but I am stunned that he thought it was acceptable in the first place!
My problem is that I don't know what to do about this. Other people in the office have approached me about these issues and feel the same way. The manager is a nice guy and I'm sure would feel awful that we feel this way about him, but it is really affecting my enjoyment at work and my ability to do my work in some cases. There are no performance reviews where I can anonymously let him know how I feel, and I know it would be excruciating to say this to his face, so what should I do? The work is actually very boring, and there is no possibility of advancement, so I'm looking for another job anyway. Should I just deal with it until I can go?
Sometimes when you're frustrated at work about legitimate issues, smaller things start to take on a life of their own and irritate you in a way that they wouldn't in a different context. I think that might be going on here.
You have a job you're bored in and a manager you don't like or find supportive. You're looking for another job, but meanwhile, you're letting yourself get upset about some things that are the sort of thing you're likely to find in any job. My advice is to step back and separate the substantive issues from the ones that are just irritating you because, well, you're irritated.
Let's take these one by one:
He constantly checks his email when he and I have meetings in his office. This is annoying, I agree. But he's also your boss and -- I hate to say it -- it's his prerogative to do it. The most you can do is to say something like, "Should I come back at another time?" But in the end, this is one you should just try to ignore; you're going to encounter it from many future bosses, I'm sorry to say. (For the record, I don't advocate it, but I do know there have been times when I have a million things going on and I need to glance at my email in a meeting. I would never do it in, say, someone's performance review meeting or just to distract myself, but there are certain times when I think the boss is entitled to do it.)
He often talks for 20 minutes about his personal life in meetings and then wants to race through the work issues I need to discuss because he has another meeting to get to. Talking about his personal life when you need to be talking about work is not good. Try to head this off as soon as you sit down for the meeting, by announcing at the outset that you have a long list of issues to get through. If that doesn't work, respond politely to whatever off-topic remark he makes and then bring it right back to what you need to talk about. For example: "That sounds like you had a great weekend. Well, what I wanted to ask you about was ...." Approach it as if the onus is on you to get the time you need from him. Not necessarily fair, but it'll be more effective.
Not giving me enough information about tasks, and ignoring requests from me for the missing information, which results in me stuck halfway through a project. Be aggressive here too. Do what it takes to get the info you need from him, or find other ways of getting it. Sometimes it can work to be very specific about your need, saying something like, "I need to talk with you about this by tomorrow afternoon or I won't be able to complete it by the deadline." If this doesn't work, consider having a big-picture conversation with him, asking him how he would prefer you handle such situations.
Sometimes people, particularly people early in their careers, assume that the responsibility for making sure they have what they need to do the job is their boss's. But in fact, it's yours. A good boss will check in with you and proactively ask what you might need to move things along, but you can't let your own success rely on having a good boss; they are few and far between.
A lack of energy in projects not his own - anything he wants has to happen immediately, anything I request happens when he feels like it, after two or three reminders, or when the General Manager asks for an update. I don't know enough details here, but you're going to have a lot of bosses who want their requests dealt with immediately, while yours have to wait. It's the nature of hierarchy. It's not necessarily evidence of unfairness or bad work habits -- some bosses genuinely are always triaging work, and other projects may rightfully take priority. As the boss, they're obligated to make those calls, so this is one of those things to try to accustom yourself to. (I feel like I'm killing your spirit here with all this "get used to it" advice. Sorry!) That said, it's entirely possible he's disorganized and unmotivated; I just don't know enough to say. So keep in mind that this is legitimate in some cases and evaluate his behavior against that backdrop.
A lack of willingness to understand what other people do and he constantly cuts people off and interrupts them. Some managers interrupt because they just need the upshot and not all the details they're being given. Some managers interrupt because they're rude and self-important. I don't know which yours is, but either way, the best way to handle this is going to be to "manage up" -- consider it your job to find a way to get across to him the info he needs to know in order for you to do your job effectively.
Not keeping any company stationary in his own office and when he wants an envelope, etc. he walks over to my desk and goes through my pile of envelopes without even asking me, while I'm sitting at the desk (rather than go to the stationary cupboard). This is one of those that I think wouldn't much bother you if you weren't already aggravated. Try to ignore this ... or give him his own personal supply of stationary and envelopes to use.
Having a "sense of fun" and a "relaxed atmosphere in the office" which equates to him doing things like throwing crumpled paper at people. This is weird, without question, but it sounds like your manager is more socially awkward than anything else. (This made me think of Michael from "The Office," in fact.) This is another one where I'd advise just seeing it as a quirk but not letting yourself take it too seriously.
Ugh, now I've completely crushed your spirit and told you to suck it up and deal. But here's the silver lining: If you can figure out how to work around whatever issues this manager may have and get what you need to do well, you're going to have set yourself up with a really valuable skill that will serve you well in future jobs. Plus you'll have learned it way earlier than most people. So for the remainder of your time there, see this as an awesome opportunity to hone some very useful professional skills. (And suddenly your job isn't boring but rather a fascinating course in managing your manager!) Really, in a lot of ways, first jobs are more about learning these kinds of workplace survival skills than they are about anything else.
I hope this wasn't too discouraging. Let us know how it goes. (And others, please chime in with your own thoughts!)