my employees keep going over my head to my boss … and she doesn’t direct them back to me

A reader writes:

I supervise a small group of people, but my manager has all of the authority. I was told recently that the group doesn’t like me giving reminders or asking for updates (or, possibly, they don’t like *how* I do that). This isn’t the first mention of it, but apparently what I’ve tried to do differently hasn’t helped. My problem is, no one from the group directly mentions it to me; all of the feedback is from my manager. I don’t know if she directly asks them about problems/complaints or if they just start talking about it, but it seems to come up frequently. I think it’s more of my manager providing an audience, so the complaints continue. I’m thinking what I’ve tried in the past hasn’t worked because the issues are misconstrued by going through my manager first or part of it gets left out (kinda like the game of telephone — she is told A, relays it as B, which makes me think I should do C instead of D).

I’d like to ask my manager to support me more and stop providing that audience and instead ask the group if the complaints were mentioned to me — and if they weren’t, to tell them to talk to me first instead of going straight to her. This way I get to hear exactly what’s bothering them and determine what solution would work.

Is this reasonable to request? How do I go about it? The other option is directly telling the group “I’ve heard you don’t like X and Y, but I still need to know Z, so how can I get that?” (I think this will come across as confrontational, which is why it’s not my preference — but let me know if that’s actually the better solution). It seems at least some of the group like to complain anyway, so is it reasonable to ask for the complaining to be shut down unless they directly address it with me first? Or are these complaints managers should hear about frequently instead of having those involved resolve it amongst themselves? Does the answer change if the complaints come from my manager directly asking for them? How do I bring this up in either scenario?

It’s absolutely reasonable to ask your manager to direct complaints back to you so that you can hear them firsthand, ask any questions you need to ask, and try to resolve things directly with the person who’s complaining.

However, it’s also reasonable for your manager to want to have some feel for what’s going on in your team. So you don’t want to come across as if you’re trying to put up a firewall between her and your staff, or as if you’re trying to hide anything. Rather, you want your framing to be something like this: “I think it’s valuable for people to be able to talk with you if they’ve been unable to resolve something with me and if it’s important enough to escalate, but I’d like them to talk with me first so that I can attempt to address the issue. I’m concerned that it’s undermining my ability to manage them if they’re regularly going around me rather than talking with me first. Would you be willing to redirect people back to me when they come to you, by asking if they’ve spoken with me about the issue and, if they haven’t, asking them to do that as a next step?”

If your manager isn’t willing to do this, there’s a problem. The problem could be that she’s a bad manager and doesn’t understand how this is undermining your ability to manage. Or, less likely but still possible explanation, it could be that she has concerns about how you’re managing people and wants to stay closely involved for that reason — but if that were the case, she should tell you that.

You asked whether my answer would be different if your manager is actually directly soliciting this feedback from people, and the answer to that is yes. It’s a good idea for managers to do that on occasion, because (a) they should have a sense of the people who work for managers under them, and (b) it makes people more likely to come to them if there’s a problem that they do need to know about. But the way to do that isn’t by letting people circumvent their manager for anything and everything; instead, she should do it by engaging around substance (such as in work-related meetings) and by taking people’s pulse both casually (like asking “how are things going?” when she has an opportunity) and more formally (like asking people for input as she’s getting ready for your performance evaluation).

In doing those things, if your manager heard concerning feedback, in some cases she’d ideally steer the person back to you to try to resolve the issue directly. In other cases, she might talk to you about the concerns that were raised, probe into the areas of a concern in a general sense with you (“how are you ensuring people have a chance for input into this project?”), or do some first-hand observation of her own.

But it doesn’t make sense for her to put herself regularly in this role of a go-between, and that’s the part you need to address.

(The other part that you might need to address is the part where you write, “I supervise a small group of people, but my manager has all of the authority.” You can’t really manage people without having real authority; otherwise you have all of the burden and responsibility of making things happen without all of the required tools to actually do it. If you’re more like a team lead — who’s responsible for divvying up and monitoring work and sometimes giving feedback, but who is more peer than manager — then that’s one thing. But if you’re really supposed to be managing people, you can’t do it without real authority.)

Anyway, if your manager insists on continuing what she’s been doing, then your next best option is to talk directly to your employees — both about the specifics that get relayed through your boss and about how you want them handling issues more broadly. On the former, you could say something like, “Jane mentioned that you told her you were unhappy with the reminders I’ve given you on the X project. I’ve structured it that way because of Y, but I’d love to hear from you about how you think we might do it differently.” You can also say, “I’d like you to talk to me about concerns directly so that I can hear your take on the issue and figure out how to address it. Do you feel comfortable doing that in the future?” (Frankly, you might also ask, “Is anything going on that’s made you uncomfortable talking to me directly about this kind of thing?”)

Last, it’s worth noting that if your manager is hearing complaints frequently, something’s wrong. It might not be you — it might be the people who are complaining (unreasonable expectations, chronic grumblers, who knows), or it might be a case of miscommunication or misaligned expectations. But it’s a flag that something is off and needs to be addressed. So even beyond ironing out this issue of how complaints get relayed, keep in mind that in a smoothly functioning team, there aren’t going to be a ton of complaints most of the time … so if that continues, you’d want to do some real examination of what’s going on.

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. sunny-dee*

    The frequency and nature of the complaints are definitely something to look at. My husband’s boss is going to talk to the CEO of the company about their national director because he does things like send 25-30 emails on holidays, ask for updates or inventories when their locations are closed, call people on their day off or vacations for things that are not even close to emergencies, and demand immediate responses to texts and emails, even late at night or early in the morning. (He actually called my husband once to ask why he hadn’t responded to a text that he had sent less than 20 minutes earlier — and my husband was in a meeting with vendors at the time, which the NDO knew.)

    The point is, no one feels that they can go to the national director about this — on a good day, he’ll blow them off and on a bad day, he’ll have a meltdown.

    If your directs are going to your manager frequently about things they should be able to tell you, there is definitely a problem. Especially since you already categorize them as “complainers” — that may not be grumbling. They may be trying to tell you feedback and they feel you aren’t listening, so they’re going over your head.

    That is just one possible answer, based on my husband’s experience. It could also be something totally different.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Yep. The only time I’ve ever gone above my boss’s head to report on the boss’s behavior was when something was egregiously, ethically out of line.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      At my old job, I spent close to the entire morning with my boss at a special event.  Both of us didn’t return to the office until 12:10 PM.  TOGETHER!  I sent out a news article that was time stamped at 9:20 AM.  

      Boss calls me into her office immediately and demands to know why this article wasn’t sent out sooner.

      I thought it was a joke so I started laughing.  Then I realized she was serious.  Then I didn’t know what to say!  I ended up saying something like, “Umm…well…I didn’t send it out because I was at Special Event…”  She interrupted me to tell me that she didn’t like my attitude.

      What is WITH people like this?  Do they really not know the answers to their questions or are they enjoying messing with the underlings?

      I make plenty of minor mistakes throughout the workday.  Hows about you nitpick me on stuff I actually did wrong?

      1. AnonForThis*

        If she wanted you to set something up so the article went out earlier, she should have explicitly said so.

        I hate people that expect others to read their minds.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Worse, I don’t think either of them even saw it until 12:10–I don’t think OP got it at 9, left for the event, then came back and sent it at 12:15, I don’t think it had even arrived until they were already gone to the event.

          1. Snarkus Aurelius*

            Correct. I didn’t even know the article was coming out. We’d left the office at 8:30!!!

            To this day, I’d love to know where she thought I was.

      2. neverjaunty*

        It probably went in your boss’s head like this:

        1) Boss sees the article, has a knee-jerk reaction ‘why wasn’t that sent earlier’.
        2) You remind boss that both of you were at this event.
        3) Boss is embarrassed that she forgot and then acted like a butt.
        4) Boss covers up embarassment by lashing out at you and pretending you are the problem (“I don’t like your attitude”).

  2. AMG*

    I had a direct report (Jane) that would go directly to my boss (Fergus) instead of me. I got along with every single other person on my team and in the company except these two. Jane was trying to undermine me to get my job, and Fergus would have been happy to give it to her. I’m not saying that’s what is happening here, but I’m sure that sort of stuff plays out in offices everywhere (especially after reading AAM).

    For my situation, here’s how it played out: Jane didn’t want to be managed and Fergus told me to let her handle it. So, Jane completely screws the thing up and Fergus blamed me (I’m sure he was too drunk to remember, as usual). Jane was let go and I ended up quitting a month or so later. After I left, Fergus’s incompetence shined though and he was given less and less responsibility until he just sat at his desk all day and did nothing. He was eventually let go as well.

  3. Katie the Fed*

    Eww this is a bad situation. I’m not sure if the problem is you or your manager. I suspect it’s a mix of both.

    One thing – does your team know they can bring complaints or concerns to you? Do you actively solicit their input and then respond? That might go a long way to building trust. I’m getting a sense that they don’t trust you, and neither does your boss. That’s really concerning.

    So I would start by telling your team that you are interested in their concerns and suggestions and will take them seriously. And then do so. If you don’t have that communication with your team something is really wrong.

    1. Future Analyst*

      To piggyback on this, OP– did your staff report to your manager before you were there? If they did, your manager should have started sending them to you when you started, but if he didn’t, it becomes harder and harder to implement as time passes. In the situation I was in, my manager was incredibly resentful of my position (he didn’t think it was necessary, and I was hired without his input), so I was never going to be allowed to actually manage.

      1. AnonyMoose*

        Been there! I was lucky enough that the manager above me was fired three months later. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to work for her conniving bitter twisted little head for as long as I was at OldJob.

    2. Allison*

      Very good point. If people have reason to believe their concerns will be dismissed, or that they’ll be penalized for talking to you about them, then they won’t go to you. Saying “you can come to me about anything” may help but people may see that as being all talk.

      1. Artemesia*

        You can’t say ‘my door is always open’ or ‘you can come to me about anything.’ These are the equivalent of asking someone who is grief stricken ‘let me know if there is anything I can do.’

        You have to be proactive and solicit feedback, have regular base touching — and it sounds like given the current situation that ought to be regularized e.g. maybe once a day standing for a week or so and then scheduled once a week or so going forward. A boss who WANTS feedback solicits it and makes giving it safe. The first steps are always on the supervisor or manager to make this happen.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes. So many people’s default is to resist being candid with their manager (about problems, in particular) that you have to really go out of your way to make it clear that it’s safe for them to come to you … and then even beyond that, with some people you will still need to really probe for feedback, and then probe some more.

    3. AnotherHRPro*

      Yes, a manager should regularly and consistently ask for feedback from their team members. And when you are given feedback, circle back to see if a change you have made is addressing the concern.

  4. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Here’s another red flag:

    “I think this will come across as confrontational, which is why it’s not my preference…”

    Not only is it time to get comfortable with being confrontational, but it’s necessary if you’re going to be an effective manager.  This is part of your problem.  You need to be able to make declarative statements, like what AAM suggested in the second paragraph, and you need to call people out.  Don’t be mean or rude about it, but say what you need to say with eye contact, a neutral but firm voice, and no smiling.  Confrontation is good (really!) because it can address issues and send a strong message, especially if people are counting on you to not be confrontational.

    You also need to be able to ask your manager to have authority over your own group, which brings me to my next point.

    You’re impotent as a manager if you don’t have authority over people.  If you’re going to be accountable for their work performance (I couldn’t tell from what you wrote if you are), then you need to have the authority to reward and discipline your staff as well as set expectations and priorities.  Otherwise there’s no incentive for them to do what you ask.

    If you’re not, then, yes, you’re a team lead, and that’s it.  The good news is that makes your boss responsible for your staff, and she can deal with this stuff.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      This is a good point. I think OP might be confusing “confrontational” with “combative.” It’s ok to confront things head on.

      1. Windchime*

        I dunno, to me “confrontation” has an adversarial feel to it. It’s like calling someone out on their behavior. I like being straightforward with people–candid yet polite, honest yet still civil and even kind (if appropriate). But confrontational? Maybe it’s just me, that just seems like a really strong word for normal workplace stuff.

    2. Artemesia*

      This is what jumped out at me. I can really relate to this as I had problems as a manager being confrontational — most people don’t like to address stick problems head on and so avoidance is common — but it is almost always bad management. If there is a problem with team members, the first step is to ‘confront’ — not aggressively but with a listening ear. You tell them you are hearing that they are taking concerns to the boss, that it is critical that you get X and so what do they think would make this process more effective? Management is about being straight with people. Avoidance is never a winning play.

    3. Laurel Gray*

      I read the word “impotent” in your reply, along with the first line of OP’s letter and definitely think she needs to speak to her manager about some of these issues the most important one being getting a subscription for “Authority” for daily use.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        The Office has a really good example of being a manager with zero authority over people.  

        Dwight was the office joke because Michael told him he was Assistant “to” the Regional Manager, but he wasn’t allowed to fire people.  Michael and Jan reminded Dwight freuqently that he couldn’t fire people.  Jim most notably didn’t take Dwight seriously, but others did too to a lesser extent.

        When Jim was put in a position of authority by management, he was able to effectively discipline Ryan, when Ryan wouldn’t do what he was asked, and Jim made the broom closet Ryan’s new office.

        OP, you need to be Jim, but you’re Dwight right now.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Haha I remember that. Dwight kept calling himself the Assistant Regional Manager and the others keep correcting him that he was the Assistant To the Regional Manager…that was well before the show jumped the shark.

    4. Not me*

      I agree, if this is part of the problem OP’s having. I’ve had a manager who wouldn’t “confront” anyone – as a temp, it wasn’t a lot of trouble, but I felt like I was nagging her to get her to give me any direction – and I saw it really cause some problems for people who were there long-term. None of them felt that they could do anything about problems that weren’t worth going over the manager’s head. If OP is a manager rather than a team lead, she needs to make sure that her employees see her authority that way, too.

  5. Roscoe*

    My initial thought is that there is something with you that makes people not want to talk to you directly. I’ve had some great managers, and some not great ones. The great ones, I had open communication with and could freely bring up the concerns I have. The not great ones, yeah, I went over their heads now and then with issues. Not saying you are bad, but its very possible that in past interactions, you have given them reasons to not want to go to you with these issues. Maybe you were dismissive. Maybe you didn’t do anything to deal with them. Maybe YOU didn’t take the criticism well. Now, I’m not saying that your boss should allow this, but it seems that there is probably a reason that your subordinates don’t want to talk to you.

    1. Bwmn*

      I recently had a manager who I felt I could bring no professional concerns to due to a series of reasons that had nothing to do with responses to criticism. On my first day, when I mentioned that it might be helpful to have weekly meetings to go over work during my first few months – he said he saw no point in that. I was the only person he managed and his only counter offer was that we’d deal with questions as they came up. This was pretty indicative of our entire working relationship where I had to chase him to get just about any work to actually do.

      While our working relationship was frustrating, we did get along socially. How this played out was that after a few drinks, that would be when he would ask for feedback on work. Ultimately the dynamic in the office was that I had to chase him for things to do and that he’d only open up (professionally) after a few drinks.

      As my manager he did champion for me in regards to higher ups – but it was also highly irritating to work for him and not someone I every felt comfortable being honest with about work. I’m not saying that the OP is doing this, but that the reasons people are bringing issues to the OP’s manager may not be directly related to having a bad response to criticism.

    2. Laurel Gray*

      Yeah I hope the OP looks at all possibilities including ones where she may be the problem. I had a micromanager who I did not like and luckily only lasted 6 months before going back to her old employer. I thought I had fallen into BEC mode because everything about her started to irk me – tone, processes she wanted me to do (for micromanaging purposes), and little comments here and there that would have solicited a “bitch whet?” outside a professional environment. Luckily, I had a relationship with the regional manager before this manager came along so I would usually just go to them and save myself the headache dealing with micromanager.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        I’m in BEC mode with my current (and soon to be former) manager, and have been for some time, so I’ve gone to her boss for advice a couple of times because a) I like him better and we have a decent rapport, b) he’s not a lunatic who’s going to fly off the handle if you say something he doesn’t like, and c) he needs to know that she’s a problem. He’s gotten several complaints about her in the past, but it was usually from low performers so I think their opinions of her were dismissed. But when I started coming to him and asking for advice (not even complaining), he started paying more attention to what was going on with her and her interactions with our team.

    3. I Agree With Roscoe*

      You sound controlling and paranoid.

      You come across as believing you should determine when your employees talk to your boss. That doesn’t’ sound reasonable. You’re probably unreasonable about other things as well, thus your team doesn’t want to talk to you directly.

      Your request that your boss tell “them to talk to you first instead of going straight to her so you get to hear exactly what’s bothering them and determine what solution would work” sounds very controlling. Your want your boss to be complicit in your staff not talking to her. I don’t understand why your so insecure about the staff talking to your boss. If they’re pleased with you, I’m sure that would be mentioned. Why don’t you give your staff something to be please about?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Whoa. I totally disagree that the OP sounds controlling and paranoid! It’s utterly reasonable to want to be able to work out problems directly with your employees and not have them regularly going over your head. In fact, any good manager would want that.

        1. I Agree With Roscoe*

          OK. I’ve read few responses. I’ll grant that I may have projected. I only know what the OP wrote. Also, I’m a little biased because I’m in a situation where I’m the subordinate working for someone creating a firewall between staff and upper management to hide their own unethical behavior. This is touchy subject for me. :)

      2. OfficePrincess*

        I’m not sure where OP comes off as controlling and paranoid. It’s good management to address your staff’s concerns head on. I don’t see where OP is saying she doesn’t want her staff to not talk to her boss, just that she wants a chance to address their concerns before her boss gets involved.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes exactly it’s pretty standard office etiquette to not go over your boss’s head unless it’s something truly egregious you cant talk to them directly about. I think the issue here is it appears the Op’s reports don’t see her as an authority figure and that could be due to any number of reasons mentioned in this thread .

      3. Katie the Fed*

        If the OP sounds paranoid it’s probably because they do all seem out to get her!

        It’s not normal or healthy in an organization for people to jump chain of command (in either direction) routinely. It undermines the manager, hinders communication, and just creates all kinds of problems.

        There’s nothing about this situation that’s ok. The OP might be some of the problem but it’s not her imagination.

        1. Roscoe*

          Out to get her is a bit strong. I’d say there are reasons they don’t feel comfortable talking to her. That doesn’t mean they want her fired.

            1. Roscoe*

              I’ve heard it. But nothing here says they are out to get her. I’ve circumvented my direct manager before. I didn’t want his job, nor did I want him fired. I just didn’t feel comfortable dealing with him.

      4. Jerzy*

        This sounds a little more hostile and judgmental than I think is called for. It is not unreasonable to want a chain of command to be in place, and OP is asking for AAM’s help in trying to open better lines of communication with her staff, and how she can best address these issues with her manager.

      5. Future Analyst*

        Woah, I did not read that at all in this situation. Also, I don’t think that asking that your employees come address an issue with you first is controlling, I think it lends to good communication and should be the default, no?

        1. voyager1*

          I keep thinking back to how the LW talks about “updates.” My guess is the LW asks for too many of those for the work product and the staff feels micromanaged. Also Roscoe and AgreeswithRoscoe, there is a reason the staff doesn’t want to talk to the LW. That reason may or
          may not be reasonable though.

  6. Future Analyst*

    I’ve been in your position (so much so that I re-read it to try and ID if I wrote it, ha!), and it was an issue of my manager liking the gossip. He would allow people who reported to me come to him to complain, and then he would essentially tell me “so-and-so doesn’t like that you did A, B, and C,” but when I would try to address it with so-and-so, they would shut down b/c they didn’t actually want a solution, they just wanted to complain. It was an incredibly frustrating situation, and after 7 months, I left. By all means, if you think there’s a chance things will change, you should absolutely address it, but note that if your manager likes the current system, don’t expect things to change drastically.

  7. Bostonian*

    Between the fact that OP says she “supervises” a group, rather than “manages” it, the fact that her manager has all the authority, the fact that she doesn’t seem to really feel empowered to have management-style conversations with her group, and the fact that members of her group complain to her manager regularly, I suspect that OP may actually be a team lead or other in-between role that’s not really management. That, or there’s some other confusion about the managerial and authority structure here. It kind of sounds like the complainers are actually going to their direct manager to complain about OP as a peer overstepping her role by trying to manage their workflow, not going above their boss’s head.

    It seems like the way things are now isn’t working, so I think I’d start by sitting down for an honest conversation with the manager. How does the manager see OP’s role with respect to the group, how should complaints ideally be handled, does the manager understand that having complaints circle above her is making things difficult. Maybe the manager need to have a conversation with the complainers to make sure they understand that OP has the authority to be sending reminders and updates, etc. One explanation that fits what’s in the letter is that the complainers are bristling at a peer overstepping and interfering with their work, because they don’t really understand what OP’s official lead/supervisory role is.

    1. Stef*

      I was thinking exactly the same. If the OP’s is acting as supervisor/manager but she is not recognized as such, her behaviour may result as obnoxious and out of place. I agree she should clarify with her boss the level of supervision they expect from her and make sure the rest of the team is told the same.

    2. Ultraviolet*

      My first reaction was definitely that the OP, her boss, and the rest of the group were not all on the same page about OP’s position and authority. I agree that OP should clarify this with her boss and they should discuss whether it needs clarifying with the coworkers too.

    3. doreen*

      And here’s where I’m going to ask the question that’s been nagging at me for a long time. What exactly, is a “team lead”? I ask because in nearly every job I’ve had there have been “supervisors” who are neither managers nor peers. They have some authority, but not as much as a manager. They don’t generally do the same work as the people they supervise (although they can and may in a pinch). They direct staff, evaluate performance , approve reports,etc but neither make nor officially influence policy. They can recommend disciplinary action, but not initiate it. In this sort of system , someone who reports to a supervisor doesn’t really have a direct manager – the manager’s direct reports are the supervisors. I’ve gotten the impression that “team lead” is the new version of the old fashioned “head titles” – for example, the head cashier who had some very limited authority over the other cashiers, but still ran her own cash register. But I’m not really sure if that’s correct.

      1. Windchime*

        I’ve been a lead several times in my career, and for me it’s always been like you said….”Head Teapot Polisher”. I was in charge of keeping track of time clock (but not authorizing time off, just adding missed punches and stuff like that). Also in charge of distributing the work, so if Tina had 10 teapots in here queue but Sally was on her last coffee pot, then I would move some teapots over from Tina to Sally. I also had my own teapot work to do. It was about an extra buck an hour for a huge headache — lots of responsibility but absolutely no authority. Not a lot of fun. But at the time, that extra buck made a huge difference so I did it.

      2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        In my last role, we implemented a team lead position and went through a lot of these same questions.

        I think a lot of it depends on the organization, but I looked to my lead writer and lead designer to float the issues that would influence policy, and bring forward changes. My job was to evaluate and execute those changes.

        I did not let them initiate disciplinary action because our organization was very write-up/PIP happy and it was something myself and the other department heads wanted to get away from. I found that by having my leads bring discipline recommendations to me, we were able to talk through the issue and implement solutions that didn’t necessarily default to PIP. However, they always led the conversations around those actions with the employees, and often without me around (the one time I’m remembering when I was in the room was because it was an extremely egregious situation and it needed to be clear this was a final warning).

    4. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I was wondering the circumstances under which this hierarchy was created.

      For example, we implemented the lead positions about 1.5 years after I took over my department and so people went from reporting to the department head to a former colleague.

      Honestly, it took a lot of effort on my part to say, “I hear your concern, but have you talked to Sansa?” Out of habit employees were coming to me with everything from workload to I don’t like Sansa’s management style. I’m a natural problem solver, so it took everything I had to sit on my hands and let her lead.

    5. Julia*

      Not necessarily. I’m supposed to be managing a couple of guys in my department, in that I create their schedule, sort out their quarrels, send them places etc. If they act up – which they do a lot because they know almost nothing will ever get them fired – I have absolutely zero tools to discipline them, and can only go to my Boss, our department head, who will tell them to listen to Julia and probably secretly think that I suck at managing, but what can I do?

  8. Ama*

    Although I do think the OP should try to get to the root of why her reports think they can’t come directly to her with issues, she should also try to clarify with her manager whether it is really “the group” that has an issue or “one or two specific people who are claiming to speak for the group.” Because I have definitely dealt with complainers who claim “everyone” agrees with them when no one actually does, and I’ve also dealt with managers who hear two complaints about a process that 50 other coworkers have no problems with and suddenly need to fix something that’s not really broken.

    1. Future Analyst*

      Yes to all this as well. “Everyone says so” should not be used as an indication that something is systematically wrong, and should at least be investigated before acted on.

  9. hbc*

    “I was told recently that the group doesn’t like me giving reminders or asking for updates (or, possibly, they don’t like *how* I do that).” If your boss is telling you this, I think you should directly ask, “Are you letting me know because you think I shouldn’t be asking for updates or am otherwise doing something wrong, or just to keep me in the loop about the talk out there?”

    If she thinks you’re being too draconian or micromanaging or whatever, you need to know that, and it has a different solution than her agreeing that they’re a bunch of whiners. It might be obvious to her why she’s telling you, but your assumption might be different than what she intends.

  10. Green*

    My manager two rungs up frequently solicits feedback about both himself and my direct manager, including pointed questions about things they could do better or what hasn’t gone well. Our company has an ethic of continuous improvement so these aren’t meant to be undermining in any way, but to determine the most effective way to manage particular individuals, to allow two-way feedback and to build collaboration to improve the working of the department as a whole. We also have a company wide survey that asks us questions about how we feel about the company, including the CEO (four rungs up from me) and we take concrete steps to improve based on the feedback. OP should consider the situation from that perspective as well.

    1. Future Analyst*

      This sounds like a great system, and I don’t think the OP was championing for her direct reports to have no recourse beyond talking to her, only that they should talk to her first so that she at least has a shot at fixing the issue before it’s taken to her boss.

      1. Green*

        I think the point of that system is to destigmatize feedback though. If done correctly, there shouldn’t be any negative consequences for the manager in the middle unless the feedback is consistently negative (as in the manager refuses to make changes) or very serious (i.e., harassment). Of course, an integral part of this culture is also soliciting positive feedback and communicating it to the person as well, so it should be overall very constructive. (I.e., “I heard from your team that this project went particularly well thanks to your leadership and planning, but that the team believes they would benefit from meetings after the conclusion of the project to figure out what they could do better next time.”)

    2. BuildMeUp*

      I agree with Future Analyst that your system sounds like it works well at your company. But from the issues OP describes, it doesn’t sound like the system with her manager is working. They’re “playing telephone” and none of the issues are actually getting resolved.

    3. Robin*

      Ah, continuous improvement. It’s nice to hear about it working somewhere! The info I get from BF who works at a place that has just instituted continuous improvement is that it’s a lot of pointless meetings and overanalyzing things like human error, and the senior level executives STILL refuse to listen to constructive feedback, even as they double down on the continuous improvement rhetoric.

  11. MuseumHero*

    My first thought is your staff does not feel safe going to you either because of how you react to feed or because they’ve felt nothing chances when they do speak with you.

    I do get the sense that you seem slightly hostile to having to chance becauseof “complainers”. I could be their issues but I think it’s slightly more likely it’s your management style. Have you asked your boss for help, “I understand the team has express they don’t like X and Y so I tried A and be but it hasn’t resolved the issue. I’m thinking of trying C and D. Is there anything I could be doing?”

  12. Mena*

    Triangulation is fostered (and never discouraged) where I work. It undermines direct managers and really seems to waste alot of more senior managers’ time. It will become a breaking point for me at some point, and perhaps for the OP if the manager doesn’t listen to these very valid concerns.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      If this continues on they do not want a supervisor they just want someone to kick when things go wrong. Because things will go wrong.

  13. newlyhr*

    thank god I got out of a similar situation. I love where I work now and feel valued and challenged. Sometimes having a bad situation is what it takes to make you appreciate a good one all the more. Although I can have less than wonderful days here, it is NOTHING like the undermining, backstabbing environment my last boss fostered with his behavior.

  14. Worried*

    I clicked on this article because my coworkers and I are in the same situation. We would much rather go around our immediate supervisor because we don’t trust or respect her (for a variety of reasons). But now our boss’s boss has resigned and we are worried about what our supervisor is going to try to do.
    I would recommend, as so many others have, this writer needs to look at herself and her behaviors. Unfortunately, she may be unable to gain the employees’ trust and respect.

  15. Adulting*

    I go to my offending manager first and talk like an adult, If no results I go over his head. Normally where I work if I don’t feel comfortable talking to the offending manager I have a right to go over his head. ( which I avoid) . I’m honest with my managers and have no issues going to them.

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