I work in an office where there is a double standard. I feel as if I am being “picked on” by the boss (who is old enough to be my mother). It has been going on for a long time; I won’t bore you with past details. My most recent frustration came when “Boss” blindsided me with a “Can I see you in my office?” email.
Back story – “Boss” was out of the office for 3 days, so our dept Lead was in charge. The “Lead” was stressed, screaming at her computer/e-mail, slamming things on her desk, etc. while in charge. When I asked the lead a question that I knew she would have an answer to, she replied with, “I don’t know,” and a bad attitude. Needless to say, I had to call someone who used to work with us to get the information. Lead’s behavior/attitude caused added stress unto me and others, so I copped an attitude back.
So, when I went into Boss’ office, I was told that my attitude was unacceptable and my behavior (i.e. slamming things on my desk, sighing, making minor comments, etc.) was a distraction to everyone in the dept and did not make for a good environment. The day after I was reprimanded, I heard the Lead scream at her computer, “Oh, great. Thanks _____, thanks for telling me that NOW that I’ve processed your damn order.” The Lead has continued to exert the same behavior/attitude that I was reprimanded for, yet she has not been reprimanded as it still continues to this day.
Yesterday was my birthday. Boss brought in cookies (12 pk) and cupcakes (15 or so) to celebrate. I opened the cookies/cupcakes that morning, and I left them out in an accessible area so ALL could enjoy. At the end of the day, I took home what was left – 3 cookies and 6 cupcakes. This afternoon I received an e-mail from her stating, “In case you didn’t know; when I bring in treats for someone’s birthday, it is to be shared by the whole department. Thanks.” I replied that I was sorry and that I didn’t want to seem unappreciative by leaving them there. Am I wrong to feel that I am being picked on and what can I do about it that doesn’t involve talking to the bitc…I mean Boss?
Accidental Cookie Monster
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY JENNIFER GLUECK BEZOZA
Dear Accidental Cookie Monster,
I can understand from your recent description of events why you might feel unfairly singled out by your boss. At the same time, unprofessional behavior towards you does not necessarily give you permission to display the same attitude in return. In other words, it may be unfair that your boss reprimanded you for “copping an attitude” in return to the Lead’s (whom she left in charge while away), but your sighing, making side comments and sighing loudly is objectively unprofessional and disruptive to others around you.
I think it’s important to examine why the Lead continues to be able to act unprofessionally and not get reprimanded for it. What allows this individual to not “ruffle” feathers the way it appears you have with your boss? Does this individual add value in ways that others cannot? Does this individual forge strong relationships with the Boss and other colleagues, such that her disruptive behavior is tolerated? Or is this individual political in where and with whom she shows her unprofessional attitude? Or alternatively, did the Lead get reprimanded privately in the boss’s office just as you did? I don’t have the answers, but I hope you will gain further insight on what is accepted and valued in your workplace when thinking through these questions.
With regard to the incident that occurred on your birthday, it does sound as if your boss unfairly snapped at you for taking home the treats at the end of the day. Perhaps, in retrospect, you could have gone out of your way to thank the boss for the treats that morning and then later on deferentially asked what she would like to do with the unclaimed desserts when it was time for everyone to go home? My suspicion is that her expressed anger at you goes much deeper than taking home a few leftover cupcakes.
In terms of what you can do going forward to make peace, I think you will need to work extra hard to change current perceptions in the department. You ask what you can do that does not involve talking to the boss, and unfortunately, I think ignoring her would only exacerbate her current perceptions about you. Here are a few tips and examples for how you can earn your colleagues and even the boss’s respect and trust going forward.
Always maintain a cool and collected disposition at work.
Never let others see you angry, rattled or frustrated, even when the “Lead” or others fail to model the same emotional control. If you cannot communicate calmly, take a break outside and/or go talk with a trusted source that will help you calm down and think about how to respond.
Communicate directly and openly with your Boss and other colleagues.
For example, you might have used the “cupcake” incident as a way to open dialogue with your boss about how you are doing. For example, you might say something to the effect of “I am sensing you are increasingly frustrated with me recently. Can you share why that is? I certainly did not mean to take from the group when I left at the end of the day.”
Receive feedback with open and appreciative ears.
Following on from the previous point, I think it’s important to really listen to the boss and others about how your behavior is impacting them. Instead of being defensive and claiming there is a double standard, ask for specific illustrations of the behaviors that the Boss and/or others are seeing. Thank anyone who shares authentic feedback about your behavior. Honest feedback is a gift that raises your awareness and gives you the opportunity grow and change.
Try out new roles and actions with the Boss and/or your colleagues.
For example, instead of being on the receiving end of the birthday treats, maybe you want to bring in bagels or donuts for colleagues on a Friday morning. Or perhaps you offer to help the Lead the next time she is struggling to keep things in control when the Boss is out of the office. In other words, think about how you can be a valued corporate citizen or “go-giver” in your department. Magic words to remember to say are, “How can I help?”
I hope some of these questions and suggestions are helpful to you as you go forward. Best of luck to you.
Thank you for writing to Office Politics.
Jennifer Glueck Bezoza, MA
Jennifer Glueck Bezoza has an MA in organizational psychology from Columbia University and a BA in psychology and humanities from Stanford University. She currently works in Organizational Development for the largest not-for-profit home health organization in the country where she focuses on succession planning, leadership development and coaching. Previously, she worked for GE Commercial Finance and HR consultant, Towers Perrin.