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Ask The Expert : How can I best deal with my manager’s change of mood?

This article’s expert was Martin Faiers

Our team has been under considerable pressure for the last six months and it seems to have caused a change in our manager.  He has become withdrawn and we hardly see him apart from when he gives us yet more work.  Other team members seem to be coping but I am finding things increasingly difficult.  I am a single parent juggling childcare, school run etc and do not feel this is being taken into account.

I suggest initially, that you take steps to regain your former positivity. This will help you to step back a little from immediate pressures and plan how to address your work situation in a constructive way.

Firstly, it sounds as though you are managing a very busy home and work life. I wonder if you are fully recognising your achievements in this respect and giving yourself a positive mental pat on the back. If you find it difficult to do this in the present, why not go back to the last time you felt confident and accomplished and remind yourself about this.  It’s easy for these things to get lost when you are under pressure.

You may also like to check whether you are allowing any negative thoughts to undermine you.  If so, it is often useful to identify and reframe these in a more positive way.  This is an important part of our Resilience courses when we help delegates to develop “realistic optimism”.

Examples here (which could well be relevant given your description) could be to substitute the thought “I am not coping in this situation” with something like “This is affecting the team as a whole and is not solely my problem”.  Another variation could be to replace “I am being let down by others” with “This is an opportunity to make people aware of issues and address them”.  Remember that reframing thoughts in this way requires practice and repetition.

It could also be helpful to review the balance between your work and personal life to see whether you need to re-establish any boundaries to ring-fence time for yourself and your family.  I wonder also whether you are reserving at least some time exclusively for yourself – perhaps meeting with friends or undertaking an activity or hobby. This can be like water in a desert when you are facing multiple demands from others.

When you have done this, I suggest you will be better equipped to consider the following options to address your work related issues.  These are not in priority order and could be pursued consecutively.

Firstly I wonder what your evidence is that everyone except yourself is coping?  I know from my own work with teams under pressure that people sometimes give an appearance of coping when this is very far from true. This is particularly the case where there is a lack of leadership, or where the team culture is a competitive one.

It might be worth checking this out and seeing whether there is any basis for addressing the work pressures on a team basis.  If so this would have to be approached very constructively with your manager, who appears to be responding to his own pressures by withdrawal. Don’t rule out, however, that he may be relieved by an opportunity to open up discussion with the team.

A second option would be to seek a one-to-one meeting with your manager to address your situation.  This is your entitlement as an employee and his responsibility as your line manager.  Again, this would have to be planned carefully, constructively, and at a place and time away from work pressures.  It would be also helpful to think through in advance all the ways you are currently contributing to the workload of the team, but also what is your reasonable “bottom line” as a worker with family responsibilities.

A third option would be to consider approaching your human resources department who can sometimes be extremely supportive in providing specialist advice and/or internal mediation.  It may be helpful to bear in mind here that all employers have a duty of care towards their employees and a legal responsibility to address stress related issues in the workplace.  In a similar way local union representatives (where they exist) can be a constructive source of advice and mediation, particularly where there is potential for work-based stress.

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