my boss gave me a choice of offices, but is punishing me for the one I chose

A reader writes:

I have recently interviewed for and received a new promotion. It is an auditing position in the compliance department in a bank. (A little background on the compliance department in a bank for those who don’t know: we are responsible for testing the bank’s practices and procedures to make sure we/they are complying with all the laws and regulations set down by the government.) This promotion has come with a private office and, as the building is currently undergoing some remodeling I was told I could choose from the 2 offices available. The first office is of fairly good size, and right next to my new manager’s office. It was, however, originally a supply closet and it does not have any windows or air movement at all. The second is slightly smaller, on the other side of the building and contains a window that I would be able to open to let a breeze in every now and then (which is very important to me).

Naturally, I chose the second option solely because of the window and have since moved in. This seems to have upset my manager and she has begun passive aggressively making comments about the other office “not being good enough for me”. She is now expecting me to come see her to ‘check in’ when I come in every day and before I leave each night. As far as I know, this has never been required for the position in the past and is perceived as new and kind of ridiculous by other people that work with me. Based on my job description, we are supposed to be in the same department but not directly involved in the specific work we each are doing. This allows us to test each other without being biased. It’s hard to know exactly what her role as my manager is supposed to be, because while she can approve or disapprove leave requests, she isn’t supposed to be involved in any of my work. It seems like a flawed system from the get go. But, because she’s my boss, I walk from one side of the building to another, just to let her know I am going home. She doesn’t even look up to say goodbye and barely acknowledges me, despite requesting me to do this every day.

She is condescending, takes forever to get back to me about questions I have, and it has gotten back to me from others that she’s been telling people she isn’t sure if I should be working in compliance at all.

Considering all of the hassle I seem to be getting since choosing the office farther away from her (previous to this, she seemed very amenable and conscientious to me for the year I worked at the bank before moving to her department), should I just suck it up and move to the window-less office next to hers (where she obviously would prefer me to be)? Why was I given a choice if I didn’t really have one at all? And, how do I tell the office manager that I decided I want the other office instead? Won’t that make me look flaky to all of the other “important” people (i.e. the C.E.O, President, etc.) I work around?

Your manager is ridiculous. If it was important to her that you be located closer to her, she should have simply assigned you the office next to hers — rather than presenting you with a choice where only one option was going to be acceptable to her.

But it looks pretty clear that she would rather have your office closest to her — whether it’s so that she feels like she has a general sense of when you’re there and when you’re not or for some other reason, who knows. But she does, clearly. As for why she didn’t tell you that originally, I have no idea. Maybe she’s a fuzzy thinker (many people are) and hadn’t fully thought it through and then was annoyed when you made a choice that to her is clearly the wrong one. Maybe she plays mind games. Maybe something else happened, and this isn’t about your office choice at all, but rather a reaction to something else. Or maybe she’s just volatile. I can’t tell from here — but I can say for sure that she’s not handling this well at all, and right now she has enormous power over your job security.

And the reality is, it’s probably more to your advantage to maintain good relations with her than it is to have a window. So if I were you, I’d go back to her and say one of the following two things:

1. The direct approach: “Jane, I’m getting the sense that you’re unhappy that I chose the office further away. I picked it just because it had a window, but if it’s causing problems, I’d be glad to switch.”

2. The less direct approach, to be used if you think the first approach will just trigger more mind games from her: “I have the sense this might work better if my office was closer to you. I’d thought I really wanted a window, but I’d be willing to forego that to make sure that you’re able to spot me when you need me. Would it be a hassle if I picked the closer office after all?”

In general, direct is better, but if you’re dealing with someone who won’t respond well to it (and you know better than me if that’s the case here), the second approach could be more effective.

Now, obviously, her behavior isn’t okay and indicates that something is Not Right with her — with her head and with her managerial abilities. So I think you’ve got to assume that this isn’t going to be last craziness you encounter from her and start thinking about what that means for your interest in and longevity in the position. But for now, if your priority is repairing the relationship — at least to give you some time to decide if you want to continue working for this loon — then that’s the safest path.

And I wouldn’t worry about how changing offices looks to others. You can say it worked out better to be closer to your manager, and no one is going to think much of it. That’s the least of the worries I’d have in this situation.

Speaking of worries you should have …. she’s telling people she’s not sure you should be working in your field. That’s a big deal, coming from your boss. That’s definitely a bigger deal than the office question. That’s an indicator that you might have an awful lot of trouble progressing under this particular manager — or even holding onto your job at all. So I’d get this office question out of the way and start focusing more on whether this is a relationship that can/will work for you at all.

Good luck.

{ 60 comments… read them below }

  1. Ruffingit*

    So she’s happy with you for a year, you get a promotion and choose a different office and all of a sudden she’s unsure if you should even be working in your chosen field? Something is seriously wrong with this person and I’d definitely be polishing ye olde resume ASAP. I can see this not ending well for you.

    And passive-aggressiveness…ever so much fun. I hate it when bosses pull that crap. Say what you mean, mean what you say and move on. Mind games are so exhausting.

  2. Wilton Businessman*

    Ah yes, compliance. Those who make the rules that everybody else should follow but don’t understand the business they’re making the rules for.

    You need to confront your manager and recognize that you’re off to a rocky start. If she thinks that you should have the dungeon next to her office, then you would be glad to switch.

    Understand going forward that your boss is a nut-case and you will have her job in 2 years.

      1. Jim*

        What are you talking about Wilont businessman?

        Firstly your opening comment is moronic, this is an advice blog go somewhere else to leave comments like that.

        Secondley your advice is off base. Why would a confrontation be any use. A softer approach would be far better in the long run.

        Lastly my current job is subject to both internal and external audit and I have always found the input very welcome and useful. My last job was in a processing house that provided out sourced cheque clearing to several major high street banks in the UK the environment and culture was all about risk management and robust processes its a very necessary part of certain business.

    1. Mike C.*

      I think the snark is justified. The manager has some serious issues if the first thing done is to set up her subordinate for failure.

      1. Pussyfooter*

        Since Wilton was addressing someone who also works in the same field as the Boss, it is not at first clear that he’s not directing the snark at OP. That could be misPlaced snark. I think it was an unintentional foot-in-mouth on Wilton’s part.
        Better luck next post/soldier on Wilton…please ignore our shortcomings OP.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      Compliance people don’t make the rules. We ensure our business is following the rules set forth by the government and not subjecting itself to civil money penalties and such.

  3. Not Your Boss*

    “Ah yes, compliance. Those who make the rules that everybody else should follow but don’t understand the business they’re making the rules for.”

    Why the passive aggressive snark?

    1. abc123*

      why do people always seem to gang up on Wilton Businessman? That’s his sense of humor if you haven’t noticed.

        1. Rana*

          +1

          Snark doesn’t generally read well on the internet without framing comments; relying on all the readers – including those new to the site who don’t know anything about specific posters’ styles – to “get” that this is a joke without it isn’t good communication.

          1. Anonymous*

            Yup, that’s why I keep saying snark is like wearing a hat: almost always a bad idea. You may think you have framed it properly, but it’s bound to backfire.

      1. annalee*

        Just because bad behavior is part of someone’s personality doesn’t make it okay. And suggesting that a person’s rudeness ought to go unchallenged because that’s ‘the way they are’ rather suggests you don’t think they’re capable of speaking civilly in spaces where civility is expected. Which isn’t actually much of a compliment, if you think about it.

  4. Laura*

    What a horrible manager.

    I think you should go with option A of AAM’s advice: just ask her directly. Be sure to do it in the nicest, sweetest, syrupy tone of voice you can muster up, and do it with a big smile on your face. Then just let it hang out there until she answers you.

    The fact that she’s telling other people that you shouldn’t be in your line of work at all is so galling. In that case, I’d ask her about that too. This is similar to the advice I gave the person last week whose boss blabbed to the whole office about some personal issues the OP was having. And that advice is: ask your boss about it directly.

    Again, in the nicest, sweetest tone of voice you can manage, ask her something like, “Jane, I’ve heard from a few people that you’re questioning whether this line of work is right for me. Is there something about my qualifications or the work I’ve done for you in this new role that is concerning you?” And just let it hang out there until she answers.

    This accomplishes a couple of things. First, it is possible that she has not said those things (since you’re hearing this through the grapevine), and this gives her the opportunity to address that. It also lets her know that someone is gossiping about her.

    Second, if she IS going around saying these things, your calling her on it in a polite, calm, and professional manner sends the message that you are not a person who will let something like that slide. But it’s done in such a way that she can’t criticize you for it. You’ve asked for feedback, not jumped all over her for talking about you behind your back.

    1. 22dncr*

      +1 – And after you, very politely, ask the question just sit there quietly with a smile on your face waiting for her answer. Do not fill in the silence. Do not explain further. THIS is powerful. I would definitely get my Résumé together though. Things are not going to be good from now on.

        1. Jessa*

          This. the key is you have to be neutral. You cannot be nervous or wishywashy. And you have to just be able to sit there and WAIT. And not babble or fill it in or anything. Just wait.

    2. FiveNine*

      I would just caution that there’s potentially a great deal that could go wrong opening up this particular conversation to the second point (on the boss supposedly questioning whether this line of work is right for the OP), including the crazy manager on the spot deciding in fact the OP is both out of line and in the wrong line of work and needs to clean out his/her desk.

      1. Kelly*

        With a boss like this, you could say “good morning” and be told to clean out your desk. In the long run, it probably won’t matter what the OP says, because working for someone like this is unbearable.

        1. Lindsay J*

          +1. I’ve worked for bosses where when they were in a bad mood, anything that went wrong – even if it was so far outside my scope of responsibility it wasn’t in the same department as me – was something that I should have seen coming and prevented or fixed.

          When I confronted them about being yelled at in one of these incidents they flat out ignored me for three days – no eye contact, wouldn’t answer the phone or emails, etc.

          When they were in a good mood I was the best thing ever.

          After leaving that job I had a kind of PTSD for awhile, terrified I was going to be called into a meeting with my managers and disciplined or fired because of some ridiculous issue I wasn’t aware of because it was out of my scope of responsibility and out of my control.

          1. Laura*

            I had a boss once that was very intimidating, and would yell at you for just about anything…until you stood up to her. Then she respected you and the tone of the relationship would change.

            I figured this out when I had made a mistake and a bunch of invoices were paid late. I was explaining to her that I didn’t realize that you could select invoices due out beyond the current date. I was still learning the ins and outs of the ERP system. She snapped, “I don’t want to hear excuses about why you didn’t do your job!” And I shot back, “I’m NOT giving you excuses. I’m telling you what happened and what I’m doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again! Okay?” She backed right off, and after that we got along pretty well. She was still batsh*t crazy, but I was able to deal with her more effectively.

            1. WorkingMom*

              I had a boss once who reamed me, literally yelled and screamed at me. I was young, and in a very small office – a coworker (same level as me) got snarky with me one day when I asked if she still had XYZ file and said something crappy with an F-bomb directed at me. I don’t remember exactly what she said. I remember being shocked. I went back to my office and thought about it, and about 5 minutes later I went to her office, right outside the bosses (at the time I thought ‘great, she can hear exactly how I am handling this), and asked her to keep our communication with each other professional since we are in an office. She apologized, and I told her she didn’t need to apologize, but I would appreciate professional communication going forward. She replied, “whatever” and that was the end of it. A few minutes later boss-lady came into my office, slammed the door and screamed at me, “who do you think you are? Why do you think you’re better than everyone else?” (Complete with banging the back of her head against the closed door.) She explained that I never should “confront” another employee and I should have “told on her” instead. I was also instructed that since the youngest employee at the office was 18, we should all act at her maturity level, since she is too young to act more mature. (Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.)

              Anyway… I realize that’s not directly helpful to OP, but I guess I just wanted to share a crazy-boss story. I got the heck out of there as fast as I could and never looked back!

  5. Mena*

    I’m not convinced that this is entirely about the choice of offices. Perhaps you were not her candidate of choice for the position and she feels the need to micro-manage you and seek out fault. I think I’d ask her if she’d prefer that you sit closer (put it on HER) and see how she reacts. She may fluff it off. I’m thinking that you may move in next-door and her behavior may not change at all. Good luck –

    1. Pussyfooter*

      I second Mena.
      If OP just got the job, how does OP know the boss’ behavior has anything to do with the office choice? Maybe she didn’t want to work with him, but was over-ruled.

    2. Anonymous*

      I agree too. My first reading was that the office is an unimportant symptom of a bigger problem. OP, are you sure you have the big picture here? Is there a coworker that might provide perspective?

    3. Josh S*

      This is basically what I came to say. When I read OPs letter, I don’t get the impression that the office is really the catalyst for all of this. I know it’s easy to get caught up in a situation and commit a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy — thinking that because the boss’s bad behavior started after the office choice, it must be because of the office choice.

      Alison responded with that framework as well. I don’t think it flies.

      She is condescending, takes forever to get back to me about questions I have, and it has gotten back to me from others that she’s been telling people she isn’t sure if I should be working in compliance at all.

      None of this sounds like retribution for choosing the ‘wrong’ office. It sounds like someone who is either a bad manager or has some larger issue with you on the ‘team’.

      I cannot imagine that all these symptoms will be cured by switching offices or kowtowing to some perceived whim of the boss’s.

      Honestly, I’d start by addressing the bigger work-related things rather than the office. Even if boss has a problem with you, she needs to treat you with some level of professional courtesy. Let her know that to do your job properly, you need to get a timely response, and ask her not to badmouth you to other coworkers. (The condescending this is probably not something you can easily address with your boss.)

  6. Ellie H.*

    I re-read the question and noticed that while the OP has been working at the bank for over a year, this new behavior is not just concomitant with the office but actually concomitant with the OP’s moving to the new department and being the manager’s new direct supervisee. So it strikes me that the problem is not necessarily the office – or at least perhaps not solely caused by the office. It could be some other issue or maybe the manager is this way to everyone she manages, and the comments about the office are simply one of the ways general passive-aggressiveness is being expressed. Because it sounds to me like the new position, the new office and the behavior of the manager are all simultaneous, not that everything was totally normal with the relationship until a move of office. I could be misinterpreting, though.

    1. COT*

      I agree–the office isn’t the whole issue here. OP is confused about what her relationship with her boss is supposed to look like, and that’s the bigger problem. I wonder if OP could go to her boss and say something like, “I hear that you’re not happy with my work [using Laura’s great wording above]. Could we use my daily check-ins at your office to get more on the same page about your expectations for me, what kind of managerial relationship you prefer, etc.?”

      This conversation won’t “fix” a boss who is determined to make OP miserable, but it might help OP get at the deeper issues beyond her choice of office.

    2. Angelina Retta*

      Agreed, it doesn’t sound like the problem is the office but the promotion. OP, I hope you’re a good actor because you’re going to have to act your heart out when you confront this unprofessional person. A boss that gossips, ugh.

  7. quietone*

    Maybe the boss is attaching her own motives to the office choice.. ie if the boss had chosen an office away from her boss, it would be to be able to slack off without getting noticed.

    1. Elle D*

      I did once. Half of it was actually still a closet – I had a divider between me and various boxes of who knows what. I also didn’t have a vent so it was always substantially hotter or colder than the rest of the office. It was awful.

      The OP made the choice any reasonable person would’ve made.

      1. Anonymous*

        As an IT geek who has a bank of windows reflecting on my monitors (yeah I have four your POINT?) I would love a cave/closet. Or at least no overhead lights?

        1. Jamie*

          I would hate outside windows aimed at my monitors.

          I have my own office and two of four walls have huge windows…which look out onto a factory and hallway respectively. I keep my blinds down and pretend they are just textured walls.

          I think all ITs should have the option of cave-dwelling. I don’t like venturing out of mine.

    2. Julie*

      Sometimes you don’t have a choice. I share a large, interior room with six other people – but at least the wall facing the hallway is all glass, so it’s not dark.

  8. Anonymous*

    Both managers and employees can behave very strangely, but how do we know that
    1. the manager wants OP to check in because of the office change? OP has just been promoted, so it would seem reasonable to want to supervise his work at the beginning. People are supervised, not positions and OP is newly promoted which means he was great at what he was doing before, but is now doing something new, right?
    2. his manager is not supposed to manage him. Knowing someone is very different from managing someone, so OP should expect the relationship to change. If his manager is not his manager, then who is his manager? This is really important, because it is very risky to treat your manager as NOT your manager.

    1. Samantha*

      Yes, but OP said the manager barely acknowledges OP’s presence during these check-ins, so it appears the point of the check-ins are not to monitor or supervise OP’s work but to verify that OP is in the office when he/she should be. After a year of being a responsible employee and performing well enough to be promoted, that doesn’t seem to be necessary or serve any purpose other than stroking the manager’s ego in a passive-aggressive manner.

    2. Yup*

      In answer to your question #1: “She is now expecting me to come see her to ‘check in’ when I come in every day and before I leave each night. As far as I know, this has never been required for the position in the past and is perceived as new and kind of ridiculous by other people that work with me.”

      I read that statement as meaning that the boss is asking the OP to physically report in to the boss when s/he arrives and departs to prove that s/he is physically present in the office, not as a “check in” like a status update on the actual work. The latter is a totally reasonable standard of supervision, but the former seems pointless and controlling unless the OP was on a written warning for chronic tardiness or something.

      1. Sadsack*

        Any chance OP could start “checking in” via email or instant messenger? Why does it have to be in person if there’s no discussion and it is just an alert that OP is in the building? Or would that seem passive-aggressive right back?

  9. Kristen*

    I really get that Alison’s advice makes a lot of sense and has its priorites right, but this is the kind of thing that would really grate on me- giving up something that helps me work better because someone else is acting like an idiot. As a cube bound worker, I totally get an attachment to the window and would be so tempted to respond to Boss’ comments with, “Why yes, I do find stale air to be beneath me” (sarcasm of course, but it’s worth a note that “office without window” is different than “office that was a closet” for that reason).

  10. Brittany*

    I agree with approach A but as for approach B, while still good advice, I don’t think the OP should be so willing to switch to the dungeon next to her just to quell the inevitable storm that seems to be brewing. A window office is awesome and there is no guarantee that even IF you switch to next to her, the behavior she is displaying will stop. Then you’re stuck with a sucky manager AND no window.

    I would be as direct with her as you can be and document, document, document. That way, if something does happen, you have the ability to go to her and her supervisor and explain how this is impacting your work for a complete unnecessary reason. Something as silly as where your office is should not be something held over your head in the land of Passive Aggressive simply because you were asked and you chose. I also find it important to not give in unless it become a serious point of contention because this manager is using a reward as a method of control in your professional life.

    As most people get so little victories in their jobs, I’m rooting for the window.

  11. The Other Dawn*

    If it were me, I wouldn’t mention a word about moving to the other office or even as act as if I’ve noticed something is amiss. If the boss wants me to move, she should speak up and tell me she would rather have me close by. I’m not a mind reader. But, again, that’s my opinion. When someone hints around by making comments it makes me just want to dig in and stand my ground.

    1. Cassie*

      This reminds me of something I read recently, about “askers vs guessers”. There are articles on the internet that explains it much better than I can, but basically, there are two types of people in the world. Those who are direct and ask for something, and those who are indirect and hint, but won’t come out and ask.

      I was raised thinking that making direct requests was rude so I tend to be a guesser (plus, not asking means not getting rejected) but it drives me crazy when others are not direct.

  12. workinmom*

    I wouldn’t mention the office either. Shell expect U to read her mind all the time. There’s no winning save ignoring her subliminal.messages.

  13. Elizabeth West*

    *giant eye roll*

    The first thing I thought was that the manager wanted the window office and was mad that the OP picked it. Either way, she’s acting like a jerk.

  14. Lindsay J*

    I would address the issue, but not offer to move offices.

    My conversation would go something like,

    “Jane, I feel as though you are upset with me recently. You have been requiring me to check in when others you manage haven’t had to do that. I’m not getting timely answers to questions when I need the information to do my job. I’ve even heard from others that you’ve said you’re not sure that I should work in compliance at all! Is there something that I’ve done recently or something about my work that has upset you?”

    Then wait.

    If there are legitimate issues outside of your choice of office you’re giving her the opportunity to address them.

    And if it is the office she might say something, but she might not. And if she doesn’t, then, well I wouldn’t change. But then I hate passive aggressiveness. If she did have an issue with the office you chose she could voice it in a nice way.

    If you do just go in and offer to change offices you’re likely to wind up with a crappy office and a crappy boss. Honestly, I don’t think just changing offices is going to magically fix all the issues – if it’s not the office it’s going to be the shirt you wear or how you answer your phone or that you should have caught compliance issue X even though you are currently supposed to be focusing on issue A.

    1. OP*

      Oh my. I read the last paragraph of Lindsay J’s comment and my eyes just about fell out of my head. Those things are also happening in conjunction with what I posted above!! She hates my work outfits (all of which I have been assured by HR and her boss do NOT violate the bank’s dress code) I have been called into her office on more than one occasion to explain an issue that was not my responsibility to solve, plus she takes so long to review my work – I hardly remember why I made certain decisions and then I get told I need to work on my professionalism…

      I really am in trouble aren’t I? *sweats* :-/

      1. Ellie H.*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t offer to move offices either. It sounds like the problem is a lot more than the office, and a very likely scenario is that you move offices and get to experience her unpleasantness much more frequently, in an airless space.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmmm. Is there someone above her who you trust and have good rapport with? If so, it might be worth talking to them about what’s going on (less about the offices and more about the other stuff).

        1. OP*

          The whole operation at the bank is a mess. It is a small town set up with only 3 branches and they are only just now modernizing things to what I would consider common practice in bigger corporations. The HR “dept.” has just been created, it is one woman who apparently does not know the first thing about it because after I went to her about the clothing issue the next day someone in the loan department said they heard about it and asked me what my boss’s problem was. I had talked to no one but HR about it at this point.

          I took the job here because it is a closer commute and there seemed to be more opportunities for advancement in a smaller company than at the bigger offices in the city I was previously working in.

          I am just at a loss. The CEO of the bank is fantastic and he and I get along very well. He tells me all the time how grateful he is that he “stole me away” from the big city and continually tells me that I will do great things one day. I’m afraid that my manager will sour his opinion of me and I want to stick it out until the end of my compliance training (I’m told there will be little interaction with her at that point), but I’ve also not been told when that will be either. I cannot go back to my old position as my replacement has already been hired and I’m afraid of finding something new in the poor job market in my area.

          1. Josh S*

            That CEO with whom you get along is the person to have a casual chat with about your boss’s response to you.

            The office is not the problem. Changing offices won’t impact your boss’s crazy behavior. Don’t focus on that as the cause.

  15. Jessa*

    I have a bigger issue here. If your job is supposed to be about back checking something with her job why is she permitted to be the one that has ANYTHING to say about your leave or your office. This is a HUGE conflict of interest. I mean the way she’s making you feel right now, if you were a less strong employee could lead to improper behaviour or inadequate checking. This kind of thing needs to be discussed at a level higher than your paygrade.

  16. Cnon*

    What a horrible manager.

    I think you should go with option A of AAM’s advice: just ask her directly. Be sure to do it in the nicest, sweetest, syrupy tone of voice you can muster up, and do it with a big smile on your face. Then just let it hang out there until she answers you.

    The fact that she’s telling other people that you shouldn’t be in your line of work at all is so galling. In that case, I’d ask her about that too. This is similar to the advice I gave the person last week whose boss blabbed to the whole office about some personal issues the OP was having. And that advice is: ask your boss about it directly.

    ITA!!

    Cnon

  17. Jennifer*

    This is sounding like the “Ask Vs. Guess” culture thing on Ask Metafilter: you were supposed to KNOW what the “right” answer was, and if you got it wrong, FAIL FOR YOU! Silly you, you shouldn’t have assumed she meant what she said!

    http://mefitours.tumblr.com/post/351510194/ask-culture-and-guess-culture

    I would switch offices, eat crow/suck up, and apply for other jobs. This one sounds like a crazy loon who wants to sink you anyway, but for right now, caving in sounds like the way to make your job last a little longer.

  18. Anonymous*

    Given what the OP said about the CEO being delighted to have “stollen her away” from a city job:
    A) I’d guess that jealousy may be a factor, too, and
    B) Is there a natural way to set up regular meetings with the CEO? I’m thinking that you want to be a known quantity to the boss in the face of the wackiness of the supervisor. Know, however, that those regular mtgs may fuel the jealousy.
    I’d be keeping an eye out for roles outside this supervisor’s purview, if this company otherwise suits you.
    Good luck with it.

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