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October 01, 2015
The Real Issue
My Manager Suffocates Me
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I am having a problem at work. For many years I had a manager who encouraged my innovations. Under her leadership, I received a prestigious award and was publicly recognized by my organization for excellence in my field. We worked well together until she retired.

My current manager, however, does not encourage me to innovate. She gives directives. She has written me up twice because I didnít follow her exact procedures.

I love my workplace. I have excellent relationships with my colleagues. I canít abandon my customers. But Iím suffocating under her need for control.



Just for fun, letís put the worst possible spin on your situation.

Your old manager retired, and once she (old school, dead wood) was gone it became clear that you are no longer the well-liked, highly-valued, award-winning employee you used to be. Your new manager (new blood, hot shot) is trying to move your department forward. But you are a road block.

You are unable to adapt, unwilling to take direction, disobedient to direct orders, and insubordinate. Your attitude is poor. You blame her when you are the problem. She has twice been forced to document your workplace misconduct.

In other words, sheís going to fire you and then fight your claim for unemployment. And in some states, sheíll win, leaving you high and dry.

She will then be free to hire someone who, instead of criticizing her methods, will be grateful to her for the job and who will do what she says. She will supplant you as the de facto big cheese in your department (she was always the boss, but you had the institutional knowledge and customer relationships).

Her stress level will decrease because she no longer has to put up with you. Instead, sheíll get to work with people who praise her and share her opinions.

That is why she is writing you up. She gave you a chance to do things her way, but you didnít. You, therefore, are out. No matter how good you are at the actual job, she wants someone new. And I would not expect someone higher up the corporate ladder to intervene in your behalf. The higher-ups hired her, and they look good if she looks good.

This is, admittedly, a cynical view of your situation. But even if the truth is simply that the company is moving in a different direction, it seems likely that you are on the way out. Your situation is painful and unfair. However, it is not uncommon. It happens to excellent employees in every field.

I suggest, therefore, that it is time for you to move on with your professional life. Here are four reasons you should immediately start looking for a new position.

One, your manager is documenting your workplace misconduct. A personality clash with your manager would be one thing, but this person is actively, officially documenting your failure to obey her. She is setting the scene to fire you for cause, to reduce your pay and benefits, to demote you or to take other adverse action.

You feel insulted that she wrote you up, but her action was more serious than a personal slight: She put official complaints in your personnel file. She is either trying to force you to comply with her directives or to smooth the way for your termination. Neither is good news for you.

(Note: Be sure to follow your workplace procedure for responding to or appealing these written complaints.)

Two, you donít like your job anymore. You used to love your job. You were successful, worked hard and enjoyed the work. But much of your success, it seems, was a direct result of your old managerís encouragement and respect, and of the autonomy she allowed you. Her retirement changed that. Even though you still work for the same organization and with the same job description, your job has changed.

Your colleagues are still terrific, but in all other ways, you have been demoted. You have less autonomy, less ability to meet your customerís needs and you are treated with less respect. In your own words, you feel suffocated.

There is no indication that your job will go back to the one you enjoyed. This current job is now the job, and you donít like it. And life is too short to work at a job you hate.

Three, your customers will survive. Your dedication to your customers has certainly been a component of your professional success. But at the end of the day, your needs trump theirs. You cannot stay in a bad professional situation just for them.

Nor would they expect you to. People change jobs all the time. Your customers may be disappointed if you leave your current employer, but they will either leave with you (and you should make all ethical efforts to take them with you) or adapt to your replacement. No one is going to go out of business or suffer irreparable harm if you change jobs.

Iím sure that this realization ó that you are not indispensable ó stings. Youíve been an important part of your organization for years ó winning awards, gaining recognition, meeting the customersí needs. It has been a big part of what makes you feel satisfied and accomplished.

But suddenly, itís gone. You are now the impediment instead of the resource. Youíre out. But itís better to acknowledge your situation openly than to deny what is happening.

Four, planning your exit is better than waiting to be fired. If you plan your exit, you can prepare your resume and portfolio; attend professional events and conferences on your current employerís dime; update your skills and certifications; set up new mobile phone service and insurance coverage; make new contacts; and go to interviews all while earning a paycheck.

(You should, of course, honestly represent your employer at said conferences and use your paid time off when you are out of the office on personal business.)

Planning your exit will be time-consuming. But looking for a new position ó which may take a while ó will help you feel actively engaged instead of glum and frustrated.

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