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I've received nothing but praise for months since I started working as a developer at this company. I've introduced a few changes (scrum, Slack, peer review) that upper management loves. Suddenly, things changed.

My direct manager does not like some of the changes. It seems like he doesn't like change in general (he started this job while I was still in primary school, and he is old enough to be my father), and I suspect he fears I may be after his job.

His goal seems to be to get rid of me. He gave me an official warning for something I didn't do and retracted my scheduled raise. He gives me solo tasks that would take a team months to do and complains when I don't finish them quickly. He's telling upper management I'm doing badly. He's setting me up to be fired. He has the authority to do so, only my contract doesn't allow him to do so without cause.

I know about CYA. I'm logging my hours, writing down as much as possible, making a plan, etc. I successfully negotiated an internal transfer to a different team, but that doesn't happen until I finish this project that is way over my head. I need to protect myself until I'm ready to transfer.

I've carefully polled my coworkers on what they think of my manager. Other developers don't trust him and don't want to work for him, even other employees managed by him (except one, who gets all the projects). I can't really get the other managers to comment.

How would you advise I handle this? Go to upper management (all employees are on first name basis with the CEO)? Go to HR? If so, what do I say without sounding paranoid? Gather evidence and hope he doesn't fire me before I can switch teams?

I have noticed that upper management seems to be setting up some extra checks on our team. And they approved of my transfer. Maybe they're on to something.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    How does 'nothing but praise' = official warning and retracted raise? And how were you implementing these changes without your direct managers permission or him excercising a veto? – Kilisi Sep 28 '18 at 9:27
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    @Kilisi First comment: I suspect the manager fears I may be after his job. Second comment: One example: We were discussing peer review in a break, a team member suggested I pitch it in the next team meeting. I did. Team was enthousiastic, manager wasn't, but said "we'll try it". – Anonymous Sep 28 '18 at 9:36
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    @Kilisi The warning and raise retraction happened pretty recently. I've been putting my head down since. But I do not intend to be mediocre because I might hurt someone's pride. – Anonymous Sep 28 '18 at 9:44
  • How "way over your head" is the project after which you can transfer? Won't teammates help? If they pitch in? if you do overtime? Perhaps there's a ready solution that can be bought? – LIttle Ancient Forest Kami Sep 29 '18 at 15:11
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    It might make sense to change the title of this question. "Thrown under the bus" usually means used as a scapegoat for something that went wrong but [mostly] wasn't your fault. Here it sounds more like you're just being sabotaged by a jealous or irrationally hateful manager. – R.. Sep 30 '18 at 19:09

11 Answers 11

206

This sounds like someone actively trying to sabotage your position in this company. In a situation like this, it's plain bullying. It's time to end the pleasantries and fight back hard whenever anything like this occurs.

So as soon as something like this happens:

He gave me an official warning for something I didn't do

Then you reply, copying HR and the CEO in (if that would be appropriate in your company), and state something to the effect of:

I have received this warning dated (x), for (y). This is a complete fabrication, these events never occurred, and I therefore contest this allegation in the strongest possible fashion. I'd like to request a formal meeting to discuss this matter.

You then attend the meeting with HR, present your version of events with all the evidence you have, and the allegation should go away at that point.

Likewise for this point:

He gives me tasks that take months with a team to do alone and complains when I don't finish them quickly.

You should immediately push back when you get a task in this fashion with a breakdown of the man hours required, ask when it needs to be completed by, and then specifically ask how he's going to deal with the discrepancy between hours and time. (Are you going to be paid overtime? Are you going to be allocated a team? Is he going to drop some of the required features?)

Again, when your raise was taken away - you push back, you ask why, you involve HR, go through the official channels and get it sorted out.

Quite honestly, if it were me I'd be looking for employment elsewhere rather than trasferring within the same company. You never know what influence or friends this manager may have elsewhere otherwise.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Oct 1 '18 at 6:24
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    "In a situation like this, it's plain bullying." is just correct. "sabotage != bullying" – tymtam Oct 2 '18 at 23:42
  • Bullying doesn't necessarily imply sabotage. But falsely accusing someone of something to get them fired certainly does. – berry120 Oct 3 '18 at 8:41
55

I suspect he fears I may be after his job.

Prove him right.

On top of following the suggestions listed by berry120; I'd talk to the head of department and tell them you've introduced a collection of new policies, but they're not liked by your manager - and you'd like to lead a team to prove their effectiveness.

If he doesn't want to use modern practices, that's absolutely up to him; and your effort will be reverted. It will also be his death knell though if you push back and highlight that the practices they like he doesn't. Use the fact that they like what you've introduced to demonstrate that you can keep adding value ...

  • 3
    This is a dangerous gambit from an office politics perspective. Going over a manager's head doesn't align well with "I need to protect myself until I'm ready to transfer". Maybe Anon wins but really why take the risk when an internal transfer is already lined up. – Myles Oct 3 '18 at 18:38
  • @myles "why take the risk" because if you don't take risk, you don't gain. – UKMonkey Oct 3 '18 at 20:07
  • Gain what in this case in specific? Just in terms of cost/benefit analysis there seems like there is a high potential for losing the transfer that the OP wants with little potential for gaining anything. – Myles Oct 3 '18 at 20:20
  • I thing the odds are the other way around... – UKMonkey Oct 3 '18 at 20:49
8

I would ask for advice from HR - as on the face of what you've written it appears your manager is bullying you.

  • gave me an official warning for something I didn't do
  • retracted my scheduled raise
  • gives me solo tasks that would take a team months to do and complains when I don't finish them quickly
  • tells upper management I'm doing badly

...if you have evidence of his negative comments to upper management that would help, though even if you've overheard these comments I'd still raise them with HR. Even though you have your transfer it'll be good for the firm to know why and to help prevent the same thing happening again with someone else. They'll have a process in place which might be better than going direct to senior management / CEO.

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    As @Kilisi has pointed out: do not tell HR you think you're being set up to be fired! – Matthew E Cornish Sep 28 '18 at 10:11
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    Advice from HR? – Strawberry Sep 28 '18 at 12:13
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    I wouldn't go asking HR for advice. That's really not their job. – Strawberry Sep 28 '18 at 12:18
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    "[HR] should be your first port of call when you have issues you can't take up with management." I couldn't disagree more. HR are not there to help you: they are there to perform general CYA for the company and management, and to minimise company exposure for employee-related mess-ups. (They might tell you that they are on your side or act like it. Don't buy it.) Unions, on the other hand... literally there to serve your interests and usually have confidential legal services available for members. Annual dues are probably less than you'd pay a lawyer just for a one-off consultation. – tmgr Sep 28 '18 at 18:04
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    @tmgr The "HR is not your friend" line doesn't quite apply here. This is because the manager's behavior is so egregious that HR's interests in protecting the company and OP's interests in being treated fairly overlap. If HR doesn't take his side, the inevitable lawsuit against the company, should OP pursue it, will be even more black-and-white. – Kevin Sep 28 '18 at 22:03
5

Let me see if I can cut to the core of what you are saying because everyone else seems to misunderstand what you actually have done: you implemented a few soft features like morning meetings and chat software. Upper management heard that a new dev was implementing soft features and naturally they loved it (because all they do is implement soft features and they love to see initiative). Then, when it came to actually implementing hard features (developing software), you are incapable.

Everyone else is impressed by your initiative, but I'm going to be honest, what I see is someone with more gusto than programming skills. A lot of devs come into the industry like this, with much HN/SO/reddit gusto about what software development should be about and minimal skills.

Implementing soft features is easy. Impressing execs in the short term is easy. Developing software is hard. It is a day in, day out grind. Software takes a long time to implement, development takes a long time to get good at.

Take one step back as a process advocate, take one step forward as a grinder. Give it a few years to congeal and crystallize.

As for your manager, he has a real problem on his hands. He has wild card with no real skills. He seems justified in his opinion.

Tone down the divisiveness and just program.

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    I don't think I see anything in the post that indicates that all the OP has done so far has been "soft features". If he's been there for "months" (presumably 3-6) I'm guessing he's done some coding as well. – DaveG Sep 28 '18 at 17:06
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    I don't know what basis there is to conclude the OP is incapable. They could be, or they could be extremely capable, and without more information, we can't know which. They were accepted for a transfer, which might provide some indication that another team considers them capable enough to do the job. The OP didn't say they were incapable of doing the assigned tasks, but rather that the manager complained about how long they took. It's possible that the OP is slower than others or that the manager has unreasonable exceptions, and we don't know which is the case there either. – Zach Lipton Sep 29 '18 at 5:58
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    What are soft and hard features? Is it like soft and hard skills? Do you mean that changes to coding process is a soft feature? – LIttle Ancient Forest Kami Sep 29 '18 at 15:21
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    It sounds like the assigned tasks were estimated by the manager, not the coder. You can't hold failing them against the developer. Especially if the developer knows at the moment of assignment that the estimation is BS. – Erik Sep 30 '18 at 8:14
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    Accusing the OP of being a fraud without any proof doesn't seem very polite. – algiogia Oct 1 '18 at 14:46
2

Here are my top 3 suggestions:

  1. Decide if you want to fight, go, or fight a bit and then go.
    • If you had to introduce peer review then the place cannot be so great
    • If you fight, it may get intense, but you may get amazing experience out of this
  2. Document issues and keep the records. Don't forget private copies.
  3. Don't wait, act now.
1

First, I'm sincerely sorry for you; I've been in your situation just a few months ago.

Whether you plan to leave or stay, FIND A NEW JOB NOW! This is the surest way to CYA and a new job offer is your capital to fight the bully without restraint and without devastating consequences should you lose the fight.

Meanwhile, don't give him the opportunity to emotionally attack you. If he never does his acts in the presence of certain people (e.g. the CEO), make a note of that so that when those people are away and your manager is here, you know to go take a dump or join water cooler chat somewhere else. You want to preserve your physical and mental health as you fight this long, ugly battle.

If he comes to your cubicle because he just saw the code you've assembled under 5 minutes to do an ad hoc one-time test that you shared with your team on Slack, and declares in a voice loud enough for the whole office to hear: "you wrote this wrong, do you even code?" You work him through the lousy but pragmatic code and speak to him in an equally loud voice "... So in this specific case, we arrive at 1 + 1 = 2. Is 1 + 1 not equal to 2?" He would soften his tone, smile at you and try to change the topic or focus on other irrelevant aspects of the code because he just made a fool of himself.

If your manager is also technical and writes programs as part of his job, review his code. You might find vulnerabilities to SQL injections everywhere, amateurish crap fixable with only an extra two lines of code. Hack it and try it (delete a table you created specifically to demo this security hole). Wait for the right opportunity to make a public (or private) display of it.

If your manager ever referred to his subordinates as "brats" in IM, take a screenshot of that and save copies of it. You could also secretly record your manager verbally abusing you if you want to take the risk. Yes, it is illegal to record a conversation without the participants' knowledge and consent, but you need all the evidence you can get your hands on to expose what an a-hole your "manager" really is and how his toxicity will ruin the company. However, only consider doing this if you are sure the CEO is neither stupid, soft nor evil, and also not if that manager is keeping the company hostage, as, together with allies if possible, you're going to talk directly to the CEO as soon as you receive a decent/great job offer letter and present the manager as a liability/risk and totally replaceable employee to the company and help the CEO arrive at the conclusion to fire this bully, or resign on the spot and wish the CEO good luck if this doesn't work out.

Your manager will not stop undermining you. He will give you tasks with tight or impossible deadlines, or tasks that have little to no visibility if you do a great job but high (negative) visibility if you do a bad job, or both. For example, maintaining RDMS databases with very high read and write volumes when you're not even an aspiring DBA rookie.

I was able to judge the CEO at my last job was stupid in my first meeting with him, and his company was held hostage by a senior staff who would soon be joined by a manager bully, so I didn't follow through with my suggestion of bringing this matter to the CEO. Therefore, I don't know if what I've said is sound or even realistic, as I'm not well-versed in office politics. But luck was on my side and I'm now working the best job I've had out of my last 4 in 3 years despite only obtaining a verbal job offer when I gave my notice because I couldn't take it anymore. I wish things work out for the better for you, too. You don't deserve to be treated like shit; he does.

1

I still miss an answer from a more typical western European vision where employees are better protected legally, which applies here since the operator tagged this with the Netherlands.

First of all, in the Netherlands there is something called a trial period (proeftijd), this can be maximum two months, but must be mentioned in your contract (so can be zero). During this period you are at risk and can be terminated more or less at will. So if this is in your contract, be careful during that period. I'd also advice if you get fired within this period to actually try and go to upper management and explain the situation anyway, they may still reverse it for different reasons.

If you're past that period, you are actually well protected and an employer must have good cause to fire somebody. They need something like a clear paper trail of performance issues, unacceptable behavior (e.g. stealing) or a company-wide reorganization. Even more so, they are legally obliged to see if you can function in another position/team. If you're in that situation, forget cover your ass and just go to HR, upper management and explain the situation with as much proof as possible and why you want to move teams. There are a few things that could happen:

  1. Upper management/HR sides with the manager and starts the long process of firing you. You're not worse off than before, have job assurance for a while and can look for another job.
  2. Upper management/HR sides with you but only can give you a new position in 'N months'. Annoying, you still have to work with that manager for a while but after that problem solved. Note that if they give a vague "we'll look at transferring you somewhere in the future", I'd consider this more as siding with the manager.
  3. Upper management/HR sides with you and moves you. Problem solved.

More as a side note, the Netherlands also have laws against workplace bullying. This does include things like intimidation. I'm not saying you can for 100% sure play this card, but it is a backup, certainly if you'd get fired during your trial period. If you mention to HR/higher management you feel bullied by that manager and his behavior is known within the company it's more likely they'll cover their asses by keeping you in a different team. Not ideal and I'd consider this a last resort, but better than unemployment. You can still decide to look for a job elsewhere if you feel that blew your relationship with the employer of course.

-1

This has happened to me recently, and I did transfer within the organisation (different company, same corporation) to a position underneath a CEO who saw my potential and the work I had done and showed his appreciation for them by approaching me with a job offer as soon as the rumour mill reached him.

If upper management is aware of both the success of the changes you introduced and the fact that you introduced them, then there is likely someone there who values your contribution to the company. You built a check with your successes, now is the time to cash it.

Do approach this person directly. You are already in line for a transfer so your goal is not to find a solution or get your manager fired or whatever. Your goal is to secure the successes you have made for the company. Outline the changes and their benefits for the company and voice your concern that they might be reverted after you leave the position. Discuss with upper management that your concern is for your team mates and the success of the team and you want to make sure to leave the team in the best possible way. Ask what steps you need to take to ensure that your legacy lives on without you (in less poetic words maybe) and outline that your manager is a hindrance in this process and not a help, which is the reason you went past him.

Also outline the bullying efforts he has conducted and tell that you fear that he is trying to set you up even now, possibly as a means to undermine the changes made and to sabotage your transfer. This is an important point! You found a solution to the situation, which frankly speaking is a management responsibility, and you acted on it and he is trying to undermine it. This is bad for the company! A conflict was solved and is now being reheated for no reason. This is not in the interest of the company. This is the point you should stress.

If the shit hits the fan, you will be in a 100% better position if you told about it before. I made this mistake and waited until the situation could not be resolved anymore. It came to the point where one of us had to leave. I didn't want his job (too much administrative work) so I gladly went to our sister company instead of trying to oust him. I see you made the same choice, so stop competing with him. Try to reduce the conflict to a minimum but keep CYA.

We have little information about the details of your situation. You need to evaluate these carefully, at best with a person you trust and who knows at least some of it. Spouse, best friend, etc. - not a co-worker! Office politics can be complicated and there are surely details you didn't mention.

Don't underestimate the impact that you can make. In my case, the problematic manager did not survive me leaving. A short time after I changed positions, the rumour mill told me that he is exiting the company "at his own choice".

-1

An alternative perspective:

You are a new developer at the company, but the things you have introduced (scrum, Slack, peer review) are management things. You are undercutting the authority of your manager, especially bringing these things up at team meetings where the manager has had no time to think them over. Maybe the manager doesn't like the scrum style, thinks Slack is distracting, and peer review not a good use of time for the current projects. Maybe they had never heard about them before and resent being effectively forced to implement them... And worse now you are fostering discontent among the team by canvassing their opinions about the manager.

If you want to introduce new processes, go discuss it with the manager first, get them on side with your ideas. Give them time to think about it, and adapt it how they see fit.

Stop doing the rounds, incepting ideas about the manager with your colleagues.

Think if some of the coding criticism is valid - are the tasks really that hard? Put in a good effort to get them done.

It might be difficult, but perhaps you could have a one on one talk with the manager to see what you could be doing better, and maybe clear the air a bit.

  • It sounds like there's a real possibility that this is what's going on! It's also possible that it's a combination of effects: new dev doesn't yet know how to push back against unreasonable manager time demands AND is undercutting the manager by trying to do mgr's job and now fomenting discontent among other staff (not intentionally, but out of naivete--it takes a while in the workforce to "get it"). – bob Oct 1 '18 at 14:13
  • He's undercutting sure, but this isn't the way management should go about rolling back his changes. – user53651 Oct 1 '18 at 14:38
-3

I'd probably stop rocking the boat. When you start working in a new place you need to adapt to their ways of working, not look like a control freak trying to change too many things. Sure you could maybe improve things or whatever, but sometimes it's better to accept things and try to work with the current systems. Trying to change things early on is a great way to rub people up the wrong way.

If you want to implement change, do it slowly and make sure you have the right people on board, otherwise these sort of politics can come into play.

As far as the project being over your head, if a project is over your head then you need to tell someone. The longer your leave it the more serious it will become. Always tell people what resources you will need for a job (including support from other staff). It's important to establish roles in each project.

  • 21
    Not the downvoter, but I do disagree wit your answer: He was doing a good job, upper management liked his changes. Then suddenly that changed. That rarely happens naturally – Martijn Sep 28 '18 at 13:03
  • @Martijn: Does upper management actually know the effect of his changes on productivity (I'd guess not), or are they just hearing some lately-popular buzzwords, and acting like cheerleaders? – jamesqf Sep 28 '18 at 16:06
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    While this may or may not be good advice for his next job, I don't think it will work at his current one. The die is cast, and either he or his boss (or both) is going to lose. – Jim Clay Sep 28 '18 at 16:10
  • I think the challenge here is we're assuming that OP, who is new to their job, is able to make an accurate assessment of their situation. That's often not the case for new employees (definitely wasn't for me when I started) due to the Dunning Kruger Effect. It can take a few years of experience under your belt to be able to accurately assess your job situation. So OP could very likely be reading things all wrong. I think the assessment made in this answer is much more likely, and deserves more upvotes. – bob Oct 1 '18 at 14:19
-4

You are too good for your position.

Of course no one is ever going to tell you that, since it would likely give you hubris.

Instead, they will try to make it so uncomfortable for you that you will start looking for a better suited position. That way, they will have your self image under much stricter checks. Both the current employer and a future employer don't want some guy with uncontrollable hubris.

  • He admitted that he was incapable of doing his position. You only have his word for it that his manager is 'out to get him'. – Jamie Clinton Sep 28 '18 at 17:02
  • @JamieClinton : He could have documented the praise and the raise and the rest of the positive things before the change as well as the negative things after the change. Actions speak louder than words sometimes. – mathreadler Sep 28 '18 at 17:04
  • I just disagree strongly on what actions we are seeing here. I don't see anything important. If he would have said, just once, that he had an excellent track record as a coder, my opinion would be 180 degrees different. – Jamie Clinton Sep 28 '18 at 17:12
  • @JamieClinton some of the best can be quite humble and some of the worst are boasty and hopelessly clueless of how clueless they are. Just because someone says they are good it doesn't prove it. – mathreadler Sep 28 '18 at 17:15
  • 2
    This doesn't appear to be providing an actionable solution, just commentary on the situation, so I'm flagging it as not an answer. – doppelgreener Oct 1 '18 at 21:14

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