my manager doesn’t defend me from mistaken complaints

A reader writes:

I have a great supervisor who is also somewhat of a people-pleaser. She likes to see the bright side of everything and give people the benefit of the doubt, which is great, but lately I am wondering if she is going to hurt my reputation by refusing to defend me against other people. Recently she has shared with me several instances of other people telling her they were upset with me, while acknowledging (to me) that I didn’t actually do anything wrong.

For example, when a family situation required me to travel to another state for two days and I had no PTO remaining, I broached the question of working remotely those days with our director and my supervisor simultaneously, and they were both very supportive — the director specifically said, “Whatever you need, we can make it work.” I checked in with both of them again before I left to make sure they knew the plan. Then afterwards, my supervisor told me, “Director did not like that you worked remotely, and said I need to tell you that you need his permission next time before working remotely and that you should not expect to be allowed to do so, except in extenuating circumstances.” When my mouth hung open, she said, “I think you did talk to him about it, and it was extenuating circumstances. But he told me to tell you. Just know that that’s the expectation for the future.”

Similarly, a coworker got angry when I followed up with her about a task she had failed to complete, and complained to my supervisor that she didn’t have time to read all the long emails I sent her, even though the original (long) request had come from my supervisor, and I only sent a short one-line follow-up when it wasn’t completed. Again, my supervisor reported this back to me, saying it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t actually do anything wrong, but now I knew I should be careful about sending this coworker long emails in the future.

I’m not sure if I should be concerned that she isn’t defending me when she knows other people are mistaken. It seems like her expectation is that I will share a laugh with her of “isn’t so-and-so crazy” and then get back to my work. Maybe I am too defensive and should be more laid-back like she is, but I want to feel like she has my back. What do you think?

Ooooh. I’m completely with you on this — that’s bad management on her part and you’re right in being frustrated and concerned.

Part of her job is to share and manage information. When someone says (wrong thing) and she knows that it’s wrong, her job isn’t to smile and nod and then agree with you behind that person’s back that they were wrong. Her job is to provide the correct information, by saying, “Ah, actually the situation was ___.” (And in fact, this isn’t even just because she’s a manager; it would be true of any employee hearing something that they knew was off-base.)

In the situation with your director complaining about you working remotely, your manager should have said something like, “Oh, Jane actually did check with both of us and we okayed it — she spoke with us in June about her dad being sick, and you okayed the remote work while she was there.” That’s a normal thing to say; it’s not adversarial or insubordinate or anything like that. (And in fact, most managers have conversations like that with their directors all the time — the director isn’t as likely as the manager to remember smaller details like that, and no one considers it a failing that they don’t; their focus is on other things.) I’d be incredibly annoyed if I were that director and realized later that my staff member (the manager) had known I was wrong and hadn’t spoken up about it.

And with your angry coworker, your manager should have said something like, “Actually, that long email came from me, and my understanding is that Jane just sent you a quick follow-up checking on it. Is there something about the original email I sent that caused an issue that we should talk about?”

I suspect your manager is coming from a place where she finds even minor disagreements uncomfortable — where it feels like confrontation or pushback to her and so she doesn’t want to do it. People like this tend to end up with bad reputations over time, because other people eventually come to realize that they can’t trust them to speak up when necessary (including to save the person they’re talking with from embarrassment or a mistake) … and with someone like your manager, that they’re also being two-faced by having the “ha ha, so-and-so is so crazy/off-base” conversation with others later.

As for what you should do when you’re working for someone like this: You’re right to be concerned. When it happens over something that feels particularly serious (like your director’s displeasure about your remote work days), I’d say this to your manager: “I’m actually really concerned that Lucinda thinks I did that without permission, so I’m going to send her a quick email letting her know that I did get it okayed by both of you ahead of time.” If you think your manager will balk at this — and she might — you could consider just emailing that to your director without mentioning it to your manager first (although that comes with some risk too, so it’s very much a know-your-workplace situation).

Depending on your dynamic with your manager, you might also consider saying something like, “It concerns me that Lucinda now thinks that I did X. Could you please go back and let her know that it was actually Y?” The potential problem there, though, is that your manager’s people-pleasing tendencies could mean that she’ll tell you yes and then never do it, and you wouldn’t necessarily know.

All of this is why people pleasers eventually end up pleasing no one.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 181 comments… read them below }

  1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    “And in fact, most managers have conversations like that with their directors all the time — the director isn’t as likely as the manager to remember smaller details like that, and no one considers it a failing that they don’t; their focus is on other things”

    Yes. I don’t know what I would do if the managers who report to me did not frequently and matter-of-factly tell me that I’m wrong or mis-remembering. It would be madness around here. Madness.

    1. Sonya Mann*

      It’s amazing how many AAM issues and the subsequent advice are just about clear, direct, consistent, respectful communication. My workplace wouldn’t function either if people didn’t just *tell* each other things.

    2. Sunshine*

      Yes! I freely admit that there are some things I just suck at keeping track of. By all means – remind me what I said last week if it conflicts with what I said yesterday. It happens!

  2. Laurel Gray*

    Questions – are people pleasers also considered spineless? Wasn’t it somewhat spineless of the OP’s manager not to speak up at the moment the director expressed displeasure in the OP’s remote work and said “remember, they had a family emergency and we approved it?” and similarly with the employee mad about the long email? Part of me feels like “people pleaser” is a great air brush effect for spineless.

    1. NickelandDime*

      Some are. I deal with this in my personal life. Some people pleasers are spineless, and some do this because they would rather not put forth any type of effort in standing up for someone or something. Maintaining their own comfort, status, etc., is more important than doing the right thing, especially if doing the right thing might cause waves.

      1. Andrea*

        This, exactly—I’ve dealt with people in my personal life just like this. I have little tolerance for this kind of crap, and I place a premium on loyalty. I couldn’t work with someone who didn’t have my back, and I really feel for the OP here.

    2. Jerzy*

      It’s not necessarily spinelessness, as much as it is wanting to avoid conflict at all cost. Spineless to me implies someone who is simply weak-willed, but the reasons for wanting to avoid conflict might be coming from a different place.

      I find name-calling (even when completely accurate) to be less than helpful when trying to troubleshoot interpersonal issues.

      1. AMG*

        I had a manager who wouldn’t stand up to the office bully. My peer told our manager that she was afraid Bully would hurt me or Peer 2 at some point because his pattern of abuse was escalating and could turn physical. Manager looked at Peer 1 and said, ‘I know Bully is like that but I just can’t stand conflict.’ I have had a real distaste for the people pleasers, non-confrontational people ever since.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          “You can’t stand conflict, so you won’t stop Bully from causing conflict with the rest of us?

          Would it help if I yelled at you about Bully? Because I can do that. I would be happy to, in fact, if you KEEP LETTING HIM BULLY US!

          See, like that. Does that help?”

          1. AMG*

            Boss finds some excuse to lay me off because of this and also I won’t shut up about some random SOX compliance BS. Because even if assertive isn’t his thing, passive-aggressive sure is.

            But I love my new job that came with a pay increase, promotion, and the best boss ever. Old Boss is working for a terrible company, Peers 1 and 2 are in good places, and Bully is out of work. Based on his lame networking attempts with others, it appears Bully has no idea of the damage he has caused to his reputation.

      2. Collarbone High*

        Thanks for this. For people who grew up in households where conflict = violence and expressing any sort of dissent (even matter-of-fact statements like “I don’t like McDonald’s”) led to physical or emotional abuse, it’s very hard to unlearn a lifetime of conflict avoidance. I agree it’s not a good trait in a manager, but for some people it’s a survival tactic, not a personality flaw.

        1. anon for this*

          Yes, I could have been the manager in this scenario for most of my working life. I am only now becoming strong enough to realize that emotional abuse for polite disagreements is not normal, and that it’s okay to disagree with someone in a respectful manner. I am glad I started learning this before becoming a manager of people and not just projects.

        2. AnonEMoose*

          I think it can be both. This blog has discussed before how traits or patterns of behavior that were necessary for survival in toxic workplaces can hold a person back or even be damaging to them once they’re in a healthier environment. I think this is pretty similar. A survival tactic in one environment can be a deeply damaging flaw in another.

        3. Amy UK*

          I understand and sympathise, but those people shouldn’t be in a management position. I have similar issues, and I don’t manage people because of it. If you can get help and overcome the issue, of course you can be a manager. But if you’re struggling with conflict management- be that an unfortunate psychological remnant of your past or just plain spinelessness- then you have to accept that this role isn’t for you. If you take a job that’s a bad fit and you’re the only one affected by it, that’s one thing. But taking a role where you can’t do a fundamental part of it and other reports are being affected by it, that’s not acceptable to me.

          Almost all the non-malicious bad management Alison deals with on this site seems to me to be people taking jobs they aren’t competent at. And when there are direct reports being affected by it, it seems to me that the manager should consider the wider picture of what they can do well, not just what opportunities they’re put forward for. Sure, you might love to be a manager but if you can’t do a fundamental part of it (rather than just being inexperienced or something), you should turn the role down until you can.

    3. Abyssal*

      “People pleaser” is a personality description; it’s more value-neutral than “spineless,” which is pretty pejorative (since it maps as a synonym for “cowardly” rather than “wants people to be happy”). Someone who tends toward people-pleasing can learn to do so without completely lacking in social courage; “spineless” is what results if they don’t.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Maybe I’m uniquely cynical, but when I observe that someone is a “people pleaser,” I immediately think “spineless.” And I lose all trust in that person, because I know they are going to tell me what I want to hear, and that they will do the same with everyone else, meaning that I can expect to be thrown under the bus, made out to be the bad guy, or whatever.

        Because I’ve noticed that most of the people pleasing types I’ve dealt with are more invested in making the uncomfortable feeling of someone being upset/unhappy go away in the moment than they are in actually solving the problem. So they often end up deferring the problem, making it bigger, because all they see is “oh, Jane is angry and I need Jane not to be angry.”

        (Can you tell that this behavior infuriates me??)

        1. Charby*

          Agreed. I think there are positive ways to be a people-pleaser but the problem is the ultra-short-term thinking involved. It’s easy to nod and agree with everything everyone says all the time, but when you’re essentially trashing other people’s professional reputations you’re actually causing more pain and unhappiness than the person who is willing to speak up. I’m one of those people who dislikes confrontation as well, but what I really can’t stand is someone being smeared for something that they didn’t do. Or, worse, someone being blasted for something that *I* did. The fact that the manager is wording it to the OP as if the OP is the one who slipped up actually makes my skin crawl. (“Now you know that you should be careful about sending long emails!”?! I’d have a hard time respecting someone who said that to me after I just took the blame for them.)

          1. Mabel*

            No to mention that not reading a long email is the fault of the person who sent it?!?!?

            I try to keep my emails easily readable and brief because – well, why not? But if I need to write something longer, I don’t expect the recipient to blame me if they didn’t read the whole thing.

            1. AnonaMoose*

              Seriously. Because you’re actually getting PAID to read that long email. So read it and quit trying to throw the hot potato around because you didn’t do the bare minimum of your job. JAYSUS. I feel bad for OP that this is normal work behavior where she’s at.

              And Manager sounds like an asshat. She has absolutely no sense of her own and likely has not ever been assertive. How she became a manager (tenure?) is beyond me.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            “Now you know that you should be careful about sending long emails!”?!

            I think OP should go back and tell the manager that she will not forward the manager’s long emails to Coworker and manager should speak/email Coworker directly.

            The thing about people pleasers is that they can be a nervous bunch. This means they could be vulnerable to misunderstanding situations/comments, because their go-to is “someone is upset, I must calm them down”. Their nervousness causes them to bypass the logic of the situation and cut to reducing upset by any means possible.

            1. OP*

              I didn’t forward my supervisor’s e-mail to my coworker, as a lot of people are assuming. Supervisor sent an e-mail to the staff saying, “Here are all of the steps you need to take for checking a client out.” The last step was marking them as checked out in our software so that I could start my part of the process (database/billing stuff). I saw that a client had not been marked as checked out who I thought was gone, so I e-mailed my coworker, “Hey, has so-and-so been checked out?” She got angry and defensive about being called out for missing this step and complained to my supervisor that she couldn’t be expected to read all my long e-mails. Even though I wasn’t the one who sent the original e-mail with the instructions, my supervisor suggested that I try calling instead of e-mailing this particular coworker if I need to follow up in the future, which has actually made a big difference in the past week and seems to have made the coworker less hostile toward me. (My supervisor is not this coworker’s supervisor.) So, anyway, for what it’s worth, that’s the long version of the story.

              1. moss*

                Your supervisor is treating people like a Missing Stair (link contains strong language), in other words, they are trying to accommodate and make exceptions for people who are making problems, instead of managing the problems away.

              2. Excel Slayer*

                Was this coworker hostile towards you before the whole long email thing? I read it as her taking critism badly and wanted to deflect blame, rather than something personal towards you.

                Still, I’m glad the phone calls are working. That seems like less pressure on you!

              3. Excel Slayer*

                Ah, just read some of your comments further down. It sounds like your supervisor is bad at dealing with ‘difficult’ people.

              4. Vicki*

                That’s … weird.

                Your co-worker is blaming you for email that you did not send (she somehow has decided that you wrote the checklist?). And your manager is still in the wrong.

        2. Abyssal*

          Like anything else about personality, I think there’s a spectrum; on the one extreme end is what you’re describing, where someone is completely unable to do anything but try to deflect anger from themselves — and on the other extreme end is the person who takes no regard whatsoever for others. Both extremes are dysfunctional and infuriating.

          There’s a place for people who tend to look toward smoothing over disagreement — I guess the positive term would be “peacemaker.” What that looks like is someone who tends to seek consensus, who tends to try and get people onboard with what has to be done, and who tries to smooth down situations where feathers are starting to get mightily ruffled. It’s the functional form of people-pleasing, whereas what the OP’s manager, and what it sounds like most of these types you’ve dealth with, shows dysfunctionality.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            I can agree with that. Where the “peacemaker” thing can veer into the dysfunctional is when they try to do it prematurely. Sometimes the conflict has to happen before it’s possible to move into consensus-building and compromise.

            I’m probably sounding more confrontational than I actually am…in person, I don’t enjoy conflict/confrontation. It IS uncomfortable. But I won’t shy away from it when I feel it’s necessary, either. I’m kind of a “pick your battles” person…but when I pick a battle, I’m going to do my level best to see it through, if that makes sense.

          2. Blurgle*

            I disagree; the “peacemaker” can at times be the most negative and dysfunctional of all.

            Peacemaking works well where the conflict is free of harmful power struggles, as most day-to-day compnflicts are.

            However, many conflicts have at their heart a power differential where one party is the victimizer and the other is the victimized. In those cases peacemaking – the old “it takes two to tango” lie – assigns blame to both sides when only one side is really to blame and only one side needs to change. Conflict-averse managers tend not to acknowledge this because, I think, they don’t have the imagination or insight to see the bully for who she really is, and can’t imagine that someone might actually be choosing to create conflict for their own purposes. The idea that someone might actually want a fight is beyond their understanding.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              A true peacemaker is most definitely not spineless. Because to find that best place of peace means being able to see the long term place where things are better all around, and be willing to work, and even fight and cause temporary pain, to get there. I don’t think anyone would call Gandhi or MLK Jr spineless, and they were both peacemakers, seeing the long-term needs, recognizing the bullies, and looking to a place of peace beyond that.

        3. Stranger than fiction*

          Totally agree, it’s like deferring maintenance in your car or home, just costs you more in the long run.

        1. Abyssal*

          Meh, I’d disagree; the manager is probably including the OP in the people-pleasing, given that she’s carrying these tales and then taking pains to agree with the OP that they’re ridiculous.

          I don’t disagree a bit that the OP’s manager is behaving in a really dysfunctional way.

          1. Charby*

            True. I guess I’m personally biased, because I’d actually feel worse hearing that stuff. If someone won’t tell the truth and stick up for me in a situation where it’s called for, I actually don’t want their commiseration; it seems phony and insincere. Like a wrongly-convicted inmate being visited by the person who refused to confirm their alibi. If you won’t do the *bare minimum* to help me then I’d rather just move on from the issue completely rather than get stressed over it.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Yep, some of this teeters on lying. I had a boss that would make sure she was seen standing and talking with me. Then she would go back to the offended party and say, “I had a long talk with NSNR and she agreed she will never do x again.” What actually happened is my boss spent ten minutes talking about the weather and no mention of the offended party’s complaint. But to a causual observer, it looked like I had gotten my comeupance for whatever offense had occured. Every single thing that went on was an illusion, nothing was real.

            OP, Alison’s advice is great. There is a rule about intermediaries/third parties. Don’t allow people to be an intermediary for you, go do it yourself. In these examples you gave here, you could say something like, “I am sorry to hear that Jane was upset about X. The next time I see her, I will be sure to mention that I meant no harm and offer my apologies.” I will bet my last chocolate donut when you say that, your boss is going to seriously backpedal. She will have five reasons why you should not talk to Jane. BTDT.
            And you can tell your boss, that you prefer being told these things by the person involved and you prefer to be told in the moment it is happening, as opposed to three weeks later. Explain that you prefer get along with people and do a good job at all times. This means having candid conversations in the moment the situation is happening.

            Don’t laugh about other people and snicker with her. Remain serious and keep your professional voice on.

            1. Vicki*

              Dear NSNR –

              Someone else who bets in donuts! I will now add “bet my last chocolate donut” to my usual “bet a box of donuts” and “bet a box of cookies”.

      2. Ad Astra*

        I don’t like the idea of calling an OP “spineless.” There’s a whole lot of judgment in that word and it’s unkind. Turning a value-neutral term like “people pleaser” into the pejorative “spineless” isn’t helpful.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I guess actually we’re calling the OP’s manager “spineless” and not the OP herself, but I still don’t love it and I don’t see much value in it.

    4. OP*

      That’s pretty harsh. My supervisor generally doesn’t having a problem saying “no” to people who miss deadlines to apply for things or don’t provide necessary documentation. As I said below, I think part of it in this case is office dynamics/politics, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen again, which is what I’m concerned about.

      1. fposte*

        But saying no to people lower than you on the food chain isn’t that tough, and your responsibility as a manager is sometimes also to push back against people higher than you. I think what you’re describing as office dynamics/politics is just her difficulty doing anything but agreeing with people who outrank her.

        And it’s a challenge to say to an angry boss that actually, this person did check with you and it was permitted, but you know, that’s part of the package. So I think you’re being more forgiving of her (which is probably fair, because you benefit from her other fine qualities) than I am.

    5. WLE*

      I find it very difficult to accomplish anything when I have a manager who is a people pleaser or as you mention “spineless.” I find that projects are constantly changing direction because my manager caves to the opinions of anyone and everyone around him/her. Instead of relying on his/her expertise, they give in to recommended changes from everyone whether it’s Jane the CEO of Teapots Inc or Bob the Janitor. This makes the people pleaser feel like they’re doing a great job, but in the end, the work is terrible.

    6. MsChanandlerBong*

      I’d call myself a people pleaser, but I don’t think I’m spineless, either. My people-pleasing is more about never wanting to feel like I’ve hurt someone’s feelings or done something rude…not a desire to protect my own comfort (as someone below mentioned is sometimes the case). But, I can speak up when necessary, and I’d stand up for my employees, friends, or family members before I’d stand up for myself.

      1. Blurgle*

        But there’s a gulf between rudeness and hurting someone’s feelings, and even a wider gulf between hurting someone’s feelings and standing up to them.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I totally enjoy it when people are pleased with me. I think that most of us do feel this way. But having people pleased with me is not my number one priority. I think this is what you are saying.
        There is a difference between these two situations:

        I print things out in a size 14 font because it pleases my boss with the tired eyes.


        My boss asks how she sounded during her speach and I tell her she did fabulous when I know that she missed three points she told me she wanted to be sure to say.

  3. TotesMaGoats*

    I had a boss who was sort of like this in the sense that if someone said I’d done X (and X was wrong/bad), she immediately assumed that the other person was correct. Cue blisteringly harsh email. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I’d respond with the most emotionless email regarding what actually happened. Usually with something like “I’ll make sure to do Y in the future so Mr. Stark doesn’t tell you incorrect information.” And then I’d have to let it go. I never got an apology. Ever. But I had it on record to CMA.

    One special memory was when a staff member had emailed a resignation to my assistant director. She happened to be working later that day and when she got in around 11, saw the email, immediately forwarded it to me. I immediately forwarded it to my boss. Then got “Why didn’t I know about this at 8am when resignee sent it? Why would you sit on this?” My response: I didn’t sit on this. AD arrived at work at 11am, and as noted in the send date from her she sent it as soon as she got her email opened and read. I immediately sent it to you.
    Her response: Thank you.

    Yeah, you can’t trust those kinds of bosses.

    1. Vicki*

      I’ve had several like this but the worst was one I’ve mentioned here before. I had an idea for our project which I ran past my manager before the team meeting. He agreed that it was a good idea and that I should present it in the meeting.

      I presented the idea in the meeting. The director’s reaction was not overly positive. My manager’s response? “I don’t know where Vicki came up with that idea. I’ve never heard of it before this.”

      I found a new manager as soon as I could after that.

  4. NickelandDime*

    I have some questions about the work dynamic at this place. Is it highly political? Stressful? How is morale? Sometimes managers like this are just weak, and sometimes, they do this out of fear. I’m not defending this manager, because even if the work atmosphere is bad, this isn’t a good way to handle things. But I’ve seen bad work environments were many managers behaved this way out of fear. Just throwing some things out there.

    1. OP*

      This is part of it, yes. Our director tends to get fixated on (and angry about) minor things and does not take feedback well, so I kind of understand why my supervisor (who is still in her first year) may have been hesitant to directly contradict him. The coworker in question is also someone who is buddies with upper administration and gets a lot of exceptions made for her, so I think my supervisor may have been taking cues that it’s better to just appease her. It still makes me come out looking bad, though, and I don’t think that these will be isolated incidents.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        See, exactly why you should do the CYA emailing mentioned above and keep a printed copy for yourself. Because the thing is, if it comes down to the company needing to do layoffs, the directors perception is going to work to your disadvantage if you don’t clear these thing up when they happen.

  5. Mabel*

    If I were the OP, I’d be tempted to go back to Lucinda and to the director and set the record straight myself.

    1. Jerzy*

      Ditto this. Or maybe send an email directly to Lucinda and cc my manager to keep her in the loop, but not asking for permission to clear my name.

    2. TootsNYC*

      For one thing, just based on what we have so far, I don’t actually trust the boss to have accurately reflected the director’s comments about the working remotely, nor Lucinda’s comments about the long email.

      That’s part of why I’d go to Lucinda: “Boss told me you were upset about that long email on Project X. I wanted to get the feedback straight from you, especially since I’m pretty sure you realized that the long part of the email was actually from Boss, and I just forwarded it on. I figured, you and I should strategize together and figure out how to get you the info you need in the best way, going forward.”

      And to the director (if there was any email chain about it that included any response from him, dig that up and use it to reply): “Thank you so much for allowing me to work remotely at that tough family time. Knowing that my dedication to the job would be responded to with flexibility really boosted my opinion of the company. Boss told me that you had some concerns about it after the fact, however, so I wanted to see if there was anything I needed to know or follow up with.”

      1. Collarbone High*

        This is a good point — it’s possible it was actually the manager who had a problem with OP working remotely, and shifted the blame to the director to look like the good guy.

        1. esra*

          I had a manager who did this all the time. He would pass his own complaints off as coming from up the chain. Which was super awkward, several times, when you’d address a “concern” during a meeting with said higher ups and they’d have no idea what you were talking about and manager would sheepishly admit the concerns were his.

  6. AnonEMoose*

    I have loads of sympathy for you, OP, but no real suggestions, I’m afraid. I once had a boss’s boss who was like this. He was terrified of anything that even looked like confrontation. So he would give in and approve “exceptions” that should Never. Happen rather than say “no” to people, even when “NO” was the only really appropriate answer.

    And expect the employees to make it happen. I gritted my teeth, and considered looking for another job. Fortunately, he left before I got that far. I’m still with the company, and he’s somewhere else (and hopefully, happier – he wasn’t an awful person, just a terrible manager in that respect).

    The only real advice I have is to CYA. Obsessively. Document everything possible. Because your manager will throw you under the bus, not necessarily out of malice, but because it’s “easier” for her than actually dealing with issues. And I’m truly sorry.

    (Oh, and I would agree with the above that, at least in my experience, “people pleaser” = “spineless.”

    1. That Lady*

      Seconded on the CYA. When you have that conversation about working remotely, send an email that documents the conversation. Then, when you’re sending the follow-up reminder, add it to a forward of that email. Document, document, document. Because if your supervisor doesn’t have your back on these things, she’s definitely not going to stand up for you when you’re being wrongfully fired.

    2. Lils*

      +100 Document to death. Never underestimate the power of an email you start with “Per our phone conversation just now”…

    3. Anonathon*

      Yes, agree! I had a boss do something similar and it really damaged my trust in him. (In a nutshell: I had to send a group email, saying that we were going to with unpopular Idea A and not well-liked Idea B. My boss approved this choice and even signed off on the exact email text. One person on the thread threw a tantrum … so my boss called her and pretended not to know what was going on. So it looked like I acted alone. It sucked.)

      In hindsight, I’d have asked him to send the email himself or asked to sign both our names. Or even concluded the email with, “Bob, could you weigh in more on our reasoning for this decision?” Basically, documenting is good, but involving is equally key. You want to include People Pleaser on your correspondence, use her name, reference what she said specifically, etc. Make it super explicit, yet still friendly in tone.

  7. Episkey*

    I’m of the opinion that it is OK if you are a nonconfrontational person in your personal life — after all, the only person who suffers is you — but once you become a manager, it is your responsibility to be more assertive for your direct reports.

    1. NickelandDime*

      I’m not sure about that. People Pleasers can cause a lot of damage in personal relationships because it breeds distrust. You can’t trust a People Pleaser to stand up for you because it’s more important to them to avoid the conflict than do the right thing. Also, people that tend to take advantage of People Pleasers are rarely pleased, even if they get what they want in the end. It’s a mess.

      I’ve also noticed that People Pleasers do this at work and in their personal lives. It never stops.

      1. fposte*

        But that’s up to the PP’s partner to deal with or no; I know people who are delighted with their adoring spouse who just goes along with what everyone wants. In work, a manager who just goes along with what everyone wants isn’t managing.

      2. Zillah*

        I agree. My partner is a bit of a people pleaser and it’s led to a lot of fights and distrust between us.

        There’s a difference between being a people pleaser and being flexible/easygoing. The former often agree to things they don’t want to do or lie to people rather than just say “not interested,” while the latter will give clear answers when they exist – they just don’t always have a preference. There’s nothing wrong with genuinely being flexible, but refusing to be open and set clear boundaries with people is a serious problem.

        1. Episkey*

          Presumably, though, you knew this about your spouse before you married them and made the decision to still marry them. Most people don’t get to decide who their manager at work is.

          1. Zillah*

            Well, I haven’t married him at this point, and that’s part of the reason! ;)

            Regardless, I’m not really disagreeing that it’s a problem in managers – I was agreeing with NickelAndDime, who seemed to be addressing the part of your post where you said that the only person who suffers when someone is a people pleaser in their personal life is them.

      3. Episkey*

        Well, in personal life, you can distance yourself from a friend or family member if they are like that. In work, you can’t do that with your manager.

        I’m basically a nonconfrontational person, but I don’t think I would describe myself as untrustworthy. It’s more like I have a hard time standing up for myself…so maybe that is where I am coming from. :P

    2. Not me*

      I don’t know if I can really agree… I have a couple of them in my family. They’re very hard to trust because they’re dishonest and unreliable.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I find them insincere. They will say whatever it takes to appease the person they are standign next to. You can never be sure what it is they think themselves.

  8. Weekday Warrior*

    I absolutely think the OP should set the record straight with the director. And speaking from personal experience, I think the manager is trying to undercut the OP. maybe not consciously although I think the after convos are to assuage a guilty conscious or worse, further undercutting.

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’ve been in your position, and I’m going to make what is probably an uncomfortable suggestion: you need to have a direct conversation with the complainers in person.  Notice how I didn’t say confront.  It’s not a confrontation because there’s no disagreement there but rather a misunderstanding of the facts.

    Everything AAM said is spot on, but I’m adding this suggestion because you need to establish to your manager that you’re going to clear things up on your own.  It softly puts her on notice, but you’re not being adversarial either.  After all, if another employee had a gross misunderstanding of something that had nothing to do with you or your manager, you’d clear it up immediately, right?  Wouldn’t we all?  That’s normal human behavior.

    I’m also interested to see your manager’s reaction when you do this.  What’s she going to say?  “Don’t tell X that he actually approved your time off.”  She doesn’t have a leg to stand on.  I also think that forcing her to cop to the truth, because these people will understandably come back to her to follow up, will greatly benefit you and your reputation in the long-run.

    This will be one of those things you’ll do at first and it’ll feel awkward, but if you keep doing it, it’ll get easier and easier.

    1. OP*

      I think this is a good suggestion. In the case with our director, I really should have said, “Actually, I’d like to clear it up with him so he knows that I did have his approval on this,” but I was so flabbergasted and angry in the moment that I couldn’t think. In the case with the coworker, she’s just generally hostile to me because she dislikes the paperwork and technology pieces of our work, which are basically my entire job, so I think trying to nitpick over who sent a particular e-mail would backfire.

      1. HRChick*

        You could send an email saying
        “Director –

        I received your feedback from Manager. I just wanted to clarify what additional steps you’d like me to take to clear my remote work if an emergency should come up. I’ve attached my emails to yourself and to Manager regarding this matter and want to make sure there wasn’t another step I was missing.

        Thanks for your time,

      2. Chriama*

        I think that’s your best move for the future. In regards to [obnoxious coworker] I think you can actually put things back on your boss “the original email actually came from you and I sent a short follow up. In the future, should I exclude the original email?” Then she knows you’re not buying it. And to cya with the coworker, in future emails make a point to state you’re “following up on the below email that [boss] sent to us a couple weeks ago.

        But I do think with a boss like this you need to make sure to get everything in writing and be willing to follow up with people yourself. The other risk is that she keeps doing this stuff but doesn’t come back you, so she’s torching your reputation and you don’t even know it. It sucks that you have to deal with it, and I hope that by seeing how you assert yourself she becomes more comfortable doing that herself.

    2. Vera*

      Yes, this. It really bothers me when complaints go up the chain on one end and back down the chain when a direct conversation would have resolved the issue. These kinds of conversations can be really difficult and uncomfortable but in my experience they are often followed by a huge sense of relief in clearing the air.

      In the case of the director, it probably makes sense the director wanted your supervisor to give that message to you. But assuming the director isn’t some very high-up EVP or something, I would totally swing by their office and say what a lot of people are recommending you e-mail. Thanks for allowing this, I appreciate that you allowed for flexibility in this extenuating circumstance, supervisor did let me know that working from home is only for these types of circumstances and that if I need this flexibility again that I need to ask for approval again, just like I did last time. (Not a script, but you get the idea).

      In the case of your coworker, same thing. Swing by their desk and acknowledge that you received some feedback about the length of the e-mail and propose a solution (“In the future if Supervisor makes a request I need to follow up on, would it help if I summarized the need in the follow up e-mail?”).

      I really think the face-to-face conversation will make a big difference. Also, I don’t think there’s any reason you need to tell you supervisor that you’re talking to the director- you’re just doing a drive by.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Am chuckling. Boss said to me, “Jane has huge issues with you. Many, many problems she is always complaining.”
      In my sincerest voice that I could muster, I said, “That is too bad. I like Jane professionally and personally.[This was true.] So I am very sorry to hear this. [Also true.] I will go over right now and chat with her because I do not want this to continue on and on. I want us to be cool with everything.”

      As I walked away to see Jane, my boss grabbed my arm to stop me. Check it out. She grabbed my arm. “Oh, well, no you don’t have to do that….”
      Me: “Well you just said…”
      Boss:”Well it was a while ago..”
      Me: “It sounds serious enough to still address now…”
      Boss: “Well it’s not that bad..”
      Me: “It sounds bad.”
      Boss: “You are going to look stupid mentioning this out of the blue.”
      Me: “I will just say that you mentioned it.”
      Boss: “LET IT GO.”
      Me: “You said it was a big deal.”
      Boss: “Well it’s not that big a deal.”
      Me: “but you said…”
      Boss: “Never mind. Forget it.”

      If you’re exhausted reading this, imagine what living it was like! I call it seeing things through to their conclusion. Sometimes you have to push things along to a conclusion.

  10. Pete*

    There’s always the possibility the people-pleasing supervisor agrees with the complaints and is saying things to appease OP.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      This is exactly what I think is happening. I’m not sure why she’s telling the OP though. Maybe in case it gets back to him/her?

    2. Lils*

      Totally agree. I had a boss like this. She aimed to please…whoever she was talking with that moment. She reversed decisions because someone complained, no matter that we’d spent hours hashing it out in the first place. She deflected complaints from above by blaming mistakes on employees. She named names and pointed fingers, and never took responsibility. She was always warm and friendly to my face.

      Warning: she is most definitely commiserating with others about “crazy OP” behind your back. Stand firm, document, and don’t let her tell lies about you. You have to NOT be a people-pleaser in this situation. She will not like you for standing up for yourself, but you will emerge with your rep intact. Also, I would caution you against remaining too long in her department.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree about the lying. This is what this goes into a lot of lying. And pretty soon, everything is an illusion- it is all about the way things appear to others. What is actually going on is irrelevant.

  11. Charby*

    I think this is the worst kind of management, because it’s almost like accidental gaslighting. I’ve had jobs where I felt like I needed to wear a wire to meetings with management so that I could play back an audio recording whenever someone forgot (or “forgot”) something that they said to me. It’s bad because rumors can spread and reputations can tank when the people who work directly with you agree with untrue statements about your work solely to avoid having a conversation.

    Recording them might not be practical, but one thing that might help is to send email confirmations whenever someone says something to you orally. CC everyone involved, including the ineffectual manager. This might help the manager deal with disagreements since they will have a physical record rather than just comparing memories with their director.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I once worked in a Midwest office.  To my face, everyone would tell me my ideas were good, and I always got decent feedback in meetings.  It was only during review time, I’d find out that not only were my ideas “lacking” but they weren’t in line with the mission statement.  (I honestly thought they were.)  I don’t know why everything was hunky dory 364 days of the year, but that whole approach made me want to tear my hair out.  

      At that same job, I had a boss who had issues giving an opinion.  You could ask her a direct question on what precisely she wants, and she’d end up talking out of both sides of her mouth.  Whenever something went wrong, she was able to say that she’d voiced these concerns and I should have listened to her.  Whenever something went right, there was only silence.

      Gawker has a series of personal anecdotes on working at the Target HQ in Minneapolis.  Most of the submissions had similar complaints about the spineless style of management.

      1. Lanya*

        My friend who taught in Minneapolis for a year observed the same thing – the people there were apparently very passive-aggressive and couldn’t handle direct observations that were even slightly blunt.

        1. Mme Pomme-p-door*

          Let’s not lump all of us in Minneapolis together, plenty of Minnesotans can handle direct feedback.

          1. Squirrel*

            I’ve seen a lot of snarky comments about the Midwest on this blog over the years. I guess us poor hicks in/from “flyover country” just can’t handle working in a real office like those on the coasts.

      2. Connie-Lynne*

        This is not unique to the Midwest. I’ve seen it in Academia, Tech, and Entertainment on the West Coast, and heard complaints about such behavior from friends all over the country.

        In any big company, and occasionally in smaller companies, there will be people who are bad managers. Some of those people will be bad managers whose problem is speaking directly and owning situations.

      3. Jeanne*

        The real reason you were fine only 364 days of the year is usually because they already decided you don’t get a raise. So you get a bad review.

    2. Erin*

      I like this suggestion for going forward. Emailing Supervisor, CCing Director (and anyone else involved). “Hi, I just wanted to shoot you a reminder I’ll be leaving tomorrow. As we discussed, I left X for Howard and Y for Frank, and I’m going to touch base with you about Z during mid day tomorrow. Please don’t hesitate to email me if you need something in the meantime.”

    3. HRChick*

      I had an office where I had to do the “Per our meeting _____, you would like me to/have tasked me with______” emails and it is just so freaking exhausting. You feel paranoid and weird. But, the minute you don’t do it, you get the “I NEVER told you that!” *sigh*

    4. Squirrel*

      There have been a few letters where Alison has directed the OP to send a follow-up email to the person you had the conversation with, to reiterate whatever the conversation was about. That way you put what you “believe” the conversation was about (i.e. what was actually said) to give the other person the opportunity to either correct or confirm your statements. This allows you to have back up when X months down the line, Lucinda comes at you and demands to know why you didn’t ask permission for time off, you can point to the email and say, “We talked about this, and I sent you a confirmation email to make sure I understand the directions you wanted me to follow regarding requesting this time off.” It might become a hassle to do this, but it sounds like you’re in an environment where this needs to be done, at least with a few specific people.

      1. Charby*

        Agreed. It also helps with peace of mind; I know that when I vividly remember something that everyone around me seems to be denying, I start feeling like I might be delusional or crazy. If I have an email of them confirming it I at least know that I’m not hallucinating.

        1. kelseywanderer*

          I just had the opposite problem: apparently I was put in charge of arranging an upcoming event (taking place the week after next, with the office closed for most of the intervening time due to holidays) without anyone actually bothering to inform *me* that I was in charge of it and needed to be, you know, making arrangements for this event!

          I only found out by accident when someone from another department came to me to ask for some details about it because he had just been told by our director that I was the focal point for this and therefore had all the relevant information (note: I had NONE of the information and knew next to nothing about the event itself).

          Sigh. At least know I now and am hard at working planning the event. Although I still wonder if I’ve gone completely crazy and somehow missed being told to organise the event or if they really didn’t bother to actually inform me.

  12. F.*

    While I understand the desire to go back and set the record straight in both circumstances, it might come off as being somewhat defensive. If it were I, I would let it go this time, but in the future be certain to put things in writing. A follow-up email to the director and manager after the initial conversation confirming permission to work from home would have been sufficient. As for the person who complained about the long email, perhaps they were just venting. You received the information second-hand, so the actual intent may have gotten lost in the re-telling. Your manager sounds somewhat reactionary.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The thing is, if she’d put the permission to work from home in writing right after the conversation, the director still could have forgotten it. (I think it’s the passage of time, not the fact that it wasn’t in an email.) She’s still going to be left having to remind him that it was okayed or live with him thinking she did something wrong; I’d do the former, especially since it’s a totally reasonable and normal thing to do.

      1. Charby*

        I agree. The only thing that the email might do in my opinion is make it easier for her to explain it. If it was only oral it could be a miscommunication but if she had written evidence that she got permission to take these specific dates off under these circumstances it’s harder for anyone to argue that they misunderstood what she was asking for or what they were agreeing to.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Especially because it seems they may have a culture where people just don’t disagree and to do so would come across as argumentative. This way she has the email to speak for her.

      1. Anna*

        I agree. “Defensive” has this bad connotation, but really if you’re right to defend yourself then you should. It’s really only a problem when you’re not being reasonable about it.

      2. F.*

        I did not say there was anything wrong with that. I was only pointing out that the director and/or manager might feel the employee was being defensive. Is it fair to be treated this way? No. However, in the long run it might be better to take these two incidents as a lesson in the characters of the director and manager and move on, taking steps to try to better ‘manage up’ the next time.

        1. Mike C.*

          You’re not understanding my question. You posit that there is a chance that the upper managers may find these actions “defensive”. What is wrong with being “defensive”? What’s wrong with correcting the record with what actually happened? Why must the OP be a complete doormat? Why must upper management be held in such high regard that simply correcting the record becomes a risk?

          “tak[ing] these two incidents as a lesson in the characters of the director and manager ” is a complete copout, as that lesson is taken regardless of the response or lack thereof.

          1. Ad Astra*

            Well, defending yourself and “being defensive” aren’t really the same. Being defensive means you’re trying to avoid taking responsibility and acting out of self-preservation rather than considering the best way to solve the problem at hand for the betterment of the relationship/group/organization.

            What’s wrong with that, in the OP’s situation? Defensiveness makes you sound “guilty,” even when you’re not. Being defensive about the remote work approval makes it sound like she’s trying to get away with something or blaming the director for forgetting. She’ll get much better results if she simply states the facts and asks for clarification about what she should do going forward.

        2. Vera*

          It depends on how the employee approaches it. If they go at the director with a whiny, “BUT YOU SAID I COULD” narrative I could definitely see that as being overly dramatic/defensive about the situation. If the narrative is more, “I heard feedback about needing to get approval for the working remotely. When this happened in June, we had a meeting where I received verbal approval from you and Supervisor. Is there an additional process I should have followed to make it official?”

  13. Ann Furthermore*

    Ugh. How frustrating. That would drive me nuts. Even if it would get me into hot water with my manager, I would probably end up emailing the director, because it would stick in my craw that he thought I’d just gone ahead and done something without getting permission first, and I wouldn’t be able to let it go. I’d copy my manager, so that she couldn’t come back later and say I did something behind her back. It’s possible to be pleasant and cordial with something like this, by saying something like, “We actually did have a conversation on X date about my working remotely for a few days, as I had no PTO and needed to go spend some time with my dad when he was ill. I would never assume it was OK to do something like that without prior approval, as we don’t have a formal policy about working virtually.” Ideally, you’d have an email with a reply that you could forward back to the 2 of them.

    But really, the OP says she talked to her manager and director twice before leaving town. Is the director so self-absorbed that he can’t remember 2 conversations with someone on his team about a sick family member? I would remember something like that. And if I didn’t, if someone reminded me, I’d remember and say, “Oh that’s right, it slipped my mind.” So it sounds like the OP’s boss is scared of or intimidated by the director, and deals with him by just nodding and smiling.

      1. TL -*

        I would think it would be okay to e-mail the director and say that your manager had mentioned her concerns, following with, “I know we talked about this previously and you okay’ed it due to my dad’s illness, but I’m worried I didn’t handle something properly – in the unlikely event that a similar occurrence happens, I’d hate to make the same mistake twice!” or some such thing.

        1. Vera*

          Yes! Exactly. Frame it as if you want to be sure you know the process, since whatever process you used last time didn’t work.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Okay, ignore my entire comment at the end of the post then. This makes WAY more sense now.

        It’s still super annoying for the manager to come back and dump all this on you, OP. We need to mail her a spine for Christmas.

  14. neverjaunty*

    Granted that I am professionally suspicious, but is anyone else getting a vibe that this is less about the manager being compliant, and more about the manager using her “nice” demeanor as a way to dump blame on the OP and avoid taking responsibility for her own actions?

    With the PTO, the director directly told OP that it was okay, in very strong and helpful language, and Supervisor knows this. But then Supervisor – not Director – tells OP, second-hand, that actually Director wasn’t OK with it. To me, this sounds like Supervisor wasn’t OK with it but didn’t want to contradict Director; or that some problems came up while OP was gone and this was a handy way to blame the OP.

    And with the email, the co-worker was mad about something Supervisor did. Rather than tell the co-worker that he was mistakenly ranting about his own boss, Supervisor lets the co-worker stay mad at OP.

    I would be very, very careful in your shoes, OP. The most dangerous workplace backstabbers are the ones who pretend to be nice people with your interests at heart.

    1. OP*

      My supervisor is very supportive of me in every way, which is why I say she’s a great supervisor other than this thing. Our director… well, the office likes to play the game of “Is this going to be a Thing with him?” because you never know what’s going to upset him. I genuinely think my supervisor forgot whether the director was present when we had the first conversation about it, and thought that my follow-up e-mail of “So here are the exact dates I’ll be working remotely” could have been my way of informing him rather than asking for permission, and so wasn’t sure when he first brought it to her whether I actually had asked him. However, she clearly didn’t think she (or I) needed to go back to him to clear things up, but wanted the whole thing to be a “lesson learned” for the future.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        She’s supportive of you except….for these instances you’ve mentioned and probably more in the future. Just because someone is nice/caring/friendly doesn’t make them a good supervisor. From all you’ve said, she actually sounds like a pretty crummy supervisor. This thing, as you call it, is pretty big and shouldn’t be toned down because she’s good about other stuff. This will happen again.

      2. M from NY*

        You should separate being a nice person from being a nice supervisor. I think you are too invested in your belief (ir too close to situation) to see that your supervisors behavior was not only poor on both counts but her refusal to actually supervise has made you look bad. Your “reputation” has taken negative hits unfairly & if the time comes for lay offs or promotions her unwillingness to properly credit you will cause you problems. She can not be trusted with your career. You need to get that and be mad enough to implement some of the suggestions others have posted.

      3. neverjaunty*

        OP, if your supervisor is letting other people including her boss think you did wrong, and all she’s doing is privately telling you you’re right, then no, she is not “supportive of you in every way” and she’s definitely not a great supervisor. If your director is a jerk, and she’s not standing up for you because it would be difficult for her, then she’s not supporting you. She’s not even supporting you when someone subordinate to her unfairly blames you for something.

        She may be nice, she may be likeable, she may tell you in private that she and she alone understands you didn’t make this mistakes, but none of that matters. She is not a friend offering you moral support over a latte. She is your supervisor, and she’s doing a terrible job of that, either because it’s easier for her to let blame unfairly fall on you, or because it’s helpful to her.

    2. 2horseygirls*

      My current boss tries to create silos around her employees – we’re “not allowed” to speak to just about anyone else at the academic institution (yay higher ed!!)

      Unfortunately for Boss, I worked in another support services department for 6.5 years that touched literally every single other department in the institution, so I already have established (and good) interpersonal relationships with other department heads.

      Sooooo, for an example, a colleague new to the position and I are *screamed* at in front of 10+ other employees that by putting classes on hold at the end of July, we triggered the cancellation of the entire bookstore order that was placed in April. Huh?!? So I went down and popped into the bookstore manager’s office and apologized for causing a ruckus.

      2HG: Hi BookStore Manager – I just wanted to personally apologize for inadvertently causing the cancellation of the Program’s entire fall order. When would be a good time to meet with you to help me understand the book ordering process so Jane and I don’t cause an issue again, by not realizing how you use X report to manage your orders?

      BSM: What are you talking about? I have 56 Program books on the shelves, with another 97 on back order. I don’t know about anything about Program classes being put on hold, because we have a direct interface into MagicalOperatingSystem that we use to manage our orders. (continues to explain process briefly)

      2HG: Reeeeally . . . thank you very much. This was very enlightening.

      So Boss flat out lied. What else is Boss trying to hide, or flat out lying about . . . . ? Things that make you go Hmmmm . . . .

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        Sounds like your boss is someone I used to know. She told her staff that they were literally not allowed to call anyone else who was at the director level. On top of verbal abuse and other humiliations. They brought her staff to my office for “healing” and when one asked permission to go to the bathroom, I knew that healing was the correct term. I was saying that they could and should call anyone up to and including AVP’s if the situation warranted it.

  15. I have a broken face, aka: gsa*

    Stitches this morning after a slip and fall, thus the temporary handle…

    A people pleaser as your Manager and you Director… As my Grandmother used to say, “Oh my…”

    In my experience, bad people pleasers have passive aggressive tendencies. The goods one handle their business and please everyone in the room to their benefit.

    No real advice, just perspective.

    Good Luck!

  16. Erin*

    Not only is your supervisor spineless, but your director as well. He was *right there* when you broached the conversation. He had ample time to say, “Actually this is really not a good time,” or what have you.

    I would absolutely speak up to the director. If your supervisor isn’t sticking up for you you have to stick up for yourself.

    If it were me I’d poke my head into his office and say, “Excuse me, do you have a minute? I just wanted to touch base about my working remotely recently when I had a family emergency. When I brought up the topic to you and Supervisor before I left, I thought we were all in agreement that my working remotely for a few days would be acceptable. Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. So I was surprised to hear from Supervisor that you were not okay with my doing that. I’m sorry if I interpreted things wrong, but could you tell me where we had the misunderstanding? I just want to make sure this doesn’t happen again and we’re all on the same page.”

    If you do it this way, A) you’re firm and clear about what you want to say without being confrontational about it, B) Director already knows that Supervisor conveyed this information to you – and in fact told her to do so, so it’s not like you’ll be blindsiding him, and C) You’re apologetic and willing to accept blame if in fact the misunderstanding was on your side (even though we know it’s not).

    I know I jumped to the director here and ignored the initial question on the immediate supervisor. But this is much more important (to me) than your other example of the misunderstanding with the coworker. And the more time passes the more awkward it will be to bring up – I’d do it ASAP. I suggested face-to-face; Alison seems to think an email would be fine, but either way. Touch base with him about this, because this is too important to let go.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it’s more likely that the director simply forgot the original conversation, and the context for it that made him so gladly approve it. In a normal dynamic, the manager would have simply reminded him, he would have said, “oh, that’s right,” and that would have been that.

      1. Erin*

        Maybe you’re right. I’m used to smaller working environments where that would be unlikely, but I could see that happening if you have a lot of employees under you and a lot on your mind. In any case, someone needs to speak up and remind him.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I also might not say “don’t want it to happen again” and instead flat-out say, “I’m concerned about my reputation with you. I really wouldn’t want you to think that I’m the sort of employee who would just announce something like this without getting full support. I thought I had your full support, you said, ‘anything we need, we can make happen.’ I’m sorry if I misunderstood.”

      Just be out in the open about your purpose: “I don’t want you to have an opinion of me that’s based on wrong information. I’m sure I’ll screw up now and then, but this time it wasn’t me.”

      It’s also a chance to try to establish yourself as someone who is very open to feedback by the openness and reasonableness (and non-defensiveness) of your tone: “If you have any tips for the best way to get you info in an email, please, please let me know.”

    3. Vera*

      This. A drive-by conversation will come off as less confrontational than an e-mail which will almost definitely be forwarded to your supervisor. Then confirm back with e-mail if you really feel you need to.

      From the above script, I’d probably nix the “I’m sorry…” and just ask if there was something else you needed to do after the approval conversation to make it official-official that the director was OK with it, so that you know for the future.

  17. majigail*

    I wonder if the comment from the director was a bit out of context when it was relayed to you. My interpretation of that might be that the director and manager wanted to be empathetic and helpful in the moment. What you were going through made the exception reasonable. What the director may have been trying to communicate to the manager and possibly to you is that it was a one time thing and not to expect it again. I’m thinking there may have been some fear of snowballing, what if you wanted to take every Friday as a work from home day now? That kind of thing.

    1. Sharky*

      That’s exactly what I thought when I read it. It may be the manager stated to the director that OP appreciated being able to work remotely or even just made mention about how great it was that the flexibility of doing this was offered to OP, and the director responded “I don’t like people working remotely. It has to be for extenuating circumstances” as a way to indicate that it can’t be for any particular reasons but very special circumstances like the OP’s so as to set proper expectations. The OP’s manager may have interpreted “I don’t like people working remotely” as “I am not happy about OP working remotely” which wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of the intended message.

      Even the second example may have been communicated differently than what was conveyed. Maybe the manager talked to the coworker about getting the project done on time and the coworker indicated it was hard to find action items in a long email and the manager conveyed this to the OP as if the coworker was directing it at the OP (who didn’t even write the long email!) The OP’s manager may simply not know how to deal with feedback and, as a result, it’s getting mangled in translation to the OP.

      The manager may be great in every other way and maybe the OP personally likes the manager a great deal, but if I were the OP, I’d do my best to have more direct conversations with people whenever possible rather than relying on a game of telephone.

  18. Lou*

    My last manager did this all the time. Consequence of a person like is, is she was never on my side and will turn on you if you leave ‘the family’.

  19. Jeanne*

    In my experience, your manager is lying. I had a manager who would do this. Instead of telling me she was unhappy with me, she would blame it on others. “Someone complained to me about X. I can’t tell you who.” When I caught on, I would tell her that I would really like her to set up a meeting so I could apologize to the complainer and set things right. Not once would she allow me to apologize. That was when I was sure it was her complaint not some “other” person.

    I suspect in your case OP that your manager was unhappy with your being allowed to work remotely. She couldn’t contradict her director so she waited and later blamed the director. If you decide to check with the director, make it casual and do NOT tell your manager first. The email reprimand was probably because she thought you were out of line for sending the reminder.

    I’m sorry. Your boss is a jerk.

  20. Katie the Fed*

    You know what? If my team fails, I failed. It’s on me. It’s not appropriate to shift the blame to your team when dealing with a critique from your boss. If we failed, I failed. If my employee failed, that’s on me. I either didn’t give the right guidance, or the right training, or keep a close enough eye on the project, but it’s on me.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t go to the employee to discuss what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again, but when it comes to criticism from above – I take it all and deal with it within my team.

  21. Mistakem*

    I was just about to compose a letter to AAM about my manager doing this, not to internal contacts/authorities but to customers who complain about me and our company policies in the context of my outfacing role. In my industry and my department, we offer “free samples” to certain customers under certain circumstances. Part of my job is to receive requests for these “free samples” and either grant or deny them according to our policy and my judgment of their eligibility. I grant probably 95% of requests; 94% are probably legitimate and I can see the longterm benefit of allowing wiggle-room for the other 1%. Of the 5% of requests I deny, only a handful argue/complain/ask to speak to my manager, and their strategy is always the same: double down on their legitimacy, no matter how transparent, and be all up in arms. My manager gives in. Every. Single. Time. Usually, he sends extra “free samples!” and apologizes on my behalf, and basically white-lists these people and/or becomes their best friend. In the universal sense, this shouldn’t bother me at all—I’ll never meet these people, he’ll never meet these people, they’re clearly of the same masturbatory ilk and they deserve each other. But it bothers me that my manager would rather rub elbows with a nobody-stranger than back me—and our company—up. The actual cost of these decisions is in the <$8 neighborhood. The cost to me and my self-esteem and my esteem for my manager is growing.

    1. TootsNYC*

      You know, he’d probably keep your respect if he said, “Oh, they’re complaining? yeah, whatever, can’t be bothered, just send them the damned thing so they go away.” Same result in terms of the Eligibility Teapot Samples. It’s just extending that 1% to include the few denied-who-complain.

      But by gushing and going overboard, he sends you the message that he thinks you screwed up. And that’s really hard to take.

  22. DatSci*

    This is one of my major peeves about my own manager. They need to shut this sh*t down, not encourage it by giving it life (listening in agreement with the mistaken complainer) and then repeating it you. My manager isn’t doing it to people please. They’re a new manager and likely haven’t figured out how to effectively manage this sort of thing yet. I have been trying my best to manage up in this respect and have been having a tough time getting through. I’m hoping as they gain more experience this will settle down.

  23. INTP*

    I’m wondering if it’s a possibility that what the director is annoyed about is the OP getting approval to work from home rather than not working at all while out of town, but failing to get approval to be out of the office with no PTO in the first place? And the director’s perspective is that they agreed to the OP working from home simply because it was a choice between OP working from home or not working at all, but they think that the OP should have asked to work from home for those two days before leaving town at all? Maybe the director saw that as the OP twisting his/her arm, like “I’m already out of town so you can approve me to WFH or I can not work at all.”

    That could still be unreasonable, as sometimes people have family emergencies whether they have PTO banked or not, and it would still have been nice if the manager had stood up for the OP. But it would make both the director’s and manager’s behavior make more sense.

  24. Ops Analyst*

    What I find so perplexing is why the manager has no problem correcting OP based on inaccurate complaints but can’t correct the person who made the inaccurate complaint. Not so much with the Director because of the power dynamics there. But when one coworker complained about another coworker based in incorrect data, the manager had to correct / discipline one of the two. Why did she choose the one who didn’t do anything wrong?

    1. Elsajeni*

      The coworker’s complaint was about something that the manager herself actually did, so… not hugely surprising to me. Correcting the coworker instead of “correcting” the OP would have meant owning up to being the person the coworker was annoyed at.

    2. Jeanne*

      She has shown to have a bias of some sort against OP. That’s why OP is being blamed for multiple things she didn’t do.

  25. Mimi*

    The same thing happened to me just a month ago. I was five minutes late for a meeting (and wasn’t the last to arrive). But because I brought my Starbucks coffee in with me, the comment was made later to my boss (who is frequently late for meetings) that if I had time to get coffee, I should have been on time for the meeting. He relayed it back to me by saying “you know how some people are around here, they’ve got nothing better to do than watch other people…”. But then he told me what had been said and he put his hands up when I opened my mouth to speak. He wouldn’t even let me tell him my side of the story. He finished by saying “you’re only hurting yourself, you’re not hurting me…” as if I had apologized to him (which I did not.)

    He’s a jerk in many other ways, of course, as most jerks are. :)

    1. Ghost_Hunter*

      I had an eerily similar experience with a manager who ultimately ended up giving me workplace PTSD that I still to this day have to catch myself on.

      One morning I was running a little behind (I happened to have a back injury and it was hard to get dressed at the time) I arrived in the building at 8:01, went to the cafeteria to put my lunchbox in the fridge (which was actually a company mandated standard), and logged in upstairs at 8:05. I got a call at 8:11 from my manager who was in a different state.

      [Manager] Is it true that you arrived late and your first stop was the cafeteria?
      [Me] …. Yes?
      [Manager] That is completely unacceptable. Explain yourself.
      [Me] I’m sorry but I am confused, what am I explaining?
      [Manager] Why you were late and yet felt it was ok to straight to the cafeteria!!!!

      …. Yeah. I was a salaried employee working between 50 and 65 hours every week with rotating weekend coverage who had experienced a debilitating car accident the month before and had a 45 minute commute in snowy roads….

      Her solution was to have me IM her everyday using the corporate texting software on our computers for a period of several months with the express warning that a single late mark would result in termination. I went along with this, but I also decided to switch my PT visits from before work (part of what would make me late on occasion) to after work, got a medical note making it clear I had to leave everyday at 5pm on the dot that I filed with her and HR, and then would arrive 10 minutes early everyday but leave on time as opposed to the previous arrangement where I would typically arrive 2 – 5 minutes “late” and leave 2 – 3 hours after 5 everyday.

      1. Mimi*

        It just proves that anybody can be a manager, no matter how ill-suited they are for the job.

        In retrospect, I should have skipped the meeting all together. It was just a regular all-project status meeting for projects I’m not even on; I just go to them because everyone else goes to them. And I am salaried as well.

  26. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    This isn’t fair, OP, and your supervisor should have stood up for you here. I wonder, though, if there might be more to this. Maybe the director wasn’t really paying close attention when he ok’d this, and later realized that he agreed to something that he wished he hadn’t. Or he didn’t realize that you were doing this because you were out of PTO, or there was work that didn’t get done when you were gone.

    I used to have an employee who was constantly using up all her PTO and then asking to work remotely for weeks on end while taking care of a family member. Unfortunately, about 75% of her job absolutely had to be done in person (meaning that our clients weren’t being served and/or someone else was doing twice the work). She was trying to do random, unimportant tasks just to say that she worked so she could still get paid. I let her do this a couple of times because I thought these were isolated emergencies, until I found out that she apparently planned to do this for 8 to 12 weeks a year. She always made sure that she had zero PTO and tried to play up how unreasonable it would be for me to say no to this family emergency. Maybe he said yes in the moment, and then realized he needed to communicate that this can’t be a habit – or maybe he was annoyed that you used up all your PTO without saving some for an emergency. As a result of this, we now generally avoid allowing people to work remotely when they are actually doing something else (like caring for a family member) although we will do a couple of days a year if they can explain how they are actually available to work while traveling. Beyond that, save a bit of PTO for emergencies.

    In any case, this is poor communication on management’s part – but it might give you some good information about the future if you can ask some follow up questions and hear what they were thinking.

  27. Jill*

    I had a boss like this but the difference was she’d either never tell me about the complaint conversations or she’d be vague and say, “I’ve received complaints about..” but never say from whom. This was another way of exerting control. In other words, I’ll tell you you’re being talked about negatively but I won’t say by who so you have no way to apologize, clarify, fix the problem, meet their needs better, or restore your reputation.

    It took me the whole year after her retirement to do damage control. OP, if I were in your shoes and actually knew who was complaining, I would do damage control here and take a chance on ticking off the manager.

    1. Mimi*

      Exactly. My boss wouldn’t tell me who was speaking negatively about me, leaving me to look from one person to the next, thinking “was it you? Was it you? Or was it YOU?” I would never, ever do that to one of my staff. It’s just mean.

      1. Ghost_Hunter*

        Yes. EvilManager I posted about above did the same. Your coworkers are complaining. I won’t say who, I won’t say about one, but I want to make sure YOU know that there are COMPLAINTS.

  28. Ad Astra*

    I had a people-pleasing boss once and it was a nightmare. He rarely told me no, and often presented (what I later discovered were) commands as suggestions or even questions. Once, when it was especially snowy and my car spun out on the highway on the way home, I asked to work remotely the next day because I was shaken up. He told me that was no problem. A few weeks later, he and I were meeting with HR to discuss all the things wrong with me, and they brought up the snow incident as evidence that I wasn’t pulling my weight.

    The same manager, bless his heart, once worked remotely from the hospital while his mother was having cancer-related surgery. As you might imagine, he did not push back when our boss decided we should start working alternate weekends and holidays (in addition to our normal 5-day weeks). He was a nice enough person that he was willing to switch weekends or even cover for me pretty often when I had plans. As you might guess, taking away half of our weekends and holidays didn’t really make for a sustainable arrangement and we were both relieved to be laid off. He doesn’t manage people anymore, and last I heard he’s doing great.

    1. Ghost_Hunter*

      Man I had a manager just like this myself. Especially with the framing commands as suggestions or questions.

      He was a nice enough guy, but he assumed that his suggestions came across to me as commands (I believe some of this was cultural) and then said I have argumentative and insubordinate tendencies on my performance review.

      [Him]Have you tried using green on the TPS report?
      [Me]Yeah, but it clashed with the Maroon heading.

      [Him] What do you think about including budget in the graph?
      [Me] That’s a great idea! Goes and tries it, decides it doesn’t work and takes it out.

      **So annoying** in the end it worked out for me though, because I would follow up his questions with a polite confirmations. “Have you tried adding cats to the border. Sure I can do that. If it looks a little wonky would you like me to try a different border or figure out the best way to make it work? Make it work meant command.

  29. Elizabeth West*

    Commenting before I read all the comments, but am I alone in my hink detector going off on this manager? Are all these complaints coming through her? The OP seems to have no clue about them until the manager says something. The one that set it off was the director meeting with her prior to the travel/working remotely–why would the director then come back and say he wanted the OP to get with him prior? The OP said she did get with them simultaneously and the director approved it!

    Something is weird. I think the manager made that up.

    (Disclaimer: I may find I’m wrong when I go back up and read through. But it was bugging me enough to comment.)

    1. Jess*

      Or the director literally didn’t remember the conversation and assumed it never happened. I once had an executive director like that: the moment a meeting was over or request was granted, all recollection of it flew right out of her head. It was like her brain was incapable of retaining any memories related in any way to anyone below her in the hierarchy.

  30. Mimmy*

    I haven’t read all the comments yet either, but does the OP know for certain that the manager didn’t defend him/her? Also, Elizabeth West makes a good point….are these real complaints? OP, if you have a good relationship with those who she says complained, maybe approach them yourself to get the real story.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I read through and the OP says above that the director IS hard to deal with (agreeing with that assessment from another commenter) and that the manager is kind of nervous with him. But after reading through, I see I’m not the only person who felt that little poke, and it doesn’t explain the business with the other coworker.

      Hmm. Just hmm.

  31. OP*

    Thanks, Alison, for the response, helping me feel like I’m not off-base here in wanting my supervisor to have my back, even when the people in question are admittedly super hard to deal with. For a variety of reasons I don’t feel like pulling apart here, it’s not worth reviving these particular instances now to set the record straight, but I feel like I have some excellent scripts if and when this kind of thing happens again.

    I find it really interesting how many people want to see this as evidence of all sorts of other problems with my supervisor or projecting from their own experiences with bad managers. I’ve had a variety of both good and bad supervisors in my time, and honestly my current one is one of the best I’ve had, aside from this current issue, which I think has a lot to do with trying to avoid office politics in her first year on the job. (That doesn’t make her right, but it also doesn’t make her evil or totally incompetent.) I don’t think I need to go into a point-by-point defense of her because the people who want to demonize her aren’t going to believe me anyway, but in any case, I’m glad to have some ways of framing the discussion with her if this kind of thing happens again.

    I don’t think she has much management experience and thinks she needs to be in a role of mentoring me and helping me navigate office politics, which has actually been helpful in some ways, but in this case, not so much. It’s true that my coworkers and I do spend a lot of time giving each other tips on how to avoid being the object of the director’s unpredictable wrath, but from the discussion here it’s clear that that doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive with calling him out on ridiculousness like the above. Thankfully my supervisor is very open to feedback, unlike our director, so I feel comfortable telling her that I need her to set the record straight next time someone comes to her with a BS complaint.

    Thanks, all, for your thoughts, and especially to Alison for this forum and for the great advice.

    1. Erin*

      Yeah, I got the impression your supervisor is just inexperienced and still navigating the managerial waters, which is why I focused on the director, who seemed like the bigger problem. If your supervisor is a decent person and employee and receptive to feedback as you say, then I’m sure touching base with her on things like this shouldn’t be too big of a deal. Good luck!

  32. An IT manager*

    I really feel for this OP. I am a manager in a somewhat similar situation as her manager. I dared to defend one of my good, honest, hardworking team members against a rather bizarre accusation by my director, and am now on the outs with my director. It may be that the OP’s director is similarly irrational and the choice is to either be crucified herself or throw OP to the wolves. Although I do not in the least regret my actions defending my team member, I certainly can’t fault the OP’s manager for choosing the other option.

    Because, you know, looking for a new job while 7 months pregnant is oh-so-fun (me, not OP).

  33. moodygirl86*

    Ah, the “Yes” manager. I know them well. Earlier this year, I temped at a dentist’s for a couple of months, they were like that. Bitching, backstabbing and gossip was ingrained in their culture and nobody ever bothered to speak directly to each other about anything, even though nine times out of ten it would have been simpler.

    I fell afoul of this in my third week when my agency rang me one day after work to say my line manager had a couple of complaints about me – firstly, he claimed to have seen me skiving on the job (though he changed his story a few times, alternating between saying he’d seen this; other times he claimed someone else had reported me skiving). Whatever, he should have asked me about it himself instead of assuming the worst and jumping on the phone to the agency about me like a teacher ringing a naughty child’s mum. When I approached him the next morning to discuss it, his excuse for this was that I was employed by the agency and not directly by the NHS. That was technically true; however the agency did not oversee my work and all they could do was pass on what he’d told them. They couldn’t give examples of what he’d meant by it, so it wasn’t really fair to me OR my consultant to expect her to do his job for him. To me, it’s a manager’s job to give direct feedback to someone working under him, regardless of whose payroll the worker is on, and if he wasn’t prepared to do that, he had no business managing anybody.

    The second thing he’d told her – more bizarre – was that someone had come to him to “report” that I had been discussing cats on my lunch break. I couldn’t understand why anyone would have a problem with that and was convinced it was one of those scenarios where the manager himself had the issue with me but didn’t want to look petty. But he looked petty anyway for enabling that kind of thing. I had actually previously seen advice from a commenter on AAM about saying you would love the opportunity to apologise to the person you’ve upset, and I said exactly this, thinking he’d backtrack like mad. Instead, he actually did call in the person who’d made the complaint, which I hadn’t been expecting. But when the complainer actually entered the office, it turned out to be someone who had been there for 10 years and was notorious for hating temps and thinking they were second class citizens; in fact my mental reaction was, “I might have bloody well known!” The following conversation went a bit like this:
    ME: “So I heard I accidentally upset you with my choice of lunchtime conversation yesterday. The last thing I want to do is upset people, but I’m racking my brains to think why discussing something innocuous like kittens would be offensive. Can you help me make sense of why it bothered you so much so I can avoid making the same mistake again?”
    BUSYBODY COLLEAGUE: “Because not everyone likes cats and you should consider other people.”
    ME: “Well I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to someone who does like cats and from what I remember, you were ensconsed in your own conversation about something you liked with one of your colleagues you get on with. [turning to boss] By L’s logic, does that mean I can report her for going on about shoes all the time?”
    BOSS (snappily): Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Moodygirl!
    ME: “That’s right, it is ridiculous, which is why I wouldn’t really. In case you didn’t realise, I was being sarcastic but my point is that while I’m not exactly Imelda Marcos when it comes to footwear, I still appreciate that people have a right to discuss it if that does float their boat. Particularly on their free time. [Turning to Busybody Colleague] I think running to the boss to get someone in trouble for a non-issue is childish and pathetic. [Back to manager] And Boss, you’re just as bad for encouraging her. It’s my break and I can talk about whatever I like, so both of you just grow up and stay the hell out of my business!”

    At this point, BC burst into tears and said I was bullying her. I had to walk out of the room then before I could do or say something I regretted. So defending yourself against gossip is being a bully? That would have been hilarious if it wasn’t so weird. This boss also had the cheek to be offended that I wasn’t more gutted when he told me two months later that my assignment was going to end that week. His exact words being – “Why are you acting like you don’t give a damn?” Oh, let’s see, because I don’t enjoy working with two-faced kidults who never emotionally left the primary playground? Excuse my lack of tears on that. The following week, I started the job I’m doing now and it couldn’t be more different. Much nicer working conditions, encouraging bosses, friendly colleagues and best of all, if there are any issues or misunderstandings, we actually discuss it sensibly like adults – what a radical notion! So many people discussed on AAM could stand to try that sometime…

  34. Mandy*

    I had an issue last week where a customer complained about me to the mayor. I didn’t do anything wrong in this case and followed our procedures. I was calm and polite even when he went off on me and threatened to go to the human rights commission and complain about me. My boss even told me I didn’t do anything wrong but then as the days past and more discussions happened, I felt like she also wasn’t defending me to the customer who went off on me. How do I tell my boss that I feel like I’m being punished for doing my job correctly (I feel as if my professional reputation was ruined) and that I am disappointed in her lack of setting her foot down with this customer. I am trying to get out of this place because of her bad managing skills. Do I say something? or just keep quiet and try to get the hell out of this place?

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