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The worst kind of boss isn't all bad - he's inconsistent

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Linda J. LernerLINDA J. LERNER | JOB DOC
The worst kind of boss isn't all bad - he's inconsistent
By Linda J. Lerner  |  April 1, 2007taking_notes

Q. My boss keeps changing his mind about the work that I do for him. I will get an assignment from him and be halfway through when he arrives at my desk and announces that he's decided to change it a little. His version of a little change is usually a major reworking. He sometimes stands over my shoulder watching me work, and he also tries to read anything on my desk. I suspect he may try to go into my desk when I am not in the office. At times he is the nicest guy, but the next day he seems angry at the world. My stress level is way up, and I frankly dread going to work and experiencing another day of working while trying to get along with my boss. Any suggestions?
A. I can see why you are stressed. Repeated inconsistency is actually harder to deal with than a consistently poor situation. You never know what to expect, and that in itself keeps the tension up. I remember learning of a very large study designed to see which types of supervisors employees preferred and would choose to work for. The study found that the lowest scores went to the supervisor who was good to employees some of the time and treated them badly at other times.
The surprising result was that the supervisors who treated employees badly all of the time were preferred over the inconsistent ones .
In addition to the inconsistent behavior, you have the gnawing problem of a boss who violates your privacy and attempts to look over whatever is on your desk and perhaps even go into closed desk drawers.
And lastly, he appears to be unable to make up his mind, and that causes you endless hours of revising your work .
Although you might discuss these matters with him, it appears to me that the chances of his changing over the long term are quite small. You should certainly make the effort to prepare and present to him the issues you are facing and how you would like them to be different while working for him. Be aware that certain personality traits, such as frequently changing one's mind may come from deep seated insecurities and endless striving for perfection. No matter how well you state your requests for him to change, it may be beyond his capacity and beyond what one can expect in the work place. You're not a psychologist, but just an employee who want to get the job done.
Assuming that your experiences with your boss continue, it is probably time to seriously consider moving on to another job. Living with frustration at work depletes your energy and keeps your stress level rising. Your health and well being may be served by beginning your job search tomorrow.
You should probably start by looking at the company's job postings to see if a transfer to another department is possible. Visit the human resources department and let them know that you want to stay with the company in another capacity and ask if they will keep you informed of any job opportunities that suit your work experience. For your external search, you obviously need to keep all resumes, cover letters, and other materials at home. Don't use the company's computer or phone for interview-related matters and give any employment agency or potential new employer your cellphone number.

The corporate climate is cold and uncaring
Q. The company I work for is a very uncaring place to be. The management appears to take us all for granted and some of them hardly ever say hello. Our immediate supervisor is basically a decent person, but he just seems to follow along and act in this cold way as well. Recently one employee left the company after 14 years and there was nothing done by the company to recognize her years of service and her hard work. My co-workers and I do get along well and stick together. Is there anything we can do to influence this atmosphere?
A. I wish we could inject each new manager with the wisdom to know that appreciation is one of the keys to effective management. Excuses, such as being too busy and having more important things to do, just don't fly when it comes to human relationships. Our personal satisfaction at work is in large part the result of the relationships that we develop. These relationships come to play an important role in making work a satisfying experience.
What has been expressed in this question is actually a description of a certain type of corporate culture, the impact of which is to trickle down to all levels of management. Your own manager reflects that culture by behaving like others do when supervising employees.
One of the things you can do to counter this is what you have already begun doing, and that is to build strong relationships with co-workers in your department and in other areas of the company.
Another is to expand upon this and express concern for others, show an interest in their lives, and act kindly whenever possible. Thank people for even the smallest positive gesture or assistance and hope that in time they will begin to respond to you in kind. Even bosses need to be treated with a caring attitude .
If there is a co-worker who is particularly assertive or funny, that person can be encouraged to carry the message to your manager that there is dissatisfaction with his cold style. Humor can help to cut through the fear of confrontation that most of us share when speaking to a boss about a problem, especially when he is the cause of it. Include examples such as acknowledging long service when employees reach milestones, even if they are leaving. Make helpful suggestions for how to warm the environment and increase the friendliness supply.
Be aware that some managers will respond well to this approach and others may not even understand what you're talking about. Still it's worth a try. Sometimes seeking advice from the human resources department can be helpful. You may be surprised to find that they too are trying to change the culture, or they could disappoint and also reflect the disinterest of management.
It is a very personal decision whether you are willing to try to change the environment you work in because that can be a time consuming and a challenging responsibility. This effort to "train" your boss is sometimes referred to a "managing up." We can be more effective in influencing our boss when we come from a generous and helpful mindset and we repeat that upbeat behavior every chance we get.
Some people will choose to grin-and-bear-it and create their own enclave of a positive atmosphere with their co-workers that is separate from this pervasive lack of understanding of employees' needs. Different personalities are able to let this type situation flow off them and not be as affected by it.
Others might decide to just walk away and try working in another company. Companies, like people, get a reputation for the way that they do business. If you determine that this company is no longer the right place for you to be, don't necessarily go to the first place where you think you can get hired. Instead seek out a new employer where the culture is known for being open, friendly, and appreciative of its employees.

After 7 years, an office; now, how to decorate?
Q. After seven years with this company, I have just been promoted to the manager of our accounting department. One of the highlights for me is that the promotion comes with my own office. After all these years working in a cubicle this is a great change for me. My question is about what to put in it. In addition to selecting some of the pieces of furniture, I can put my own things on the wall, desk, door, etc. Any suggestions for doing the right thing here?
A. You are wise to ask because many newly promoted managers just transfer the familiar and sometimes inappropriate stuff from their old cubicle to their new office. Here are a few suggestions:
The most important piece of furniture in your office is your chair. Select it carefully by sitting in a variety of styles and be sure that it is adjustable. Before you go to your company's approved furniture dealer, get the acceptable price range for the chair and any other pieces that you are authorized to purchase. Desk chairs can range in price from $100 to thousands.
Put something on the wall that you know about or that you're interested in. In this way when someone comments on the attractive painting on your wall, you can tell them about it. I used to have a quote in my office that meant a great deal to me and when visitors would comment or ask about it, it gave me the chance to explain it, and it sometimes led to an engaging conversation. An executive in a company I worked for restored old cars and had a photo of his prized accomplishment.
It is generally best to avoid any cartoons, especially those that are negative about working. I suggest that you put nothing on your door.
Carefully selected photos on your desk of family or close friends that are nicely framed are fine but don't have the desk cluttered with too many of them.
And lastly, unless your academic credentials are necessary for your professional status, such as a physician, eliminate degrees and diplomas from your walls; it can look pretentious.
Linda J.Lerner is an executive coach and a human resources consultant to small businesses and individuals. You can contact Linda here. E-mail questions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or mail to Job Doc, Boston Globe, Box 55819, Boston, 02205-5819.        

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 12:10