When interviewing for my previous job, I intentionally wanted to build a strong, positive relationship with my manager. I had two main reasons for this: 1.) I wanted to advance my professional ambitions and 2.) I understood the importance of having an advocate and wanted my manager to serve in this capacity. To be honest, I really like my manager and we both hit off immediately. She came across as a down-to-earth woman who was passionate about both the company and her work. Her values were as refreshing as hell in comparison to the often draining and depressing world of human resources.
True to form, I dove head-first into my role as I wanted to prove myself (as always I was the only black woman on the team) and build a relationship with my manager. After some initial struggles, I finally made some headway with my work. Things improved so much that I earned various awards and recognition for my efforts. I felt great!
All this changed...abruptly.
I returned from a short vacation and scheduled a meeting with the HR assistant to learn more about the updated union contract and the impact it would have with pay and benefits. As I was talking with the HR specialist, I learned that I had been using the wrong pay information the entire time! To be honest, I was literally off by $1, but it was a mistake nonetheless. No one, including the HR assistant, ever caught it or brought it to my attention, BTW. Panicked, I took ownership of the mistake without hesitation. Then, I communicated a detailed plan to correct this course of action moving forward to my manager and the HR team.
For a time, all was well. In our talks, my manager made it clear she still appreciated my efforts and the mistake although wrong, was just a mistake.
Or so I thought.
In short, she started accusing me of everything ranging from not understanding the roles I supported, my email tone (classy move on her part BTW), a lack of sourcing creativity (she never clarified what she meant by this) and an inability to build relationships (in spite of the award I received from the plant manager). I found myself summoning my inner Spock to help me as I suppressed waves of intense emotions listening to her exaggerations and lies. After all, I had been in this role for almost a year and yet she presented these so-called facts as if they were on-going or had been committed by some rookie.
I gritted my teeth to the point of almost shattering them and left the meeting. Later that day, I vented to my poor but understanding mother and we both agreed on what was happening.
My manager, this woman I had once respected, was trying to throw me under the bus.
Why? To this day, I still don’t know why and in the end, it doesn’t matter. Eventually, I was let go from my job but on the bright side, I got a nice severance package, allowing me to take the summer off and pay my car note off in full! So that’s a win!
So, what are the signs? How do I prepare? Here is what I noticed when dealing with my manager.
1. Tone Change: Did you initially have a positive relationship with your manager? Pay attention to your manager’s tone, are they putting you off? Treating you differently? This can be the same for co-workers too. It means they might know something you don’t.
2. Questioning Your Work: If your manager suddenly finds issues with the quality of your work, this is a huge red flag, especially if they praised your work before or if you got a good employee review. They are trying to find or poke holes to exploit later on.
3. Shifting Work: Your manager decides to move some of your work away from you and gives it to other co-workers. You are being outsourced!
4. Ownership: Your manager refuses to support you and tries to lay the blame solely at your feet. My manager went from accepting my apologies for the mistake, even claiming it was a minor mistake, to acting like I had stolen company funds.
Of course, there are more red flags you can add to this list but in short, if you experience a major change in how your manager treats you, please know your days at that job are numbered.
So, what can you do?
1.Keep receipts: You should always be doing this. Keep copies of emails, document conversations (record them if you must), and track your employee reviews. Receipts are your ammunition if you decide to challenge any adverse action.
2. Have a Conversation: Talk with your manager. Ask how you can fix the situation and listen to what is and isn’t being said. In one conversation, my manager told me she didn’t have any plans to terminate my employment despite shifting most of my work to another co-worker. I didn’t believe her and kept documenting everything!
3. Have an Exit Plan: Start looking for another job, but don’t quit right away. It might be worth it to let them fire you, so you can get unemployment or a severance package. This is what I did and able to enjoy myself with a summer break and paid off car!
Being thrown under the bus by your manager isn’t cool but it’s also not the end of the world. Just understand it for what it is, dust yourself off, and move on with your career.