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Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers/Conflicting Performance Reviews


Dear Dr. Bruce,

First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I will try to make it brief.

Long story short, I am 26 yr old and received my annual performance review by my supervisor where I averaged a 3.5-4 out of 5. I was explicitly told by this supervisor that my hard work is "appreciated". But when I went through the same performance review with HR, I was basically told that said supervisor considered me "underqualified" and that I should consider other positions in the company.

Now this bothers me in 2 ways: 1) in this company horizontal transfer is virtually non-existent. You either leave the company or get promoted vertically. For them to transfer me as suggested would permanantly damage my career track; and 2) walking into HR with false confidence only to be told off threw me completely off-guard. I didn't have a chance to prepare my defense and I'm sure I looked pretty bad to HR for not seeing it coming, and that probably damaged my prospect even more.

Maybe my supervisor just didn't have the guts to tell it to my face, or maybe HR was downright putting words in his mouth. It seems the only way to be sure is ask him directly. But I don't know how to do this diplomatically.

I will probably write an email asking him to personally confirm whether or not he had expressed to HR that he was letting me go, and with his confirmation I shall start searching for alternate employment. Should I also mention that I felt betrayed that he would let me find out via HR? And regardless, where do you suppose I should go from there?

Thank you and regards,

Hi Chris,

Many thanks for clarifying your situation.

Let's take a few steps back and look at this from a different perspective.

In the West, and because of its history I'm assuming that Hong Kong falls into that category, there has been a revolution in the workplace. The rumblings probably began in the 1960s and the banana hit the fan in about 1984 when companies across the world told their employees that they no longer had a job for life. Those of us in organisational psychology called it the "breaking of the psychological contract."

That contract was unwritten, but the gist of it was that if you went to work, did your best, kept your hand out of the till, and didn't chase the secretaries, then you could expect to have a 40 year in the company and retire with a comfortable pension at the end. It was like that for most of the 20th century.

Now, everyone knows they don't have a job for life, but the memories that they used to, or their parents did more or less still makes us imagine that our careers are tied up in one company, and that the only job change we can ever make is up. That's no longer true either. Most people nowadays can except to have three or four careers, often in entirely different fields, and change jobs a dozen times or more in their working lives.

And what that means in a practical sense is the you have to manage your own career. Your company won't do it for you.

So from the perspective the perspective of everything I've just said, you have to think about what your options might be if you were starting from a clean slate. In fact, every time you change jobs, you're in effect starting over. And that's because careers within one company will become less and less common as time goes along.

One of the things that you really have going for you is your command of English. It may not seem like much, but the language of business is English. The other thing that you really have going for you is that you speak Chinese as well. That's a fairly rare combination. To be conversant and literate in the languages of the two biggest economies in the world makes you quite unique; and you ought to think about how you could do something that would allow you to draw on both.

I can tell you as someone who doesn't speak or read Chinese, that most of those who try to write in English can't. They can communicate the gist of what they want to say, but it isn't correct English, and it stands out a mile. So you have a real skill, and you shouldn't discount that.

The second thing, and I'll admit that I'm guessing here, is that you may have British citizenship, or at least you might be at liberty to emigrate there. And I can understand that you may love HK and not want to do that. But, it's an option that you ought to include in your plans.

Now with all that out of the way, let's go back to thinking about your current job situation.

When you realize that you probably weren't going to have a career with your current company anyway, then move a job move that's horizontal stops being an issue. Admittedly, it will wound your pride. And I can understand that. I'm not minimising that for a moment. But, sideways job moves can be a bit like reaching a landing at the top of the stairs and finding that you go down the hallway on the left or the one on the right.

If you have no immediate job prospects right now, then I'd be inclined to tell you to take the sideways move. The company will think they've won. What they don't realise is that you've won. And the reason is that you are using them to make a career transition, whereas they are thinking that they've prevented you from advancing in your career. But since your career isn't with them anyway, it doesn't matter. (Do you see the irony and even the humour in this?)

Now think how your options open up by you taking a sideways move. You just have to do your best in it. Now you're not bucking for a promotion. Instead you're using the new post as a base that will pay your bills while you look for something else. In other words, the new job will pay for your job search. How funny is that!

Another thing you could think about is starting your own business. And there's no rush. You don't have to come up with something tomorrow. Just start mulling the idea over in your head. See if you think of something that requires almost no capital. This where a lot of people come unstuck. They start thinking offices, cars, equipment, and of course all that costs money.

But think of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs who with a friend built that first Apple computer in their garage. Or Mrs Fields baking cookies in her kitchen. Or Henry Ford fiddling with a carburetor on his kitchen table while his wife fed petrol into it with a small eyedrop syringe.

What could you do?

One last thing. Forget the recriminations. It doesn't matter what your boss said or thought. It doesn't matter if he knew or didn't. It doesn't matter what HR said. You'll only become bitter if you dwell on this. And you need have a clear head so that you can think objectively about what to do. And I'll tell you that this isn't easy either. It requires a lot of mental discipline.

So to sum up, take stock of the unique combination of talents and skills you have, recognise that the lateral job change you're being offered is a way of paying you to make a career transition, and then start from there to either get a job somewhere else (in HK, Britain, or elsewhere), or start your own business. And let me just add that if you do start looking around, don't tell anyone. It's no one's business but your own. And if they think that you are, it won't make life any easier for you until you do.

You're 26 years old. You are at the beginning of your working life. You've hit a little bump in your career expectations. Think about what I've said and workaround it.

A final thought. I interviewed Bill Liao (entrepreneur, diplomat, venture capitalist, author, etc) last year. He said that you should decide what you want your future to be. He said that if you don't know what it will be, then "make it up!"

Is it an old Chinese proverb that says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step?

Decide the direction of your journey, and then take one step and then another and then another. Your torch can only shine on the next step.  

Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers

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Dr Bruce Hoag, CPsychol AFBPsS


How to retain top talent.
How to make your employees more productive
How to manage people across different cultures
How to make yourself more valuable to your current employer
How to manage your boss
How to become more employable


Co-wrote (with Professor Cary L Cooper, CBE) Managing Value-Based Organizations: It's Not What You Think, published in 2006.

Academy of Management, British Psychological Society

Leadership & Organization Development Journal,

PhD, Organizational Psychology, Manchester Business School

Awards and Honors
Chartered Occupational Psychologist & Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society; Ezines Expert Author

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