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I work at a small company with three managers (Andy, Bob and Charlie, for the purposes of this question). Andy has been making snide and cutting remarks to me in meetings, making me feel uncomfortable. I asked in private if anything was wrong, and he told me everything was fine.

I had a meeting coming up with Andy and Bob, so I talked to Bob in private before the meeting, and said I was uncomfortable as I needed to present to them both, but had been shot down by Andy in meetings recently.

Bob told me that Andy and Charlie wanted to fire me. I was shocked and asked why, I didn't get a clear answer but was told it was many things. I asked for a specific example and was told of a situation three months ago where I didn't complete a project for Andy. This was the first I'd heard that Andy was upset, and I explained that although I had not completed the project, I'd done so in good faith as I believed it was the correct thing to do.

I left the meeting shaken, unclear what has caused the managers to be angry with me, and unsure how to proceed from here. I'm scared to ask them to detail what I've done wrong, and I'm scared that they'll think I've done something wrong again.

How should I handle this situation?

Edit

To put this into specific questions:

  • What reasonable preventative measures could I have taken?

I could have been "interviewing" managers to discover their expectations, documenting with email, and following up with informal chats or documentation after tasks were complete, to test if they were happy with them. Would this have been sufficient?

  • How could I keep this job?

I'm unsure if I want to keep the job, but if I do, how should I go about it?

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    Which of these managers is your supervisor? – JB King Jan 21 '14 at 21:30
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    If each of them came to you with a new project and told you to drop everything and work on this one thing, what would you do? All 3 projects are priority 1 to be done ASAP and the company's life is at stake here! (Slightly overly dramatic though I have seen this kind of behavior in medium sized companies) – JB King Jan 21 '14 at 21:37
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    Either way, your beyond immediate term plan should include looking for another job. Several things here are quite unprofessional from the managers. – EkoostikMartin Jan 21 '14 at 22:47
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    Hey blazerr, and welcome to The Workplace! Right now I am having a bit of trouble understanding what exactly you need help with. Do you want to keep your job? Do you want to know why you are being threatened? Do you want to improve your working relationship with Andy and/or Charlie? To get good answers, you can make an edit to explain what you think a solution would be, and how you're having trouble implementing it. Thanks in advance! – jmac Jan 21 '14 at 23:51
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    be prepared to polish up your resume and look for a new job in the worst case scenario. it might be that management wants to squeeze you out and replace you with someone who will accept a lower salary or do whatever management asks. – Rudolf Olah Jan 22 '14 at 3:22
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This sounds like the classic 'fast moving environment with constantly shifting priorities'. Ads like this show up in the web development job sites constantly, usually for companies that are doing on-line marketing. This is a hallmark of a dysfunctional organization. Having 'three bosses' that don't coordinate among themselves and don't communicate appropriately with you is dysfunctional. In the few instances that I've been in that situation, I got out - immediately.

Generally if one of the managers wants to fire you, it's time to leave. This is a signal that any trust between you and the managers has evaporated. If you have any responsibility at all - say for a website or customer face-to-face relationships, even trivial events could trigger a discharge. Better to leave under circumstances you control rather than by surprise.

What I see is that the people running your organization are committed to a business model that isn't viable. It presumes that someone in your position can meet all the expected demands, and it appears these expectations are unrealistic. This is not your fault. They aren't going to find anyone else to do it, and eventually they're going to find that things aren't being done that 'have to be done', and they can't remain in business. This means that one Monday you're going to show up and front door will be padlocked.

Often this story is heard from people that are in areas of the country that are going downhill fast - this was a common thing to hear from people making furniture in the US when they were having to compete with China. It means you need to find a business that's viable, in a location where demand for workers exceeds supply. This implies you might have to move. Feel free to clarify - if I'm off on any of the above guesses I'll edit with more information.

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Assuming everything Bob told you is correct, Andy and Charlie want to fire you and don't want to discuss it with you. Bob at least wants to have a conversation. So I would go back to him in person or send an email and say something like:

I was so surprised by what you told me that I needed some time to process it. I had no idea my performance was not good enough for Andy and Charlie and that the comments from Andy recently have been related to objective performance issues. If you have 30 minutes, I'd be very grateful for some more specific direction about ways I can improve.

For an email, finish with an expression of how much you have enjoyed working there, want to continue working there, and want to be the very best you can be, along with some gratitude that he even told you anything about what's going on as far as the perception of your performance is concerned. If you're going to do this in person, practice the sentences a little so you get them reasonably smooth.

If Bob doesn't have time to help you or replies that he's not really your manager, you will have to approach either Andy (who has expressed a problem with you, but not in a way you understood) or Charlie and ask them what you need to do to get your performance where they want it. You should not tell either one that Bob filled you in.

To Andy I would avoid email, and find a moment without no-one else around and probably say:

If I were getting my performance review today, it wouldn't go well, would it? [pause. Nervous laugh especially if he laughs.] I would really appreciate some specific direction about how I can meet your expectations in this role.

(I know, you asked if anything was wrong, but that's nowhere near as specific as Am I doing a good job?) You probably won't get the direction there and then, but if you're lucky you'll get an appointment for 30 or so minutes later the same week in which he will tell you everything that's not good enough.

To Charlie, perhaps:

I think Andy is not happy with my performance. Is there anything you can tell me about how I'm doing?

I would be vaguest with Charlie because you haven't reported anything about what he has said or done. Chances are he will send you to Andy (because he has the problem) or Bob (if he's actually your boss.) So tempting as it may be, don't start with the most senioe person. Start with the ones who have told you your performance is not what it should be.

Whoever you talk to, whoever agrees to talk to you, ask them to please help you to do better. And listen carefully to what they tell you. They probably won't tell you again. While you may be scared to hear a big list of complaints, not hearing it won't keep them from acting on it. Your only chance to turn this around is to know what they care about and what they think is a problem.


On the matter of whether they have messed up, should have said something, or are handling this wrong: they almost certainly have and are, but that does not matter. I remember dealing with an employee who was not meeting our needs, missing deadlines, not communicating, and upsetting other employees. He wanted to have a meeting about how I was not a very good boss. I told him "I may or may not be a good boss, but I am the boss you have. And since I own this company, if you need a different boss you know what you will have to do to get one, right?" You need to work out what they want - if you have to interview it out of them, if it is all unfair and wrong, well it is what it is. You can get new bosses by leaving, or you can try to work out how to work for these. But I promise you that if you try to show them what horrible bosses they are it will not help your cause at all. It may not be your fault that you let them down, but it sure is your problem.

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    Kate, I think blazerr is not only concerned with solving this situation, but also and mainly in detecting his errors, so he can improve himself. I understand your point on "don't try to blame your boss, he is your boss at the end of the day", but I feel he wants to be sure he is doing the best he can and just want to understand where did this insatisfaction came from. – Spidey Jan 22 '14 at 17:04
  • There is no greater waste of time than attempting to prove people's shortcomings to them. – EvilSnack Jan 30 at 1:38
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This has happened to me, and the only advice I can give you is to look for a new job immediately. When you are managed by people who aren't upfront about your failings, and then surprise you later on with a long list of problems, then it indicates there is something else at play.

I had worked for a major investment bank, and had happily been completing projects all year with good feedback from my manager. But at the end of the year when the performance reviews were done suddenly my work was not up to scratch. When I asked for details, the only complaint my manager was able to articulate was a situation where I had found a security hole in a product I wasn't responsible for. Rather than being thanked for bringing it to his attention so he could decide the appropriate course of action, this incident was used against me in the review, the reasoning being that I had not been proactive enough to fix it right away (funny that complaint wasn't made at the time I brought it to their attention, and funny that they had a problem with me bringing information to my manager and expecting him to make a management decision).

It was pretty clear that my manager's boss had told him to give me a bad review. When they can't articulate their reasons for the bad review then as I said something else is at play. In this case I believe it was the change to my hairstyle - dreadlocks - that they didn't like. They would never say that, but it really had been the only thing that had changed, the hair was always kept clean and neat. I had always done a great job and feedback had been great up until that review. I started looking for a new job immediately, and found one within a month with a $25k increase in salary.

A manager is not doing his/her job if they have a problem with your work but wait until year end review to tell you. You don't want to be in a company like that. Find one that values your contributions rather than one that looks for reasons to criticise their staff.

Edit: if you do want to stay in this job rather than leave, it is important to realise that you will need to do more than present your case in a rational way. You will also need to deal with the personality of each manager. If someone has decided he doesn't like you then you are facing an uphill battle to change his mind. Try and compliment their ideas or work. It may be hard for Andy to make a snide remark at you after you've just given him a compliment (and if he did, the other people in the meeting may not have the same opinion of Andy afterwards). You may also need to hold your tounge in situations when you know Andy/Charlie are wrong. As the saying goes: "kill them with kindness"

  • Hey Andrew, and welcome to The Workplace! Answers that tell people to leave their job are highly discouraged here because that isn't always possible due to financial, geographical, or other reasons. Is there any chance you could make an edit to show why this is the only possibility? – jmac Jan 24 '14 at 3:01
  • The OP is a victim of gunny-sack management. Instead of addressing shortcomings and failings as they happen, instead this toxic manager keeps it all in a metaphorical bag which he then dumps out onto you at some later point. – EvilSnack May 27 '17 at 13:46
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Consider asking each one privately how they think you are doing and how do they evaluate your work. Each manager may have their biases that color things more than a bit here. For example, in a previous position, I'd have an administrative manager and project managers to work on completing various IT projects where I was a developer. In a sense the project managers were my boss as they would be the ones to assign me work on the projects they were running. Based on how the projects were going would determine how they would view my work which may or may not be reasonable if my administrative manager pulls me from projects which could happen. Thus, it is worth knowing what perspective people have here.

Don't focus too much on the past here as it is more the future that you want to know what has to be done and if there is something special to focus on getting it done well.

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Just be confident in your skills and do not get over-exhausted by worrying too much over this. If you are not feeling good going to work, then you should probably look for a new job and that should be the way. If you do not enjoy your workplace then it will severely affect your productivity as well. Simply open up your options and see what you have. The job you land in maybe your lucky one and the one that sticks.

All of us get a nut-cracking boss at one point or the other(only lucky few escape this) and there is nothing we can do literally.. Even if we give in a 100% every-time, slight miss in schedule or anything can break their nerves and thats their issue literally. So you need to be careful that you don't get hammered due to this.

Just to be on the safer side, you ought to weigh in your options a bit, while you keep trying to resolve the issues. You wouldn't want to be stranded without a job due to this.

I would strongly advice against making you stay at your current firm with all the unwanted tension and issues. You can never get peace of mind.

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