A few weeks ago, someone very important to me called me with a problem they were facing at work. In a nutshell, they had inquired (within their current organization) about an opportunity they felt well suited for and very interested in. Since she was just seeking information, she asked for discretion from the other manager (who agreed to say nothing) as she wasn’t sure if she’d even want to apply and didn’t want to alarm her current manager if there was no need. Shortly thereafter, she saw the two managers speaking and her supervisor’s treatment toward her (which had previously been quite positive) seemed markedly different. She was left feeling confused, disappointed and (understandably) hurt.
Unfortunately, Kerri and I hear versions of this story, all the time. Oh, the dates and places may change, but it always comes down to the same basic elements.
Let’s consider the big issues at play and how things could have been different.
- Someone’s privacy was not respected. This made me think of the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry has rented a car, but when he goes to pick it up, the customer service agent tells him they have run out of cars. Completely confused by this, Jerry asks if they have the reservation. She tells him they do, but there’s nothing that can be done because they simply don’t have a car. He explains to her that the reservation is supposed to hold the car. The agent says she understands what the reservation is for. Jerry insists she doesn’t – because if she did, he would have a car. At this point, Jerry says they know how to take the reservation, but not to hold it and “really, holding it is the most important part.” Similarly, anyone can agree to hold a confidence, but when the rubber meets the road, the holding is the most important part. If you can’t, in good conscience, hold a confidence, it is imperative you tell someone up front or offer another option for them. There may be legitimate reasons you can’t agree to saying nothing (in cases of criminal or inappropriate behavior) but it is incumbent upon you to be clear about that up front.
- The current manager took something personally that wasn’t actually about them. It’s been said that “people leave managers” and while I think there’s merit to that, there’s also a lot of other reasons that someone might be interested in another position – especially, if it’s within the same organization. While it’s easy to believe this is an issue of loyalty, the fact of the matter is, conditions change, and people ultimately need to do what’s right for them. Expanded duties, more opportunity for growth, a better schedule, there are lots of different reasons, but not all of them add up to dissatisfaction with the current manager. One of our favorite resources is a little book we often give managers that outlines “Lost Luxuries” (those things people give up the right to do once they become a manager). They include things like jumping to conclusions, taking all the credit and most applicable here, not taking things personally. If it does end up being the case that someone is unhappy with management, this is a good opportunity for reflection and potential change, not pettiness.
- The manager’s posture toward the employee and treatment changed. Look, we get it, the manager is human. They feel hurt and most people do one of two things when they are hurt; they withdraw, or they lash out. The first may look like silence – say, not including someone in the loop or neglecting to give them full details regarding a project. The second may be passive aggressive comments “We will have to figure this out on our own, since Mary is abandoning us…” or even flat-out bad behavior like criticizing the employee to their colleagues. But let’s go back to point number two for a moment: it is unfair to expect someone to never want to make a change and inappropriate to punish them if they do. A manager’s job is to make people successful and sometimes that means them being successful working for someone else. Also, no matter their personal feelings, it is incumbent upon the manager to be respectful and appropriate to all their employees – no matter how they feel about them, how they feel about the manager, or what they have or haven’t done. Become a manager and you give up the right to bad behavior of any kind. Full stop.
I genuinely wish I had a tidy little wrap up to this story, but I don’t. The employee didn’t want to rock the boat, so they just quietly felt bad until things seemingly blew over and the previous status quo returned. But I know it’s only a matter of time until some version of this plays out again. And each time it does, it will be just a little harder to come back from. More frustration for the employee, less respect for the manager, ultimately equaling out to a lack of true commitment by both.