Friday, August 17, 2007

Boss’s Personal Life is Ruining my Job

I'm in a very big dilemma and request absolute anonymity due to the fact that there is actually a publication ban on the ongoing legal matter with my boss.

My situation is this: I'm an Executive Assistant to a Vice President of a high profile public company. We have worked together for six years and although we get along great, he is very moody and we have had the odd run-in over the years. About a year ago he confided in me that his ex-partner (he's gay) and he had split up and that he sensed things were going to get nasty. Well, they got nasty all right. My boss has a child through a mutual friend of his and his ex-partner. The ex-partner is going after joint custody of the child and has also been blackmailing my boss by threatening to expose him in the company, the papers, etc that he is gay.

I have tried to be supportive, but feel that I've been put in a position whereby I can't say no to my boss. I have been asked to attend court with him, accompany him on the drop-offs and pick-ups of his child when the other party gets visitation, field calls from his ex-partner, photocopy legal documents well into the evening hours, etc. It has made it difficult to focus on my own job and, furthermore, he is taking all of his stress out on me. He snaps at me constantly, slams the door and doesn't talk to me for days on end. I don't feel I can go to our Human Resources department because I don't want to reveal too much of what is going on, although everyone realizes something is going on because my boss, usually a very well-dressed individual, has let himself go, doesn't focus in meetings, etc. The long and short is that no one knows he's gay let alone what is going on in his personal life.

How do I handle this? I've tried to talk to him about the way he treats me and he just snaps at me that it's in my head, which it clearly isn't. I fear he's going to fire me and I would like to know if what he has put me through in the past year will pull any weight as far as getting a good severance package. I know that he can't fire me without cause, but I think what he's trying to do is make me miserable so I'll quit because he fears that I know too much now and doesn't want to risk keeping me. Do I quit or do I tough it out and wait to see what he does? If I do quit, should I quit due to what he's put me through the last year and consult a lawyer?
--- Anonymous

by Jeanne Knight, JCTC, CCMC, Career and Job Search Coach

How difficult it must be for you to watch your boss’s behavior change before your eyes. It sounds like you had a nice relationship with him until his personal life soured, and then his behavior changed and he’s been taking his stress out on you. You are definitely in a tough spot and I’m afraid to say there’s no easy solution. The fact that you have tried talking to your boss and he has not validated your feelings or apologized for his behavior tells me that the situation will not change anytime in the near future. This means you have just a few choices.

One option is to try talking to him again, but to wait until a time when he appears calm and rational. Timing is everything, and picking a time when he seems relaxed, in an amicable mood, and open to a professional conversation will increase your chances of him truly hearing how difficult the situation is for you. You don’t want to speak to him in an accusing manner, for that will only cause him to be defensive. Instead, share with him how badly you feel for what he is going through and then explain that there have been times when you have felt uncomfortable with the interactions between the two of you and that you miss the way the two of you interacted in the past. Be very specific about what you’d like changed, for example, saying something like, “I understand how stressful your situation must be for you, but sometimes I feel that you snap at me for no reason and I find that really uncomfortable. I’m happy to talk anytime you’d like, but I really need to not be snapped at in order to get my work done.”

If talking to him doesn’t seem feasible, then you need to decide if this is a job you want to stay in, as I suspect his behavior will not change, which could put your job at risk. It’s always best to leave a job before being terminated, even if severance is part of the termination package. Leaving on your own gives you a sense of empowerment that can be lost if you leave because you’ve been asked to.

If he does fire you, then getting a severance package may be difficult because you’ve not made Human Resources aware of the difficulty of your situation. They will have a tendency to hear only his side of the story, and by then it may be too late to share your side and receive severance. So I would seriously consider moving on to a situation that is interesting and challenging, with a manager who treats you professionally and with the respect you deserve.

This is the one aspect of the situation that you have control over, so I urge you to take advantage of that. Update your resume so that it reflects your greatest skills, experience and accomplishments, and then start applying to positions you would find interesting. Do that now while you’re still employed and your self-esteem is still intact. If asked why you’re leaving, you can simply state that you’ve been with your present employer for a long time and it’s time for a change… you’re seeking new challenges and growth opportunities in a different environment.

Since you can’t change your boss’s behavior, the best strategy is to take advantage of what you do have control of. Try talking to him again if that makes sense. Otherwise, your best bet may be to move on to a position that you feel comfortable in and can thrive at. Good luck to you!

Jeanne Knight is a certified Career Coach/Resume Expert who helps senior professionals and executives navigate career transitions. She offers career and job search coaching as well as resume writing services. She is also the creator of “10 Steps To Interviewing With Confidence”, a 60-minute DVD program that offers a step-by-step process for succeeding on interviews.

Susan Ireland’s Two Cents
Once you’ve found your next job, you’ll be in a good position to leave the one you currently have (and your boss and his problems). William Nichols says:
Though you may have fantasized about telling your present boss to take this job and, well, you know how the song goes, there is a right way and a wrong way to quit a joband just up and quitting in a bout of anger is definitely the wrong way. The right method of quitting a job means formally resigning from your position.
In his post, Proper Technique for Quitting a Job, Nichols goes on to explain exactly how to make the break.


Melissa said...

Dealing with a difficult boss is not un-common. Dealing With Divas, written by Shelly Anderson is a book that explains how to deal with difficult bosses, or a difficult work enviornment. I loved it and highly recommend it.

Susan Ireland said...

Thank you, Melissa!