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After consistent issues with my supervisor, I decided to leave my job. However, I’m concerned about receiving a bad reference when applying to new positions. Is there anything I can do? Elaine Varelas provides insight

Having a difficult working relationship with your boss can cause added stress at work. Elaine Varelas provides insight on how to approach a difficult boss and what steps you could take should you decide to search for a different opportunity.

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A: A boss with a bad attitude can be difficult to deal with; a boss with a bad attitude directed at you is even worse. Research has shown that people join organizations and leave because of issues with their bosses, and it’s unfortunate that this problem got so bad that you had to quit. An important step to dealing with difficult people is to identify where their behavior is directed and if you could have a conversation with them about how they have been acting. If your boss is directing this negative attitude towards you, you are in the position to ask if they recognize what they are doing. If this is a new development, you need to find out if it has anything to do with your performance. There are times where a supervisor’s frustrations with some employees gets rolled into communications with every employee. This may be a tactic to try to get an employee to leave, or they may just have a bad attitude as a person. If you find yourself in this type of situation, you may want to ask colleagues about the experiences they are having with your boss. Is your relationship with the manager the same as other employees? If it’s just you, you can approach Human Resources to see how to deal with this specific conflict.

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If it’s directed at you, though it may be uncomfortable, ask this specific question of your manager: “There seems to be something negative going on with our communication, can you tell me if you think this is the case?” This is a good question to ask but be prepared for any response. Your supervisor might tell you they aren’t happy with your performance and suggest this isn’t the right role or company for you, or they may apologize and explain themselves. According to the Forbes article How to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work by Caroline Castrillon, some steps to consider when having an uncomfortable or hard talk at work include: practicing the talk beforehand, not procrastinating on having the conversation, writing down specific talking points in advance to keep the conversation on track, extending empathy, and utilizing brainstorming as a way to possibly mend the situation (https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinecastrillon/2021/10/24/how-to-handle-difficult-conversations-at-work/).

These kinds of difficult conversations occur regularly at work, and the sooner you develop a comfort level having them (as a manager or as employee), the better the entire process will be. These conversations may never be easy, but not having them is even worse. In the end, it is vital that you do have a dialogue before packing up everything and leaving. If you believe you have no choice but to leave, get HR involved to see if severance is an option and make sure to request that they not contest unemployment benefits.

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As far as getting a good or bad reference, ask HR what the company policy is. Some company policies only allow information to confirm the dates you worked and your title. Others allow a manager to have a full conversation “off the record”. If you are concerned and if you are comfortable enough, you can call your former manager and ask what kind of reference they would give. You could even go further and inquire with a specific question: “Would you be prepared to give me a good reference?” If the answer is no or if you’re having doubts about the kind of reference your old boss may give, then don’t provide that information when applying for a new position. You can quote the company policy of no references and use someone else who you trust and have already had a conversation with.

One thing you didn’t mention is how you quit. Did you walk out? Did you provide some sort of notice period or none at all? If you left under difficult circumstances, it’s best to leave that door closed. Instead, look to other supervisors, managers, colleagues, and professional connections that have had positive experiences with you and would be willing to attest to your abilities as an employee.

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