Dear Let S de G:
I have been with my current employer 6 years. Two months ago the person who hired me resigned and I began reporting to someone new. My new boss is very different from my old boss. Different communication and management styles which have taken a bit of getting use to but I’ve managed.
Two weeks ago he gave me a project to work on with specific instructions to not tell anyone what I was working on. This project includes a detailed assessment with sensitive information regarding the state of our business, so it made sense that he would ask me to be discrete. He added it was for one of the executives. It would require I work after hours.
Last week, my boss’ boss came by my cubicle as she was leaving. She asked why I was staying so late for so many nights in a row.
Thinking that she probably had to be aware of what I was working on, I said “I am working on such and such report.” To which she said, “not anymore. Pack up and go home.”
Turns out she had no clue I would be working on this and my boss is now really pissed. He hasn’t spoken to me for days and I am not even sure what I did wrong. I just want to fix the relationship.
What can I do to fix this?
First, you were doing your job; I don’t see what it is that you need to fix.
Your boss is probably questioning your loyalty right now. Loyalty is important. But you have a responsibility as an employee to tell the truth, first and foremost. Had you lied to or been evasive with this executive, you would have put your character and trustworthiness in question.
A good manager will never ask you do to something that puts those two attributes in peril. If they need to, they will support you when things go wrong by taking the brunt of the damage. Your credibility is your most valuable asset in an organization and anyone in leadership will tell you that.
I do understand why going to work must be tough for you right now. What I suggest is that you ask to meet with your supervisor, preferably in a neutral setting, if that is something you two have done before. Maybe you two have enjoyed a coffee somewhere or done lunch at a local restaurant. Let him know you would like to discuss what occurred.
Whether he takes you up on the offer or passes on the neutral setting, as long as he agrees to meet with you, it’s a good sign. Be transparent but keep it professional.
Explain that your decision was not due to a lack of loyalty and that you felt very uncomfortable by the fact you were put into a situation where saying something other than the truth was not acceptable.
If your manager is a good leader, he will take the time to apologize to YOU for putting you into an impossible situation. Be humble and don’t keep harping on how you were affected. Listen actively. There may be other things going on you are not privy to.
Once he is done speaking, if there is feedback you would like to share, say something positive about your working relationship. Take that moment to reassure him that you enjoy being part of the team.
If your manager is not a good leader, he will take the opportunity to blame you. In that case, let them talk. Make mental notes and end the conversation as quickly as you can.
At that point you have a decision to make:
Do you want to escalate and go to your boss’ boss? Or do you want to let this go and hope time takes care of the bad feelings?
Whatever you decide keep in mind that the truth is your best ally in these situations. The moment you don’t have truth and transparency on your side, you lose your ace in the hole. You become part of whatever political stew is going on in that department.
If your boss’ behavior becomes abusive or you feel harassed in anyway, then you need to report that behavior. And don’t just report it to one person. Report it to two senior people in the organization. One of them can be your ethics hotline, but the other should be someone in that chain of command.
And for Pete’s sake, document your report and keep a copy.
For further guidance on how to report unethical behavior for your particular organization, speak to your HR department.
(Have an HR story to share or question you would like answered on Jedi Office Hours? Send it my way: firstname.lastname@example.org. I protect the innocent and not so innocent. No names are used.)