Starting a new job, an employee is already preparing to quit because of a supervisor who repeatedly levels unfair critiques and then apologizes.

Share story

Q: Not long ago I took a new job, leaving my old company after 18 years because it was restructuring and I felt I needed a change.

My new boss has a really bothersome habit. He can be extremely condescending to me about something minor that is not entirely my fault — and then apologetic afterward. For example, the other day I didn’t bring all necessary papers to a meeting, because he didn’t give me sufficient notice. He chastised me to never do that again, and ordered me to go and fetch all the missing papers. But later that day he came by my office to apologize.

This is the third time that this has happened! I have not been treated this way since the summer jobs of my youth. I don’t know if I should say something to him the next time it happens, arrange a separate conversation with him or just go to human resources.

I don’t think he is going to change, and I’ve learned that my position has had high turnover. I just want to try to make it better before I look for a new job. — Anonymous

A: Starting somewhere new after working at one company for 18 years inevitably entails some adjustments and bumpiness. So before you make a rash decision to bail on this new gig, make at least some effort to figure out whether you and your new boss can adjust to each other.

Certainly if you say nothing, then nothing will change. Maybe start by diplomatically addressing the issue the next time he shows up to apologize. Express appreciation — but make it clear that these incidents leave you confused. And since he has just apologized, risk putting him on the spot: Ask for reassurance that he’s happy with your work.

If the issue persists, you can go to human resources, but do so in the spirit of seeking input, not just leveling a grievance. If this manager has trouble hanging on to employees, HR will understand the problem without your having to make an actual complaint.

But don’t convince yourself the situation is hopeless without even attempting a remedy. Perhaps with time you can learn this manager’s patterns as he learns yours; he’ll become less likely to snap at you, and you’ll be less likely to take it seriously when he does.

Or perhaps not, and you’ll need to leave. But after so many years at one place, allow yourself enough time to acclimate to this one. If you jump into an even more bothersome situation, you may discover that the person who overreacts and then regrets it is actually you.

How to handle an exit interview

Q: I’m retiring in a few months. Our company offers departing employees an exit interview, and I’ve been wavering about whether to participate, and how.

My quandary relates to my manager. While she has been very good to me, it’s pretty obvious she would rather manage processes than people. And this has negative consequences.

Notably, several members of our team seem to think they’re doing their job by simply showing up, contributing little. I’ve brought this to my manager’s attention several times. Nothing changed. Other teams in the company see the problem, and reach out only to specific individuals in our group.

Should I spell this out in an exit interview? I would feel somewhat disloyal to my manager. But I would like to see the team reach its potential. — Kenneth

A: As it happens, the very first question the Workologist answered involved an exit interview. The context was a little different. That reader was worried about whether to be “honest” or just “say what the company wants to hear, in order to keep the employer as a good reference.”

My general take, then and now, is that exit interviews exist for the benefit of the company, not you, and that you should expend as little time and energy on them as possible. Focus on your own future, not the future of a company you don’t work for anymore.

Still, your situation is different enough that this is worth revisiting, because you have no selfish reason to pull punches. Instead, the question is what might be gained by throwing a punch or two.

If it makes you feel better, let it all out. But I’m skeptical it will lead to the kind of change you imagine. I suspect we all overestimate the degree to which we have some unique insight on our employer’s operations. In fact, you’ve indicated that the problems with your department are recognized elsewhere in the company. You also say that you’ve already pointed out these problems and that nothing has changed.

So I suppose you should say whatever you feel is necessary to be at ease with closing this chapter of your life. But try to really close that chapter, and focus more on whatever is next for you.

And as it happens, this is the Workologist’s final answer: the concluding installment of the column. My thanks to those of you who asked me questions, and those of you who read my answers (whether you agreed or not). I’m looking forward to what’s next — because that, of course, is what the Workologist would advise.