I hit my manager in an email to a colleague… and my boss found out

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SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, answers questions from HR as part of a series for United States today. Questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have an HR or professional question that you would like him to answer? Submit it here.

In a moment of frustration, I wrote my colleague an email to mention my manager. She then forwarded it to my boss. There was nothing incriminating, but I wasn’t the nicest in my rating. How can I move forward? —Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr .: Let’s start with the big takeaway: It’s never a good idea to react reactively to a momentary feeling of frustration. This is especially true at work, where such behavior can damage professional reputation and career paths.

When you take the time to step back and filter your feelings before speaking, your response will sound solid and it will look much more professional and mature. Hope you have learned and forgiven for this misstep (it happens!). But I also hope you realize that this story is not over yet. How you solve problems – within yourself and with your colleagues, your manager and your boss – is of paramount importance to your career and your corporate culture.

First of all, I recommend that you speak with your manager one-on-one as soon as possible. Explain the context of your email to give your boss the opportunity to understand what caused the initial frustration. However, be careful not to make excuses for your behavior. I don’t know what you said, but it would probably also be wise to apologize (assuming you felt genuine remorse or regret for what you said). They may be just words, but words have power.

Ideally, this can catalyze a productive exchange, and the two of you can move forward without complaining. To show your willingness to change your ways, consider how you might openly discuss issues when disputes arise in the future.

I also recommend speaking with your colleague. Tell him the email was supposed to be confidential and try to understand what prompted him to forward it. And, just like your conversation with your manager, keep the conversation going with your college colleague.

Another thought: if your boss is not the same person as your manager, you should also speak with your boss. I am adding this point because it is not clear, given the wording of your question. But if I were you I would play damage control to the best of my ability speaking with anyone in the know.

Finally, and I just want to be honest, you should probably refine your CV. One of the fundamental principles of the employee / employer relationship is mutual trust. Because of what you’ve written, your boss is unlikely to trust you and start looking for your replacement. The point is, your actions can have negative consequences

Whatever the outcome, the next time you feel frustrated or overwhelmed, take a second. Breathe, take a break, go for a walk. Or if ventilation helps, do it, but first check that your confidant is not somehow connected to your work network.

I imagine the fallout is uncomfortable or difficult to navigate. But approached with the right attitude and a genuine desire to make amends, your workplace will forgive or forget, and you will learn and grow in the process.

I wish you the best.

Question: I went to college for a few years, but didn’t graduate due to financial and personal issues. In the meantime, I have taken more courses and certifications online in my field, but I’m concerned that my lack of a degree will reflect poorly on my resume and during interviews. Any advice on how to navigate this?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr .: If I’ve learned anything as a CEO, it’s that every employee has a unique journey and story. And I want to be very clear: you don’t need a degree to be incredibly successful in this life.

We all have to start somewhere. And even if you feel like you’ve just started, you’re on the right track. With a few years of college education under your belt and additional courses and certifications, you have laid the foundation for your career.

Plus, not all jobs require a college degree. As the cost of a college education has skyrocketed and student loan debt has risen, many people can understand the financial hardships you have faced.

And, increasingly, employers are seeking work experience instead of a degree, even going so far as to remove the degree as a prerequisite for certain entry-level positions.

I encourage you to use the time of your interview to let employers understand why your outside experience makes you the no one for the job. Leverage your skills and individual expertise as an asset to the organization. Highlight the courses and certifications you have completed, as well as your relevant work experience and, most importantly, highlight the strengths of your character and personality. Sometimes these intangible qualities in you weigh infinitely more than some references on paper ever could.

If the position you’re looking for requires a degree, discuss your options with the hiring manager. For example, would this employer consider you a candidate if you graduate within a specified time frame? In the meantime, keep your options open and don’t forget to consider jobs without these requirements as well.

After all, you might land an opportunity that will advance your career. and offers the flexibility you need to graduate.

Remember: be yourself. Your worth does not depend on having a degree. You have strengths, skills and experience. Know them, own them, continue to refine them, and be strategic in how you use them. Over time, things will fall into place.


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