I am the Director of Finance & Operations of our organization. Things used to be good back when we were in Ottawa, however since we shut down the department and moved to this new city, things have changed. I noticed people who used to be “friendly, supportive, and there for you,” are no longer around. The Accounting coordinator, is undermining me, twists everything up that I send to him or say to him, to make it look like I am personally attacking him and the three accounting clerks who work underneath him (they no longer work underneath him because we amalgamated the department and every accounting clerk now works underneath me). Plus I caught him lying to the CEO regarding me and that gave me a verbal reprimand. I wasn’t even permitted to defend myself; my boss just assumed what he said was truth. This is something I have never received in my 10 years of a professional accountant.
On top of that, I work in a minority organization. With that being said, I have been receiving reverse discrimination. I have been cornered by the elected peoples, the CEO and Treasurer, demanding contracts, personnel files, agreements, etc. Things that I have sternly said I would not hand over to them because it is confidential and my organizations documents, not the elected bodies’ documents. I had referred them to go to my boss with the request. So I have them playing the “you don’t belong here” game or being called the “up-hauling white bitch,” and so on.
The only thing my personal boss would do is have me move out of the building to a totally different building away from my staff. How can I function with 20 staff if I am not allowed to be near? And in an isolated building across town, in an office by myself? It seems my boss would rather get rid of the problem than solve the problem. So I had explained that to my boss (about me not being able to function without being with my staff). I have been taking the harassment and not bothering saying anything to anyone anymore.
This has taken a big personal toll: I sold my house back home. I am building a new house here. I am making payments towards my new house, so it is not like I can afford to lose my job.
Anyway, am I totally losing it? Maybe this wasn’t a good move. I am really starting to think that now that the office is here in this new city, they won. They are just trying to make my life miserable to the point that I just leave without them having to fire me. What do I do? Am I reading this correctly?
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. JOHN BURTON
Dear Unhappy move,
If I understand the situation correctly, you are working in an organization that represents the interests of, and is primarily staffed by, an identified minority group. I also gather that you are not a member of that group. For a time your relationships within the organization ran smoothly but lately things have deteriorated and there are issues around your authority. Senior management has sought to deal with this by physically separating you from the people whom you supervise.
You also report that you feel unsupported by your superior and that you feel harassed by some of the other employees.
First let me say that working in such an organization provides some particular challenges and your experience is not unique. Small organizations tend to be less formal in their structure and less attentive to reporting relationships and work processes in any case. When the organization is from a small community these tendencies can be exaggerated. As a person who, by virtue of ethnic background, is inevitably an outsider to some degree, you need to find a way to get real clarity from your superior about your role and reporting expectations. Once your superior commits to these expectations he/she needs to back you up when it falls to you to ensure they are applied.
Your boss appears to be dealing with conflict by avoiding it
The fact that your boss has moved you to a separate location suggests that he/she is dealing with conflict by avoiding it. If your boss is not skilled in dealing with conflict then you should discuss with him/her the idea of bringing in a mediator to help to address the issues. The current situation seems untenable. It is, as you point out, hard to supervise employees from a physically separate location. I suspect it also makes handling the workflow more difficult.
Could a mediator be helpful?
Sometimes organizations are reluctant to name the reality of conflict and so avoid asking a mediator to come in. Another approach would be to bring in a consultant to help with organizing the work flow or otherwise ‘rename’ the outside intervention.
Physical isolation from staff makes your job more difficult
In the event that your boss is unwilling or unable to address the conflict effectively and does not provide you with the clarity and support I have mentioned, it appears that you are facing increasing frustration and demoralization. Leaving aside the isolation that comes from your differing ethnic background, the fact that you are physically isolated from the organization makes it very likely that you will be unable to work on the relationships with other staff in a healthy fashion, and they may well follow the physical cue and isolate you.
Ask yourself: What is the cost to my wellbeing?
I hear your concern about the need to stay employed and the costs incurred for a new home when you took this position. While those pressures are real, they are not worth the cost to your health and wellbeing that comes from staying in an uncomfortable situation. If you feel little prospect of a positive response from your boss, or if things just don’t feel like they are improving, I urge you to consult with a colleague or mentor outside the organization who can help you obtain an objective perspective and consider making a change.
I wish you well with this difficult situation. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Dr. John Burton
Dr. John Burton LL.B. M.B.A. M.Div. Ph.D. is an ethicist, mediator, lawyer and theologian. He has taught alternative dispute resolution at Queen’s Law School and Ethics at the Schulich School of Business. John was recently located in Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada, working with Canada’s aboriginal communities. He is now teaching at UBC, Okanagan Campus.