Ask The Insider columnist Ashley Lutz answers all your work-related questions, including the awkward, sensitive, and real-world ones. Have a question? Email [email protected]
I work in a tiny industry in South Africa where everyone knows everyone. I love my job and profession. The problem? My boss. I’m afraid she doesn’t like me. She has acted maliciously toward me, and we have many personal differences.
Two years ago I was diagnosed with depression, and my manager told me I should not go on medication but become a Christian instead. I’m a Hindu and politely declined. She told me depression is in my head and I feel this way because I’m ungrateful for what I have and it’s the work of the devil.
She also embarrassed me at a colleague’s going-away party. When my friend opened my gift, she said, “Wow, you were obviously counting pennies!” She publicly diminished the value of my gift in front of everyone. I was so embarrassed.
I’m applying to new jobs and am about to be certified as a manager in my field. I’m worried that my boss will tell people bad things about me that will keep me from succeeding.
How can I overcome this and have a successful career in my field?
Dealing With A Mean Boss
I’m so sorry to hear how your boss has mistreated you. While I’m not sure what the employment laws are like there, in the US her comments about your depression and religion would be characterised as harassment and would likely cost her the job.
I’m guessing that for whatever reason, you aren’t comfortable reporting your manager’s behaviour — although I’d recommend considering it. If your boss is such a repugnant person, it’s likely that other people have also seen or experienced her unprofessional conduct.
Still, I can see why you would worry that her negative words would make people wary of you.
You say that you work in a tiny industry where everyone knows everyone. That means it should be easy for you to find ways to network and make a positive impression on your own. Ask people in the field if you can buy them a tea or coffee and get their thoughts on the industry.
Then when you’re applying for a job, more people will recognise your name and say good things about you.
Even though it might be tempting, don’t say anything bad about your boss to them. Keep it light and positive. Making connections on your own lessens the chance that they will call your boss, or at least makes it less likely her words will have an impression.
I’d also work on forging strong relationships with your other colleagues so you have a support system at work. Make a point to ask about their day or go to lunch together. If you feel supported by your other coworkers, maybe your boss’ behaviour will be more bearable.
At our company, we usually disregard one bad reference as a personal vendetta if the other references check out.
One thing to keep in mind when you apply for your next job: Candidates tend to submit their own references, so you have no obligation to include your boss and can instead provide three to five people you know will give you an outstanding recommendation. They may still call your boss or ask her about you informally, but at least you’ll have plenty of other people singing your praises.
Ashley Lutz is a senior editor at Business Insider answering all your questions about the workplace. Send your queries to [email protected] for publication on Business Insider. Requests for anonymity will be granted, and questions may be edited.