In this week's What should I do? we try to get answers for a TechRepublic member who doesn't understand why his boss treated him so badly.
From one of our TechRepublic members:
"I was in this workplace for over a year and had built up a good reputation with all my colleagues and bosses, however, my immediate boss had to leave and was replaced with a complete idiot.
The new boss could not even stand to acknowledge my presence half the time, and if I had to speak to him, he would frown at me and speak down to me. This could have been based on a personality clash, and the fact that I quite often brought issues to his attention that he didn't want to deal with. On one occasion, I was even forced to mediate a clash between two of my colleagues because he admitted to me that he doesn't like dealing with those sorts of problems.
Aside from that, I worked very hard, always completed work well before deadlines, was proactive (doing half of his job at times), did overtime without being asked, and quite often that was to complete my colleagues' work because the task was undesirable, and he didn't want to force them to do it. And I did all of this without complaining. Whenever something really bad happened, I would send him an e-mail at the end of week called a 'positivity report' to outline all the good things myself and my colleagues had accomplished that week. He never commented on these. I also organized and ran a lunchtime team-building activity every Friday which had some success (but not as much as I wanted it to), and he never commented on this and didn't actively support it either. This was all of my own initiative, no one asked me to do these things; I just saw where something needed to be done and did it.
Then at the end of a massive project where I had worked overtime for 3 weeks non-stop, undertook tasks that were not in my job description, had everything ready well ahead of time, I was made redundant. Which was fine by me, I got a huge payout and didn't have to be in that poisonous environment anymore.
Then came the first kick in the gut: My now ex-boss offered to be a reference for me. I felt suspicious, so I pretended I was going for a job that needed a written reference and asked him if he could write me a reference. He said yes straightaway but asked, 'What do you want me to write?'
I have never before had a boss that didn't know what to say about me.
So I gave him lots of keywords and examples of all the above things that I have already described to you. Not only did he drag his feet and miss my job application 'deadline,' but when it finally did arrive, he just basically gave my job description and said that I attended meetings, and he would recommend me for a similar role. It made me sound so average. All bosses I have had in the past say that they would recommend me for ANY ROLE. This guy worked with me for ELEVEN MONTHS in a small production environment, and he didn't know what to say about me.
Luckily for me, there were other bosses in the company who were more than happy to be my references.
The second kick in the gut came at the end-of-year function (which was only the next week after I was made redundant), which he also tried to stop me from attending. Since he was the production manager, he had to make a speech and some presentations, especially because we just had that massive project completed. I stupidly expected to get some kind of mention, considering that I pretty much did half of his job and that of my colleagues in order to get the project finished on time, but no, he gave not just a mention but SPECIAL AWARDS to the very people who were hindering the project and to one guy who did overtime on the weekend at the end when EVERYONE KNEW I had done overtime for 3 weeks running! I knew it wasn't just me having sour grapes because a lot of people commented on this, including the accountants because they did our pays. I did not get any kind of mention or acknowledgement at all.
This really hurts me, and it still does now, more than six months later, even though I'm in a heaps better job, that my time and effort never got acknowledged. I guess it's the first time in my life I've ever had a really stupid boss, and I haven't accepted it. Even the jerkiest bosses I've had in the past would readily acknowledge my value and skills as an employee.
So the biggest thing for me is: How do I get closure on this, and how do I prevent this from happening again?"
There are a lot of points to cover here. Since I don't have the benefit of the "other side of the story," I'll take a shot. I think part of the issue is that your boss was in way over his head technically (and since he couldn't even handle an employee dispute himself, perhaps not suited tempermentally, either). This might explain why he would avoid conversations with you and why he couldn't write a reference letter about what you did — he didn't really understand what you did. Or maybe he'd been told early on that you were going to be made redundant, and he didn't know how to deal with it.
Also, maybe there was some resentment on his part about your big role in the running of his department. The lunchtime team-building initiative, was that your idea? Did you run it by him before beginning it? It sounds like a positive endeavor, but he might have felt that you were usurping his "territory." Usually, the people who know deep down they're not qualified to do a job also are very scared to let go of any of their power.
A lot of the answers to this problem might lie in the reasons you were given for being made redundant. I'm also curious as to why you would want to attend the end-of-year function after you were let go. I would have been uncomfortable doing so, and I think many of the other attendees may have felt the same way. In fact, some companies would have prohibited your attending for security and legal reasons.
As for his not mentioning you specifically in his speech, it wouldn't have been politically correct. Perhaps corporate is afraid that there may be some backlash on your part in regard to your being let go. If you came back to challenge the action in court, it would not bode well to have on record that he spoke glowingly in public about your performance. Not a nice thing, perhaps, but prudent from a management point of view.
As for closure, sometimes it just doesn't happen. The most you could do is write a letter to your ex-boss calmly explaining your feelings and asking what you did to deserve his treatment. But I can almost guarantee you're not going to get a response from him. He doesn't seem like the type, and his hands may be tied in a corporate legal sense.
If he's a jerk, he won't be the last one you'll encounter in your lifetime. As hard as it may be, for your sake, try to let go of the past. You can't change it. The only thing you can control is the power it has over your well-being going forward. Good luck!
Got a career scenario of your own? E-mail it to us here. We'll post it anonymously, and see what kind of feedback your peers have to offer.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.