A reader writes:
I used to do two kinds of work, in equal amounts, and received very positive feedback for both. It was decided that my team should be divided into two teams, with one kind of work being assigned to each team. I got put on Team 1 with a new manager because I was one of the few people who understood the tool we use to accomplish that kind of work. Unfortunately, the new manager is awful to work for (disorganized, constantly misses important meetings, and does not have the skills required for daily tasks), and a job I used to enjoy has become incredibly miserable. In addition, my long-term career goals involve pursuing the work done by Team 2, and not that of my current team.
Trying to be as professional as possible, I spoke of some of my struggles to my old manager, who is now in charge of both Team 1 and 2. She sympathized (and made it clear she’s not a fan of my new manager), and said she would talk to our director and get back with me. Once she did, she said that she would try to make things as easy as possible for me because they valued me highly, but that there was a need on Team 1 and they were trying to help my new manager improve.
Throughout this time, all of the managers above me have nothing but good things to say about my work, and keep telling me what a great job I’m doing. But I’m completely miserable under this new boss, and have been searching for a new job without much success (there aren’t a lot of industry opportunities in my current city). Is there any way I can leverage the fact that I seem to be highly valued by my organization and have done great work to motivate my director to let me switch teams? Would it be inappropriate to go directly to my director to discuss, as it would involve going over my managers’ heads? I’m scared to threaten to leave if I don’t get to trade teams, but I don’t understand how I can get nothing but frequent and highly positive feedback and yet no consideration be made for my desires.
Your advice would be greatly appreciated — I’m pretty miserable.
You can certainly ask outright to be put on to Team 2.
As for whether you should go over your manager’s head to your director, probably not. Without knowing more about the dynamics of your team and your culture, it’s hard to say for sure, but in general, if there’s a line of command, you’re expected to follow it — and going over your managers’ heads often isn’t received well. (Unless your managers are really more of team leads and not the people who truly manage you — meaning assessing your performance, giving you feedback, making decisions about raises and development, having firing authority, and so forth).
Go back to your old manager (who seems to be over your new manager in some way? I’m confused about the reporting structure), and explain that you love the company and want to stay with it, but that the work you really want to be doing is the work of Team 2, that you’re finding it difficult to work with the new manager, and ask if it’s possible to be moved to Team 2. Be direct — come out and say it, rather than hoping she’ll decide that on her own without you asking.
You don’t need to threaten to leave as part of this — just like with raise requests, it’s generally understood when people make requests like this that the unspoken subtext is “or I may leave to find a job that satisfies me somewhere else.” You don’t need to say it or even hint at it. A competent manager will understand that when someone says “I’d like X,” they risk losing them if they can’t provide X.
So talk to her and see what happens. If they’re not willing to move you, then you can continue looking for another job — and when you get one, you can be clear with your current employer about why you’re leaving.