Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I work in an academic institution, and I love what I do for a living. It's a calling, I spent a lot of time in graduate school preparing for it, and some days, I couldn't be happier.
Those are the days when my boss and most of the other people who "work" with me are not here.
There are more personnel problems than I can reasonably describe, but I'll give you the top 4:
1. My boss allows an unqualified volunteer to perform a skilled, essential function that he is profoundly unfit to perform. He argues with us when we assign him tasks, he comes in earlier and stays later than allowed, wanders the building bothering people, and generally behaves like an unsupervised child. I have repeatedly approached my boss about all of the above issues, and while he agrees with me, he will not discipline or replace this person.
2. Another volunteer is incredibly rude to me and has made sexist, racist, and all-around inappropriate statements to me, my boss, and co-workers. I have documented such statements, and have had four meetings with my boss about this person. My boss agreed with me that this person should be terminated but hasn't done it.
3. A member of the paraprofessional staff does no work and is so horrible that she actually drove away her gifted and qualified supervisor. She refuses to learn simple tasks and complains about problems but refuses to do anything to solve them, even when given tools and support. She's worked here over 20 years.
4. The boss will not deal with any of this. It's almost like these people have something incriminating on him, the way he lets them get away with murder.
I love the work I do, and the one employee I supervise. But I feel trapped. I can't absorb Problem No. 1's duties, since we're already so understaffed. I feel I've done everything right with Problem No. 2, but to no avail. I wait anxiously for Problem No. 3 to retire. I pray Problem No. 4 wins the lottery and retires in Tahiti.
What can I do?
You don't have four problems. You have one big problem: your boss.
You can try to reason with him and use logic, but ultimately there is only one thing that solves the problem of working under a boss who is afraid to take action. I'm sorry to say that it's this: Leave, and go to work for a boss who is willing to do his or her job.
I know that's not an easy solution. But in my experience, it is the only long-term solution.
Your manager is profoundly flawed, in a way that nothing you do can fix. He is allowing his desire to be nice and avoid unpopular or difficult decisions to trump his fundamental obligations as a manager -- obligations like having basic performance standards, warning people when they aren't meeting those standards, and taking action when warnings don't work.
And what is happening to you now is the irony that all such wimpy managers spawn: In their quest to be liked, the opposite happens. Because problems go unresolved, good employees get frustrated and end up hating them.
Are there short-term solutions? Maybe. Depending on your relationship with your boss, you may be able to badger or cajole him into taking action on some of this, or to give you the authority to handle it. Or you might be able to find discreet ways to go over his head to bring the problem to his boss -- but if he's being permitted to get away with this basic abdication of his duties, chances are good that the boss above him is the same flawed type.
But in the long-term, absent a boss who will make him do his job (likely having to push him through it every step of the way), this stuff isn't going to change. You have a boss who isn't interested in or willing to do his job. To have long-term happiness, you're going to need to find one who is.
If you find yourself a manager willing to manage, the impact on your quality of life can't be overstated.
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