By Amy S. Cramer, J.D., LL.M.
It’s as if people don’t have enough stress today at work. Deadlines to meet. Projects to jump-start and complete. Meetings to attend and more meetings the next day. It enables the day to fly by sometimes, but it also causes concern if a meeting is held, and you didn’t know about it.
Had you attended these meetings in the past, and so you can now approach your boss or the meeting planner to clarify why you didn’t get the invitation? That’s not too difficult to handle. It’s a lot easier to address than if it’s a new project that you thought you were involved in, but you didn’t get the call to join the first meeting on that project.
When someone is left out of a meeting, it might very well mean that the best people to be involved were the ones asked to be there. That seems like a simple explanation. But as most people realize, the simple explanation is not usually the one that satisfies. Politics at work exists, and it can be complicated. The more people in a company and the more structured its organizational chart is, the more challenging it may be to get noticed or to be invited to participate in a project, especially an exciting one.
So, what can you do if you are left out of a meeting that you thought you would be asked to attend? No matter what the reason is, the first thought should always be, “don’t panic.” Panicking about issues not within one’s control is a reaction that can only create potential problems. It is about control, and unfortunately, most of the time, one person does not have complete control in an organization.
If you can make it past the panic part, the next step should be to do some research. In fact, maybe the research should have been done even before the first meeting invitations were sent. Researching might require taking some deep breaths and asking your boss the question – why wasn’t I included? The answer might not be what you want to hear, but you can learn from it.
Research might also involve reaching out to a colleague who was asked to the meeting that you weren’t involved in. Try to be sure that it’s someone who knows you well and with whom you have worked in the past. That bodes well for receiving a reply that is on target and clear. Of course, you still may not be able to understand why you didn’t get the call, especially if you and your colleague do similar types of jobs.
Overall, not receiving the email about one meeting is usually not grounds for panic. If this becomes a pattern, then perhaps there could be more to it. And then, it may make sense to do some serious consideration about what has been happening to your role within an organization. Again, the daily grind of meetings, memos and projects can overwhelm a person’s clarity concerning where their role is headed. And sometimes, people are afraid to confront the potential that they are not meeting expectations at work.
The real issue is whether you would LIKE to be included or whether you SHOULD be included in the meeting. Prepare your case if you feel you SHOULD be there and approach your supervisor about it calmly and confidently. Take the emotion out of the situation as best as you can. At the same time, though, be aware of how you are doing in the eyes of your boss, especially if it’s close to review time on the calendar.
Seeking some counsel from a legal advisor before going to your boss is a good idea, especially if you are not as confident in your position as you may have once been. If there has been a flurry of bad activity at your workplace – loss of clients, layoffs, financial instability – the tension intensifies and the concept of “everyone for himself” is probably playing out daily. If you aren’t exactly sure what your next steps should be, having a professional share with you what your rights are as an employee should be on your agenda.
At the same time, keeping a log of what your recent accomplishments have been as well as noting any projects that didn’t go so well should be something you are doing regularly. Finding the time to do this self-examination may be a challenge, but if you are sensing something is not proceeding as it has in your successful past, then it is a challenge you will need to face and address.
Having detailed notes about your work history at the organization will be a valuable tool for a lawyer to have as he or she evaluate your options. Be truthful in this evaluation. Facing uncertainty in your work is not a good time to create uncertainty about your work activity as you are describing it to someone, like a lawyer, who will be your advocate.
It will also be useful for your legal advisor to have details about your benefits and whether you have a separate severance agreement with your employer. Keep aware at work whether people are leaving and listen for rumors in the workplace. That doesn’t mean that you should participate in those rumors, but you should be on the lookout and listening for comments from management. It’s hard to imagine that being left out of one meeting would really result in a huge issue related to your employment. It might be a huge blow to your ego. But being left out of meetings or not being included on conference calls from time to time are generally not terrible unless they become a pattern. Then, watching out for “Number One” should be your priority and trying to determine what is happening to you or to your employer is important.