A good boss is worth their weight in gold, a bad one can make your work life hell. Personally, I’ve been very lucky to work with amazing people in all my jobs – bar one. But HOOOOO BOY did that small-time designer make life difficult. There was your standard erratic behaviour, belittling, micro-managing and the high turnover that comes with it, of course. That didn’t even end up being the worst, though.
The worst part was her habit of making promises to get what she wanted out of you then never keeping them.
I moved cities, changed life plans and spent a buttload of my own money doing so on the promise of a communications role. What I got was a store manager role – not a job that I personally would ever have uprooted my life for. Any attempts to discuss my transition into the promised job were met with denial and increased her horrible behaviour.
Yet, the role I was promised sounded so perfect and I’d already stuck it out for a year when most people didn’t last beyond three months, that I stayed there for so much longer than I should have.
Am I saying this to vent? A little. But also to share what I learned about dealing with a boss who is clearly taking you for a ride, and when it’s time to just call it quits.
First of all, when is a normal time to follow up on a new role or training that you’ve been offered by your boss? Joanna Fishman, Workplace Consultant with Associated Employee Assistance Providers, says it starts with a confirmation email and setting a timeframe.
“It can help to send an email after the conversation which serves as a written and formal acknowledgment of the promise or offer by your boss,” she explains, “That is also a good opportunity to add something about timing and ask your boss if they are able to get back to you in a certain period of time.”
“For example, you may write ‘Following up on our discussion on [insert date], I wanted to enquire about the progress towards the training opportunity you offered, which I am still very interested in, and whether I am able to commence this before the end of the month.’”
If you never get a reply, or if the process hits a significant standstill, Joanna says it’s time to approach your boss and request time to chat with them.
“Tell them that you’re enthusiastic and ask them if you can work to[wards] a specific date for this to happen,” she says.
If you’re still not seeing results and your boss is ignoring your emails and in person questions, Joanna says you should make one last attempt. The aim now becomes not to get a timeline, so much as to understand their position.
“Try and understand the reasons for their resistance and see if there is any way to reassure them that their needs and your needs can both be met.”
Look, in my case, it was pretty clear that my boss had a pattern of making grand promises to get employees to take on extra work or agree to new conditions that she wanted them to, then not following through. This wasn’t something she’d just done to me. Unfortunately, that’s a thing that you can’t really change with small businesses when the owner is the boss and there is no HR.
However, is there ever an occasion where a broken promise like this acceptable? Or is it always a sign of trouble? Joanna recommends making sure that you really understood the promise you were made before deciding. For example, were there other goals or achievements you had to reach before the offer was official?
“If you feel these goals have been met then you have every right to address why the promise has changed,” she says.
The reasons might not actually be about you and your performance. Perhaps there were recent restructures or insufficient funds for your promo or training.
“[It’s] important [to] ask what it would take to get the opportunity back on track and try and make a specific date to check in with your boss about the progress on this.”
So in a nutshell, yes, you should follow up about a promise and are in your rights to expect either a timeline or an explanation as to why the promise has changed.
If you’re reading all this freaking out because you find it hard to be assertive with an authority figure like your boss, you’re not alone.
“Speaking to an authority figure can be very intimidating until you gain experience with it,” acknowledges Joanna.
“First of all, breathe and remind yourself that as an employee, you are entitled to ask questions about your employment and possible opportunities.”
Feeling well prepared before you have the talk with your boss can be very helpful when you’re feeling nervous. Know what you want to talk about and what outcomes you’re hoping for before you go into the meeting, and take in notes if you need to.