update: I think my manager tampered with my drinking water

Remember the letter-writer who thought her new manager had tampered with her drinking water? Here’s the update.

It turns out that I was wrong about my drink being tampered with. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a similar taste in my water bottle and she’s been out on medical leave. But it has been in the back of my head what a couple of your readers mentioned about saliva getting into the bottled water and contaminating the freshness. But the boundary issues are still there; she still grows through my desk and files, snooping or just taking them out of my desk and not telling me. Than I go to find something and it’s gone. I’ll mention to her that someone has been in my desk, etc. and the file will show up a few days later.

They were in the process of addressing issues caused by her lack of management skills. She’s being required to have some type of counseling or coaching to address how she talks to people. She has a history of improving after being called on the carpet than reverting back to her mode of operation after a couple of months of behaving. I have been using Outlook Journal to document things as they happen. But things will never improve because she knows I went to HR and upper management.

My six-month evaluation was interesting. Actually quite good but there were quite a few slight complaints that she made that were never discussed with me prior to the evaluation. They were not work performance problems per se, things like putting papers in one place and not another. We are not getting raises this year, so I am not too worried about it.

The screaming fits stopped after I told someone I was going start recording them with my cell. I told the largest gossip in the building, knowing it would get back to her. She comes into my office and looks to see where my cell phone is. It’s not a lack of control if she can stop her behavior. I am the only person who she didn’t ask to do for her on a personal basis while she was in the hospital or run errands when she returned home and was unable to drive for a short period. Her medical leave has made me realize why she doesn’t care for me. She likes only the people that she uses, which makes it easier to grasp the situation but I still want out of there.

I am still job hunting, but it’s been slow going because there are only so many positions opening, with the talk of a hiring freeze starting in 2015.

{ 144 comments… read them below }

  1. Michelle

    OP, you mentioned in your previous post that your boss is passive-aggressive. Telling the office gossip something in the hopes that it will get back to someone else is a hallmark of passive-aggressive behavior. Perhaps the toxic environment is wearing off on you, or perhaps you’re bringing some of it to the table yourself.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      I raised an eyebrow at that myself.

      I wish OP luck in finding an environment that better suits her.

    2. JB

      Eh, I wouldn’t really call that passive-aggressive. She’s not using passive-seeming behavior to get her way , like someone who lays on guilt trips and then says “Oh, I didn’t mean it!” or someone who promises to do something but never intends to follow through. Behavior that is passive isn’t necessarily passive-aggressive. Like people who leave notes in the break room asking people to make a new pot of coffee if they take the last cup–people call that passive-aggressive because it’s not said to someone’s face, but it’s not actually passive-aggressive.

      She was planning to do something, she told one person that she was planning to do it, and she hoped that person would tell others. I guess I don’t see how that’s passive aggressive. Saying exactly what you mean is honest and direct, which is the opposite of passive-aggressive. More like a fair warning.

      1. Michelle

        If I walk up to you and say “your frequent outbursts are distracting – if you continue doing it, I will record them on my cell phone”, that’s me being honest, direct, and kind of a tool. If I walk up to Sansa and say “if Arya doesn’t stop doing that, I’m going to record her on my cell phone” in the hopes that she tells Arya, that’s passive-aggressive. It’s engaging in aggressive behavior (threatening) while standing behind a shield (passive) – so I can deny it later if Arya confronts me. “I didn’t tell Sansa that, she was clearly drunk”.

        1. Mike C.

          You do realize there is significant and undeserved risk in doing this, right? And it’s not done for later denial, it’s done to avoid a direct (and likely explosive) confrontation.

        2. Variation

          That’s a great plan for a boss who listens to reason, but I’m not sure it’s a good plan for someone who already acts erratically.

          1. some1

            How the subject reacts has nothing to do with whether or not it fits the definition of passive-aggressive.

            1. Variation

              If I lose my job because my already fickle boss doesn’t accept critique of their behaviour, that dissuades me from taking a direct approach. In this case, the boss hearing through the grapevine that there could be repercussions from their bad behaviour is a safe way to remind them that they’re not screaming in a vacuum. It also alerts them to the idea that recording might be a tactic others have deployed, or are thinking of using.

              It’s not direct, absolutely, and it’s not an ideal way to work with people (and definitely something I wouldn’t recommend to anybody), but if the lines of communication are already broken, I think it’s fair.

              I’m definitely not co-signing the rest of OP’s behaviours- they’re unprofessional and unbecoming. This is a tangible reminder for the boss to watch their tone and step up their managerial game.

      2. Observer

        OK, so she wasn’t being passive aggressive. But to call it “honest and direct” is disingenuous, at best. “Honest and direct” is when you tell someone what you need to, rather than telling someone else about it. Leaving anonymous notes and telling the office gossip so the whole office gets to hear about it is underhanded and disrespectful (not just of the target.)

    3. OP

      This environment is running off on me for sure. This place is turning me into a person I do not care for. Talking to her is something else. You can go to her one day about a concern or with a question and she tears your head off. Than two hours later she is quite understanding, agreeable and see where you are coming from if it’s a different issue. Than she’ll totally forget the conversation and either scream or be sarcastic about why I did something.

      1. Clever Name

        Ugh. It sounds like a really awful place to work. I can see how working in a place like that would mess with your head.

      2. Marcy

        This really sounds like my old boss. One day she is yelling at you for doing X and not Y so the next time the exact situation happens and you do Y like she asked, then she denies ever telling you to do Y because clearly it should have been X and you are just trying to sabotage her by lying and saying she told you to do Y. She used to brag about how she would dip her ex-husband’s toothbrush in the toilet and about how she used to take his lunch out of the fridge and let the cats lick it before putting it back (not a smart move on his part not to move out while the divorce was going on). I could totally see her messing with my food or water if I had stayed there. You need to get out of there. Even if she didn’t mess with your water, you clearly believe it to be possible for her to do something like that and it is just not worth the stress.

      3. Lisa

        Sound like this woman has Borderline Personality Disorder. My mother has it, it’s awful trying tondeal with her. There is no permanent behaviour modification, you can’t reason with them, they have inappropriate emotional reactions and do some very strange things. Hope you get a new job soon.

        1. Zillah

          Can we please not diagnose strangers based on a couple letters about their behavior on the internet? It’s honestly pretty offensive.

          1. A Non

            Agreed. It’s nonsensical to try (even people who are actually qualified to diagnose mental illness won’t try to do so from second hand accounts), and jumping from nasty behavior to ‘this person must be mentally ill’ is insulting to both the person in question and to other readers who have mental illnesses.

    4. Anonsie

      I would agree, except that there are environments and people with which behaving like a normal and sensible person is not going to work out for you. That’s why bad jobs teach you terrible habits out of self preservation, and moving to a better one always takes extra work to revert back.

      This situation sucks and I hope the LW manages to go somewhere else soon.

      1. Anon Accountant

        +1

        I think AAM did a post before on toxic environments and how the longer you stay in a toxic environment the more “normal” you begin to see the toxic behaviors. Then you get into a better job environment and it can be difficult because you have come to accept certain toxic behaviors as normal and it can be hard to break out of the mindset.

    5. Tomato Frog

      I really disagree that anything that is indirect is passive aggressive. Passive aggressive is when you indirectly punish someone for doing something you don’t like without naming or addressing your problem. OP is making sure the boss is aware of the problem, even if she’s not speaking the words to her boss. And she’s protecting herself in the process. I thought that was a pretty great idea.

    6. jamlady

      I am not a passive person, but I have plenty of them in my life. Confronting them in an active way growing up only made things worse – and you never knew it until it was too late. My sister was the queen of crazy. Luckily, she’s much better as an adult (likely because she had 2 active siblings she was forced to learn from her entire life), but others, like my mother-in-law, get just downright scary when confronted and it seemingly never ends. There’s no way to deal with some of them. Especially this particular person – sounds like there’s a lot more going on than just passive-aggressiveness. I don’t know if I would have done what the OP did (I just don’t have it in me to not directly confront people in these situations), but I can understand why she did.

  2. KerryOwl

    I am the only person who she didn’t ask to do for her on a personal basis while she was in the hospital or run errands when she returned home and was unable to drive for a short period.

    I can’t tell whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s a good thing, right? You are gratified that she’s not asking you to run personal errands? It’s possible she asked other people to help her out because she knows you don’t like her. We don’t ask people that we don’t like to do personal favors for us.

    1. Gina

      She said 2 sentences later that the manager only likes the people she can use like that (favors. That’s usual, someone not liking the one person who stands up to them/

      1. q

        It’s hard to tell if she is actually “using” the people she asked for help. She asked, not commanded – and I would be hard pressed to not to be offended by someone assuming I was being used, when really I was just being a decent person.

        Clearly there are a lot of issues with the OP and the manager – so it makes sense not to ask them for help. But like Gina said – that’s a good thing right?

      2. KerryOwl

        Right, that’s kind of my point. She should be glad she wasn’t asked for personal favors, and instead assumes that grown-ass adults who have presumably known this other woman for some time — and quite possibly don’t mind it — are being “used.”

        1. OP

          I am happy she didn’t ask for the personal favors. Because I wasn’t looking forward to one of her tempers or the pitiful me. I have been where she’s at, living out of state with no family and have a terrible accident. She uses her direct reports to run errands of a personal nature, etc. even when she’s fully functional. A few weeks after I got hired she tried to get to run some errands after work for her, and I informed her that I do not shop downtown. She refuses to drive because she doesn’t want to pay for gas (has a car), so she tries to get people to pick her up & drop her off.

    1. Mallorie, the recruiter

      I agree. I feel bad saying that, but this letter actually makes me question the OP a lot. I don’t doubt her assessment that her manager is insane…….. but I feel like the OP is perhaps adding fuel to the fire in her own way? And the fact that this all started because she thought her boss tampered with her water just makes me concerned overall. I hope the OP is able to get a new job and just start fresh. I wonder if the bad environment overall is starting to really cloud her judgement.

      1. Nerd Girl

        I don’t know if I’d blame it one the bad enviroment. She’s been there for just over 6 months. Is that really sufficient time to allow a crazy boss to rub off this much? I have to wonder if OP didn’t come into this position with her own level of crazy from the get go. To go from “my boss is passive aggressive” to “my boss is taking things from my desk” and “I think my boss put toilet water in my water bottle” in such a short time is weird to me. I think the OP should speak to a counselor regardless of whether she leaves this job or not because I don’t see this getting better.

        1. OhNo

          Yeah, this struck me as a weird combination of things to assume. It sounds like the OP might be a little bit paranoid, to think that the boss is out to get her in such a way. I mean, it might just be that the boss *is* out to get her, but usually that’s well down the list of things you would assume based on these circumstances, not the first thing that jumps to mind.

          Definitely adding a +1 to the counseling. It never hurts, and in this case it seems like there might be some areas that it might help. If nothing else, it could help combat the stress of working in such an anxiety-inducing place.

        2. LuvzALaugh

          It seems as though OP may in fact be the problem. Not taking a really hard look at yourself when you wrongly suspect someone put toilet water in your water bottle and continuing to blame them when everyones else seems to be getting along just fine is indicitive that the problem just may be you.

          OP – not being overly harsh here, I think your perception may be the actual problem here.

          1. fposte

            I think that’s a pretty big leap unless you just want to assume nothing the OP says is true. It’s a serious problem for a manager to scream at her staff, enough of one that the manager is getting coaching for this. The OP doesn’t have to be perfect to deserve not to be screamed at.

  3. Katie the Fed

    Oof OP. I’m glad you listened to us about the water, but I feel like you’re so busy putting all the blame on your manager that you’re missing that your own behavior is probably contributing to some of the toxicity. Honestly, this isn’t normal: “The screaming fits stopped after I told someone I was going start recording them with my cell. I told the largest gossip in the building, knowing it would get back to her. She comes into my office and looks to see where my cell phone is.” Neither is the paranoia about the toilet water – this stuff is fundamentally not normal. I don’t know if it’s because of the environment or something else, but you do need to address your own thought patterns and behaviors. I would suggest working with a counselor/therapist if possible to come up with some solutions to deal with workplace stresses and frustrations more productively.

    None of that to say that HER behavior is normal either. But you can only address your own.

    1. health care anon

      +1000000

      Critical adult skill – looking into the mirror and seeing your faults and working to better yourself. Also realizing that you own a part of any relationship, personal or professional

    2. some1

      This is the second time I have read on this blog that mentioned someone thinking it’s acceptable to record a coworker to catch them doing something. Putting aside whether that’s even legal or ethical to do, what do people think they can do with a recording of their boss yelling? I doubt it would get them fired.

        1. De Minimis

          The union I once belonged to used to advise us to record phone conversations with supervisors [and possibly in-person conversations, I can’t remember.] Think the basic goal was to document the communication in case someone’s story changed later about what was said. Management pushed back and said it was a violation of policy. Don’t remember the ultimate outcome…

              1. De Minimis

                I don’t think they were to be used in court, I believe they were to be used during the grievance process. At any rate, I think management brought up that it was a violation of the policy manual [which I guess would rule even though the facility was located in a “one party” state as far as legality of recording conversations.] Think the whole thing was dropped after that.

            1. RJ

              Yes, you can admit one-party recordings in certain states. Making a recording might be useful regardless of whether or not you file a lawsuit. Recordings are useful during the grievance process, filing an EEOC claim, or even just talking to HR. You have to decide whether or not your workplace would listen to the recordings, and whether it would help your case.

        2. Nerd Girl

          I know there used to be a law on file in MA that said recording without sound was legal but recording with sound without permission was illegal. ( a friend of mine had a case against a nasty neighbor thrown out when her only proof was a video with sound) Not sure if that’s still the case.

      1. TNTT

        It’s different in every state – some states are “one-party consent” states, some are “two-party consent” states, still others permit video but no audio, and others use these restrictions only when discussing the recording of police/govt employees on their official duties. This area of the law is varied and changes quickly, but I definitely think people should stay on top of it in their own state. It’s important to know.

      2. Tinker

        Well, in this case you can prevent the something from ever happening in the first place, by causing the offending person to contemplate that evidence may end up existing for their misbehavior (which is probably meant to be unprovable) and consequences may ensue.

        Granted that a recording, if any were made, might not in fact be enough to actually produce consequences, but that’s a secondary factor — the way the OP describes it it’s pretty clear that the primary goal was to get the behavior to stop, and it does seem to have worked.

        There’s a certain county in the Kingdom of Nuts that operates by knowing, consciously or unconsciously, where The Line is and somehow never managing to cross it. The abusive person whose “temper gets out of control” with their partner, but they won’t ever punch their boss (might get fired!) or a cop (might get shot!), say. Or like the somewhat classic case where a parent is screaming at their kid, and then the phone rings and suddenly there is sweetness and light — because they want to have a good image with whoever’s on the other end of the phone.

        It’s something of a ballsy move on the OP’s part, and not something I’d care for myself, but it’s actually got a fairly sound basis as far as behavior patterns go.

        1. Elizabeth West

          There’s a certain county in the Kingdom of Nuts that operates by knowing, consciously or unconsciously, where The Line is and somehow never managing to cross it.

          Excellent description. Bullies have this same mental line a lot of the time.

    3. Julia

      “Neither is the paranoia about the toilet water – this stuff is fundamentally not normal. ”

      Based on the OP’s later statements about the boss putting the ex-husband’s toothbrush on in the toilet water and letting the cats lick his lunch, the OP’s thinking isn’t as abnormal as it would seem. I had thought that she was overboard until I read her follow-up comments!

      And when you are dealing with crazy, you must tailor your actions to the other person and the situation. While I am a direct person, given the circumstances, I would tell the office gossip it too.

      1. Another Ellie

        That wasn’t the OP, though. That was another commenter talking about a different crazy manager.

  4. SH

    Toxic situations tend to bring out the worst in us. I hope the OP is able to able to find a better work environment.

  5. some1

    I’m actually…concerned about the LW. I read the update and the letter when it was first published (and re-read it now), and I still don’t understand how she came to suspect that her boss put water from the toilet in her water bottle. It’s so oddly specific and a completely bizarre thing for someone to do.

      1. Gina

        I think it would taste the same way it smells, that bleachy chlorine smell like a pool or somethng. If someone was always messing with your stuff at work and suddenly an open bottle of water tasted bleachy, why wouldn’t it cross your mind? It’s the same childish prank as putting someone’s toothbrush in the toilet and I’ve seen that on sitcoms a lot. Does it really make you feel like a better person to make the Op think she’s crazy?

          1. Gina

            What are you, 13 years old? Why not just say “nuh-uh, you!” Well, skimming the original post it looks like a schoolyard and this will obviusly be no different. I’m out.

        1. some1

          Honestly, I would think there was something wrong with the water from storage. I’ve had bosses who clearly didn’t care for me and I still would never have suspected them of being capable of tampering with my beverage. And I don’t expect anyone IRL to take behavioral cues from sitcoms.

          1. fposte

            Yeah, unless there’d been a specific threat/joke to plant the idea, it would never occur to me. Anything you put your mouth on can get a little funky, and that would be my first assumption. And I grew up as a younger sibling with some actual experience of this kind of thing, so it’s not dewy-eyed innocence–it’s just not a likely thing with adults.

    1. BRR

      I would have liked to see the LW realize how it was a little absurd to think that but it seems really like it was just brushed off.

      1. Marcy

        Before my old boss, I would have agreed with all of you and thought the OP was the wacko. Unfortunately, I experienced life with the old boss and there really are wacko bosses out there capable of this. Mine bragged about doing stuff like this to her ex. She lied to me multiple times (she wasn’t a great liar- she often forgot what she lied about and then contradicted herself later). She often made racist or sexist remarks right to the people she was complaining about (didn’t even see it as offensive). She yelled at people and threatened to fire them in front of other people. She had one of my predecessors locked up for supposedly threatening her and her kids after he filed for discrimination. She took things from my desk all of the time and didn’t even try to hide it. She held prayer meetings in her office for some of my co-workers (she works for the state- this is a big no no). She used her state-issued computer to make slides for her church. She refused to put a heavy-set woman in an office because she said she would get stuck in there and sue her (she wasn’t that big and the doorway was the same size as any other doorway). She bragged about how many times she has been sued and gotten away with it because she “knows how to document”. I could go on and on. All that to say, I can give the benefit of the doubt to the OP after having lived through 18 months of the worst boss I have ever had in my life.

        1. RJ

          I also worked for an incredibly abusive boss for nearly three years, from age 25-28. It was also a big wake-up call for me to take ownership of my part in any conflict, grow up, and learn how to advocate for myself. I have encountered dysfunctional workplaces since then and dealt with abusive bosses — the important thing that allowed me to change my situation was a.) therapy and b.) learning to own my part in the conflict. Seeing yourself as a helpless victim doesn’t help anyone.

          1. RJ

            I should mean that I was not trying to imply that either Marcy or OP saw themselves as helpless or a victim… that was more of the message I took away from that experience, but it took a lot of time.

  6. Alicia

    Honestly, this update doesn’t make me feel a whole lot of empathy for the OP what with passive-aggressive actions on their part (re: going to the office gossip to pass the message through the grape vine).

  7. Jamie

    I’m just happy swapping out for toilet water isn’t a thing, because I’d have to quit the human race if it were.

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      I’ve been in a business in Portland, OR that has signs in the toilet saying that the water in the toilet is non-potable. It concerns me that they needed to put up a sign.

      1. Jamie

        My dogs would disagree with those signs – you know if they could talk. Or read. Or lived in Portland.

        In all seriousness I’m dying to know what prompted that.

      2. Was Layla

        I always assumed those meant from the taps ! Not from Portland but where I live those signs were by the sink. Here toilets refer to the whole room not just the bowl

      3. J.B.

        That’s a code requirement when reuse water is piped to the toilet. There are technical reasons for it :)

    2. Zillah

      I know someone whose college roommate peed in his water bottle in hopes that he’d drink it in the middle of the night and not realize. Which I think is probably worse.

      (I hate the human race.)

      1. Liane

        **Jaime–or others who are very protective of computers–you may want to skip this one**

        In one of his books, pioneer FBI profiler John Douglas describes giving some advice to a CEO who was trying to figure out who among the company techs was filling the cleaner bottles for the computer room with pee.

        1. Jamie

          See what happens when you drive IT over the edge?! j/k I prefer to believe it was an end user trying to frame IT – makes more sense to me. :)

  8. Jake

    But how did she proved that it was IN FACT her manger taking away her files w/o her permission? The same way she couldn’t prove that her manager put toilet water or saliva in her water bottle? How HR are supposed to believe the OP when they see that the OP thinks that it is OK to pass gossips in the workplace? There are too many red flags here, and adding on that the OP is still a new hire (less than a year), I would be careful to not loose my position anytime soon.

    1. Jaimie

      Yeah, I had a similar thought, both about the potential for paranoia and the timeframe. I would get my files really, really organized and really, really well labeled so that anything missing would be really, really obvious. That might cause the file problem to go the way of the water bottle problem. Or at least you’d know pretty quickly that something was missing and could go to the manager with “hey, my file for Client XYZ is missing, do you have it?”

        1. Jaimie

          :)

          To be clear, there’s every possibility that the manager is taking files. I just think that getting them really organized might help the OP to figure out if that’s definitely the case, or if the files show up a few days later only because the OP’s desk is a mess. Or someone else is taking them. Or something perfectly innocuous. If I were in that situation, it would make me feel better.

          (and I’ve had horrible bosses before, including once a CFO who was a screamer. I still wouldn’t hesitate to ask around the office if someone had a file that went missing from my desk.)

  9. Craigrs1

    I agree with the folks who are noting the odd behavior of the letter writer. It’s certainly frustrating to deal with a boss like this, and the boundary issues are troubling, but it’s an enormous – like, really enormous – leap from irritating boss behavior to crazy psychopathic criminal behavior such as tampering with your drink. The fact that the LW would even suggest that connection is a problem.

    1. Whippers

      I don’t know if I think it’s that crazy or irrational for the OP to think that this might’ve happened. I mean you hear all the time about waiters spitting in food, or worse, so it’s clearly something that does happen in life.

  10. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)

    I actually gasped out loud and said “oh my god, yes” at my desk when I saw there’d been an update to this one!

    I’m echoing Jamie’s sentiments — I’m so glad that toilet water has not been proven (yet…) to be a Thing That People Do.

  11. TotesMaGoats

    OP. This is a really unhealthy environment, for everyone it seems. I know telling you to get out of it doesn’t help when you are trying. However, like others have posted, you need to keep your actions above board and above reproach. Some of the thoughts you relay to us aren’t healthy at all. I second the advice to seek counseling for handling stress. I wish you the best.

  12. TCO

    OP, I agree with a lot of the other comments on here suggesting that you check to make sure you’re not getting pulled into the toxic-behavior cycle going on in your office. If you sink as low as everyone else, you’ll harm your chances to get hired onto a healthier team elsewhere.

    But I also want to point out that Outlook (assuming this is your work e-mail account and/or work computer) is NOT the place to keep confidential notes in hopes of protecting yourself should your relationship with your boss take an even worse turn. You need to document those things in private, at home, with a device and account that you own, not your company.

    1. Marcy

      This. When our employees are fired, they are escorted out of the building immediately. They do not get an opportunity to go back to their computer to retrieve anything they might have had on it.

      1. Liane

        Even companies that allow you to clear out your office will have someone (HR, Security) stay with you while you do so. And even if your “chaperone” let you on the computer (*highly* unlikely), you wouldn’t be able to do any copying or emailing, since most places arrange for IT to remove your access while you are being told you’re being let go.

    2. RJ

      This is an excellent point. Although it is easy to feel victimized when someone is acting abusively towards you, you still always have the choice of how you choose to react. You have the choice to stoop to her level, or if you are going to be the bigger person. If you take the hard road of being a better person, it may suck in the moment because it feels so unfair….but comfort yourself with the knowledge that you will have a much better shot at getting out to a healthier work environment and being functional there, as opposed to carrying dysfunction with you to the next job.

      Document things in private and keep a record off-site. You could send an email from your work account to your personal account, (if she finds a private notebook in your office, she is obviously going to read it) but your employer is obviously going to have access to all of your work email.

  13. Mike C.

    I just don’t see the telling someone about the recording as that big of a deal. The manager has made it clear that direct communication results in consequences so unless folks are looking for a formal letter or telegram, I think this is really, really minor.

    I see this sort of thing on the internet a lot to be honest – One party is absolutely terrible, the other party does/thinks things that some find odd or slightly irritating. Since the latter party is no longer practically perfect in every way, Both Sides Must Be Wrong and that’s the end of it.

    1. TL -

      I don’t know. My manager-type person gave me some advice of saying, “If you continue to talk to me like this, I’m going to have to start recording the conversation,” when people in my workplace are being, er, unreasonable, and frankly, I think that’s a much better response than passing along to the office gossip.

      After all, if she doesn’t want her behavior recorded, it doesn’t really matter who the information is coming from, and if you’re picking up a pen/paper, or cell phone, she should stop.

      It does sound like the OP is particularly confrontation-avoidant (understandable, given the boss), but is also choosing alternative methods that are not the best. And, I think, it’s the gossip on top of the toilet water that is giving pause. As a commentariat, I think we’re pretty good at understanding people aren’t perfect in general.

      1. Perpetua

        Except it does matter where the information comes from, in terms of the OP trying to protect herself from additional non-reasonable reactions from her boss.

        I agree with Mike C.

      2. Anna

        You know Alison has advised telling the office gossip something to see if it gets back, so I’m not entirely sure what the big deal is.

          1. Diet Coke Addict

            I think the situation may have been in the case of something upsetting happen that the person doesn’t want to talk about–say, a miscarriage or divorce–and the advice was to tell one coworker who will share it around. I believe the difference is that it isn’t a malicious way of “getting back” at someone, but a way to spare the person in question from explain a painful situation twenty times or so.

            I don’t think you’ve ever advocated doing it just to test the gossip system, though!

            1. Diet Coke Addict

              And even then it may have actually been a commenter suggesting that, now that I look for it!

              1. Kathryn

                I was thinking the same thing, but I think it’s actually Dear Prudie who suggests this method often.

  14. Nerd Girl

    OP are you sure that your boss is messing with your files? You state that things go missing, but have you seen her actually snooping through your desk and taking the files. Just because you come across the file a few days after mentioning it went missing doesn’t mean it was taken. It could be that you misfiled it and the paranoia brought on by your toxic workplace is making you think it’s her.

    1. Anna

      I think it happening once or twice that could be the case, but if it’s something that has happened many times? Probably not just chronic misfiling.

  15. Ann without an e

    As many of the posters to this site are aware I work in a very toxic place as well. I understand the CYOA stuff it can cause you to start doing, or think about doing. Because of your original post I began locking my desk and water bottle at the end of the day, especially back when I was expecting. Remember you can’t predict crazy, and you can’t fix stupid.

    One thing that has helped me very much is yoga, I signed up for an exorcise program that streams over the internet, you can choose your program, the yoga has helped me to deal. I no longer get angry, things just don’t bother me the way they used to, its only been a week. I also read AAM for perspective and the solidarity I get knowing that its nothing personal some places are just toxic. Really try yoga if it doesn’t work then try something more intense.

    1. Meghan

      +1 to yoga. I’ve found that no matter how ridiculous my workplace is (this morning I came in to discover that my boss had glued my monitor to the desk in a position that does. not. work. for me, if that gives you any idea), I find that yoga helps me to let go of that and remember that just because my company is dysfunctional doesn’t mean that I have to be.

      1. Ann without an e

        The second half I picked up from Ron White, he has a skit called, “You can’t fix stupid.” I just want to give credit where it is due. Feel free to use it though, you have my permission to claim at least the first half as your own.

  16. LOtheAdmin

    After reading this update, all I can think of to say to the OP is to put much less effort into engaging in the daily workplace shenanigan’s and much more effort into finding a work environment that makes you happier.

    I’m searching for jobs now and I do not like where I work at all. Oftentimes I have to force myself to get to work and ignore everything going on around me, but I get it done and am left alone. Don’t focus on making “friends” in this office, keep a work journal of interactions that drive you up a wall (to keep yourself motivated to find other work), and keep yourself focused on your work and tightening up your resume to send. Everything else is misspent energy.

    I know it’s hard to resist the negativity, OP, but you can do it.
    Good luck to you.

    1. OP

      I appreciate what you are saying. I am job searching. Wish to stay with same employer but different department. I am using the EAP counseling services and it’s helped. I’m the 5th person in this position in 2 years, but the budget cut has limited the number of positions I can transfer to.

      I can be passive aggressive and I view it as my worse personality trait so I work hard not to be. This job has bought it out again, when it had been under wraps for years. I am disappointed that a few people believe this is made up. I’m in my 50’s and have seen everything, but this is a situation I would find hard to believe if someone told me. She should have never been given a supervisory position, they did it because they didn’t want to pay the extra money to bring someone from the outside. Cheaper to promote from within. She has some strengths that would work well if it wasn’t combined with behavioral issues. She had no supervisory or management training etc. and it shows. She has a higher degree so she’s smarter than everyone in her mind, but the people skills are extremely weak.

      1. LOtheAdmin

        I understand everything you’re saying OP. Believe me. I’m in it right now and have to fight the good fight
        every single day. I’m a great gossiper and love the juicy details of when people in my office stab each other in the back.

        That in mind, I recognize that the absolute worst thing you can do is allow yourself to dwell on every bad thing that happened/is happening to you that you have no control over. Because that’s the thing. You want to be in control of what happens to you and these people are taking it away from you. I get it. But you have to find the happiness in applying for work and other outside activities.

        Mentally pull yourself out of the drama and keep yourself away from it for your own sanity. Do this and you will have a much easier time. Don’t be the worst them, be the better YOU.

        I truly wish you good luck, OP.

      2. fposte

        Might it be worth expanding your search to other employers at this point? Things sound like they’re pretty rough where you are and that it might be difficult to find a new position within the organization.

      3. Zillah

        OP, I want to suggest you start rethinking whether you want to stay with this employer, and trying to expand your job search. You’re pinning all of this on your supervisor, but it worries me that from what you’re saying, your employer gave your supervisor the position in the first place to save some money, despite several red flags about her ability to do the job (no management experience, poor people skills) – and, moreover, that they haven’t addressed the issues that have arisen. Maybe what you’re saying is with the benefit of hindsight and/or colored by your experience with her, but what you’re describing are really troubling behaviors. Why are you so invested in remaining with this employer? How do you know you won’t end up in a similar position?

      4. Why?

        I’m curious as to why you want to look for yet another position with an employer who would allow this kind of behavior from one of their managers?

  17. LoFlo

    Run fast and far. The fact that your company is giving your manager second, third and fourth chances should be telling you that they have no intention of deal with what ever issues she is bringing to the situation. Unless the manager is weilding an ax, some companies never ever fire a manager.

    I know it is hard, but be professional as possible. No matter what you do, your intentions will be suspect, especially if you are spreading gossip. It is no win for you. Sorry if I seem harsh, but being in a toxic environment blows back the stink on you. Been there, done that, got the souviner cup.

    If you can afford to quit and work a temp job to get by, you will be better off in the long run. It is amazing what a few months off will do to recharge your soul.

  18. lili of the vally

    this is office drama at its worst. my advice to OP and her boss: grow up, act professional and do work at work instead of engaging in bizarre fictional scenarios.

  19. Malissa

    OP, I have much sympathy for you.
    The thing nobody realizes about the crazy train is that it looks like a normal train until you’ve pulled away from the station. At that point normal rules change and a person has just got to figure out how to interact with the fellow passengers until they finally find a stop where they disembark.
    A passenger can only hope to get off the crazy train with no extra baggage, but sometimes that just isn’t possible.
    If a person rides the crazy train long enough, it may even start to feel normal.

    1. Ann without an e

      “A passenger can only hope to get off the crazy train with no extra baggage.”

      I hope you don’t mind me using that one, its going to be a new favorite.

    2. Tinker

      “The thing nobody realizes about the crazy train is that it looks like a normal train until you’ve pulled away from the station.” <3

  20. Jamie

    she still grows through my desk and files, snooping or just taking them out of my desk and not telling me. Than I go to find something and it’s gone. I’ll mention to her that someone has been in my desk, etc. and the file will show up a few days later.

    I just wanted to address this – not everyone has the same boundaries when it comes to this kind of thing. I’m fairly territorial but if I have a file on my desk that the boss needs and I’m not there I would feel zero irritation if they grabbed it themselves.

    This is the easiest to address because finding a solution by which files you both need for work are easily accessible will solve this problem. There was another post like that a while back – about a boss leaning over a work station to grab files and I’ll say the same thing now I did then…why not move the files to a common location? Even if just from in your desk to a standing file rack on top of it. And seeing as how she mentioned in your review about changing where you keep certain things it sounds like there is an organizational issue rather than violating boundaries for work related material.

    I do confess I’m not clear on what the desk snooping is assuming these are work files. I’m not saying I’d love it if everyone started rifling through my desk, but aside from work related stuff which is totally transparent to my bosses it’s just some lip gloss, hand lotion, emergency ketchup packets, and an emery board. I can’t imagine anyone finding that interesting enough to snoop for…at least not twice. So I’m curious as to the details of what she’s looking at.

    1. cuppa

      Someone was in my desk once for a legitimate reason and commented on my ketchup packets. Those are necessary!

  21. Stars and violets

    I may be projecting here but I think that this supervisor is at the ‘bitch eating crackers’ stage for the OP, in which case, my advice to the OP would be to look after yourself, physically as well as mentally, be professional and get out of there as soon as you can. Good luck.

  22. The Maple Teacup

    I’m glad the boss wasn’t actually putting toilet water in the OP’s bottle. Blech! Still, this is a no win situation where everything is frakked up. Focus on being a Sparkly Gold Employee and take a new job as soon as realistically possible.

    Though the cell phone thing appears to have resulted in better outward behaviour toward the OP, the strategy makes me feel uncomfortable. I wouldn’t classify that as the actions of a Sparkly Gold Employee. I feel conserned that choices like this could affect the OP getting a healthier, better job.

  23. Not So NewReader

    OP, I am sorry that this is happening to you.
    I have seen some crazy stuff myself. People pointing their cars at each other and hitting the accelerator; people taking bets when the sick employee will die… yeah. There’s a lot of crap that goes on out there.
    So I find what you’re saying believable. Get out, while you still have some recollection of what normal is. If you have to worry about your food/beverage being tampered with- if that strikes you as logical then it was time to leave a while ago. If you have to stuff the rumor mill in order to survive that means that management has ceased functioning and the rumor mill rules the roost. I have seen a couple places that function this way. And it was because management was off hiding somewhere.

    They are paying for your time/labor, not your soul., OP. Start reading up on how good work places function- this is way you will understand just how disturbing this work place really is.

  24. OP

    I appreciate everything people have said, but am disappointed that there a few unpleasant responses. I am doing what I can to handle the situation the best way I can. I’m not screaming back, I keep quiet and document what has taken place. She told me yesterday that she isn’t supposed to scream anymore. Was surprised that she told me. But she’s now doing the quivering, read face & clinched fists, am scared to death she’ll pass out. She made the mistake of sending me a really ugly e-mail and copied people outside the office. It got to the point that over the weekend she would think things over and I so dread Monday because she would either tear my head off or leave me a hateful e-mail. I have learned that she is always right and have learned to not even address being told she said one thing, than gets mad at me when I follow her directions and why she I did it. I just look at her, when I tell her it’s because she has told me to do so & so, she gets extremely hostile. I am going to the counselor because of the stress & how to best deal with her. The telling the biggest gossip is the only way I can have in which to get messages to her especially when it’s calling her on bad behavior. I told her one day that when I come to her for requests it’s an automatic “NO,” that she doesn’t think things over and that I did believe that she realized she was doing it. Well … this is when I got one of the ugly e-mails informing me that I was “not in the right job.” I have the fear of her firing me since I’m on probation, but in many aspects it would be a relief. I wish to stay with the company I am currently with due to benefits and I worked there for a long time before moving out of state. I worked in 3 different departments and have great relationships with the staff in others. There are two positions open in this division, but I am not putting in for them because they hired her, and are unable or unwilling to address her issues. Since her medical leave the division head has taken the role “poor %$^$” we need to do whatever we can for her. I mentioned something to the division head about her asking her direct reports (interns) to run errands. Her response was they are adults, they need to sit the boundaries … but my boss has a say in their final evaluation and they are terrified of her trashing them to future employers. It’s a misuse of authority. I have received “performed beyond expectations” in all of my evaluations with this employer until now. Now I “meet expectations.” Yes… this job has bought me low in many aspects. I have stood up to her a couple of times and went to HR when she required me to work OT, but refused to pay me. I was required to attend a lunch meeting / training session and I put down I worked 9 hours. Her response was I supplied you with lunch so you do not get OT. We are not supposed to work OT, unless it’s approved through the chain of command per say … takes about a week to do so. It’s extremely rare the budget office will approve it. I refuse to be her errand woman and to work extra hours without pay. They get 10 – 20 minutes out of me each day because I leave later to avoid all the traffic going through town. Since I do not work extra hours without pay, she says I’m not committed. She was in here Thanksgiving Day. I have been here about 8 months and she’s only taken 2 days off; works 7 – 3 M – F, and 4 – 8 hours on Sat & Sun and expects everyone else to do the same. She has no life outside work.

    1. Elizabeth West

      You need to get out of that company, OP. You NEED to. They have put this woman’s bullshit ahead of everyone else in the workforce, when they should have fired her ass long ago. They are part of the problem. It is not all her. It will not change. Transferring will not solve the upper management problem.

      Please, start looking outside the company. You deserve better than this. There are other workplaces with good benefits and great people that don’t do this. Don’t wait until something happens and you’re out on your butt. Do it now.

      1. Not So NewReader

        OP, Please listen to EW here. This is not one thing it’s a 1000 things. You can’t fix this- you are only one person. For whatever reason this company is satisfied with how things are.

        I have worked in similar situations. It does not get better. Meanwhile, instead of developing yourself as an employee you are developing skills on how to survive boss abuse. This is not something to put on a resume.

        For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Even toxic work places hold to this principle. Every time you do something to thwart her she will do something to get even with you. Count on it. You can stuff the gossip pipeline with your best stuff and it is just going to rain on you. That is all that will happen.
        This goes into a quality of life issue- do you want to live this way? How long do you think you can sustain this? Get out now, while you still have some belief in yourself because coming up next is that your belief in yourself will be shattered. You need to restore yourself, asap. This battle is not worth it.

  25. Alissa

    Bad management. It’s hard for people to understand the level of dysfunction that’s out there until you’ve worked in an environment like this. Also, yes, there usually is some sort of level of personality disorder involved, because rational mentally healthy people don’t need to be reminded to not scream in the office. This woman should not be in a management position and actually needs proper management herself. The fact that the higher ups know about this and she’s still there speaks volumes to the company you’re working for. Sorry but I’d be looking for a new job pronto. The longer you’re around someone who is unstable the more unstable you will become trying to figure them out, You can’t reason with someone like this so don’t bother trying. You’re wasting time walking on eggshells which is bad for your workplace productivity and bad for your own mental health.

Comments are closed.