What To Do When Your Supervisor Subverts Your Work

April 10, 2017

By Ellen Badger, Editor

This month’s Advice From The Field column is authored by Sue Marlay, past-coordinator of NAFSA’s Phase II Member Interest Group. Sue offers strategies for dealing with a difficult supervisor.

Q: I am in a very challenging situation due to a supervisor who takes credit for the work of others, has favorites, and criticizes more than praises. Many of my office colleagues feel the same way. Due to family considerations, I can’t relocate. What are my options?

A: Sue Marlay

This is indeed a challenging situation, especially given your inability to relocate. Nonetheless, you are not totally without options.

The first step in these difficult circumstances is to document the problems in written form. Keep a log, and be very specific. How has the supervisor’s favoritism towards some of your colleagues manifested itself? On what occasions has the supervisor taken credit for someone else’s work? Have there been any instances of harassment? What effect has all of this had on morale and productivity? Who among your colleagues inside and outside of your office can substantiate your claims and vouch for you?

With this information in hand, you are prepared to discuss the matter. If you are not comfortable approaching your supervisor, you can meet with the supervisor’s supervisor, alone or with other office colleagues. Another option is to meet with someone in human resources or, where available, the ombudsman. In any case, you should have an idea of exactly what assistance you are expecting from them. Would you like them to speak with your supervisor about the problems? Are you requesting that they schedule a meeting with everyone in question to air grievances and outline possible solutions?

It is unrealistic to think that your supervisor will get fired. Ideally, with outside parties involved, the situation should improve. But there is the possibility that this state of affairs will remain the same or might even deteriorate. Should you find yourself in an intolerable or hostile work environment, you will need to decide if you are willing to take more drastic measures. You can file a grievance against your supervisor or hire an attorney, particularly if harassment is involved. Remember though, that there is no policy or law against simply being a “bad boss.”

A more expedient option might be to look for employment in a different office at your institution or organization that is still related to international education. If you work in international student services, consider a position in the English language program, the education abroad office, or international admissions. Perhaps you can find a job in residence life assisting with international student housing or in counseling services helping with adjustment issues. There may be other positions in your community that are also connected to or involved with international education. And in this day and age, there are many opportunities to telecommute regardless of your field.

Of course, you could always throw in the towel and give up entirely. But, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that! Bad bosses seem to move on, sometimes sooner rather than later. In the meantime, continue doing your absolute best and start keeping that log!

Have a question? It may appear in a future column! Submit your questions to jr@nafsa.org


"Advice from the Field" is a bi-monthly online column that offers trusted career and professional development advice for international educators at all levels. The column is a joint initiative of NAFSA’s Phase II Member Interest Group (MIG) and the NAFSA Career Center, and is edited by Ellen Badger, past-coordinator of the Phase II MIG. For additional career resources, visit www.nafsa.org/careercenter.


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