58

Ok, I'll try to summarise the last several months of my experience in a few paragraphs.

I've been at my company for a little over 18 months. At first I entered as a junior developer, since I only had 2 years experience. After around 6 months, my line-manager (call him Steve), offered me a senior position, as they had interviewed many people for it and had not filled it. I told him I would accept as long as he promised to train me up, as I felt I was not suitably qualified at the time. Until this point, myself, Steve and a couple of the others were all friends, having a good time at work and doing social things outside the office.

Then everything changed. I don't know why, but I think Steve regretted giving me the position. He began speaking to me in unacceptable ways, i.e. swearing, barking orders at me and criticising everything I did, often verging on basically calling me stupid. The training he provided was basically writing code in front of me really fast. I didn't pick much up this way, but could tell he was trying to teach, so felt bad to say anything.

I kept a log of all of this and eventually, after 6 months of it, went to HR. I made a formal complaint about him and submitted details of exactly what he had said to me with times and dates and even a couple of witness' within the team.

HR investigated the case for several weeks, (during which time I had no work, as they said I could not work with Steve during the investigation, so I had nothing to do for 10 weeks, but still getting paid).

The outcome is that HR are doing nothing and that none of my claims can be upheld. Basically, he lied about everything, saying he didn't speak to me like that and shockingly, my colleagues lied for him as well, saying they never heard anything.

So now I'm in a position where I have no work, and he is refusing to accept meeting invites from me now the investigation is over to try and get some work and basically just move forward.

How can I salvage/repair this situation and co-worker relationship?

Before anyone suggests it, yes my line-manager has a manager of his own, unfortunately they are very good friends outside of work, so I've tried that route with no success.

  • 9
    @Cloud well, in your question you don't mention any attempts of "sorting it out". In fact, your words "I didn't pick much up this way, but could tell he was trying to teach, so felt bad to say anything" explicitly contradict it. – IMil Nov 23 '18 at 2:17
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    @user OP has indicated on Aviation (specifically in LAPL vs PPL - Which is more suitable?) on Oct 5 '18 that they were in the UK. So this seems very likely to be UK. – a CVn Nov 23 '18 at 18:14
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    I think question would benefit from more information on the HR-related thread. On the face value, it seems that the employed HR procedures are very weak. Did HR folk try to find any evidence corroborating your statemnts? It almost reads as: - He said this to me. No, I didn't. OK, that's fine. Not very professional. – Konrad Nov 26 '18 at 10:59
80

Given the limited information here, my conclusion is that you drew the short stick on an internal power play.

Steve definitely set you up to fail as a senior dev. He promoted you to the position knowing you lack the hard skills necessary to do the job, he did not properly train you, and then he used your lack of skills to motivate his decision to not work with you. I don't know what his motives are, but the way you tell the story, it's pretty clear to me he was harassing you so he would get rid of you.

Your failing lays in not realising you were being set up and not taking action in a timely manner. The second Steve started "training" you and you couldn't understand what he was doing is when you should have told (in writing) your manager or Steve's manager that you are not receiving proper training and you cannot be expected to complete your tasks. Furthermore, Steve's frustration with you grew as he probably saw you are thick skinned and his insults/harassment aren't working.

Your next mistake is taking things up with HR. HR is not there to protect you from Steve's bullying, but to protect the company's interest. It was HR's conclusion that Steve's work is more important than yours, so their internal investigation came out blank. Not that it matters anyway, you are now flagged as a problem employee. Next time someone has to leave, guess whose turn it will be.

A common way to convince an employee to leave is to take away all his usual tasks and replace them with what basically amounts to worthless junk. We had a case in my country where an employee got relegated to shredding paper so she would leave the company. To me it looks like your employer is trying to get rid of you by not giving you tasks and waiting for you to get bored and leave. Or fire you whenever it suits them because you're not being productive or some made-up reason so you won't sue them for unlawful termination.

So in conclusion, Steve won his little game, you are working in a dysfunctional company which is an unfair employer that only cares about Steve and Steve's gang's happiness and is willing to sideline anyone Steve doesn't like. And Steve HATES you.

Your choices are rather limited.

1: You make it up to Steve. Apparently his happiness matters in the company more than facts. Make Steve happy and you'll be back to your old tasks in no time.

2: Realise you are wasting your time in this company and start looking for a new job.

3: Continue in the current situation and wait to become the equivalent of a human paper shredder. Until they find a good reason to fire you.

  • 75
    I think that the behaviour of manager Steve has definitely contributed to OP's problems. But a lot of the conclusions that assign motivations and beliefs here seem a little hasty without additional information e.g. "Steve definitely set you up to fail as a senior dev." Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity etc . . . perhaps Steve really fancied himself as a wise old teacher, and coped badly when he realised it wasn't working – Neil Slater Nov 22 '18 at 16:03
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    "It was HR's conclusion that Steve's work is more important than yours, so their internal investigation came out blank." I think it may be a bit much to claim that without proof. It could be as simple as they did not have evidence to take action against him. Honestly, I can't see HR directly basing a decision off that, especially if OP had it documented well; because then they would be leaving a potentially huge liability. HR probably didn't want to take action against Steve; but I would say that would have been equally influenced by how much evidence OP had. – JMac Nov 22 '18 at 19:18
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    Somehow I'm not surprised that OP accepted the answer that basically says OP's only fault was not seeing through evil Management's and hateful Steve's nefarious scheme. – kapex Nov 23 '18 at 14:41
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    The whole "HR is not your friend" mantra is way too overused on this website. This answer says "You made the mistake of trying to solve workplace harassment, you should just suck it up or leave". Going to Steve's manager and HR was the right choice. In many companies, it's in their best interest to remove a harasser or at least separate two people who can't get along. This company obviously has problems in that area, and it's better to try and fail so you can make a more informed choice when it comes to "suck it up or leave". – Clay07g Nov 23 '18 at 23:09
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    To put it bluntly, this answer encourages workplace harassment. If I was a bully, it would be in my best interest for my victims to suck up to me, leave, or put up with my abuse and make sure the company isn't aware of it. – Clay07g Nov 23 '18 at 23:12
196

You launched a formal complaint complete with witnesses and documentation which was investigated for 10 weeks while you were paid for doing nothing, and then your complaints were found to be groundless, even your witnesses did not back you up.

Is this co-worker relationship salvageable?

No. You put multiple people into a difficult position. Things will never return to how they were. More constructive to worry about being forced out altogether. You should have spent the 10 weeks job searching, suggest you get onto that asap.

  • 48
    +1. The details of who did what are irrelevant at this point. Chances are Steve could now be refusing meeting invites to set you up for a PIP and then dismissal, and having already gone to HR with one complaint that didn't work out, you're unlikely to be able to fight that internally. Much better to leave on your own accord than be fired. – berry120 Nov 22 '18 at 15:35
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    Brief advice is the best kind. No point trying to do the impossible, well you can but you still need to search for a new job. – goamn Nov 22 '18 at 22:25
  • You might try to have a chat with Steve, after you find a new job. make it very clear that you are not trying to blame him for anything, but asking him only about the time before you went to HR and how you could have acted differently, in order that you can do better in future. Put correctly, he might be helpful. – Mawg Nov 23 '18 at 7:34
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    @Mawg I am not sure who are you addressing with the comment though "make it very clear that you are not trying to blame him [Steve] for anything" seems false. Submitting a documented case to HR dept is blaming someone for something... with proofs, I don't see how you can say otherwise. – luk32 Nov 23 '18 at 9:52
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    @Mawg Steve is an enemy now, best for the OP to realise that. Approaching Steve outside the safe work environment could result in a kicking. – Kilisi Nov 23 '18 at 21:39
62

Then everything changed. I don't know why, but I think Steve regretted giving me the position.

I'm guessing there's more to this than just a sudden change of attitude. It's unfortunate you didn't talk to Steve to find out why.

How can I salvage/repair this situation and co-worker relationship?

Before anyone suggests it, yes my line-manager has a manager of his own, unfortunately they are very good friends outside of work, so I've tried that route with no success.

You could try talking with him and seeing if you can determine why he changed. Perhaps you have something to apologize for here. If so, it would be a good time to do that now. But your relationship may already be beyond the point of repair.

It appears that instead of talking to him directly, you chose to create a 6 month log and then took it to HR as a formal complaint. And apparently, you also went over his head and tried to complain to his boss.

It's not clear why you chose that route first rather than trying to repair the relationship, but what's done is done.

You might need to watch your back now, and start thinking about finding a new job or at least a transfer to work with another manager.

  • 55
    "It's unfortunate you didn't talk to Steve to find out why." This doesn't have enough stress. Going to HR should be a last ditch attempt; first port of call should always be talk to the person directly as they it could even just be venting other issues onto you. – UKMonkey Nov 22 '18 at 15:01
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    @UKMonkey Going to HR for interpersonal advice can be sensible depending on where it is and how exactly HR operates. It's the logging of a formal complaint with evidence and witnesses that's always burning bridges. – Peter Nov 22 '18 at 23:50
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    OP said in a comment that they did talk to Steve first. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 23 '18 at 11:21
  • @JoeStrazzere Yes, apparently it was deleted. Annoying. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 23 '18 at 14:21
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    @JoeStrazzere Yes, there was a comment to this effect, however it left unclear what exactly the OP tried to communicate. Meanwhile, the question has rather contradictory statement: "I didn't pick much up this way, but could tell he was trying to teach, so felt bad to say anything". And then the OP goes on to say that for several months he or she gathered evidence of Steve's harassment. How and when exactly the OP tried to resolve actual professional issues, if at all, remains mystery. – IMil Nov 26 '18 at 3:05
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The other answers suggest you've made a mistake at some point. I tend to disagree: the situation was lost when Steve thought he could teach you to become a senior programmer and then couldn't keep his temper as he found out he couldn't do it.

Being a good programmer

...doesn't automatically mean you have good teaching skills.

I'm a programmer myself. I teach in a hackerspace in my spare time and on a few days a year in a school. Teaching requires time and patience. Also you need a whole different skill-set. Just being able to program won't cut it. If your student is to make big steps, you need to prepare your lessons.

Steve tried to recruit because he needs more people on his team to help do his job. So when he started to teach you instead, it meant he would have even less time to do his 'real' job.

He must have found out that teaching someone else isn't as easy as he hoped and, as his frustration grew, he began to lose his temper.

Don't take it too hard on yourself

It probably isn't even anyone's fault. Take a deep breath. Look around for a new job. Take care it is the kind job you always wanted to do. Take care that your future colleagues are the kind of people you want to work with.

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    This is actually what I think happened too. Thanks. – Cloud Nov 23 '18 at 9:50
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    In my experience, there is no amount of training that will convert a junior dev into a senior. Some people seem to be born as senior devs, and some people drag themselves there through hard experience. But "training" only results in someone knowing how to do more tasks, not having the ability to generalize to other tasks that they weren't trained in. (So I think the mistake was either/both parties thinking training => senior dev.) – user3067860 Nov 23 '18 at 15:39
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    @user3067860 I don't think anyone's born a senior dev, but seniors become seniors due to varying mixtures of aptitude and experience. Experience can help to improve aptitude, but some people have enough innate aptitude to develop their skills and knowledge more quickly than others, and as such the experience factor is left less important. Someone with less aptitude will require more experience. Someone with barely any aptitude at all is not likely to become a useful senior dev in this century, but given infinite time they could probably manage it. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 23 '18 at 23:12
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    @Cloud A senior doesn't just know more languages and tools. A senior is more proficient at design, more adept at mentoring, better at communicating, more familiar with politics, more comfortable with customer interactions, more successful at choosing the right tool/architecture/solution for the job, ...... Add a formal project/people management responsibility to a senior and you get a manager, and a manager is far more than someone who knows a bit more C++ than you do. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 26 '18 at 13:09
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    @Cloud These skills come from experience. That's not to say that you will automatically pick them up after X years of programming, or that there aren't things you can study/consider to aid in your personal development, but it's not something you can do by learning X/Y/Z then away you go. I recommend discussing this topic with your supervisor if it's something you wish to pick up over the course of your career. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 26 '18 at 13:18
19

OP I'm sorry but I think that the "investigation" was basically over in a week. You were given 9 weeks to begin searching for a new job, which you did not take the hint for. I say this because software developers are not a resource that is wasted lightly.

Update your resume and start looking immediately, additionally note how your other coworkers are treating you; you'll need to get references from someone at this company who is not Steve or in the HR hierarchy who have dismissed your claims of harassment.

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    This might be a good time to switch to contracting, where references are not asked for (in my few decades of experience, but YMMV). – Mawg Nov 23 '18 at 7:37
  • @Mawg Not a bad idea, but I'm not good enough for that. C# is the only language I could contract with it and I am still a very basic / console app C# dev. I don't know any frameworks even yet... – Cloud Nov 26 '18 at 13:35
  • Not good enough yet? I felt that way few too – a few decades back :-) Just look around your office – are there any contractors? How do they rate alongside your permanent colleagues? Not much difference, I guess. I have known good and poor contractors, just as I have permanent staff. Don't decide for yourself whether you are good enough – let the interviewer decide (and contractor interviews are easier to get through than perm). If you are really unsure, visit a site like monster.com, find a contract job you think you can handle, call a recruitment agency and ask their opinion of your CV. – Mawg Nov 26 '18 at 13:58
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    @Cloud I once saw a contractor hired for $1000 per day. He couldn't even write a Sql script that compiled in one shot. Before we could convince the boss to get rid of him he had made 2x my monthly salary!!! I think if you're competent, you'd go far... – C Bauer Nov 26 '18 at 14:26
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Unfortunately you may need to find a new job now, but at least your job title has "senior" in it and you have plenty of time to search. Remember that you only need to put "Senior Software Developer at Company X 20XX-present" on your CV.

You mention that you are logging your boss' behaviour, so keep doing that. In particular your requests for meetings, so that if they try to claim your performance is poor later you can cite the lack of work and repeated requests for it as the reason. At least in Europe they can't fire you when the boss is doing that to you, it would be constructive dismissal.

As to salvaging your current situation, could you ask for an internal transfer? If not, your only real option is to go back to HR and complain about a hostile work environment where you are unable to get any work or progress your career, due to retaliation. That is a serious situation, you could escalate it to a tribunal, so they should deal with it in a way that doesn't disadvantage you.

4

Check the work legislation of your country. In Spain, an employer must provide adequate tasks to their employees. If your employer is not providing you any task, this could be consider as mobbing -which is what they are actually doing, to force you to leave the company. An employee can claim to have work. Of course, you are in a bad position. If I were in your situation and this was a small company, I would be thinking about leaving. But if this is a big company, maybe my dream company, then being moved to another department would be ok for me. If you speak with HR and expose this as a case of mobbing, then they may take you more seriously. No company wants to be in the media because of mobbing. On the other hand, if you are thinking about quitting, this can give you a better position to negotiate an exit with a compensation.

3

Your manager acted petty (or maybe you did not understand the situation completely but let's assume you are right), but your question is unjustified now. If you wanted to salvage the relation, that should have been your first approach rather than going to HR. By going to HR you made an implicit judgment that the relationship was not salvageable in the first place.

However, even though you could (and should) have picked a better response to your manager's behavior, I don't think it is all only your fault.


It is unfortunate that your colleagues couched when asked formally by HR. Also, it is unfortunate that your manager's manager preferred taking his friend's side rather than taking the right side.


Since the relation is not salvageable unless someone has a sudden change of heart and this guy in question is your manager, the best direction is to get a new job.

It may be bitter tasting but it is the next best thing that can happen to you.

2

It depends if salvageable means get back to the way it was before you filed the complaint, improve things so they're better than when you filed the complaint, or just salvageable as in you can stick around and not get fired, I'd say they are all possible. Getting to do what it takes to salvage will determine how possible it really is, though.

If you can find out what Steve's core needs are and find a way to tell him what is core needs are, you will disarm him. This is a core tenet of nonviolent communication. For example, if he has a need for competence and effectiveness more than anything, you could find a way to express you see this as a need of his and it will be very relieving for him to hear. It will create some connection between the two of you. That may be enough to salvage things.

If you are on your way out, as a lot of other posts advise, I suggest at least trying this. You don't have much to lose and it will be good practice for the next time you are in a conflict. Building the case against him, while done out of the need for peace and equality, in his perspective is the opposite of seeing where he is coming from. If you can see where he is coming from, you have the best chance of salvaging the situation. He may feel threatened by you and not trust you after that happened. If he was merely frustrated he couldn't teach you, now he is probably scared of you. If you succeeded in getting him to change by forcing him to through HR, he still would not like you. You may even be asking the same question you are now, if things can be salvaged after filing complaints against coworkers.

If you are going to use tactics of pursuing justice from authorities who have powers you don't, it won't truly get him to change. In the Art of War it talks about taking the enemy whole. Had you won with HR, Steve still would have greatly disliked you. This is the equivalent to defeating an enemy and taking their land, but burning all their fields of wheat in the process. Better to take the enemy and their fields of wheat than take the enemy and burn their fields of wheat.

But for it being salvageable, I'll go with yes, it can be. Just see his needs as a person and empathize/express you see them. That connection is rare in the business world. It may be hard to have the chance at doing that now, though. If you can't get close to him and have the opportunity to do this, maybe it's not worth staying there. I live in a small market, so I can empathize with wanting to salvage things as opposed to just moving on.

protected by Jane S Nov 25 '18 at 6:42

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