Q: I just found out that a vice president at my company wants me fired, and even suggested doing so at a senior-level meeting. Even more worrisome, I learned the VP I report to did not stick up for me.
I was floored and devastated when I heard. I am a middle manager, well-respected among colleagues and clients, and my productivity is outstanding according to all my annual evaluations and numbers. I heard from reliable sources that what saved me was the fact that I am well-respected among colleagues and clients.
More than two years ago, this VP came in and wanted to cut costs in my highly productive unit. I went over his head to the CEO to put a stop to it. I’ve been warned by others that he has had it out for me ever since, and it’s evident in some of his passive-aggressive actions toward me and my unit.
He has become really tight with the CEO. I can’t help feeling I’m one mistake away from being fired. Do you think the writing is on the wall for me, or am I overreacting?
A: Assuming your sources are reliable, the writing is indeed on the wall that this VP wants you gone — but that’s not the end of the story.
I know what a gut-punch it is to learn that higher-ups are not impressed with your good work and want you out of the way. But the good news is that customers and colleagues value your work, and, based on the outcome when you went to bat for your department, the CEO is willing to listen to you, too.
To me, the bigger gut-punch would be learning that the new VP was simply saying something out loud that everyone else was already thinking — but his beef with you seems to be purely personal.
An executive pursuing a petty vendetta against a lower-ranking professional in someone else’s department says more about him than about you. That’s not to say he can’t succeed in ousting you, but whatever excuse he claims, it won’t really be because of something you did wrong.
As you say, the worrisome thing is that the person who should be your champion — your own VP — didn’t immediately shut down the suggestion to fire you. Maybe your VP is fearful, or nonconfrontational, or saw the comments as toothless and beneath notice.
The first step is to let your own VP know some — not all — of what you’ve heard. “I understand New VP recently said he thought I should be fired. Is this something I should be concerned about? Is there a problem with my performance, or anything I can do to improve his impression of me?” Your VP’s response may tell you how much you should be worried. And if your VP has your back, your questions will be a wake-up call that ignoring your antagonist may cost the company a star performer.
In the meantime, keep this in mind: This VP somehow sees you as a threat that can only be dealt with through political machinations. Use that as fuel to keep being aggressively excellent and promoting your team’s successes, bringing your best for clients and colleagues. And start strengthening your connections with anyone in a position to provide solid references and leads if your antagonist prevails, or if you simply grow tired of working with a sword dangling above your head.
Q: I’m a federal employee on detail to a small group. I love my job and want to stay until I retire in a few years.
I have read about other older women’s legitimate complaints about their treatment at work. I had numerous grievances about my old workplace. But in my current job, except for one incident years ago, I’ve been treated with great respect. I was thinking of emailing the chief of staff to thank them for not being sexist and ageist — but should I thank them for doing what everyone should obviously do 24 hours a day?
A: Pardon the vulgarity, but “Thank you for not sucking” sets a rather low bar.
But it’s simple enough to flip the script and focus on what your boss is doing right: “Thank you for fostering an equitable workplace. I am grateful to be working in a supportive, uplifting environment where I feel respected and valued. I’m consistently inspired to give my best.” The “unlike other places I have worked” subtext is implied.
If saying that directly feels a little kiss-uppy, you can always incorporate the message into feedback forms or performance evaluations. A positive endorsement on a site like Glassdoor would help a good employer stand out in a sea of complaints — as long as it doesn’t sound like something a PR firm was hired to write.