Today we’re tackling overstepping boundaries in the workplace.
Three weeks ago, “Keith,” a senior manager in the company I now work for, hired me for an administrative job. Normally, the office manager hires the administrative assistants because she supervises them, but she had just left on a three-week vacation when the last assistant unexpectedly quit. There was a lot of administrative work backlogged, and the senior manager took it upon himself to interview me. We hit it off, he hired me and I started feeling excited about my new job.
I asked him for my marching orders and he said, “Full steam ahead. Clean up the backlog.”
During my first few weeks, I found many inefficient systems that needed revamping and set about making improvements while tackling the backlog. Yesterday, the office manager returned and made it clear I worked for her. Instead of being grateful for what I’d accomplished, she immediately ordered me to undo all the positive improvements I’d made.
Apparently, she’s steamed I wasn’t hired with her approval. Worse, she acts like I got my job because the manager “liked” me. When the senior manager came into our department yesterday, she asked, “Keith is coming by, should I leave the two of you alone?”
This comment made me feel slimed, but I can’t go to HR because the office manager handles HR.
I’ve made it clear to this woman that she’s messing with the wrong person when she takes me on. I’ve told her that I don’t want her job and she’s not going to run me off from mine; she apparently ran off three prior assistants in the last two years.
How do I fix this?
How to handle the dilemma
Keith started the problem by telling you to motor full steam ahead in your supervisor’s absence. You compounded the problem by revamping systems. If you want to turn this around, view this situation from your supervisor’s perspective. When she returned from vacation, she discovered she supervised a new employee she hadn’t chosen. Not only that, this new employee changed things around without asking her.
You’ve tried to fix this by telling her you don’t want her job. Your comment reminds her you think you could get her job and indirectly insults her for not wanting her job.
None of this excuses your supervisor’s catty comment. She either resents you or has issues with Keith. Exercise caution, as she’s apparently run off three prior assistants.
If you decide you want to keep this job, change your course. While Keith hired you, the office manager supervises you. Now that she’s back, realize that she created the current systems and that you need to work in partnership with her if you want to change them.
Consider what part of this problem you own. Did you overstep your boundaries when you took Keith’s go ahead on the backlog as permission to change your supervisor’s systems? Could part of the problem be that you come on too strongly? If so, rein yourself in.
Alternatively, you may decide to take on and eliminate your supervisor. If so, contact Keith and outline all you’ve learned and how you can improve the situation. When a fourth employee lets senior management know that a supervisor mired in a backlog ran off three employees and may run off one more, senior management may decide “one too many.” While you take a risk if you escalate this problem; it could pay off.
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