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Ask HR: Resigning from a Retaliatory Manager

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 


I have a retaliatory manager who scrutinizes my work to the extreme. I suspect he is tampering with my e-mails and deleting information to discredit my work. I filed an incident report with IT in hopes that they will investigate any intrusion into my e-mails. How can I negotiate my resignation? I am tired of fighting to stay where I am not wanted, and it is taking a toll on my health and mental well-being. – Gary

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: People pour so much of themselves into their work; to have it unfairly characterized can be tremendously frustrating and disheartening. Before addressing the negotiation of resignation, you should understand that the behavior of an overbearing micromanager—while extremely destructive—is not illegal. However, retaliating against an employee for exercising their rights under the law could be.

While I don't know the details of the retaliatory behavior, if it stems from you doing something legal, like filing a workers' compensation claim or a sexual harassment complaint, you should immediately bring your concern to HR. HR will generally conduct an investigation to determine if any wrongdoings have or are occurring. Depending on the circumstances, HR may suggest you work separately from your manager or take leave while the investigation is ongoing. Or they could have your manager take leave. Prior to the conclusion of the investigation, it would be your decision whether to resign.

Should you decide to resign, review your company policies to ensure you're adhering to the requirements (giving notice, providing a letter, etc.). Most people just offer vague explanations of their reasons for leaving, but if you choose to disclose anything, make sure to do so in a constructive, professional manner. Additionally, offering to assist with the transition of your responsibilities during your notice period is typically well-received. Be prepared, though, because your employer may decide not to allow you to work through your notice period. On your last day, you might have an opportunity to meet with HR and complete an exit interview. This may be a good opportunity to provide additional details about your resignation. Again, you'll want to maintain professionalism. HR will likely take your feedback into account and provide coaching to your manager.

As you move on to interview for new positions, refrain from disparaging your former manager. Prospective employers often view complaining as a red flag that a candidate may cause issues for them later down the road. Stay positive, focusing on the reasons why you are interested in the new position and how you fit into the role.

Should I be tailoring my cover letter to each job I apply to or will a single generic one work? – Raheem

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: When conducting a job search, your first aim should be to make your candidacy stand out in the selection process. Tailoring your cover letter to each position accomplishes this initial objective.

Hiring managers can easily identify which cover letters are generic because they usually do not mention the company or the position to which you're applying. A cover letter customized for each role you apply to will better distinguish you from the other candidates in the applicant pool.

Your cover letter should complement your resume. Resumes are straightforward, filled with employment facts and qualifications, whereas customized cover letters provide an additional opportunity for you to shine and differentiate yourself from other applicants. Cover letters should emphasize the value of the experience outlined in your resume.

Remember, you are seeking a potential match between your skills and personality to an organization's compensation and work environment. A customized cover letter helps to start the "courtship" between you and the prospective company. It sends the signal that you are truly interested in the organization and explains why you might be a potential fit.

While you don't have to create a completely new cover letter each time, make sure you tailor the letter to showcase your relevant qualifications and accomplishments and note how they will be an asset in the specific position you're seeking.

Hiring managers look for people who will not only be a good fit but will also be invested in their company for an extended period of time. Including a tailored cover letter in your application can go a long way toward demonstrating potential value and fit for an organization.

I wish you much success in your search and your career.