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Long story short: Strained relationship with Manager drove me to job hunting. Manager takes six month sabbatical. Working directly for her manager in that time is infinitely more enjoyable, and in one month alone have made more progress towards career objectives than ever before. Dread the thought of going back to original manager when she returns. How can I express that professionally to my temporary manager at my half year review without stabbing the original in the back?

At the beginning of the year I started a new role that I'd been promoted to a few months prior. This meant working under a new line manager, who we will call Jane, whom had also been promoted to her role at the same time. I had known Jane reasonably well prior to working directly under her (we're a start up), and got on well professionally and personally. We were building a new department from scratch, along with another colleague on the same level as me but handling an unrelated function to mine, under Jane's umbrella.

My role was, and still is very pressured and challenging (although exciting and rewarding). I am covering a workload of at least 2 if not 3 people, and also having to support my old department due to my old role not being filled properly when I was promoted. There have been a lot of late nights and stress, and I have been very upfront with Jane about feeling close to burnout.

Right from when we started however, Jane was very absent. I had no visibility of what she was doing. We would have a catch up on a Monday morning where I would report everything I was doing, but it was never reciprocated. We didn't work together on anything, and I really had no idea what she did. During this time, I was also becoming aware that I was not being given any opportunities to work on any cross-functional projects or even present my own work to other stakeholders. It was always "don't worry, I presented it to x". I felt really isolated and cut off from the rest of the company. While Jane gave feedback, it was always... overly positive. To the point of feeling fake. Routine things I was doing were being given the same "smashed it!" feedback as wins I felt really proud of. When I talked about challenges, I would just get overly motivational "you got this!" type sympathy, and no tangible support.

After a few months, Jane's manager (lets call her Tracy) set up a meeting with me to get to know me better. At one point she mentioned an upcoming meeting believing I would be in it as it was essentially focused on my area of expertise, but I'd never even heard it was occurring. Tracy invited me to it, and gave me the opportunity in it to share my knowledge, which I did, and I was proud of my performance afterwards, and supposedly impressed some other senior managers. After that meeting, Jane started micromanaging me. She became very demanding of constant updates, and snapped at me on more than one occasion for letting low priority tasks slip due to being overburdened, all whilst offering no real support. I also started to suspect she was presenting my work as her own, or at least as having contributed to it when she hadn't, as company updates would always say things like "Jane and batsag have worked really hard on x or y" when x or y was something I'd worked on alone.

It all came to a head at 5pm one day about two months ago when Jane pulled me into a meeting room to demand to know why I hadn't yet updated her on a meeting I'd had with an external supplier that morning (I had explicitly said at the start of the week that I'd summarise it by email that evening as I knew I was going to be having a full on day). Due to our various commitments we had not crossed paths until about 20 minutes before Jane pulled me into this. She accused me of lacking respect and undermining her, claiming it was not the first time I'd done this, but without providing examples. I was accused of "being the reason we don't look like a team". I was tired and caught off guard so I just apologised and said it was a misunderstanding, rather than standing up for myself. Went home that night and resolved to resign by the end of the week. I'd already been job hunting as I'd got to the point where I was feeling ill at the thought of coming in to the office while she was there, but had been trying to be patient and get an offer elsewhere first.

The next day, she announced that she was taking a six month sabbatical to go do a once in a lifetime trip. She had apparently requested it at the time she got promoted to lead this department, and they'd been working out the details over the past 4 months. I would be reporting directly to her manager for the period. I decided to hold out and see how working for Tracy turned out. We basically did no handover, as there was nothing to be handed over, and within a month she was gone.

I've been working directly for Tracy for about 6 weeks now, and it has been night and day. I'm getting to lead on cross functional work with other stakeholders, present my work directly to senior management, put together a CPD plan. I speak to Tracy multiple times a day, and when I talk to her about challenges, we come up with solutions. Tracy is also seemingly shouting my praises to anyone and everyone, as I had the CEO come up to me late one evening last week and tell me he's been "hearing great things about me over the past month". I feel re-energised and positive about my job, and I don't want this to go back to how it was before.

I have my six month review of my new role coming up with Tracy. I really don't know how to approach this. Despite everything, I don't want to throw Jane under a bus, for her sake but also mine as I don't think its a professional look to do so. I am ambitious in a healthy way (I hope), and that is known by management, so I worry anything I do will look like climbing the ladder at someone else's expense. But I really cannot go back to working for her when she returns in the autumn. Can anyone advise me what to do here?

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    Thank you for the background info that saves users from asking questions in the comments.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 17 at 7:29
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    Before doing anything else, you need to establish how much credit Jane has been giving herself for your hard work and results. This will probably answer the question of what to do next by itself.
    – Tim
    May 17 at 10:09
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    Question: Is a lateral move to another manager/group under Tracy possible? Or is the work too different? May 17 at 11:47

8 Answers 8

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I have my six month review of my new role coming up with Tracy. I really dont know how to approach this. Despite everything, I dont want to throw Jane under a bus, for her sake but also mine as I dont think its a professional look to do so. I am ambitious in a healthy way (I hope), and that is known by management, so I worry anything I do will look like climbing the ladder at someone elses expense. But I really cannot go back to working for her when she returns in the autumn. Can anyone advise me what to do here?

Have a conversation with Tracy soon.

Talk about how well things are going and that you really enjoy working with her. Ask if there's any way you can work directly for her permanently. Unless she is oblivious, she will get the point.

If the answer is "No", then it might be time to start looking for a new job before Fall.

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    OP: Just be a touch wary that Tracy may be thinking you're trying to jump up the workplace hierarchy. So maybe it doesn't hurt to be a bit more explicit with the rationale. May 17 at 5:28
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    @BЈовић We can probably assume the ideal scenario for the OP is to remain working under their manager's manager. I mean, that is indeed the purpose of the question. So I would actually say, yes, be a bit less cautious and be a bit more direct, and let your manager's manager know the reasons why. May 17 at 7:34
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    @GregoryCurrie Oh you are right. Somehow I didn't see the words "more explicit" in your comment :( May 17 at 8:38
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    @GregoryCurrie "jump up the workplace hierarchy". That's what's meant to happen if you're performing well, isn't it?
    – Tom W
    May 17 at 12:35
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    @TomW If you start a conversation with "I've been performing well, I should now be employed at the same level as my boss." That's likely to start a chain of discussions that, in my opinion, probably won't go anywhere. If you say: "I don't feel I can work under my old boss." That may yield a different set of conversations which I think, given the OP is willing to quit, may give a bit more clarity. May 17 at 14:06
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You can go a long way with the truth.

"Hey, I wanted to say: two months ago I wasn't happy and I was looking for other jobs. That's not the case any more and you've been a big part of that. Thank you."

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    I’ld be careful letting know any employer that you are/were job hunting May 17 at 21:42
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    Suggest removing "and I was looking for other jobs"" and just let it say that you were unhappy.
    – Criggie
    May 18 at 2:44
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    Echoing @Criggie's comment, it would be very unwise to let management know you were seeking employment elsewhere. May 18 at 23:27
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    Upvoted the three comments above, and strongly endorse the sentiments within. May 19 at 10:02
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I suggest you do throw Jane under the bus, but in a different way that @gnasher729 suggests.

I would simply, truthfully, tell Tracy:

  • that I like to work with her, and that it is a very performant relationship
  • that this is not the case with Jane, for all sorts of reasons

You do not need to make snaky remarks - just show the contrast and clearly tell that the relationship with Jane is not good and counterproductive for the company.

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    Something like: Well, Jane and I just don't get on, can't say exactly why, sometimes it just doesn't work right, and working directly with you was much more productive.
    – RedSonja
    May 18 at 6:50
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    Tracy will want to understand your motivations, and know you have a good reason for not liking Jane (at the least, so she knows how to avoid it). Describe specifically but non-judgementally what you don't like about working with Jane, or about your previous role. In your work with Tracy, you get more responsibility and your work is more visible to senior staff. You can say Jane's leadership style was more distant, with Jane giving you tasks and asking for updates instead of working together on problems, and when Jane had concerns, she let them grow instead of giving you timely feedback.
    – user7868
    May 18 at 13:51
  • I like the idea of being explicit about why you like working with Tracy more, for the simple reason that it gives Tracy an opportunity to clarify if that's more a temporary solution. Because talking to your manager "multiple times a day" sounds like an awful lot, especially if said manager is high up the food chain. Maybe she's mostly doing it to get started or as an exception to cover for Jane, and not able to provide the same level of support indefinitely.
    – xLeitix
    May 19 at 11:53
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    Don't say you don't like working with Jane, say working with her makes you unproductive and stressed out and isn't sustainable, say you're not sure what to do about it, and ask for suggestions. May 19 at 20:08
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I also started to suspect she was presenting my work as her own, or at least as having contributed to it when she hadn't, as company updates would always say things like "Jane and batsag have worked really hard on x or y" when x or y was something I'd worked on alone.

There's a better-than-even chance that Tracy already knows this, in my estimation. Six months is plenty of time to deduce who was really getting things done in this working relationship. If you work effectively under Tracy, are achieving goals and growing professionally then 'climbing the ladder' is what you should be doing. It's more than reasonable to remark that you'd like to continue reporting to Tracy given that it's been shown to be successful.

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    To this point - if Jane has been absent for six months Tracy will know what things have got suddenly hard and what haven't. Hard to design a better test of Jane's (and your) employee value.
    – Joe
    May 17 at 14:43
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    Yup. Also, if Jane has been undermining you and Tracy is not, it's pretty clear that Tracy can see through the BS. Jane is not in for a good time when she gets back if her behavior does not change, even without you saying anything. That being said, the conversation does need to happen explicitly in some form. May 18 at 14:25
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"I had the CEO come up to me late one evening last week and tell me he's been 'hearing great things about me over the past month'". Based on your work history, this should have made you very mad, as you have consistently done great work that is only now getting acknowledged. Use this statement as your way to tell Tracy that you were unhappy before. Tell Tracy that you enjoy working directly for her, and do not wish to have your efforts minimized or taken advantage of in the future. She'll fill in the blanks, without you needing to explicitly disparage your old boss.

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    I really like this option! This one is underrated.
    – Dakkaron
    May 17 at 18:36
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I suggest you do throw Jane under the bus. Obviously not directly complaining, just mentioning all the things you have been doing that she probably claimed she had been doing, and when asked, very innocently telling everyone that no, she wasn't involved in this whatsoever.

Remember she has done worse to you all the time you worked there. And remember she is not an asset to your company. You in her position would be a better asset. (Well, I hope you would be).

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  • what you said is technically correct. But you see there is compassion which comes in between. Tomorrow when you cross each other in office etc, it gets difficult
    – chendu
    May 17 at 5:00
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    Compassion goes two ways. But you seem to think that Jane is going to harass OP. Even more reason to throw her under the bus.
    – gnasher729
    May 17 at 6:03
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    The OP doesn't really know or doesn't have any proof that supports their suspicion his manager (Jane) was taking all the credit. It's likely that is what happened but it wouldn't hold up in an internal investigation. Never badmouth a senior or a superior unless you have hard proof and can afford to be let go/fired/dismissed.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 17 at 6:47
  • The OP doesn't need to throw her under the bus on the assumption that she was taking credit for their work, the fact that she was such a bad manager is more than sufficient. May 17 at 11:41
  • @Mari-LouA And so what is your opinion as to what, if anything the OP should do? I'm curious because you are indicating this is a answer with bad advice, but provide no alternatives?
    – CGCampbell
    May 17 at 12:15
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Based on your side of the story, it doesn't sound like Jane is benefiting the company much.

If you have documentation of Jane's poor performance/attitude, tactfully bring it up to Tracy. Tracy should either work to improve Jane's performance, or let her go.

Another option would be to gush to Tracy about how much you love working with her, you feel like you are really in sync, etc. Then ask if it would be possible to continue the same working arrangement even after Jane returns.

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    Undermining a manager never ends well
    – solarflare
    May 16 at 23:58
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    My guess is that upper management is well aware by now that Jane's absence has not had a performance impact on her team. May 17 at 7:36
  • @SimonRichter sabbaticals are a thing (this is even part of our French labour law). If it is prepared correctly, there is no reason for a performance impact. Sure - it may look like the person who left is not that important after all, but it depends on how the management is mature and understands this is because of the preparation.
    – WoJ
    May 17 at 10:42
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    @SimonRichter, actually, it looks like Jane's absence has had quite an impact on the team's performance. At least on batsag's performance. Quite a positive impact...
    – FreeMan
    May 17 at 13:14
  • I agree with WoJ. Sabbaticals and other planned leave can be careful managed by the employer. It may result in some employees having additional workloads that you'd generally want to avoid, and hiring temp staff. Because one employee may not think their boss adds any value, it doesn't mean it's true. May 17 at 14:08
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Frame the conversation in terms of how the company and the temporary manager benefit from the current situation.

If you have records of your productivity before the start of the sabbatical, and during the sabbatical, and can show that on a week-by-week basis you are simply getting more done now than before, there should be little difficulty getting them to permanently alter the org chart.

Also have ready, if you can, a record of the work you did for which your manager took credit. That will defuse any claim that the manager's contributions make up for your loss of productivity.

If your arguments fall on deaf ears, then proceed with your job hunting.

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