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Unhappy in a Bad Economy – What Are My Options?

Q. My boss does not communicate with me or give me feedback on anything. Occasionally he emails me about something but I have little to no direct communication with him. A few weeks ago I asked to meet with him to discuss the situation, he agreed to meet, and then cancelled. When I asked again to talk to him, he said he was too busy. I am very hurt by the way he treats me. I did speak to HR and I was told that I would have to figure out whether I wanted to stay or not. Not much help there. I don’t know what to do. It’s not like there are lots of job opportunities if I were to decide to leave. What should I do?

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A. An employee’s experience at work is most often dominated by their experience with their manager. I am sorry for what sounds like a terrible situation. There are many reasons why your manager may be acting the way he is and none are acceptable. He may not be happy with your performance, and can’t figure out how to tell you. He may think you need too much attention and feedback.

Communication on a regular basis is a reasonable expectation for an employee to have of a manager, and this should not be a surprise for anyone in a management role. Developing managers and helping them support their employees is a key role for human resources, but it seems this didn’t happen here. Or the message you have been not so subtly provided by human resources is that the situation will remain as it is, and you have some choices to make about your comfort staying at an organization where communication will not be provided to the extent you need or want.

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If your manager treats colleagues in a similar way, the issue may be the structure of your manager’s role, and his focus on his functional responsibilities as opposed to his managerial responsibilities. This is often the case with newly promoted managers, or technical experts promoted with little management training. Organizations can and should develop skills in managers who have relied on their functional expertise to lead in the past, and may not know how to accomplish work through others via management skills. Many companies have neglected this level of development during the cost cutting of the last few years. Employees are not happy working with difficult managers, and will begin to look for external opportunities. There will be an organizational cost to this kind of turnover, which typically starts with great performers, and high potentials.

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If your relationship with your manager stands out for its lack of communication, evaluate other issues. Can it be that you are looking for too much communication, direction and feedback? It would be preferable for your manager to deliver that message directly to you as opposed to ignoring you, and you may have heard this message and not internalized its meaning. Professionals do have to adjust to their manager’s style. Your manager seems to have a style with limited communication and direction, with the expectation that you should be self-managed and motivated, with a limited need for feedback. Many managers believe no feedback is good feedback, and you’ll hear from them as needed.

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You do have options. Adjust to your manager’s style, and find feedback elsewhere. Or start a job search where the manager and management culture will offer you the support you want.

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