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My boss wants me to flatter my nasty coworker

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

On Friday my female boss told me I needed to "stroke the ego" of a male co-worker. Make him feel important.. then he will puff up his chest and strut around and all will be forgiven.

This was because I forwarded an email the male employee had sent to me. He sent me a hostile email, berating me for doing my job correctly, but not the way he wanted it done. This man is not my supervisor.

No word that he should apologize to me. I'm so angry that I gathered all my personal items and am thinking of calling an attorney.

I wouldn't bother calling an attorney because this isn't patently illegal. It's definitely a bad move by your boss, but not an illegal one unless this is a small part of a larger pattern of gender discrimination. On its face, the situation is that you have a coworker who is a first-class jerk. Your boss values his work. She wants to keep him happy, and she knows that you can accomplish this by making him feel important.

It sounds awful, but it's not worth quitting a job. Where would that leave you? With feelings of self-righteousness, sure, but unemployed and stuck with a very difficult job search ahead. How do you explain why you left your last job? "So, I had this coworker who was a jerk, and my boss told me to make him feel important and stroke his ego and she didn't tell him to apologize and so I quit!" That will not go over well in a hiring situation.

Unless the person interviewing you happened to know your jerky coworker personally, this kind of statement is going to make her assume that the problem is you. The fear will be that you can't handle anything slightly upsetting or out of the ordinary, and the company will be afraid that you'll sue them at the drop of a hat. No one (and I mean no one) wants that type of person on staff. It's far easier to not hire someone than it is to deal with a later lawsuit.

Now, what should your boss have done? She should have spoken to this employee (assuming she also supervises him, if not, she should speak to his boss) and reminded him that he doesn't supervise you and that you are doing your job as you are supposed to. But she didn't. Instead she threw the problem back on you and told you to suck up to this guy. 

At this point, I fully agree that you should consider this a big red flag that your manager isn't going to solve problems or deal with problematic employees, and you should start looking for a new job. But in the meantime, you need to come to work and get along with this guy and with your supervisor. So ask yourself, why is she protecting him? What kind of work does he do that makes him so valuable? Is there any merit in doing things the way he does them?

Not because this guy deserves respect -- he doesn't -- but because your boss is still your boss. She determines your raise. She's going to get phone calls asking for references for you. It's not him that's important, it's her. So give some consideration to how you want to be remembered by your employer.

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