‘If he was the nicest person on earth but had a problem making his tea, you probably wouldn’t mind doing him the favour. But as things stand it is one of the things where he tries to show and manifest his power’.
Ines Kretschmer advises a Daily Slog reader who feels her role as a Personal Assistant has been demeaned by a new boss who likes to throw his weight around. How do you confront a power play and come out with your professional relationship, and your job, in tact?
I work as a P.A. within a large financial services company where I look after one of the Executive management team. P.A. may stand for personal assistant but the job would be better described as personal slave. The manager I work for speaks to me in such a demeaning way in front of the rest of the team and other Executives. He regularly shouts out of his office door at me to fetch him coffee – which is fine if he has guests but honestly if he is alone then can he not do this simple task himself?
He expects me to work late often, to support him with administration tasks around big projects, but I don’t feel the salary, or the potential career progression marries with the level of commitment I am expected to give. I don’t want to give up the position; I enjoy the company and have previously worked for other Executives within the company who I had a much better rapport with. Can you please advise how I can approach this with my boss? I am sure he would view it as a petty complaint if I was to tell him how much it bugs me making his tea!
Thank you very much for your email.
What you describe is unfortunately not uncommon in the work place.
You have set out very clearly that you enjoy the company and that within that company you have worked with other Executives without these issues arising. This is important to point out, as it shows that it is not you who has the wrong understanding of the job and requirements, but that it is this particular manager that does not have the correct understanding of your role.
Knowing this is one thing – dealing with the situation without risking job or reputation is another, but there are definitely ways of addressing this. And I would go as far as to say this has to be addressed if you want to keep up the self-respect that you owe yourself, and if you want to be treated with the respect that you (and everybody else) deserve.
What can be done?
You are probably right in saying that telling him you do not like to make his tea would be brushed off as a petty complaint. And indeed, making his coffee is not actually the issue. If he was the nicest person on earth but had a problem making his tea, you probably would not mind doing him the favour. But as things stand it is one of the things where he tries to show and manifest his power, and you feel powerless and disrespected by being given this task that he could just as well fulfil himself.
It is for that reason that I would not address the issue by giving him the coffee example – one risk is that it escalates into a power struggle, which is not helpful at all and reduces the chance of an amicable solution.
So let us look at the two other issues you have given as examples and which I find give a great basis to start a constructive conversation. As they are different by nature, I would keep them separate, but you can still address both in their own time.
1. He speaks to you in a demeaning way in front of others:
To prepare for the conversation:
Make a list of examples for yourself: be sure to write down the situation, time and date so you have proper examples when you address it, and so he cannot brush it off by saying it is not true, it was only once, etc.
To address this with your manager:
There are two ways – you can either ask your boss for an appointment and formally address that you do not like to be talked to in this manner. You can point out that you respect him as your manager and there is no question about who is the boss, but as his P.A. you would still like to be treated with respect which you feel has not been the case in a number of situations. Then wait – if he agrees or apologizes there is no point confronting him with your list, because then it is more important to agree on a proper way forward as to how both of you can improve your working relationship and communication.
I have often found that after an employee has actually proven the courage to address a situation like this, the manager had more respect for the person and the situation has improved.
If he tries to brush you off, do not give in. Stay firm but calm, present the facts and examples, and take it from there.
The second way is to wait until he talks to you again in such a manner, then take him aside at the next opportunity that you are alone with him and clearly say to him you do not want to be talked to like that. This way it is less formal and might be the better way to check his reaction. The rest goes in line with option 1.
For both approaches make it clear to yourself that he is your manager, but that a good manager treats his employees with respect. That you deserve respect and that you have a right to address the issue. This will make you self-confident for the conversation. I have often found that after an employee has actually proven the courage to address a situation like this, the manager had more respect for the person and the situation has improved.
There is a chance that the situation does not improve after addressing the issue or that it even gets worse. Should this be the case you may feel you should not have said anything in the first place. Please don’t. If you do not say anything, nothing can improve and as stated above – you and every other person deserves to be treated with respect. If you address your concern in a polite and friendly way, then nobody should hold this against you. You will be able to hold your head up high, which is important for yourself, and you can then think about next steps.
Be prepared to make suggestions – this will show him that you have not asked for a meeting just to complain, but to actually improve things not only for yourself, but with the company objectives in mind
2. The commitment required (late work, type or quantity of work) does not match the salary or potential career progression:
As I already said above – keep this for a separate discussion. This is a matter you can address without even pointing to his management style and behaviour. It is a normal issue raised in the work place. Again – make a list of occasions where you were required to work late, be prepared to tell and show how much additional time you have worked within a certain time frame. Give examples of demanding tasks where you had little or no support and do not forget to point out how well you have handled everything. Be clear to yourself what you want to achieve. Is the goal a pay rise? Is the goal to work less overtime? Is the goal to receive proper training to progress with your career?
If you have defined for yourself what you want, be prepared to make suggestions. For example: suggest training you’re interested in, suggest ways to reduce your work load, provide examples of how the work could be structured better or how processes could be improved, and so on.
This will show him that you have not asked for a meeting just to complain but to actually improve things not only for yourself, but with the tasks and company objectives in mind. If he sees you have the courage to address these points with him, perhaps it will also lead to him treating you with more respect in general.
I hope this reply helps you and I wish you the best of luck!
About Ines Kretschmer:
Ines Kretschmer is a Personal, Leadership and Executive Coach, based in Dublin.
Tel: 087 4149489
If you have a career issue you would like help with email the details to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will source a suitable professional to help. All correspondence will be kept confidential.