manager trashes me behind my back, promoted without a raise for a "test period," and more (2024)

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I reported a manager, who’s now trashing me whenever my name comes up

I need a gut check here. This has been really bothering me but I’m not sure it’s really a big deal or if I just need to be more resilient. I previously worked on Manager A’s team. He engaged in some fairly blatant EEO violations against me. The violations were substantiated and my company’s solution, which I agreed to and found satisfactory, was to move me to Manager B’s team. I do not know whether there were additional disciplinary actions taken against Manager A (nor would I expect to know). The nature of my work dictates that I still must work very closely with Team A, despite reporting to and being evaluated by Manager B.

Since then, Manager A has continued to disparage me to my coworkers, ranging from the innocuous (e.g., facial expressions when I am talking or when my name comes up) to direct statements to them intended to question my judgment and competence. Usually I hear about this from peers on Team A, and often from multiple people saying the same thing. These coworkers mean well and are trying to keep my apprised (not intentionally stirring up drama), but I have recently asked them to stop sharing this information with me for my own mental health. I have also directly asked Manager A to address any concerns about my professional actions to either me or Manager B, to no effect. If it matters, some of the previous EEO behaviors leading to my changing teams involved Manager A threatening to poison my references in retaliation for my participation in a protected activity.

I am not overly worried about damage to my professional reputation — unsurprisingly, Manager A is widely known to be a terrible person and a terrible manager — but there is always a possibility. The primary problem is that despite my best efforts, I feel awful at work and second guess everything I do. Is this worth bringing up to HR? Manager B is alright, but extremely conflict averse and unlikely to intercede in a meaningful way. Our HR department is generally solid, which is why right now I feel like that is my only option/a good option, but I am afraid of coming off as a whiner.

It’s not whining to point out that Manager A is actively engaging in illegal behavior against you! And it is illegal — federal law prohibits managers from retaliating against employees for making good-faith complaints of harassment or discrimination (which I assume covers the EEO violations you mentioned). In fact, lawyers generally have a field day with retaliation cases, because retaliation is often much easier to prove than the original charge of harassment or discrimination would have been. If your company’s HR is even mildly competent, they’ll want to know that Manager A is opening them up to this kind of clear-cut liability.

Go back to HR and frame it this way: “I appreciate your handling of the EEO issues I raised about Manager A. Unfortunately, since then he’s been actively retaliating, such as (fill in with details of what he’s been doing). I know that federal law says managers can’t retaliate against employees for making harassment or discrimination complaints, so I wanted to bring this to your attention and ask for it to stop.”

2. How can I get team members to contribute equally to group tasks?

I am on a team of eight where some people have varying degrees of motivation to get work done. A few members end up doing way more work, including routine, maintenance, and other unsavory (but very necessary!) work that everyone is responsible for helping out on but they end up doing the lion’s share of. Another subset will spend endless hours doing personal things (reading news, Reddit, etc.) and will do work but only when prompted. My other co-lead and I have gotten some comments and have directly observed this dynamic get worse over the last few months and have decided that we need to change how things are done. Are there different ways we can track and make sure people are contributing? And how can we do this without being overly childish or demeaning towards our group?

I can imagine us implementing a chore wheel or some other type of schedule based on different tasks, but I also want to be sensitive that we’re all adults and not bleed into micromanaging.

Do you and your co-lead have the authority to simply assign work? Because that’s what you should be doing. You’d of course like to think that you could count on people to take equal shares of the work simply because the need has been pointed out to them, but what you’re seeing is that that’s not happening. You could try a meeting with the whole group where you explain the problem and ask what solutions people can suggest — and that meeting itself might prompt some people to take more of their fair share, just by calling out the issue — but unless that results in a fairly immediate realigning of who’s doing what, you need to just start assigning it.

Don’t use a chore wheel; people will find that infantilizing. You could use a work version of that, though, where you rotate tasks throughout a month or quarter — but you need to be prepared to actually assign the work rather than waiting for people to claim it voluntarily. The latter just punishes your most conscientious team members, who will step up when they see no one else is.

my manager delegates to the group rather than to a person

3. My company wants me to start a new job without a raise for a “test period”

I have worked at my company (fintech startup) for three years in a primarily “soft skills” role and have recently been “promoted”(I use quotation marks because it is not finalized even though I have already taken on new responsibilities) to a more technically-focused position. I do not have official, resume-based experience relevant to this job title but have demonstrated aptitude over the past few years, hence the transition. This new role comes with an increased salary and requires cross-country relocation. Relocation, while difficult, is something I am willing to do.

I’ve just been advised that my new compensation, which is on the lower end of the industry standard for the position but higher than my current salary, will not be effective until I’ve been in the role for four months, contingent upon a successful “review.” I have been given no indication what a negative review would mean. Meanwhile, I am meant to start in my new role next month.

This seems outrageous to me. I’ve been doing the work for my new role, in addition to my existing responsibilities, for months as we are a small startup. If we hired a new employee, they’d be paid right out the gate, not given a reduced salary for four months as a trial, and no new hire would accept this salary for the position. I have not had many white collar jobs. Is this normal, or are my employers trying to take advantage of me and save some cash because I’m already bought in to the company?

They are trying to take advantage of you because you’re already working there, they know you want the promotion, and they think they can.

To be fair, they might legitimately have concerns about how you’ll perform in the new position; you’re untested and they might be taking a risk. They might figure that if they were hiring externally, they’d be hiring someone with a more established track record who wouldn’t be untested, and that they’re paying you less at the start because they’re giving you a chance they wouldn’t give otherwise.

But you also are taking a risk, with a cross-country move! And there are better ways for them to handle this; they could, for example, start you at the lowest end of the salary range and say that they’ll move you to a higher number after X months, as long as you’re performing well. And they could spell out specific metrics they want you to meet first, so that everyone is on the same page about exactly what will warrant the higher salary.

On your end, it’s reasonable to say that you’re not prepared to undertake a cross-country move without a firmer commitment from them, and that if you’re doing the work, you need to be paid fairly for it, just as they would do with an outside candidate. I would not get on a plane to make that move unless you’d be okay with finding yourself still paid at your current rate five or six months from now.

can I refuse more work without a raise?

4. My boss and I both respond to the same email requests and duplicate each other’s work

I have a coworker who will need something from a vendor and it’s my job to get those things as needed. She will email our boss and copy me, asking for it, but she does not place either of our names in the body of the email — she will just say, “I need X.” Then, if anything is unclear, my boss and I (who are in different offices) ask the same questions and we both reach out to get the thing.

Since I am his direct assistant, it makes more sense to me that she should ask me and copy him, freeing him up to do more important things. I have asked her to email me and just copy him so that he is in the loop, since he likes to be copied on everything, but we trip all over each other to get things.

Please help! If she emails him and copies me, do I ignore it? Then he may think, “Why is my assistant not getting this?” He also admits that he “gets in the way.” Maybe I should ask him what we should do when both of us are emailed so that we are both not fetching the same things or emailing the same people for the same things. Or maybe when she emails us both, I should reply right back and say, “Do you want me to get this or you?” But I think this is not a good use of time.

Everyone knows me as the one who loves to assist and be a team player. I just find this annoying as it happens a minimum of 15 times a day!

I think you’re looking to the cc field to solve this — thinking that if only your boss were cc’d instead of being in the To field, this would all get clearer — but I doubt your boss is paying that much attention to whose name is where, and he sounds like someone who’s going to rush in regardless.

Instead, you need to talk to your boss and come up with a clearer delineation of labor so that it won’t matter who is or isn’t cc’d, because there will be a clear system for who handles what. Ideally, through that conversation, you’d reach an understanding that you will handle all the requests this coworker sends unless you specifically flag for him that you need his help with something — and that he should assume you’ve got it handled unless you say otherwise. Even more ideal would be if you proposed that he not be copied on these requests at all, since including you both is causing confusion and duplication of energy! Can you point that out to him and ask if you can experiment with a week where he’s not included at all, and see how that goes? He might not agree to this, since he apparently likes to be included in everything, even while admitting he gets in the way, but it’s reasonable to propose and, who knows, he might be willing to try it if you present it as a short-term experiment rather than a permanent change.

5. How can I get people to spell my name correctly?

I have a really common name that has a couple variations on how it can be spelled (think Ashley/Ashleigh, Erica/Erika). In my professional career, I have had many people misspell my name. I don’t make a big deal out of it, but more and more often I’m seeing people who seem to consistently use the wrong spelling of my name, especially in emails (FWIW, my name is my email address, so it’s not like they don’t see it). I even had one guy who I worked with for over a decade who never once spelled my name correctly.

As I’ve said, I’ve never made a big deal out of this, but I started a new position in the last year and I’m seeing this kind of thing start again with my new coworkers. I’d like to professionally nip this in the bud without seeming like I’m going to be a pest about it. What’s the best way to put this forward (particularly in an email setting)?

You can try. Some people will just never get it (I say this as the possessor of a similar name), but you can try.

The first time it happens, you can write back, “By the way, it’s Erika with a K.” If it keeps happening, you can try, “Please note my name is spelled Erika.” Most people will make a good-faith effort to at least try to spell it correctly after that. But some just won’t — maybe they have someone in their life who spells it Erica and it’s ingrained in them that way, or who knows what — and there are only so many times you can correct people before you start looking like the infamous “don’t call me Liz” person. Obviously it’s your name and people should get it right, blah blah. And yet this is still the case. (As evidence of this, you spelled my name wrong in your email to me about name misspellings! I don’t care at all — but it underscores how common it is.)

You should certainly expect and insist that your name be spelled correctly in printed materials, but in casual emails … well, life as a one-L Alison tells me that sometimes it’s going to be wrong, and it’s much better for your peace of mind if you can choose not to care that much.

(Personally I never bother correcting people unless it’s from a close friend or relative or if it’s on something official, because to me it becomes more annoying if I have to put any energy into it. I did once correct my then-young niece because family should know better, and then for years she insisted on writing “Allllllllllison,” which she found extremely enjoyable.)

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manager trashes me behind my back, promoted without a raise for a "test period," and more (2024)
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