help desk: Build bridges with your critical manager

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Dear Help Desk

I've been with my company for one year as a receptionist, which I enjoy. However, due to an ongoing situation with my manager, I'm finding it difficult to continue. On 3rd March I received a verbal warning about time-keeping and lack of knowledge of the company. I am very rarely late and if I am it is because of unavoidable delays on the trains. Apart from taking a week off to recover from a traumatic operation and another three days off since, I can see no valid reason for this warning. I have had to put up with personal insults, threats and analysis of my personal life. I'm at the end of my tether and would appreciate some advice on what to do.


Ann Kutek, Clinical Director, Counselling in Companies:

As in all cases of bullying and harassment, a polarisation occurs which makes it feel as though one person has all the power and the other is the complete victim. Age and gender stereotyping can further complicate the situation. You could usefully consider that people commonly project their own unwanted feelings on to others and then attack them; the manager may be justifiably anxious about the cover and presentation on reception. Perhaps you need to strike up a working alliance with the manager by seeking advice on company matters, and showing some vulnerability due to health needs. Given the structural power difference, you could ask for regular guidance on performance to an agreed plan.

Julia Stones, Director, Crone Corkhill Recruitment Consultants:

The best people to help you would be your HR manager as he or she will be able to give you impartial advice and support. However, in the absence of an HR manager I would consider the following: has your time off been recorded and authorised? Have there been any witnesses to the personal insults, etc? How often are you late? In other words, do you feel there might be any grounds for your manager having a genuine reason on which to base time-keeping comments? If not, then I strongly recommend that you speak to a senior member of the company soon - but be prepared for your manager to be difficult!

Paul Roscorla, Occupational Psychologist, Acker Deboeck Company:

First review the facts. Did this situation start with one identifiable incident? Is your knowledge of the company weak? Did you tell your manager the reasons for lateness? Ask to see your manager, say how you feel and that you want to resolve this. Try to build bridges and avoid blame. Your manager may be under pressure, and unaware of your situation, but don't allow yourself to be bullied. You don't have to put up with threats, insults and reviews of your personal life. If you cannot settle matters with your manager, go to Personnel to explain that you have tried to do so. You need to be seen to go about this in a mature, responsible way. You could investigate the possibility of a different role internally. If not, you may have to look elsewhere and a reference will be important.

Phillip Wood, Head of Employment Unit, Maxwell Batley, Solicitors:

As you have less than two years' service, you would be unwise to resign. If you wish to stay in your present job, protect your position by taking the following steps; appeal against the formal warning (above your manager's head). You will need to consult the company's grievance procedures. This could result in the removal of the warning from your personal file; lodge a formal complaint of harassment against your manager, placing on the record all the distressing incidents; and bring a complaint of sex discrimination in an industrial tribunal. If you were dismissed as a result, you would have a further claim for unfair dismissal even though you do not have two years' service.

Compiled by Carmen Fielding

From next week, Help Desk will appear in Fast Track, our new Thursday supplement for young high-flyers. If you have a problem at work and would like expert advice, write to Carmen Fielding, Helpdesk, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171 293 2182; e-mail c.fielding@independent.