One day you’re meeting your boss after work for happy hour drinks, the next, you’re trying to recover from yet another one of his diatribes. It’s true that work’s gotten busier in recent weeks, but you’re keeping up and more than meeting expectations. You, therefore, have no idea why your previously friendly manager has suddenly started pulling rank, treating you with less than respect, or acting completely standoffish.
While being in a consistent good mood’s unrealistic, dealing with someone’s ups-and-downs is never any fun. Instead of freaking out that you’re about to lose your job because your supervisor’s decided overnight he doesn’t like you or the work you’ve been doing, slow down, take a step back, and recognize that there’s probably a bigger picture at play here.
In fact, your manager might be dealing with any number of stressful things that are now trickling down to you in his tone or attitude.
1. She Got Negative Feedback
You can’t remember the last time she cracked a joke, and while she’s not exactly known as the office comedian, she does have a quick wit. But these days, she barely registers a smile.
Her focused and withdrawn attitude, while out of character, is not an attack on you. Her weirdness is not a result of anything you did or said (particularly if you haven’t received any recent criticisms on your work), but, rather, a result of something not-so-great going on with her. Getting a poor performance assessment or a talking-to from one of the higher-ups is one viable explanation.
Assuming her attitude will pass, occupy yourself with co-workers who are feeling good about life. Don’t make the mistake of getting bogged down in her discontentment.
2. His Boss Is Stressed Out
After an intense series of meetings with his manager, your boss has returned to his desk looking distraught. When you approach him about something he snaps, and when he’s not buried in the project files, he’s checking in on you every five minutes to ask for updates. Stress begets stress. He can’t help but feel his morale plummet and stress levels rise when his supervisor’s anxious.
Now the pressure he’s feeling is being passed down to you because that’s the only way he knows how to deal with it. Try having a conversation with him; inquire as to whether there’s anything you can do to help.
3. She’s Facing a Restructuring
Word from upper management is that the company’s restructuring, and what that corporate jargon means for your manager is that she’s got a tough decision to make. She may have been told that she can only keep two of the five team members, and even though she values all of you, she may have no choice but to downsize the group.
And while hard decisions are being made, it makes sense that she’d inadvertently act a little cold. If there’s absolutely no way of you getting the information you need to figure out your next move, give yourself a timeline: How long are you willing to be on pins and needles? It’s OK if you decide that it’s not working for you and it’s time for a new job.
4. Your Team Isn’t Meeting Goal
You’re all responsible for the goals the company sets, but as a person in charge of several employees, you can bet your manager feels this weight more than you.
In a lot of organizations, when the team doesn’t meet the goal, the person blamed is the leader of that team. Your boss may be worried about losing his job or even just stressed about an impending difficult conversation with his supervisor. He doesn’t know how to act all cheerful like he normally is when the magnitude of this goal thing looms so large.
If you suspect this is the reason for the changed demeanor, let him know that you’re doubling-down on your efforts and express confidence that the team’s going to get there.
5. She’s Job Searching
Whether she’s been ducking out of the office at random hours, canceling your weekly meetings, and suggesting you email her with questions instead, there’s no denying the fact that there’s something strange going on.
Your usual morning chats, once the a highlight of your day, have been replaced by a mere “Good morning.” after which she hides behind her computer screen for the rest of the day. If your supervisor’s in search of a new role, it’s an excellent explanation for her distance.
While she’s in this state of limbo, she’s going to keep you at arm’s length. Don’t take it personally. And don’t assume the worst: It’s possible that a new manager could be a weak substitution for your awesome boss, but it’s also possible that her replacement could be even better. Of course, you don’t have to stick around if the change is one that makes you miserable at your job.
Obviously, some of these scenarios are worse than others. But one thing is true of all of them: You have choices. If the department’s being restructured, and you’re facing a layoff, you can look at this as your opportunity to pursue a new role (maybe one with a higher salary and better perks). If your boss is continuing to be rude, you can speak up or seek out a trusted friend or person in HR; being disrespected at work doesn’t have to be tolerated.
You also always have the option of asking your manager what’s going on in hopes of getting some clarity. It’s as easy as saying, “I’ve noticed that my work’s been getting a lot more feedback than usual/we’re not communicating as well as we used to and I wanted to see if there’s any reason why.”
Obviously, not all managers will respond well to this line of questioning (and you probably have a sense of if yours will). But you might also gain some clarity on what can be a very confusing situation.
Just remember at the end of the day, it’s not you this will help you get through what’s surely an uncomfortable situation.
TopicsSucceeding on the Job , Bosses , Career Advice , Work Relationships , Communication , Syndication
Photo of boss being weird courtesy of JohnnyGreig/Getty Images.
Stacey Lastoe is the Senior Editor/Writer of The Muse. She started writing short stories in the second grade and is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write and edit professionally. Her work has appeared in YouBeauty, Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Runner's World online, and The Billfold among other publications. She enjoys running and eating in equal measure and lives with her husband and dog in Brooklyn. All three of them are avid New York Mets fans. Say hello on @stacespeaks.More from this Author