Blog confidential: Unacceptable surveillance

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online

July 1, 2010

This week: Unacceptable surveillance

I wrote in a few weeks ago about my new academic manager who is rather frenetic in her manner and also condescendingly assumptive about situations she comes across (I gave an example of her reaction to finding a colleague and I having a discussion in the post room). A range of individuals made comments online, but I just decided to keep things to myself and carry on.

However, matters have got worse. She has phoned me seven times at home in the past 10 days. On three of these occasions it was after 8pm and she just had to tell me she was still in work. However, matters escalated a few days ago when I was marking assignments at home on the patio. It was a beautiful day, but I was working. I heard the back gate open and thought it was my son returning home early from school (he is in the middle of exams and gets a great deal of revision time). But no, it was my academic manager walking into my back garden. Fortunately, I was there with a wad of assignments, so with clear evidence that I was working.

My immediate reaction was "what on earth are you doing here?". She replied in her unimpressive way: "So you're not watching the tennis then?" I don't even like sport! I immediately replied: "How dare you barge into my house unannounced" (my voice was raised at this point). She looked rather defensive at this response from me, which was completely out of character, and said she was "just passing" and "thought she would call in for a cup of tea". I was still very angry and stated: "As you can see, I don't have time for tea."

She left as quickly as she arrived. I feel terrible about my response but I don't want to apologise. This, along with the numerous calls she has made to my home, has left me feeling very upset. The whole team feels the same but, as Margot said, it's OK for them to say they will support you, but then when you seek that support you're just left on your own. I'm also writing this as the emergency Budget is being announced - 25 per cent cutbacks. I do not want to be involved in a grievance in the middle of a period when they are looking for staff to get rid of.

I think things have gone too far with this manager - it seems obvious to me she is acting in ways that are wholly inappropriate. This said, you do need to take care. Should you take out a grievance you are likely to come off worst - and what do you actually have?

I would play her at her own game, invite her round for a cup of tea when you are working from home again, apologise for your reaction the other day when she called at your house, explain you were under a great deal of pressure to meet your marking deadlines. You could talk to the union, but document everything. Don't listen to those who would will you on to take out a grievance - remember the experiences of the bullied blogger (you can access these online). I am not trying to put you off, but the present economic climate is not one for heroes, I'm afraid.

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