Monday, November 21, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: My boss treats me differently now that I'm full time--what gives?

I received a chilling email from C. regarding how her firm's attitude towards her changed after she went from being part time to full time:

I started an internship in June and got glowing reviews.  Now that I have been hired full time still as an intern, I have been making small mistakes and my nice boss has turned a cold shoulder to me.  I realize this is part of the learning process.  But here are some of the examples:  I was doing a quote before it was sent to the client and I had missed a line.  It wasn’t a small quote…but I sent it to the lead designer to look it over to let me know if it was alright and they told me they went and fixed it instead of me fixing it.
This got back to my boss and I have never made a mistake that I did not want to fix…everyone makes them.  I took over some of the duties of a person that was released for lying.  But before that he came in late, talked all the time…but she never talked to him about it or looked down on him.  But for me as the intern I feel slighted and I need some advice on what to do.  This is not a conventional design firm.  Not how I was taught in school.  There are some “personalities” there also who have also marked their territory and the boss have sided with them also.  When others make mistakes even huge ones, it’s okay…..but for me not so much.  I know I need to improve to survive, but what do I do if I am thrown under a bus and made to feel less?

(in a second email to Lulu)  There is some other stuff to say as well. I think I mentioned my boss won't speak to me and they hired 2 girls to replace me. (younger thinner) I was an unpaid intern and things were perfect; then I got hired and people were much meaner including people telling me f*** you and this is MY area and if i didn't like how things were run, get out.  When I found solutions to some problems, they said you have to do it MY way...which until now "this is the way" wasn't presented to me until Monday which I am sure they cleaned it up for the person taking my place.

Oh, C.  Oh oh oh.  There's so much to say here.  Mistakes are part of the learning process.  Being shut down and shut out by your boss and other architects in the office for any error whatsoever isn't part of the learning process. That's being obnoxious at best and bullying at worst.  But I almost don't need more details beyond the ones you provided in our second email exchange: you were treated great when you weren't being paid, but now that you cost them money, they're giving you grief for small mistakes and even hiring younger people with the apparent intent of replacing you.  This. Speaks. Volumes.

It tells me that this firm is bad, bad news.  Not only is it unethical not to pay people who work on billable work, it's also illegal.  Your firm (hopefully soon to be former firm) has no problem breaking the law and disrespecting skilled architectural labor, so why should they also have a problem being generally uncivil?  To me, the problem is clearly the not being paid--as an unpaid intern, your mistakes were only kinda costly, but now they have to pay you and fix the mistakes.  Please leave this firm as soon as you can, and if you're feeling froggy, get in contact with Pimping Architects about your firm.

Let's say for the sake of others out there that both the part time internship and the now-full time internship were paid, and an intern was receiving this sort of suddenly-poor treatment from formerly-warm colleagues. A good way to solve this--as well as almost any other problem in an office--is to approach it politely but directly.  For example, C's example above might warrant someone going to the lead designer who fixed the mistake and saying, "Hi, Vicki, I heard you fixed an error I made in that quote I sent you yesterday, and I wanted to thank you for for doing that.  But y'know, I really do want to do a good job and learn from my mistakes, so please don't hesitate to send something back to me to fix."  (This can also be good as an email in which you can copy your big boss, so you have a paper trail of trying to fix your mistakes.)  You may also decide, especially if you feel like you have nothing else to lose, to confront your boss on the cold-shoulder stuff directly: "Everett, I really appreciate you hiring me on full time; it makes me feel like you like my work and can trust me.  But it feels like something's changed since I came on full time--every small mistake I make gets a major stink-eye from Vicki.  Has something happened that I should be aware of?"  Again, this could be sent as an email just to Everett so you have a trail of an important conversation.

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  1. Hey Lulu! I emailed you a few months ago about a similar situation that I was in. In the end I didn't have any record or proof of what had happened it was my boss' word against mine. He always attacked me about small mistakes, and how expensive I was since becoming full time and held it over my head. It was awful. He also made a lot of accusations claiming that everyone else in the office hated me and often had to re-do my work which I had no knowledge of and still don't believe. Unfortunately there are bad firms out there. C, try to get out as soon as possible! I feel behind since my 9 month first job was bust, but I know it should be so much better and beneficial from both sides. Good luck!

  2. C Elizabeth, good work getting out of there. And remember, even if you didn't get your previous employer to sign off on your IDP credits, the experience still wasn't a bust. You got some experience that will allow you to get another job somewhere, and you've seen how BAD it can be; it can only get better from here! Rock on!