What is the most professional way of dealing with a manager whose management style is arbitrary?
My management ( is/appears to be ) motivated by personal moods, daily attitude, or whatever whim or fancy strikes them at a moments notice and it makes it hard to stay motivated. As an employee that strives to perform at, or above, expectations it makes it difficult when a management style doesn't recognize actual accomplishments but rather momentary personal discomforts or moods.
During performance reviews I have received less than middle-ground ratings. When I ask for what can be done to improve in these areas I am told to work harder. I ask for clarification, because as an hourly employee I am not allowed to work more than 40 hours. I already work up to the minute I have to clock out. I take breaks only when nature calls or I need to clear my head and try to see the problem away from the keyboard. No clear answer is ever given. No process or workflow presented to offer me a direction to try. Just "Work Harder."
Management had previously been the only person doing work in this discipline organization-wide (pretty much) and had very little actual experience doing that work. Having held a sales position in this discipline selling software rather than being even an actual user before being hired in to my organization. Now, the work previously produced by their position has gone through several advancements. The tools used to even create the files and working solutions are no longer in use. A lot of the technology needed to recreate their work is newer, HTML5-based, and has required reworking completely in every aspect of the work.
However, once hired I was put to work using the outdated technology to maintain the applications I was supposed to replace. Which was fine, no problem. I did the work. However, I had never been trained in the software used to create these applications yet I was constantly criticized for each process I worked through. There were no manuals, no tutorials, no guides for doing the customized work needed with these outdated tools yet I was required to balance between doing this maintenance while preparing for the massive overhaul.
Meanwhile, my only co-worker (in this discipline) is promoted to supervisor role (much deserved) and he is ready to push towards a drop of the old and bring on the new. Which appears to amp up the stress and anxiety of management as their old applications come closer to retirement. I begin setting up newer systems, working with my co-worker (who isn't a programmer, but rather a specialist in the data-type of this discipline). So between him and I we begin rebuilding the foundation that these applications are built on. We start updating the older systems with our newer foundation. The data is cleaner, better organized, and things are looking good.
Management however becomes highly irritable with me. When I ask for what I am doing that needs correction there isn't an answer. I can't get the responses I need. My performance review isn't bad, but it's (almost) the worse I've received in the decade+ I've worked with this organization. All attempts at clarification are rebuffed. All jobs are now being assigned by my supervisor co-worker but management is still showing up, micromanaging at points, trying to apply concepts from the old technology built on faulty foundation, to a new system that requires custom coding in many instances.
Supervisor manages to redirect much of the problems but prefers working with the data and pushing the disciplines agenda organization wide in order to get a broader base of end-users (which he succeeds at).
Meanwhile, I'm still dealing with spot-check-style management. If a problem is discovered on their old systems (which are being phased out piecemeal and expected to start to fail), makes a point to bring it up in un-related meetings, personal chidings about points that are technically wrong or uninformed. And to refer back to the performance reviews technically management doesn't even have the experience to evaluate a large portion of what I do anymore. Yet I am left to believe it's at a poor level.
I have had multiple instances where it was made known that management was certain I would fail at extra-curricular activities, presentations at several regional conferences, presentations at a local self-hosted conference, and more. Meanwhile, afterwards it's made clear by all involved that I not only didn't fail, but instead have now been asked to present more regularly.
The work I do is quality. The effort I expend is quality. I am treated as sub-par excepting AFTER events where organizationally I am recognized for my endeavors. If he is in front of co-workers then suddenly everything changes and I get beaming audible praise.
I could leave this position. Agreed. However, the discipline I have now gained considerable knowledge, skill and competence in is fun. I enjoy the technical aspects, I am thrilled to develop the solutions I've had an opportunity to work on, and my co-workers (as this discipline has grown enough that our organization went from a single employee doing this to multiple co-workers) are a treat to work with. But the arbitrary degradation, the knowledge that I won't get a consistent management moment, means that I am less than thrilled. I keep this position for more than enjoyment of the work, I also have major health issues in my direct family and need the benefits that this organization provides.
I don't know the mind of my manager. I can only assume that he is doing things for the reasons I personally think they are done for. I believe that there is a jealousy of his old position. He has commented several times that he wishes he would go back to doing this work (now that the foundation has been properly set and the technology upgrade has begun). As most of the work I do has (literally) zero organization guidelines (as we are the ones who create that as we go along) I have a hard time knowing the the work I do is based on the skills I have, and have gained, yet I am being evaluated by someone who is misinformed, unskilled, and personally invested in wanting to both see our group do great yet to get what he views as 'his limelight' back from an usurpers grasp.
What would the professional interaction / direction be on my part (as the employee) if I wanted to keep this job and try to find happiness in this position? I've received several amazing responses detailing documentation, which I am doing, that I plan on following their suggestions.
I have been told (repeatedly) by several commenters that my OP needed to follow the concept that "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better."
I was under the impression that I had done just that. From a hypothetical stance. Hopefully this appeases the requirements of this board.