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Been put on capability and suspect boss is trying to make me leave...need help

(29 Posts)
witchhazelblue Wed 15-Feb-17 21:13:08

In a nutshell - been in my current FT public sector job for 7 years (work in a team of 2, just me and boss). Enjoy my work mostly and have performed well with no complaints until last month. 5 of those years have been spent under a boss who I worked well with. Then nearly 2 years ago he left, and was replaced by a boss I've had nothing but problems with. His arrival unfortunately co-incided with the breakdown of my abusive marriage. He came in with the attitude that he had to 'save the day' (he's a very bullish character with a large ego to match) and set about trying to prove I was useless with no evidence. I went to his line manager who got him to back down but boss wasn't happy so the working relationship started badly. During the divorce family home was sold, abusive ex continued (and continues) his abuse, children (pre-school age) really struggled and I struggled with the stress of everything but managed to stay at work during all this. I was diagnosed with anxiety (didn't have medication) so had CBT which helped. Gradually pieced my life back together by the end of last year while maintaining an uneasy relationship with the boss. Personality wise we're very different but the work was getting done so thought it was ok.

It's worth mentioning at this point that we have always been understaffed and struggled with workload. New boss has a different job description and extra workload to previous boss but we don't get extra support (and my JD hasn't changed to reflect his).

Fast forward to January this year. Was feeling positive as house finally sorted and looking forward to getting all aspects of life back on track. Had an issue over an email I hadn't replied to quickly enough in the busy run up to xmas and boss suddenly decided off the back of that to pull me into an informal capability procedure as two of my yearly projects (set in November) are slightly behind current target (a lot of our work is reactive but projects will still be completed on time I've assured him).

Now this procedure has started all hell seems to have broken loose and the gloves are off. He's pulling me up on everything, even the tiniest of things, and openly criticising me in writing to colleagues. He now has issues with my having my mobile on my desk (for emergency childcare issues only) and has been commenting on my timekeeping (which is fine although he has always wanted me to work extra hours which I can't do due to being a single parent with no nearby family support). My anxiety has gone through the roof again as I'm terrified of losing the job I thought I was doing well, which I've told him. He then started pressuring me to go on medication and was openly angsty when I went to the GP who has put me on the waiting list for more CBT (and offered to sign me off with stress but I've refused as I think it would make things worse for me at work).

Last week was my first review date for my improvement plan (as part of the capability procedure) and I was feeling secretly good as I'd hit all the targets set out for this date. We sat down for the meeting (only us at informal stage so no witnesses) and he pulled out a load of stuff he wasn't happy about with one target which he would have known about before we agreed the plan but kept it to himself until this stage. So now he's failed me at this first hurdle and wants to go straight to the formal capability stage (which he can't but has threatened it anyway). I left work last week feeling awful and down.

I'm off this week for half term and he's told me to 'have a good think about things' while I'm away. I'm already stressed about going back next week as I don't know what would have happened while I'm away and if he's going to come up with more things he's unhappy with. I'm in the union so have forwarded them some of his emails he's sent me over the last few weeks and they want me to start a grievance - I'm reluctant as it's just 2 of us in the office and it could make everything worse. Besides from him I enjoy my job, it's generally a good workplace, allows me a certain flexibility with childcare (kids at nursery 8-6) and is local. So I'm reluctant to leave (also I overheard a phone conversation he was having with a personal friend the other day where said friend has a new job. Boss was talking about references and said it was always possible someone could ring up after the 'official' reference to warn about behaviour 'off the record' which makes me think he would do that to me even if I did move on!).

I don't really know what to do next. My confidence in my abilities at work has gone. I want to get through the capability procedure to prove I'm not useless but I'm feeling that he's taking the opportunity to make me leave or get me dismissed. I feel like I'm being set up but also like I'm shit at my job. I'm frightened quite frankly.

Does anybody have any advice they can give me?

Twinklyfaerieglade Wed 15-Feb-17 21:44:22

In the public sector you will have a capability policy and procedure. Get hold off it and talk through what has happened so far with your TU rep.
Do you have a relationship with this mans line manager? If so have a quiet word. It could be argued that his behaviour is close to or actual bullying.

You cannot agree a set of objectives and then pull out something different and additional in the first review meeting. I gather he did this?

As you are a team of two it's absurd that he didn't raise anything additional he wanted you to do in the course of the normal working day.

Re references, yEs informal conversations can happen, but it is poor practice and if discovered could be open to challenge.

Overall, it seems this man is a poor manager and you may need to make him feel a little heat. He will not want a grievance against him, or any hint he is a bully.

Good luck

witchhazelblue Wed 15-Feb-17 22:29:32

Thinks Twinkly. Yes I have a decent relationship with his line manager (although he is mega busy and we rarely see him). When my boss tried this last time I did speak to his line manager (which made him furious and very angry and confrontational with me) so it's an option to try that again. Although now the capability procedure is in place there's little he can do.

And yes he did 'pull one out of the bag' as it were regarding the target he has failed me on.

I'm already stressing about being back in the office on Monday. Havn't had a week off since the summer so this rest is much needed. Trying not to let it get to me so much.

daisychain01 Thu 16-Feb-17 09:04:09

Hi Witch hazel,

1. did your manager give you a written performance improvement plan? If so I would suggest you document against each point what improvements you have delivered to show your compliance to the process. Do this on a weekly basis so you and your manager have a record to work with.
2. Did you and your manager agree when the informal review period should end? Normally it's somewhere between 4 and 8 weeks with a final sign-off meeting, with at least 3-4 interim check-points to review your progress.

Key thing about the above is that he can't jump the gun and force through to the formal stage without giving you adequate time as per the above example.

You could try talking about this informally with your manager first.

Check your internal grievance policy, because if you feel uncomfortable about raising the grievance direct with your manager because they are the subject of your grievance, then you have the right to raise it via HR. Please ensure you highlight to HR that it is the enactment of the process you object to, not the actual performance review itself.

daisychain01 Thu 16-Feb-17 09:11:29

Also was your manager fully aware of all those awful challenges last year?

Could he deny he knew you were having problems and that you are having to cope as a single parent?

nell15 Thu 16-Feb-17 09:58:03

Get your union involved. Don't feel ashamed this isn't about you, it's about him. If you can get another job then leave. Life is too short to put up with this.
This happened to me. I was in education advising schools. I'd lost my first husband and also my dad and I'd supported both through illness and the deaths as well as my family- all within two years . I was really vulnerable emotionally but I was doing my job and keeping my head above water, I was getting v good appraisals and a+ evaluations from schools on my work. I'd been warned about my boss - she was either very friendly and matey or a complete nasty bitch - people either loved her or hated her -people had left in mysterious circumstances or transferred to other jobs. She came at me with all sorts of accusations and kept rewriting the script adding stuff., tried to discredit me with schools and my colleagues. this is against the confidentiality rules of the disciplinary procedure but I was so ashamed and embarrassed by it I couldn't talk to anyone about it or ask for help I did got the union involved but he was useless and thought his job was to mediate between us rather than support me. I got to the point where I couldn't fight anymore decided to leave and I got a more senior person from the union involved who was a family friend. I asked him to negotiate a good leaving package for me. He went in and literally wiped the floor with her and her line manager who was weak and being manipulated by my boss. I got a good reference and 3 months salary. She was full of remorse afterwards and said "I didn't think it would come to this" I just looked at her agog. It took me quite a while to recover and get my confidence up. Many of my work colleagues kept their heads down as better someone else getting it than them. Only one had the grace to apologise to me afterwards for not supporting me.

witchhazelblue Thu 16-Feb-17 10:04:34

Hi Daisy, in response to your points:

1. Yes it is written down and we worked through it in the last review. The reason he failed me was because the quality of one of the projects isn't to an acceptable standard (to him) although it's a project I do every year that he's aware of and has never had issues with in the past.
2. The final target for the informal period ends at the beginning of May. Assuming I've passed (which I'm guessing not now) it goes into a period of monitoring which can be anything from 6 to 12 months.

Good point about the enactment of the process being the issue, I'll be sure to say that. My union have recommended we meet with HR about the grievance but regardless of that they still have to tell my boss that that's the route I'm pursuing.

And finally yes he was aware of all the personal issues I've been going through. I don't like discussing my personal life with him (and he made it clear he wasn't interested anyway) but I kept him in the know because of the effects it was having on me. He had mentioned last year that he noticed I had 'good days and bad days' and my output was 'up and down' (which surely is normal for anyone) but he was aware of my circumstances yes.

daisychain01 Thu 16-Feb-17 10:05:15

flowers nell

witchhazelblue Thu 16-Feb-17 10:07:52

Sounds awful nell! Thankfully you're out of that now!

I have started looking at other jobs, but I would be sad to leave for the reasons I said upthread - enjoy my job, it's local, flexible (although boss tries to make that difficult), with a good pension and decent annual leave. I would really struggle to find something like that elsewhere without a big drop in my wages and going part time (which would in turn put us in financial difficulties).

witchhazelblue Thu 16-Feb-17 10:09:12

Oh and also worth noting I have no local family support so nobody I can rely on for childcare, so any job I did find would have to be local. It's not the best environment out there for jobs in my locality.

Poudrenez Thu 16-Feb-17 10:11:21

Hi OP,

I've not got anything to add practically to what's been said above, but what jumps out from your post is that you don't want to start a grievance as it would make things worse. I understand as I hate that sort of confrontation myself, but I imagine that it could only make the situation better? This man is clearly bullying you, and formal grievance would most likely make you more powerful as he'll be compelled at behave himself. At the moment he is trying to destroy you. I tried think of a gentler word but that's how it looks to me. What I've said does rather depend on your having a functional HR and union, though. I work in a university and when I was bullied and started grievance proceedings the procedures were adhered to and the mechanisms protected me. I could request a new line manager etc. so it worked for me. If you're sure this isn't the situation then I agree you should just find another job. Life is too short, and being bullied at work (or anywhere really) is utterly, utterly shit. To me it was like the 25 years since I left school had counted for nothing. It took me right back and almost devastated my confidence.

One bit of advice: make a note of literally every unpleasant encounter. I've been on a staff bullying support course and that was the key bit of advice. It's a very powerful document if it comes to needing it.

RandomMess Thu 16-Feb-17 10:13:38

Great that you are in the union, yes yes yes to raising a grievance against him. He is a bully and is too stupid to even follow procedures!!

flowers hold your nerve.

daisychain01 Thu 16-Feb-17 10:23:43

The final target for the informal period ends at the beginning of May. Assuming I've passed (which I'm guessing not now) it goes into a period of monitoring which can be anything from 6 to 12 months

This is useful info to add to your document - state what he said (actual words if poss) that gave you the understanding he wants to go straight to formal capability stage. He should be giving you support, not giving you his already predetermined decision about the informal review outcome in February. It is not in the spirit of the informal process to put you under duress.

To show reasonable response to your manager's concern, I'd slip your mobile phone out of sight (maybe get a "pencil case" you can legitimately leave half open out of sight near your computer. Anything like that you can do to 'meet him half way' will stand in your favour.

daisychain01 Thu 16-Feb-17 10:25:27

Don't resign, stay strong and get the right people involved!

witchhazelblue Thu 16-Feb-17 10:37:25

Thanks for all the support everyone, I really appreciate it. I was starting to think he was right about me and I really am crap at my job.

Poudrenez - sadly I think you're right, the word 'destroy' is a good one and has occurred to me. Our HR dept are not very good (very manager focused) but our union are very strong so that might help matters. I am really reluctant to go to a grievance (moving to a different line manager isn't an option as nobody else does our work) but if it's between that and losing my job I know which I'd prefer.

Thanks Random, he has a tendency to start throwing words around carelessly and doesn't really think about what he's saying (or apologise afterwards).

He said to me he was going to ask HR to go to the formal capability stage Daisy but I don't have it in writing (unless he's emailed me while I've been off). Good point about the mobile phone - I have it on silent but leave it where I can see it in case it rings (which it doesn't unless it's an emergency). Ironically he takes and makes personal phone calls all the time on his office phone and personal mobile. I'm thinking of making a note of this.

Poudrenez Thu 16-Feb-17 10:42:09

I'm sure you're not crap at your job Witch. And I'm equally sure that he is. If you've got the strength, you'll probably do your enployers a favour by standing up to him (and no shame if you can't - it's a very stressful thing to do).

Ordinary, decent people like you just can't understand how a person like your boss operates. He is dysfunctional and you won't be the first to have suffered him.

flowers to everyone suffering in this way.

Wilma55 Thu 16-Feb-17 10:47:48

Shouldn't they be offering you reasonable adjustments and the chance to move to another internal post before dismissal is even considered?

witchhazelblue Fri 17-Feb-17 10:44:30

I'm not sure Wilma, there isn't anywhere internal for me to go as nobody else does the job we do (and I'm not qualified for anything else).

Thanks Poud, admit I'm not feeling very strong at the moment (and the thought of going in on Monday fills me with dread). I'm going to email the union today to discuss what we're going to do on Monday.

fairweathercyclist Fri 17-Feb-17 16:28:35

You are definitely qualified for other jobs.

Don't think of job titles, think of skill sets. What do you do day to day in your current job. What are your skills? What experiences do you have? What do you do outside work - have you ever done anything for someone like the PTA, gone into a school etc. If you have a skills-based CV it will increase your confidence.

As for the current situation, if you are in the public sector there must be some sort of proper HR provision. I am glad you are in a union and I hope they can help you. If you don't feel they are helping, it might be a good investment to spend an hour with an employment lawyer and get some help from them.

daisychain01 Sat 18-Feb-17 03:14:42

Ironically he takes and makes personal phone calls all the time on his office phone and personal mobile. I'm thinking of making a note of this.

Please don't fall into the trap of deflecting criticism back on him. It doesn't matter what he does, even though it is poor form for a manager not to be setting a good example.

Focus on highlighting everything you are personally doing to show competence and commitment at your job, complying with your contract of employment and polish up that halo halo ! By all means highlight that you have met him half-way regarding your mobile, but clarify it is for bona fide use regarding your childcare (this just "marks his card" if he tries to target you unreasonably for your childcare responsibilities).

WhamBamThankyouGeorge Sat 18-Feb-17 03:23:14

Nothing useful to add on procedures or processes but just wanted to say that you sound like an intelligent educated person who is reliable and good at your job. Please don't let this knock your confidence.

witchhazelblue Tue 21-Feb-17 20:29:52

Thanks all...noted aswell daisy I don't want to go down the 'you do this' route as ultimately that doesn't help me.

As I expected when I came back to work yesterday he has indeed been digging for more evidence against me with email trails of various things. I was a bit of a wreck yesterday responding to him with reasons and answers. I also had another manager pull me to one side today to tell me a member of their staff has complained about my manager as its perceived he is trying to get them to complain about a piece of work I've done for them. I've already fed this back to the union who I'm meeting tomorrow about what to do next.

In the meantime I'm working away busily this week although his return to work next week is in the back of my mind. sad

I'm sad that it's coming to this.

Poudrenez Thu 23-Feb-17 09:35:26

It sounds like he's got you playing a game where you have to respond to his criticism, and something tells me you can't win it. Classic bullying - setting someone up to fail. If your organisation/union is any good though, he's digging his own grave.

Good luck witch, this must be really shit.

witchhazelblue Thu 23-Feb-17 23:13:03

It is shit, Poud. I met with my union both today and yesterday and his comment was 'this is horrendous' is the one sticking in my mind. HR are apparently concerned about his behaviour during this process and that he's not sticking to the right procedure (as relayed to them by my union). I met with his boss today (which he won't be happy about at all if my last experience of this is anything to go by) who has reassured me that this is a 'supportive process', that he will talk to my boss on his return next week and has offered to temporarily relocate me to give me some breathing space to concentrate on this plan. My boss will hit the roof on his return (and he's been sending me emails all week in any case on various work things) so I'm dreading Monday even more.

I'm a nervous wreck right now and feel like I'm fighting for my life and my career.

sportinguista Fri 24-Feb-17 10:14:16

This struck a cord with me. Similar happened to me over 2 years ago. It became clear to me that I was in a no-win situation when in a meeting my manager stated to me "you will fail". I knew from that moment she had made up her mind that was so, she also made sure by setting me up to fail by not passing on information and undermining at every opportunity. I was scared but I survived ultimately and thrived in the end. I went self employed, so I've made damn sure that I never need a reference that she's involved in EVER!

One thing to remember, and I know this will be very hard is this job isn't the only job and something will come along. I remember feeling very afraid of it all, I had severe anxiety by the end of it. Ultimately it is only a supportive process if they are interested in you improving and working well, but unfortunately it can be used for the wrong purpose. My boss' boss fed me that line and I was stupid enough to believe it.

Get some support, I was lucky I had an absolutely amazing support at work lady who I got through the doctors, perhaps there is something similar in your area? She got me through, made me realise I wasn't crazy or incompetent. You need to start working on a plan B, get yourself on linkedin and make your profile sound amazing, once you start doing that you'll realise how many skills you really do have. Also once you start adding contacts and networking you may also realise that you might know someone who can offer you a way forward.

In terms of how you feel, take a look at the zenhabits blog, it often provided advice that got me through those dark times and still does.

It will get better and as my support worker said "I know you won't be in the same situation a year from now"

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