I have been having issues with my manager since before Christmas. I kept my feelings to myself until recently, when I found out that others were having similar issues. In a team of four, my manager and one other team member have become very close, to the point that it often seems as though there are only ever two people in our meetings. It was also evident recently, when the team member in question had a few days off and our manager failed to come into the office to say good morning and check-in.
I feel that my manager's behaviour presents an impression that she only values one team member's feedback and advice. It has become so bad that an eight-year veteran of the office resigned unexpectedly a few weeks ago. This is a particular concern, since I am on contract and would like to renew at the end of August, but I feel as though that will be severely hindered if my manager has any say.
How do I raise this issue of team dynamics and make her aware of her behaviour without it being perceived as "petty" and ruffling any feathers?
THE FIRST ANSWER
President of Sandra Safran HR Services, London, Ont.
You sound frustrated. I wonder why you want to stay with this group. If other team members have similar issues, and an eight-year veteran has left because of the problems, it might be futile to try to improve the situation. Perhaps you are worried about employment after your contract ends and should make other plans for your future.
If your manager does not greet your group at the start of a day, this is an opportunity to go to her office to say good morning and ask her whether there is anything special that she would like you to do. Perhaps no one else approaches her, and your friendliness will contribute to her good impression of you.
Think about and compare your previous suggestions to those of the "favoured" team member. Perhaps yours have been too general or were stated apologetically. Then ask to meet with your manager. State that your goal is to continue to be a team member and to become even more valuable. Discuss your ideas to support the team and its work. Ask her how you could improve your contribution to her successful team. It won't help you to mention her management style.
Your manager probably knows that she's ignoring most of the team. She might appreciate your offer to make a special effort to support her and the whole team with good, creative ideas.
Thank her for her help. After the meeting, try to do everything she suggests. Keep her apprised of your progress. This may be your only chance to demonstrate your value to her and to keep your position.
THE SECOND ANSWER
You want to find a nice way to say to your manager, "You're playing favourites, everybody knows, and I have proof." Truth-telling, even delicately worded, is risky. As a coach, I help people clarify their goals and the path to get there; I typically encourage risks. In this case, I'm not convinced it addresses your immediate priority: keeping your job. I agree that a conversation with your manager may improve your working environment, but if the contract ends in August, it nullifies the issue.
Your focus must be proving your value, because it's being overlooked. Update your manager twice weekly on your work, offer insights and ideas that support her goals, and relay positive feedback from others. Ideally, speak in person and follow up by e-mail. (Bonus points for copying other stakeholders on relevant "wins.") Granted, it may be uninspiring to launch this one-way campaign, but it's your best shot to get your contract renewed.
Implementing practices to cement your renewal will have the side effect of strengthening your relationship through frequent connection. If your manager's behaviour is still subpar, bring it up after a few weeks. Instead of pointing out your manager's favouritism, make it about you. (Just you, not your colleagues.) Reflect on what you need that you're not getting – for example, opportunities to contribute in meetings. Brainstorm a whole list. Then choose the items that would have the most impact on how you feel about work. Explain to your manager with an optimistic smile how these changes can help the team and also why it's important to you.
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