The setting for my question can be found in another one right here on Workplace SE. To make it seem like a continuous story, I'll re-use the names for my coworkers.

It's now been a little over a month since Jake left us. We (as in me and Bob) tried to employ suggestions posted in the great answers there (apart from quitting, for now) with very little result. We feel the message was acknowledged, but not agreed with.

This week the manager in question went for holiday. Since day 1 we started receiving mails and calls to basically give him status updates on every single minute of our work time. This quite baffled us, as we were, up to this point, a pretty much self-managing team, which worked quite well, we handled cooperation, contact with our, let's say, clients, coordination of testing etc. (the only times we missed deadlines were because of things out of our control, but we always made sure to report, inform and do whatever we can to speed up the process). While, as explained in the linked question, due to the amount of work for me and Bob deadlines started slipping, we took it onto ourselves to keep the interested parties in the loop, why was their task delayed, by how much, how can we minimize the impacts and so on. Pretty much everyone understands that time is not magic, and if we don't have time now, they are fine with the new timeline, just keep them updated and provide honest estimates so they can plan around it.

An example would be that Bob (whose work time is 7 hr 40 min, as we get 20 min paid break), gave him a daily update with times he spent on his tasks which totaled to just short of 7,5 hours. He was then questioned extensively what was he doing for the remaining 10 minutes or so.

I found it (and Bob too) absolutely ridiculous, and we basically are 90% sure we will hand our resignations when he comes back, since, for reasons not know to us, the workplace is getting worse by the day.

We decided, however, to give it a last go to try and understand what is happening here, as we enjoy being in the team, the employees we work with and general atmosphere.

The question is: How can we, in a non blaming/overly confrontational matter discuss the issue of sudden behavior change with our manager? We received no feedback from anyone that something is wrong with our work, or that we need to improve on something, or anything. It's quite literally going 0-100 in a matter of 1 day. Morale has been down since everyone is wondering is it something we did, have we lost trust because of something etc.?

  • 1
    By discuss you mean try to understand him and perhaps help him overcome whatever affected his behavior? – DarkCygnus Jun 28 at 16:14
  • @DarkCygnus yes, you put it very nicely. – Yuropoor Jun 28 at 16:28
up vote 6 down vote accepted

If you are "basically 90% sure" you will hand in your resignations when the manager comes back, then you have nothing to lose. So just discuss it. How?

Focus the conversation on the objective problem rather than the person. The problem is that you are being held accountable for your time in ways that you are not used to and do not find useful as far as tracking and improving productivity goes. Your manager appears to act under the assumption that holding you more accountable for your time will solve whatever problem he has. So task number one is to find out what problem he is trying to solve.

The manager's attention to time tracking, and his assumption of wasted time unless it is tracked more closely, is a symptom of a problem, but not the root cause. The root cause is whatever he is trying to change through such behavior. So focus the conversation on two things:

  1. Ask what challenges are driving a greater focus on time tracking. Do you see how this differs from asking 'why are we being tracked more closely' (accusatory)? You don't want to ask about why X is happening to you. Instead, ask what is the issue that is causing X to be happening.

  2. Ask how you can be part of the solution. Right now he obviously sees you as parts of the problem. You want to get past that. 'We understand that tracking our time is a priority. We would like to know what issues and challenges are you facing that are requiring closer attention to time, and how we can assist with solving for these things, rather than potentially be making things worse. We are concerned that focusing just on our use of time might be taking us all down the wrong path. Before we get too far along down that path, we want to take a step back and see how we can help you address the larger issue driving this. Are you able to share any information that could help us problem solve this together?

If despite your best efforts the conversation goes nowhere and it is clear that no progress is being made, then you may need to play the resignation trump card. If your manager values you, it might be enough to hint at the fact that, say, "you find the way things are going unacceptable, and are afraid that it would not be feasible for you to carry on in this environment."

Another tactic is to present options instead of an emphatic "then we resign." A statement like that closes the door on negotiation and causes entrenchment in existing positions.

On the other hand, you could say: "It looks like we have a couple of options here:

  1. Option one is we work together to resolve whatever the bigger issue is that is driving your focus on time on task. We will be happy to troubleshoot this for you and with you, but we will need some flexibility in how we manage our time and our work, and how we account for and report it.

  2. Option two is things stay as they are. However, this approach makes the working environment difficult for us. The unfortunate downside is that you could potentially loose two qualified employees taking all of their experience and knowledge with them. We are not sure if this will make things better, but we wanted to bring this up now so there are no surprises later.

If he doesn't budge, well, then you have your answer. Good luck!

So, one other question is : Do you need to have such a talk with your manager ?

So far, in your story, there is no mark of consideration, nor estimation, nor even a blame, about your work from your manager.

To sum it up from an extern point of view, he/she just bump Jack out, then without consideration even after all your warning, just keep the way it is (you doing x2 work). Then, he/she start investigating about 10mn of non-work time in the office (everyone need at least 10mn in a day to clear his mind at a moment, it's a well known fact).

Put it like this, it sounds like they maybe want you to quit no matter what. I don't know anyone doing their job done who will not leave after being treat like this. And, moreover, there is absolutly no logical reason that could explain such behaviour from a manager with a decent one until today.

To conclude, I see only two option (but, again, with only my opinion and experience) :

  • They just want to bump you out and the rest of the team too (that could explain a bit the manager behaviour), and don't want to give you a notice. It's a toxic way to do it, but at least it could be logical in some mind ?

  • Your manager is going through an existential crisis. (Well, I'm short on idea I have to admit).

After saying that, the question make sense : What do you expect from a talk with him/her ? So far, I can't see even the tiniest interest for you and Bob to have a talk with, even if you really enjoy your work. As it was said in the previous chapter of your story, this is a seriously toxic workplace.

In conclusion after considering it : Polish your CV, and just leave before it became worse.

I hope you will be fine with this. Kind regards.

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