Q: I have a supervisor, let’s call her Jessica, who seems to be threatened by me. As background information, I have been with my firm for 11.5 years and have about 15 years of industry experience. Jessica went through a challenging time in her life recent and it happened to occur during our “busy season” in our industry. She took three months off of work. I was told by Jessica’s manager that I was required to handle some of Jessica’s clients, as well as my own. In this current employment market, it was too late to hire someone fully trained for a client-facing position. As a result, clients started coming to me first, knowing that could help them quickly and accurately. I also started building relationship with some of Jessica’s “A-list” clients because we were told to give them additional attention. The goal was to retain these clients. I worked a lot of extra hours. It was grueling, but we got through it. Now Jessica has returned. There seems to be little acknowledgement or recognition of how much additional work we all took on. Jessica is now routinely passing a lot of work on to me, even though she has been cleared to return to work.
Jessica is also taking credit for a lot of the accomplishments of the team. She is working around 40 to 45 hours per week, but the rest of us seem to be racking up hours in the 60-plus range. This behavior irritates me, and I can see others are getting tired of it. Also, none of us received any additional compensation even though all of Jessica’s client were retained.
Most recently, Jessica makes comments which put me and other team members on the defensive. They are sometimes disguised as jokes, but they come across as resentful and angry. One type of comment is something like “Well Tom was able to pitch in when I was gone, but Tom’s life is pretty boring, so he has plenty of time to work extra hours.” Jessica has also asked me to cc her on all emails. I never had to do this before.
I have a good job, and I like my role and most of my co-workers. However, in this economy, I know I could find another job and quickly! Headhunters call me a few times per week. Suggestions?
A: Unfortunately, we never truly know what someone else is thinking. And you may be right about Jessica’s pride. Pride in one’s work, one’s role and one’s status, is a powerful emotion. Maybe Jessica is trying to get more actively involved, particularly if she has been out of the loop because of a difficult personal situation. On the other hand, perhaps Jessica is indeed threatened by your growing initiative, competence and visibility. The good news is that one strategy fits both situations.
Have you reached out to Jessica and requested to meet weekly? That way, you can share updates, but hopefully avoid her need to be cc’d on every email you send. This seems over the top, except when it is a shared client. Also, it may be smart to remind Jessica that this is a new requirement and that you understand it for shared clients, but not for daily communication with a client. For example, if she is asking to be cc’d on “Hey, do you want to schedule a Zoom this week?” with a client, then that seems excessive. This behavior may subside, once Jessica is feeling fully immersed and confident, and back 100% to her former role and position.
Furthermore, be careful to contain any negative opinions of Jessica. You may be perceived as a gossip, disloyal, or not a team player. If Jessica has performance issues, they will, eventually, come to the attention of the powers that be. The leadership team, as well as her manager may be asking Jessica for additional information and updates since she has returned to her role. If you focus on your own work, you will likely win accolades for doing well under difficult circumstances.
Lastly, continue to earn a solid reputation with clients, co-workers and others. This network will be an invaluable source of ideas, leads and contacts when you are ready to move on to a bigger and better assignment.
Engaging with headhunters is not a bad idea. It is a very uncertain world. I am not recommending that you “jump ship,” but certainly maintaining those relationships may be valuable in the months to come.
Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.