did my boss lie to me, using info from one employee about another, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Can I use troubling info one employee gave me about another?

Can I tell an employee that I know they purposely aren’t doing something that they should?

The employee I’m referring to has been telling a coworker that she “hates” doing something that’s one of her responsibilities and has been getting others to complete it for her. Since the employee hasn’t directly said it to me, I wasn’t sure if I could say anything to her. In addition, I don’t want to betray the trust of the person who told me because I want her to feel that she was right to tell me and should feel free telling me any other items like this that I should know.

There’s no reason that you can’t use information that you got from someone else, rather than witnessing it firsthand — but unless you know for sure that it’s correct, you should either ask about it (rather than stating it as a fact) or find ways to observe it for yourself.

But usually the best way to use information that you don’t want to attribute to a particular person is to use it as “background info” to inform your thinking. In other words, now that you’ve been alerted to this, dig into it a bit to see what you find. If there’s no easy way to observe what’s happening for yourself, then try asking the employee a direct question about it. For instance: “Tell me how X is going; I know it’s not your favorite thing. Have you been completing it yourself or pulling others in?” (If she says she’s doing it herself and you doubt that’s true, then you really need to poke around further, because lying to you about it is a much, much bigger deal.)

2. Did my boss lie about extending my position?

I work as a research tech and project coordinator at a university. We’re running low on money, so my boss accepted another faculty position at a different school (in another state) so our project could continue with more funding. Some of my lab mates are moving there, most are not. There’s been some talk of keeping a faction of us here. No one knows yet if that’ll happen.

I’ve been helping my boss set up the new lab at the other school, staying in a different state for weeks at a time over this spring and summer. My position renews yearly at the end of July. My boss said he’d work on getting my position extended until the end of the year when the lab here would be shutting down. On Friday he told me point blank that position had definitely been extended at least through October.

Good, right? Except today when I reached out to HR to make sure my benefits and everything would still be intact through October I was informed that my end date is still 7/31. I had a hunch this would happen; I’ll bet my boss still thinks he can get my contract extended, and just lied and said it had happened so I’d stop bugging him.

So now what? He’s out of the country for at least a week, so I need to talk to him/confront him via email about this. I want to say if this isn’t settled in two weeks I’ll be calling my old temp agency and I’ll have them set up something for me starting 8/1. I’m sort of afraid telling him that will make him not even try to get my contract extended. Gah, I’d been looking for jobs, but not aggressively because I’d been assured this would be taken care of. I won’t even be able to go on interviews this month because I’ll be in the other location until the 30th, one day before my last day. What do I say to him?

“Hey, Bob, HR still has my end date down as July 31. I need them to update that so I’m assured of my benefits being intact through October. Can I update them about my extension?” Even better, if your answer from HR came in an email, reply to it with a note letting them know that your boss extended you, and cc your boss.

It’s possible that your boss didn’t lie to you and HR just doesn’t have updated records yet. But either way, this will flush out whatever’s going on.

3. How can I ask if I’m likely to be laid off?

My manager has just laid off multiple workers because he cannot afford to keep them. How can I ask my boss if I am next on the list?

“I know the company is in a tough financial period. Are you able to give me a sense of whether my job might need to be cut too if things don’t turn around?”

However, keep in mind that it’s pretty common for employers not to tell employees that they’re likely to be laid off — because if it doesn’t happen, they don’t want to lose good people, and because they don’t want people checking out at the exact time when they most need people doing good work. So regardless of what your manager says*, it probably makes sense to be looking for a job — not because you’re definitely going to be laid off, but because there’s enough of a chance of it that you’ll be glad you got a head start on searching if it does happen.

* Well, not totally regardless. There are some jobs — and some manager-employee relationships — where you can trust a manager who tells you that your job isn’t going anywhere. But if you’re not sure you’re in that boat, assume that you’re not.

4. Can I forward praise to my manager without looking like I’m fishing for compliments?

I work at a university and my office handles a program for out of state students (among other things). I don’t handle this program directly and usually refer people to the person who does. Last week, that person was out of the office and some parents dropped in for some answers about the program. I helped them out by answering questions, emailing them pertinent info., etc. They just responded to my email with an amazing compliment about how helpful and friendly I was and that they are excited about their child coming here with people like me working here. Should I forward this message to my boss or should I just thank the parent and move on? I don’t want to seem as though I’m fishing for compliments from her?

It’s not going to seem like you’re fishing for compliments. Managers love seeing this kind of feedback. Forward it to your boss with a note like, “We got this really nice note from some parents.”

If it helps you feel more comfortable, think of it as being about “us,” not just “me” — as in, it’s great that people are feeling so positively about your office as a whole.

5. Does this rejection mean I need to revise my resume and cover letter?

This is sort of a silly question, but I was wondering if you have any insight into the wording of this job rejection email. The email stated that “After careful consideration, we regret to inform you that this position is no longer available.” I’m a bit confused as to whether this type of phrasing tends to mean that my application was reviewed and rejected, or if I applied too late to have my application read at all. While I know that either way it’s a rejection, I’d like to know if it’s the former to figure out whether I should be presenting my cover letter and resume in an entirely different manner.

I guess my more general question is how I should be responding to a rejection in regards to future applications. Should I be revising my cover letters and resumes, or is it just that for the particular position I applied to, there were more qualified applicants regardless of how I presented my application? I suppose this isn’t something one can really know, but do you have any advice as to when and how I should be changing the way I present job applications?

That message could mean that the job has been filled, or that they’ve canceled the job altogether. But regardless of what it means, you shouldn’t be taking any single rejection message as a sign that you need to revise your application materials. You can have great application materials and still get rejected for tons of jobs — that’s normal. Of course, it’s also possible that your materials are in dire need of revision — most people’s are. This post can help with that.

{ 50 comments… read them below }

  1. Ruffingit

    #1 – that is a tough spot to be in. 10 to 1 if you ask her if she’s doing it herself or pulling others in, she will almost immediately know the co-worker talked to you about it and may be upset with that co-worker. Unless there are other ways you could have this information, it’s just going to be tough all-around to approach it without the co-worker who told being found out so to speak. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it though. I think one thing you should ask yourself is whether it really matters that your subordinate is not doing this particular task herself. Could you reassign it to someone else? If the employee is a pretty good one otherwise and just hates this particular task, I might consider reassigning it if it’s possible. If not and it’s important for her to be doing this work, then you will have to confront it head on.

    1. Vancouver Reader

      It might depend on how big a part the hated task is in this person’s job description. If it’s a major component of her job then delegating it to someone else means this person has far less to do. Or if it’s a task that everyone dislikes but everyone else sucks it up and does it, then it wouldn’t be fair for this one employee not to do her part.

      1. Ruffingit

        I agree and that’s why I say to reassign if it’s possible. There are some tasks that employees are asked to do where it doesn’t really matter if that particular person does it or not. It can be done by others without it being a big deal. If that is the case, reassign and move on IF this employee is otherwise a good one. Now, if this task is a major part of the employee’s job, what the OP now knows is that the employee hates a good portion of their job. That’s good information in terms of contemplating whether that employee is actually a good fit for the work. It may be that it’s time to consider letting her go so someone else who is a good fit can do it.

        Everything here depends on what this task is and whether or not it can be reassigned without causing a major issue. If it can’t, then either the employee needs to suck it up or needs to leave.

        1. C Average

          Yep, exactly.

          A few years back, a colleague (a peer in my role with slightly different responsibilities) and I were talking about aspects of our jobs that we hated. We discovered that he had one specific responsibility he loathed and dreaded, and so did I. We traded craptastic tasks and were much happier. I don’t think our manager ever knew, or would’ve cared.

          1. Chinook

            C Average, the key was that you swapped craptastic tasks, thus not affecting each others overall workload. For OP#1, taking potential slacker’s workload and transferring it to someone else without a similar reciprocation could definitely hurt the morale of someone who feels like they are getting it dumped on them because it is taken for granted they will do it regardless of how they feel about it or other tasks (plus it might encourage this behaviour in others).

    2. Taz

      I suspect the reason it has come to the superviser’s attention in the first place is because the employees being drawn in to pick up the slack aren’t too fond of the job either and don’t think it’s appropriate. (Otherwise why bring it up?) On top of her not doing her job, it seems like letting her get away with it because she’s been farming her responsibilities out seem like rewarding passive-aggressive behavior. That might take care of this one employee but those employees who already didn’t like the situation are going to be even more put off if that’s how the boss responds.

      1. Ruffingit

        It came to the supervisor’s attention because one employee told the supervisor that the worker in question has been telling that one employee that she hates the task and is getting others to do it for her: The employee I’m referring to has been telling a coworker that she “hates” doing something that’s one of her responsibilities and has been getting others to complete it for her.

        Can’t say how the employees doing it for her feel since they apparently haven’t said anything. The OP says she knows this because one employee is passing on info told to her.

        1. Taz

          Okay, whatever, that any employee has passed this information along to the supervisor at all suggests there’s already disharmony as a result of the practice, or at least question about the appropriateness of it. Someone wanted the supervisor to know, in other words.

  2. Ann Furthermore

    #4: I get emails like this from time to time, and I always appreciate someone taking the time to write them. I have a “Kudos” folder set up in Outlook where I store things like this. I find it useful when I’m doing my self-evaluation. Not in a “please the see the attached for examples of my awesomeness” kind of way, but in a “Bob was really happy with the solution we provided for the X issue,” or “Sally found the training materials to be very helpful,” kind of way.

    1. Ann Furthermore

      Also meant to say that I take the time to write emails like that myself when someone has really helped me out. People really appreciate being recognized and thanked once in awhile.

    2. Artemesia

      It is critical to pass this sort of information along both to help shape the impression you are making on management and also to help keep the finger on the pulse of service being provided. It is also important to pass this sort of feedback back down the line; if a client, student, whatever writes to management about how wonderful the service a worker provided was, then they need to hear about it.

      It is gracious to frame praise you receive as Alison noted as ‘our work on X is getting great notice’ or ‘the client was thrilled with the new widget installation.’ But it is important to forward those things on to management and to also keep them on file for your performance review.

    3. MikeP

      Further to #4…

      As a manager, I have an email folder called “StaffBrags” in which I store compliments my staff have received. I know my current director does exactly the same thing, and all my previous managers have taken compliments from colleagues and explicitly used them in my performance reviews.

      If it helps, I also work at a university, and it is definitely part of the culture there.

      Similarly, if I have had a problematic interaction with somebody, I will forward as many details as seem pertinent to my managers, so they aren’t blindsided should the situation be raised elsewhere. Of course, I’ve had a series of good managers and I don’t have any reason to fear that they will hold this against me, although I definitely expect to hear about it if something I did or said contributed to the problem. Obviously this won’t work for everybody.

      I hope that my own staff feel comfortable enough to do the same things with me.

    4. Anna

      If I’m really pleased with the results of something I worked on, I’ll tell my boss. Example: Last week I sent her and a coworker the total number of hours our students and staff volunteered in Q2. It was mostly because of the efforts I put in to set up the opportunities, but in reality if the students and staff hadn’t signed up, we wouldn’t have completed those hours. So while it was a “Hey, I put this much effort in and we got these results” sort of email, it was also a “Hey, look what our center accomplished last quarter” email too.

    5. Kay

      Hi, I’m the person that asked this question (#4). Just to follow up, I forwarded the email to my boss and framed it the way Alison suggested (“We received this nice email . . . “) and she hasn’t even mentioned it. I don’t know if I was expecting anything specific but I did expect some type of acknowledgment. In her defense, she just returned from a 2 week vacation and is likely swamped with emails and messages so I’m sure its because she’s busy. Maybe she’ll bring it up later when she’s able to catch up on emails.

  3. Colette

    #3 Keep in mind that depending in how layoffs are handled at your company, your manager may not know whether you’ll be affected.

    Look at your finances (do you have an emergency fund? Is there something you could cut or postpone to save money) and your resume so that you’re prepared if something does happen.

    1. Judy

      One F50 company I worked at, the 3rd level managers made the list, and the 1st level managers didn’t get the list or know for sure about the layoffs until after everyone got called in one by one to the Director’s office. They then called a meeting to let everyone else know that the Director was done calling people in once they got the OK.

      Or at least that’s what the rumors were, I didn’t have any first hand knowledge, other than seeing managers being confused when we said “Bob was just called in to Wakeen’s office.”

      1. Colette

        Yeah, a couple of years ago one of my colleagues was laid off, and my manager didn’t know in advance. Even if managers are typically involved, they won’t necessarily know if the entire department is being cut.

      2. Lamington

        When I was laid off, the VP called in first the managers that were laid off and then the employees. He escorted each one to HR. best thing is to start looking just in case.

    2. some1

      +1. Or if your boss honestly feels your job is safe NOW, it doesn’t mean they won’t re-evaluate and decide to let you go next week or next month.

  4. OP2

    Hi,

    I emailed my boss, he’s claiming HR had agreed to it and is messing up, HR is saying “Nope, we’re still negotiating on everyone’s end dates, but so far nope, not extended.”

    My boss has a history of incredibly sketchy behavior with stuff like this–not sending in reviews or paperwork on time (can impact raises), not pushing through the hiring paperwork for a new hire (she didn’t get paid for like 2 months), promising to make someone a permanent employee instead of a temp and then stringing them along for 6 months before finally telling them “sorry, we just can’t do this right now” So…it’s fun.

    1. NylaW

      Yeah this doesn’t sound like a boss you should keep working for if he’s had issues in the past like this.

    2. Lucy

      I hope you are job hunting aggressively now! Don’t try to give any sort of ultimatums, just work on the assumption that your contract won’t be renewed and focus on looking for a new position. Your boss sounds dreadful, you’re better off getting out of there.

    3. MandyBabs

      I’m sorry to hear this, but it sounds like you have your answer. I would try one last time with your boss saying, “According to HR, there is still a problem. I am concerned about any benefits ramifications if I’m not extended by 7/15. How can assist in making sure this happens?” But at the same time, I would perhaps put out a feeler to your agency about when they need to hear from you by in order to have a new opportunity for 8/1.

    4. Ruffingit

      Your boss has exhibited terrible behavior, which means you know that HR is the one to trust here in terms of what they are saying abut the extension. Your boss sucks, but you are at fault here too if you believe him because you have knowledge that he has screwed people over in the past. Don’t let yourself be another statistic for him. Job hunt now, call the temp agency, do whatever you need to do for you. Good luck!

  5. OP2

    I am indeed hunting aggressively now. It’s just super frustrating that he keeps saying it’s fixed, HR keeps saying it’s not. I know he thinks I’ll still be coming in in August and he’ll figure something out, but that’s not going to fly.

    I let my immediate supervisor (not sketchy boss) know that this was still up in the air, and that if I didn’t have this fixed by the end of the month I was going to make plans through my old temp agency for the 1st.

    1. Ruffingit

      Yeah, I totally get the frustration, I would feel the same in your shoes. But the one thing you know for sure is that it’s not fixed so you have to go with that as your basis for deciding on what to do. You can let sketchy boss know that unless you hear otherwise by X date, you must move on in August. If that doesn’t light a fire under him to get his act together, then so be it. You move on with the knowledge you have and come August, he’ll have to handle the mess he created alone.

    2. some1

      I would touch base with your temp agency now. There’s no guarantee they will have an immediate opening at the end of the month.

      1. Dang

        Yes absolutely. It took me awhile to get temp assignments. Summer is a great time for temping however… So definitely start putting out feelers now.

    3. seesawyer

      Speaking as someone whose pay was messed up three times in eight semesters of grad school, I feel your pain, this sucks. Fortunately my boss’s failure mode was just being scatterbrained, not deliberately taking advantage of students and techs with less power than him, which it sounds like yours is (which makes my ivory-tower-loving blood boil!). I think if you can swing it he ought to be taught a lesson along the lines of “if you don’t pay me, I won’t work for you, full stop”, although certainly your own career needs overrule that. Good luck!

      1. EvilQueenRegina

        Right after I moved from my last job, one of my coworkers there found out she hadn’t been paid for her first month back from maternity leave as her manager forgot to let HR know she had come back so they hadn’t updated the pay records.

    4. neverjaunty

      I get that you would like what your boss is saying to be true. You know, though, it isn’t. He has a demonstrated history of lying/sketchiness, and HR is telling you that what he is saying is not true.

      Call the temp place now. Do not wait until your boss’s actions force you to admit what you already know, and at a time when you’re paying for it with unemployment.

  6. JoJo

    #1 Do you know for a fact that this employee is complaining and slacking off, or are you relying on a second-hand account? I’ve had co-workers flat out lie to my boss about me, so if I were this person’s manager, I’d make sure that they were actually exhibiting this behavior before taking any action.

    1. OP1

      I heard it directly from the co-worker she told (whom I regard as a reliable source). I was able to ask the offender about it without raising suspicion and in this instance she did admit that she asked someone else to take care of it because of her workload. I can’t dispute that her workload couldn’t have been a factor, in this instance, but I’m still working on a strategic way to inform her that everyone has duties that they don’t care for, but they must be done regardless.

  7. Not So NewReader

    OP 1: Are you the supervisor/boss for these two people? I think we are assuming that you are, but I had to ask.

    If you are not the supervisor/boss, I would try to stay out of this.

    If you are, I would look for evidence that this is true before I did too much.

    In regard to “. In addition, I don’t want to betray the trust of the person who told me because I want her to feel that she was right to tell me and should feel free telling me any other items like this that I should know.”

    If you are a manager, please, don’t use this technique to manager your people. Just. No.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m going to disagree with that last bit — it’s reasonable for a manager to want people to feel safe letting her know when they have concerns like this. Ultimately you want your staff and you to be on the same team — not them on one side of the line and you on the other.

      1. Anon1234

        What sad though,this “sharing” does not include sharing with the boss’s boss, that would be going around them. I know thos does not apply to this question. The chain of command has derailed many companies and as we know crappy managers are reason #1 folks leave.

      2. Judy

        But these are concerns that you counsel us to not take to our bosses, right?

        If a co-worker doesn’t like part of their job, and I see them having someone else do it, that’s not my business. I might tell the people who are doing it to talk to the manager, if they are complaining about it, but I don’t think I should be telling the boss that Bob keeps having Jane do his ABC report.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          No, I think that if your boss is a good manager and you’re not pushing an agenda but rather delivering information she’d want to know, it’s reasonable to do that. It’s when it’s clear that your boss doesn’t care or if the concern is petty that I advise against it.

    2. OP1

      Yes, I am the supervisor of both employees and the person whose trust I don’t want to betray was recently promoted to a leadership position within the group. I need her to keep the lines of communication open with me regarding all employees in the group.

  8. seesawyer

    OP #5: It may help to re-frame the question from “should I change my materials because X, Y, and Z?” to “what changes should I make to my materials?”. I.e. if you can make the materials better, then by all means do so, whether they are working or not; if you are just thinking about a change for change’s sake, it is as likely to hurt you as help. The link AAM gave, and in general the archives here (search for “resume” or “cover letter”) can help you improve your materials if they need it, and be more confident about them if they don’t. Remember the job market is still pretty seriously bad, so your materials can be perfect and still get rejections.

    In regard to reading the tea leaves of that particular rejection letter, I agree that the phrasing is a little odd—“careful consideration” usually means “we looked closely at your materials”, while “no longer available” means roughly “it’s not you, its us”; but I wouldn’t read anything into it. My guess would be that the hiring manager is so used to using “after careful consideration” to soften rejections that they used it without thinking too hard about it here.

    1. KM

      I agree with both parts of this comment.

      I once received a rejection from a post-grad program that was worded in a similar way — it said something like, “After carefully considering your application we are unable to consider your application at this time.” And I remember thinking, “Gee, I understand that it’s a form rejection and someone had to make up something generic to say, but couldn’t you read it before you hit ‘send’?”

      As seesawyer said, my guess would be that someone was trying to word this in the “correct” “formal” way and just mashed two different generic statements together without noticing that they didn’t fit.

      1. cef

        Hi, I’m the OP for question #5. Thank you for your responses! Since I haven’t heard back from hardly any of the jobs I’ve applied to, I’m starting to assume it’s because my resume and cover letters aren’t good enough, but I guess it’s difficult to ever really know. Regardless, I’ll definitely take a look at the post AAM recommended.

  9. Not So NewReader

    OP 4. There is nothing wrong with sharing a happy email or good compliments with your boss. Especially if you don’t do it often. (I don’t think many people do it often, however.) Interestingly, there are some work settings where you almost need to do it. My friend would hear a compliment about his work and he would softly ask “Would you let my boss know how you feel?” Ninety-nine percent of the time the answer would be a resounding YES. Not something to do all the time, but once in a while can be a very good thing.

  10. Student

    #2 – Back the truck up on your assumptions. Alison’s given good advice. Just let your manager know that HR needs to be updated so that your benefits continue.

    This could easily be a case of slow or forgotten paperwork, and someone just needs to be prodded to work it out.

  11. EvilQueenRegina

    #1 – this does need some form of investigation. Maybe it is happening like Coworker said, but maybe there is more to it. It could be that it just happened once and the version that’s come back to you is that it’s going on all the time. Or yes, it could be malicious.

    Taz did make a valid point about how it is impacting on the other employees. Maybe there’s some reason why the person the task keeps getting dumped on hasn’t brought it up with you themselves – perhaps it’s being dumped on someone who for whatever reason feels unable to say no? Or someone who hasn’t got a lot to do themselves and was grateful for the task, in which case the issue of their own workload needs to be looked at?

    I know that’s a lot of possibilities, but the point I’m trying to make is that it does need some looking into as Alison said. I appreciate what you say about wanting the coworker to feel she did the right thing by telling you, but if what she said isn’t exactly what’s happening and you just treat the situation as though it is, that’s going to upset other coworkers.

    Example: At my last job, Mary Margaret, my coworker, was given the task of processing all the requests for finance. This didn’t go well, and Mary Margaret used to moan to our manager about how everything was the finance department’s fault, they were messing her about etc. Kathryn, another coworker, then went to our manager about how it wasn’t the finance requests at all, it was Mary Margaret making a meal of them, making lots of mistakes, wandering round the building to get a signature and stopping to talk for half an hour about her ailments on the way etc. Thing was, Kathryn picked the wrong moment to bring it up as she raised it when she was getting into trouble for something else and I think our manager may have suspected that Kathryn was just trying to divert her attention on to Mary Margaret and away from herself, and didn’t investigate it at all – until Mary Margaret went on long term sick leave and the situation with the finance improved, so our manager eventually realised Kathryn was telling the truth. But it did cause some resentment that she had just chosen to believe Mary Margaret without investigating.

    1. OP1

      Thank you for providing an example. I’m a relatively new supervisor in this department, but have been at the company almost 4 years and I’ve heard similar stories from more than one source about the offender’s tendancy to avoid work, put it off on others or just not do it; and unfortunately little has changed during her years of employment. I’d like nothing more than to come right out and say “I know what you’re doing and it has to stop or it will result in termination”. However, there are several steps that must occur before termination…right now I’m in the documentation stage. (Hence my dilemma…I specifically asked her to do a task that she got someone else to do…she managed to convince a co-worker to complete it – this is not a punishable offense, but I can only document what I know to be the truth…since she hasn’t admitted to me directly that she hates doing the task, the only thing I can document is that the task was completed, just not by the person that I asked to do it.) The bigger picture is what some others addressed above…there is a sense of resentment among some of the other employees that she’s always been allowed to “get away” with not completing her tasks…I’m also trying to solidify their respect in me as a leader who can be trusted to take care of the needs of my staff. I’ve come behind three other supervisors of this employee who haven’t been able or weren’t willing to address the situation head on and simply lightened her duties (as if to imply that she was incapable of performing harder duties). It appeared that they just gave her grunt work to do. I have encouraged her to rise to the challenge of being responsible for more and also to self-advocate and work with me to identify some of her areas of strength and interest. She will agree verbally to do so and then within days I’ll hear of something else negative regarding her (i.e. that she’s complaining to someone in another group about the work/her co-workers or that she’s found yet another way to dodge her responsibilities). I’m grateful to everyone for providing their advice.

  12. hildi

    #4 – I do it all the time when/if I get a kudos or a thank you from people that attended my classes. My supervisor explicitly makes it part of her team’s culture that we should share these things with her, so that’s helpful and probably makes a difference. I felt a little too braggy when I first started doing it, but now I am eager to forward the nice notes I receive because she’s always very complimentary and I’ll admit I like having that boost. So if it’s at all part of the culture in the org you work, I’d say go for it!

  13. Cath in Canada

    #4 – the first time I ever did this, I forwarded the message to my manager with a note saying “it’s great to hear the processes we’re setting up are being used and appreciated!” The response was “that’s great! But here are suggestions for 25 million additional changes you should implement”. Put me off for a while…

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