3

I have been working an entry level position in an R&D lab for 3 months now. This is my first job straight out of college and I have the lowest position at work. I didn't get any real training or written expectations, I was just kinda thrown into a lab and given things to do.

To spare you the details, I make small mistakes at work sometimes (coming in 30 mins early instead of an hour early like I said I would, getting in 15-20 mins late because of traffic (this happened twice total), not giving myself enough time to organize the overwhelming amount on my plate in lab at times)... but I don't think I've ever seriously messed up or did something that necessitated me being fired or let go. I actually get a lot of positive reinforcement and my supervisor, the same guy, tells me I work hard/do good work/am enthusiastic, so. I also have been working over 40 hrs the past two weeks when he's told me directly all they can expect is 40 hours, and my coworker under the same supervisor works less (one works 8-4 with 1 hr lunch break and multiple breaks in between). Other people in the department work even less (9-4, etc.).

My supervisor had a meeting with me right before the holidays and told me a bunch of really awful things about me and my performance, and when I asked him how I could improve he basically said I had to "organize myself more" -- though I don't know what that means... he didn't specify and I already DID organize myself more and fix everything he wanted this week, so I don't understand.

Some other things he said:

  1. I'm not cut out for graduate school and he doesn't know why I'm considering it

  2. He doesn't know if I can fix what's wrong even if I tried

  3. That my qualifications weren't good enough for this job: "one [technical class here] and a summer research program isn't good enough/doesn't teach you enough to work this job, during your interview you must have presented yourself as more experienced or better than you actually were, you say things that don't match your actions (he partially interviewed me but wasn't the end all and I was assigned to work under him -- also this is objectively false, I have paid and unpaid experience and my job doesn't require any experience at all).

  4. He told me I should consider quitting/finding a new career path, he said I should sit down and think about what I wanted to do because it seems I don't fit in here. He said how at my level this job will never pay well and 15 years in the future when I'm making slightly more after climbing a position or two, if I'm still the same person, which he thinks I will be, would working here really be worth it. etc. He said lots of people his age want to be in my position at my age and have the chance to figure something new for themselves.

  5. When I informed him the reason I choose to come in at 9 is because I have a disability and mornings are hard for me (and the company knows I have a disability, I put it on my application), he said two things in response to this: 1) "Well you're in your first 6 months so we can fire you for any reason whatsoever" and 2) "Whatever personal problems you have going on in your life, which clearly there are problems, you need to sort out as soon as possible and not let them bleed into your work life"

  6. When I told him I've been working 9 to 9.5 hour work days he said in response that it's "normal" and I should be expected to do that and more (which is a problem because once I'm hourly I will HAVE to work only 40 hours a week or else HE will get in trouble too)

  7. He also jokes around in front of my coworkers about my work ethic: at lunch with my group I mentioned how this senior guy who came to evaluate my project looked at my Linkedin and one of my coworkers said "he was probably wondering how you got hired" and my supervisor said "he was probably like 'oh the place has gone downhill since she started working there'" -- other people such as his boss have made similar jokes about him working me too hard or me not enjoying my work so I feel as if he has been talking to people about me behind my back about me. Which makes sense because, to my face, he called our VP's executive assistant a b**** and constantly makes fun of her to my coworkers.

Meanwhile he said all of this right before break when everyone had already gone home for the holidays hours before, and I don't know what I'm supposed to do to improve or change my behavior. I don't know if it's because I'm the only girl on the team or what because none of the guys get this kind of flack from him. I have specific examples of his weird/controlling behavior towards me and only me, I'll post one just to show you:

I had to submit something the day the tests were being run for the first time, so I didn't know what to do. I knew I had to come in early to get it in but I talked to my coworker. He told me to email the girl who runs the tests and let her know I would be coming in early to get the compound in before she started it.

So I did that because I was told I could ask him for advice on stuff and I thought it was fine.

So she comes and tells me in lab in front of my supervisor that she got my email and wouldn't be starting it until the afternoon anyway, so I didn't need to worry about coming in early. To which my supervisor got really mad and basically blew up at me saying "don't go behind my back/outside of our little circle to bother other people, you just didn't want to come in early" to which I was like "but [coworker] suggested it so I thought it was okay" (not trying to rat him out, just genuinely confused). And he was like "well you don't report to [coworker] you report to me, so in the future ask me before you do literally anything. And I'm going to talk to [coworker] about giving you advice like that."

So I came in a little later on him scolding [coworker] about giving me bad advice... so I apologized to my coworker and he was like "I've never seen [supervisor] act that way before, it shouldn't be such a big deal, but just ask him before you do anything in the future I guess"

How do I deal with this behavior and how can I try to salvage my job?

  • 3
    If your supervisor has made their mind up about you, there is really not much you can do, to be honest. It's unlikely their behaviour has been sufficiently bad or overt to get them expelled from their role though their behaviour has been poor. It may be typical for some environments so you may want to get rid of one of your tags and use a location tag. My gut feel is you should be looking to change environment. – Gregory Currie Dec 23 '19 at 5:40
  • I cried in his office on Friday from his comments. I don't think he would be let go, he's too integral to the team. But is responding to "I have a disability" with "we can fire you for any reason so it doesn't matter" appropriate whatsoever? Also thank you, I put the US tag. – new scientist Dec 23 '19 at 5:44
  • No, you can't be fired for having a disability. What they said was inappropriate. There will be different requirements for proof per state. For instance, some states will require a letter from a medical practitioner saying that you need to start later. Even if you do have a medical requirement, you need to make sure your boss is aware of it, and not rely on information provided during the recruitment process filtering down. – Gregory Currie Dec 23 '19 at 5:50
  • This makes sense. I guess it's not necessarily about starting later, but working reasonable hours. I've just been struggling to find a balance. I really don't mind working longer hours on some days because I do have a drive to get my work done. I like seeing the results. – new scientist Dec 23 '19 at 6:07
  • Are they paying you overtime when you work longer hours? If not you should look at overtime laws for your state – dustytrash Dec 23 '19 at 14:06
9

Start looking for a new job

There's a lot to address here and by reading the comments I see you're trying to create a scenario in which you continue working under this supervisor. The most important thing is that you start looking for a new job yesterday. (But don't quit until you've landed one)

It's clear your supervisor wants you to quit by his own words:

I should consider quitting/finding a new career path,

my qualifications weren't good enough for this job

I'm not cut out for graduate school and he doesn't know why I'm considering it

The icing on the cake:

He doesn't know if I can fix what's wrong even if I tried

For one reason or another your supervisor wants you to quit and will most likely fire you if you don't. Please don't spend anymore energy trying to change your supervisors mind.

Even if you could work some legal thing out where your supervisor cannot fire you, do you really want to stay there?

  • 2
    If she gets fired (without cause) she likely won't have to repay reloc loan. If she quits, she does. – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 23 '19 at 15:11
  • @TymoteuszPaul The reloc loan might be something to bring up in the negotiations with the new employer, then. – Llewellyn Dec 23 '19 at 18:12
  • @Llewellyn Sure, but that's a pretty tough ask to find both new employment and one that is willing to cover your relocation loan to your old employer (even if as a loan). Unless OP skillset is in high demand, you are looking likely at months to find something like this, unless very lucky. Something to keep in mind really. – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 23 '19 at 18:18
3

I cannot really judge you (or your performance) from here, but surely I can say a thing or two about your supervisor's behavior:

  • Given that they are supposed to be managing and guiding you (you're being a new recruit in an entry level position), and them saying things like He doesn't know if I can fix what's wrong even if I tried and qualifications weren't good enough for this job when they were part of the interview process and asking to sort out problems about your (already known) disabilities - they clearly lack leadership and management skills.

  • Also, as mentioned by your co-worker, if they are being particular about you in finding faults and suggesting directly that you should look for opportunities elsewhere - I believe they are not being / willing to be welcoming, at all.

It's very very difficult to improve upon, if you don't know the shortcomings. If the person who is in charge of guiding you and helping you grow is not interested in doing their job, then they are at fault for sure - but you also need to asses how that is going to affect you and your career.

Usually I'd have suggested to have a formal discussion with your superior and ask for pointers to improve upon - but that's already happened and nothing positive came out of that.

If I were you, I'd be inclined to excuse myself from this environment and look for opportunities elsewhere, where a better work environment and supportive superiors are expected to be there.

Also, as a learning, I'd suggest to make a self-note about setting the priorities and responsibilities right at the very beginning. Whatever be the scenario is, having a clear goal set always helps you to asses or answer about the performance delivered by you - even if others (your supervisor, leader or reporting manager) are not interested, you should insist on getting it done and make sure both the parties agree upon the goal. That really helps you out at later stages.

  • Even if I wanted to leave I have a 12 month lease/student loans/a car payment and am essentially living paycheck to paycheck. I also took relocation assistance I would have to pay back if I don't work here for a year. I feel utterly screwed (for lack of a professional way to put it). – new scientist Dec 23 '19 at 5:59
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    @newscientist That is unfortunate, if you cannot leave right now, I guess the best way is not to shy away and take the blame, rather face it. Jolt down all the work you have done so far, all accomplishments, and whatever efforts you have put and be ready for a discussion. Once the holidays are over and people are back at work, ask your supervisor to have another meeting, and this time, have the discussion outcomes in writing. Ask them to clarify the negative points as they mentioned, and also ask for improvement areas. Seek training and mentoring as needed. – Sourav Ghosh Dec 23 '19 at 6:10
2

As somebody who has worked in research and now is team lead in a consulting company:

  • Research and development has harsher (sometimes fair, sometimes unfair) feedback
  • The statement about you not being cut out for research may be honest or not, and in case it is honest it may be a misestimation or not, and in case that it is honest and not a misestimation, it may still describe your trajectory on your current course (more about that later).
  • I think you should take the thing about "sometimes being 20 minutes late" a little bit more serious. while in many places that may be something which can be adjusted for, in others it may not. If a critical handover happens under pressure, more mistakes are made
  • in general, if you can not make the starting time of the work, it may be better to ask for an adjustment of the time (and your salary?)

Now lets assume that the estimation of your supervisor is honest, and correct, then it's important for you to figure out if your career goals are realistic in the timespan you now plan, given the education and training which you now have, or if they unrealistic at all. In my opinion this can not be figured out by working without serious training or supervision. Consider if there is are outside factors which you can change, and if you are willing and able to go trough additional training. Plan conservatively and estimate if your finances and personal condition allow you to follow this career. Try to find some help (coaching, counseling, or some friends with the right background).

Here is a word of warning about research: there are people which i knew who clinged too long (think about 5 years, not a few months) on their dream career in research, ignoring warning shots along the way, and not drawing conclusions. For some the personal and health consequences were serious. So think about what to change, make a plan, take the time you need, but if you figure out that it's not sustainable until you reach your goal, be prepared to pull the emergency brake.

Good Luck.

  • My work has flexible hours, is the problem. There's not a specific time I have to show up. And I've been told many times that I do good lab work/work hard/produce excellent results... so I don't quite understand. But I do see your points, thank you. Edit: I plan on adjusting my start time once I'm hourly and seeing how that goes. I can't work more than 40 hours a week starting on the 1st so I think the time I come in won't matter as much anymore. – new scientist Dec 24 '19 at 0:30
0

It's normal for people to not take negative criticism well. It's also quite common for people to not give negative criticism without upsetting others.

There are key points when it comes to performance reviews.

There should be no surprises.

If there are issues with your work, it should be dealt with when it happens. It should not be in your review without your knowledge. You should document these instances as they happen and how you resolved.

If something is mentioned that you have no knowledge of, then don't accept it.

Stop trying to find excuses.

Don't focus on excuses as to why it is not your fault.

Even if you are correct it does not help you. Even if the fault is someone else's, someone senior would be self-aware that they should work towards mitigating the issue.

Example: You turn up late due to traffic issues. This is not your fault. If it happens more than once, then you should be aware you can late in future. So leave earlier, change your route or ring in to warn.

Take all positive criticism in a positive light.

I still remember my first negative performance review from a good manager. She explained all the things where I was not performing well.

Rather than using them as excuses to not pay me more, she explained how I should improve myself the following year to close up these gaps.

After that, I always try to take any performance review as ways to improve myself in a positive way, even if the person explaining is not capable of saying it in that way.

Certain roles require certain kinds of people.

Professional specialists are rarely naturals. They live and breathe what they do. The work may end at the end of the work day, but the career doesn't.

A professional athlete for example will practise daily when not in events. They will watch other players, read materials that relate to their career. It's a continual learning process.

The same for researchers.

It's possible that your reviewer is aware that it is not something you are taking seriously as a career. Which is why they are suggesting a different job.


I don't know what I'm supposed to do to improve or change my behaviour.

You need to be more self-aware of where you need to grow your skills and what changes you need to make to yourself. Be the better person.

I would also recommend getting a mentor in the field.

There are other issues you are dealing with which are not directly related to the question. You can find other answers on the site that might help.

-3

To spare you the details, I make small mistakes at work sometimes (coming in 30 mins early instead of an hour early like I said I would, getting in 15-20 mins late because of traffic (this happened twice total), not giving myself enough time to organize the overwhelming amount on my plate in lab at times)... but I don't think I've ever seriously messed up or did something that necessitated me being fired or let go.

Notoriously coming in half an hour later, and then, as a result, you do not have enough time to do your work. This is very serious, and the fact that you brush it off so lightly worries me.

I actually get a lot of positive reinforcement and my supervisor, the same guy, tells me I work hard/do good work/am enthusiastic

That's how you do it on the shop floor, negative feedback is best reserved for a private conversation at another time, bringing it in middle of work would only make possible performance issues worse. I may have serious issues with an employee, but while we are doing the job, it's always going to be on the encouraging side of feedback.

my coworker under the same supervisor works less

Not your problem.

My supervisor had a meeting with me right before the holidays and told me a bunch of really awful things about me and my performance, and when I asked him how I could improve he basically said I had to "organize myself more" -- though I don't know what that means... he didn't specify and I already DID organize myself more and fix everything he wanted this week, so I don't understand.

Neither do I. You say that you don't understand the feedback of needing to organize yourself more, and yet you also say that you did organize yourself more. Does that mean that you understood the feedback and applied a fix, or that you didn't and still don't know what is expected of you?

I don't know if it's because I'm the only girl on the team or what because none of the guys get this kind of flack from him.

How do you know that? Even with you, the manager seems to deliver only positive feedback on the floor, and the bad in private, so you would not be privy to what is said behind the closed doors to others. Don't believe everything other employees tell you, stick to 1st hand information.

I had to submit something the day the tests were being run for the first time, so I didn't know what to do. I knew I had to come in early to get it in but I talked to my coworker. He told me to email the girl who runs the tests and let her know I would be coming in early to get the compound in before she started it.

So I did that because I was told I could ask him for advice on stuff and I thought it was fine.

If you don't know what you are supposed to do - ask the person who gave you the task, and do not leave until you understand what is expected of you. Instead, you've shot off an email to another person and then based on that person's words, ignored what your manager explicitly expected of you - to come in early. Add that with your pattern of already coming in late and you should be able to why this can be an issue.

And he was like "well you don't report to [coworker] you report to me, so in the future ask me before you do literally anything. And I'm going to talk to [coworker] about giving you advice like that."

Damn straight. Your boss told you to come early, and then some random person told you not to, so you decided to ignore your boss. I would very likely come to the same conclusion as he did, though maybe use different words/tone.

How do I deal with this behavior and how can I try to salvage my job?

Start coming on time (ahead of time if traffic is a risk, do anything you need to do to ensure that you are ALWAYS on time), make sure you understand tasks that are expected of you and then deliver them exactly to your boss's expectations.

One more thing to address:

When I informed him the reason I choose to come in at 9 is because I have a disability and mornings are hard for me (and the company knows I have a disability, I put it on my application),

Does your disability diagnosis state that you cannot work before 9, or anything to that effect? If not then that's not a reasonable defense you can put up. If it does, it's still not a carte blanche to do what you want, but instead, it requires both sides to make reasonable adjustments to try to make it work. But ultimately if the job requires getting in early, and you cannot do it, then you probably will need to change departments/jobs.

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