my boss gave me a choice of offices, but is punishing me for the one I chose

A reader writes:

I have recently interviewed for and received a new promotion. It is an auditing position in the compliance department in a bank. (A little background on the compliance department in a bank for those who don’t know: we are responsible for testing the bank’s practices and procedures to make sure we/they are complying with all the laws and regulations set down by the government.) This promotion has come with a private office and, as the building is currently undergoing some remodeling I was told I could choose from the 2 offices available. The first office is of fairly good size, and right next to my new manager’s office. It was, however, originally a supply closet and it does not have any windows or air movement at all. The second is slightly smaller, on the other side of the building and contains a window that I would be able to open to let a breeze in every now and then (which is very important to me).

Naturally, I chose the second option solely because of the window and have since moved in. This seems to have upset my manager and she has begun passive aggressively making comments about the other office “not being good enough for me”. She is now expecting me to come see her to ‘check in’ when I come in every day and before I leave each night. As far as I know, this has never been required for the position in the past and is perceived as new and kind of ridiculous by other people that work with me. Based on my job description, we are supposed to be in the same department but not directly involved in the specific work we each are doing. This allows us to test each other without being biased. It’s hard to know exactly what her role as my manager is supposed to be, because while she can approve or disapprove leave requests, she isn’t supposed to be involved in any of my work. It seems like a flawed system from the get go. But, because she’s my boss, I walk from one side of the building to another, just to let her know I am going home. She doesn’t even look up to say goodbye and barely acknowledges me, despite requesting me to do this every day.

She is condescending, takes forever to get back to me about questions I have, and it has gotten back to me from others that she’s been telling people she isn’t sure if I should be working in compliance at all.

Considering all of the hassle I seem to be getting since choosing the office farther away from her (previous to this, she seemed very amenable and conscientious to me for the year I worked at the bank before moving to her department), should I just suck it up and move to the window-less office next to hers (where she obviously would prefer me to be)? Why was I given a choice if I didn’t really have one at all? And, how do I tell the office manager that I decided I want the other office instead? Won’t that make me look flaky to all of the other “important” people (i.e. the C.E.O, President, etc.) I work around?

Your manager is ridiculous. If it was important to her that you be located closer to her, she should have simply assigned you the office next to hers — rather than presenting you with a choice where only one option was going to be acceptable to her.

But it looks pretty clear that she would rather have your office closest to her — whether it’s so that she feels like she has a general sense of when you’re there and when you’re not or for some other reason, who knows. But she does, clearly. As for why she didn’t tell you that originally, I have no idea. Maybe she’s a fuzzy thinker (many people are) and hadn’t fully thought it through and then was annoyed when you made a choice that to her is clearly the wrong one. Maybe she plays mind games. Maybe something else happened, and this isn’t about your office choice at all, but rather a reaction to something else. Or maybe she’s just volatile. I can’t tell from here — but I can say for sure that she’s not handling this well at all, and right now she has enormous power over your job security.

And the reality is, it’s probably more to your advantage to maintain good relations with her than it is to have a window. So if I were you, I’d go back to her and say one of the following two things:

1. The direct approach: “Jane, I’m getting the sense that you’re unhappy that I chose the office further away. I picked it just because it had a window, but if it’s causing problems, I’d be glad to switch.”

2. The less direct approach, to be used if you think the first approach will just trigger more mind games from her: “I have the sense this might work better if my office was closer to you. I’d thought I really wanted a window, but I’d be willing to forego that to make sure that you’re able to spot me when you need me. Would it be a hassle if I picked the closer office after all?”

In general, direct is better, but if you’re dealing with someone who won’t respond well to it (and you know better than me if that’s the case here), the second approach could be more effective.

Now, obviously, her behavior isn’t okay and indicates that something is Not Right with her — with her head and with her managerial abilities. So I think you’ve got to assume that this isn’t going to be last craziness you encounter from her and start thinking about what that means for your interest in and longevity in the position. But for now, if your priority is repairing the relationship — at least to give you some time to decide if you want to continue working for this loon — then that’s the safest path.

And I wouldn’t worry about how changing offices looks to others. You can say it worked out better to be closer to your manager, and no one is going to think much of it. That’s the least of the worries I’d have in this situation.

Speaking of worries you should have …. she’s telling people she’s not sure you should be working in your field. That’s a big deal, coming from your boss. That’s definitely a bigger deal than the office question. That’s an indicator that you might have an awful lot of trouble progressing under this particular manager — or even holding onto your job at all. So I’d get this office question out of the way and start focusing more on whether this is a relationship that can/will work for you at all.

Good luck.

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