A reader writes:
I work in a cultural/academic/non-profit institution, and am part of a professional community small enough that I don't wish to identify it, lest one of my colleagues identify *me*.
I should say that I love what I do for a living. It's a calling, I spent a lot of time in graduate school preparing for it. Some days, I really couldn't be happier.
Those are the days when my boss and most of the other people who "work" with me are not here.
There are really more personnel problems than I can reasonably describe, but I'll give you the Top 4:
1) My boss allows an unqualified volunteer to perform a skilled, essential function that he is profoundly unfit to perform. Said volunteer is also inappropriate, indecorous, insubordinate and all-around annoying. He argues with us when we assign him tasks, he comes in earlier and stays later than allowed, wanders the building bothering people, and generally behaves like an unsupervised child. I have repeatedly approached my boss about all of the above issues, and while he agrees with me, he WILL NOT discipline or replace this person. My attempts to correct his behavior are ignored.
2) Another volunteer (also profoundly unqualified for his duties) is incredibly rude to me, and has made sexist, racist, and all-around inappropriate statements to me, to my boss, and to coworkers. I have documented such statements, and have had 4 meetings will my boss about this individual. My boss even agreed with me that this person should be terminated…then I went on vacation. When I came back, he was here, and here he remains.
3) A member of the paraprofessional staff is insane. She does no work, and is so horrible that she actually drove away her gifted and qualified supervisor. Despite no specialized training in our field (and a part-time paraprofessional position), she feels she is entitled to order around/abuse the professional staff, and she refuses to learn simple tasks like changing toner in the photocopier (and I mean REFUSES. As in "I will not learn how to do that, so stop trying to teach me."). She's also a classic whiner who complains about problems, but refuses to do anything to solve them, even when given tools and support. She's worked here over 20 years.
4) The boss will not deal with any of this. It's almost like these people have something incriminating on him, the way he lets them get away with murder.
I love the people I serve, and the one employee I supervise. But I feel trapped. I can't absorb Problem #1's duties, since we're already so understaffed. I feel I've done everything right with Problem #2, but to no avail. I wait anxiously for Problem #3 to retire. I pray Problem #4 wins the lottery and retires in Tahiti.
For my long-range career plans, this job is perfect, but the people are making me homicidal.
Thanks...just the venting feels good at this point. Keep up the good work!
You don't have four problems. You have one big problem: your boss.
You can try to reason with him and plead and use logic, but ultimately there is only one thing that solves the problem of working under a boss who is afraid to take action. I'm sorry to say that it's this: Leave, and go to work for a boss who is willing to do his or her job.
I know that's not an easy solution. But in my experience, it is the only long-term solution.
Your manager is profoundly flawed, in a way that nothing you do can fix. He is allowing his desire to be nice and avoid unpopular/difficult decisions to trump his fundamental obligations as a manager -- obligations like holding the bar high and expecting people to adhere to it, warning them when they're falling short, and taking action when warnings don't work.
And what is happening to you now is the irony that all such wimpy managers spawn: In their quest to be liked, the opposite happens. Because problems go unresolved, good employees get frustrated and end up hating them.
Are there short-term solutions? Maybe. Depending on your relationship with your boss, you may be able to badger or cajole him into taking action on some of this, or to give you the authority to handle it. Or you may be able to find discreet ways to go over his head to bring the problem to his boss -- but if he's being permitted to get away with this basic abdication of his duties, chances are good that the boss above him is the same flawed type.
But in the long-term, absent a boss who will make him do his job (likely having to push him through it every step of the way), this stuff isn't going to change. You have a boss who isn't interested in or willing to do his job. To have long-term happiness, you're going to need to find one who is.
All that said, there is one good thing about a boss like this: They provide inspiration for the rest of us, as a model of what not to do. I worked for a boss like this early on in my career, and I ultimately quit over it. It's no exaggeration to say that having worked under someone like that has formed the foundation of my own management philosophy and approach. Now that I manage other managers, I make sure none of them do this to their people -- we say the hard things, have the uncomfortable conversations, and take the difficult actions. And I'm convinced everyone -- even the people on the receiving end of those tough conversations -- is better off for it.
So admittedly, your letter tapped into a major obsession for me. And perhaps others would tell you to stick it out, let it roll off your back, blah blah. And that's certainly an option. But if you find yourself a manager willing to manage, the impact on your quality of life can't be overstated.