ask the readers: times when work warped your thinking

One of the most toxic parts of dysfunctional workplaces is that they warp your thinking about what’s normal — you can start thinking truly weird stuff is normal or okay. That often means that you end up staying at that job longer than you otherwise would, which of course compounds the problem. It can also mean that you bring really odd habits or ways of thinking to your next job, like being afraid every time your manager wants to talk to you, or thinking people should copy you on all their emails, or never sharing what you really think because your last manager reacted badly to that, etc.

Let’s break the spell. In the comments, let us know about times when work warped your thinking — or maybe is still warping your thinking right now. And be specific: How has it impacted your thinking or your behavior?

{ 733 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Ask a Manager Post author

    A quick request — this isn’t a post just asking for crazy things an employer did — I’m hoping we can talk specifically about the impact it had on your thinking/behavior.

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    1. The Engineer's Wife

      My husband had a true panic attack after about three months at his new amazing awesome job, because it was payday and he’d forgotten that the direct deposit was sent to a different account than it was at his old awful job. He pulled his manager over to ask if he was doing anything wrong, and they had chosen not to pay him.

      Of course, he’d gotten paid. But his previous employer used to pull crap like that all the time, and his first reaction after checking the balance in that account was that the new place did the same kind of (illegal) BS.

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    2. Recovering

      At my previous job, it was common to “devils advocate” new ideas until they die. If an employee brought up an idea for new web, video or social media content, others in the room took turns asking all manner of absurd what if questions. What if someone unlikes the Facebook page because they don’t like that post? What if a YouTube viewer down votes the video? What if someone doesn’t like that photograph on the website? What if the video movement makes a viewer nauseous and they complain to us? What if … What if… What if… until no one wants to bring new ideas forward anymore. One year after leaving that job I’m still nervous about bringing up ideas in meetings. I also have become nervous about offering counterpoints in meetings because I don’t want to become an idea killer. I’m working on both of those things.

      Another toxic influence at the previous job was a management style of never praising employees. Management at all levels only offered negative feedback, even on projects done perfectly. The idea was that employees would work harder to please managers if they felt they had bigger and bigger hurdles to jump. Instead, this created resentment and killed ambition. Employees were sad, unmotivated, and approached projects with a mindset of solving for the most recent criticism. “Fergus said that wasn’t done fast enough, so I’ll do this faster,” or “Fergus said he wasn’t happy with the font, I’ll use a font he uses on his meeting agendas and that will make him happy.” Only to find that there’s no way to really make Fergus happy. The impact now in my current job is that if I have a wonderful achievement or great milestone to share, I’m nervous to share it, and I present it with no enthusiasm so that I don’t feel sad when my bubble is burst. No one here is into bursting bubbles, though, so I’m still working on that as well.

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      1. ca6789

        >Employees were sad, unmotivated, and approached projects with a mindset of solving for the most recent criticism.

        Thanks for identifying this one! This is a pet peeve of mine – the most recent or vocal criticism isn’t always the most relevant or useful. Some manager’s are so risk-averse they feel like they have to attend to every single piece of feedback, without evaluating it, that they miss the forest for the trees and their projects suffer from it.

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      2. Sleeping or maybe dead

        Do we work in the same office? Some of our management goes even further.
        Our CEO once said that he didn’t give specific feedback, because it is the employees job to think critically how to improve their work, and he would hinder our growth if he gave us directions.
        2 years after being hired, my co-workers and I are all depressed, anxious and confused. We have all put on up to 10kg due to stress eating and zero personal time.
        Ironically, we all learned to not think too much, because nothing we come up with will be good enough.

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  2. Diver

    A few jobs back, I worked at a place where the two owners would regularly scream at employees and “jokingly” grab them by the throats and throw them up against walls. They got away with this because they hired a lot of ex-cons and people who otherwise might have a difficult time getting employment. I was constantly terrified of making a mistake in that place because I didn’t know how the owners would react. It was a policy that if you made two mistakes, you’d be fired on the spot, but it was the reaction to that first mistake that always made me very very nervous. Took a while to relax and not be on edge at the next job!

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    1. MommaCat

      Oh. My. God. That sure beats any of my dysfunction, basically moving from an environment where I had to do everything with no money to a place where throwing money at the problem is common. Is that company still getting away with that crapola?

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      1. Diver

        I doubt it. They were bought out by a much larger and more professional company who proceeded to lay off about 75% of the acquired employees. The owners may have just taken a big payout and left, I’m not sure.

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    2. Night Cheese

      I audibly gasped and felt the hairs on my neck stand straight up. Just imagining that is terrifying. I am so sorry you had to experience any of that. I really, really hope they’re not still getting away with it.

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    3. Zombii

      My brother once worked at a rifle manufacturer that worked like that. They were constantly threatening to call his parole officer (he wasn’t on parole) and have him sent back to prison (he’s never been) because they intentionally hired mostly felons (to manufacture firearms … [insert joke here]). My brother didn’t stay long because of the constant hostility and in-fighting (including lunch-stealing, parking lot fights and other dick-measuring contests he didn’t want to be involved in).

      They were also bought out by a much larger rifle manufacturer—who immediately fired everyone who worked there and started drug testing and doing criminal background checks on the new hires. Far as I know, the parking lot fights were one of the things that caused them to decide on layoffs instead of trying to salvage anyone who was already working there.

      The whole thing was terrible and it definitely affected my brother. I’m sorry it happened to you too.

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    4. Survivor-sort-of

      Wow. I thought mine was awful. On the other side of my office, my previous boss and I shared a wall. She used to knock on the wall and time how fast I could run into her office. I moved my phone to the opposite side of the desk so when she stormed into my office, she couldn’t easily hang up my phone as she had done to others. Big mistake.
      She walked into my office while I was on a call and started screaming, “Hang up that phone!” She would scream at anyone at anytime with no rhyme or reason. After she was fired, I found out that I drove her crazy because I was the only employee who didn’t cry when she yelled. Now I find myself holding back and not fully trusting my new boss or coworkers. I question everything that I do and second guess myself repeatedly.

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  3. Confetti Everywhere

    1. That it’s normal to work 11 hour days, extra on weekends, and not expect any kind of appreciation or compensation for it
    2. That it’s normal for your employers to assign you to contracts and not tell you
    3. That it’s normal for your employers to stop talking to you and telling you important work-related things if they decide they’re mad at you for something
    4. That it’s normal for your employers to ask you to lie about your hours that you worked so they can bill the client more
    5. That it’s normal for your employers to hire you for one position, but then also have you take on five other roles (with no adjustment to salary) and throw the “multiple hats” blanket over it

    My job is a mess. I’ve hated it for two years. But I just got a new, amazing offer AND I AM OUT OF HERE.

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    1. CoffeeLover

      Do we work in the same industry? This stuff is rampant (RAMPANT, I tell you) in consulting, accounting and law. I’m talking numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5. I guess I should be happy #3 hasn’t been an issue haha.

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      1. Noah

        #5 really isn’t common in law, at least not in professional jobs (lawyer, paralegal). When you’re hired, it’s clear your job is to do anything necessary to serve your clients.

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        1. neverjaunty

          It’s really not at all uncommon in law for there to be that kind of mission creep, particularly in the area of assigning “nice work” to female employees.

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        2. Serving 25 years in Law job without parole

          UH . . . I’ve been in law for 25 years, and yes, it is true that I do everything for everybody everywhere, whether it is part of my “job description” or not. And that is because it is expected of me and always has been.

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    2. JokersandRogues

      #3 most definitely. Happened all the time

      #2 wasn’t a contract but they kept moving me to new clients without any discussion at all and no transition time

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      1. Merula

        Objectively and broadly speaking, #4 is not normal. It may have become the norm where you are, but I’m guessing your clients don’t view it as normal.

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      2. Specialk9

        My first boss told everyone “never lie on your timesheet, it’s the stupidest way of getting fired.” I kept my timesheet to the 5 minute increment, backed up in a book, till my manager explained that it was overkill, he meant don’t lie.

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    3. SubwayFan

      #3 — Silent treatment is just so unprofessional and unfortunately in my workplace it’s the new normal. Ugh.

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      1. LJL

        I got #3 from my boss in my last job..then it was MY fault that she didn’t want to talk to me! All kinds of crazy in that job, and it got me to thinking that it was normal. Thank heavens I am out of there and in a normal, healthy working environment.

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    4. Emelle

      #5!!! First job out of college, I was working in 3 departments when a FT job opened in another department. I applied and was the lead candidate for the job. Director called in all the department heads to work out how I could continue in the other 3 departments, take on part of the FT job AND pick up some work in accounting. When it was present to me (as Oh by the way, starting Monday…) I was explicitly told 1) no pay bump 2) no OT and 3) oh and I now had to work on weekends, alternating S/S, which they knew would be difficult since Weekend shifts were longer.
      I have *never* applied for an internal move since that job.

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    5. Former number cruncher

      You know, I didn’t think I had anything to add to this thread but #4 has brought it all crashing back. I used to work with a manager who used to bully (and I don’t think that’s too strong a word) juniors into writing off time they HAD spent on his client when that client had a fixed contract (e.g. client agrees to pay, and pays for, 10 hour of work regardless of how long it takes so, if it take 20 hours, the firm eats the rest of the cost and, if it takes 5 hours, the firm makes a profit). I personally hate lying about hours either way – saying you’ve done work you haven’t is wrong for obvious reasons but saying you haven’t done work you have just creates warped figures where nobody’s truly sure how much a job actually costs, which is ultimately bad for the firm.

      However, this guy also received promotion after promotion because, surprise surprise, he never went over budget so was seen as really efficient. Oh, and all the people he ‘liked’ (i.e. wrote off their hours with little protest) got promoted too. By the time I left, I’m pretty sure I saw this behaviour as acceptable rather than, you know, lying.

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      1. kitryan

        I had a less bad version of this sort of thing. We had about 11 projects in a calendar year and my boss and I would allocate the yearly budget for staff and materials for each of those projects in the last chunk of the preceding year- once this was done, even if expectations changed for the projects (like project 1 turning out to be much easier and less time consuming but project 4 to be a real nightmare, requiring overtime and extra materials costs) we were locked into our original estimates, particularly on labor. This was all internal! No clients or payments were involved, we were only reporting to the higher ups on how well we met the budgets we’d been forced to set before we had full info on the projects for the year!
        We ended up tracking the amount spent on labor generally each week and putting it towards the projects in turn. When we filled up bucket one, we’d announce that everyone would begin entering time under project two, until we’d maxed out that budget, then announce project 3 and so forth – irrespective of what was actually being worked on.
        I did something similar when reconciling our materials purchases. If one show was low and the other high, some of the purchases for the over budget show would be entered under the lower budget show to keep things artificially balanced. At least I could track that and knew the ‘real’ numbers though.
        For labor, it essentially robbed us of the ability to effectively reallocate resources as we went through the year and of the ability to match the early estimates against what we actually used our resources on and thus improve our estimates for the future.
        However, once we instituted this system, our department got chewed out for not coming in on budget per project a lot less.
        I suppose it’s effect has been to make me even more distrustful of upper management- I generally start by assuming that they’re not really interested in the reality of what would make my job easier, but just want to hear that things are all fine, no matter what.

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        1. Snorks

          As someone that used to do a lot of budgeting for a Local Government, what you did frustrates me no end!
          Please note i’m not blaming you, i’m blaming the system that forced you to come up with that solution.

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          1. kitryan

            I was frustrated too! If we came in under on a project the remaining amount was just lost to us, we weren’t permitted to utilize it on another project that had gone over, whether or not we were on track for the year as a whole- even though we’d set the project budgets ourselves and they were entirely imposed from within the org.

            This created an environment where we had to hit each number *just* under or we’d be losing a chunk of the yearly budget-and we needed every penny for the unreasonable demands that were sure to come up later.

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    6. Tax Nerd

      #1. Yep – Lots of mandatory unpaid overtime.
      #2. More than once I’d do a small piece of work to help someone else on an account, and suddenly I became responsible for everything.
      #3. Definitely got the silent treatment.
      #4. Lying about hours – oh yes. I’d be asked to “eat time” on fixed fee work, or inflate time on consulting. Time spent on employee performance, internal meetings that weren’t related to a client, getting coffee or going to the bathroom – I was expected to allocate that time to clients, and bill it as consulting.
      #5. I was hired to do tax, but I also go tasked with billing/contract management, business development/sales, training, recruiting, and scheduling my boss’s meetings. They consider it part of the job, but I was expected to do it all “on my own time”.

      Reply
  4. ZSD

    My first office job was in what I now realize was a dysfunctional workplace. I knew that *my* boss was terrible, but it’s only with some distance, and experience in better offices, that I’m able to recognize that *all* the bosses in that office were bad. So I initially thought that having your boss yell at you for reasons you didn’t really understand was normal. I didn’t really understand that there were workplaces where bosses could give constructive criticism rather than berating you. I just thought, “Oh, this is what having a non-academic job is like.” Then I got a different job and…nope nope nope.

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  5. Elmyra Duff

    At my last job, there was a manager we referred to as Bad News Bear, because any time he wanted to talk to you or if you got an email from him, it was to discuss how terrible of a person you were. Now that I’m at a really great company, I still get that “ugh” feeling in my stomach whenever one of my managers emails me.

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    1. Future Analyst

      I had a manager like this, except he was hot and cold: you were either GREAT, or you were TERRIBLE, and the pendulum swung wildly from day to day. Still had the same effect: I didn’t want to talk to him ever, about anything, and I just kept my head down until I was out of there. Worst 8 months of my entire working life.

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      1. Future Analyst

        Should clarify: I had healthy work relationships before and afterward, but it still messed me up for a while after the fact. It didn’t necessarily carry into my work-life, but my heart still skips beats if I see someone who looks like him.

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        1. No Longer Traumatized

          I can so relate to the heart skipping a beat when you see someone who looks like your old boss. There is someone at my current employer (I don’t know who it is, just see her in the halls but we have never crossed paths in our work) who from behind looks just like my boss from my previous company. I left because she was a tyrant who sent berated people for her own mistakes and sent emails in ALL CAPS whenever she was upset and constantly reminded us of how many degrees she had and why she was the best boss ever. For the first 8 months or so in my new job I would see this person walking in the halls I would be immediately filled with anxiety. I’m not sure if she doesn’t work here anymore or if I’ve finally just gotten over the trauma but I haven’t noticed her for quite a while.

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        2. Rachel A

          I have an even weirder trigger from my difficult (putting it mildly) grandboss at my last company. She wore a very distinctive perfume, and I panic a little if I smell it when I’m out and about.

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      2. DecorativeCacti

        Mine would call you to either plug something into her computer because she was too lazy to stand up and walk around her desk or write you up for something you’d never been warned of. Every time my phone buzzes, I still get that fear jolt of adrenaline.

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        1. Snazzy Hat

          write you up for something you’d never been warned of

          My s.o. had a thankfully-short-lived job that handed out write-up slips like memos. The silver lining was the employees weren’t reprimanded in the way being written up would warrant, because the owners honestly didn’t know how incredibly serious a write-up was. These memos would say something like “we’re changing the way we do X” but due to the medium it would come across as “even though we didn’t tell you the policy was changing, we’re very upset that you did X the old way like how you were trained; you should have read our minds.”

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    2. CMF

      My last supervisor spent months giving me lists of things to do that I couldn’t complete without her help, and then disappear for hours while I tried to do them, and couldn’t. She also would tell me to do things I can do, and then upon completion, blame me for the fact that she misunderstood where the items were in the process, so while my part was done, they weren’t actually complete.

      Besides these conversations, she never spoke to me. The entire time I was pregnant, the only time she referenced it was when I told her I needed to leave towards the end of my pregnancy. She asked how dilated the doctor had told me I was at my appointment, then rolled her eyes when I told her I wasn’t sure.

      They terminated me several months after I came back from leave, because they said I was unable to handle the responsibilities of the job, and I didn’t realize how bad she messed me up until I got a new job, and my NEW boss asked me after several weeks to stop by her office. I almost had a panic attack trying to figure out what I did wrong, or could have done better, or wasn’t clear about, when all my new boss wanted to talk about was if I liked it here, and to tell me she thought I was a really good fit and she was glad I was part of the team.

      It’s weird how someone asking me how I am every morning still shakes me a little because no one ever did for years.

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      1. Ramona Flowers

        “She asked how dilated the doctor had told me I was at my appointment, then rolled her eyes when I told her I wasn’t sure.”

        You know it was warped that you answered, right?

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        1. Always Nervous

          She probably does. I know I’m still struggling to overcome my experiences at my job from two years ago. The reaction to answering a warped question is so instant because of the past punishments that it’s only an hour later you realize you didn’t need to answer the pest.

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        2. Stranger than fiction

          That would have made want to stay and have the baby there and dump the afterbirth on her desk and say “can i go now?”

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        3. CMF

          I do! At the time I was so caught off-guard that I was going into labor and also that she was speaking to me. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I was like, “wait, that’s not even in the same zip code as her business.”

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    3. EddieSherbert

      Totally this. Very hands off manager that really only met with you to yell at you or discipline you (usually for “ongoing problems” they’d never mentioned before that meeting).

      So I learned to avoid your manager like the plague.

      I’m almost two years into a different job, with another hands-off manager – but who does check-ins and likes to meet to review big projects. “Normal stuff.”

      My stomach still drops every time they request a meeting! They’re totally normal reasonable meetings and there’s no yelling or threatening my job. But it’s amazing how long that stays with you.

      My current manager probably thinks I’m super quiet and private because I still rarely engage in banter with them or share anything personal, like at all. (this hasn’t affected my work though – excellent feedback on interactions with customers and the team, and speaking up in meetings).

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    4. poptart

      Oh my gosh yes. I worked at a place like this for 7 years – one of my yearly reviews was that I was too chatty and personable and then further dissected my personality. At my new job, the first time my boss asked if I had a second to talk, I said “Sure!” and ran into the bathroom to panic cry for 15 minutes. When I composed myself and went into his office, he just wanted to find out how I was liking the job.

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      1. DecorativeCacti

        Ha. I had a review like that once. She told me I was ok at my job but everyone thought I was a giant see you next Tuesday so I needed to work on that. Then she didn’t understand why I was crying and told me I could have an extra few minutes to compose myself before going back to work. Then I got in trouble for not being outgoing enough (because I just got told everyone thinks I suck and talks about me behind my back so why would I engage???).

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        1. Chaordic One

          I had a job where I had to regularly fill-in for the receptionist and I was O.K. with that. I was first told to be more outgoing, so I made a very sincere extra effort at making friendly small talk with sales people and clients. Then I was told to dial it back because some of the salesmen thought I was hitting on them. I was completely gobsmacked by that because I cannot ever recall a single conversation that seemed the least little bit flirty. So I dialed it back and was again told that I needed to be more friendly.

          After that I heard the same thing about a much older woman who also had to fill-in at the reception desk, then about a young gay man who occasionally filled-in there, that they were all allegedly hitting on the salesmen. I now think that that particular employer hired a bunch of creepy salesmen, but working there made me slightly uncomfortable about dealing with people of the opposite sex. I’m kind of always afraid that someone will misinterpret me just trying to friendly and professional.

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          1. Happy Lurker

            I had a similar situation as the receptionists. First told to take everyone’s coat and hang it up and offer refreshments. Then I am made fun of fun by executives for doing exactly as directed. So many things wrong with that particular person, who decided they knew exactly how to needle me.

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          2. Cactus

            I had that happen. I’m a pretty reserved person, so when I started at a job that required a bit more social skills in 2010, I was told I was too cold, and needed to work on that. So I did. A year later, I was being told that I was spending TOO much time talking with clients, and that they didn’t really need all of my caring hippie nonsense. I literally never know how to respond to new people in a work setting now and I’m always afraid of being criticized for having/acting like I have the “wrong” personality.

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          3. CMF

            I had a job once where a co-worker and I were repeatedly reprimanded for “talking too much” and “being too social” – basically, we made the place more or less pleasant to work. It was data-entry work, so it was not difficult to have a conversation with the rest of the room while doing your job.

            After being told if we kept “distracting each other” (we were the most productive people in the department) we would be fired, we just both went silent for a month or so. We would only speak if spoken to. The entire department’s productivity dropped (we remained the top two employees in this time), and we were both written up for having a bad attitude and told we should be more grateful for our jobs instead of so grumpy.

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        2. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox

          I once transitioned from the floor in a large retail store to the office basically counting cash and filling tills and such. Around the same time, I had several devastating life changes take place and ended up pretty depressed. (I was seriously glad that 90% of my job involved me being locked away in the vault because I cried so much.) Anyway, I was pretty solidly depressed (like…suicidal thoughts levels of depressed) for awhile and the people in the office got used to that, I guess.

          Once I started feeling a bit better and started operating as my old, snarky self, I was pulled aside by my (really terrible) manager and told that I’d been acting weird, everyone in the office had noticed, and I just needed to go back to being “Old Musk Ox”. I know I asked for examples and she told me like one thing that had happened that involved me saying something completely innocuous that upset a coworker who, she acknowledged in the middle of this interaction, was WAY too sensitive about things. I honestly didn’t know what to do since my entire personality was being shut down in favor for the mopey, weeping willow I’d been months prior.

          I mean, this was the same boss who said I was trying to do “too good” of a job. I THINK she meant that I was stressing out too much about perfection (I seriously wasn’t…SHE was the cause of 95% of my stress), but I’m still not 100% sure. I think I may have gone home that day and updated my resume.

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        3. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo

          After I’d been at a previous job for several months, my supervisor told me (during a “talking-to”) that I didn’t have as many friends at the company as I thought I did and that several people in the department had come up to her to complain about me/my personality. No names, of course, and no specifics. I was gobsmacked – I thought I got along fairly well with most everyone in that department. After that, it was hard to talk to others in the department without wondering if what I was saying was later going to be used against me in some way.

          If anyone here has read Dan Lyons’s (excellent) book Disrupted, there’s a part near the end where he has a very similar conversation with his boss. Did that ever bring back bad memories!

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          1. Not So NewReader

            I had a boss scream at me, in front of everyone, “No one here likes you!”

            I have no idea how I was able to compose a thought, she was totally enraged and the energy coming off of her was scary.

            I managed to say, “I am here to do a job. If I make friends that is great. If not, I am here to do a job.” She placed a high value on friends at work. I had friends outside of work, so it was not the end of the world if work friends did not become friends in the off hours.

            What was odd here, is that I always thought I would melt/die/something if a boss ever said that to me. That day, I found out that I would NOT melt/die/something. For the short term, I was upset. But once I thought about it, I realized I had faced a big fear and I HANDLED it.

            Later, I found out she did that to other people too. She told other people, “Everyone here hates you!” Other people shrugged and said, “She must be talking about herself again “, meaning she was a very disliked person.

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            1. Eversong

              I used to have a team leader like this. She never screamed at me or said something quite as horrible as “No one likes you”, but she did the “Other people here think so too” / “Other people have noticed” / “Other people have mentioned this to me” when she criticized me.

              And the criticism more often than not was stuff like “you come across as lazy” or “people think you’re moody and don’t like your job”. So pretty bad as well. With the result that it made me believe I must come across as a horrible person, although I worked hard and had always thought I was generally pleasant. (Sure, everyone is in a bad mood from time to time, but I got this from her constantly).

              What makes this behavior towards employees especially vile is that this way people often won’t ask their co-workers about it because they are scared of the reply.

              Well, long story short, after I had already left the company, I was having drinks with some former co-workers and turns out that she was doing this to multiple people, including the “everyone else thinks so, too”.

              To this day I’m still not sure what her agenda was there. Although I suspect that she’s simply a very insecure person and used this tactic to hold people down and make sure no one else would challenge her “darling of upper management” status.

              (I’m way more successful then she is these days, which I admit gives me some satisfaction.)

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        4. The Outsider

          To make you laugh, I read, ” I was a giant see you next Tuesday ” and wondered. . . .why were they worried she was so tall? Thank God for the Urban dictionary. (smile) This happened to me and to this day, I’m still amazed that my now coworkers like me!

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          1. Agnes Stonewick

            Seriously… and then I looked it up… and saw that there are whole etsy businesses dedicated to See You Next Tuesday merch… well, well, well, I know how I’ll accessorize from now on.

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          2. DecorativeCacti

            Ha. Given the responses to this thread, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone got in trouble for being too tall. Not me, though; I’m only 5’3″.

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        5. Vicki

          I had a manager who told me I asked too many questions in meetings and I especially needed to stop asking questions when he was certain that I knew the answer but was only asking because I thought others would benefit from the information/clarification and no one was asking.

          So I stopped asking questions in meetings.

          About a month later, in a 1 on 1, he mentioned an upcoming meeting in which he wanted to be sure I asked plenty of questions because others would benefit from the information and he didn’t think they’d ask.

          I told him he couldn’t have it both ways.

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      2. BusterBaxter

        That happened to me! I was once stuck in a meeting with a very odd person who I kept trying to redirect but also had to be friendly too for the sake of the meeting. Clearly, I was drowning as this person was very, very odd (to put it nicely) but my supervisor had just let me flounder. I was later reprimanded several times for being too nice and not professional enough due to that one meeting where I struggled to get a crazy person back on topic. This upset me for while until I realized my boss was really a looney toon after she told us she didn’t like us talking to each other in the office (this was a client focused job we saw each other in the office maybe once a week)

        Reply
  6. Jen

    My second job out of college was at a newsroom and it was highly dysfunctional. Things that were normal there that warped my thinking. It was a regular occurrence to see at least one person crying in the restroom and during reviews, multiple people were usually crying in the bathrooms or edit bays. It was totally normal for backstabbing to happen. The managers ruled by fear and everyone was out for themselves. It was normal to have someone scream at you or be expected to scream back. It was normal for things to be thrown at you. It was normal for you to have to work a 15 hour shift with no real break other than occasional trips to the restroom.

    It took a long time to get that fear out of my system and not feel like I was going to be screamed at or abused at work. I was there for almost 4 years and it was hell from the very start.

    At my current job the most dysfunctional thing that I can see sticking with me is that my manager frequently takes credit for my work. My trust is not there and I can see having to work through that quite a bit after here.

    Reply
    1. Kowalski! Options!

      Newspapers seem to be rich grounds for bad behaviour. My 18 months at a newspaper, I lived in constant fear of one of my two bosses, who I swore was bipolar: most of the time, that boss was sarcastic, prone to huge mood swings, disorganized, highly unlikely to ever follow through on anything promised – and I thought it was my fault. (This was also the job where I found out, thanks to the IT guys, that my two bosses were sleeping together.) It was only a year and a half, but I remember the panic, the paranoia, the absolute gut-wrenching fear that stopped me from wanting to ever go into the office, and which held me at the door for at least two or three minutes every morning, before I could calm down enough to walk in. And yet those months could be peppered with good spells, where the charming behaviour exhibited by said boss would sometimes extend to me.
      In retrospect, I should have asked that boss for recommendations from ex-employees. Then I would have learnt about the mood swings, blame games and reasons why that boss couldn’t hold on to admin assistants for more than a few months. It’s been twenty years now, but I still feel a twinge of panic any time someone more senior asks me, “Can I talk to you for a second?”

      Reply
      1. Lusca

        Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry you had to endure all that! For future reference though, please don’t use “bipolar” to describe someone’s erratic behavior, regardless of whether you think they have bipolar disorder. That’s not fair to all of the many non-jerks who are bipolar, as your ex-bosses most definitely sound like jerks.

        Reply
        1. Kowalski! Options

          No, believe me, I don’t use the term “bipolar” lightly or in jest. Out of respect for her (though I don’t know why I should, this late in the game) I won’t go into details, but I will say that there were definite markers that demonstrated that specific mental health issue.

          Reply
      2. N

        Lol, back in the 70’s my mom was the advertising editor for a newspaper. She said that on one memorable occasion, she arrived in the office to numerous voicemail complaints from customers who hadn’t received their newspapers. This was a very, very small town, and my mom knew immediately that it was Fergus the delivery guy who had slept through his alarm and not delivered the papers for the umpteenth time, so she went over to his house to talk to him. She knocks on Fergus’ door, finds that it’s unlocked, and goes inside. Sure enough, Fergus is still asleep. So my mom stands over his bed and says, “Hey Fergus, wake up. It’s your worst nightmare.”

        The poor guy practically had a heart attack. I’m sure he still has nightmares about being late and having his boss show up to tell him she’s Not Pleased.

        Reply
    2. Z

      Yup, I get all my baggage from my brief stint in newspapers, too. Part of it was a ridiculous editor. Part of it was constantly worrying about job security. Part of it was, Let’s lay off half the copy desk and have Z work six days a week with no end in sight!

      Reply
      1. Ramona Flowers

        Yep. I worked for one UK Sunday paper where my senior editor used to invent words and yell at me when I didn’t just magically, telepathically knew what they meant.

        Example: he called the designers the ‘tadgers’ as they move things ‘a tadge’. So one day he tells me to give something to ‘the tadgers’ and when I ask what he means he just keeps saying tadgers and yells at me. Google has since revealed this is a word for male genitalia.

        He also yelled at me for not updating the news list with information he had that I didn’t have because he hadn’t given it to me.

        How has this warped my thinking? Well I read the comments above and thought: oh that’s just what journalism is like, it’s no big deal. No, brain, it is a big deal!

        Reply
        1. Gazebo Slayer

          Oh my God, I had a boss who invented words/phrases too! He said “back address” instead of “return address” and expected me to intuit what that meant, and he haaaated being asked clarifying questions. Or any questions, for that matter. But yours is even worse!

          Reply
        2. kitryan

          Big boss at my current job has a bunch of nicknames for other bosses and long term staff that are *not* intuitive at all. In my first year or so I had to repeatedly ask who I was supposed send the thing to, or ask the question of- and every time someone’d be like ‘oh, that’s Joe Johnson- big boss calls him Smitty.’
          they also have nicknames for the various deals that you’d have to memorize to figure out what they were talking about, which always makes me wonder why they didn’t call the deal that to begin with.
          This whole thing has made me treat work emails like puzzles- ‘so, she said, this is for *the* Ashland deal, but there’s three Ashland clients. However, only one of them has just one deal going, so maybe it’s that one?”
          At least I know pretty much all the nicknames now.

          Reply
      2. Catty Hack

        “Part of it was, Let’s lay off half the copy desk and have Z work six days a week with no end in sight!”

        OMG, my thinking is so warped, it’s just dawned on me it’s only newsrooms who seem to do this. Or more specifically in my case (and, yes, in more than one newsroom) – Jane and Fergus both quit/get laid off/otherwise magically disappear never to be seen again, Lucinda gets brought in as a replacement, Catty Hack wonders why her workload has suddenly crept up, Catty Hack vocalises ‘Hey, are we still one team member down?’, Catty Hack gets told to suck it up because being busy is just part of journalism and we just hired Lucinda as a replacement so of course we can’t be short staffed, duh.

        Reply
      3. Princess Carolyn

        Same here! I survived two newspaper jobs for a total of 3.5 years before the industry spit me out, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. At one point, I was working 40 hours during the regular week and then working every other weekend (alternating with my direct manager, whose job was essentially a more senior version of mine).

        Nobody else knew how to post stories to go live during the day, so my choices were to let breaking/fresh news languish until the print deadline or spend several hours checking in and moving stuff around, doing social media, etc.

        So I worked 24 out of every 30 days for $35,000 a year, exempt. Sometime during that job, I discovered AAM and realized how much of newsroom culture isn’t healthy or normal (or even necessary).

        Reply
      4. Landshark

        I turned down a job at a local newspaper a few years back because I had another offer that wasn’t going to keep me for weird hours… all of these tales of periodical-based dysfunction make me feel like I really dodged a bullet.

        Reply
    3. Tris Prior

      Oh man, newsrooms. It took me a long time to break my habit of using profanity at work after I left, because everyone in our newsroom swore loudly, constantly.

      It also took me a long time to get my head around the idea of having clients that you had to please and sometimes ass-kiss. Because at my newspaper, if you were a reporter and your readers were happy with you, the assumption is that you’re doing something wrong – your reporting wasn’t stirring up enough controversy or wasn’t truthful enough or whatever. I’d see my editor every day yelling at some reader on the phone who was critical of us. Making the shift to being nice and helpful to clients at my next job was rough because I’d never actually seen an example of what that looked like.

      Reply
      1. EA

        Oh man, I STILL swear loudly, constantly and I’ve been out of a newsroom for 8 years. Thankfully, my current boss and more than a few coworkers are former journalists as well so it’s not entirely out of place. I actually think I swear more now after I tried to curb it after leaving the journalism world and realizing that it’s actually not an issue at my current place of employment than I did in the actual newsroom.

        Some of my hangups from the newsroom are similar to those above but also include not feeling like I’m working enough if I’m not constantly on the hunt for the next story or post. My current job has a decent enough work-life balance in that I do work weird after hours events occasionally, but my boss frequently tells me to go home and unplug because I’m constantly trying to find the next story and tell it better than other departments. That comes directly from one of my journalism internships where I was supposed to spend 8 hours a week working for a Metro desk but I frequently made calls during my 8 hours in the newsroom and then would get phone calls back from sources after I’d left and then I’d have to run back into work to write a story and file it which brought my hours to about 20-25 a week if you count the amount of time it took me to travel to and from the office from my college, the interviews I was doing on the phone, searching for new stories and sending ideas to my editor and then actually writing. At the end of that internship, my editor told me that they didn’t think I was cut out for a career in journalism because I didn’t show “dedication,” nor had I ever pitched stories (I had, but my editor assigned them to others because I was only in the office 8 hours a week), and I took too long to write simple pieces because there was no way to write them not in the proprietary word processor that is only on the computers in the newsroom that was a half hour away from my college.

        Really, really screwed me up for a long time. I still get panicky when my boss wants to talk. I still overwork myself because I feel like I’m not good enough or coming up with enough ideas. I still swear like a sailor. Journalism, man. It’ll mess you up. (And yet I miss it so much!)

        Reply
        1. Ramona Flowers

          “not feeling like I’m working enough if I’m not constantly on the hunt for the next story or post”

          I have this reaction to not being busy, too. And I still work on media time – I’m still learning that everything isn’t urgent all the time.

          Reply
    4. Tiny Crankypants

      I quit journalism slightly more than a year ago and my mental health has been so much better. I joined not knowing I had C-PTSD, and it became more pronounced the more I progressed in my career. I recently found out I had it because I went to see a therapist.

      I had an editor who would insinuate that overtime was normal, and if I didn’t stay back, I was not “dedicated” enough. A former boss tried to foist all the blame on me when we were not getting enough hits on social media, since I was in charge of the “web stuff”, although everyone contributed and editor only okayed the posts that would not do well on social media. Explanations did not work; they simply wanted instant results. People compromised integrity for virality.

      Editor frequently threw me under a bus and said I did not meet deadlines, even though she was the one who had time management problems and didn’t get copy to the designers.

      Prior to this, I had worked at an art gallery where my boss would scream that everyone she’d employed was useless, and would complain to my manager about me in our open-plan office where I could hear as well.

      I feel like a failure because each journalism job or art gallery job I had only lasted for a few months. No matter what I do, I have an inner voice that creeps up and says I am a failure. Like so many readers, my stomach churns every time my manager sees me about something, and since I have C-PTSD, I stiffen up when someone yells and makes very loud noises. I push myself past the limit and work over time because I fear I will never be dedicated enough.

      Reading all the responses made me feel validated because I was told that abuse was normal at both professions, and that if I could not put up with it, I was not tough enough. At one place where I worked, I was told that the “working conditions were great, as compared to everywhere else.” I see that it is not and I am working on my mental health. Thank you all for sharing.

      Reply
      1. Wubba Lubba Dub-Dub

        Are you me? I’ve recently been diagnosed with C-PTSD, and it’s kinda weird to realize that 1) I work in an incredibly abusive office anyway and 2) I respond to that abuse much, much differently than someone who doesn’t have C-PTSD.

        My workplace is very toxic, and other workplaces I’ve been in were as well. Currently, the only thing keeping me going is that my boss is a kind, level-headed person. She has her faults. She’s become one of the risk-averse managers who is afraid of the other VPs — not because I think she’s like that normally, but because the office culture is so toxic and insane that she’s responding to it and avoiding stirring the pot.

        But she will remind me from time to time that things are Not Normal ™ and she’s never, in her (my guess based on age) 20 yrs of experience, worked in a place this screwed up. Never.

        And that comforts me — I hope I never will again. I’m trying to stick it out right now because I’ve only been here two years, and I was only at my previous job for 1 year, so I’m looking to repair my resume. But even my therapist is recommending I consider quitting without a job lined up.

        Reply
    5. TV Industry

      Oh man, it’s not only print newsrooms, but the broadcast industry as well. I don’t work in the newsrooms, but I did do live on-air programming (background/technical position) – and the pressure that one had to completely dedicate one’s self to the programming/brand was awful. There was also the internal politics of the place that I had not known had creeped and influenced my personality until I took a job in the last 6 months at an affiliate network. It was only after being pulled aside to lay off the (unbeknownst to me) chicken shit things that I had endured for the last 10 years and not let it spread in my new workplace that I am starting to realize how BAD the politicking was back at my old workplace.

      Clarification about the internal politics – there was always a competitive edge that you had to do better, you had to be the best because you could be laid off or get a bad review which would then end up giving you the worst shifts ever and you won’t be able to get promoted. There was at least one confirmed case of an idea stolen and person promoted who stole the idea which rankled everyone. Management expected you to work, even if you had some free time during your shift – there was ALWAYS something one could be doing to “better” oneself at the workplace. And then the procedures that were put in place for certain procedures had to be dumbed down and disseminated to everyone because it was expected that people are “stupid” and couldn’t understand things. So much SOP and nitpicking of said SOP that could not be changed. God forbid you go off SOP and discover an efficiency. Management would praise you for it, but then dumb it down for the others or ignore it if it didn’t conform to their views.

      Reply
  7. EA

    In my first job, my managers basically ignored me. This was a combination of their inability or interest in managing, and the fact that I was proficient at my job and probably didn’t need much managing. I got very little feedback positive or negative. It was very ‘no news is good news’. It was hard for me to get regular feedback in later jobs. I didn’t see it as part of a normal workplace, and wanted to be left alone.

    Reply
    1. NewHere

      That’s exactly how my current workplace is! I can go days without seeing my manager, who works down the hall. I’m a little curious to see how I’ll “unlearn” being so unsupervised after this job…

      Reply
    2. Fictional Butt

      I don’t think I have ever had a job where I got regular feedback. Also, all of my professional experience has been in a company where my boss doesn’t have any experience in the type of work I do, so my boss isn’t even able to provide meaningful feedback about many parts of my job. I would love to get more feedback, and since I’m switching fields I think that will happen more in my future jobs, but I am really curious about how I will react. That will be a totally new experience for me!

      Reply
      1. Princess Carolyn

        Ugh, I hear you on the part about being managed by people who don’t have much/any experience in your role. Somehow I keep finding myself in jobs like that, where I’m the only person in the building who does what I do — and often the position is new to the company, so I can’t even research how the last guy handled X task or Y process.

        Reply
      2. Anne of Green Tables

        I’ve had 7 supervisors in 10 years. Only two have had more than a vague idea of what my role entails. One thought I did something else entirely. I’m good at what I do and work well with minimal direction, so their attention is focused on those whose jobs they understand/are insterested in and the problem employees.

        Some of my supervisors did get annual feedback from people I work with so they had something to write on my annual review form verbatim.

        At least there was an effort. At a previous job I noticed a new name on my electronic time sheet in the “Supervisor” box, looked him up in the company directory, and called him. He had no idea who I was, was located on the other side of the country, had a completely unrelated role, and didn’t supervise others in my role even at his location. Yet it was confirmed I was now in his group. He asked me to fill out my own annual review for him. By happenstance I met him once later, but had to remind him I was in his group.

        Reply
    3. Sara

      This is interesting because it’s very much what my current job is like. I’ve had bosses who were very hands-off, and the amount of latitude I have often seems to be surprising to people. I’ve wondered how it might change when I move on to somewhere new.

      Reply
    4. Chatterby

      Same! Except it was two jobs in a row, so it really cemented the “work on your own” thought process.

      Reply
    5. Lora

      I haven’t had a boss who was actually there on a regular basis, who I saw for more than a couple hours per week (total, usually it’s barely 40 minutes in a row if we are scheduled for the same meeting), since March 2011.

      I haven’t had a boss who gave positive feedback more than once a year since September 2012. They keep paying me and giving me raises and more responsibility, and my colleagues seem to like me well enough so I guess I’m doing OK. All additional responsibility is presented as “the person normally responsible won’t do this as well as you do / I don’t want to do this anymore, congrats it’s your job now”. I reply, if you want it it’s worth something, and I get some kind of bonus or incremental raise out of the bigger tasks, which is fine.

      When managers compliment me I tend to give them a suspicious look before asking, “and what can I do for you today?”

      Reply
      1. Anne of Green Tables

        …suspicious look before asking, “and what can I do for you today?”

        Hahaha! Me too! My niche happens to be things other people do not want to do and the pay is fine. I never really thought about it in the terms if they want it, then it is worth something. Good point.

        Reply
  8. Anony Non

    I had a supervisor who told me that everything I turned in had to be 100% perfect the first time, always. I think she was trying get to get me to work on my attention to detail because honestly, it wasn’t great but by going to that extreme I just got anxious and miserable and felt like a failure because I couldn’t immediately shoot up to 100% perfect 100% of the time.

    I get that in some fields it’s very important to get as close as possible but I’m always going to be human!!!

    Reply
    1. Itac

      Same in my first office job any mistake would result in a lecture followed by the silent treatment. Now I work in a field that is very mistake prone and still apologize profusely and feel crazy anxious about any tiny mistake even tho it’s common to just correct it.

      Reply
      1. Stranger than fiction

        Same here. Almost no mistake I make is any big deal. Someone will simply point out a mistake on a report, I go back, fix it and resend it with”revised” in the subject line. I worry how I’d go back to working somewhere where mistakes are a big deal that would have a big impact.

        Reply
    2. Jen

      I’ve had that before! I had a boss who would call me into her office and go through every press release I wrote line-by-line-by-line to tell me how everything I was doing was wrong. And this was at a point where I had 10 years of experience under my belt so I wasn’t a newbie and at no previous job did I have to deal with that level of micro-management. Instead of inspiring me to try my best it made me incredibly anxious and afraid to do anything because fault would be found with it. And then after a while, I confess it just made me turn in shit work. Why bother? She’s going to find fault with anything I do so trying seems like a complete waste of time.

      Reply
    3. SoMuchAttentionNotEnoughDetail

      This!

      I have been told by my boss how badly disappointed in me he was because I used a comma instead of a semicolon on an internal email. Or the time I was asked by my boss whether “(I) even liked (my) job” because an invoice I drafted had ONE capitalization error.

      *sigh*

      Reply
      1. SemiColonsForLife!

        OH MY GOD. Something very similar happened to me! I once got an email with the whole office CC’d from one of my supervisors chastising me for my lack of attention to detail for a comma in a document. (I had written “Company, Inc.” instead of “Company Inc.” Even though everyone else used them interchangeably. )

        And more than once did I get asked if I “even wanted to be here” when I made slight typos. Ugh. I’m sorry it happened to you as well, but it is nice to know I’m not alone. :)

        *Double sigh*

        Reply
  9. Lady By The Lake

    This is a common one I think — I have worked some places where swearing is the norm — people wouldn’t take people who didn’t swear seriously. I always have to remember to tone it down when I go someplace new — that moment of shocked silence after dropping an f-bomb at a new place is NOT fun.

    Reply
    1. Jake

      Yes! Yes yes yes, I went from a swear once a week person to a swear all the time person because of my first job out of college.

      Reply
      1. Clewgarnet

        I went from a workplace where every sentence had at least one four-letter word to one where, in the 1990s, people were still referred to as ‘Miss Surname’, ‘Mrs Surname’, and ‘Mr Surname’.

        I didn’t last out my probation period, and was glad to leave!

        Reply
    2. Kaden Lee

      A million times this, except for with off color jokes except for swearing. Literally people would tiptoe around me and treat me like a dainty little lady and not bring things to my attention until after they’d hear me joking around like they did.

      Reply
    3. Statler von Waldorf

      Oh so much this. In my early 20’s, after a knee injury I switched from being an oilfield roughneck to doing accounting and IT work in an office. I so agree that moment when you drop the inappropriate f-bomb and everyone gets real quiet and looks at you with their jaws dropped is not fun at all. Even two years later, I still had the odd coworker jokingly ask me if it was f***-it o’clock yet.

      Reply
      1. Connie-Lynne

        Ha, at my last job I was debugging some particularly thorny code, thought I had it, ran a test, it failed, and without thinking, shouted “BALLS! … … … Oh shit, Sorry!”

        It was an open plan office so like 40 people heard me. Lucky for me they all thought it was funny.

        Reply
    4. LNZ

      OMG yes. While i have always sworn to much for my mothers taste it got a lot worse because my first post college job was working with long term homeless folks, and in that culture you basically show affection by swearing. I was much beloved by the crotchety old men because i could swear up a storm and was comfortable also showing affection by swearing back at them. Ad in the fact that this job was in London (which IMO is a bit more swear happy than most of US)
      This quickly became a problem. Like to the point whee one one of my friends actually was like dude you need to stop swearing so much there are children in this restaurant.

      Reply
    5. Brett

      Swearing was extremely common in my last job. But strangely I never developed any tendency to swear in that environment. (The few times I did, my co-workers would say, “Oh #@*&$, Brett’s cussing. What did we do and how do we fix it?”)

      Reply
    6. Stranger than fiction

      Yes! I commented on this below, but cursing has become so normal that I’ve let a couple of F bombs drop in front of my devout christian mother and had to apologize profusely!

      Reply
  10. FDCA In Canada

    That a total lack of feedback is normal and it’s okay if your boss just “doesn’t like confrontation.” This is my second job in a row I’ve had with bosses who just….flat-out never give feedback, or do it poorly once in a blue moon, and it is incredibly stressful. Even if I feel like I’m doing okay, the lack of any feedback at all is nerve-wracking. And even asking “how am I doing?” leads to “Oh, fine, fine, don’t worry about it” even when the boss’s actions raise questions.

    Some days I feel like I’m chasing a laser dot that keeps disappearing.

    Reply
    1. Kiki

      >Some days I feel like I’m chasing a laser dot that keeps disappearing.

      This is an excellent way of putting it. I have the same issue. Every time I ask for feedback or how I can improve I get, “You’re doing great! Nothing to improve on.” Soooo does that mean I’m completely stagnant in my role? That I can only improve by taking on different work? What am I supposed to do with that?

      Reply
    2. Temporarily Anonymous

      Do we work at the same (government) office? Because I think we either have the same boss or mine has a twin.

      And with the non-confrontational thing: Knowing that you have to just tiptoe around certain bullies until they decide to retire because “it’s impossible to fire anyone” even when they’re literally making your coworkers cry in the bathroom on a daily basis.

      Reply
    3. A Girl Has No Name

      Completely agree. I worked for a manager who avoided conflict at all costs. This manager also never really gave (direct) feedback, and if he was somehow forced to give constructive feedback, he made it so colorful and roundabout that it either left the recipient with the impression that it was optional whether not to incorporate the feedback, or it simply caused mass confusion. At the same time, whenever giving positive feedback, he never said much more than “you’re doing great” – never anything specific, or clarifying where growth opportunities might be.

      The practical impact of it was that no one ever knew where they stood with this manager, and even obviously high-performing team members questioned their abilities. And in some instances, new or junior team members were doing things incorrectly or inefficiently and no one felt like they could give that feedback or coach them because our manager considered “mean”.

      My takeaway has been to truly value feedback and attempt to be direct but kind when delivering it; however, I find that I am constantly second-guessing myself whenever providing my thoughts or feedback as a pseudo-hangover from the two years of working in this strange dynamic.

      Reply
  11. Odyssea

    I worked for a company where the owner would go home at night, get drunk with her husband and write nasty e-mails to the employees. I never wanted to check my e-mail in the mornings, because you never knew whether you were going to get one. I ended up being fired en route to a conference (literally as I was driving on the highway) because she wanted to give my job to her friend.

    I still worry when I check my e-mails, even though I haven’t gotten an e-mail like those since.

    Reply
    1. CoffeeLover

      Wow. I want to say I hope that blew up in her face, but now I want to say I bet it did. Either the boss realized the friend wasn’t a good fit, or the friend realized the boss is fine as a friend, but crazy as an employer. Please tell me it’s so!

      (Reposted from below because I can’t manage to click the right comment button.)

      Reply
      1. Odyssea

        It actually did blow up in her face, but for a sad reason – the friend ended up having severe mental problems (hallucinations, etc.) and ended up moving in with her daughter.

        Unfortunately, that employer was one of those people who loves the flavor of the month – the newest person is always going to shake things up and make a million dollars! Until they don’t, or she finds a new person.

        Reply
    2. Stranger than fiction

      Omg, that sounds like my last boss. I called her the “hot mess” because she would roll in in the morning hungover with her hair all messy and unbrushed. She too would send nasty emails and get on me about the lamest things, and was totally hypocritical because she spent half her day hacking her boyfriends Facebook, and the other half outside smoking, but we had to look busy at all times ir she’d scream at us.

      Reply
      1. Rainy, PI

        I worked at a restaurant that had lost its liquor license right before I came on, mostly because when the inspector shows up and the manager is so drunk he’s falling into people’s food, they start doubting your ability to serve safely. The boss (owner’s son-in-law) then switched from his booze habit to a coke habit. My coworkers told me that drunk!boss was actually better to work for than coke!boss, who fired someone once a week because it made him feel good. The churn at that restaurant was astonishing–worse than anywhere I’ve ever worked, before or since.

        Coke!boss was extremely volatile and turned hostile at the drop of a hat, even to customers. Drunk!boss apparently was everyone’s best friend, and if he fell in your food he’d replace it gratis. So there’s that, I guess?

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Oh god, restaurants. We had drunk!bosses too, and corrupt union managers who used their worker-dues-paid-for credit cards to eat $100 lunch and dinner *every* day, plus crazy amounts of alcohol, and some days they came with wife and kids and other days mistresses. And the boss’s daughter’s girlfriend who did coke in the staff bathroom so we couldn’t use it. And being stopped from going into the shortcut conference room because it was being used by the stripclub owner down the street, a regular, having his employees/rotational girlfriends give a free strip show right there. They were generous with drinks though, and if someone was having a rough day they let us comp them something, which was nice.

          Reply
  12. MD

    When I first started working office jobs, on two occassions at different companies I was competing for promotions, only to lose them to coworkers who were having affairs with bosses. Prior to these jobs, my only exposure to office environments was via salacious(sp?) Daytime or prime time TV. So I thought it was perfectly normal for such activities to be the reason for promotions. And I did a lot of soul searching to see if I should stoop to that level.

    Reply
    1. CoffeeLover

      Wow. I want to say I hope that blew up in her face, but now I want to say I bet it did. Either the boss realized the friend wasn’t a good fit, or the friend realized the boss is fine as a friend, but crazy as an employer. Please tell me it’s so!

      Reply
      1. CoffeeLover

        Sorry! I somehow managed to respond to the wrong comment (will repost above).

        As for your actual comment MD: Yikes, definitely not the norm. In most industries anyway. I’ve heard the entertainment industry (TV, Music, Movies, etc.) is rife with this kind of stuff so I don’t suppose you were in it? I will say though that people get all kinds of preferential treatment (sex or no sex), which was shocking to at first but I’ve kind of accepted it as another “life isn’t fair” moment. I know quite a few people who were promoted because of their bff relationship with the boss (or their parents connections – another big one).

        Reply
          1. Wintermute

            That doesn’t actually surprise me either. My knowledge and experience is a bit opposite of CoffeeLover’s in that I know people in TV and at the edges of the music industry and I guess that it might have been true once back when but I guess those days are largely gone because of how much competition there is to get into the industry at any level.

            In MY experience “conservative industry” is coded language for “attitudes (especially about sex, gender and power) stuck in the 50s and executives with secret fantasies of being Don Draper”.

            Reply
  13. AMT

    I was almost fooled into thinking that I didn’t like being a mental health professional. Turns out I love it — just not the parts where I have to deal with extreme resource scarcity, clerical tasks that aren’t in my job description, and horrible, dysfunctional coworkers. Luckily, I finally have a job I like with (mostly) adequate staffing, (mostly) lovely coworkers, an administration that (mostly) doesn’t suck, and a good salary. It’s one of the most functional environments I’ve ever worked in (clean! not chaotic!) and I’m starting to feel the first hopeful glimmers of loving my job. I’m also working on a book that’s under contract with a major publisher, so I have outside projects that are therapist-y without being part of my regular job.

    For the first time in a while, I feel like…an actual professional, not a soulless labor-drone. Being in healthcare/social services can really screw with your head and make you feel like dysfunction is part of the profession itself, not just a few crappy workplaces. I can’t count the number of times in various jobs I’ve heard some version of, “Yeah, that’s what we signed up for when we decided to work in mental health.” No, it’s not, and we shouldn’t settle! It took me many job interviews and leaving a job I didn’t like after nine months, but I found someplace that doesn’t suck.

    Reply
    1. K

      Wow, I had what sounds like a very similar experience, but with a much more entry-level position. Currently looking for a mental health/social services job with an environment that doesn’t feel constantly dangerous and stressful (because it turns out that’s…..not actually normal), and hearing your experience gives me hope!!

      Reply
      1. Chalupa Batman

        Same! I worked an entry level job in mental health as one of my first “real” jobs, and it was great until we got bought out by a mega-company. Suddenly I was spending a ton of time thinking about making the company money rather than benefiting my clients. We basically got told that, in a group home setting, on the weekend, we were not allowed to do anything with clients unless we found a way to bill for it. I actually left the field because I couldn’t imagine continuing to build a career based around billable activities.

        Reply
    2. Tobias Funke

      Thank you for summing up my thoughts! I used to be held personally responsible for the outcomes of child welfare cases. I never slept. I threw up before work. I was told if any of the kids got hurt or if there were any new allegations it was my fault. I was restricted from most trainings and was berated when I asked questions. (I have a lot of theories about this but they mostly boil down to the misogyny of men who rise to the top of pink collar professions.)

      It sticks with me. A client no call/no showed last week and took until yesterday to reschedule and I spent the entire week berating myself in my former bosses’ voices about why I am so inept and I am dangerous to clients and I don’t belong here. It has taken me years – YEARS – to truly believe that I am not personally responsible for the outcomes in my clients’ lives. All because of the environment at my first internship that turned into my first job.

      Reply
      1. CoffeeLover

        This is really sad to hear. I’m happy you’ve gotten past it for the most part. We can’t force people to do anything, rarely can we convince them, but ultimately we are not responsible for their actions. The only thing we can do is act with the best intentions to the best of our ability and knowledge. Please don’t beat yourself up for other people’s actions. Be content that you did your best given the situation (even if that wasn’t the 110% absolute best action possible). No one is perfect.

        Reply
        1. Tobias Funke

          Thank you!

          I am now working adjacent to the system I used to be a part of and I like this much better.

          Reply
      2. Gazebo Slayer

        +1 to the misogyny of men at the top of a pink collar profession. I was once the only woman in an oddly all male department within an all female field, and one of my coworkers told me I was too emotional to do my job because I was a woman. (It wasn’t the *top* of the profession, but it was a similar bizarre glass escalator phenomenon. He and my boss were BFFs despite him being loudly and conspicuously lazy, and they pushed me out.)

        Reply
      3. Manuel

        This is my current situation. It’s not my first job and I have 10+ years of experience in my field, but my organization’s culture, dynamics, and supervisors have made me lose a lot of self-confidence in my abilities. I also feel like it is holding me back professionally. I was a go-to type of employee at my previous jobs, but now I put in the bare minimum – no overtime, no going the extra mile, and I use up all of my PTO every year now. I tried for the longest time to go above and beyond like I used to, but it is not appreciated or valued here unless you are one of the chosen few. One colleague in particular will do anything to undermine/sabotage other colleagues, so it is probably best not to be noticed.

        My direct supervisor is probably the worst because he is non-confrontational, plays favorites, and is so subtle about things you can hardly articulate or document it. He also isn’t open to new ideas or suggestions, won’t address any issues or mistakes made by favored employees, and routinely gives his favorites the best training and continuing education opportunities. It probably goes without saying, we have a high turnover rate (about 86%).

        Reply
        1. Wubba Lubba Dub-Dub

          +1. You’re not in this alone, Manuel. This I’m experiencing this regularly, and it’s like that for several departments.

          Reply
    3. therapist

      YES. I just got out of a job in mental health, not because I disliked the field, but because of how much dysfunction I had to deal with at my workplace. For the last six months at the job, my new boss was making changes that could have literally been life threatening, and then would lie to my face (in front of other management) when I pushed back about it at all. She also told me that “some people [meaning me] are not cut out for mental health” because I had safety concerns, despite my having worked in the field for a large share of my career and always having been told I was really good at it. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

      I ended up quitting with only part-time work lined up. It had become so toxic that I was going home every night and just lying on my couch having physical feelings of dread about going back to work the next morning. I would stay up really late doing nothing because I figured that the sooner I went to bed, the sooner it would feel like I had to go back to work. I lost a lot of weight, stopped exercising, and was constantly mopey. When I was at work, I did everything I could to avoid the boss, and was extremely anxious every time I saw an email come through from her. I started thinking that maybe I was the problem, that I was actually a bad employee and all my co-workers must think so too (even though I always got positive feedback about my work from everyone but the boss). At some point I realized that I was wasting my life at that job and needed to get out. As soon as I made the decision to quit and live off of savings for a while if I had to, it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I quit two months before my 401k became fully vested, but I don’t regret it. I am happier, healthier, AND now work for people who value me.

      Reply
      1. AMT

        I loooooathe the “some people are not cut out for mental health” attitude. It is one thing to say, “This might not be for you if you can’t handle crises well or hate dealing with high-stress situations.” It is another thing to say, “This might not be for you if you can’t handle PREVENTABLE crises well or hate dealing with DANGEROUS situations.”

        Reply
    4. Not So NewReader

      You mean the dysfunction is not part of the profession itself? huh. Amazing. /snark

      Spent years in human services myself. I will never, ever go back to it. I would be very surprised if I ever worked for another NPO again. The biggest problems did not come from the people we served. The biggest problems came from each other.
      Part of what went on was because society as a whole did not want to deal. Police would not come to help and when they did it was minimal help. (I can’t blame them really because of [reasons].) Courts used programs instead of jail, when the person probably just needed to go to jail. (Courts thought the programs were the right choice, but if you don’t work in the system you don’t really know. Those ordered into program in lieu of jail, ended up going to jail later anyway.) Some programs became a dumping ground when other programs were no longer appropriate.

      I came to believe that our systems need major revamping. We have to totally change what we are doing. I still believe that. I am still overwhelmed by the magnitude of what is wrong there.

      Reply
  14. Antilles

    For me, it was hours. My industry standard is actually somewhere between 40 to 50 hours, with a fairly large proportion of companies firmly on the 40-and-done plan.
    But of course you don’t know that. My first company commonly worked people a lot of hours every week – like 50-55 was a light week, 70+ was more regular, and it wasn’t unheard of to break 90+ (my personal high: 108 hours). As a first ‘real’ job out of school, I figured that was normal for our industry and just assumed that every other company works similarly. It took a couple years of making contacts elsewhere, talking with friends from school, etc, to realize that no, no, this is not normal. In fact, the company has an (in)famous reputation throughout the industry for burning out employees.

    Reply
    1. Antilles

      Also, as for the effect on me, even several years removed from that workplace, with the blinders off, it still requires a bit of thought to remind myself that it’s not crazy to do such things as “taking long vacations” or “leaving work at 5:30” – in fact, it’s more crazy *not* to.
      Fortunately, my current boss has to walk by my office on his way out the door and always says goodnight on his way out, which really helps – it’s hard to feel like I’m skipping off when you clearly see others leaving.

      Reply
    2. Turquoise Cow

      My first office job didn’t require quite that many hours, but youd be thought badly of if you came in or left on time. For example, one of the VPs walked through a department made up entirely of hourly, non-exempt workers at 4:55, and complained why no one was there. End time was 4:45. Similar complaints if you came in on time. Most of my bosses came in an hour or more early and stayed 30-90 minutes late, every day. It wasn’t because there was a lot of work, it was butts-in-seats. I was so annoying to be told the hours were X and then expected to work more than that.

      My current boss doesn’t care if I’m 15 minutes late in the morning if I make it up in the evening. And she doesn’t walk around at 5 minutes before departure time to make sure everyone is still working – if you came in five minutes early, feel free to leave five minutes early!

      Reply
      1. Steph B

        That reminds me of a time at my old job, when one of the new C-level executives making a comment in a company-wide townhall about how there were not many cars in the parking lot the last time he left the office (he worked remotely 3 weeks a month) at 6pm. Most of the office came in around 7am, and we also had flexible telecommuting schedules to work from home 2 days a week. So no, most employees don’t stay after 5pm…

        Reply
      2. myswtghst

        My last boss really wanted to believe that we were flexible about hours since we were salaried, but just couldn’t walk the walk. She consistently would get on your case if you were “late” coming in to work, even if you worked late pretty much every night and your “lateness” impacted no one. At the same time, it was almost a game for a while of “when will boss be here today?” because her hours changed daily and we rarely found out whether she was coming in at all on a given day until we reached out to find out where she was when she was inevitably late for a meeting.

        My current boss has a moderately unpredictable schedule, but she keeps us as informed as possible via a shared team calendar and emails when things change, so we know where she’s at and when to expect her. Also, more importantly, she does not give a hoot what time exactly you walk in the door in the morning or leave at night, so long as you’re getting your work done and not missing meetings or classes. It’s taken me a while to stop feeling super stressed and anxious if I’m on my way in and realize I’m going to be 5-10 minutes “late” (especially now that I have a longer commute).

        Reply
      3. Anonicat

        Ugh, the unofficial-but-really-expected longer hours. I actually ended up putting my foot down about it, despite being chronically non-confrontational, because I had to walk through the red light district to get public transport home and I was sick of randoms on the street asking what colour my panties were.

        Reply
    3. Steph B

      THIS for me too. In my last job, our department had people on really heavy workloads (50 hour weeks were normal), and I remembered the first months at this job just waiting until the other shoe dropped and my hours or workload were going to balloon up. I am always busy at my current job, but not so busy that I have to have my quality go down or that I have to work a lot of late nights like I used to.

      Reply
  15. LQ

    I don’t recall the incident that caused it because it was such a non issue but I expect it happened the same as all the rest.
    Got a phone call from someone while Boss was out at a conference all week.
    Told person Boss was gone all week at a conference and asked if I could help.
    Person said they’d call Boss’s cell.

    Boss comes back and yells at me, half yelling, half laughing about how I told his wife he was at a conference (it was really standard to tell people that at that job) and how he got in trouble and how I was now in trouble for …answering the phone. He started to really police how I answered the phone when his wife called (she was unfailingly polite). Like he’d run into my office and hold up signs of what he wanted me to say to her, a whole boat load of wanting me to lie to her. Finally I just stopped answering when I saw her number.

    I still look at the caller ID with suspicion and don’t answer ATL numbers if I can help it.

    Reply
    1. Frances

      Wait – did his wife not know he was at a conference? Where did he tell her he was going? Did he actually go to the conference at all?? So many questions!

      Reply
      1. LQ

        He lived in a different place than her and so he didn’t, I think. She just thought he was going to be at work. He did go to the conference, but the paperwork I had to go through when he left leads me to believe he was taking other women with him to conferences when he went. Like at the end I got all that stuff was wrong, he embezzled, not quite clearly enough to be prosecuted, but only because prosecution is hard, not because he was being totally legal and above board. The documents and horrible stuff (like the stacks of paper that were a print out from…adult dating sites STUCK to actual grant documents that we needed) that I got was not ok. But I still am really worried about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing around coworkers/bosses spouses. That piece I couldn’t get through was all a part of the spectrum of horrible. I think because it was so early on when he started and such a long way from the unraveling of all his horrible misdeeds.

        Reply
    2. Turquoise Cow

      She should have just always called his cell.

      I’m laughing imagining him holding up poster board signs. Did he make them in advance, with common responses?

      I worked many years in customer service having people yell at me on the phone about problems I didn’t cause – I’m terrified of the phone now.

      Reply
      1. LQ

        No posters, and just like quickly scribbling on whatever paper was available. Lots of hand waving and gesturing I was supposed to understand too. He did this super strange yell/laugh thing. Like isn’t it funny I’m chewing you out right now you’re supposed to agree with how funny I am that was just…strange.

        It’s weird because the customer service side? Not really a problem. This person is stressed out because something is negatively impacting their life and they think I’m in a position to solve it and it’s not something I’m doing wrong or right. But the whole …boundary between personal/spouse and work is just like NOPE! I just want to avoid.

        Reply
    3. cncx

      UGH i know what you mean! I am SO GLAD my current boss is faithful to his wife. Had way too many jobs when i was younger where i had to cover for someone stepping out. It is so stressful because the web of lies they create is so delicate they can barely handle it, and it made me walk on eggshells too.

      Reply
  16. My name is Ignacio Montoya

    That it’s not normal for a boss to require extreme details of what you want to do during your time off so he could deem whether or not it’s worthy. And that a sick day doesn’t requires all sorts of gory details to prove that you’re sick. Turns out first boss was a complete control freak / micro-manager about leave since the department wasn’t staffed to function if even one person was out, so he never wanted anyone to take off, ever. It wasn’t until a few bosses later that I realized that adults managing other adults don’t want to long sob story about your stomach bug, they just want you to stay home and not contaminate the whole team.

    Reply
    1. gmg

      Ah yes. When I worked for a very dysfunctional (and very poor entry-level-paying) nonprofit, I had a second part-time job one or two evenings a week. It did not interfere with any of my 9-to-5 duties, and in fact had the advantage of being at an organization (not a competitor) with which we wanted to form more professional connections. Yet I actually thought it necessary to conceal this until shortly before my resignation, and then I found myself actually apologizing to my boss for, you know, trying to have enough money to pay bills. (She was clearly annoyed, too. Annoyed at me for having another job because I could not survive on $30K a year in Washington, DC?)

      Reply
    2. Stranger than fiction

      Oh totally, even though I’m now in a job where time off is not quesioned at all, I still will find myself saying things like ” you can reach me on my cell” or even texting my manager ” if so and so calls back, tell them their report will be done first thing Wednesday ” or whatever because I still worry every time I have a day off thanks to so many previous jobs where time off was like a sin.

      Reply
    3. always in email jail

      YES! When I first started, I would over-explain my absences to my boss as well. This was a holdover from my previous job. “I’m submitting personal leave to go to hawaii but it’s not for a vacation it’s to see my paretns who happen to live there and I don’t get to see them often and my mom is in failing health and they’re so close to my child it’s really important to see them…” etc. I did realize that was a bit unusual, and was so proud of myself to setting what I perceived to be a “boundary” when I came in, and would just say “My doctor asked me to get labs done so I’m using sick leave for that” or “I’m going to visit my parents”. After a while, I realized that was STILL oversharing, and all my boss expects is “trip” or “medical appointment” etc. Still working on that one!

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        I had a boss who would question the doctor involved and randomly decide the doctor was not a capable person. She also wanted to be involved in the diagnosis and testing aspect of my problems. My solution was, “I don’t remember all those medical terms so I am not sure. I have it written down at home, but I don’t carry the info with me.” Not sure, I don’t know and written down at home were my go-to phrases.

        As far as the doc, I told him that “my boss questioned your ethics and your capability because of X situation”. He ran through everything that happened. I went back to the boss and told her that I mentioned to the to the doc she was worried about his professionalism. And that was the last time she tried to tell me which doc to go to.

        I was scared I was going to lose my job over this doc. Never again. I will never allow a boss to push me that hard again.

        Reply
    4. HR Gal

      Or that you’re allowed to use your vacation days at all.

      Old Job had a not-so-great PTO policy and would judge you for using it all. Also, whenever someone was out for a random weekday, upper management assumed it was because you were interviewing.

      New Job offers an incredible amount of PTO. But I’ve been so timid to use it, especially for a random workday. Fortunately, my coworkers all take random workdays off, and my manager has spoken about us needing to use all our days that don’t roll over so that they don’t expire. It’s an adjustment, but I’m working on it :)

      Reply
    5. Workaholic

      Yes! Most of my former employers would only let you call in sick if you found somebody to cover. Which nobody ever would (except me. I covered shifts for everybody). I still feel guilty calling in sick but also really really love that i work someplace where i can (and PTO so I don’t stress over lost wages). My second boss at current company stated “we’re all adults. If you say you’re sick: i believe you. I don’t need details” but it’s still hard not to try justifying that i truly am sick.

      Reply
    6. Anne of Green Tables

      My first job out of college was for a non-profit where the pay was so low and staffing so tight that one person being out threw off a major portion of the system. People would go to work sick to be dedicated and because money was so dear. The end result being that sickness spread like wildfire to staff and clients and we were all the worse for it.

      Even knowing how dysfunctional that was, at my next job it took me ages to take a sick day. I would come in even if on death’s door and be proud I was a dedicated employee while taking forever to realize my fellow employees did not appreciate me being a mobile Hazmat area. More than one coworker on multiple occasions told me to go home, but it just didn’t sink in: “I got this!”

      Reply
  17. CBH

    I had a Senior and Staff manager I worked for on a team. The team had 6 other people. If you weren’t part of the “popular” the managers made life difficult, challenging every action, yelling at you for a mistake regardless if it was your error or not, excluding you from team building / moral boosters and then penalizing you for it. My reviews were never beyond average for this company; sadly I stayed due to their supposed stellar reputation. I later found out that said company had a not-so-good reputation and many left for similar reasons. I am now at a company where my reputation has soared and my career has advanced. It took me a long time to realize that the original company was not the norm. My current boss/ mentor is shocked by what I had to go through. She said it took a while to redirect me the right way. Not everyone is out to get you.

    Reply
  18. AndersonDarling

    Sigh. I was once at a brutal company that expected employees to be available all the time, to sleep at their desks instead of going home, and to make work their entire world. It was common to mock people for taking vacation time or going home on-time.
    One time my manager said that someone was going to be gone for 2 weeks because his father died and I automatically reacted with a displeased “p-sha!” It was a natural reaction for the workplace, but as soon as I did it, I really thought about it. I was mad that someone was taking time off because their dad died…their dad died.
    It was of those moments where everything changed and I realized that I didn’t like who I was at that workplace.

    Reply
    1. Rainy, PI

      My very first full-time office job, the “boss” was the owner’s niece and mostly did not actually work, though she would come in once a week to write on her time card. Because the owner assumed that her niece was working 50 hour weeks, we were actually a little short-staffed all the time: I routinely worked 45 hour weeks and the only other admin was a part-timer who worked 15 hours tops. So I basically couldn’t be sick, at all, ever. My last year there, my husband had a stroke and while he was in the hospital, I was there every day obviously. My yearly vacation had been booked for that next week, and when he got out of the hospital I thought “this is convenient, because I want to be home this week to help out anyway”. Nope. I called my boss and she said “oh, we used your vacation for last week when you left us in the lurch. You HAVE to come in this week.” I bargained her down to afternoons only, but looking back I’m still absolutely appalled.

      This is the same boss who, when I quit with four months’ notice to go back and finish my bachelor’s degree, told me in the very same breath both that I was shit at my job and don’t think she hadn’t noticed that my focus had been elsewhere, AND for me to advertise for, collect applications, make a short list, interview, hire my successor, and then train them before I left.

      It has taken me over 15 years to be comfortable staying home if I’m sick (it didn’t help that I went straight from that job into university and then grad school, where sick days are things that happen to people with benefits), and I still feel weird about taking vacation days. I am trying to get better. I think when your early workplace experiences are dysfunctional and no one is there to say “this isn’t normal”, it’s much worse than if you have a few healthy workplaces under your belt and then end up in a nightmare job, where at least you know all jobs aren’t like that.

      Reply
    2. Nea

      I didn’t like who I was at that workplace.

      Oh, I hear you. I once worked at a place where I ended up going through the trash to prove that other employees were making the same mistakes I was being accused of, at the same rate. When I realized that *that* was where I had to go – was where I was *willing* to go – I realized how the job was warping my idea of standard office behavior.

      Reply
    3. Turquoise Cow

      When I got my first job, part time retail, I got sick and called into the office. There must have been a rash of people calling out sick, because they put me through to the store manager, who probably didn’t even know who I was, a lowly cashier who had only worked there a short time. He basically threatened me with loss of my job for calling out sick. We were supposed to give 4 hours notice, but I was scheduled for a morning shift and the store wasn’t opened that early.

      Several years later I was working in a different store. I slept late and woke up about an hour before my shift, feeling horrible. We were supposed to give 2 hours notice. I called, and was half in tears apologizing to the customer service manager that I had just woken up and also vomited. She was very chill about it and replied with an “Ok, feel better.”

      Wait, it’s okay to take a sick day? When you’re actually sick? And not get fired or screamed at? Mind blown.

      Reply
    4. Kiki

      >I didn’t like who I was at that workplace

      I know that feeling too well. My last job promoted and celebrated heavy drinking and would mandate employees attend after-hour “team building” events at bars. Managers would challenge their employees to drinking games and it was understood that if you wanted to be treated well, you had to participate. It was a competition to see who could drink the most and still come in on time the next day.

      At one of these events I had a moment of clarity that I was out of control. I left the bar around midnight (already heavily drunk) and my boss texted me and left voice mails all through the night chastising me for bailing on the team. I spent the next morning running between my desk and the bathroom and spent the first few hours of the day with my head in the toilet. My teammates cheered every time it happened.

      I gave my two weeks the following Monday.

      Reply
    5. AndersonDarling

      I should also mention that the company I worked for is completely gone. It was a massive global company and I think the world is a better place now. I was gone when they announced the sellout but I watched it on the news. Everyone they interviewed was happy they no longer had a job. Some had plans to move, some were going to start their own businesses…it was the most bizarre, and yet understandable, response to mass unemployment.

      Reply
    6. Not So NewReader

      Oh your story brings a tear to my eye.

      It creeps in doesn’t it? One day we wake up and realize, “I do not like me that much any more. How did I get to this place in my life?” It’s one step at a time and we ignore the cumulative effects of each of those steps.

      Reply
  19. AvonLady Barksdale

    I left the worst job I’ve ever had almost a year ago, and I’m still dealing with the effects. I think that every mistake means I will be fired or threatened with firing. For the first three months at my current job, I felt like I couldn’t do anything on my own because at my last job, I would make decisions (based on years of experience) and get berated for making the wrong choice and threatened with my job. It was– continues to be– paralyzing. I recently read an email after hours that said, “You made a mistake in this project, let’s talk in the morning,” and it absolutely RUINED my evening. Like, made my night miserable, tears, lack of sleep, etc. The next morning, I had that meeting, and it was incredibly positive and supportive, so of course, I was left kicking myself for allowing that relatively innocuous email to ruin my evening– which was, incidentally, my birthday.

    I could go on and on about the crap at that place. Management would promise to do something and then change it up two months later, but if we struggled with the changes, we were blamed for all problems. We would be told to ask for help, but when we did, we’d get chastised for wanting help. Managers would blame junior staff for mistakes, and worse, they would blame people who left for mistakes. When the office shut down (like over the holidays), we weren’t allowed to tell clients and basically had to work if something came up, regardless of whether we were in town or not. My current job closes over the holidays and we are all required to change our out-of-office messages to something like, “We’re closed. Talk to you next year.”

    I am in therapy for this now and extremely grateful that my current job provides the insurance and schedule flexibility that therapy requires, because my last job sure didn’t.

    Reply
    1. Ice Bear

      Ugh, sorry your birthday was ruined. This is why I stopped checking my email in the evenings and waited until the morning when I was getting ready to go to work – it reduced the time I would stress out over a vague meeting request or what have you. Even though it almost was never as bad as I imagined it, my anxiety would always build it up in my head. I learned to avoid looking so as not to ruin my evenings. Now, if you didn’t have a choice to not check your email I think it would have been kinder of your manager to make a note to email you the next day (especially if they knew it was your birthday).

      Reply
  20. gmg

    I had a new boss once who brought in a new hire upon his arrival and rather than just be up front and say “I worked with her before and want to vouch for her, she’s really good,” thought it preferable for some reason to pretend that he did not know her (they had worked for the same organization, but it was large enough that this was plausible). He then got busted because we all went out to lunch and bumped into one of their old colleagues, who greeted the two of them enthusiastically and collectively.

    When I shared this with a friend who had to that point spent her entire career (a decade-plus) at a notably dysfunctional workplace, her response was to mock me for thinking that it was a bit off. “Duh, totally normal, you need to get over it,” she said. (This was about a month before she got fired, basically to take the fall for her boss who had designed a program with unachievable goals and then ordered her to go out and magically achieve them.)

    I still think my boss was being unnecessarily (and counterproductively) secretive, but I also think neither I nor my friend had the tools to discern that properly at that juncture in our separate careers. Who was right here?

    Reply
    1. CoffeeLover

      When people hide things, it makes you wonder why they’re hiding it. You start to imagine all kinds of weird situations (maybe they had an affair and got caught in the supply closet! :O). Natural human response I think. We’re curious. It sounds like your boss hid a completely innocuous relationship for no reason. It’s so common to hire and work with people you’ve worked with before. If they’re qualified and you know they’re competent, then why not. It’s a normal part of hiring. Was he new to management or something? Or maybe he himself worked at a dysfunctional place before? Maybe he was worried people would think he was exhibiting signs of favouritism? Anyway, I think it’s weird he hid it.

      Reply
      1. Jessica

        Maybe he escaped a job where they were super dysfunctional about favorites, and that’s his own holdover?

        Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      Some places assume if you hire someone you know then you are playing favorites.

      Some times it’s the employees that assume you are playing favorites. He may have done that to protect her from her own coworkers, because he thought he had to. Or maybe he had thought he had to protect her from upper management.

      To me it looks like you were thinking along the lines of how a healthy company should function and your friend was thinking about how unhealthy companies DO function. Ideal vs. commonplace.

      Reply
  21. The Other Dawn

    I worked at a startup bank for 12 years. I was there one Day One and on the last day when it closed, and a little beyond. During that time we had only two years, I believe, when we actually showed a profit. Because of that, we obviously didn’t spend money. We were reactive rather than proactive, so we were always a couple operating systems behind, or we had the cheapest version of a program designed to work with our core processing platform that got us the bare minimum of information we needed and not much more. I got very used to having to constantly find ways to work around functionality that was lacking, or cobbling together several reports to get the one report I wanted. Obviously, this could be really time-consuming sometimes. When I came to my current job, it took me a very long time to get out of the mindset (and I still struggle with it) that I need to scrimp on certain things or spend hours trying to make something work. I would spend hours or days trying to make a manual process work in order to not pay our vendor X dollars to get it done in a half hour. My boss would say, “OMG! Don’t bother with that. We’ll pay the $3,000.00 for Vendor to produce that report for us.” After almost three years I still have a hard time letting go of that mindset. I’d argue that it serves me well sometimes, as my department is always on budget and we have everything we need to do our jobs well. It causes me to stop and think, “Do we really need these bells and whistles? What return will I get?” Lots of times the answer is no, we don’t need them.

    Reply
    1. MommaCat

      That’s been my issue, too! Throwing money at the problem is both liberating and terrifying! Like, what if I go too far and get the right taken away, or what if I don’t go far enough and get my budget money taken away because I obviously don’t need it except once it’s taken away I’ll need it again? It’s a balancing act.

      Reply
    2. LQ

      I do some of this still. My last job was a nonprofit and we were incredibly careful about every penny (ok I was, my boss wasn’t but…) reasonably spending things but I was salaried and sometimes it just made more sense to use my time. Now there is money that can only be spent on some things like technology so it took me 3 years to ask for a new computer, which my boss was like “Why didn’t you ask sooner!” And trainings, I’m doing better but the first thing I wanted to get trained on I took a day off and paid for myself. When I got back and told my boss something I’d learned he was super worried that meant I was going to leave and that yes, they’d pay and let me do it on work time, in fact please do it on work time, that’s appropriate.

      It’s good to be smart about not over spending for the sake of spending, but it’s not good to spend hours a week waiting for things to publish or render because that time is worth something too. Such a good lesson!

      Reply
      1. LQ

        The weirdest thing is I went 3 or 4 months without a chair here. I have a standing desk but they were supposed to come with chairs for you to sit down occasionally. I went for nearly 4 months without a chair at all until a director came by and asked where my chair was because he wanted to sit down in it while talking to me. When I said I didn’t have one he made it happen the next day that I got one. I was just so hesitant to ask.

        Reply
    3. Turquoise Cow

      Oh, yeah. Not having money can seriously mess with the mindset at a company. A previous job was at a place that eventually went bankrupt and shut down. They were constantly coming up with new initiatives, and then changing their minds after a month when they realized they couldn’t afford it. We rarely upgraded things and were questioned on almost every thing we did. Oh, and then there were the mass layoffs every 6-12 months, followed by promises that this would improve things rather than just make everyone work harder. Naturally morale was low, but we were discouraged from pointing this out, lest we be considered whiners who liked to complain. Oh, and in 7.5 years of working there, there were no raises.

      It’s so much nicer to work at a place that can afford to treat people nicely. I’m temping at a place now where the CEO apologized for not getting raises to people sooner. And they’re upgrading their software (part of the reason why I’m here) and getting the actual users’ input on how it should work, instead of having a bunch of VPs sit in a room and make those decisions.

      Reply
    4. The Queen of Cans & Jars

      Wow, replace “bank startup” with “packaging company” and that describes my current job to a T! The funny thing is, I was a teacher before coming here, so I’ve never really had a job experience where scrimping wasn’t a regular part of the job.

      Reply
    5. Collarbone High

      Oh my goodness yes. I’ve pretty much always worked at places with no money or resources, and where workarounds and cobbling things together was the norm.

      The other day I off-handedly mentioned to my boss at new Functional Company that I’d found a workaround to the problem with my laptop cord (I work remotely) and he was floored and told me to call IT and they’d overnight me a new laptop.

      I was like … wait … there are extra laptops? That aren’t 15 years old? I won’t get one that was pulled out of the rotation because the previous user spilled orange soda in the keyboard and now only three keys work? I’m not familiar with the concept …

      Reply
  22. Mazzy

    I have this now. My job has warped what is important and not important, what is a problem to fix and what is a problem to ignore. I feel like we dismiss big mistakes but focus on ones that don’t have much of a financial impact and then we reverse priorities on the next set of similar errors without backwardly applying the new priorities. For example, we refund customers for every tiny error one day and then the next day we don’t fix any because its part of the customer’s cost of doing business. So we are going to cut a check for five dollars to a customer for one error but ignore a hundred dollar mistake the next day. But both errors are still on the same error lists right next to each other. It is weird. It is leading me to sit here reading internet articles despite technically having a backlog of work to do.

    Reply
  23. Sarasaurus

    At OldJob, I worked for a boss who insisted that a new process be developed for every minor mistake someone made. Say Jane’s email to the CEO included a typo – now ALL emails to executives must be reviewed by 3 coworkers before sending. Beyond that, every mistake was a potentially fireable offense. I once accidentally neglected to include someone on a meeting invite. Instead of just saying “whoops sorry, you were supposed to be on this,” I had to apologize, explain why I made the mistake, and share the steps I was taking to ensure it never happened again.

    When I came to my current job, which has a very healthy and normal environment, it took me MONTHS to get over fearing for my job after every tiny oversight. I couldn’t believe it when my boss said “hey, can you do process abc like xyz in the future? Thanks!” and that was IT.

    Reply
    1. SansaStark

      I had a boss like this. After *every* mistake, you had to explain why you made it and how you’d make sure to never do it again. I understand the reasoning behind it, but sometimes the answer was literally “I made this proofreading error because I am human and I will miss things sometimes,” which was unacceptable to him. It took me years after that to realize that my boss doesn’t need constant self flagellation for a small error in an email to a vendor.

      Reply
      1. aebhel

        I had a boss like that. “Why did you misspell this word?”

        “Uh… because I made an error?”

        (I do not, for the record, regularly misspell words, nor am I in a line of work where it would really matter if I did).

        I still tend to over-justify every little error, even when there’s no real need to.

        Reply
        1. TCO

          I over-justify every little error, too, because my work culture is unnecessarily obsessed with preventing and addressing tiny mistakes. Just this week my therapist helped me realize that I’m taking this habit home, which is why my husband is fed up with me for “being so defensive about everything.”

          Being corrected and shamed over every small failing at work meant that I feel that sinking feeling about every small failing in the rest of my life, too, and I’m developing some really maladaptive habits to deflect the blame.

          Reply
          1. Merci Dee

            “Why did I make that mistake? Because I didn’t think you had enough to do, and thought I’d jazz up your day a bit.” Great answer for that question, but you’d probably need to have a box handy to pack up your desk after delivering it.

            Then again, it may have been worth it . . . .

            Reply
      2. DecorativeCacti

        I had to do that and put it all in memo form. My boss would then just decide I couldn’t be trusted to do whatever it was at all and take it away from me (e.g., someone else was responsible for adding final dates to a database but wasn’t doing it. My boss decides that I couldn’t add anything to the database at all even though I wasn’t making the errors.)

        Reply
    2. Natalie

      Argh, I had a boss like this, even for things that *weren’t* our office’s responsibility. As in, during an internal audit they uncovered a couple of mistakes made by the corporate accounting group, not our field office. No one was dinging us for the other group’s mistake. And yet Boss desperately wanted to make a complicated process to catch that error in the future.

      Thankfully Ultimate Boss shut it down right quick.

      Reply
  24. the.kat

    That the correct response to any mistake is to make a department-wide rule about it, “so it doesn’t happen again.” It took me a long time to realize that you should approach someone who made a mistake one-on-one instead of requiring a department-wide meeting to announce a new policy and procedure.

    Reply
  25. Amber Rose

    At toxic old-job, every time someone brought up bad news or suggestions or customer issues to my boss, she would yell about how awful we were then lock herself in her office and cry. Even tiny mistakes. Then for the next few days, she’d pull the Mean Girls act and badmouth a person in whispers to everyone else. In a staff of 8 people working in a small converted condo, it wasn’t a secret what was being said. She caused my coworker to run out of the building in tears multiple times, and I used to sneak back into the building at midnight to double check my work for errors because I couldn’t sleep.

    Now every time my boss is talking a low voice that I can’t hear, I am terrified that I have done something wrong and they are badmouthing me. I also collapse under pressure from people more easily. An asshole on a power trip sent me right back to that time yesterday, and I’m dealing with the aftermath today.

    I’ve got better, it’s been a couple years, but the fear of being yelled at and made to feel like an idiot lingers and is hard to ditch.

    Reply
    1. MillersSpring

      You used to “sneak back into the building at midnight to double check [your] work.”

      OMG, wow.

      Reply
      1. Amber Rose

        Yeah. It wasn’t until months after I was out and at new job that I was like, oh man, I was bonkers for sticking around so long. But at the time it was just… the way it was. It’s weird how bad jobs creep into your brain.

        Reply
  26. Cambridge Comma

    We’re supposed to avoid writing a certain list of words at work (e.g. must, shall, should) to avoid their imaginary implications.
    I’ve been there a while so I sometimes find myself writing text messages like ‘we will ideally get coffee some time!’
    Also, we have to be careful of country names. Someone recently told me that they went on holiday to Macedonia and I involuntarily interjected ‘The Former Yugoslav Republic of’.

    Reply
      1. Cambridge Comma

        At a former employer, a colleague was sued by Greece for publishing a school book with a map including Macedonia.

        Reply
    1. ArtK

      Could you please share what some of those imaginary implications were? I’m really having a hard time understanding what could be negative about “must,” “shall,” and “should.”

      Reply
      1. EddieSherbert

        If it was anything like my place, the reasoning is that you’re “commanding” the customers and that’s rude.

        (which was really dumb in my case because we were literally creating instructions for things…)

        Reply
      2. Undine

        My guess would be you’re Telling People What They Should Do. As opposed to may, can, could, etc. Of course, if it’s “you must twist the foozler so the teapot doesn’t explode,” “can” doesn’t really cover it.

        Reply
        1. Lefty

          In one of my previous jobs, that was exactly the mindset- we weren’t allowed to require anything of the customer.

          This instruction would have to be written as, ” The foozler must be twisted to position A to ensure the teapot does not explode.”

          Reply
      3. EW

        In lots of industries those terms mean the statement is a requirement. Although must and shall are typically required, while should is a best practice/optional (but some may require following best practices).

        Reply
        1. myswtghst

          This is pretty much it in my experience (creating training documentation for call centers). “Must” meant “required by quality assurance” or “mandated by law”, while “should” was more of a suggestion or an option.

          Reply
        2. Cambridge Comma

          Yes, something similar to this. These words are reserved for legal or treaty based requirements.

          Reply
    2. EddieSherbert

      We had a huge list of words to avoid too!

      “Use ‘enable’ instead of ‘allow’. The item is an inanimate object and does not have to give our customers permission.”

      I hate the word enable. Haha.

      Reply
    3. Squeeble

      Ha, an editing job I had on the side for a while insisted that we replace all instances of the word “since,” and I think of it now any time I edit a document with that word in it. Why they were so against it, I have no idea.

      Reply
      1. LizBee

        I once had a transcription job where the company style mandated that apostrophes could never be used with acronyms. You couldn’t refer to “the FBI’s history”, it had to be “the FBIs history”.

        I left years ago, but I still feel a weird thrill of rebellion whenever I use an apostrophe with an acronym.

        Reply
    4. Workaholic

      Yes! Most of my former employers would only let you call in sick if you found somebody to cover. Which nobody ever would (except me. I covered shifts for everybody). I still feel guilty calling in sick but also really really love that i work someplace where i can (and PTO so I don’t stress over lost wages). My second boss at current company stated “we’re all adults. If you say you’re sick: i believe you. I don’t need details” but it’s still hard not to try justifying that i truly am sick.

      Reply
      1. Workaholic

        I thought the above comment posted long ago.
        For this section i wanted to share current team (I’m not sure if it’s a company wide thing or just us) we’ve been forbidden to use “…” in our emails, ever. Because people can read unintended meanings into it.

        Reply
  27. Snarkus Aurelius

    My very first internship was in DC, and it was literally the worst job experience of my life. This was the boss who had more unpaid interns than paid staff (15 unpaid interns, 3 paid staff) so that she could keep overhead costs low and her salary high.

    To this day, I’m mortified at how much advantage she took of me and my spinelessness.

    Some samples of the dysfunction:

    “Everyone in DC works seven days a week. That’s just how it is here. If you have a problem with that, DC probably isn’t right for you.”

    “If you’re going to take a day off, you need to leave a number where you’re going to be available. The office must be able to contact you as needed. This is normal in DC.” (This was in the days before cell phones. Whenever someone took a day off, my boss would separately tell all 15 interns to call this person for a made up reason, always making sure to tell each of us that this task hadn’t been done.)

    “Sharing hotel rooms at conferences is normal. In the nonprofit world, we need to save money to help those we serve.” (The end result was 11 of us in one suite.)

    “Working until 11 PM every weeknight is normal in DC. That’s the work culture here, which is why it’s required for you to complete your internship.”

    “Sharing a [5’x7′] cube is normal for [four] interns. If you want a work space of your own, you need to earn the right to have it.”

    “It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a driver’s licence. All you’re doing is getting my car out of the parking garage and leaving it out front of the office for me. You’re not going to get pulled over.”

    ‘You don’t need to step out and get lunch. I have leftovers in my office fridge you can have instead.”

    “Work your plan and plan your work.”

    “Excuses don’t explain and explanations don’t excuse.”

    Not only did I believe and adhere to this nonsense, but it took about five years to eradicate this mentality from my brain. My first shock? At my next job when everyone left at 5 PM. The next shock? When the events director was horrified that I thought we were sharing hotel rooms at a conference.

    I made an ass of myself frequently.

    Reply
    1. My name is Inigo Montoya

      I had a boss that wanted to share conference rooms with her staff at conferences and she seriously thought it was a privilege to share a room with her. Because who wouldn’t want extra quality time with the boss in your pjs? So thankful I was only there for a year and I never got my “turn” at this “privilege.”

      Reply
    2. RT

      For the record, it is pretty normal in the nonprofit world to share hotel rooms…but that typically means two people, not eleven.

      Reply
    3. Mazzy

      What a nightmare boss and I have to say, I could never have taken the bit about D.C. being so competitive seriously after living in some world capitals with the same reputation that weren’t so bad

      Reply
  28. NewHere

    My first job out of college was in a staffing agency as a designer; my boss was quite the micro-manager (as in, actually sitting behind me for half an hour at a time watching me work in Photoshop and inserting his opinions on works-in-progress, which is obviously SO appreciated by all designers out there. “Make that more blue. That’s too big. I want this to look like IBM’s website.”) He’d coerce me to practically copy others’ designs verbatim, which felt so icky but he insisted that’s how business works. I think the biggest warp I had was that there is NO TIME FOR BREAKS (except for the men in the office… hmmm). I could have exactly an hour for lunch and if it went over, he’d come over and harumph at me (I always ate at the office). I once took a literal two minute break to doodle a cat wearing mittens on a piece of paper because I’d made a lot of headway on a project and needed an unwinding session. He came over, saw me “not working” and loudly reprimanded me on not working on his stuff in front of all my coworkers. I felt so humiliated and was convinced I was a horrible employee – regardless of how much I’d done for the company at this point – and had my very first nervous breakdown in my life. After that job, I was convinced that I couldn’t look at my phone under any circumstances, I had to be constantly working, despite projects being entirely done and ahead of schedule, and that I had to employ some smarmy methods to get ahead in business. Imagine my shock when I got to my next job and my boss would sometimes go a couple days without coming into my office! I had serious anxiety for a good few months that they were testing me and monitoring my computer to ensure that I wasn’t getting on Facebook. Now I know they’re just super chill (and they value originality over reproductions, which I am SO much more on board with).

    Reply
    1. EddieSherbert

      I had a sit-down with HR at OldToxicJob to go over my “long lunches.” Literally pulled out a spreadsheet of everytime my lunch was over an hour in the last six months. The longest was an hour and 7 minutes. A lot of “an hour and 1-3 minutes” entries.

      (Nevermind that I also had overtime almost every single week…)

      Reply
      1. NewHere

        Holy Moly! That takes it to a whole ‘notha level. Imagine how much time they ironically wasted pulling together that spreadsheet ;)

        Reply
  29. Malibu Stacey

    At my first two professional jobs, the supervisor who hired me left and the replacements were both people who were supervising for the first time. Both wanted to build their teams from scratch and so they laid people off or made them so miserable they quit. (I was in the latter category.) After that, when my boss resigned, I thought, here we go! But my new boss had no interest in getting rid of good people just for the sake of being able to hire handpicking all their reports.

    Reply
  30. Bend & Snap

    Stingy Vacation Boss. Don’t take your vacation and if/when you do, he’ll make you sorry.

    Would ignore vacation requests until they passed. I started asking for time off in September one year, he ignored it, finally granted it in December and then dangled my supposedly pending promotion in front of me. “A director doesn’t take all this time off.” and told me I’d only get promoted if I canceled it. Then didn’t get promoted.

    He also would make up emergencies to call you with on vacation so you had to deal with them, and then when you got back, you’d get in trouble for some random thing that he “uncovered” while you were gone. He did this to everyone who worked for him. I found out after I left that most of the things he confronted me with (supposed complaints from my direct reports) weren’t even true.

    Also closed doors were scary because there was a high likelihood you were going to get called to the carpet for something.

    This all carried into my current job, and for the first couple of years, I couldn’t relax on vacation and was terrified of closed doors. Now I know that vacations are encouraged, I’m good at my job and closed door meetings are typically about much bigger things than my little slice of the world.

    Reply
    1. SJ

      I didn’t have as extreme a situation at my last job regarding vacation, but my boss used to make “joking” comments about how I was slacking off if I took any vacation days. Literally no one used anywhere close to all their vacation days — and I’m in higher ed, so we were entitled to 4 weeks a year. I only ever used vacation time for doctor’s appointments, since, of course, we weren’t allowed to use sick time for preventative care. If I did take vacation (I think the max I took in a row was a Thursday through a Tuesday), I was constantly feeling guilty and checking email and worrying about all the stuff I had on my plate when I got back.

      In my new job, we’re allowed to use sick time for doctor’s appointments, so I just… didn’t use any vacation time this year and didn’t even think about it. In mid-April I started to get a little panicky when I saw all the vacation requests coming in from everyone looking to use every last second of their vacation time (we lose it on June 30), so I sheepishly mentioned to my bosses that I had a ton of unused vacation time, and we had to come up with an actual plan for me to use as much as possible by the end of June, while they’re very kindly letting me roll some days over into next year. So I’ve had a lot of days off this month, and next week I have the entire week off, which I’ve never done in my life ever. I’m still struggling with not feeling guilty about it.

      Reply
    2. The Queen of Cans & Jars

      It’s a running joke at my workplace that if you take a day off, you should expect a call from the big boss for something utterly trivial. This from someone who goes MIA on the reg.

      Reply
  31. Bostonian

    When I first started my current job 2 years ago, I thought that it was really weird that everybody on my team seemed to know what everyone was doing and that, for example, if I talked to my manager about Project X, Person A would bring it up to me 2 days later even though I hadn’t mentioned it to them. I am just now learning that this is normal communication for a department that works together (e.g., Person A has done work with Project X in the past, so of course they would want to talk to me about it).

    My previous job had taught me that people talking about you and your work when you weren’t around was sneaky and underhanded. (The nature of our job was such that nobody NEEDED to know what each other were doing, so if people were talking about each other, it was almost always inappropriate and gossipy.)

    I also didn’t have regular 1:1s with my supervisors at my previous job (just an annual review), so I was used to having minimal communication in the workplace overall. I thought it was normal to go weeks without talking to your boss (outside of a “good morning” at the beginning of the shift), and because the only communication between coworkers about work was to complain and be nasty, I was conditioned to not talk about work at all (because I didn’t want to be nasty).

    Reply
  32. Cheese

    Used to work as a shift manager in food service, where it was just normal and expected that if you didn’t finish by closing time, you were to clock out at the correct time but keep working until you finished. Same for opening–if you needed to get there early to get it done on time, you needed to start working, but were not allowed to clock in until your start time. I had no point of reference to know how crazy illegal it was, and I know it’s still a really common attitude in food service.
    It took a coworker at my current office job basically telling me I was INSANE to work on my lunch, for FREE, for it to finally click for me that that was not a normal or acceptable practice. BLEW my mind.

    Reply
    1. aebhel

      Oh, wow, yeah. Every job I’ve had in food service was like this, it’s so dysfunctional (and illegal!) and so, so common.

      Reply
      1. Ms_Morlowe

        Same! I remember being so shocked that my bosses were doing this, only to find out that it was industry standard. Then, of course, having to explain that to my parents.

        Reply
        1. Capt. Dunkirk

          I remember asking a friend of mine about her job at a restaurant she was working at. I wanted to know if they gave paid lunch breaks, or if they were unpaid, or how that worked.

          She just laughed at me and said, “We don’t get breaks! None of the restaurants I’ve worked at have I gotten breaks!”

          That was sad to learn :\

          Reply
  33. Clewgarnet

    Previous manager had me at the point where I had no idea whether I was meeting my job standards or not. According to the stats I was doing well enough to get Outstanding on my annual reviews. According to the people I interacted with I was the best engineer on the team. But then he’d pull me off jobs because I wasn’t doing them right (without telling me what I was doing wrong/giving me a chance to correct it) and I was accidentally copied in on an email chain about putting me on a PIP.

    Ended up going off sick with stress for six weeks, and came back to a job with a different manager in a different department. It’s taken me two years to learn to trust that a competent manager won’t blindside me with a PIP but will let me know about issues before it gets to that point.

    (I’m still not sure why previous manager wanted to put me on a PIP. Neither is anybody else. And he’s long since reorganised out of the business.)

    Reply
  34. Mafalda

    I’m currently trying to shake off the dysfunction of my old workplace and how that dysfunction screwed up my thinking and work habits. Here are some examples:

    Being afraid not to CC everyone above me on emails about minor things – a huge no-no in my last workplace that could trigger retaliation and discipline.

    Feeling lackadaisical about responding to emails and phone calls in a timely manner because ignoring this kind of stuff was the norm at old office.

    Being overly nervous about my time-keeping, including counting up the minutes of a lunch break out of anxiety about “keeping my time commitment” to the organization and fear of being watched by entry-level employees and disciplined by an executive, as was the custom with my previous employer (I’m a salaried manager with a decade of experience with a good reputation in my field).

    Feeling weird about being allowed to ask for Things That Cost Money like office furniture, equipment, and supplies simply because I need or prefer them.

    Also feeling it’s a bit weird that my manager greeted me on my first day and spent time orienting me to the team, seems to want me to succeed, wants me to be happy in my role, and wants to provide me information and support that will enable me to succeed. Last workplace was a total joke when it came to things like employee moral and basic management.

    How I’m dealing with these things is mostly trying to recognize the dysfunctional thinking in the moment it happens and reminding myself that I’m a professional and that the last workplace had a genuinely screwed up culture. I hate feeling weird about being in a place that’s relatively normal. I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family, so I’ve been able to navigate and succeed in toxic workplaces – but I resent how much I’ve had to rely on the survival skills I honed in childhood. I’m excited to instead draw upon the skills I learned in, you know, grad school and healthier work places.

    Reply
    1. Mafalda

      In an effort to make sure I addressed the thinking and behavior bit: last workplace genuinely made me question my sanity and judgment. I gained a lot of weight and was dealing with some pretty significant mental health issues in the last few months I was there. If it weren’t for some of the insane things that happened immediately after I left, I might still be questioning whether the workplace was really that sick because on paper it was a relatively good job for the field (in terms of pay, my position in the hierarchy, and the company’s reputation). Hello, gaslighting.

      I still have a gut check when my manager calls or emails me, which is not normal. I still read and reread emails before I sent them for fear of pissing off the wrong person. And I’m still tiptoeing around receptionists because last job was awful about empowering the wrong people and letting them run roughshod over everyone else.

      Reply
    2. Chalupa Batman

      Your point about Things That Cost Money is one of the last pieces of dysfunctional thinking I’m trying to shake off from OldJob, 2 years later. Getting anything approved there was such an ordeal, and here I basically just have to ask. I still delay asking for things because I don’t want to cost the department any extra money.

      Reply
  35. Amadeo

    It says something about the profession I think that all of the dysfunctional places I’ve been in have been vet clinics before I left my vet tech life for graphic/web design. I went to apply to one clinic and freaked the eff out in the parking lot and couldn’t even walk my resume in and that was the last time, years ago, that I tried.

    The first place right out of school wasn’t so bad, just a bit clique-ish. The second place I had one other tech treating me like their best friend while I got dragged into the office repeatedly for transgressions I didn’t know how to fix (and was too young/inexperienced to think to ask for a checklist of the things I supposedly wasn’t doing, but did every morning), one instance of which drove me to raging tears. Come to find out after this tech left, she’d been complaining to the boss the whole time. He didn’t really have any reason to lie to me about it either and was kind of spineless, so I could see him doing the ‘talking to’ me just to shut her up. I ended up fired from there because I was stupid on Livejournal and they found it.

    The second place was run by just the one vet who liked to project. He’d even complain to the kennel staff about his techs when they weren’t around. We parted mutually there.

    It’s been 11 years almost since that last job, and while it’s definitely getting better, I still occasionally have a pang of mortal terror when the supervisor/boss wants to talk to me.

    Reply
  36. AnonNurse

    Prior to my current career, and what ended up being a catalyst to get me back to school, I worked for a small office. They believed that full-time meant you should give all of your time to them and as the only “salaried”, exempt employee, that I should continually feel obligated to do anything they needed of me. This included all the normal office work but also taking care of their personal finances and accounting needs. I was the only person that did my job and was made to feel the office would fall apart if I didn’t get things done or was gone too much. I gave birth to my second child on a Tuesday and was in the office on Saturday to do payroll. I worked during my “maternity leave”, stayed late, came in early, and basically let that job make me feel continually tethered to them. That is until they fired me out of the blue for ridiculous reasons. And now I am much more able to clearly see the world will continue to turn and businesses will continue to run if someone calls in sick or takes off or isn’t available 24/7.

    Reply
  37. Anon for this

    My manager does the following
    1. Micromanages like mad. He suspected one employee was not accounting time sheets correctly and put together a humongous spreadsheet to prove it, then put the employee on a PIP.
    2. Requires constant meetings where we have to explain our current workload in excruciating detail
    3. Requires extensive write up’s of on-going work.
    4. Will not read emails sent to him, and instead either calls and demands the information claiming that he never recieved it, then threatens you with a PIP
    5. Is an information hoarder, so if you ask a question, he will provide an answer answering a different question (like a bad politician)

    Reply
    1. Qbert

      I don’t see that this one is so bad – your boss is basically saying that he prefers the phone to e-mail (#4) and that he wants the team to get a sense of what everyone is doing (2/3).

      Reply
      1. SusanIvanova

        I think the critical factor there is “extensive” and “excruciating detail”. Any good attribute can become bad when taken to extremes. It can get to the point where you’re spending more time documenting what you’re doing than you are in doing it. I worked on a team once where we were all very specialized and the manager was new. Manager thought having every team member talk for 5 minutes each meeting was a good idea. It wasn’t; it was enough for me to know that Fergus was welding my handles onto the teapot, a 5 minute explanation of solder composition was a waste of time for both of us. Likewise, he didn’t care about my carefully crafted ergonomic handle curves. Once the team got to about 15 people, Manager started seeing the flaws in that approach.

        And if he wants phone instead of emails, say so. Don’t say he didn’t get it and threaten people over it.

        Reply
    2. Steph B

      I had a project manager that was the worst micromanager I’ve ever encountered at my old job. She’d call challenging me about 15-30 minutes on my timecard billed to her project two weeks earlier, and sometimes bring my line manager into the disputes about how the time should be billed. It was demoralizing to be constantly told by someone who had never done my job that I should have done it in X amount of time or that the person on the project before me told her he’d already done it, so obviously I shouldn’t have to bill it (he hadn’t done half of what he said he did, and I got the fall out for it).

      She was definitely one of the reasons I left that job, and I don’t think I was the only one. She actually ended up winning a special company-wide award a few months later, though, so I guess the company didn’t care about the subject matter experts it was/is losing to her!

      Reply
  38. Night Cheese

    Funny enough, I just had an interview the other day (which went very well!) and the lady I was speaking with mentioned, really nervously, that they had been pretty busy lately and people had to take take on two projects at once. I suspect she was worried that it would scare me off because I’d mentioned how thinly my employers liked to spread us. The funny part was, I sat there and was kind of like, “………uh…and?” in my mind because I thought it was completely normal to have to work on five different projects at once and that I was just being a baby when I felt overworked and so stressed out that I would have to excuse myself to go cry in my car. Only having two to deal with is A DREAM. I was worried that wanting to not be spread that thin would make it seem like I wasn’t a go-getter or willing to be a team player.

    This was my first job out of college and while I realized a lot of things about it weren’t great, I didn’t realize how out of the norm that was until yesterday.

    Reply
    1. alter_ego

      I recently had an interview and I was asking about what a typical day looked like, and the guy was like, well, we work late occasionally, but we try to make up for it. We were here until 6:30 the other night, so I bought everyone dinner to say thanks.

      I haven’t left work before 6:30 at my current job in like…4 years. If that’s “working late” sign me right up

      Reply
    2. Ama

      Heh, I came to my current job from a place where anything no one else wanted to do wound up on my plate, whether I had any experience or knowledge in it or not. (Research and order the correct part for a broken oven; run a development contacts database; figure out the entire logistics and write attendee communications for a week long conference that’s being held out of state at a venue you’ve never been to.) Half of those tasks were “just temporary until we hire another staffer” but I was still doing them three years later.

      Four months after I was hired at my current job, my then-manager had a terrible health crisis (she’s okay now but she was in ICU for the first week) and couldn’t work for nine months, leaving me to run our entire grant application cycle and review meeting all by myself. But she had left a ton of documentation and her bosses tried to help me as much as they could. Coworkers kept commenting on how calm I was and I kept thinking “this is about half what my old workload was.” (It was stressful, certainly, but nothing compared to my old job.)

      However, I do find that old job’s tendency to “temporarily” assign me projects or promise assistance and then scale it back dramatically has left me with the tendency to panic any time I have to temporarily fill-in on a task and also just assume my requests for help with my workload will go unheard, despite all evidence to the contrary.

      Reply
  39. mamabear

    Not all these examples are from the same job, but here’s my list:
    1) That it’s normal to need to put in 60 hours a week to get the job done, and if you don’t, you’re not passionate enough. (Hello, higher ed and nonprofit worlds.) This actually led to me turning down a chance for advancement because I saw how unhappy and burned out my boss had become.
    2) That every project is urgent, important and an emergency worth sacrificing your personal life/time for. I still have a hard time feeling like not every new assignment is a fire call.
    3) It’s normal for a boss to never give feedback and then rip you to shreds in an evaluation.
    4) Having no staff and limited financial resources but pressuring young, inexperienced staffer to deliver the world on a timeline that would be unrealistic for even an experienced, fully staffed team.
    5) That it’s normal to pressure people to stay in their jobs even when they make it clear they want to quit/retire.

    Reply
    1. Bess

      omg LastJob?

      I got so frustrated at LastJob because the people putting in 50-60 hour weeks were clearly burned out, stressed, and letting tons of stuff fall through the cracks…OR they worked 50-60 hours because the actual work day was unproductive/not efficient and they had to compensate because they couldn’t get anything done.

      I managed to get a ton of work done in an 8 hour day, as much as others did in 10-11, yet I was called out for not being as committed when I wouldn’t answer emails at 9pm…but my manager did that constantly and she’d start snapping at people midday because she was worn so thin.

      Or, when I’d point out I wouldn’t be able to build a completely new system (at least, not build it well) without other tasks dropping in priority, I’d just be told we had to “get it done” or that since I was salaried, that’s just what I had to do. There was no understanding whatsoever about the cognitive load of designing and implementing, and how you can’t do that while being interrupted every half hour with some new “urgent” task (stuff that was not remotely in my skill set or job description).

      My boss finally agreed to grant me a special 2 hours of uninterrupted “work time” out of the office so I could do some building…and then she called me in the first half hour and I had to drop everything to get some report to her instead!!

      Reply
    2. tiny temping teapot

      Reading these comments and having experienced it, I wonder is 3 something most managers do?

      Reply
      1. SusanIvanova

        In my experience, no. Most of mine have been good managers, and the dysfunctional ones were bad in other ways, not that one. IIRC the closest I got was one who only did the first half – just flat out no feedback.

        Reply
    3. Anne of Green Tables

      “2) That every project is urgent, important and an emergency worth sacrificing your personal life/time for. I still have a hard time feeling like not every new assignment is a fire call.”

      It’s been two decades and I still have not eradicated this type of thinking as a result of my first two jobs. It is insidious. Last week I had a day that I worked 20 out of 24 hours because other people didn’t do what they were supposed to do when they were supposed to do it. Most of the time I recognize I’m human and have basic needs and set clear boundaries…and then this stuff creeps back. At least now I get paid for time.

      I remember one manager who gave me a large task I totally did not have time to do that day with all my other work and my anxious brain started with, “Okay, skip lunch, and there is 3 dollars for the vending machine so that can handle dinner too. No extra medicine with me, but I probably won’t be too bad off…” When I asked what time he needed it by and he gave a time three days in the future, mind blown. He treated me like people and I wasn’t prepared.

      Reply
  40. Temperance

    This is probably more from my parents than my workplaces, but I honestly thought that you could NEVER ask for a certain schedule, or any accommodations of any kind. I also thought that you could never complain about bad conditions at a workplace, because then you would just get fired and you needed that specific job more than anything. Your boss was Your Boss, and that was that.

    I struggle with this even now, TBH. My boss legit doesn’t care if I’m taking PTO whenever I want to (within reason!), or if I work from home, but it’s always in my brain that I need to be subservient.

    Reply
    1. mamabear

      I’m the same way. My parents, especially my mom, taught me some warped lessons about work ethic. Which boiled down to: never complain, always do more than you’re told, and never take a break.

      Reply
    2. pope suburban

      Not so much my parents, but the cultural climate into which I graduated did this to me. Asking for anything, ever, means you’re “entitled,” and insufficiently grateful to have a job, especially because you’re replaceable. I’ve put up with stuff that makes people gasp in horror and I didn’t question it because it was so ingrained that speaking up was wrong and a great way to get fired.

      Reply
      1. JokersandRogues

        It’s taken awhile and I still have to remind myself sometimes that I can be grateful I have a job, but I will not be grateful to the company. We’re in a business relationship; I do work for them and they pay me, so no gratitude necessary. That helps get away from the frantic feeling for me.

        Reply
    3. Anonicat

      Oh, my dysfunctional family managed to get me in this mindset without even touching on work. Anonicat will put up with anything and never be upset about it or have needs that others should accomodate. My therapy bills are amazing.

      Probably the first time I broke those “rules” at work was the time I mentioned above, when I explained that I wouldn’t work late because I had to walk through the red light district to get public transport home and was sick of guys asking what colour my panties were.

      Reply
    4. OldJules

      This and I should be grateful for a job and take the abuse. Stay with a company forever until retirement.

      Reply
  41. (Not A) RetailManager

    At my last retail management job, the only times we got emails was to berate us for doing something incorrectly, or question our decisions, like demand to know why we had overtime (in a state where all retail employees get paid overtime for working on a Sunday) or ask why we weren’t doing on-call shifts. I STILL get really anxious opening emails, even though I haven’t had that experience in years.

    Reply
  42. Trust Your Instincts

    At one point, due to a unwillingness to hire additional staff, I had a schedule that looked like this:
    M 9-5
    T 9-5
    W 7-10 at home, then shower/change, go to work for a full day
    T 7-9 at home, same as above, then Thursday night, test a new issue for as long as it took – with the caveat that this testing wasn’t anything I knew anything about and if something was wrong I couldn’t fix/troubleshoot
    F-Sat – could also be required to testing a new issue

    One Saturday morning I just BROKE when I got a call because there was nothing I could do, cry/sobbing/yelling into the phone. And instead of my manager saying “You’re clearly overloaded” his response was, “Could you help me out a little here?” He never offered to pick up one of the extra shifts and I never pushed back to say “This is too much.”

    And I thought it was okay.

    Another company: did not require 24/7 support. Was not part of my employment agreement. One night I am out at a concert and my phone rings at 11:30. I didn’t answer it because I was at a concert. There was no voicemail left. The next morning I get called out on the carpet by a manager at the company because I didn’t call them back. I said “Well you didn’t leave a message?” and their response was “Did you think I was calling you for fun, why didn’t you answer?” me: “I was at a concert.” “What were you doing at a concert so late on a weeknight?” and everyone there, including me, thought this was acceptable at that point.

    Reply
  43. Apocal

    My boss at my last job was emotionally abusive and handled finances in a way that often crossed the line into illegal/irresponsible behavior (forcing interns to sign his name on checks, writing customer credit card numbers on paper even when the customer voiced their discomfort with this). When I asked on my first day of work for the forms I needed to sign for my taxes, he didn’t know what I was talking about. After I explained to him that I signed tax forms before or on the first day of every new job, he kept saying “we don’t need to do that yet.” I asked him every couple of weeks about signing forms for my taxes, and his only response was “E-mail me your social security number.” I told him that I wasn’t comfortable doing that because e-mail is not a secure way to send that information. He got angry and shouted, “Then you are just going to have to wait until I ask you for your information later!” When February 1 came around and I didn’t have my W-2, he tried to convince me that he didn’t have to get that to me until mid-February. I told him that the IRS website said I should have gotten it by January 31, to which he responded with a surprised look, as if he had never heard this before. He told me that I needed to call the tax guy myself, and wrote all of my salary information on a post-it note. When I called the tax guy, he apologized and said that “this happens every year.” The tax guy called my boss to get the information directly from him–and my boss offered to e-mail him my social security number . . . which he did not have . . . because I couldn’t trust him with it for this exact reason. My boss didn’t renew my contract, and I believe part of the reason is because I “asked too many questions” about the sketchy things he did.

    I’ve had several gigs since then, and I still feel relief when an employer has me fill out tax forms before starting. I still feel relief when I tell them that I don’t feel comfortable e-mailing them my social security number, and they respond, “Of course! I understand. Give it to me over the phone.” I shouldn’t feel relief over things that are the bare minimum of what an employer should do.

    Reply
  44. Sylvia

    I used to work in customer service. I found that the way customers behaved affected me socially outside of work; I felt that the people around me were likely to scream, be rude, use insults, throw tantrums, make threats, etc.

    Having to put up with that every day eventually made me feel that I deserved it. When I could see that I didn’t deserve it, I got way over the top defensive.

    It’s taken a long time to stop expecting the worst. Still a work in progress.

    Reply
    1. Sylvia

      Also, that workplace was dirty. I just got used to bugs and trash and generally unpleasant surroundings? Everyone around me thought it was okay (?), and eventually, I started to think that I was a neat freak for disliking it. I thought I was obsessively organized for not having a disastrous hoard like most of my coworkers.

      Um, yeah, I’m normal. I’m actually on the messy side of normal. And if I were unusually tidy, that’s not something to feel self-conscious about!

      Reply
      1. No, please

        I worked at a place that had a very large rats nest under the bathroom sink. I told the manager I had found it and could we ask maintenance to fix the problem. She told me I could do it on my own time because no one else cared. I was so surprised that my next job was a very clean place where all the employees participated in regular tidying.

        Reply
      2. kitryan

        Baby roaches on the watercooler. Full body shudders. Also bathroom stall doors that didn’t latch properly and a bathroom faucet that only ran cold and couldn’t be turned all the way off. Ah, NYC.

        Reply
  45. Tableau Wizard

    My old manager reacted so emotionally to so much and carried it with her for so long that I was legitimately scared to tell her things that I thought she’d take as bad news. I was terrified to tell her I was pregnant and taking a maternity leave. I was terrified to have the conversation and quit. Looking back, some of that was on me, but it was also because of how she reacted so negatively to other perceived “setbacks”.

    Reply
    1. AnnaleighUK

      I had a manager like this – I was involved in a cycling accident once (years ago) and was carted off to hospital. Phoned in to say I’d broken several bones and wouldn’t be in for a few days, boss literally cried down the phone at me telling me I was essential to the team and I couldn’t be off work, how could I be off, it wasn’t fair etc etc. And the guilt trip when I got back to work was awful, I was quite young at the time and thought it was normal to be berated for being off ill and I became terrified to say ANYTHING to her. Quitting was done via letter (standard in the UK) and I was ready to flee but she just sniffed and said ‘okay then’. The guilt trip thing stuck with me for a good few years until I ended up at what is now OldJob with Exploding Boss who despite explosions wasn’t a total emotional ball of guilt trips and misery.

      Reply
      1. DecorativeCacti

        That reminds me of the time I was in an accident late one night and was supposed to be at work the next morning at 7:something. I called in to say I had been in a car accident and needed to see a doctor. My boss huffed and puffed and finally agreed to let me leave after I had completed an essential task, but I couldn’t be out all day. Then when she saw me on my next scheduled day, told me I looked great and expected me to be cut up and bruised. You thought I was bloody and bruised and demanded I work anyway?!

        Reply
  46. Mary

    I had six bosses over two years while my org fell apart. Most made me feel like I was terrible at my job, or a bad person, or dumb, or deserved to be treated badly, or all of the above. The worst was this one:

    Our (contract consultant) department head was constantly racist and homophobic, making horrifying comments. She wouldn’t talk to anyone with an accent, and made derogatory remarks about anyone “foreign” behind their backs.

    This is never okay but it’s especially not okay in a department where half of us were WOC and almost everyone was gay. We didn’t have an HR person, so when I had issues I had to go to the CFO. I went to her in tears, as did every single other person in the department. The CFO listened to us complain, then extended this person’s contract for another year.

    All of us quit within six months. It took me a year and a half to mostly get over what we all now refer to as “work PTSD”, and I still have trouble accepting it when people compliment my work.

    Reply
  47. the gold digger

    I didn’t know until my CurrentJob how lucky I had been with all my other bosses except for my LastJob.

    When I got to CurrentJob, I would feel the blood drain from my face and my stomach churn every time my CurrentBoss called me into his office. I was terrified. I knew I was going to be punished for doing something I didn’t even know was wrong. I would wrack by brain trying to think of what I had done this time.

    It took me almost a year to relax and realize that perhaps I was not the problem at LastJob – that it was the CEO (who has since been fired), the toxic workplace he created (there were people who quit just by not coming back from lunch – these were professional jobs!), and the culture of fear that he pushed down the ladder to my boss, who was in fear for his own job and passed on CEO’s anger.

    After I had been at CurrentJob for a few months, I wrote to several of my former bosses and thanked them for being good bosses and being good enough that I didn’t even know what it was like to have a bad boss.

    Now I know. Now I know what it is like to have a bad boss and I will never take a good boss for granted again.

    We have an intern this summer. My co-worker and I keep telling her, “CurrentBoss is what a good boss looks like. Look for this any time you look for a job.”

    Reply
    1. Kat

      This. This so much. I got super lucky at my first two high school age jobs to have good bosses who set me up with the basics of ‘this is how you should behave and this is what you should expect from a boss’. My jobs after that had … not great bosses, but not terrible either, or terrible in ways I could manage around, until it got to a point I started looking for something else.

      But my previous job, before this one? Oh man. I had my first really, really terrible boss. The yelling and the lying and the unreasonable demands and the general insanity – I worked there three months and ran. And I remember thinking, because my last few bosses had been meh – ‘if I hadn’t had those first few really good bosses, I might think this is ok, or that the problem is me, not clearly insane boss’.

      Now I’m the boss and it’s something I’m constantly aware of – what did those bosses do that was good/bad and what am *I* doing?

      Reply
  48. Leatherwings

    I worked for a place that had very very strict time off policies. If you wanted time off, you needed to explain the reason why and submit a formal plan for coverage (which isn’t unusual for a week off but is unusual for an hour or two off). If your reason wasn’t “good enough” you’d be talked out of taking the time. Even if you were sick, you’d get a call at 8am asking about how sick you really were.

    For a long time after that job I overexplained any and all time off. It was really hard to learn that “I have an appointment” is perfectly sufficient as a reason to leave a bit early. I felt like I always needed to make sure my bosses knew what was up with my personal time and if I didn’t then I was letting them down in some way.

    Reply
    1. AccidentalSysAdmin

      I am in recovery from what I now recognize was a strange work culture beyond belief(although unfortunately not uncommon from the posts here) and this is precisely the way it was. Except there wasn’t any sick time, and there was a sense of shame about physical ailments. Eventually it became less taboo, but people would still work remotely if they were sick.

      For awhile vacation was accrued and you could check the balance online. Then it was put in the hands of departmental managers to track by spreadsheet, so any time off would have to be submitted to the manager, who would track the time. To check the balance you would have to ask them about it. I hated this micromanagement of vacation time. I wondered if it had to do with vacation time as a cash asset or a way to dissuade people from taking their time off, or some other costs saving measure. I think it was all of the above. After I left for another job it was so refreshing to be told “It’s not necessary to explain what you do with your time off, it’s yours”

      Reply
      1. SusanIvanova

        The accountants really want you to take your vacation time. I worked for a startup that had started out with no upper limit to accrual. This was before startups were expected to go public fast, so they’d been around several years, enough for some people to have accumulated hundreds of hours. Not from any sort of toxic pressure, it was just a really cool project and full of the Silicon Valley types who think that’s more fun than going someplace. When we were about to go public the accountants freaked out, so anything over a certain amount got converted to stock options.

        Reply
  49. Jo Riley

    My first job out of college was as the admin assistant under a boss who was kind of a micromanager. In particular, she was very strict about knowing when I would or wouldn’t be in the office. (And with all my coworkers, not just me–I was at least the front desk person, so there was some argument for it there, even though we got about one call a week and very few walk-ins.) I moved to a different department recently and I’m still getting used to being treated as a responsible adult who can be trusted to set her own hours and who, as long as I’m getting my work done well, doesn’t need to ask permission to take time off for appointments or leave early.

    Reply
    1. Sibley

      “I’m still getting used to being treated as a responsible adult who can be trusted to set her own hours and who, as long as I’m getting my work done well, doesn’t need to ask permission to take time off for appointments or leave early.”

      I just updated my resume last night. The lack of your last sentence is why.

      Reply
      1. megatha427

        This is my current work situation. My manager is afraid of the higher-ups in the office (who I work with in a slightly different context than he does and I know they really like me and the work I do). He always needs to know when I am going to be in or out of the office – which is frequent, given that I am currently doing physical therapy for an injury! – and wants me to put in email to him how much time I am out and how I am going to make up the hours. He even said to me once, “I need this info in case Higher-Up calls me at any time and asks me where you are.” Said Higher-Up isn’t even part of our team and isn’t even involved in timekeeping for the office. She could care less if I’m at my desk or if I’m at a PT appointment. (Side note: I work in an administration office at a hospital. So it’s 30 mins for the appt + 10 minutes each way back and forth to the appt, so I’m out of the office for less than an hour…….) I never leave work right at 5pm, though he does every. single. day. He also goes swimming at the nearby gym at least three times a week during lunch. He’s out of the office for over an hour for that.

        My manager also requests twice-weekly check-in meetings where we review my task list together. Because I’m working on some bigger projects/events/etc, I frequently have the exact same list from meeting to meeting. It’s such a waste of time. He also meets with his manager EVERY MORNING to review his task list with her (this was his doing, not hers – she could care less). The other day, I canceled our check-in meeting that was auto-scheduled on July 4th. He didn’t even read the email or look at the date, he just saw the cancellation, and replied to me, “Why did you cancel this?” I replied, “Because it’s the 4th of July and I will not be in the office.”

        The other day he got mad at me for not replying to some emails he sent me. I would have a binder full of emails if I printed out all the ones I sent him that he never answered! Occasionally, I push back and tell him that I feel like I’m not trusted as a hard worker on our team and I feel like he’s micromanaging me, and then we have an argument about whether or not he’s a micromanager.

        Also, I have to alert our whole team if I’m going to be out of the office for a little bit, but he has taken a few days off recently and never even told me or his other direct report.

        End rant. Needless to say, I’m job hunting.

        Reply
  50. Catalin

    It’s normal to be scolded for leaving your desk for 2 minutes to use the restroom because the boss’ phone might ring and 1) he doesn’t answer the phone, 2) the voice mail must never take a call.

    It’s normal to work on weekends for ‘comp pay’ that doesn’t translate into actual hours. For example, coming in on a Saturday, working for 6 hours, and then getting to take 3 hours off another day. The other three hours disappeared.

    It’s normal to be FORCED to take a 1 hour lunch break and thus forced into a 9 hour day. [I don’t take ‘lunch breaks’, I just don’t need or want the break and yes, I am working all 8 hours.]

    This was all from my first job out of college, I didn’t know better. It was such a blessing when that position was cut and I was fired but free.

    Reply
    1. Manders

      Ugh, the lunch break thing. I believe that’s legal where I live–in fact, if you’re a non-exempt worker, there’s a mandatory unpaid lunch break that lasts at least 30 minutes. I’d kill for an actual 9-to-5 day.

      Reply
    2. Mona Lisa

      That first example makes me think of The Devil Wears Prada. Heaven forbid you ever slice your hand with a letter opener!

      Reply
    3. Catalin

      All this was a decade ago and I get so envious of people fresh out of college who work in my current office, like HOW COME YOU LANDED A PERFECT FIRST JOB WHEN I DIDN’T (WAH)!
      FWIT, when BadOffice decided to try and fill my position again, no one lasted longer than a month. #Smug

      Reply
    4. Statler von Waldorf

      In my jurisdiction (BC, Canada) the 30 minute unpaid lunch break after five hours is the law as well. You are required to be paid for that 30 minutes if your job duties don’t allow you to take a break however. (For example, you have to be available to answer phones or serve customers)

      Reply
  51. Manders

    Bad assumptions I’m working on getting rid of:

    1) Raises and reviews are distributed at random at the whim of the company owner. Don’t expect a formal performance review or raises based on measurable performance metrics.
    2) If you want feedback or clear direction on a project, you’ll have to beg for it, because it’s not something you can expect from your boss.
    3) If your boss asks for feedback, they don’t actually want feedback, they want compliments.
    4) Your boss can’t be expected to remember deadlines or approve things on time unless you remind them repeatedly.
    5) It’s normal for bosses to yell, snap at employees, act like their employees are bothering them when they get requests, complain to their employees about being overworked, or launch into personal stories about health issues and childbirth in front of employees. If two people in the company are members of the same family, it’s normal for them to complain about each other to employees or have private conversations in areas where they can be overheard.

    Fortunately, I just got offered a new job on Tuesday. For the first time in a very long time, my boss won’t be the child or spouse of the company owner. That alone is going to improve my work life enormously.

    Reply
  52. El Camino

    My first job out of college was great in that I gained experience to launch me into better opportunities, but holy crap was the gossip out. of. control. I sat in a cubical and the woman whose cube was next to mine in the corner literally eavesdropped on every conversation I had with my boss, would interject while I was on the phone with a customer to tell me I was wrong and should tell them X not Y (like she would literally walk away from her desk to stand in front of mine and shake her head wildly until I told the customer on the phone with to hold on for just a moment so I could figure out what she was saying).

    I’d hoped it was just a fluke, that she was a big fish in a tiny pond and that not all work environments are like that, hoping when I found a new job I’d be able to relax. But I still find myself so paranoid about being on the phone, or having a conversation about *anything* with a coworker thinking someone’s going to interject or listening in to gossip later about whatever it is I’m saying. To the point that people probably think I’m way too serious or disingenuous, because I constantly feel the need to have my guard up.

    Unfortunately it hasn’t gotten any better at my new job. Similar personalities but it’s way worse because the people who behave that way get other people fired (especially if they have enough pull in the organization). I feel like I have no allies here but I want to stay another year so it’s not just a blip on my resume. But man, it’s getting harder every day. The burnout from feeling like you’re constantly looking over your shoulder is utterly exhausting.

    Reply
    1. Heather

      You must have worked with my old coworker. If you were on the phone and said “I don’t know what the answer to X question is,” she would look it up and email it to you. She once asked me how my dentist appointment was when I hadn’t even told anyone I was going to the dentist. Turns out she had eavesdropped when I made the appointment 6 months before.

      We used to say she was missing out on her true calling with the CIA.

      Reply
      1. El Camino

        Ahh! Wow, what is it with people being so preoccupied with other’s people’s business? What cracks me up is that people who do this are always complaining about other people’s lack of [perceived] work. Like, if you’re paying *that* much attention to how many bathroom breaks someone is taking or they’re leaving a half hour early one day and you’re getting really upset about it, you really must not have that much work to do yourself!

        Reply
        1. Stranger than fiction

          Ha, in my experience, those coworkers are always the ones complaining about being over loaded. ” well maybe if you didn’t spend so much time in other people’s business…”

          Reply
  53. Gaslighting survivor

    I was gaslighted at ex-job. I really felt like I was going insane — they would tell me to do one thing, I would do it, then I would get reprimanded for doing it. I lost about 30-40 pounds from the stress and had constant headaches. I felt like throwing up every Monday morning when I would walk into the office building. After having meetings with my boss, I would sit at my desk with tears rolling down my face. It was awful. I felt like no one understood how horrible it was; I was miserable.

    That was about 10 years ago and for the first 6-7 years after that, whenever a supervisor would ask to speak with me in their office, I would get a sick feeling in my stomach thinking I was going to be told I did X instead of Y (even though I really had been told to do X). I still get a second where I panic, but then I tell myself that my current supervisor is a reasonable person and has never given me any reason to think they will behave irrationally. When I get emails from our company CEO telling me thanks for my hard work it sometimes makes me tear up when I think back to how horribly I was treated at that place.

    Reply
    1. El Camino

      Ugh how awful! I witnessed similar management style at my last job – I was lucky to not have this person as a direct supervisor, but was friendly with the person who did and to this day I have no idea how she handled it as well as she did. She too found a better gig – and well-deserved after putting up with so much nonsense. I’m so glad you found a better environment and supervisor too!

      Reply
    2. therapist

      This is so similar to the job I just left. Honestly, one of the biggest reasons I was able to recognize it and get out was because of people sharing their experiences here on AAM.

      Reply
    3. Red Stapler

      10 years ago for me too! I’m sorry, I know how you felt and it’s an awful place to be. I don’t know if I was gasighted per se. But I was told I was ok and then suddenly I was told I was absolutely not ok, in fact, I was awful. Not only did my work suck, but so did my professional personality. I’ve been able to tuck away the distrust I feel, but it’s still a part of me.

      Reply
    4. Queen of the File

      My experience was similar to this. I thought that being aware that I was in the right and the place was toxic would be enough to keep it from damaging me too much, but I was wrong. Gaslighting is so, so insidious.

      When I started my next job I actually thought my (open, honest) manager was being passive aggressive when she admitted to me that she might have misunderstood part of a project we were working on. When she didn’t invite me to a meeting, I assumed it was so she could blame the project shortfalls on me. Every “thank you” email I received, I read in a sarcastic or pitying voice, depending on who it came from. It took me ages to feel normal again and I still feel like I’m not totally sure of my footing.

      Reply
    5. Gaslighting survivor

      The thing is that I saw it happen to several other people in my department before it was my turn. I didn’t know the term “gaslighting” then, but I knew that when the behavior started my days there were numbered. The department manager was so toxic that a number of us developed health issues: shingles, ulcers, chronic headaches, severe anxiety/panic attacks (each of those happened to someone different other than me) but yet, human resources and upper management didn’t question (or care?) that the common denominator in the constant turnover was the department manager.

      I don’t know whether it’s good or bad, but now I’m more tolerant of workplace stresses because of what I went through. A bad day at work now is still better than a great day at that place. I will say that last year my supervisor had about two weeks where they were being uncharacteristically snippy with me and it made me think, “oh no, it’s starting here.” I told myself I would wait 4 weeks, then ask the supervisor what was going on; but that if it didn’t change I would look for a new job because I was not going to put up with that again. Fortunately, it ended without me having to say anything – I guess maybe my boss was just super stressed or something.

      Reply
    6. Toxic Avenger

      I’ve been through the same. I’ve been at CurrentToxicJob for 10 years. I moved into the same role as my enemy. That’s when the gaslighting started. She would set me up for failure by giving false or incomplete information. She convinced the people on her shift, the engineers and management that I was a screw-up. She spread lies about my work ethic and skills. Then she enlisted helpers. I was watched like a hawk. Gaslighting me personally began to extend to the entire shift. They were made fun of and told they shouldn’t listen to me. I had 4 managers during this time. The CEO was one of them. The other 3 never had a chance. Meanwhile, I finally realized this was severe bullying and gaslighting and started using those words. No change. Then, a new manager came who moved me to a different role that took me away from the she-devil. She was no longer part of my day to day and I thought I was saved. My new boss turned out to be a micromanaging, over-sharing trainwreck. I spend most of my time fighting preventable fires while being asked how my projects are coming along. As long as I kept up the juggling act, I was golden. The stress of the juggling and some bullying from yet another friend-of-she-devil caused a health issue to reoccur. My own Dr said “F^%$ that place. Leave.” Here’s my favorite angry quote from current boss: “I thought you were getting better but your not. I took on all your responsibilities and now I’m drowning. I mean, what do you want me to do?!” I went super calm. It all became clear…I’m trying as best I can and it’s still not good enough? No..just no. Since that day I’ve gotten a professional cert and working on another while I look for a way out.

      Reply
      1. Toxic Avenger

        To clarify what I think will be hard to shake in a new environment: Trusting my coworkers and boss to be honest and/or genuine. Constantly feeling like I’m under surveillance or whispered about. I’m scared there’s always going to be a “waiting for the other shoe to drop” mentality that will keep me from being fully committed to any new job. That my disability will be used against me if it reoccurs.

        Reply
  54. That one girl

    For the longest time I totally believed; That it is totally normal for managers to lurk behind walls and office partitions to eavesdrop on employees. (How else are you suppose to catch destructive habits like gossiping, complaining, and poor time management?!) That if employees tell you they are unhappy you should fire them immediately, because you don’t want unhappy employees ruining the perfect office culture you work so hard to create, that telling employees how easily replaceable they are will actually make them work harder because they know how lucky they are to even have this job.

    Reply
  55. Amber Rose

    Oh, I just saw Alison’s post at the top.

    Specific changes to my thinking and behavior caused by toxic job:
    – Fear of being yelled at for mistakes or missed things, to the point of doing some questionable things to hide them. That was SOP at old job. I now just admit I screwed up and am figuring out how to fix it properly. Most of the time, nobody cares as much as OldBoss would have. I spent an awkward couple of months here desperately trying to hide insignificant issues though. :/

    – Fear of people whispering about me or spreading lies about me. Working with a group of coworkers who are verbally appreciative of the work I do has really helped that one, but I still get uneasy when I hear anyone talking quietly.

    – Fear of saying no. You never said the No word to OldBoss. Ever. She would yell then lock herself in her office and cry. Learning to say, no I don’t think I can do X in Y time, does Z work instead, took a while but has been wonderful for my stress levels.

    Regardless, I still cringe a bit like a kicked puppy when my boss wants to talk to me. That has been the hardest one to shake off. It’s not fear exactly, just a strong sense of “oh no. This can’t be good.”

    Reply
  56. YarnOwl

    My first job out of college was at a severely dysfunctional company, and my department regularly got assignments from the CEO/Owner of the company based on essentially whims and we had basically no standing to push back. The entire executive team there was that way, and there was no talking to them or making a case for anything. They all kind of stayed shut away in their offices and acted like when they attended a meeting or answered an email that you should be so grateful to them for gracing you with their time and attention. My mom works for a state agency and has really similar bosses, so I kind of assumed that was just how it was. And that attitude definitely spread to the “higher ups” and people who brought in a lot of money. They would all kind of do whatever they wanted and leave all of us to clean up the mess.

    The position I left that job for (the one I am in now) is at a company where my department is pretty much right below the COO of the company and he is very serious about his open door policy. A few times when I started, someone would say “Go to talk to Bob (not his real name) and let him know what you think,” and I’m sure I would look at them like I was crazy.

    Now that I’ve been here a little over a year, I have good working relationships with the entire executive team (and mind you, I am not in a high-up position at all, and my department is not a money-making one). They are all really nice people who have offices on our floor and come to your desk to talk to you and ask you to do things, and they are always willing to listen and hear you out, and even when they don’t agree with you they will listen and explain their reasoning.

    And this attitude carries through the whole company. There are sales guys who have been in this business for 20+ years and bring in millions of dollars for my company who will ask my opinion on projects I do with them and defer to me in my area of expertise and are just generally really cool and nice and great to work with.

    I still get a little nervous sometimes when one of them comes to my desk or asks me to come to their office! But I know now that it’s not totally normal for executives/higher ups to be unreasonable and mean.

    Reply
  57. Anony Mouse

    I went from a fantastic workplace with a supportive boss and coworkers to a dysfunctional and lonely one. I know it’s had a significant, negative impact on my thinking in this job, and it also makes me doubt my ability to recognize red flags in the future. The first few months here, I was treated badly by my boss: she routinely criticized me and questioned her hiring of me in front of my coworkers, blamed me for mistakes that were caused by others, and yelled at me for not knowing and/or doing things that I was never told I was responsible for. After several years without a panic attack (I take medication and have been through therapy for my anxiety), I had three in two months, all triggered either directly by my boss or out of fear of angering her.

    At my annual performance review, my boss acknowledged that she misjudged me and apologized for mistreating me. The situation has improved somewhat, but I’m still on edge all the time. After everything that’s happened, I’m not sure I can trust my boss, or one of my two coworkers, who is friends with my boss outside of work. I’ve been told by my boss and coworkers that I’m overly defensive and project my anxieties onto situations so that I think they’re worse than they really are. This is probably true to an extent–defensiveness is an issue I’ve been working on for a long time. But honestly, I have trouble telling what’s actually going on and what’s just in my head.

    I’ve been actively looking for a new job for several months. I’ve had several interviews, but no offers yet. I really hope I can be more thorough in identifying a potentially bad workplace/boss, but I often question my own judgment. (Why didn’t I see red flags with this job?) I really appreciate the advice that Allison and other commenters on this site have to offer. It’s given me hope that my next job will have a healthier environment.

    Reply
    1. Specialk9

      Nonsense, they’re gaslighting you. You only have to take constructive criticism seriously when it’s from people who want to be constructive instead of destructive or blame – shifting.

      Reply
  58. Junior Dev

    I’m in my third tech job. My first one, my boss would get really condescending and mean whenever I’d ask questions, assuming that I should have figured it out myself even when it was something I’d been stuck on for a long time or something I needed his input on. So I swung too far in the other direction and became afraid to ask questions.

    My second job, I was so excited that I could ask questions and no one would yell at me! Sure, they’d talk down to me or laugh at me sometimes. But they usually helped me understand stuff.

    They also made awful jokes about being “triggered,” when I have PTSD. They made racist and sexist comments and when I tried to talk to my boss about it she was confused as to why it upset me.

    And they went out to lunch together every single day. When I realized I couldn’t do that for both my budget and my sanity, I got a bunch of Very Concerned Questions. It wasn’t too surprising when I got laid off, as the sole woman programmer and the No Fun One.

    At my current job, I asked on the first day if anyone wanted to go to lunch with me. Nobody did. I have never been so happy to eat alone.

    It took me a while to stop worrying that every mildly off color joke was going to lead to a bigoted rant or that I was going to get fired if I made a mistake. I’ve been here 6 months now and while I don’t know if I’ve fully recovered, I feel a lot safer and have actually begun speaking up for myself in work discussions.

    I was really scared after I got laid off that there were no safe workplaces for me as a woman in tech. I still am concerned about it for the future; I want to spend a couple years at this job before I think about whether I want to move on, but if I did I’d have to be sure the new environment wouldn’t be toxic. But I do feel like I’ve found a job where I can not just be safe but enjoy and care about my work.

    Reply
    1. Kyrielle

      They do exist! Yes! I’m in tech and most of the years I’ve been in the workforce, the worst I’ve encountered has been lesser opportunities – and rarely even that. (I did deal with a ridiculously sexist manager for a few months at one point, but he didn’t last at that company.)

      Goodness knows there are also places where it’s anything but safe, but…being safe is not a one-off thing either.

      Reply
      1. Junior Dev

        That’s good to hear. Do you have any advice for avoiding toxic workplaces and finding good ones, as a female programmer?

        Reply
  59. tiny temping teapot

    It’s funny how similar dysfunction is – I too dread closed doors and being called in to the boss’s office and expect no feedback or praise. I never trust my bosses. I assume coworkers are watching me, waiting to inform on me. And 13+ years at a dysfunctional non-profit has left me with the conviction that all non-profits orgs are exploiting and underpaying their workers and have useless, spineless boards.

    Reply
  60. Kaden Lee

    I just left my first job (spent 2 years there). It’s a fairly small thing, but I went from a high stress 24/7 on call job (that shouldn’t have been stressful at all, think teapot production engineering as opposed to something like emergency services) to a much lower stress project management job with roughly stable hours and job responsibilities. I’m finding myself struggling to find work to do since I’m still training, because I’m used to having mountains of work piled on me and I never really had to learn how to seek out new projects. (On the flip side, I leave the office and don’t have to bring my laptop with me every night and I can make plans knowing I won’t be called it at 3am on a Saturday night and ruin my sleep)

    Reply
    1. Kaden Lee

      oh! another follow up to that – because of the high stress environment, there was always tons of pointless drama and fingerpointing. It was normal and common to loathe coworkers openly. (I wasn’t innocent of that, to be fair) The new place has a total of 9 people in the offices including myself and everybody mostly gets along and jokes around and likes each other and it’s proving very difficult to get used to not having to internally document everything I’ve ever said at work in case it’s ever used against me.

      Reply
  61. Academia Support Staff

    As an hourly/non-exempt employee I was expected to work EXACTLY 40 hours a week. It took me months to understand that exactly 40 hours was not a normal thing. I had to hide my mistakes or blame others for them. If I was caught making a mistake I was called out in front of my coworkers. That it was normal to be yelled at by coworkers. That it was normal for my feelings in the office to be diminished (I once told my boss that I felt ambushed by other coworkers, she said I wasn’t ambushed). As support staff I buy almost all of the supplies for my department, I thought it was normal (through two jobs) to need to justify every single thing I purchased and needed to go to bat for every item, even normal things like pens. That individual meetings with my supervisor meant I had done something wrong, made a mistake, or wasn’t fit for my job (I have an MS and was working as a secretary, which I was reminded of often).

    Reply
    1. Anony Mouse

      +1 My situation is similar to yours. Last fall my institution switched many staff from salaried to hourly. Trouble is, my position wasn’t designed to be hourly, and due to the nature of my work some weeks it’s just not possible for me to accomplish everything by my final clock-out. At first, my boss told me she’d approve overtime, but a month or so later was told that this was not the case. Comp time isn’t really feasible either, since my position requires me to be physically in the office between 8-5. So, now I can choose either to leave when I’m supposed to and get yelled at for not finishing the work, or work illegally off the clock.

      Reply
    2. Anony Mouse

      Also, I’m really sorry that people remind you in a degrading way that your degree doesn’t match your job. I feel like staff are often seen as second-class citizens by university faculty and administrators, especially when that staff person has an advanced degree. Keep reminding yourself: this is a lie. You are capable and intelligent and worthy of respect.

      Reply
      1. Jane Eyre

        Anony Mouse, heck yes to your post! As hourly staff, I’m not respected by the faculty and administration where I work. I’m left off distribution lists, not invited to off-site events, and treated like a draft horse. I do my work thoroughly and accurately and have never had a complaint about it but am still considered second-class. It stinks!!

        Reply
      2. Academia Support Staff

        Thanks, Anony. I work in a much better department now. I’m respected for my knowledge and education, given a lot more freedom to do my job. The faculty in my department are really great and (most) respect me and my work. But it comes from leadership, that’s where it starts!

        Reply
        1. Rainy, PI

          My grant is being moved from an impartial, non-academic department to an academic department that represents some but not all of the disciplines that work under my grant.

          My current department made me an offer to stay–unfortunately at a pay cut, but I leapt at it anyway. The academic department head said, when I told him I was leaving, “Is it because of the move??” I of course said no, but–seriously, dude, you have treated me and my whole team really poorly since the second I found out what was happening. Why in god’s name would you think I would stick around for more of the same??? I laughed when someone in HR said that they’d “heard that Academic Department was being very welcoming”, and told a coworker later “If that’s welcoming, what would it look like if they were hostile? Would they march over one by one and shit on the carpet in my office?”

          Reply
    3. Jane Eyre

      OMG. I just saw myself in your post, Academia SS! I, too, must work exactly 40 hours, no less, and no OT. It’s turning me into a clock watcher and I hate it.

      Reply
  62. Jo

    It’s normal practice for the head of the entire org to give three rounds of edits and comments on every grant report, even when that means everyone else stays up till midnight the day it’s due to integrate those edits.

    Reply
  63. Morning Glory

    I had a supervisor once who had me print out hard copies of documents, decks, etc. so that she could make handwritten edits on them, and then have me apply the edits digitally. She’d do multiple, sometimes even dozens, of rounds of revisions this way, and would need a fast turnaround. On occasion she’d come out to watch my progress making the edits. If I missed or misread one handwritten notation out of all the rounds of revision, she’d pull me in for a “talk” about how a recurring issue for me was my lack of attention to detail. And I believed her. I was new to the org, my supervisor was unhappy with my performance, and I felt perpetually like I was on the edge of being fired. I read articles on how to be more observant, I flinched whenever she called me into her office. One time another team giving an internal presentation had misaligned a bullet on one slide, and I felt afraid for whoever had made the mistake because I was sure they were going to get into trouble (in reality, I was probably the only one who even noticed).

    It took me about six months of working there, talking with coworkers, and observing other teams to grip that I was really doing just fine. One person, far senior to me, had ended up with an error in a presentation, and my supervisor was upset – the person remarked that of course there was a mistake, because my supervisor insisted they do ten rounds of revision for this deck at the last minute and had no time left any time for a close review. The way the person said that, like of course this happened because the process was flawed really stuck with me and helped me not take her critiques as personally.

    Reply
  64. ampg

    When I started my current job 2 years ago, it took me a long time to get used to doing things that my boss wanted right away. My former boss used to ask me to do something, but then change his mind and become livid when he’d found out that I’d already done it. So if he asked for something, I’d have to write it down and then depending on the task, wait a few days to make sure it was what he really wanted.

    It took me a long time to get used to just taking my current boss’s requests at face value.

    Reply
  65. Uhdrea

    My first professional job outside of college was working for a boss who was a bad combination of a micromanager and also someone with an illness that required them to be out of the office on a regular basis. Without fail, every time she returned from being out, all the work I had done had been completed incorrectly and needed to be redone by her, without any input our guidance into what had happened so I could improve and correct the issues. I lasted exactly six months in that job before I broke down sobbing and quit.

    The last impact it’s had has been a niggling, persistent sense that I must be Doing My Job Wrong. No matter how much external praise I get, I find it incredibly difficult to shake that early workplace enforcement that I can try as hard as possible, still fail, and never be told why I failed. Logically, I think that boss essentially wanted a clone of herself that could do all the work exactly the same way, which of course isn’t possible. But Lord, it was demoralizing.

    It’s also impacted how easily I do (or moreso don’t) develop a sense of trust with my bosses to be honest and forthright about my work, and to be invested in my success rather than seeing me as a burden or a necessary evil.

    Reply
  66. Mona Lisa

    I luckily found AAM right around the time I started at Awful Non-Profit (though I wish I’d found it before because I probably wouldn’t have taken the job…), and this blog was what helped me to realize that most of the things that were happening were Not Normal. To most people working there, it was just “how it is,” and the organization was “like a big family.” Examples of this normal/not normal behavior are below.

    1. Every situation being treated like a pants-on-fire, all-hands-on-deck emergency by the entire office even if it was a small, localized issue.
    2. Being told on my performance review that, since I worked “only” 40 hours a week, I couldn’t get more than “satisfactory” because, even though all of my work was above-and-beyond, I wasn’t working 50-60 hours.
    3. HR lady’s pride at getting everyone classified as “exempt” by naming the positions in such a way that they didn’t convey any administrative duties. These positions included what you would call shop workers and office managers at any other place.
    4. Retaining employees who had wasted resources, completely fabricated sales numbers, or were ineffectual because they’d been with the organization so long and it would be mean to fire them.
    5. Recruiting and hiring young women at barely a living wage because they were cheap labor and then being completely shocked every time one of these women left within a year after starting (including me).
    6. Volunteers stealing money on an annual basis. (It’s not a question of when, but how much!)
    7. Putting three people to a hotel room with one bathroom.
    8. CEO routinely showing up drunk to work, conferences, and events where young children were present.
    9. Turn-over rate of 35% in the one year I worked there for a staff of less than 40.
    10. Being told that my communication style was mean and unfriendly because I didn’t populate my e-mails with ten exclamation points and smiley faces at the end of every paragraph.
    11. Co-worker taking up vaping at her desk to curb her smoking and encouraging people to try her vaporizer, but HR refused to do anything until she had personally seen the vaping in progress.
    12. Same co-worker “accidentally” bringing her handgun to the office and people laughing about it.

    And…I hope this would be considered Not Normal everywhere, but this is my favorite crazy story:
    13. One of our volunteers and her husband appeared on a national talk show where he talked about belonging to a white supremacist organization and she supported his involvement. Since our org had a mission of diversity, we had to fire her, BUT since the husband had been imprisoned for sending pipe bombs to other organizations, we had to do an entire safety demo with the police in case of retaliation. Also, our front door went from being open during business hours to always locked, even months after the incident happened. Other volunteers complained about the change multiple times a day.

    Reply
    1. Mona Lisa

      Oops, I’m sorry, Alison. I realize most of this falls more under the category of “crazy things” than helpful discussion.

      I will say that the emergency mentality has followed me into my new job a bit. I’m trying to retrain myself that I don’t need to loop everyone in my office into helping with the most minor of issues and that not every decision needs to be crowd-sourced. I have my own solid reasoning skills that are part of the reason I was hired, and I should deploy them instead of trying to discuss them with my manager.

      My new job also flies applicants out to interview for a PhD program every year, and I initially pushed back pretty hard on the idea that they should each get their own hotel rooms because we could save money if we grouped them together instead. After seeing discussions on here about hotel room sharing, I realized that it wasn’t normal to put strangers together and that the program’s expense did a lot to improve applicant experience.

      Reply
  67. Tobias Funke

    I realized reading this thread my experiences have messed with me more than I thought. For the first six months of my husband’s new job I held my breath every single day. I was convinced he would be fired. He is actually doing really well. But my job PTSD did not understand that. Any little screwup would be an immediate firing. I am finally not afraid of losing my job after two years (TWO YEARS). It took eavesdropping on a conversation my husband had with his boss (on speakerphone in the car) to truly understand he (and his job and our family) was not in mortal peril every day.

    Reply
  68. Angelinha

    I worked at a nonprofit that was very, very focused on external communications being flawless. No problem with that in theory, but what that meant in practice was that even as a manager, I was expected to run *everything* partner-focused up the ladder for review before sending it out or making decisions on my own. Same with staff issues – my bosses were supportive and would basically let me discipline staff how I saw fit, BUT if I acted on a decision without looping them in first, that was a big problem. I got into a groove with this and I basically always got to follow up on the decision I’d made in the first place, so it honestly didn’t feel weird to me…until I came to a new job and realized that I was perplexing my bosses with the kind of stuff I was essentially asking their permission to do. It took me a few months to become comfortable with the idea that, hey, they’re expecting me to take on the level of authority that the job comes with, and I don’t need to double-check everything I decide with them before communicating it to the people it’s going to affect.

    It’s very nice.

    Reply
  69. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox

    I’ve definitely experienced being terrified every time my manager wants to talk to me simply because, at one past job, one of my managers cultivated a culture in which the entire office would know she had a problem with someone’s work before the person was spoken to. She also had major issues with younger women specifically and treated basically anyone female under the age of 40 like garbage (one coworker who transferred out after having daily panic attacks because of the job said that hearing her talk to me “like a dog” was one of many things that stressed her out). I seriously didn’t think it was as toxic as it was looking back, in part because I was in retail and was just so glad to be working on the back office after years on the floor.

    Another this is that I still expect to be blindsided by reviews. My reviews at the retail job were always fair and I was given feedback as problems arose (even if it was after the whole office knew, at least it didn’t fester for six months), but at the job I had directly after that, I got negative feedback that came out of nowhere — including being marked poorly for “possessing the skills necessary to do the job”. I would HOPE if they’d actually thought I didn’t posses the necessary skills to do my job that they’d speak to me about it.

    That review was a mess anyway because I was an EA for like seven C-level execs (I mainly worked for three, but was supposed to be available for all of them at all times) while also being the point of contact for facilities and a massive construction/moving process. The review was set up so two of the execs did it, one presented it to me, and a third was SUPPOSED to go over my job duties and goals for clarification (the latter occurred months later at my own suggestion because I was swamped with minutiae and he was getting frustrated because of the tasks I was prioritizing). The exec who gave me my review couldn’t even explain why I’d been marked low in some areas because the OTHER guy had done THAT apart of it, so I didn’t have solid examples of where I’d failed in some pretty major areas.

    So, basically, as a result, I’ve become extremely cautious and am definitely afraid every time I get called into the office. It has literally never been anything negative in the 30 months I’ve been been here and I know for a fact that my bosses are MORE than fair with warnings, critique on work, etc. I know some of this stems from some guilt because I know I’m not as stellar of an employee as I should be, I had a really rough year last year that involved an eating disorder relapse and subsequent treatment, my parents divorcing, etc. which meant I was doing the bare minimum to stay afloat. But even if I was amazing, I’m pretty sure I’d feel the same way.

    Reply
  70. Rat Racer

    I was a chief of staff for a VP at a former company, who was notoriously vicious, and inclined to speak ill of her direct reports to other members of her leadership team behind their backs.

    At my annual review, she presented me with the following feedback: “People are saying that you are uptight, high-strung, and that you abuse your power as chief of staff.”

    This feedback was devastating – I thought I had built a strong rapport and friendship across the department, and it was a total through the looking glass moment of ‘everything you think you know about yourself and those around you is false.’ I asked for specifics – examples of times when I had “abused my power” (what power was that?) or if she could tell me who I needed to mend fences with, but she wouldn’t offer any additional detail. I was cut to the bone – not only was a terrible employee, I was a terrible person! I internalized that down to my neurons, and it’s never left me. Even after that VP was fired, despite any successes I’ve achieved since, and even though this was more than 5 years ago.

    How has this changed me? There are positives and negatives. On the positive side, I’m hyper-aware of the access-to-power privileges conferred to a chief of staff and strive to avoid taking advantage. Now that I have my own team, I give constructive feedback that focuses on work habits and outcomes not personality – unless it’s to offer positive coaching and insight.

    On the negative side, I can’t shake lingering paranoia that deep down, I am perceived as that VP described me: high-strung, ambitious to a fault, disliked behind closed doors. This causes me – I think – extra angst when making difficult decisions, and I worry too much about people’s feelings, which can make me look indecisive.

    Net/Net – Even though that VP taught me some good lessons on how not to manage, I’d rather learn from positive examples than negatives. You don’t have to get your heart stomped on to know that heart-stomping is a bad thing.

    Reply
    1. bopper

      Most likely your VP was “projecting”…they are really the ones that are“ uptight, high-strung, and that you abuse your power as chief of staff.”

      Reply
    2. Specialk9

      You know that she was lying, right? She wanted to take you down a peg, likely for being the opposite of all of those things when she couldn’t be.

      Reply
  71. CappaCity

    I had a job as a Branch Manager at a bank. I’d been promoted up the ladder a few times after starting as a part time teller, so my pay was stupid low and I was too young and inexperienced to realize it – like I couldn’t afford to move out of my parents’ house because I didn’t make enough as BRANCH MANAGER. It was set up for failure pretty much from the get-go. I was new to managing, and I didn’t get any additional training. I didn’t have frequent contact with my supervisor (who worked in a completely different city). We were constantly understaffed because, even after I interviewed and recommended people for hire, my direct supervisor would decide my recommended hire had some kind of problem or just wasn’t quite good enough in some unmeasurable way and we should keep looking. FOR OVER A YEAR. In the meantime, I couldn’t get adequate coverage to take any time off or to work normal hours because it wasn’t worth sending over a person to help from the other city. I was working 60 hour weeks – no such thing as bankers hours. They scheduled a new ATM install the one week I tried to take off, so I ended up working 30 hours anyway. I was on call when I was sick (and often in the branch), when I was on “PTO”, when I was on lunch. When we finally hired someone, it was against my wishes, because I didn’t feel good about the fit with my other employees. Later I found out this hire was insubordinate to me behind my back, and eventually we ended up having to fire them because they were sexually harassing another teller. For the last year of the job I would wake up feeling physically ill because I was dreading the office so badly.

    I’d identify problems and raise them with my supervisor with possible solutions only to be ignored until a customer complained, then costly and over complicated solutions would be implemented without my input. At the same time, I was blamed for the issue, and for problems stemming from inadequate training before I was promoted. I was supposed to be the personal banker, mortgage lender, personal lender, teller supervisor, commercial lending assistant, AND Branch Manager, and was constantly getting questioned about why I couldn’t keep a closer eye on teller transactions. I was so stressed out it actually triggered thyroid issues. And then after a year of me floundering trying to meet these demands, they decided I wasn’t a good fit, and hired a new branch manger over me, demoting me to assistant branch manager – they “generously” let me keep my lousy pay rate. I had to train my replacement. I finally had to move 200+ miles away and start in a completely new career to get away. And 18 months after I left I was still fielding calls from them with questions, even though I left extensive documentation before leaving.

    I left banking; I left management. 5 years later, and I still don’t have a lot of confidence in what my work is worth despite excellent feedback in my new role. It took me a really long time to feel like I could propose ideas and solutions to my boss in my new job and be listened to. And even now, I don’t ever want to supervise people EVER again. In a way it was good because I learned really early what an uncaring work place feels/looks like, and I am committed to NEVER putting myself in that situation again. But burning out like that caused some serious and long term fallout emotionally and personally, and it has taken a really long time to come back from it. In some ways, I’m not sure I ever will.

    Reply
  72. ErinWithans

    My first job was for about 5 years, when I was newly out of college. It was dysfunctional, but I didn’t realize how much, as it was all presented as normal. It has left me absurdly grateful to crumbs at future companies, like (as my brother put it) a kicked dog who someone pats on the head in passing.

    For example:
    * Ever getting feedback or updates, rather than just suddenly being in trouble;
    * Not having my compensation directly tied to “how much I cost the company” for things like my spouse’s health insurance.
    * Being allowed to be slightly flexible in my (salaried, exempt) position, where taking off an hour early for a dentist appointment doesn’t somehow cost me half a day of PTO, regardless of whether I’d made up the time earlier in the week.

    The result was that for my next several jobs (and still today, though thankfully less so), if I’m shown just basic, normal courtesy at my job, I feel profoundly grateful, and like I should swear my undying fealty to the company involved. This actually looped me into staying at a differently toxic company a lot longer than I should have – they had given me a small bonus once! I was limited to 40 hours/week! How could I think about leaving?

    Which is really the worst thing it did to me, making me more susceptible to terrible, toxic positions because it still feels like the default or normal to me.

    Reply
    1. Anne of Green Tables

      “…absurdly grateful to crumbs at future companies, like (as my brother put it) a kicked dog who someone pats on the head in passing.”

      This “kicked dog” syndrome really struck me about my husband’s former job. He would defend ToxicManager: “It’s improving—I’m getting X perk now!” And I would need to remind him that is because the company lost the class action lawsuit. Or “I get time off for lunch now!” “I get ovetime pay now!” Yeah, that’s because the state labor board investigated and fined the company for labor law violations.

      Reply
  73. Jessica

    When I have an idea for some new project that would help our department, I don’t tell anyone, because we’re so wildly overburdened now that I probably won’t have time to implement it anytime soon, and I have learned from experience that if I reveal my idea to leadership, it’ll become a thing to blame me for not being able to magically accomplish with no resources.

    Reply
  74. 42

    A long time ago I used to work in a hospital setting, and had a supervisor who was a miserable bully of a woman. It was my first professional job, and it’s all I knew. She broke so many labor laws, and everyone was so scared of being on her bad side that no one even questioned it (it was normalized). She would just yell at people out in the open. She had her golden children, and if you weren’t one of them (I sure as hell wasn’t), she was just brutal. She would gossip about coworkers to her favorites. She was a bitter, bitter human.

    When my father had an emergency hospitalization, I was busy doing a procedure, and rather than have someone replace me immediately, she didn’t tell me until about 45 minutes after she received the call for me to come, when I completed the procedure (we didn’t know if my dad would live or not at that point). I heard that after I left, she got demoted (not fired) for shoving someone on the job.

    That was many years ago, and she only stopped coloring my view of how a boos should be a few years ago. I had dreams about that job and her for probably 10 years after. I now have a “cushy office job” and i feel like I died and went to heaven. What–no one trying to account for every minute of my time? No one waiting for me to make a mistake so they could pounce on it?? I don’t have to tell anyone when I’m taking lunch?? No one standing by the door with a red furious face if I walk in 1 minute late??

    I feel like the luckiest person now, I completely love my company, my work (total career change, at just about double the salary), my bosses, my coworkers. I never knew it could be like this, thanks to her.

    Reply
  75. A Magician Named GOB

    1.) Its normal to tell people who call in sick no, and that they need to come into work anyway. I don’t call in sick much, but when I do, I always have to remind myself that I am not going to be reprimanded and shouted at for being ill, and that its going to be okay.
    2.) Its normal to prevent people from taking a day off anytime that another employee, if even she doesn’t work in your department, is out on maternity leave. This particular employer made me really resentful of pregnant women, and I am now learning that most companies do not do this.
    3.) If your department is given a treat, or taken out to lunch, someone is getting fired when you get back in the office. I still get nervous anytime that free lunch is offered. I have to remind myself that most companies don’t use rewards as a trampoline for firing people.

    Reply
    1. Tuckerman

      Your 1). I’ve seen the effect on my colleagues who have been here years. We have a super relaxed sick policy, so they must have dealt with bad experiences calling in sick at other jobs.
      The telltale sign they had a bad experience is when they come back to work, they modify their voices to sound sicker than they are. Like, an artificial nasal quality. And they can never admit they feel better. They have to say something like, “not great, but starting to improve” to show that they really were justified in taking the day off.

      Reply
  76. Hankie Enlightenment (formerly Sarahnova)

    I had a subtly toxic previous job. The place looked great up front, lots of sexy-seeming perks like free beer, cool offices, lots of autonomy, lots of having smoke blown up your arse about how the place hired the best. It turned out to be riddled with sexual harassment, inter-office affairs, toxic politics, and unrelenting pressure that would just get loaded and loaded until you cracked, and then of course they would be 100% supportive until you were back on track, then the pressure to take on more would subtly start again. It was common for people to have to take time off for mental health reasons.

    I’ve told this story before, but I was having therapy at the time for unrelated reasons, and in the middle of describing the situation at work, I realised I was describing the cycle of an abusive relationship. I looked at my therapist and blurted out, “Oh God, I have to quit, don’t I?”

    I still remember how bizarre it felt in my current role when people in meetings would compliment a point I had made and ask to hear more. I had to re-learn that being OK. Not to mention re-learn the idea that there was such a thing as more work than one person could possibly do. I’m rigorous now about my work-life balance but I used to do crazy things in that job: work 8-5, entertain clients for 2-3 hours, then go home and write reports from 11-1am. Never again.

    Reply
    1. HisGirlFriday

      I’m currently seeing a counsellor to deal with PPD/PPA issues, and grief from my father’s death, and work comes up a lot as a stressor for my anxiety. My therapist describes my job as ‘guerilla warfare,’ which is absolutely true but also flatly ridiculous because OHMYWORD, I work in an office doing non-life-threatening things, y’all!

      Reply
  77. AdAgencyChick

    That if you quit but agree to take on project work after you leave, you should accept an hourly rate equivalent to your previous salary if it were paid hourly.

    Boy, did I let one employer rip me off that way!

    Reply
  78. Zombie Bunny

    At the retail place I used to work, if you were at the cash register you had to pick up the phone after no more than two rings, because otherwise you had made the customer wait too long and one of your managers would start screaming at you over your headset. Now I work at schools, and it took me a while to stop my anxiety spiking if the phone rang while I was in the middle of something else. But now I can let it ring, even go to voicemail, and no-one bats an eyelash.

    And no-one tears a strip off of me if I make a mistake. A parent had dropped a bag off and I couldn’t remember who their kid was. I apologized for my oversight to the head administrator, and she just smiled at me rather bemusedly and said, “No need to worry about it! We have to remember so many things in a day; we’re allowed to forget something.” And she made a general announcement, the student came and fetched their bag, and to my surprise I was not labelled The Most Incompetent Employee Of All Time or treated as such. Every time I make a mistake, I expect disdain, but it never comes!

    Reply
  79. Nea

    I got so used to being micromanaged — often over ridiculous things — and never being listened to or praised that when my new boss said “Take care of [big task]. I don’t care how. I know you can do it” that I almost had a meltdown because I didn’t think I was competent to make decisions.

    Reply
    1. Amadeo

      I am very fortunate that by the time I fell in with a real, honest to goodness micromanager at a small printing/publishing company that I knew he was full of beans and started asking him if he’d like to do tasks himself and if the answer was no, telling him to get lost (more or less). I could see that if I were younger when I started working for him that I could have ended up with a similar reaction as you to being asked to do something on my own.

      Reply
  80. asfjkl

    I have always had waitressing jobs as a side gig to make some extra cash. I was in a very toxic restaurant for a short time that taught me some strange habits you wouldn’t find in most places (I wasn’t allowed to take food home, I wasn’t allowed to wear short sleeves despite the air conditioning never being on and consequently getting heat rash on multiple occasions). I eventually left due to a sexual harassment incident with a cook.

    My boyfriend’s first job out of law school was a very toxic environment with a crazy boss. He still feels intense guilt taking time off (we’re moving, you’re not going to work!) and asking his new amazing and totally normal boss questions about anything. He’s afraid to show any weakness because his last boss used them against him. For example, he was hospitalized for severe stomach issues that were tied to stress. He was ordered to stay home to recover. At his review, she said she was worried he couldn’t “handle” the job and put him on probation with no raise. He was already crazy underpaid compared to others in his position. Turns out she was trying to push him out because a big fancy lawyer in our state had a son-in-law who was looking for a new job.

    Reply
    1. asfjkl

      He constantly marvels at his new boss’s attention and understanding and I just keep explaining that this is how managers are supposed to behave.

      He also thinks I am constantly at risk of being fired at my new job because I don’t fit into the culture here. It’s just his PTSD from his past job. These people are way too lazy to fire me. I do good work, I’m just not friends with my colleagues. Meh.

      Reply
    2. tiny temping teapot

      Oh, I had that, too. Offhand remarks would come back to haunt me in reviews, and showing any weakness would be “I didn’t think you could handle that, you remind me of x family member who has [mental health issues] (which I did eventually have, thanks toxic job!)” – like your boyfriend, I try to never say anything negative or admit weakness in front of supervisors.

      Reply
    3. Lison

      Your moving example has me remembering when I had to move out of the house I was living in with my dog on a particular day and I asked for the day off to move. My manager refused because there were visitors to the site that day that I would not have to interact with but to maintain his veneer of competence he knew he needed me available to tell him the answers. Instead of just telling me that he started a rant about how any competent person was able to move without needing time off work and this was an example of what a bad person I was. Wouldn’t even give me a half day because “You have to learn to be more organised”. So I moved in the evening after work and went to work the next day and left my dog in a new place where he wasn’t sure I’d be coming back because dogs don’t know about new situations and you can’t tell them. At work did my job while worrying came home to find a frantic dog who had soiled everywhere, scratchmarks on the door and neighbours telling me my dog was heard barking. I cleaned everything up, fixed the scrapes, neighbours told me they never heard a peep from him after that. But because of that I still have major anxiety about asking for time off (for reference I’m in Europe and you work up holidays that can’t be taken away from you). Between that and him blindsiding me with written warnings where I was called to a meeting where he had I written script and HR there and it was out of the blue to me I have anxiety that my current managers don’t deserve. But like many others have said the “Can we talk” request ruins everything until it actually happens.

      Reply
  81. Jane Eyre

    After a horrible surprise layoff at old job 4 years ago, I’m still waiting on pins and needles for the next one. I’ve held several contract positions since then but am only one year into my current full time job. Every day I wonder if this is the day I’ll be let go without warning. I can’t seem to shake the feeling. My work is excellent and I get along with everyone but that was true of old job, too.

    Reply
  82. Billable Hours

    I have a lot of anxiety about billable hours. I worked at a public accounting firm with billable hour goals. The firm went through a merger, and the management lost its mind over billable hours. We had to prove ourselves to the firm that bought us! We had to show that we were the most profitable office! Blah blah blah! Annual goals were no longer good enough. We had monthly goals with weekly check-ins with our team leaders. Our goals were raised by 100 hours per year. In March, I was supposed to bill nearly 70 hours a week (you work longer hours than you bill). If you didn’t enter your billable hours every day, an email went out to the entire firm with those people’s name listed on it to shame them. I thought and stressed about my billable hours multiple times a day, every day I worked there, including when I was on vacation and maternity leave. Three years of constant obsession over proving myself. Because it wasn’t good enough to bill your time, you had to work a lot and be efficient (realization rate was important too. Could the partner bill the client all the time you worked, or did he have to write part of that time off? Writing time off= bad).

    I quit that job and got a much better, more sane one. We’re supposed to bill our hours here, but there is no goal or consequence to any particular level of billable hours for someone in my position. All that matters is getting your work done. But I get so anxious about entering my hours in the tracking software. I procrastinate terribly entering my time and get so anxious about my hours.

    Reply
  83. Imaginary Number

    When I left the military, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I did not need to print out 20 copies of every presentation I made, even if there was a high-level exec in attendance. I was so used to dealing with requirements such as “The Brigade Commander must always have a color copy which is printed double-sided so that it can be read when flipped up (not left to right).” Apparently that’s not normal outside of the Army and if people want to follow along they bring their own laptops.

    Reply
    1. Rincat

      Those requirements are weirdly specific! I guess when you get high enough in ranks you can get whatever you want? Seriously asking, I have no military experience of any kind.

      Reply
    2. Imaginary Number

      Adding a comment about how it warped my thinking/behavior: I have to force myself not to overprep for presentations. After coming from an environment where even a daily briefing is a perfectly coordinated (and often rehearsed) event. It took me a while to get used to “Oh, just throw some slides together so we have something to talk off of.” I get a little antsy if I don’t know who’s supposed to talk what.

      Reply
    3. Lefty

      Ooooh yes to this. I still turn pages in a certain direction after having a military supervisor insist on it during her entire command stint. She insisted it was a time saver for the command suite to have presentation handouts turned a particular way to “reduce time waste, fraud and abuse”.

      Reply
  84. Cruciatus

    In the grand scheme of things mine is very tame, but in my last office I constantly came to work with a feeling of dread. What did I do wrong? What did I miss? I was constantly on edge (and I didn’t really do anything wrong in the big duties categories). My former supervisor was (and continues to be) a micromanager who thinks she’s not a micromanager and basically wanted perfection–not just in actual duties but in the daily work life too. I always felt like a child there. I wasn’t allowed to get up once an hour to walk around for a minute. If a faculty member chatted with me I was *constantly* worried it was for too long. I once looked out the window at a car sliding down a hill in winter and she barked “We don’t have time for that!” (it was 20 seconds). She never actually yelled at me (except that window thing), she wrote me a few letters for how I was sucking (obviously not put quite that way). My coworker also got his own as well. As I typed this out I realize this doesn’t sound like much but I think it was the uneasiness of never knowing when you’d get a letter. Never knowing when she thought you’d effed up. She basically wrote I was talking to faculty for too long (they were the talkers!) and “if I needed help with solutions” to come to her (sounds nice, but her point was STOP TALKING (but we’re talking about 1-2 minute convos)). And I needed to be at my desk basically constantly. And little things like that. It probably doesn’t sound bad, but imagine getting to work with an envelope on your keyboard. Just sitting there. Waiting to make you feel bad the rest of the day/week. She actually took the time to write this out (in Word). I actually refused to ever read the letter again so I can’t remember everything (it’s been over a year now) but she was constantly trying to correct us. Now I’m in this new, chill environment. I see coworkers who will chat with other people for minutes! But I get nervous when it’s me, but my new supervisor has never been like “yeah, don’t do that.” But I still constantly worry I’m messing up daily work life (though I always put work first). I’m slowly readjusting that I can go to the bathroom without worry or take a (short, I promise!) walk around for a minute to stretch out my legs/hips/back. So I’m still readjusting to being allowed to be human in the moment at work, but I can say I no longer come to work with dread so that’s at least improvement!

    Reply
    1. asfjkl

      Woooooooooooooooooooof. You kept repeating that it doesn’t sound that bad, but that sounds TERRIBLE. You were in a bad, bad office environment. I’m glad to hear you got out!

      Reply
      1. Cruciatus

        I think maybe in my head it doesn’t sound bad because it was so “quietly” done. No yelling. No fisticuffs. I was reading other peoples’ posts first and compared to some mine was a bit more bearable–but I’m still thrilled I made it out!

        Reply
        1. Queen of the File

          I think the polite tone can be even more damaging in a way, because it’s so much harder to realize that things are not right.

          Reply
  85. NXM

    I worked in an environment wherein the only feedback came in the form of criticism, from micromanaging owners. Plus it wasn’t even real criticism, it was along the lines of “we wanted arial font, and you use times roman!” (In a disgusted voice). Nothing I did was ever right. Ever. It was implied I was incredibly stupid, and I wasn’t a team player, and that I could be discarded at any moment. (This started within a week of being hired, when I realized they lied about the job duties, office environment, and the scale of pay) The impact? I cried on the way home a minimum of 3 times a week and questioned my level of intelligence and self-worth constantly. Plus I’m a huge self-critic and have a very serious work ethic, regardless of the task (if I’m responsible for coffee, it’s going to be great coffee etc) so it just fed into that. I started looking for a job after three days (it took eight months to get out). Even though I had very responsible positions in the past, and was clearly capable (I, along with my old boss were laid off together at my previous job, long story) of many things, it took me years to get myself back together. Years. I still get a little twitchy when I get a critique, but I keep it in my head and remind myself of context. I think it’s like any bad relationship, regardless of age and time, I’ll always be a little scarred by it. Plus, even though I’m in a stable, good job now, with really good people, I am always looking at job listing…just in case they turn on me. People can be so horrible.

    Reply
    1. Lison

      I’m so sorry you experienced that and it’s not you. I had a co-worker, thankfully not a manager, who did tbis sort of thing. She decided what rules applied to her and denigrated anyone who questioned her on what she decided to do. For example we file documents by case number. She decided all her cases should be filed under her name and not by case number. When I questioned this pointing out that it was going to cause future workers a lot more effort she told me I was stupid and didn’t understand filing systems. I was in the job longer than her so I mostly won but had I been new it would have given me an odd idea of how systems work. She tried to get all my old training records destroyed by sending them off site with a destruction date but it was realised that she sent current employees records in time and we got them back. She was a peach. And as far as it influences me now I’m less trustgul of new people now because she is so believable until she realised you knew her number and then she turned but I bear it in mind with all new people.

      Reply
  86. Rincat

    Among others already mentioned, mine was the idea that you shouldn’t ask for anything – because you won’t get it, and it doesn’t matter. The things I’m talking about are mostly raises, promotions, any kind of professional growth, or training. At one of my jobs, our director told us in a meeting that “We don’t do performance evaluations because we don’t want people thinking they can ask for a raise.” And up until my most recent job, I saw that any requests made for professional growth were ignored or denied. This caused me to 1) not ask for anything or attempt professional growth 2) my work ethic suffered because I didn’t see the point in trying. My productivity went way down in the last couple of years at my previous job, and that was noticed – and there were other factors that impacted my overall satisfaction in that job, but basically I just felt ignored and undervalued until there was a fire I needed to put out – then I was “wonderful” and “so valuable,” but the only reward that came from that was more work and dysfunction.

    It’s taken me a few months into my new job to reset my work ethic and become more productive. My new bosses think I’m great, but they are also communicative and actually listen and have conversations with me. I feel like I can ask for things now, and be heard – and I’m okay if the answer is “no,” as long as there is a logical reason behind it.

    Reply
  87. pope suburban

    I’m still dealing with this. For three years, I worked for someone who wanted the moon but made it crystal clear that he thought I was a complete idiot. He didn’t want to do anything himself, but he didn’t want to give me the access or the tools to do things, and when things weren’t done, it was my fault for being a stupid lazy employee. The constant criticism eventually made me doubt myself and feel like I am genuinely a stupid person with no skills (Something that graduating into a recession had already made me think). I thought it was normal to get screamed at, and I stopped fighting getting blamed for everything, because I figured it was just part and parcel of the kind of work I had been buttonholed into. I coped with physical injuries on my own time and dime because I thought that maybe I was being unreasonable in not wanting to lift heavy boxes overhead (I asked for safety equipment, but I guess they thought I didn’t need it). I have a very hard time trusting anyone at this point, because I’m so used to being judged or having information withheld from me. I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    I’m in a much better place right now, but it’s kind of only making the impostor syndrome and the other stuff louder? Like I keep waiting for them to find me out and get rid of me, or start treating me like I was treated before. I wish I’d been able to take some time off between jobs, but my last one didn’t pay nearly enough to build up that kind of cushion.

    Reply
  88. Squeeble

    My first job taught me that anything outside your regular duties that you need to do, you have to create from scratch. Say you want to hold an event–that means you find the space, order the catering, design and print programs, develop an online registration form, and do all the communications and marketing for it.

    My new job is a dream in comparison. There are people here whose entire job it is to support events. Like, you give them the specifics of what you need and they will do the work to make it happen, which gives you the energy and time to focus on the actual subject of the event. It is a very normal thing around here to hire someone or bring someone over from another team to help out on a particular aspect of a project because that’s literally what they do. It’s amazing.

    Reply
  89. LabTech

    No matter how many times we’ve placed a particular order from a particular manufacturer, regardless of its urgency, and no matter how crystal clear I am in writing its justification, my requisitions get rejected about 50% of the time.

    Inexpensive instrument part that we can’t run without? Manufacturer won’t agree to our terms (despite that we’ve ordered them before). Tissues? Too luxurious. Consumables we’ve been ordering for literally 10 years? They weren’t properly in our system. Office supplies? Unnecessary. Computer? Too complicated. New consumables? Redundant. Printer? Too expensive.

    As a result, I’ve developed a Pavlovian aversion to placing orders for routine supplies because of how frequently I have to fight tooth and nail for even the most routine of supplies.

    Reply
    1. pope suburban

      Ooh, god, yes. I worked for a place where the office manager insisted on personally signing off on every item, even though it was a small office that was not prone to waste, and even though the accountants (Both ladies with many years of experience and, duh, a good understanding of our cash flow) would review purchase lists before they came to her. Which was fun when she was out on vacation, or when she had to take a lot of medical leave. We couldn’t order in anticipation of her being out, but if we waited until we had only one of whatever thing left, we’d often not get the delivery in time. It was this exhausting balancing act and everyone hated it, but she wouldn’t change. That fear response took me a looooong time to get past, so I feel you on this.

      Reply
    2. JustaTech

      At one lab I worked at the lab manager and I spent a *lot* of time training people out of re-using gloves. Yes, re-using the gloves they had been wearing for hours. “Oh, I don’t want to be wasteful.”
      We had plenty of money, and a lab manager who made sure we always had plenty of gloves in every size.
      You’re working with experimental materials that cost $900/bottle, but you want to re-use gloves to save money?

      Sadly it was not the only lab I’ve worked in where someone has had to have the conversation “don’t risk screwing up a $5000 experiment to save $1 on disposable supplies”.
      Those are the toxic workplace habits I’m delighted to help people un-learn.

      Reply
  90. Cube Diva

    One of my first jobs out of college was at a VERY dysfunctional nonprofit. There was no support (emotionally, professionally or otherwise), and my boss was actively harmful. I had (what I now recognize as) the beginnings of a panic attack every time I saw her car pull into the parking lot. I had to really scrape myself together every day, and manage to keep going. I found a lot of personal strength through that.

    Now, I am VERY aware and grateful for supportive environments. For example, I am working with a consultant for the first time, and I am leading part of a MAJOR project for our department. I have full backing from my boss, and that gives me the freedom to make my own decisions and try out new skills. Really being supported is SO MUCH better for my career growth, and my productivity for any company I work for.

    Reply
  91. NotTheSecretary

    The hardest thing to shake has been to expect respect from the people around me. I spent so many years being treated terribly and being abandoned by cowardly managers to the mercy of angry clients that it just doesn’t occur to me that no one should treat me like that (in a work setting).

    In my current job, I had a vendor get slightly snippy with me. I wasn’t even upset about it but I told my manager because the vendor was refusing to provide me with needed documentation and I could not move forward without some company backup. Manager was HORRIFIED that he treated me poorly. She went up the ladder and had an executive that set up the vendor’s account call him personally and let him know that I was a valued representative of my company and must be treated just as well as anyone else. That really shocked me. I’m at the bottom of the heap here, I never expected a busy executive to care how someone spoke to me just as long as I completed my work.

    I’m also constantly surprised that anyone values the administrative work I do. It’s the unseen glue of the work we do as a company but it is the least glamorous and lowest paid work. The upper leaders always, always make a point to respect my busy schedule when they add a task and to thank me for going out of my way to help them.

    Basically, all that TL;DR story is to point out that toxic work environments have insidiously degraded my sense of value as a member of the team. I still see myself as the de facto punching bag – the lowly hourly clerk who takes all the abuse. I am working hard to reframe myself as the valuable professional the rest of my team sees me as.

    Reply
    1. always in email jail

      Anyone smart knows that admins are the glue that holds ANY operation together. They know how to get everything done, who is responsible for what decisions, everyone’s personality quirks, etc. Always be nice to your admins, they see and know everything! (At least in my experience)

      I’m very happy to hear that your current job took it seriously when a vendor was rude to you!

      Reply
    2. Lison

      I loved the fact that where I work that there was a computer error where people got charged twice for their order one guy phoned up the person in charge of billing and yelled at her and then the account manager looked into it and pointed out the yelling person had requested not to be contacted about anything by us, we had documentation of that, that the money had been refunded and that if they didn’t phone the person they yelled at and apologise to them they would never get anything else from the large company. The person who yelled apologised pretty quickly. But i appreciated the manager who stood up for the person who did nothing wrong. And got them an apology.

      Reply
  92. HR Hopeful

    Hello,

    At my current job (that I am trying to leave) the following things are ‘normal’:

    1. My supervisor wears sweatpants everyday to work
    2.You to CYA everything and get everything in writing b/c if you get in trouble you have to be able to prove your side of the story. I also have a manager that tells us thing so do that are incorrect, so we always have to ask her to send it in writing just in case the other managers find out.
    3.It is normal to get badgered for asking for time off, even for a funeral.
    4.It is normal for my two mangers above me to constantly argue and yell at each other on the floor
    5.It is normal to hear the same two managers going over resumes and disqualifying people for things like the way they look
    6.It is normal to be micromanaged to the nth degree

    I do understand that these types of things are not really considered ‘normal’ and I know that I will need to re-learn professional norms once I obtain another job. I know I will need to learn how to be more tactful, since the language at my current job is not the best way to speak to each other. I will also need to overhaul my wardrobe since we are so casul here.

    Reply
  93. Lumen

    The worst effect on my overall thinking came from my last job. It happened fast, lasted a long time, and led to me staying there for almost 5 years despite being very unhappy: I did not believe I was worthy.

    Without listing off weird or sinister experiences I had there, I have to say that it really messed me up for a while. I already struggle with self-worth, and I feel like that was actively preyed upon.

    I really bought into the belief that I did not deserve the job I had, I didn’t deserve any raises or promotions, and I DEFINITELY did not deserve something better. It kept me from asking for what I wanted (and thought I deserved), it kept me from looking for a new job, and it almost kept me from getting an appropriate salary at my new job (I asked for 6% less than they offered, and thought I was asking for too much).

    That job really messed with my head in so many ways, but spending several years of my life believing that I didn’t deserve any better is something I don’t think I will ever forgive them for instilling in me.

    Reply
  94. Recovered from Workplace Dysfunction

    When I saw this thread, I knew I had to chime in. I’m hoping someone else was struggling like I was will find some comfort in this. My one wish is that I found this blog when I was struggling with my workplace B.S. My very first job was truly awful. I had this one boss that looked great on paper (perfect background, great education) but was a total monster. Her husband had recently lost his job, and although she never told me this outright, I always suspected that she was struggling in her current gig and unable to meet the head of the company’s high standards. Guess who she decided to take this out on? Me. I was 20 years younger than her and didn’t have the confidence to stand up for myself. Her and another coworker would gossip about me within earshot. Just saying nasty things about me. One notable example? I asked her to put a byline on something I had written and heard her bitching about it later that day. Like me asking for credit on something I had written was too much to ask for!!!!! The other worst part? She loved to pretend that she was so friendly. She made a big deal about saying goodbye and acting sweet to everyone before she left–a common abuser tactic. I got so sick of it that I would pretend to be making calls to dodge her. Needless to say this took a heavy, heavy toll on my self esteem. I honestly felt like I deserved what she was giving me since she was under a ton of pressure. It took my years to unravel this and teach myself that, “yes, she was struggling. But those were her problems, not mine. And as an adult, she should have been able to handle what was going on without taking it out on me.” Looking back on it, I can’t help but feel sorry for her. I’m assuming she must have been truly miserable in her life, and for whatever reason, was unable to change it. I’m writing this now in a much better place in my career. I felt totally awful when I got laid off from that job, but I can see now that it was all for the best. Please know that there’s hope for you. There really is.

    Reply
  95. Kristina

    Not knowing who exactly your direct supervisor is because she doesn’t speak to you for the first few weeks/months of the job.
    Having problems with your work come up during your performance review that were never mentioned previously or even hinted at being a problem.
    Having to repeatedly explain and defend yourself for things you did in the same conversation as if you were being interrogated. I still come off as very defensive when my present supervisor points out a mistake I made or doesn’t understand why I did something. I still feel like I still have to defend my every action and thought even though my present supervisor is open to my opinions and perspectives.

    Reply
  96. Red Stapler

    I’ve not had the best luck with bosses. My first boss was a micromanager, while my second boss literally didn’t care what I did as long as she didn’t have to deal with it. I even got fired from Job #3 (I learned my lesson.) But, it was Job #4 that really messed with my head. For years I got perfectly decent reviews, then I was passed over for promotion. When I asked for feedback I was told I was too average to warrant promotion. 3 months later I was put on a PIP and told my overall work over the past year was unsatisfactory (the lowest rating one can get). I was reprimanded for taking sick time. I was reprimanded for not writing well. I was reprimanded for talking too much. I was reprimanded for not taking the initiative. I was reprimanded for questioning authority. I was reprimanded for a lot. After a couple months of this, I shut down. I stopped engaging with my office and just tried to keep my head down and do whatever semblence of a job I could while I looked for a new job. I lost 25 lbs in 4 months and was constantly worried about what my next step should be. I did end up finding a new job before they had a chance to fire me – a lateral move that paid more. My boss ended up being great, very supportive. But, to this day I have issues trusting my boss or administration to treat me (or really anyone) fairly. I think in this current professional climate, honesty isn’t a policy and we’re all one wrong step away from a fast track termination. (I try to keep this belief hidden from those I work with as it helps no one)

    Reply
  97. Bigglesworth

    I just left my first career job after college and It was not a good place to learn work habits.

    One of the ways that I know it has changed my thinking is that I don’t believe my boss will follow up on difficult conversations or requests. I definitely tried to handle everything I could on my own and not being up petty complaints, but sometimes what I could do wasn’t enough. I would talk to her, she would promise to handle whatever the issue was, and then wouldn’t follow up on it. I would try to help her remember what the issue was, but it would still take a minimum of two to three months before she would send the initial email to see about resolving the situation. That meant that I would have angry students, staff, and faculty asking me when the situation would be resolved.

    Another thing that I hope I haven’t learned, but am afraid I have, is that losing your temper and calling coworkers in other departments derogatory names at work is acceptable. It’s not and I know it’s not, but it was about the only way to have an issue be listened to in my department.

    I also found out that bringing up legal issues (like the fact that unpaid overtime and comp time are illegal, FERPA issues, etc) will only make everyone else around you think you’re not a team player. Not doing these things will limit opportunities, promotions, and will make sure your voice isn’t heard. By the way, this was just my department. Other offices around campus took these things all very seriously and our Hr department was fantastic at stopping these issues when they found out about them.

    Finally, one thing I hate that I started to do to survive was to stop volunteering for additional responsibilities. Initially, I was enthusiastic to take on additional responsibilities and my manager loved that, but there were no raises, no title changes, and no reward for doing a good job. When I became overwhelmed and asked my boss for help, she could not help me prioritize my workload and that She had faith that I would figure it out. Right before I left, she was demoted but refused to tell anyone in the department. The reasoning I heard was that it would cause everyone in the department to panic. I didn’t know this and went to her with a FERPA issue, and she said that it was a battle she could fight anymore and that it would have to go to our replacents.

    Maybe these are small things in the long run (I’ve only worked good service and retail before this), but I hate that I’ve become short-tempered, don’t want to take initiative, and don’t feel like I can trust my boss to do what they say they’re going to do (even when I follow up to make sure it hasn’t been forgotten).

    Reply
  98. Picky

    Super-controlling boss who somehow convinced me that I (a manager) was not allowed to do anything without her permission. At first I just ran it by her. Then I had to write a proposal. Then I had to ask permission to write a proposal. Often she would cancel meetings so I had no opportunity to ask permission to write the proposal to ask permission to do something. I would go for a month when I had literally nothing to do because either my boss had cancelled every meeting or she had said no to every proposal (or proposed proposal… it was really bizarre). They were paying me $90,000 a year to do really nothing. Left that job for a very free-wheeling place where “it’s your department, you decide” is the norm and realized how brainwashed I had been into thinking I had no judgement of my own. I still have a lot of “am I going to get in trouble for this?” feelings when I actually, you know, do things. Normal things. Manager things. Like move a product from one place to another. Or change the time of someone’s lunch hour. Or assign a task from person A to person B. Or set a standard expectation for service to our customers. Or spend money from my budget. Not sure how long this will haunt me but most of the time I am finding it blessedly restful to just come to work and then DO WORK.

    Reply
  99. OxfordComma

    Most of these are from jobs in the past.
    That it is normal to work 70 hour work weeks on a consistent basis (I was salaried, but c’mon).
    That it is normal to expect me to supply all office supplies (including a phone cord) for my job.
    That it is normal to expect me to never ever ask questions about a task.
    That it’s normal to expect me as an untenured employee to have to stand up to a bully who outranked me because “that’s her working style.”
    That there is nothing wrong with rude and uncivil behavior.
    That I am not intelligent (I will never forget when I left that job and stepped into the next one where my feedback was valued and my intelligence was respected).

    Reply
  100. always in email jail

    My last workplace had a director who would ask you sit with him while he wrote emails that pertained to your position, and would go through multiple drafts before finally sending it. He also wanted to proof all emails to external partners before they were sent, would provide feedback, send them to his deputy for THEIR feedback, etc. He did this to everyone. I was trusted to manage an entire program, budget, and staff but not to send an email. When I got to my new job, I was inviting the city managers of multiple jurisdictions to a meeting to facilitate coordination on a certain topic (something I would regularly do in my role). I asked my new director if she wanted to read through it before I sent it out. She was clearly VERY confused as to why in the world I would ask that, and even more so when I said I didn’t have any particular questions or concerns with it. In that moment, I realized that I had been micromanaged, and resolved to not do that to my staff.

    Reply
  101. Throwaway

    At OldJob I was always on call. At home before or after work, and even on vacation, I was expected to check and respond to emails.

    When I started training at NewJob (which was also new to me- an onboarding process!) I asked who I should see to get my work email on my phone, and my boss laughed and said “Why on earth would you want your work email following you home?”

    I ended up getting it anyway, so I can see emails easily when I’m offsite, but it was a relief to know I wasn’t expected to keep up with it outside of office hours!

    Reply
  102. Alice's_tree

    There was a time when our company was on the brink of financial collapse. New management came in and did some extreme belt-tightening. They also assigned extra responsibilities to the staff who remained after layoffs. For many years, I thought it was normal that I was doing the work of three people. It wasn’t until they started to take those responsibilities away that I realized how stressed I was. And other employees who are still here from the old days have a very hard time spending the company’s money on normal, everyday business expenses because they were so used to cost-cutting. For example, when I tell the art department I want a marketing piece printed in full color, they’ll argue with me about the cost – even though they have no idea what my budget for the project is.

    Reply
  103. AG

    What productivity looks like. My old job required high-quality work in the shortest turnaround possible. The time I spent working on each project, down to the minute, was documented and assessed by my manager. Even if the output was fantastic, if I worked an hour too long on any project, you better believe I heard about it. If I went to the bathroom or grabbed a coffee, that time had to be documented, too.

    Now, in a much less regimented environment, I have to tell myself it’s okay to take my time—and even spend an afternoon brainstorming solutions to a problem without any actual output. While this ultimately results in better-quality work, I’m constantly worried I’m taking “too much time” on something, even if that time construct is completely fabricated in my own head. It’s exhausting—even two years later!

    Reply
  104. Cassandra

    One or two more:

    In Toxic Ex-Job, goals and deliverables were never agreed upon (or even imposed from above! they just didn’t exist), and formal feedback structures were not a thing. In practice, this turned into “whatever Cassandra is doing, it’s the wrong thing, but we won’t tell her about that much less suggest stuff to improve on, just leave her to intuit that we despise her and her work.”

    This had two deleterious effects on my thinking, one small and one large. The small one is that I’m much antsier about “face time” and time-in-office than my current job needs me to be — in Toxic Ex-Job, time-in-office was basically the only unassailable evidence I could point to that I was doing my job! The large one has been mentioned by several other people: I’m scared of feedback (both formal and in-) and have had to clamp down on perfectionism, reminding myself that “good enough” is, well, good enough.

    From that same job I learned never, ever, ever to ask for help or guidance from anyone in any role at any level; in that job it was considered an exploitable weakness, plus I never got what I asked for so why bother? It was such a revelation to go to people in my current job, quaking in my boots, to tell them about something I wanted to do, and have them say “Neat. How can I help?” It was months before I could even learn to believe they meant it (they did and do!).

    Reply
  105. VC

    At my very first design job, graphic artist at a newspaper, the #1 priority was always giving the client exactly what they asked for even if that was the worst idea possible. Even when everyone agreed it was terrible, the response was “just do it and they’ll see how bad it looks!” Spoiler: They never, ever saw how bad it looked, but it was still my fault when it looked terrible in print. It took a good year at my next job to learn that I was a designer, not a voice-activated Photoshop-bot, and I was allowed to push back and suggest better solutions or outright say “no.”

    “Make it work” was also SOP. If the client didn’t provide good design assets (“you can just save the logo off my website!”), the sales reps would refuse to ask for usable files because they didn’t want to “bother” them. Now I can just ask for the things I need to do my job instead of spending half an hour vector-tracing a GIF in Illustrator.

    Reply
    1. Rincat

      “spending half an hour vector-tracing a GIF in Illustrator.” I feel you. FormerBoss made me be the Photoshop-bot for her pet project, which was some kind of nonprofit board that was totally unrelated to our job and company. The board members were TERRIBLE to work with, and of course it was my fault when their “designs” came out all janky.

      Reply
      1. Jessica

        Everyone’s a design expert except the actual designer. I work for a surprisingly functional and healthy workplace, but we still fight the “let the designers decide the design” battle daily.

        Reply
  106. LemonLime

    In first office job, I had the most micromanaging boss. I would come in 20-30 minutes early each and every workday. Once I had to take transit as my car was unavailable, and being unfamiliar with the route, I got on the wrong train. Even though I left an hour and a half before I was supposed to be there, I ended up rushing in 5 minutes late. I hurried to my desk to get started, skipped getting coffee, etc., and got to work. He emailed me an hour later berating me for being late, and why didn’t I call him and let him know, etc.
    Another time, he pulled me into his office to talk about an issue. While his issue was something that he should have addressed, (I had pushed back about a certain task he told me to do), he went far beyond that when he spent the next hour and a half telling me about all my personality flaws and how I would never make it in the work world unless I changed all of them, and how he was a kind boss who was just trying to give me some pointers. After being ripped apart on all my personal defects, I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t work, and had to leave for the rest of the day. Of course it was another day where I had taken public transportation so I sobbed my way to a parking lot and called someone for a ride because I couldn’t manage getting on a bus.
    He did lots of other things that wore on me, and the end result was that I took everything at work super personally for a long, long time. I assumed every mistake was the result of a giant personality flaw of mine, and that I was going to be raked over the coals if I ever screwed up. It made me very reluctant to ask for, or take feedback from managers. The fact that it was my first office job really screwed up my expectations for work environments going forward.

    Reply
  107. Cookie

    I went from bachelors to masters to law school, and completed many internships along the way. I can think of a few where I got to do real work, but, unfortunately, the majority of my internships were the type where the internship supervisors who have no desire to train or supervise the intern because it’s easier for them to do the work themselves. I got the message early on that asking for more work or for feedback on work I had completed was a huge burden. So now I’m working full-time and I’m still uncomfortable asking if I can do more or asking for feedback because of such negative experiences from my internships. I hope time heals this wound, but I honestly wish I had never interned so I wouldn’t have warped my mind in this way.

    Reply
  108. Kristine

    At my last full time job, I was managed by a drama queen and supported various people, including a major control freak. Control freak would nitpick my work and instead of coming to me, would bad-mouth me to my drama queen supervisor, who became hysterical over tiny mistakes. Control freak also became livid, cried (I may have mentioned here the 2-day crying jag over how I formatted peel-off name tags for a conference – we’re talking a small font size disagreement), bad-mouthed me and others to other employees about non-work related things, and would launch “You don’t have children!” at any non-parent except for her inner circle of enablers. (She was a Perfect Mom, too, and criticized other mothers out of their earshot. Sheesh.) Drama Queen could have fired her many times over for her disrespectful mouth but wouldn’t, since Drama Queen also needed more order than could physically exist in this universe, and would have hired someone just like Control Freak, anyway.

    I figured out that Control Freak was actually making many mistakes and feeding them to me, and Drama Queen eventually saw this, but did nothing. I kept my head down and swallowed it, which made Control Freak’s abuse more open and outrageous, and I would smile sweetly. I felt helpless to out-argue the gas-lighting, so I simply made sure my head was straight about what was really going on, that I double-checked my work, and that I maintained the high road when people asked me how I could work for these two crazies. After I left that place, I made sure at my internship (capstone for a Master’s) that I documented my work in case it was questioned, but no one rose to that level of hand-wringing again. Seven years later I am treated WAY better at my current employer and by clients for my side business than at that dysfunctional abyss. I also managed to forget the sound of Control Freak’s criticism soon after leaving there, and I was proud of that.

    Now, however, I am more proactive in checking my work and sticking up for myself if something is questioned. (That’s easier to do with more reasonable, professional administrators.) I knew my former supervisor and control-freaky associate were wrong but they were too emotionally enmeshed with each other and too histrionic about everything for me to push back at that time, being that I was in school at night and struggling with a huge workload, and because I sense that they were conflict-prone and relished a good fight. That was the only job I’ve had where I did not get glowing reviews and I’ve put that in perspective, too. Drama Queen is still at this employer, and Control Freak now administers a very small pond, whereas I’ve moved on to work for national and international entities. Control Freak wanted to connect with me via Linked In; I ignored her.

    Reply
  109. BA

    I worked for a company for about 3 and a half years that was immensely dysfunctional. There were lots of signs of it, but the sole proprietor was particular about hiring kids right out of college with no real world work experience so most of us didn’t have a real understanding of what was normal in a workplace. As as result we didn’t always get out as fast as we should have. There are numerous different things I could point to in terms of the workplace itself from threatening people’s jobs on a whim to focusing on female employees because they were “easier to control”, but I want to be sure I’m staying on topic here.

    When I finally left and found myself in a normal workplace there were quite a lot of incorrect views and bad habits to work through–some of which I still haven’t kicked.

    Some of the most notable issues:
    1. I wrote and rewrote emails belaboring every single word choice for fear that it would result in a melt down or me getting in trouble. This was incredibly problematic for productivity as it took me much longer than it should have to compose a message. I finally got past this one, but it took some determined focus to really change this behavior.

    2. CYA is a real thing. Although I am less intense about this now, I don’t delete most emails. Instead they are filed away in case I ever need to refer to something I said that is being used out of context or to suggest something other than my intended meaning. This is something I still do albeit with less fervor than I used to.

    3. Receiving feedback from supervisors is a very complex emotional struggle. How comfortable I am with that feedback has a lot to do with how much I trust my supervisor. If I am receiving feedback from someone who I don’t trust and it is not couched kindly my immediate reaction is to assume the worst. At first, when I had just joined the company, I assumed nearly any suggestion might lead to my firing. Even now there are specific colleagues who I struggle with because of how they approach feedback. Even if it’s well meant it is too similar to my former employer and it’s difficult for me to divorce my physical gut reaction from the actual feedback so that I can take it well and use it to improve.

    4. Anxiety. I don’t list this one lightly. This has impacted not only my work life, but my home life. Before the prior job I would say that I was a worrier, but that I could easily shut off the worry if something needed to be done. One of the outcomes of this position was an outright anxiety disorder. We lived in such constant fear of reprisal at this company that fight or flight was pretty much always on standby. And many of us have had some very real discussions about what prolonged levels of cortisol in your system might do to you. I began to experience what I now know are panic attacks at the old position and although conditions are much better at my current job arrangements that mimic the old conditions can elicit the same response even if there is no actual danger. This even happens in my personal life. I can recall a very specific scenario after I got my current job when friends who I love were over for dinner and actively debating whether or not you tell kids about Santa Claus. It’s a group that likes to debate and so they were talking over each other. The topic was harmless and the people were all people I trusted, but I had to leave the room for about 20 minutes because the method of talking over each other set off my anxiety and I couldn’t get it calmed back down while sitting there.

    There are certainly other examples I can give, but those come to mind first and foremost. The only thing that I can truly say for all of this was that identifying the source went a long way for helping me reset and relearn how to work. Although these tendencies are never 100% gone, I’m much more able to stop and reset myself now with a reminder that there is no reason to react that way. I’ve got three colleagues who also went through the same company and we all act as checks for each other confirming or denying if one of us are reacting normally or as we would have from our old employer. If anything this experience has made me immensely aware of how necessary it is to create positive work environments in order to achieve positive and beneficial work outputs.

    Reply
    1. Beancounter Eric

      In re. keeping emails – I keep ALL emails. Don’t know how many times it’s saved my backside.
      I also push hard for my manager to email his orders to me – helps avoid misunderstandings.

      Reply
      1. BA

        I’m with you. I’m not sure it’s a bad practice per se, but the level to which I’ve gone to keep them and the intricacy of how I file things so I am sure I can find them again without a great deal of searching is pretty intensive. It used to stress me out to even get rid of generic newsletter-like emails that had nothing to do with me. I had them all the same… just in case…

        Reply
    2. Turtlewings

      I watched a crazy boss give my big sister an anxiety disorder in much the same way you describe here. They had always had a great relationship and my sister felt a great deal of personal loyalty to her — and then one day, suddenly, my sister couldn’t do anything right. This boss very nearly criticized, nitpicked, micromanaged, gaslighted, ostracized, and sabotaged my sister into a rubber room. Coworkers were openly noticing and asking my sister what on Earth happened, to which she had no answer. It took two years of hell for my sister to get away from her, not least because she spent the first year thinking surely they could straighten things out. That was four years ago, and she still struggles with constant anxiety attacks, in spite of medication. I would kinda love to find this boss and kick her butt.

      Reply
  110. Shadow

    For the longest time when I was a kid I didn’t realize that working off the clock was illegal.

    Now, Ive been in so many companies with layoffs that now my current rule is all of my personal items (i.e. Office decor, knock knacks) should be able to fit in a copier paper box so I can quickly leave if I’m ever laid off.

    Reply
  111. Fabulous

    I once worked as an admin under a severe micromanager. He made us grant him access to our Outlook inboxes, where he would then 1) police us on how we managed our email, 2) dictate how our tasks were captured, and 3) required we put Read Receipts on all emails. He had such little trust in his staff – and his staff had such little trust in him too – that when I finally moved on from that company, I was so used to doing the Read Receipts, that I kept doing it so I knew when people saw my emails that required a response. Promptly got reprimanded for it. I basically had to re-learn how to trust my co-workers and the people I supported, as well as figure how to manage my own workload with independence since my new manager traveled 80-90% of the time.

    All in all, despite him being a shit boss, I am so thankful I worked for him. He taught me so much about how to handle difficult people and how to anticipate needs. I’ve been able to apply those things to every job I’ve had since then. Also, I manage a MEAN inbox now :)

    Reply
    1. Fabulous

      I forgot he also dictated how we could write communications to his clients! No declarations, i.e. “We’ll need XYZ document to proceed” or, “You must to this to be approved.” Even a “You don’t need to do this” was frowned upon. I got very good at rephrasing though!

      Reply
    2. Jake

      My current boss puts a read receipt on every single email he sends. Every single one. After the second email, just just checked the box that said not to give them to him anymore.

      He already has a huge problem with time management, and I just imagine him going through and trying to manage an inbox of 300 read receipts a day cannot be helping that at all.

      Reply
  112. Sfigato

    I was laid off/fired, and when I was told it was alluded to that I was burnt out and didn’t have what it takes to contribute to the team. It left me convinced I was a terrible employee and sucked at my job. I got a new job in the same field, and I have total imposter syndrome. Every time my colleagues or boss praise me, I’m shocked.

    Reply
  113. Grits McGee

    I was a resident assistant for a while in college. Our training was, in hindsight, pretty inappropriately intense for 19 year olds making less than $200 a month. They had us role play being in the middle of domestic violence situations, or residents in the middle of major psychiatric episodes or suicide attempts, with no warning or preparation. Mandatory fun outings always involved the recounting of horrifying personal trauma. Our team meetings were group psychological examinations and weekly one-on-ones were more like counseling sessions.

    This all set me up terrrrribly when I was in my first post-college job and was struggling with mental health issues. Discovering that were big consequences for loosing it at work was a very rude awakening, and I’m so so so glad that happened at the very beginning of my career. Even then, I don’t think I was really able to internalize that lesson until I left that second job for somewhere else. On the other hand, both of those work experiences have helped me get really good at avoiding getting sucked into dysfunctional workplace drama!

    Reply
  114. JayBee

    I unluckily had my first two jobs out of college with bosses who weren’t good leaders and I now realize were bad managers. The salary at my first job was basically a stipend, but my boss “paid for lunch every day” and then would dictate what we were eating and that it had to be under $6. (I ended up going on a restrictive diet- or so I told her- in order to get out of that situation). My second boss had a temper and would snap at me over nothing and created a culture where I couldn’t ask questions and then was reprimanded when I did something wrong.

    But this isn’t about their behavior, it’s that it led to my believing that I wasn’t allowed to have any say in how I was treated in my role. I was worried about everything that they said, or didn’t say, about me. I worried I wasn’t good enough at predicting what they wanted. I didn’t know that being questioned about your commitment once a week wasn’t normal. I didn’t know that saying you wouldn’t work 6 days that week wasn’t something that should launch into a lecture about age and experience and how I needed to prove myself even more. I didn’t know that as a non-exempt employee, when I was told I was being given my overtime in comp time instead of funds, that I could have protested- and yes, now I know that’s illegal.

    The dynamic made me think that jobs and employers are totally in control. I carried this into my third job (where I’ve now been for over 5 years and been promoted twice), which led to questions about organizational fit. I was insecure and defensive, nervous and anxious to please, condescending and immature, worldly wise and confident that my way was correct. It was a whole mess of feeling like I knew so much but had no idea how to implement any of my knowledge in a professional way. I was so busy trying to protect and defend myself I never learned how to be a team player and a strong employee. Luckily my current role has been filled with mentors and leaders, but it took at least a full year to shake the previously mentality.

    Reply
  115. FlibertyG

    Something I am still trying to get over: as a young employee it was expected (and I expected it because they did) that I would work whatever hours were required, weekends, evenings, whatever, without comp time or overtime pay. That was just “being a professional,” I thought. I was making 30K and working three weekends a month on top of 40 hours – it was a small company. I had a hard time taking vacations and felt like I was making a lot of trouble and work for my office when I did that, like I really needed to apologize.

    It’s really warped my feelings now because my young colleagues in my current office are Non-Exempt, which is great for them! But I struggle to feel good about it and am weirdly bitter. I clawed my way up the ladder and it’s hard to see them sail out the door right on the dot (leaving me with all the extra work, of course! But I make more than the cutoff and am a manager, so that’s actually RIGHT and APPROPRIATE). Oh, and guess what – I still have massive guilt over taking any vacation/sick time. I come in with colds that I probably risk spreading around, and I lost two weeks of compensated time off this year.

    Sigh.

    Reply
  116. Giles

    I have a consistent fear of HR because, at my last company, the only time I ever saw the HR Manager was when she needed to scold me for my behavior – and we’re talking scolding; she once told me that I needed to sit differently because the way I was sitting wasn’t becoming of a lady. Even years later, whenever I see our HR Manager here (different company), I immediately think she’s going to write me up or fire me, even though sometimes she’s literally just coming by to chat or talk about lunch plans. Ugh.

    At my current company, my boss is extremely inflexible about time – I have to be here at exactly 8 or sooner (always am) and can’t leave until 5, and I really shouldn’t take a longer lunch. Well, here’s the thing – I’m hourly, so if I get here before 8 or take a shorter lunch, I have to donate the extra time because I can’t leave early (unless he leaves early, then I can sneak out.) He regularly gets in at 9 and leaves at 4:45, it’s frustrating. Anyway, it’s making me think that I’m just going to have to donate my time no matter what because this is normal..

    Also at my last company, I used to get yelled at constantly. The owner was unhinged. She once emailed me 12 times on Thanksgiving day wondering why I wasn’t replying – I was a junior employee with no requirement to answer on holidays, for example. It’s taken years of work to accept that I’m not going to be screamed at by my boss now, but I still get stressed whenever he’s around. It’s entirely unconscious at this point.

    Reply
    1. Not a Morning Person

      You probably know this, but “donating” your time is not what this is, it’s wage theft by your organization and it’s illegal.

      Reply
      1. Giles

        Yeah, I know. I rationalize it by saying “well, I had an hour (or whatever) of unproductive time reading AAM, so it cancels out…” I have no idea if that’s true legally, though.

        Reply
  117. Spice for this

    At former job, I thought that it was normal:
    1. to have a boss who yells, curses, gets angry and his face turns red.
    2. to have a senior employee say: “I am not going to train you! Figure it out for yourself”.
    3. to have management hire and promote friends and family .
    4. to be excluded from important meetings (that affect your job and how you plan your tasks for the week/month)
    5. to hear about my hardworking co-workers getting fired (they were not trained so they made mistakes).
    6. to hear about policy changes from a co-worker (some policies/procedures were never written down or emailed).
    I knew early on that I had to get out of there. And I did get out as soon as I had a better opportunity!

    Reply
    1. Spice for this

      How did it impact my thinking:
      I have a great work ethic and would constantly meet all work related deadlines. After the first 3 months, it was very difficult to stay motivated. I was not being recognized for my work accomplishments. I looked around and felt so sad since I felt alone. I didn’t feel like I was part of the team. I didn’t think that it would matter if I stayed late, completed all my work, etc. since they only promoted friends and family.
      The “above and beyond” type awards were also only given to friends and family at the quarterly meetings.

      Reply
  118. Ramona Flowers

    I worked for several managers who only cared about my work and whether it was done, not about the actual human producing the work.

    As a result I still feel a stab of defensiveness when my (very nice and supportive) manager asks questions about my projects and how they’re going, and to remind myself that I’m not walking into a trap.

    To this day I am surprised and grateful when I get a normal human response like “sorry to hear you’re not well, I hope you can get some rest and feel better”.

    I also believed I was a failure if I couldn’t do a project after working for a manager who wouldn’t take no for an answer, it was always “you’ll just have to find a way”, “just try anyway”. I almost cried the other day when my manager agreed that I should stop trying to make an impossible project happen.

    Reply
  119. Parcae

    First office job was a nonprofit where there was no money for *anything.* Seven years out and I still have trouble remembering that it is a good and normal thing to ask my employer to buy me a stapler or notecards or even expensive software if it will help me do my job better.

    Reply
    1. Chaordic One

      When I worked at a dysfunctional nonprofit where there was no money for “anything” I bought quite a few things that I needed myself including a stapler, a desk calendar, and extra paperclips. A few of the things were not absolutely necessary, but mad my job so much easier. Like Extra Fine Point Sharpies that our supply clerk didn’t order and wouldn’t buy for us. When I was fired I put the supplies in a box and took them home with me.

      Reply
  120. KR

    I worked in a role where we had a lot of projects that would go on for months or YEARS. We would start the project or order a piece of equipment and then we either wouldn’t​ have the right set up for it (and it wasn’t something I could change without my bosses help), it wouldn’t work, or something else would come up and my boss would have me work on something else. Then months and months later he or the department involved would ask me what the status was and why it wasn’t working, in which case I either wouldn’t remember the specifics or would say, “Still need a connection for this automatic teapot polisher to work! We got that far and then you asked me to work on the teapot washer.” (Or whatever). Then he would ask me to work on it for a little bit, we would hit another road block, and then we would move on to something else only to resume in another 6 months -same thing. Now I’m in a different role and we finish things and get them off the table and checked off our list and resolved and it’s taken some adjusting because I got used to just ignoring these projects that we’re sitting around not done. It’s nice though because I suspect my manager isn’t like that and will help me get things done if I need his help.

    Reply
    1. Manders

      Oof, I’ve had the same issue with projects withering on the vine because one little thing was missing. I even had a performance review where my boss dinged me for reminding her about these missing things too often, then congratulated me on completing a project that only got done because I repeatedly reminded her about what I needed.

      Reply
  121. Stranger than fiction

    This is amazingly timely. I’ve been thinking of writing in to Alison with a similar question: What do you do when you think your workplace has completely changed you?
    My employer has treated me well in many respects, like great pay and benefits, and generous and flexible with time off.
    But we do have a degree of dysfunction here, and the impact it’s had on me is: I’ve gained weight and am heavier than I’ve ever been; I curse more than I ever have; and I’ve become passive aggressive, to name a few things off the top of my head.
    I’m also oddly more invested than I should be in my role, but no matter how much I start each day fresh and tell myself not to let the fundamental shit we’re getting so wrong bother me, I’m angry within ten minutes of getting here every day.
    I now worry I wouldn’t even be able to do well somewhere else because the culture here is so ingrained. I barely remember how to write a more formal email because it’s so lax here, for example. I’m afraid I’d be too outspoken and opinionated in interviews…I’ll probably just work here til I retire or win the lottery.

    Reply
    1. Not a Morning Person

      Don’t let them get you down, get out! Yes, it’s hard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You will have the AAM community rooting for you.

      Reply
  122. Siberian

    My first job in my career was at a nonprofit that I loved. All the staff were very loyal despite a lot of dysfunction. I left for a better job and the old director was replaced. When I met her at an event I got this huge hit of “wow, she’s just amazing! I’m so glad she’s going to be the director!” She quickly rehired me, only 9 months after I’d left, with a modest salary bump and a significantly increased title. I was only 23 and super excited. Of course, she turned out to be kind of a monster. She fired two people who to be honest weren’t great. Then she fired me for extremely flimsy reasons—mainly that I’d only raised an extra $25,000 in unrestricted funds in less than a year by creating a program that was not in my job description, rather than $35,000. Flimsy! BTW, I was 8 months pregnant and she’d been hinting that was problematic for her. I was able to negotiate a withdrawal of the firing and a small severance. She went on to be a bit more careful in how she got rid of people, turning to harassment and hounding out of excellent founding staff members who were very respected in the field. I took a very low-level position due to lack of confidence after I had my baby and took a couple of years to get back on track career wise.

    So the impacts, which I still feel to this day, which is almost exactly 27 years later:
    • I still don’t trust my ability to judge people. I make note of my first impression but never rely on it until I have lots and lots of data. This has just become a deeply embedded part of who I am, that I no longer trust myself. It’s like that one boss’s betrayal became a betrayal of myself and I still haven’t forgiven myself.
    • Especially because the next job turned out to be hugely dysfunctional in a whole different way and I was there for the next six years, I am still really wary of people in authority over me, and it comes out in this sometimes unprofessional way: I just can’t be deferential. I have to watch out for actively teasing or joking with bosses, especially new bosses, especially high-up people. I can rein it in, but when I do I’m stiff and awkward. Sometimes when I don’t rein it in I end up really putting my foot in my mouth. I watch my colleagues put on this really nice, smooth tone and affect of deference and respect and I just can’t replicate it. Basically my emotions just keep shouting “don’t trust them! don’t show your soft underbelly! don’t let them think they’re truly the boss of you!!” I worked as a consultant for nearly 20 years and am now about 2 years back into a regular work environment where I do engage with grandbosses or higher, and I’m really feeling it again.

    There is a plus side, though. Those bad work experiences, plus two divorces, have taught me the value of DOCUMENTING, DOCUMENTING, DOCUMENTING. It’s as deeply ingrained and natural now as the two negative points are.

    Reply
  123. anon for this

    I worked at a large library system undergoing a very top-down institutional transition. Expressing concern or pushback to other staff was a big no-no, and every day you’d hear rumors that somebody “wasn’t on board.” I also remember hearing after a national conference that one of the librarians had been “airing our dirty laundry” by discussing the transition with colleagues from other institutions. The appropriate thing to do was present everything in a positive, chipper light.

    To this day, I’m not sure where the line is between discussing things that aren’t working well and inappropriately complaining/portraying employer in a bad light.

    Reply
    1. Hiding from Google, Esq

      I struggle with this too! I’ve worked in places where there was a basically toxic level of bitching about everything, places where there was really good, strenuous and welcomed disagreement, and places where there’s a sort of unspoken agreement that you don’t bad-mouth the company (which often included legitimate grievances), or that talking about those sorts of things with your co-workers was bad: you were expected to bring stuff directly to management or whatever. I still feel totally uneasy raising any kind of complaint, no matter how legitimate.

      Reply
  124. GOG11

    One of the professors I worked with would obsess over my time in the office to the point that he asked my supervisor “who is watching me?” (as though I’m a toddler who is going to wander into the street). In response to that, my then supervisor asked me to elaborate on why I’d be out of the office because that might assuage his fears about my time away. I asked supervisor if coworker had mentioned any impact my sick time was having on my work (and supervisor said no) and mentioned that I scheduled appointments first thing in the morning or as late as possible in the day to avoid disruptions, but I still felt like I was doing something wrong.

    Now, several years later, I’m on intermittent FMLA and I still stress out over taking sick time. I really wish my supervisor would have handled it by telling my coworker my use of leave is between supervisor and me and addressed any problems that came up (other than coworker doesn’t think people should take sick time) with me directly instead of making me essentially get buy-in from my coworkers to utilize my benefits. I still struggle with feeling like I’m being a bad employee even though I know getting sick is part of being human and that that’s why we have sick time.

    Reply
    1. Anon today...and tomorrow

      Oh, this is a good one. At one of my first jobs I worked for a manager who would call me at home during the middle of the day if I called out sick and would say “just checking” when I answered. It always made me feel like I was doing something wrong when I took a sick day and that still lingers to this day. A few months ago I had the flu and was out for an entire week. I made a point to texting sick pictures of me and my MD note just to “prove” that I wasn’t faking to my co-workers. They didn’t think I was faking and wanted nothing to do with me that week, but I had this need to prove I wasn’t faking.

      Reply
  125. PB

    This is really timely! I was thinking of posting something about this in tomorrow’s open thread.

    At my last job, my supervisor wanted me to be a change agent. We talked a lot about ideas to transform the department and our workflows. We’d work hard and get excited about all of the positive changes we wanted to implement. The others in our department, however, were incredibly change averse. For example, in a one-on-one with one of her direct reports, my supervisor said that there would be changes coming. The direct report yelled at her, literally yelled, for about ten minutes before storming out. And then she came back to continue.

    This came to a head when I was assigned to lead a project by our administration. It was an unpopular project, but admin wouldn’t budge. People were so mad about the change, and took it out on me, since I was the project manager. I received belittling emails. People yelled at me in meetings, to the extent that I’d be in tears afterwards. One person (the same as the yeller above) deliberately withheld information, and then complained that I didn’t address the needs that she hadn’t shared with me.

    I have been out of there for a year now, and I’m in a much more functional workplace. I thought I’d shaken most of the bad habits, until this week. A long-time employee is retiring at the end of the month, and I’ll be taking on some of his responsibilities. My supervisor requested that I rethink these workflows to take advantage of new tools and technology, and hopefully trim some time off of the work. I agreed that this would be a good idea, but inwardly I’m starting to worry. During my 5+ years with Old Employer, the “Change is Bad” message has become so ingrained that I’m really worried about trying to change anything.

    My logical brain knows this isn’t baseless. My coworkers here are great, and would never treat me like my former coworkers did. I’m just having trouble trying to get my subconscious to agree.

    Reply
  126. Anon today...and tomorrow

    I can feel it happening now. I love my job and want to move up but I don’t know if I can do it. My current manager is one of those people who answers emails at midnight and I don’t know if I want to do that. I keep reminding myself that the company has never given any indication that they expect us to be available all the time and that this might be unique to who she is, but because I have never worked for another manager and don’t know for a fact that it isn’t the case I have been reticent about pursuing opportunities.

    Reply
    1. yep yep yep

      I feel this way, too. I’m also afraid I’m going to be judged by the impossible standard that she set.

      Reply
  127. Vicky

    I Just quit Toxic Old job last week and these are the wrapped things I’m still carrying:

    – it’s normal to keep track of every moment I’m away from my desk so as to avoid manager freaking out
    – Normal to keep things from my employer that I can deal with alone to avoid being assigned piles of extra nonsense work that accomplishes nothing
    – that it’s Normal for my boss to send me ALL CAPS emails several times a day
    – normal to come in to see my boss has destroyed my desk and thrown stuff everywhere
    – normal to never ever ever make mistakes no matter what
    – Normal for boss to never know what’s going on or where anything is

    Doing a lot better now but I still start timing myself every time I go to the washroom.

    But new job rocks. no one gives a crap where am as long as work is completed in a timely fashion

    Reply
  128. HopefullyUnrecognizable

    At my last job, my first boss was completely and totally crazy. I stayed only because I really didn’t have a choice. After 2 years, that boss was fired and the person who had originally been the number 2 became the boss. She was so much less overtly crazy that it took me a long time to realize how toxic the workplace still was and it has had a lasting impact. I think the biggest example is that in my old workplace, CYA was the most important thing and second was being BFF with the boss. So, I used to go to dinner and out drinking with my boss, we went on vacation together, and a small group of us gossiped about everything and everyone else at the organization. This got really normalized and because it felt so much less crazy without the screaming/crying, random firing, obvious embezzlement, and semi-public sex with clients of the previous boss, we all felt like everything was fine. But anyone who didn’t participate in the gossip or the BFF stuff was quickly fired or else made miserable.

    When I moved to a new and much more functional workplace, I was kind of a mess. Any time anyone questioned anything at all about my work– even routine questions that were perfectly reasonable– I got super defensive and imagined all kinds of motivations. I kept looking for alliances and trying to figure out who I needed to kiss up to for CYA purposes–even when I hadn’t done anything that needed to be covered up! When I did make small mistakes, I had to actively fight the urge to try to make it sound like it wasn’t my fault or lie to cover it up. Luckily, I got lots of positive feedback about my job performance, which helped keep me afloat while I realized and then worked through just how inappropriate my last workplace had been and how it messed up my instincts for how to behave.

    Finally, after 4 years at the new job, I think I have recalibrated my understanding of what professional behavior looks like and now respond appropriately to normal work things, but it amazes me now how I really didn’t see a lot of what was going on, first from willful ignorance because it felt like the way to keep my job and then later because it had become totally normalized.

    Reply
  129. Giles

    I forgot to include – at current job, my boss once knocked me down on two different performance reviews because I had written “hey there,” as the intro to my out of office reply. I had written that in January and changed it the moment he commented on it, but it came up again in July and November. I finally just copy/pasted his out of office verbatim so he’d leave me alone. Now I just expect to be given negative feedback about pretty much anything I type, so I’m hesitant to ever copy him on emails because my first thought is “this won’t end well,” even when it’s something minor.

    Reply
  130. IT Kat

    1.) That when your manager shuts their office door a couple of times in the same day or week, it DOESN’T mean that they are talking bad about you/getting ready to write you up/getting ready to fire you/have discovered a mistake that you made that they are getting ready to scream at you about how stupid you are.

    It’s been almost 6 years and two jobs, and I *still* get a mild anxiety attack when my boss shuts his office door more than once a day and/or twice in the same week. (And I don’t use the term ‘anxiety attack’ lightly, because I’ve been diagnosed and have been on meds for anxiety for years.)

    Reply
    1. IT Kat

      Forgot to mention….

      I can trace it directly to a boss that I had while I was working on my Info Systems degree – he was what people like to jokingly call “Type A” and I call “a terrible boss”. He was the CEO and I was his executive admin assistant (along with the VP and CFO’s admin), and his method for dealing with any mistake was talking with the CFO (who was also HR, and don’t get me started on that) and then having him write me up – or because he was looking over something I did and swearing to himself before calling me in to scream at me about how stupid I was for making the mistake.

      But he NEVER shut his office door unless that was the case, or rarely if he was in a meeting with clients. So I am conditioned that when boss shuts door without clients in office = I’m about to get punished.

      This despite the fact I’ve had nothing but raving reviews everywhere else I’ve worked, and that my other boss from that job has tried to hire me back as his personal assistant dozens of times over the years… it’s workplace PTSD.

      Reply
    2. AnnaleighUK

      My sister has this problem and she’s finding it really hard to get over. She’s almost 45 and the job where a closed door meant Very Bad Things happened in her 20’s so it definitely lingers. Reading all of these makes me realise that people underestimate how much a bad work environment can damage people’s bodies and minds – I remember Sister losing about a stone and a half in weight because she’d freak out over the closed doors. And the worst thing is, the people who do the thing that makes for the PTSD or the conditioning to bad stuff probably don’t care!

      Reply
  131. Bored and Confused

    That everything I do is wrong in some way. According to one former boss I couldn’t do the simplest thing right, even the way I counted the till at the end of the night was somehow horrible . (I counted out the amount that was to stay in the till first then counted the deposit. This made sense to me because the till always had to have the same amount in it, and if we were over/short that was to be noted with the deposit, but that reasoning was not accepted). I was criticized over every little thing I did to the point that I had no confidence. It was especially harmful because I was only 18 at the time and there were no other employees to talk to. It even made me cringe every time a later manager gave me kind, constructive criticism. It’s taken years and several jobs (with amazingly supportive and understanding managers!) for me to become confident in my work again.

    Reply
  132. Bow Ties Are Cool

    Early in the recession, the (pretty great) mortgage company I had been with for over a decade went under, and the only job I could find was at a large investments firm. Even though we were all salaried and 0% customer-facing–we built internal reporting applications–your hindquarters were in the fire if you stepped in so much as a minute “late”, regardless of weather/traffic. Likewise if you took a scrap longer than 60 minutes for lunch, or left at 3:59 instead of 4:00. You were really expected to stay at least half an hour late every day, even if you had nothing to do–it was “good optics”. If you weren’t in the office at least 50 hours a week (regardless of whether you had that much work to do) you could kiss anything more than a 2% cost of living raise goodbye at your annual review. Using all your PTO time was considered a sign of disturbing slacker tendencies. And yet, they talked long and hard about how much they wanted us to have “work/life balance”.
    My last few months there, they decided that it didn’t “look good” for us to take our lunch breaks in the lunch room, where we might (GASP) be seen reading a book or relaxing some other way. No, we were expected to take lunches at our desk, preferably while either working with our free hand, or reading something work-related. Leaving for lunch once a week was mostly not frowned upon, but more than that got you the side-eye.
    It’s been almost 4 years since I left for much more reasonable pastures, and I still get anxious when I 1) put in a PTO request, 2) realize my lunch break has taken longer than expected, or 3) call in sick. My current manager honestly does not care if I work 20 hours a week if all my stuff gets done, but when I have, say, a 3:00 appointment I always feel compelled to tell him I will stay late the next day, and do so.
    Basically, they turned me into a PTO-insecure clock watcher, and I despise them for it.

    Reply
    1. Bow Ties Are Cool

      I should add that the obsessive clock-watching and the lunch at your desk stuff was coming from my department management, while the expectation of long work weeks and distrust of PTO usage while spewing work/life balance platitudes was a whole-company thing.

      Reply
  133. green short sleeves

    There were a lot of things wrong at my last job, but this one is timely. We worked in an old building and the owner was really cheap, so the air conditioning was shut off on the weekends. So, on Monday morning whoever was the first one in would just turn it on. If it was a really hot weekend, we’d get in and it would be almost 100 degrees in the office and wouldn’t cool down until lunchtime or later. It was definitely not okay. Eventually I think they invested in an HVAC timer or something equally simple. I’ve been gone for several years now and after this past really hot weekend, on Monday I found myself running late and stressing about what to wear because if it was hot, I need to have layers, etc. Until my husband said, don’t they have air conditioning? Why are you worried about this? Ugh, because I used to work for a nutcase… (and I still wore layers)

    Reply
    1. Beancounter Eric

      Several buildings where I’ve worked had building management shut the A/C system down on Saturday at 1pm, and was off all day Sunday…..it would light off Monday morning “early”, but generally, was still very warm at 8am.

      Wanted weekend A/C – write building management a check, because they were going to bill you.

      Reply
  134. Gabriela

    The two biggest things I’ve had to unlearn are:
    1) it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission
    2) your bosses are always your adversaries

    Reply
  135. Tuxedo Cat

    I had a boss who didn’t understand that when I’m away, I’m away and can’t be expected to answer emails especially while I’m flight. He’d get upset if I didn’t answer what he thought was a crucial email, even though I had told him multiple times I would be away and in flight at specific times.

    I’m still learning to trust my coworkers to be decent people. I’ve experienced and witnessed multiple events at one place where coworkers would do all of the following: throw people under the bus when there was a mistake; claim that they contributed a lot to a project when they were not involved or in the periphery; be condescending towards folks they feel know less; and claim to be experts when they maybe did one project on a topic.

    Reply
  136. Not a Morning Person

    I have a few examples, but I’ll share just one. And thank goodness I had lots of prior experience so I knew this treatment was not normal but it still messed with my mind, made me rethink my relationships with my coworkers, and worry about my competence at my job. My director (at a former job) used to have regular meetings with me (and a few others on the team) to review our work plans and progress. She wanted us to bring in our lists of activities and what we’d accomplished. Fine, so far. But all her feedback to me was that she wanted the report formatted in a different way and each time I brought in my report she’d ask me to “Move this column.” Then the next week she’d say, “Move that column back to where you had it before.” That’s all. And she took and made personal calls while I sat with her in her office and acted like that was normal. (I know that it’s not.) In one of our meetings she told me as we were wrapping up another one of our “You’re not making progress, you’re incompetent and should not be in this job, I don’t know why you were hired,” meetings, she said to me, “You think you have friends here, but you don’t. People are telling me about everything you say and do and no one is your friend.” Wow. So, I was then hurt and suspicious of my coworkers and feeling very vulnerable, until I mentioned her comment to a trusted coworker who responded, “What makes you believe anything she says to you?” That helped me turn around my attitude, again, thank goodness. That coworker’s comment helped me, but it didn’t overcome all the months of mistreatment. Before I shared my experience with him and he rebutted her comments, I’d been crying on my way in to work and home from work. That stopped. Even now, years later, I still occasionally feel like I suffer from PTSD from that job and every so often I have to remind myself that doggone it, I am smart and people do like me.

    Reply
  137. Has no name

    A few things come to mind:
    As a teacher (though I’m not currently working), I’d expect to buy many (most? all?) of the majority of supplies I’d need.
    And, due to being completely blindsided by a horrible annual evaluation, any time that came around, my anxiety would be through the roof.

    Reply
  138. Buffy

    In my first professional job, that happened to be part-time, I had a boss who I can say now was extremely insecure, chronically lazy, and somewhat unbalanced. In my opinion, I worked really hard and expanded my jobs at least 5 times over. But her insecurity kept me in the same job, same pay, because I later found out she was taking credit for my work and bad-mouthing me to Grandboss because her head was on the chopping block almost the entire time I was working for her.

    So, unfortunately, that gave me an inferiority complex for a long time and it held me back in countless interviews for jobs, one of which I have now and am doing very well at. So long story short, my advice is try not to let a dysfunctional workplace color your own feelings of self-worth.

    Reply
  139. I'm Jasmine Masters and I Have Something To Say

    Its an issue of expectations for me – management always expresses the desire for us to be independent and to “not bug them with a bunch of questions.” At the same time, when you complete something, they want to give approval, and they end up changing your entire product, or getting upset when you take initiative and it isn’t exactly the way they wanted it. Management has a problem reconciling their desire to do very little and their desire to micromanage everything. I often find myself just doing things on my own and taking the heat if it comes, or if I have a question, scrambling around to find someone else to answer it for me.

    I guess on the plus side I’m incredibly independent. Its mostly just really bad communication, however, and I’m honestly afraid to ask questions of Management, who have been in the industry longer and really do have good answers to my questions.

    I’m trying to be vague, because I still work there. :/

    Reply
  140. N

    My first job out of college was in retail (I had 3 months before I started Big Important Office Job, for Reasons). The store was completely dysfunctional–the managers were all about 21 and had no idea how to manage. My one manager was always making gross, passive aggressive statements about my quality of work (because I had to make sales even if no one was in the store, somehow) and about my clothes (even though it was…the company apparel). We also had bizarrely rigorous sales goals–you had to hit a dollar sales goal and a product sales goal, and there was a ticker that kept track of the number of customers who came into the store–for every four customers who came in, you had to make one sale.

    When I went into Big Important Office Job, I spent months looking over my shoulder expecting my managers to be trying to catch me in any wrongdoing. And every time I completed my work, I was expecting someone to try to trip me up on a technicality (in the store, it was always, “Well, you met your dollar goal but not your product goal, which means you sold TOO MANY T-shirts and we’re going to shame you.”) It took me a very long time to learn that in most work places, it’s okay to not be perfect 100% of the time…and that other employers will recognize when you were unable to meet certain goals because of factors that were beyond your control. Healthy workplaces celebrate success instead of trying to catch wrongdoing.

    Reply
    1. Not a Morning Person

      Really good point! “Healthy workplaces celebrate success instead of trying to catch wrongdoing.”

      Reply
    2. N

      Side note: I haven’t worked in retail since then, but I believed that it was normal to have 10 million different daily goals to hit in sales. I had friends who said they liked working in retail and I always privately thought, “Wow, they must have nerves of steel!” It wasn’t until later that I discovered that the average salesperson just has one sales goal (either units sold or dollars earned, not both) OR they make commission, and the ticker thing on the door is nonexistent elsewhere. I wonder now if the owner just made it up to scare us.

      Reply
      1. Zombii

        No, the ticker thing is real. If the door has a security system set up on it (usually those things that scan for active alarm tags on products), it has a traffic-counter. Most places don’t share traffic numbers with employees though, unless the sales goal is based on traffic or if the manager on duty is particularly talkative about it.

        Reply
        1. N

          Oy, that’s good to know.

          In our store, the manager would (supposedly) look at the customer traffic and cross-reference it with the sales in the database, and would say to the sales leads, “Wow, it looks like a big group of people was in yesterday and none of them bought anything. Were you asleep or something?” It got to the point where everyone in the store would have mild panic-attacks when families with kids and dogs would come in, because they would go, “#$&#! traffic counter is going to count four people but only one of them is an adult that might buy something!” To this day I still don’t walk into stores unless I know FOR SURE that I’m going to buy something.

          Reply
  141. HistoryChick

    I worked in museum education for 14 years (3 museums in that time). From the beginning the mindset was that you give everything you can because you *believe* in the mission. And because it was nonprofit work, you give your everything with very little pay while working long days, and pretty much every weekend and many, many weeknights without any time off in exchange for the long hours. It was the culture at each and every institution and I thought it was normal. And expected. And just what you had to do. I hit my breaking point one summer while I was on vacation at the beach frantically working for about five hours each day on summer camp lesson plans. My mom (a retired teacher) said “you do all the work a teacher does, but without any of the benefits. That started a shift in my thinking that led to a career change into communications. After a mismatch with an organization that expected the same crazy hours and the same unsustainable level of work, I am happy to report that I am with a nonprofit that has a healthy work/life balance and pays me well for my experience and skills. I carefully asked questions while interviewing and my boss regularly checks in to make sure everything is balanced since she knows how important that was to me in a position. It is so hard to break the mindset of go, go, go, do, do, do, don’t ever say no. I find myself feeling guilty when I leave every day at 4. But I do it, and it is becoming my new normal gradually. Just this week I told someone – no, I can’t have a brochure designed for you in two days. I need two weeks and can get it to you by June 29th. The world didn’t end. No one got mad at me. They understood and said, great. It’s not easy to break 16 years of warped thinking, but I’m working on it!

    Reply
  142. Ophelia Bumblesmoop

    At one of my first office jobs, I was a receptionist for the COO of a medical group. The COO was in an uncomfortable position – she started as a medical assistant for one of the doctors straight out of college, worked for him for more than 20 years while rising up in responsibility, and was his personal assistant as he rallied these other doctors to create this new group practice and facility. She took over management of the facility and group but was still close with a number of the doctors. As a mid 40s woman in a position to say no to a lot of people during a time when women weren’t quite typical in those positions, she had to be very conscience of her actions. It’s the standard “woman in charge” morass – either she’s a weak pushover and a man is really making the decisions or she’s a brutal bitch and needs a man to tame her.

    This led to her being a complete micromanager. My very first day she gave me the company credit card and told me to order whatever office supplies I needed. I spent less than $40 getting a collection of basics – pens, pencils, eraser, white out, post it notes, scissors, ruler, stapler, tape. She decided that I needed to be monitored to make sure I don’t “waste” more company supplies and from that point on, she reviewed every item I wanted to order, going so far as to get on the website and compare prices and options. I had to justify and defend my choices. For office supplies. If I needed to use the restroom, I had to go to her office and my coworker’s office and let them know when I left and when I came back (I sat in front of them!). If I clocked in at 7:59am, she would ask why I clocked in early. If I clocked in at 8:01am, she’d ask why I was late. It was overwhelming and caused me to develop very bad habits. I lost confidence in my work, questioning every decision I was making and feeling intimidated that I would have to defend my thought processes. I honestly developed a fear of leaving my desk because it meant I must not be doing work and I wasn’t available should anyone need me.

    I spent 3 years there before moving on. At my subsequent jobs, I have worked hard to break those habits of self-doubt. I had an awesome manager at the next job who understood that I had been poorly managed and trained and he worked hard to help me bridge the gap. He was patient and understanding, explaining why he was making certain decisions and supporting my own decisions, even when they were wrong, because he understood why I had thought that way. I’m sure if I hadn’t had an amazing manager right after that awful manager I would not have been as successful as I have been.

    Reply
  143. Libervermis

    School rather than work and observed behavior rather than my behavior, but my college students often have an elaborate series of doctor’s notes and nurse’s notes and reasons why they were gone and profuse apologies if they’re sick. I tell them multiple times during the semester “please stay home if you’re sick and get better, I don’t need a note, I just need an email from you that you’re not going to be here” and they just don’t believe me. Several try to being me doctor’s notes in person even after I respond to their email telling them I don’t need it.

    I expect that from first-year students since they’re coming out of the K-12 system, but sometimes juniors and seniors do that too! So many professors seem to be suspicious by default, and I know that carries over into the work world too.

    Reply
    1. Jessen

      It’s even worse if you have any sort of chronic condition. I remember in college being forced to go to the student health center every time I had a migraine, so I could get a doctor’s note. Which was particularly annoying since there is neither anything the health center can do nor any real way to verify I am in fact having a migraine

      Reply
    2. Jessica

      All the jobs I had in HS and college (retail) had management that expected all manner of elaborate justifications if you were sick, up to and including telling you to come in anyway or you were fired, telling you that you’re lying about being sick, etc. etc. More than one manager I had would only believe it if a parent confirmed it, like we were in grade school. Went to work once, slipped on ice on the way there, and dislocated a bone in my wrist. After the pain and swelling became obvious that it required medical attention, it was still a good hour before they let me go back home (they were waiting for someone else to come in for their shift).

      Retail managers are insane.

      Reply
      1. Jessica

        (Now I work on the corporate side for a major retailer, and when I think about the retail managers I had in the store, and the stories I still read from current retail store employees–everywhere, that is, not my employer–I am amazed retail companies make any money at all. So many horrible managers. Ironically my workplace has a great culture.)

        Reply
    3. Ms_Morlowe

      I have had lecturers in college require sick notes for absences. I think for one lecturer (who I knew to be understanding) I emailed that I had the flu, couldn’t come in, but had no intention of going to the doctor unless she specifically asked me to because…it was the flu. She was okay with it, but I have had others since email back with “yes, please see the doctor.” Goodbye €60, all to tell me “drink plenty of fluids and rest up!”

      Reply
  144. Jaguar

    I’ve worked at some really dysfunctional places, but I was able to put them in the “this place is crazy” box and not let it affect my thinking too much.

    However, one thing I can’t do any more is just outright trust an employer. I think this is informed by three things:

    1) Seeing first-hand employers try and manipulate what employees know about by lying (i.e., “nobody’s getting fired”) or withholding information (i.e., not announcing someone left).
    2) The broken trust from the 80s/90s by employers who downsized / outsourced / generally were the first to break the implicit American bond that if you’re loyal to your employer, they’re loyal to you.
    3) Youthful flirting with Marxism, which says that no employer will ever willingly pay you your true value or more (so, if you bring in $20/h worth of value, why would an employer pay you $21/h?), so the moment you become too expensive or no longer useful, it’s only obvious that you’ll be fired as soon as possible.

    Which means that I never feel like my position is secure, just momentarily not at risk. Any cagey-ness about something happening by management sets me into immediate red (maybe yellow) alert. I play my own cards very close to my chest with employers (like, the suggestion that people giving heads up to an employer that the are going to resign six months out seem insanely baffling to me).

    Reply
  145. Wannabe Disney Princess

    Getting in trouble for going to my boss about a coworker after they threatened to take hours (aka money) away from me. I got reprimanded for thinking they would allow that to happen…when they had allowed said employee to steamroll everyone and get what he wanted. Fast forward to a few years later, and I’m STILL afraid to go to a boss when I have problems with a coworker.

    Reply
  146. OrangeYouGlad

    I worked as a live-in personal assistant & driver to the CEO of a small medical device company. He couldn’t drive because he’d had too many DUI’s and his license revoked. Each time we drove he criticized every. single. thing. the entire time. Non-stop commentary the whole way there and back, sometimes for 2+ hours depending on the destination.

    “You are too far from that car…you should be closer in traffic like this…now you’re too close…you’re going too fast…too slow…too fast now…you shouldn’t use cruise control; we might hit traffic again…you have to merge now…you’re too late! We almost died from that truck! What’s wrong with you?! Drive faster…no, FASTER…why are you speeding?…” And the whole litany was in an aggressive angry tone.

    I became extremely uncomfortable driving other people at all and didn’t for years. I still avoid driving my bosses/supervisors/manager/anyone with authority in my life because it takes me back to that time.

    Reply
    1. Red Stapler

      I got a little tetchy reading your post. I didn’t experience this sort of treatment professionally, but have personally and it really drove home how some of my issues may have conceived. Yay for therapy. :/

      Reply
  147. MM

    I worked for about a year at a pretty well known grocery delivery service. It wasn’t my first job, but it was my first one out of college and pretty unlike things I’d done before. Things that started to seem normal included everyone openly shit talking everyone and everything else, including managers shit talking the company, playing hooky, lying about one’s availability or whereabouts, abusing caffeine and alcohol to get through a shift or to blow off steam after, working with faulty equipment, FLAGRANT sexual harassment and misconduct, shoplifting, generally inappropriate relationships between colleagues and especially between managers and lower level employees.

    The really bizarre thing about all of it was that I actually loved working there in many ways while it was happening. I was in many ways a beneficiary of these dysfunctions, though in other ways a victim of them, and I felt special and important and like my work was essential to making the place function (which to some degree it was). In terms of what it did to my thinking and psyche? I got used to the idea that it’s totally fine to flagrantly abuse one’s position and/or break rules, even to the point of affecting the facility’s output, so long as you can cover your own ass. I think that thinking is something I’m still struggling to get out from under more than five years later. I obviously don’t think the output should be affected, but I think I take the attitude of “I’m an adult and I should be left alone to do this however I want, on whatever schedule I want, so long as the final product is good” too far sometimes, still.

    Reply
  148. nnn

    This is a small one, but the impact lasted far longer than the job did.

    My first job was as a cashier at a fast food counter that was located inside a gas station.

    Since both the fast food and the gas station were owned by the same owner, whenever we needed more coins for our cash register, we were supposed to go over to the gas station cashier and buy rolls of coins from them. We didn’t have our own supply of rolled coins, and the only way to get them was from the gas station.

    However, the gas station cashiers always acted like it was an enormous imposition to get change from them. Even though this is what we had been specifically instructed by the owner to do and even though we couldn’t do our job without change, they always acted as though we were being completely unreasonable, as though if we were competent at our jobs we wouldn’t have to ask them.

    As a result, in all my subsequent jobs, I’ve always felt like it was an unnecessary imposition to ask other people to do their jobs in support of my job. Whether calling IT to reset a password or asking the librarian to acquire a publication or asking my manager to sign off on something, I’ve always been reluctant to make requests and always expected to be treated like my request was unreasonable.

    It took me nearly 20 years to just realize intellectually that there’s nothing wrong with asking my colleagues to do their jobs – and that it is in fact more useful to the organization if I ask for the support I need. But even after realizing that intellectually, I still have to be a little bit brave to make even the most reasonable of requests.

    Reply
  149. LQ

    Is anyone in a place that they feel like might start to warp their thinking or become normal? I worry about firings. Not me getting fired. No one getting fired. I’m at a government/union job and no one gets fired shy of privacy violations basically. I really like the work. I like most of my coworkers. I really like what we do for the citizens. I like my bosses for the most part. And they will often shuffle people off to positions that are …less influential. I’m not in a position right now to manage but I might be some day and I want to hold onto the belief that firing someone isn’t the worst possible thing you can do. I am worried I’ll get tainted into believing that though. I like the job, I want to stay, but this worries me.

    Reply
    1. Clinical Social Worker

      Those kind of environments really kill morale. You begin to expect that basically no one will do their job and you have to pick up the slack for everyone. All the time. Forever. I feel for you.

      Reply
  150. DecorativeCacti

    My last boss was a micromanager extraordinaire. Every day I had to 1) write up a list of what I planned on doing for the day including how long it would take me, 2) email said list to her, 3) go in and meet with her immediately after emailing her the list to discuss the list, and 4) if I managed to complete everything go see her again to ask what I should work on.

    She would constantly tell us we needed to take more initiative, be more proactive, and be better at prioritizing our tasks but she was the type to change something just because she did the come up with it. So if I said, “I need to do X by 10am because Jane is waiting on it.” She would say, “I think your time is better spent on Y.” But then I would have to write a memo about why I didn’t accomplish X after Jane came looking for it.

    I shut down. I stopped trying. I would do the bare minimum. Why should I put in any effort if you’re going to treat me like I’m a trained monkey who can barely manage to dress myself?

    (This is the same manager who would shame you if you called in sick, but felt like a martyr if you came in sick and she sacrificed productivity by sending you home. So that’s what we did. Came in, waited for her to arrive, then went to see her. She would be filled with sympathy and well wishes and then we would go home.)

    Reply
    1. DecorativeCacti

      I should add that this lead to a pattern of depression and anxiety. During the weekend, I would be so relieved on Friday but on Saturday I would start to get anxious because tomorrow is Sunday and then Monday is next and who knows what kind of mood she’ll be in.

      It took me a long time after she left to trust myself to do… anything without explicit approval. The first time my new boss said “good job” I legitimately didn’t know how to respond.

      Reply
  151. ByLetters

    If you want something to the farthest extreme: my wife spent a single year as a high school economics teacher in a rural, poverty-stricken area where she was not supported by the higher ups at all. Anyone who’s familiar with public school teaching in the current climate knows just how bad this stuff can get.

    She became depressed, and three quarters of the way through the year I received a phone call at work from her therapist that she was struggling with suicidal thoughts. Depression at that level carries into all aspects of your life — you can’t merely put it aside when you leave work. Nearly six months later, she’s only begun to recover; she has left the teaching profession and works two hourly jobs to help make ends meet. While she dreams of a career, a salary, and benefits (none of which are prospects with her hourly gigs), she is still healing, and after long discussions and some intense self-reflection she has chosen to stick with the much less stressful jobs to get a handle on the mental stuff.

    Even now, discussions with any authority figure are really hard for her — management saying they “need to talk” can send her spiraling down into a panic attack. For a while the mental issues evolved into a paranoia where when others spoke to each other nearby, she would become convinced they were talking about her and things she’d done wrong. She knew it was illogical — management praised her more often than not — but in the moment, it always seemed to make sense. She couldn’t hack it as a teacher (even in a system set up to fail, she blamed herself), so how could she make it at this job?

    Criticism was baffling and terrifying, since she wasn’t used to it being benign or helpful; when you only encounter it accompanied by severe punishments, even mild rebukes take on an air of death sentences.

    Now every day that she stays at the job is a small victory — proof to herself that she CAN do something, that she’s capable and competent, despite what the administration at the school made her believe. But it’s a long journey and I don’t think it’s over yet.

    Reply
    1. N

      Ohhh your poor wife. That sounds awful and I’m glad she’s starting to recover. Just dealing with any ONE of those things (first year teaching, high schoolers, rural poverty, no-support from higher ups) can be really stressful, so I’m amazed she stuck it out for almost a year with all of those factors in play. Sending positive thoughts your way!

      Reply
  152. Esperanza

    For me it was just a failure to realize how much of my stress, anxiety, and overall misery was caused by work. I got pregnant around the time my boss’s mental health deteriorated, so I blamed a lot of my symptoms on the pregnancy rather than the situation. Every day I was stewing in stress hormones, feeling tons of physical pain, and just incredibly demoralized and unhappy. I would tell my therapist, “Pregnancy is making me so miserable, I can’t take it.”

    Then my boss left the company in my third trimester, and everything got so much better. Physically I was more uncomfortable than ever, but I was no longer an abused employee dealing with my boss’s manic episodes, compulsive lying, and paranoid delusions. I got a new boss, and we started to do actual work again. A lot of my mental and physical symptoms just evaporated. I went back to my therapist and told her, “It wasn’t the pregnancy.”

    Reply
    1. Supposed Influencer

      Ditto! I got pregnant at the same time I started a new job in what later turned out to be a pretty toxic work environment. I would cry at the slightest provocation and also assumed it was pregnancy hormones, until I had to admit that it was the grandboss berating me on a regular basis that was making me so upset. Of course, they chalked up my lackluster performance to “not a good fit.”

      Reply
  153. LNZ

    My year spent with a nonprofit that was actually a cult for sure made me more manipulative. Like there were only 1 or 2 reasonable people in the whole orgs hierarchy so if you wanted to get anything done you pretty much had to manipulate them into agreeing to it. And then there was my sociopathic supervisor that i pretty much had to be all fake with.
    I don’t know how much it’s affected me long term. Manipulating people is just so much work and i don’t like doing so it’s not like this job turned me into a total manipulative person, though i still do catch myself slipping into that mind frame from time to time.
    On the plus side that job made me super militant about enforcing my boundaries and taking care of my self first (in the sense of self car not like being selfish). Those are still thing i’m heavy on to this day, but i don’t view that as bad.

    Reply
  154. Once More Anonymous

    This goes beyond a warped perception of workplace norms, I suppose, but I started to believe I was both a terrible person and also that I had gaps in my memory.

    The context is that a support staff member felt the need to yell and berate any kind of honest mistake or oversight followed by weeks of speaking with a harsh or demeaning tone (which she seemed to enjoy). She seemed to believe honest mistakes or human forgetfulness was actually malice toward her and there rest of our group. None of these mistakes were costly or dangerous. The episodes maybe only happened 2 or 3 times a year for each of us, but they were so traumatic that they were hard to move past, especially when you were watching one happen to the person next to you. I genuinely started to think that mistakes I made happened because I was a failure of a person, or that I really only did think about myself and was a bad coworker. The worst was when she would err on who committed the “atrocity” and blame the wrong person–this happened as much as catching the real perpetrator but she did it with such conviction that I started to believe I had gaps in my memory.

    I did once get accused of failing to order some supplies that I had supposedly used up. I thought I remembered seeing more. A week or so later, I found the oversupply hidden in her drawers. The feeling I had was relief that I had not somehow fabricated a memory of supplies. It wasn’t until later that I remembered to be angry that I’d been set up for a berating.

    I have great coworkers now and sometimes have the urge to bring them a cake that says “I’m glad you’re not all sociopaths.”

    Reply
  155. LSP

    My first job out of college had me working at a newspaper for someone who, while an amazing newswoman and writer, was an awful manager. She was hot and cold depending on the time of day, and once accused me of lying to her about a migraine (which, after trying to work through, ended with me spending the night throwing up). She seemed to not be able to decide if she was my friend or my boss.
    That prepared me really well for my next job where it was like “same boss, different hair!” Again, my boss seemed so focused on having everyone like her, she was terrible at being a boss, and her reactions to normal things were so far outside the realm of “ok” I spent three years with my guts tangled up and a nearly constant migraine. She had ZERO boundaries and really cultivated an office where sex jokes and innuendo was an everyday occurrence, and when you never knew when the hammer was going to fall on you because she was having a bad day.
    When I finally got into a somewhat normal work situation, I had developed such terrible habits as over-sharing and incessant checking in with my director, that looking back, I am extremely lucky that he didn’t get frustrated with me on the regular. Fortunately, he was so great to work for that I was able to move to my current position with a sense of professionalism and understanding of workplace norms.

    Reply
  156. Supposed Influencer

    One, that your boss can assign you to “influence” a project being run by another department. No backing or support given, no talking to management to arrange being added to the team. Just expects you to comb through people’s calendars, try to get invited to the meetings or else just show up unannounced, and…influence the team in some undefined way to do things the way the boss likes. Then boss seems bewildered that nothing happens, usually because the team has no idea why you are there and doesn’t invite you to the meetings. This is related to a larger pattern of expecting the employees to perform miracles on their own while providing no support.

    Two (and this is the whole damned company) that if you’ve got a problem to solve, the first thing to do is call a meeting of everyone you can think of who is even slightly involved and talk about the problem endlessly with no path to a solution. Extra points if the meetings repeat weekly.

    Reply
    1. Supposed Influencer

      To clarify how it affected my thinking: I’ve developed a habit of blaming myself for not being able to achieve the goals my manager had set out for me, even though his goals aren’t really attainable. Ditto for the project I’m doing now (“go come up with a data governance plan for a massive software system” with no further guidance.) I assume that I’m too stupid to understand his directions or that I’m not trying hard enough. I’ve come to realize that I’m not the problem, or at least not entirely, but I still immediately castigate myself when I’m stuck and don’t know how to move forward with something.

      The other one is more about being afraid to make any decisions on my own because every decision made here is only arrived at through hours and hours of painful discussion and no one ever wants to take responsibility for making the decision.

      Reply
  157. PipSqueak

    At CurrentJob a lot of things that are crazy have been normalized, and I have been here long enough that I’ve started to be affected. One thing: asking for permission for almost anything. Very annoying but we get punished if we don’t. This is very destructive for self-esteem and productivity. My colleagues are incredibly un-creative and nothing changes. The bosses have been in their positions for decades and know no other way of doing things. My boss put me on a PIP for judgment because of times that I asked for her input when she didn’t think she should have been asked (well that’s what happens when you infantilize your staff!), and for doing something she wouldn’t have done because I didn’t seek her input first. Also, I tried to get more actionable / useful feedback from her, and questioning authority figures is NOT welcome here.

    I will ride out this PIP by basically talking to nobody and doing nothing, which is pretty much how my colleagues survive here. I used to think they were just apathetic, but now I realize they’re protecting themselves. Also, I’ve updated my resume and I’ve been searching LinkedIn and other job sites.

    Reply
  158. Lily Rowan

    Dear friends, I hope a lot of you have talked about these things in therapy, or would consider it! It’s so hard to break out of disordered thinking patterns.

    For my part: It turns out, not every hates and/or distrusts Management. Who knew, right? (People in functional workplaces knew, that’s who.)

    Reply
    1. Clinical Social Worker

      I second therapy. It was the only thing that got me out of my toxic workplace alive. I also now have a boss/manager I trust and genuinely like. It’s great!

      Reply
    2. Cassandra

      And management doesn’t intrinsically hate or distrust you! And when something’s wrong, they’ll tell you so you can fix it, instead of deciding you’re worthless! And when you’ve fixed it they’ll let it drop instead of holding it against you indefinitely!

      (That one took me a while to internalize. Whew did it ever.)

      Reply
    3. Teach

      Yes! Therapy! That, plus daily reading of AAM for a year, is what finally pulled me out of my anxiety spiral and get a new wonderful job. Life is so much better without vomiting every morning and suffering through panic attacks during meetings.

      Reply
  159. YRH

    At my current job, we’re supposed to copy everyone on every email and everyone’s email accounts are set up so other people receive every email someone else receives. It means that I never send networking emails from my work address and even hate forwarding news articles or learning opportunities to other people for fear that they will respond. My boss has always had her own business and never worked for anyone which makes things interesting.

    Reply
  160. Chatterby

    Worked with engineers for a long time before switching to a job that involves interacting with ‘regular’ employees.
    I still find that I tend to take requests and comments very literally, seriously, and at face value, because that’s how the engineers were. They said exactly what they wanted you to do, provided an organized, itemized list, and did not care about small talk or social interaction at all, and always meant what they said.
    Thinking this “Do it because it needs to be done and done this way” bluntness was the norm, I came across as pretty harsh and asocial because, in a typical office, there is a great deal of social currency being exchanged that drives people’s work, and I was ignoring all of that.
    People have to be nice, and spend time chatting about personal lives, and offer flattery, all of those ‘soft skills’, in order to get coworkers to cooperate, and think it’s strange or rude if that’s ignored. There’s also a lot of prevaricating, such as someone saying it’ll take 2 weeks, which everyone knows to interpret a certain way, instead of literally meaning it will take 80 hours of direct work to finish, and believing or meaning feedback as criticism, since emotions are now part of the interaction, instead of something that needs to be fixed for the simple reason that it needs to be fixed.
    Not sure if adjusting to the newer, normal mindset is a good thing, though, or if I should just go back to working with engineers again.

    Reply
  161. Duck Duck Møøse

    I’ve work for a federal agency, for over 30 years. Almost every thing that happens here is warped, if you compare it to the private sector. That’s why I started reading this blog, so I could learn what the real world is like ;) Y’all, this place is crazy!!!! ;) Hopefully I can retire in <3 years (unless I really love my new office and *want* to stay)

    Reply
  162. Hairy HR Guy

    So sad that this is a common experience! At my last employer, my boss who brought me in retired. His replacement (chosen by corporate) was difficult to say the least – she apparently needed to feel she was the smartest person in the room, and did so by assuming and treating that everyone else was stupid and not effective… and even to the point of making our division fail (she is the president of the division). My role was a senior HR leader – in HR for 20 years and very successful at all my roles. Like all of us do, I made some mistakes, owned up to them and correcting them. However, in her perspective, these mistakes meant I was not an effective HR leader, and not only that – I wasn’t even a good HR employee and had failed the organization and was a part of the reason why the division was not meeting its numbers. This went on for 6 months before I was let go.
    I am now at a new organization with a very healthy culture. My boss is very supportive and views any mistakes as learning opportunities – and more often an identification of issues within the organization and our processes. The executive team and my HR team are aligned in this view point. But I could describe my last 6 months to a year with the previous organization as giving me “corporate PTSD”. Even a year into the new company, I worry about mistakes I may have made, or might make; I have anxiety that my boss and peers are criticizing me when they ask questions about projects.
    Its getting better, but I still have work to do.

    Reply
    1. Ashley

      OMG I wanted to put PTSD in my comment below but it felt insensitive. My old co-workers and I use it regularly to describe feelings at our healthier job’s now. Like I don’t have to brace myself every time my boss wants to talk to me but those feelings are hard to quit. Thanks for sharing, glad you are in a better place.

      Reply
      1. Wubba Lubba Dub-Dub

        Thanks for thinking this might be insensitive. I’ve found people use the term a lot when referring to difficult work situations, which can cause anxiety, depression, acute stress disorder. In some cases, work abuse probably could cause PTSD — and if you think that’s the case for you, please, please seek help — but as someone who has been diagnosed with PTSD, I find work TRIGGERS my symptoms, but didn’t CAUSE the disorder.

        PTSD is often a result of feeling you or a loved one are in a life-or-death situation, sexual assault, kidnapping, torture, child abuse, experiencing war or natural disasters. It causes dissociation, intrusive memory and flashbacks, panic attacks, nightmares and restless sleep, and in some, risk of self-harm or increased risk-taking. I’ve been diagnosed by a therapist, and I’m in ongoing therapy and taking medications to manage the symptoms so I can have a fulfilling (work and personal) life.

        I will live with PTSD for the rest of my life, and it will impact every aspect of my life forever. It doesn’t stop or lessen when I move to a new job. It doesn’t change when I get a new, fantastic boss. While I’m sure some people’s PTSD could be caused by the work environment, I wish others didn’t throw around the phrase “corporate PTSD” or “work PTSD” so casually. In telling friends that I have PTSD, I’ve been told to just quit my job, the place sucks, that will fix it — the place *does* suck, but this job isn’t the reason I’ve had night terrors and intrusive memory of abuse for the last 10 years. And I worry that others using the PTSD term so casually has resulted in a misunderstanding of what PTSD sufferers go through.

        Reply
    2. Argh!

      I had PTSD from my previous job for years! Whenever something went wrong in the new job, even a small thing, I’d have a dream that night that I was back at the old place! It took years for that to go away.

      Reply
    3. Chaordic One

      I’ve been in similar situations where the boss I worked with left for a better offer elsewhere or was promoted and then the new boss didn’t think I did anything right. One of the things about my last bad old ex-job was that after the boss who hired me left, we had two different replacements within six months and the last one was extremely critical of everything I did and I ended up being fired. It has made me leery of that situation. If my current boss ever leaves, I’m going to start a job search the minute I find out about it as a preemptive strike.

      Reply
  163. T4l0r13

    I have been in my current job less than a year. It has been odd…
    1. Management staff will complain about your performance to everyone around you and let your peers tell you you have done something incorrectly.
    2. There are office clicks. After requesting telework for 5 months they hire a new staff person who is immediately in the click and was granted telework first week on the job. I still did not get telework approved for another 3 months.
    3. Office policy keeps changing and there is no normal notification process to inform staff about the changes. And it is left to office rumor mill to tell you about the change.
    4. Team lead who when you ask for help attacks your approach in front of peers and questions your ability to do the work. This has alienated a lot of the staff from collaborating. Maybe back to comment 1). Management unhappy but won’t tell you. But still don’t normally reprimand people in front of peers.

    Reply
  164. Brett

    I worked for a large local government entity that was not giving raises. No COLAs since the mid-80s and no raises since 2007 (they finally gave a raise to police officers this year, but other employees are still wage-frozen through 2020).
    At first, managers were tasked with creatively using other measures to retain employees, mostly training opportunities. But then there was a radical shift to from “carrots” to “sticks” for retention (coincided with huge cuts in training budgets). New obstacles appeared to prevent employee job hunting (restrictions on using PTO, requirements to register external job seeking). A “family” culture was emphasized where retirees were embraced (even as they lost COLAs on their pensions) while people who resigned were excluded from rehire and shunned. Benefits became more deferred (e.g. vacation days and sick days were carried over, increasing percentages of deferred income, comp time was used very heavily). Loyalty was so emphasized and valued, that we kept many poor performing employees that only made the environment worse for those who were achieving outside their job description.

    So I definitely became used to frame of thinking that you punish employees for leaving instead of rewarding and encouraging employees to stay. Along with it, I developed a lot of mistrust of higher level management, expecting promises (especially long term promises) to be broken and funding to disappear for budgeted projects.
    Now that I am in a different environment that values employees, rewards achievement, and follows through on promises, I am rapidly unlearning that frame of mind.

    Reply
  165. Ashley

    At a very dysfunctional for-profit educational job (where I stayed WAY to long) the culture was toxic. We were told that we were given an open form to discuss issues/problems with management in effort to improve morale, and I did. I still feel so stupid. I was the only one to speak up and discussed my concerns with a manager’s treatment of certain departments. I was very diplomatic and I thought it was an open forum to discuss issues/problems was the goal. HUGE MISTAKE. It was used against me forever, and a year later when I brought up my positive attitude as a strength, management brought it up again and I was ridiculed for doing what they asked me to do.

    I still feel the effects. I am a big picture thinker and often have good ideas/suggestions/solutions and I still really hold back when given an open forum or asked for my opinion. My current corporate culture is much healthier and I am often asked to contribute in groups and manager meetings which has helped, but I always have sinking feeling or that I should speak up less. It sucks and I am trying to let go the lasting damage from that old situation. It also made me question if I was too critical, too vocal, too idealistic, to delusional on what is appropriate when bringing up valid concerns/ideas/solutions.

    Reply
  166. poopemoji

    At my old job, my supervisor (Senior Director Level) would pit me and my co-workers against each other a-la “Mean Girls” three way phone call.

    He would take an innocuous comment made by another member of my team and spin it to makes sure I was mad at him/her. Then we’d end up not working well together. He would tell me that my other coworker “wasn’t doing so well” and that he “trusted me more.”

    When I quit, I found out that he was doing the same thing behind MY back all while telling me I was doing a great job and I was the best employee.

    It made me not believe positive feedback for a long time. My bosses would praise me and I would be paranoid that they were secretly meeting behind my back to say I’m actually awful. It took a year or so to get over that.

    Reply
  167. Clinical Social Worker

    I worked in a men’s prison as a woman and many (mental health/psych staff) had victim blaming attitudes but COs especially did. It became normal for me to have “sl_t checks” where I would ask male coworkers how likely I would be blamed if an inmate managed to sexually assault me. I dressed so conservatively it was insane. I usually didn’t have any of my arms showing even in the summer months, incredibly high necklines (partly due to my anatomy), pants. I *still* have a prudish sense of dress since working there. A cafeteria worker was sexually assaulted and she reported it a day late, for that she was fired and it was assumed she “wanted it.” She was a contracted employee, not a state employee, she had no idea who to report it to or how to do that but she was still fired. I am also often fearful that if something bad happens to me I will be blamed for it. I always assume that if a patient has a negative opinion of me or does something inappropriate with me when I go to my boss that I’ll be screamed at and blamed for the behavior. This doesn’t happen anymore because I don’t work there but it’s still my automatic reaction. I said the wrong thing. I wore the wrong thing. I had the wrong expression on my face etc.

    Reply
      1. Clinical Social Worker

        Yeah. That job will probably haunt me for years to come. I’m so grateful I’m out of there.

        Reply
  168. FisharenotFriends

    My bosses at old job used to try and trick me into little things to prove that I was inattentive or unfriendly.

    I was so nervous that when i started my old job, I let a co-worker call me “Jennifer” for almost an entire month… my name is not Jennifer.

    In the end, that coworker felt mortified and I had to tell her that it was my fault for not correcting her in the first place.. I tell all the new hires about this story.

    Reply
    1. Statler von Waldorf

      Out of curiosity, when you first met did she ask, “Jennifer, do yo want a donut?” and you said yes because you did want the donut?

      Reply
        1. FisharenotFriends

          IF ONLY IT WERE THAT EVENTFUL!

          She was a teacher who kept introducing me to her students as Jennifer, so I kept low key correcting her when she left the room, so I had to tell her when we finally sat down to eat lunch one day.

          Reply
      1. FisharenotFriends

        It was because she was introducing me to people so confidently, I didn’t want to correct her in front of 40 students!

        Of course, it was much more problematic after close to 100 students had my name wrong…. thankfully many of them weren’t listening when she said that!

        Reply
  169. DatSci

    That it’s normal for the job title you applied and interviewed for to NOT be the job title you’re offered.
    This has literally happened to me with 3 different job offers at 3 different companies. The first two times I thought this was normal (I was just a couple years into my career) and figured it didn’t matter what the job title was as I didn’t want to be seen as high-maintenance or making a big deal over nothing.
    However, it turned out to be a very big deal as I hadn’t realized that job title was correlated to which tier bonus you’re eligible to receive (at these companies if you were a data scientist I you got 15%, if you were a data scientist II you got 20% and so on…so it financially hurt me in that way), and what sort of roles you’ll be recruited for in your next position (i.g. its much harder to get a senior data science manager job if your current title is research analyst, etc.).
    By the THIRD time this was pulled on me I refused the job completely based on the fact I had thought through the 5 month hiring process that I was in the running for a manager-level position at $80-$95K; when in fact I was offered a analyst position making only a couple grand more than my job at the time. It really irked me that in their 5 month hiring process no one ever thought to bring up the fact that the job they were considering me for had changed significantly. It was pure incompetence if innocent and incredibly conniving if malicious.

    Reply
  170. WG

    With 30 years in the workforce, I’ve had my share of difficult and toxic environments and supervisors. Most of the types of things that warped my thinking or behavior have been covered with the examples above, so I won’t add redundant stories. What I have found is that many of my experiences with less-than-stellar work environments have impacted my thinking and behavior where I am often extremely mindful of operating in opposite ways of those I now know are warped.

    I am so mindful of the toxic behaviors I was subjected to. Now that I’ve moved into positions with supervisory experience and influence, I want to avoid being one of those toxic managers or coworkers. I will bend over backward trying to ensure the people I supervise don’t perceive my behavior as a manager to be toxic or warped. So I’m sure that there are mistakes I’m making, like being too accommodating sometimes. Hopefully I’ll get to a good balance soon.

    Reply
  171. Nobody Here By That Name

    Had a boss who would come back from vacation MORE stressed, because all he could think of was the money he’d lost while he wasn’t working (he owned his own business). After I left that job it took a while to stop tensing up whenever my bosses came back from vacation, because I was so used to a return from vacation meaning I was going to get a bad mood unleashed on me.

    A more recent previous boss was a huge micromanager, to the point where he would yell if you took imitative on projects without his permission. Of course he would also yell about how nobody ever did anything without him and why was it always on him to complete our projects for us and why didn’t we ever suggest ways to improve things? This, coupled with him constantly changing the stated priorities for the team, trained me and my coworkers to just try to stay afloat of our workload as best we could and try not to catch his attention.

    Now that I’m on a different team I’m still relearning that it’s okay to actually do my job, part of which is to find and develop process improvements. I still have moments of fear that if I try to do anything even slightly different from instructed that I’m going to be yelled at. I also keep checking in with my boss to confirm I have my priorities correct because I’m scared of being called into a meeting to be yelled at for working on project X when I should’ve been able to read someone’s mind to know I was supposed to be working on project Y.

    Reply
  172. animaniactoo

    I’m pretty good at recognizing most of the dysfunction and operating within it without having it take me under – it’s almost never a good sign when one of the things people in your company say is “It takes a certain kind of person to be able to work here”.

    But the one that hit me – product development meeting, we’d done a lot of prep for it to pitch new ideas for either entirely new products, or modifications to existing products to improve them.

    We came out of that with plans to proceed with further development on about 15% of it. In my book, that was a good meeting. We had stuff to work on, and that was a decent level of approval.

    My boss told me I’ve been working here too long. After thinking about it, I realized that it is not normal for the VP of sales to be on his phone half the time, and for the 2 owners of the company and one of their next generation to be arguing about production capability and whose fault it was that things were or were not happening or whether certain things even were happening, completely derailing potential product presentations at points. Or for few questions to be asked about what hole in the market this currently addresses, etc. and the entire focus to be “hmmm… do we think we can make it? Cheaply?” with a little of “Who do we think we could take that to and they’d want to buy it”.

    2 years after that meeting 2 of the 15 products went into production and one of them so bastardized that it doesn’t really fulfill the purpose it was originally intended to. She’s right. That wasn’t a good meeting.

    Reply
  173. Anon Accountant

    For managers to tell other staff what you did wrong but never tell you directly.

    Managers who throw other employees under the bus for the sake of their favorites.

    Being told that you do “poor work” but never given specifics.

    Reply
    1. Kathlynn

      All of these times a million. Except what my manager is complaining about is a protected class in Canada (an employee’s health issues and her sexual assault complaint), and got upset when I told her retaliation against the sexual assault complaint is not allowed and firing the employee for refusing to work with the other coworker would be retaliation.
      Sadly I don’t have HR’s number, can’t prove what she’s said to me, and keep feeling like I’m overreacting for how upset I am over what my boss is doing.

      Reply
    2. Anon Accountant

      Managers making fun of employees for their weight or other things.

      Etc.

      What helps? Therapy and a therapist who literally says “that’s BS and not normal. No decent place or people do that”. Just confirmation that you aren’t the dysfunctional one although unfortunately I’ve adapted to make it until I get an offer and leave.

      Reply
      1. JustaTech

        And even if you don’t have/can’t get a therapist, friends who work in other industries, or at least at other companies who will tell you “that’s not normal”. I’ve told it to friends and I’ve had friends tell it to me. Friends can be like the outrigger on a canoe: They don’t take the weight, but they help keep you balanced.

        Reply
    3. Bess

      This one, in a previous job–gosh it’s really left it’s mark. I could never be sure if I was doing what my bosses wanted, because often if it wasn’t what they wanted, they’d just have someone else change it and not tell you (as if them changing something was offensive and needed to be hidden? I really did not get it). They did it to everyone and it really truncated people’s learning on the job, because, HI, no one found out if they were doing something wrong or how to address it!

      Reply
      1. Anon Accountant

        Exactly!! And my coworkers that “fix” what was wrong shun you because they were “doing your work” when you would’ve done it if you knew what needed fixed. I’m still at the job, trying to find another, but I have mini panic episodes of “is Jane upset with me? Why was Sarah talking to her? After she talked to her now Sarah won’t talk to me! What did I screw up now?!”.

        It feels weird typing that out but that happens here. It messes with you and then I go home, rehash the day and scrutinize each action and think “what did I do wrong? Was each task completed correctly? Where could I have made errors? Etc”

        Reply
  174. The claims examiner

    Every time I sent an email at one employer I was told that my paralegal couldn’t understand what I was saying. It would take 2 hours to write a 2 sentence email and that is not an exaggeration. It still takes me a very long time to write emails or even Facebook messages, even though I know the rest of the world can understand me.

    In my first job I had a bully and it took me 3 years to figure out that being yelled at at work is not ok.

    Reply
  175. HeyNonnyNonny

    At LastJob I had “manager” in my job title but had basically zero decision-making power for the software I managed and related decisions. My manager (and her manager) were very rogue, I’ll do it all myself and I don’t need to consult anyone else, so my expertise was often semi-ignored, or I just wasn’t included on the important meetings or ever asked how big decisions impacted the software I managed.

    So I really just ended up being a workhorse there, and it’s taken me a few months at my current job to really get it through my head that I have agency and authority over my area of work (and that I can hold others accountable to that). Slow and steady. I’ve had to work not to go first to my manager for a decision, but instead to posit two or three solutions and state which one I’ll proceed with if he agrees.

    One of my first jobs was also in a place where someone was very very obviously addicted to methamphetamine (and who knows what else), and where the managers very clearly knew what was going on but weren’t taking any action, and I think I still have some issues with upper level management and trust. In the thick of it I did a lot of overcompensating in my work and this coworker’s work, and over time and several jobs I’ve learned to stop doing things like that. I am much better at “my work, your work” boundaries now, and to stop trying to ameliorate problems managers need to solve.

    Reply
  176. itsallgood

    What a good question. I worked for someone who was such a perfectionist that he would spend hours obsessing over 70 ce nts in a million dollar budget and have us all working for hours to find it. . He would also say over and over, “how did you miss that” for absolutely anything that wasn’t handled perfectly .

    So I go to a new job and missed an error in a document –a very complex one— that was given to some pretty important people in the company. I found it, horrified, and told the CEO. I was almost crying–trying hard not to-and he LAUGHED and said, “oh I thought you were going to tell me about something important!” He was totally fine about it and just sent a corrected version out. I on the other hand had to go home and lie down. That’s when I realized that I got out of that other job JUST IN TIME.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      I work for that kind of boss now. Her counterpart in FriendsDivision is the same way. There’s no hope for them to change.

      Reply
  177. Kathlynn

    I don’t like to go to my managers about coworkers because it seems to just make the manager take the coworker’s side, and nothing gets done. Even when my manager tells me to come to them it’s like, why would I do that when nothing has changed in the last year.
    It’s very tiring, right now I’m dealing with a coworker who feels like he has the right to ignore me and customers. And my boss has dismissed every issue between me and him as both of us having communication issues we need to sort out. Also she isn’t holding him accountable at all from the talk she supposedly had with him 2 months ago where he was supposed to watch the till more so I could get more stuff done…. he hasn’t. What a surprise. Yet I have had to change my whole routine around him (so my dishes get washed and I don’t get into trouble because he didn’t wash them. I’m not given time to do so).
    Heck, her reasoning to have me (overloaded in stuff away from till, and way too much multitasking) do more things? Because he won’t do them. Yet I can’t get other things I need to get done because of this. And I get yelled at for not getting them done.

    Reply
  178. whatwhat

    As many have experienced and some have written about here, I had (and still have, but it’s lessened) PTSD from a past supervisor who was very abusive. It took a LONG time for me to stop expecting my current boss to act like former boss: false accusations, lies, threats, unreasonable/unattainable expectations, attacks out of the blue, “mean girl” behavior.

    It was also a culture of “we all see and know what’s going on but will not speak up or take action or object, ever”. If someone did say “this is wrong”, THAT person would be attacked. After the fact, when I had announced my resignation, people expressed sympathy but of course that was too little too late and rang false as they were silent when it counted and talk is cheap later on.

    I got used to the horrific treatment and even kind of blamed myself at first, and that was hard to shake. So so so glad I am out of there.

    Reply
  179. Brian

    My dysfunctional environment has changed my understanding and expectations for my own productivity. It’s a dinosaur of an organization, and it takes so long to do anything that when I do a semi-decent job on a big project people here freak out and praise me like crazy. The CEO sends me these glowing emails about how incredible my work product is, and the sad thing is that I am probably working at about 30-40% max capacity because the expectations here are so low they are underground. I’m really worried that moving to a results-oriented culture will be a huge shock to my system.

    Reply
    1. JustaTech

      Yup! At CurrentJob we’ve not been allowed to start any new projects for the better part of a year, so often there’s barely anything to do. I’d be more worried about it if we hadn’t been through this cycle once before and I was perfectly capable of going from twiddling my thumbs to working almost flat-out.
      If you’ve done it before you can do it again, especially if you’re aware of how much less effort you’re putting in now.

      Reply
  180. Master Bean Counter

    How timely!
    My boss, the captain of grump, works in the office next to me and I’m trying really hard not to get sucked into the spiral of negativity.
    I’m finding it hard to keep the cynicism out of my mind when I talk to the sister company.
    I’m battling this by reminding myself that I get more results if I’m nice.
    For a while there I was losing my drive and my willingness to take initiative. Every time I’d try to change something or start a new project the captain of grump would do his best to soul suckingly squash it. Then a few days later it would what ever it was would come up again as if it’s his idea.
    A new CEO and just doing the projects with out asking permission has improved this situation greatly. The more I do the less he can claim my ideas. I actually feel like I’m stepping on the captain of grump a little. But I’m starting to care less about that. The CEO has my back.

    Reply
  181. animaniactoo

    Ohhhh. Also, I’ve told this one here before. Previous manager (asst manager to my manager more or less) who I had snapped at early on in her tenure here – I’d been here longer than she had, but I knew that wasn’t okay even though we were on deadline. I went to apologize later and she waved me off and said “we’re fine, we understand each other”.

    I came out of that one thinking “Wow, my manager just told me I can yell at her and it’s okay.” Oh that was so wrong. I mean, yes I could and did on occasion get snappy and forceful with her again. But what it was really a sign of was that she had bad interpersonal skills and was NOT a good (asst) manager. Right down to calling me early in the morning when I was on vacation to tell me I’d done something wrong and how it was this huge screwup – except that it wasn’t. I had gotten info she hadn’t gotten yet and what I’d done was correct and I did not appreciate her handling at all. But that was the relationship we’d sort of established where it was up to me to draw that boundary line on her instead of her knowing where it was. I do continue to struggle with some of that.

    Reply
  182. Ethical vs Non-Ethical Workplaces

    An early job was as a secretary for a company that made pens with digital clocks in them. Users paid S&H fees when they sent in pens for repair, but the S&H charge was actually the cost for a whole new pen, which is what they got. Sometimes their pens were engraved but their new, replaced ones were not! Being young, I thought this was normal company behavior and stayed there until I was laid off months later.
    Now I know better and will never, ever work for a non-ethical company again!

    Reply
  183. Saskia

    I’m still struggling to speak up in meetings when my managers are present. At old job I was never allowed to say a word at meetings: my boss did all the talking no matter what (I got in trouble once for answering a question directed at me).

    Also struggling to be ok with sending emails – basic ones like “we are free to meet at X time, does that work for you”? Without getting my new boss’ ok, Because at ExJob my boss also Sent ALL emails to anyone outside our section.

    I’m also struggling to give my boss drafts of work – at previous job my boss would jump on ANY idea put on paper and enthusiastically broadcast it to everyone in the organisation. I had to make damn well sure I was happy with my ideas and that there were no risks before giving her even a whiff of it; otherwise we’d end up being committed to projects that really never should have gone ahead (and I’d be in trouble for my terrible idea).
    As a result in my new job I still find myself holding on to work until I feel 150% happy with it before sharing.

    Current job, although good has one issue : we have to cc boss on nearly everything, and everyone around me thinks it’s normal. It’s driving me insane so I’m really glad to read this and see I’m not being weird by not liking this new practice!

    Reply
  184. So many things

    All to the credit of one job:

    * Swearing in the office. I police myself a lot. I had a boss who would swear quite a bit, and I picked up the habit more than I like. I think I have finally completely squashed this one.

    * Fear of giving feedback! As a senior teapot handle expert, I was required to provide feedback to the junior teapot handle makers. One of them, who made a disproportionate number of mistakes, and so got a lot of feedback (clear, direct, polite), filed a harassment complaint with HR because I was always criticizing her work. My boss did not back me up or make it clear to either the junior handle expert nor to HR that this was an assigned duty. I did make that clear to HR. I was told to cut it out, that a further complaint could mean my job. So I told my boss that I would not be doing this task any more, since I got in trouble for doing the task. (The task needed to be done. We sent some teapots out after that which, when picked up by the handle, you simply ended up holding the handle because it detached from the teapot.)

    Luckily, I am not a manager, and so I do not have to give feedback often in most jobs. Because I never, ever want to have to do so again. Ever. Giving accurate negative feedback is dangerous at work. I know this is not strictly true – but I cannot convince my feelings.

    * Firefighting as project management is normal. I think I’ve finally overcome this one and gotten used to an orderly progression of work. The big boss doesn’t want to try a new method of handle attachment, but my boss does? Just wait until the existing method of handle attachment (coupled with the mistakes introduced by junior handle experts) leads to a catastrophic failure, THEN you can develop the new method of handle attachment. Under time pressure, panicking, and sending them hastily to customers without a proper QA cycle, because you’re trying to fix the existing problem.

    * Chaos in general is normal. Assignments would change and get added all the time. You’d be halfway through a dark chocolate raspberry-infused teapot handle with a custom twist – very delicate, but quite fun work – when suddenly you needed to quickly patch a milk-chocolate handle that was failing on a cannot-fail order. (Doable, but not fun, and not delicate.) Then you return to the raspberry-infused handle and check where you were and what steps you need to re-do (fresh melt of chocolate because the one you had on before scorched or hardened or did something else while you were distracted), and you have added one more step on it and are getting back into flow when you’re drafted to help with a series of warped lids on a shipment that really needs to go out in half an hour….

    My boss now almost never does this, and apologizes when he does! It’s amazing.

    * You can’t use your time off without being aggressive about it. At my current job, you don’t have to plan on being swamped when you get back for twice as long as you were out. You don’t have to ask them to make an exception to the accrual cap to convince them to let you take time off. You don’t have to feel guilty. No one is going to pull any of those things on you, or call you while you’re on vacation, or while you’re on bereavement leave. And all of this was novel to me. I still feel guilty taking my available time off for things like being sick or having a four-day weekend!

    I think there’s more, but I need to post this and go back to working.

    Reply
    1. So many things

      It occurs to me to come back and note that one POSITIVE thing that I got out of what was a very dysfunctional situation overall, is that I learned a lot of skills. Boss is constantly dropping new things on you but not making it clear what priority they are? You learn to prioritize relative to your field really fast, and you get lots of opportunity to practice. You also learn to pro-actively send your boss your entire priority list after a re-prioritization, of course, which is NOT functional in most cases….

      Plus, if you’re constantly getting yanked on to things that are sort-of but not-really your main skill-set, you learn to be flexible and to diversity. I know more than I otherwise would about spout construction, glazing, and even which tea blends go well with dark chocolate (to stretch the metaphor to the breaking point).

      Still a heck of a way to learn it all.

      Reply
  185. Natalie

    I’ve talked about this here before – it’s basically the reason I found this place and stuck around. My first professional bosses were AWFUL at giving feedback, performance reviews, or even answering direct questions. Example: a senior colleague asked me to generate a checklist for him. (So he could avoid buying them from NFPA, which is another issue entirely.) I asked him when he needed them, he said “whenever you can”, and I took him at his word. A few weeks later he followed up on them and asked for them in a week or something, which I did.

    Fast forward to literally months later, during my first ever performance review. The only feedback I had been receiving was positive or simple correction stuff like “format this B way rather than A way”. My performance review was strikingly negative, by contrast, including a bunch of things never addressed before such as the checklist incident. I asked questions (out of genuine confusion) which was brought up many months after as “being defensive”.

    I worked under that team for 3-4 years. Five years and multiple decent bosses later I am still anxious-to-paranoid about basically all boss conversations about how my work is going. I got a raise at my current job 6 months in and I still think I’m going to get fired about once a week. I already live in a high-context/guess culture and this really exacerbated my impatience with that, as well.

    (They had so many other bad qualities, like being exceedingly negative about basically everything and being paranoid themselves about their own bosses. But those issues didn’t really take root in my head.)

    Reply
  186. Jesca

    So I have been hired into numerous change management roles due to my niche skills in process development. Most of the places I have worked at, as you can imagine, were pretty dysfunctional (the stories I could tell). But I have over the course of it and thanks to AAM identified some pretty common *bad* behaviors people, myself included, pick up. But the biggest one BY FAR is valuing the wrong qualities in employees:
    1. Working long excessive hours makes you the best (no. It makes you burnt out and bitter)
    2. Screamers are just passionate (nope. Totaly innapropriate)
    3. Knowledge over … Well everything else (no Steve is NOT a value add to his 43 years experience. Its not ok to rehire someone who got fired and the company sued for discriminatory hiring practices at the Dallas plant!)
    3. Being rude, nasty, and condescending to motivate under performing departments.
    4. Passive aggressiveness is the best way to handle conflict (I will just wait until he goes to lunch and park in his spot every day tee hee hee)
    5. Dying on every grass mound is the only way to progress projects along.
    6. Not speaking up and wading it out opposed to pointing out very bad/dangerous/illegal practices is best as they make my job easier.
    7. Tricking new hires about their roles is the only way we can bring new talent in.

    And Sooo many others.

    Reply
  187. Queen of the File

    I am still struggling with what I am “allowed” to do at work.

    I had a past manager who asked us to cc him on all our emails. I didn’t realize it until later, but it was because he was very paranoid about insubordination. I wasn’t allowed to call people in other departments without written permission first; I got all my assignments directly from my supervisor. I once offered up an idea in a meeting that our clients liked, and it caused my supervisor to put on my performance review that I needed to take a course on respect in the workplace.

    As a result, I feel like I don’t know how to take initiative. I still don’t really understand the difference between challenging the status quo in a healthy way or helping out when you see a need vs. undermining your team/boss and overstepping your role.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      We get evaluated on “initiative” even though we get punished for doing almost anything on our own without the boss’s okay.

      Reply
      1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo

        YES! At one job, I was constantly dinged on my annual reviews for not taking enough initiative and asking my supervisor about too many things that I should just be able to decide on my own. Yet every time I did make a decision without asking my supervisor’s permission, I got in trouble.

        Reply
        1. PipSqueak

          And we’re just supposed to *know* which is which, and if something goes wrong (which happens occasionally when you treat people like adults and let them use their own judgment) it’s the end of the world.

          Reply
  188. Beezus

    I had a manager who never wanted us to report problems to anyone outside the team, especially anything that might cause someone to think we were shorthanded, running behind, had missed something, or struggling with anything. Anytime someone followed up on something that was late or sounded like something we should be doing but weren’t, she wanted us to fake it, cover up, anything but admit any kind of fault or weakness.

    I switched to another division, and a VP sent me an email asking how we were tracking past due customer orders. We weren’t tracking them at all. I panicked and went to my director asking him what I should do, because throwing together a new tracking process wasn’t something I could do in the hour or two I could put off answering the email. He looked at me like I had three heads and said, “Just tell him we’re not tracking it.”
    “But…it seems like we probably should be!”
    “What was the question he asked you?”
    “He asked how we’re tracking past due orders.”
    “Are we tracking them?”
    “No.”
    “Then just tell him that.”
    “Oh.”

    Reply
  189. Yikes

    The first time I talked to my manager was when she was chiding me for *telling* her I was leaving early and not *asking* for permission. I understood the reasoning behind it, but it was the first time we ever spoke and it has made me jumpy about asking for time off/leaving early ever since.

    I also find it hard to calm down about emails not being responded to immediately, or conversely, not responding to emails as soon as they come in. I worked in an office that had very short deadlines (sometimes less than an hour), so receiving responses was critical to getting the work done.

    I’m a year out from that previous job, so I think my behaviors will eventually switch, but I’m still not healed.

    Reply
    1. Specialk9

      I think a standard way to ask for leave is to combine tell and ask. “I’m planning to take off May 31st. I will/ won’t be reachable by cell for emergencies. Any concerns with that?”

      Reply
  190. CMDRBNA

    I absolutely have work-related PTSD. It’s horrible.

    First job: completely dysfunctional workplace. The company had been bought recently by someone who had no knowledge or experience whatsoever in that industry (defense government contracting). Our department of three people hired/fired 11 people in the 9 months I was there. It wasn’t unusual for people to just leave and not come back. I stayed at the office for 24 hours straight on more than one occasion trying to get proposals done that were always turned down based on cost because the CEO insisted on doing the pricing himself, and didn’t do stuff like use correct salary tables. In the entire time I was there I don’t think we won a single contract. I deeply regret not just quitting. My Protestant work ethic parents talked me out of resigning, did the whole “well maybe you should just work harder” bullshit, etc. Still one of my biggest regrets.

    Third job: worked in a very small association where the ED and my boss were both barely functioning alcoholics. My boss routinely screamed at/slammed doors in the faces of my coworkers who he tormented for no apparent reason. He ended up hurting her hand very badly when he slammed it in a door. I left shortly afterwards; unfortunately I didn’t turn in the requisite two weeks notice (I worked in a lower level with just this guy and was afraid to be on the floor alone with just him) and that’s come back to haunt me in later job applications because I’m afraid to use him as a reference. He also had a history of trashing former employees and several had been fired under questionable circumstances. Professional boundaries in this organization were nonexistent and they openly discriminated against female employees in terms of pay, time off, etc., even though the organization was tiny and mostly women.

    Later job: I still work here, but thank god not for the same boss. My first year I reported to a notorious bully – screaming, belittling, mocking coworkers, the works, plus being basically 100% MIA and not available for any actual management, plus vague in her directives so you were left frantically guessing what she wanted because asking her would get you screamed at.

    It definitely has impacted my thinking. I’ve mostly gotten over my fear of being fired constantly, but I’m extremely paranoid. Even mundane things like computer issues make me start fretting that I’m being monitored. I still have mostly absent bosses but I’m dealing with it. I really should probably go to therapy for this – having an underlying mental illness really doesn’t help.

    When I was earlier in my career I really believed that if something wrong or bad was happening in your workplace you could just go to your boss or HR and tell them and they’d react like reasonable professionals and help deal with it. I know now that this is really usually NOT the case and that everyone is kind of on their own. I also know that being a hard worker has nothing to do with whether your boss appreciates you. It just depends if they like you and I’ve seen so much dead wood hang onto jobs because they were friends with the boss.

    Reply
  191. CM

    I worked at a large law firm and really enjoyed it, but became increasingly conflicted and unhappy about the expectation that work was your #1 priority (by a mile) and that nothing else in your life should really matter. The thing is, my firm was a “lifestyle” firm and people would talk about work-life balance and genuinely seemed to want it to work. And at the same time, I would have Sunday 10 pm conference calls followed by Monday 6 am conference calls, would be expected to miss family events that I had planned in advance, and would rarely make it home for dinner. The mixed messages made me feel like it was just me — that everybody else seemed to make it work, and I just needed to try harder. When I asked for advice, I would constantly be told that I need to set boundaries and set client expectations. It wasn’t until I left and got some perspective on the whole situation that I realized, boundaries don’t matter if other people don’t respect them. I also think I was naïve to believe all the “family-friendly” hype. At the end of the day, the firm’s culture and business model depends on jumping when clients say jump. That wasn’t what I wanted, and it was hard for me to admit that when a lot of people ( especially law firm partners!) see that as a failure. It was especially tough because of the stereotype that women, in particular mothers, are not able to hack it in this environment. I was told that I should stay and be a role model to other women, and I felt guilty about leaving anyway. I ended up going to therapy before I left the firm. That was where I realized that I was living in this bubble where it was normal to work constantly and arrange your entire life around pleasing clients, but there was nothing wrong with me if I didn’t want that.

    Reply
    1. CM

      Related: I was being recruited by another firm and asked a friend about it. She gave it glowing reviews and said it was an amazing place to work and I should totally interview. Later that week, she was crying to me on the phone about how miserable she was because she was so exhausted and never saw her kids and was still getting pressured to bill more. I sympathized, but I also asked how she could have been so positive a few days ago since this had obviously been going on for a while. She said, “Well, it’s a great place to work.” Law firm bubble.

      Reply
    2. Specialk9

      I had a manager who expected the same unreasonable attachment to work – he’d ignore me all day on joint decisions we needed to make, then call after hours with an urgent assignment. I had a friend from out of town over for dinner, and told him that, and he didn’t care. I got him his report, working with my friend there, which I regret. I later watched him interact with two other subordinates: a grumpy “no, whatever you’re asking can’t be done” jerk who the boss pandered to, and an eager-beaver who worked his heart out and got treated like crap. It gave me a hypothesis about how this guy ticked, so I started to switch from accommodating to holding strict rigid boundaries without an ounce of give. (I couldn’t make myself actually be a jerk.) He was baffled why I wouldn’t do off-hours work anymore, and I told him that I needed work – life balance and if he wanted to talk with me, I’m right down the hall from 9-5. It worked like a dream. It still kind of disconcerts me, though. Some people respond better to negativity than hard work.

      Reply
  192. Fruitcake

    I had a job where QA would get aggressively thrown under the bus by everyone if a production issue occurred. Not just my team, but across the department. We weren’t even the last set of eyes on a project, due to a UAT period where internal users signed off on features. QA was hugely understaffed and it was my first job where I was the sole QA tester (automated & manual) for a team of 6-8 devs. I quit that job when, two days after I had gotten an outstanding performance review and pay raise, I was put on a PIP because of a regression issue that had slipped through into prod.

    I didn’t realize how much this had messed up my head until in my next job, I was having panic attacks about not getting the a-okay, you’re doing the right thing from my boss on basic small things. When, several years into that job, we had a bug show up and impact clients in prod, I was flipped right back into that mindset, and was firmly convinced I was going to be fired. When our team had a retrospective about it, talked through the processes that had allowed the bug into prod, and developers took (dis?)credit for their part in it getting out, I almost cried. When my boss met with me 1 on 1 to ask about how I had handled it he emphasized how he obviously didn’t want these things to happen, but he’d rather I learn from it and he liked my suggestions for process change. I did actually burst into tears then.

    Reply
  193. Sled dog mama

    Some people’s stories make me feel like mine is not so bad.
    My first job out of Grad school I was still learning a lot and part of that was leaning to do another very specific job (My job is Quality Control of ALL parts of teapot production and I was learning teapot handle design). This job was vacation coverage for 17 people across 6 sites (7 at one site and 2 at each of the other 5), because I was bouncing from site to site I was having some trouble keeping straight how each site did specific things (especially billing) (and yes I had notes) At one site I was there for a week covering for one person, came back a few weeks later to cover for the other and first person told me that second person had made him redo all the teapot handle designs I did while covering for first person. First person also told me that just as a test he hadn’t redone one design and had just handed it back over saying he did it. Second person just had zero confidence in my ability to do anything.
    Second person also went on a crusade to get me fired but that’s whole other kettle of fish, made me really happy when I heard a few years after leaving the company that he had been kicked out of that client’s office and told never to return due to some of his behavior.

    Reply
  194. Lara

    This is much more funny than traumatic. I’m a pediatrician and within the medical community we have a well know (and usually true) stereotype of being really nice/sickly sweet. In my first year of training (when I was surrounded by other pediatricians for the first time), I texted my boyfriend if he wanted to do some activity with me and his response was “no, thanks”. I got upset that he was being so rude and short with me, until I realized he was being the normal one. I was so used to my new friends texting back responses like “oh no! I can’t make it but I love you and want to see you soon! xoxo” that it had warped my idea of politeness.

    Reply
    1. CM

      That is funny, and also makes me want to be friends with more pediatricians. Is there some sort of club I can join?

      Reply
    2. Specialk9

      I’d be bummed by a curt “no thanks” too. It doesn’t need all that extra stuff, but “no thanks but let’s have dinner this week” or “sorry, that’s not my cup of tea, but I appreciate you thought of me. ” or even “no thanks “

      Reply
  195. Scareah

    I worked for a company for 5 years, where I didn’t really realize the extent of how much it had affected until I was let go. This was a salary job where the owner liked to make sure she could really get “money’s worth” from salaried employees by having them work excessive hours for no overtime. I cpuld write a short story about the absolute insanity I saw there (another employee had to bail boss and her bf out if jail for driving like crazy people high on cocaine, the phone call I got atbthe store from a concerned neighbor of boss because a naked man was running around the house tearing things up and threw the washing machine into the swimming pool (just boss’s bf, nbd, I could go on with this) but to stay on topic, I got a modest 5 days of PTO for the year and was not allowed to take take time. If untried to plan a long weekend and wanted to use a day off, I would be expecting to eithervget a flat “no” or get a lecture about priorities, commitments, asked 500 questions about whwt I was doing to see if it was worthy of being granted this time. I would excessively over explain in my requests and practically beg for time off. I would also panic every time I would get called to talk to my boss – or worsened creepy bf who didn’t even work for the company but tried to pull rank on me while also drunkenly hitting on me (mind you I left this job at 25 and he was easily 50). I became so self conscious and terrified of saying the wrong thing that i constantly over thought every single thing before I said it to an almost comedic point. I’d plan out my responses for questions i might be asked, I’d often times rehearse in my head – to the point is basically written a script for conversations that were coming up. And god forbid I had to make a suggestion or give any kind of productive feedback (or worse, have an issue with an employee), because that was guanteee to be taken poorly. I became the most self conscious, overly self analytical, anxious person I’ve ever been. I spent so much time in my head being terrified of boss, that when I was eventually let go (after she cleaned house of practically the entire company, I was one of the last to go) it was actually the most relieved ive ever felt.
    I realized just how weird my habits had become when I started at a new job and was making a PTO request and wrote something like 3 paragraphs explaining and trying to justify it and being excessively nervous to send to new boss. A d she just responded “Ok, no problem!” I was like, oh wow, that was easy. What’s the deal?

    Reply
  196. C-Dubs

    Oh, my last workplace messed me up in SO many ways that have already been outlined here, but one weirder one was actually handwriting. I have pretty bad handwriting, and I know this, but my former boss and a former coworker were extremely condescending about it. Like, I’d hand them a sheet of paper and they would sneeringly ask me to tell them what it said because they can’t possibly read it. They were both older men (I’m a younger woman) and in retrospect, I know one did it because he didn’t understand what I did even though he was my manager, and I technically outranked the other, so I think both of them were insecure and trying to figure out a way to put me in my place.

    I’m kind of surprised at how genuinely it messed me up, and made me afraid to hand-write anything. My penmanship has always been bad, and usually I’ve found it hilarious when one of my friends couldn’t tell if a to-do list had been written by me or by our boss’s 8-year-old daughter. (It was the daughter’s; it said “Wake up at 6 am” and they knew “C-Dubs would NEVER wake up that early!”) But this just got to me in a weird way. I had legit sobbing freak-outs over writing post-interview thank you notes because I was so worried about my handwriting and how people would judge me for it. I managed to get a new position about 6 months ago and am in a much better environment, but it still bugs me a lot.

    Reply
  197. Kate

    Ooh, that first letter – It’s actually a running joke between me and my current boss that whenever he says he wants to talk to me, I assume I’m going to be yelled at or fired. I wish I had seen that letter sooner.

    The grad school atmosphere of pitting students against each other really messed with my thinking though. It was like we were always competing so people didn’t want to seek or give help on projects. When I started my postdoc, I was afraid to ask questions or even offer ideas at the risk of having everyone think I’m stupid. Luckily my postdoc group wasn’t like that at all. We were all really collaborative, and it totally changed my way of thinking. It’s amazing how productive you can be when you aren’t filled with anxiety.

    Reply
    1. Manders

      Oh, I’d love to see a whole thread about the way grad school warps with your thinking! My husband left grad school last year. He’s doing great at his new job and he’s very socially adept, but sometimes he gives me career advice that makes him sound like he’s from another planet.

      Reply
  198. Business Cat

    My old boss was extremely volatile. He liked to nit-pick small details, and if I didn’t know the status of every single project and payment the very second he asked, he would badger me about it and make me feel ignorant and stupid. He would sometimes accuse me of lying, and would yell at me for things I didn’t know were a problem. He was extremely generous with negative feedback, but would rarely mention anything I did correctly.

    As a result, anytime one of my new managers requests a meeting with me, I panic, especially if I don’t know exactly what the meeting is about. If they ask me about the status of a project, I have to remind myself that I can slow down and they understand that I may need to check a spreadsheet or my notes before I can answer them. I don’t know how to take positive feedback, and I have to constantly reassure myself that my managers and coworkers don’t secretly hate me. I am extremely meticulous and good at my job, but no matter how much I am praised for my work, it doesn’t stick, and I berate myself for the smallest of mistakes. Essentially, I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    I’m in therapy and have made good progress, but it is HARD WORK to maintain an even keel when I feel like everything is constantly on fire. It is hard to establish camaraderie with my coworkers when I don’t feel like I can trust anyone and think I seem like such an odd, anxious fish. Never, ever, ever discount the ways a toxic workplace can warp your mind.

    Reply
  199. VermiciousKnit

    I worked in a position (first as a team of six admins, then as the Team Lead who directed the six admins) where we had a really rigorous process for proofreading that was not normal in and of itself, but in time we all came to believe it was. Worse than the 15-step document review process overall, was one of the executive assistants higher up in the chain whose sugar-coated evil could put Dolores Umbridge to shame.

    She was so very, very nitpicky that she would send documents back for revision based on things like the size of a hyphen in a block of 8-point text in a sample grant application, or staple holes at the top of draft, or because you typed “5th Ave” instead of “Fifth Avenue” in the address block. Because absolutely no one ever produced a document that passed her scrutiny the first time, we all got poor feedback from her to our supervisors, and eventually she’d become openly hostile to the whole admin team. After I was promoted to the Team Lead and had to sit next to her, this included her walking over and screaming at me at least once a week, and pulling me into meetings with my supervisor and her supervisor about how I was “defiant” of her instructions and did horrible things to her like walking too fast and laughing sometimes.

    She’d been there forever and often won awards at work. We were expected to try to appease her. We brought her baked goods, tried talking to her in the same sugary-sweet way she used, walking very slowly any time we were near her, but none of it made any difference and our supervisors never intervened in a meaningful way.

    I realize I still have a terror of high-level admins (even though I am one now myself) and any time any of my coworkers wants to speak with me, because I am expecting something like her abuse.

    Reply
    1. LCL

      The irony of your example is, in public service that uses addresses, the right way to type that address is 5 Avenue. Not 5th, and not fifth.
      Who quit first, you or yelling assistant?

      Reply
      1. VermiciousKnit

        Me, but it was because I got another promotion to a position that was equivalent to hers (but in a different agency).

        Reply
      2. VermiciousKnit

        Also, it wouldn’t have mattered to her what the “right” way according to USPS or any style manual was. She would not let abbreviations of any kind be used in an address, nor could any number be written numerically unless it was behind a dollar sign (this didn’t apply just to one through ten, but ANY number). We tried multiple times to point out to our powers that were that her style of address wasn’t preferred by any governmental institution, but they refused to make her adopt any changes to her style.

        Reply
  200. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    When I first became a lawyer, I worked at a ToxicJob that gave me PTSD (not exaggerating).

    I had two, tough projects early on, which I completed. When I finished, my supervisors became really nasty, and coworkers from a partner department started actively sabotaging me (submitting fake work product, deleting files from the server, excluding me from key client meetings, trying to humiliate me in front of partners, writing insane accusatory emails, yelling at me in staff meetings, etc.). When I raised concerns in a calm/professional way, they would ask me why I was “so emotional” and “hysterical.”

    Finally, my supervisor told me they had hoped I would fail, and they were annoyed when I didn’t (!?). The partner department withheld information to “prove” that nothing could get done w/o their department’s involvement, and when things worked, they thought I made them “look bad.” When a client complained that a coworker had stood them up 12x (he was working a second job while on the clock at ToxicJob and was falsifying paperwork to hide it), they pulled me into a meeting where I said nothing. Afterward, I was disciplined for “not standing up for” the coworker by challenging the client’s complaint. That coworker was never disciplined or even counseled, and as far as I know, he’s still defrauding the organization.

    It impacted me in several ways after I left:
    1. I became secretive about my work and wouldn’t share information with my manager;
    2. I would avoid bringing up issues with my supervisor or scheduling one-on-ones;
    3. I refused to let others help me because I was so anxious/paranoid, which meant I blew deadlines for the first time in my life;
    4. I would try to work outside chains of authority or go around my boss;
    5. I’d have a low-level panic attack at every staff meeting;
    6. I’d withhold information and work product until the last minute so it couldn’t be modified/sabotaged;
    7. I opted out of any/all work social activities (which was out of step with the new org’s culture);
    8. I would apologize anytime I asked anyone for very basic/normal things, like for asking for a response to a scheduling email or a copy of a key document.

    The moment when I figured out that I was behaving like a crazy person came after I wrote an insane, angry email to a coworker, refused to apologize for it, and couldn’t recognize that it was inappropriate until months later. It took about 9 months to regain/recalibrate my professional norms, but about 2 years to recover emotionally.

    Reply
  201. HannahS

    In the “you need experience for a job/higher ed but you can’t get a job/higher ed without experience” situation, I wound up volunteering in labs and clinics (like a lot of young people). It got me used to being exploited.

    I realized I was messed up a few months ago, when I was feeling so, so grateful that my supervisor was willing to “pay” me in guidance on a research project IN ADDITION to a reference letter for medical school applications. Not only would she reward my hours and hours of data entry alone in a windowless room by taking half an hour to write me letter, she would offer me a small amount of advice! On a project that I would do on top of everything else, that was too advanced for me, in a field I didn’t have experience with, with the carrot of “research paper publication” dangling in front of me. Of course, it was never going to happen. It’s happened more than once, that I’ve been promised some kind of education or opportunity “once we get the data entry done,” but the data entry is NEVER done, because the research is ongoing. I did everything a junior research assistant would do, but didn’t get paid, and after a while I got used to considering my labour and time value-less. I’m not against volunteering; I’ve done loads of free labour that I was happy to donate! But these volunteer positions were unpaid internships (which are not legal where I live) in disguise. There are so many young people in need of experience and reference letters that it works.

    Reply
  202. Pup Seal

    My Big Boss believes loyalty to your job is more important than your happiness. Last year he cut everybody’s income due to financial restraints and promised to restore our wages in three months once we became financially secured. Three months went by and things didn’t get better. Employee complained, all morale died, but nobody said anything to the boss. One day one co-worker did and asked when her salary would be restored because she couldn’t live on such a low salary. Big Boss gathered everyone to a meeting saying to wait it out and if we were really good employees that we wouldn’t complain because he has worked in bad workplaces too. For a long time I believed that if you wanted to quit your job because you were unhappy then you were a bad person. It took a few friends to help me realize how crazy that is, and now I have an interview tomorrow.

    Reply
  203. The Other Katie

    At my last office job, I was on call 24/7 for three years straight. If something went wrong overnight while we were running our teapot quality checks, I’d often wake up to a nastygram from my boss in the morning demanding that it should be fixed immediately if not sooner. I got in the habit of never being able to turn off work for fear of what might happen. I went into freelance teapot research a decade ago, and I still check my email at midnight. It’s a bad habit I can’t break.

    Reply
  204. km85

    Used to work in a ski and bike shop, and separately another time just a ski shop, where the repair/tuning staff started drinking in the early afternoon, like around 1:00-3:00. They were in the shop and had a mini-fridge. (Craft beer is a bribe in the industry to get your gear back from the shop quicker, so it was always around.) We were supposed to wait until close, but they were often drunk and stoned on the job. Desensitized me to this kind of thing because management didn’t care.

    Reply
  205. Notsofuzzycaterpillar

    At my first office job (I was a temp) I learned that it was normal for managers to come in blitzed off of various drug cocktails and just be spaced for the whole day. When Heath Ledger died, one manager half-boasted that she had to be careful because the night before she’d taken the same combination of drugs that killed him.

    Second office job, I learned that it’s normal for your boss to set up weekly meetings, of which 25% are work and the rest is her on the internet, showing off her children on Facebook or other random trivia about her life. I still know more about her personal life than I do about some of my friends. I also learned That malicious gossip and back-stabbing are normal. That managers calling managers they don’t like all kinds of four letter words behind their backs in meetings is normal. That getting yelled at and blamed for other people’s mistakes is normal. That people obviously not reading your emails and responding in all caps about how you didn’t address something (that you did address) is normal. There are so many things I could list. After this job I went back to school and started teaching because the idea of working in another office literally made me nauseous. I love teaching though, and I work at a great school so it worked out! Although sometimes I still freak out when I see emails from superiors in my inbox.

    Reply
  206. Anónimo

    Being EXTREMELY specific and direct about deadlines and expected deliverables. I manage proposals, which means collecting input from technical resources, product development, customer service, finance, etc., not to mention notoriously absent-minded salespeople. After years of every excuse in the book being offered for missed deadlines, often leading to really rushed work, my emails have become quite direct — short sentences, deadlines in bold type, clear instructions (often complete with color-coded highlight) to every party that needs to take action.

    This isn’t entirely a bad thing. Communicating clearly and removing room for ambiguity can help avoid conflict and confusion at work. But this way of thinking has definitely impacted my approach to every other personal-life project I take on! I am planning my wedding and find myself being extremely to-the-point and task-focused with vendors, realizing that I can dial it back just a little. Ditto planning vacations, weekend trips away with friends, etc. etc.

    Reply
  207. Lurker Librarian

    I worked in non-profit/social work fields before switching to library world and had several unproductive supervisors who ranged from largely unhelpful to blatantly hostile. I’m now on my fourth year as a library director and I still get a horrible feeling of doom whenever one of my board members wants to talk to me, expecting to be pulled into a meeting where I’m told that I’ve been doing things wrong and I’m on probation/fired. I’m even slightly wondering if I’m outgrowing this position, but one of the things holding me back from looking for another job is the fear of winding up with another horrible supervisor.

    Reply
  208. IsobelDeBrujah

    My first few jobs out of the military were family owned and run businesses that happened to be run by families with at least one abuser in them. Which made for highly toxic work environments.

    1. It took me years to realize that being mad at someone for a personal reason should not impact the information or access you give them for business purposes.

    2. Screaming at and cursing at people is not normal in a business environment? Also, no OK.

    3. It is never my job to lie to people’s spouse, child, or other family member about their location or behavior. It’s really not my job to talk about it at all.

    4. Not every complaint is valid. Sometimes people just want to complain. Sometimes what they are asking for is not reasonable and they are angry you won’t give in to them. I won’t get belittled because someone wants me to deliver a teapot to their home in another state today when that is no part of my job.

    5. IF your boss schedules a one-on-one yearly review I’m not going to get fired. It’s a review. They do them yearly. For everyone. I don’t need to freak out.

    Reply
  209. Nicki Name

    “Sick Systems” is a great essay that feels like a description of one of my past jobs. Particularly what it says about getting out of the system! I left a toxic, stressful, underpaid, chronically under-resourced job that was eating my life, and I felt incredibly guilty about it at first. Now that it’s been a few years, I can look back and see that it wasn’t my fault things were always balanced on a knife-edge and in danger of falling apart, it was the fault of a company not being willing to invest in a reasonable headcount and other resources to get the results it wanted. But because it was always on the verge of falling apart, at my next couple jobs, I had a tendency to react to any little problem as RED ALERT PANIC THE WORLD IS BREAKING AAAAAH!!!

    Reply
  210. AppleCheez

    OldBoss was very toxic overall. I won’t go into details. But over a year now in a new work space, I still feel guilty every time I’m more than a minute late for work or leave on-time, I get anxious thinking about requesting PTO (and going on vacations), and I always feel like I’m not doing ENOUGH.

    I’ll be honest, this work place is dysfunctional in a different way: everyone is part of this large family, and I don’t work like that. I feel excluded from everything and I feel like I’m held to a different standard because I’m not my boss’s “second daughter,” but my associate is. Again, I have issues with guilt because I don’t “love” this place as much as other people, and I choose family obligations over work… For example, my boss gave me a hard time taking time off to grieve my friend’s death, and at the same time she chose to skip out on her child’s graduation for a regular day of work…

    Reply
  211. Epsilon Delta

    This is not really a symptom of a toxic work environment, but at my current job we reply-all to every email. At first I thought it was weird. Now I do it without thinking and I have noticed that I start doing it on my personal email account too. Then I get annoyed when someone doesn’t reply-all back.

    Reply
    1. Specialk9

      I loathe reply-allers, except when it’s actually needed to coordinate. It clogs your inbox, and it’s usually something only the original writer needs to know (“order me a size M please”). That’s been the norm – not abusing reply-all – at every place I’ve worked.

      Reply
  212. Anoushka

    I worked at a really dysfunctional college for a year in learning support. My boss sprung a surprise horrible probation review on me, criticised me because I didn’t hang out with the team for their mid-morning coffee, and talked to me like I was an imbecile most of the time. She was also very Islamaphobic and homophobic, which was awkward because we were supposed to be the support team for the college. Luckily it wasn’t my first job, so I knew it wasn’t normal, but it took a year after I left for me to feel confident and not scared I was going to be fired at any moment. I spent the first six months at my new job worried about my probation review, and terrified of my new boss. The place was so badly run that I spent OVER four hours a day walking from site to site as the classes were inevitably moved or cancelled, due to the insane turnover. Management actually asked me to teach plumbing one day, a subject I have no experience in. It was probably why the college was continually losing their licence to award degrees. The trades teachers I worked under were xenophobic, which was difficult as I’m an immigrant. It took me a while to get back to feeling like I could talk in meetings without getting mocked for my accent. I had serious trust issues.

    Reply
  213. mskyle

    I used to work in an under-resourced and not-well-respected department where everyone had been there for a long time and people had awful habits of hoarding resources and work (via micromanaging, etc.) and just a general negative attitude.

    The thing I remember the most is just how angry I felt about it. It was basically impossible for me to effect change within my department or the organization, and I wasn’t finding work I wanted better anywhere else, and I felt trapped. I remember posting some profanity-laden cry of frustration to facebook about it one day and one of my aunts commented on it, just something simple like “Wow, you seem really upset about this!” and it made a huge impression on me. I realized that I had become part of this negative work culture and that I didn’t have to feel that way. I mean, I still did feel that way a lot of the time, but her little offhand comment (plus a little bit of embarrassment that I swore in front of my aunt) really helped me adjust my attitude. I left that job within the year, and left the whole profession a few years after that.

    Reply
  214. Didi

    I was a manager in a place for several years that became increasingly driven by elaborate metrics. Produce X a year each of 10 products. Get X scores from customers. Get X scores from peers. Meet deadlines X percent of the time. Participate in X special projects. On and on. The metrics got so elaborate that the company spent tons of money on dashboards and HR systems to allow employees to see how they were performing against their metrics in real time, instead of spending money and tech talent to improve our ailing infrastructure. And of course some people would get around the metrics by gaming the system in various ways, which led to yet more metrics to stop this behavior.

    I thought this was how all corporate jobs were, and I was a believer in metrics for a long time. “You can’t manage it if you can’t measure it,” was the mantra. Toward the end of my stay at that company, I soured on the metrics and the culture around them. But it wasn’t until I left and took a job at a bigger company that I came to see that most of these metrics were useless if not detrimental. They were used in place of having good management practices, hiring trustworthy people and treating them like adults.

    Reply
  215. Jady

    “This is still high school.”

    First job – worked there for about 5 years. I was terribly depressed by the environment I was around, as I’d been one of the nerdy-quiet not-popular high school type kids.

    To be somewhat fair – 98% of the employees (self-included) were under 30, most fresh out of college. We were very cheap labor and it was one of the main selling points of what the company offered.

    At my first job – There were cliques – people who drank together, had lunches together, laughed and mocked other coworkers behind their backs. I was once in a lunch where an entire table of 6+ women were discussing how perverted a male co-worker was because he’d supposedly looked at a female employee’s (in clothes) breasts once. (I’d worked with him for 2 years and really think he’s a good guy.)

    BTW this was a big company with an HR department.

    There was a lot of playing favorites – friends of specific workers got hired and promoted.

    There was a lot of sexism in favor of females (I’m a female too fyi) – as our boss was a female and tended to only hire and promote females. Our industry is male dominated *significantly*.

    At my second and third job, and all 5+ of my husband’s jobs in the same field, it’s like best case 10:1 ratio male:female. It was the opposite there. Men did not get promoted, even if they deserved it. Women got bigger bonuses. Women got bigger salary increases. There were men who deserved these things that didn’t get them.

    I’m all for women in tech promotion and support and such… but it was blatantly obvious that the boss did not like men in general.

    We went through a lot of secretaries all of which were men. The rumor was the boss liked a man in a servant-level position.

    I was actually quiet nervous moving to a second job with a male boss. But even more so, I *hated* high school with a fiery passion. The thought that ‘oh this is the rest of my life’ was misery.

    Second job turned out to be a milder version than the first. Third job, I actually feel like I’m around adults now. It’s nice.

    Reply
  216. Kathleen Adams

    Here’s how I learned to cover my a** all the time, even when it wasn’t necessary, even when doing so was actually counterproductive.

    I had a boss (who I’ll call Mimi – because it sounds like “me me”) who always, always looked out for Number 1. Always, always. He claimed he didn’t, and he may have even believed he didn’t, but oh Lord he did. If it came to admitting his error or a joint error vs. throwing one of us under the bus, we all knew we were going to find out what the undercarriage of a bus looked like.

    And for some reason, maybe because he knew he was retiring in a few years, maybe out of natural lethargy, Mimi wasn’t interested in supervising us. He just wanted us to do our work, not cause any trouble or friction, and not do anything that disturbed him. “Should I do A or B?” I’d say, and he’d say “Well, you decide. We’ve never tried either of those before.” (And you could never tell if “We’ve never tried that” was a good thing or a bad thing or maybe a bit of both, BTW.) Or he’d say “You’d better talk to Grandboss about that.” “Can’t you talk to Grandboss?” I’d say, thinking, aren’t you supposed to be the one who talks to Grandboss? “Oh, why don’t you do it?” he’d say.

    Here’s an actual example: We had an event planned to which both Grandboss and media were invited, and somebody needed to be there to assist with media, and that somebody was me. That’s fine. But the day before, I miscarried. It was a very early pregnancy, so health-wise it wasn’t a threat, but of course I was a mess. I told Mimi, and of course he was nice and everything, but it was clear that he had no intention of going to the event. So I said I could still go. He knew I was a mess, and he still didn’t say “I’ll handle this. You go home.”

    That’s pretty awful, IMO, but it gets worse.

    As I said, I was a mess – I basically wanted to cry all the time, and I felt pretty lousy physically, something that was exacerbated by the fact that it was a disgustingly hot and humid day and the AC wasn’t working very well. About midway through the event, I knew I had to get home or I was going to curl up in the fetal position right there and sob. I ended up leaving the event early, saying I didn’t feel well. Which was true, but I also left Grandboss kind of in the lurch.

    So I asked Mimi if he would explain to Grandboss why I had to leave early – that it wasn’t a case of sniffles or something. I really did leave Grandboss in the lurch, and I know he noticed, and I thought he should know that I had a really good reason to do so. I didn’t want to do it myself because I knew I’d cry.

    Mimi refused to. “Can’t you tell him?” I asked, more than once – crying all the time. “Oh, I think you should,” he said as he sat there watching me cry. He was, I think, uncomfortable talking about Women Stuff, which is sort of understandable, but that he wouldn’t work through his minor discomfort in order to help out his employee – someone he claimed to care about, someone who was crying her eyes out in front of him – was…telling. (I did tell Grandboss myself, BTW, which was so hard, but he was a model of kindness and generosity.)

    Anyway, as a result of Mimi’s self-centeredness, lethargy and ruthless looking-out-for-Number-1-ness, we all got in the habit of CYAing all the time. If Mimi said “Yes, I guess it’s OK if you do that,” we’d all get somebody else to OK it too. If Mimi edited an article, we got someone else to edit it too. If Mimi approved a news release that quoted Grandboss, we got Grandboss to OK it too.

    So Mimi at long last retires, and I get a new boss – let’s call him Norm (short for “Normal Boss”). Early on, he approved an article, and as a matter of course I got someone else to approve it too. “Why did you do that after I’d already approved it?” Norm asked, and it was right then that I realized how much Mimi had messed me up. By following the survival techniques learned under Mimi, I was accidentally undermining the authority and autonomy of Norm. I apologized and explained (more or less), and we went on to have a very good relationship. But I had to keep fighting the urge to CYA for years after even when there was no need for it.

    Thanks, Mimi. And thanks for your “compassion,” too.

    Reply
  217. Dr A

    I have a really funny one even though I’m a bit late to the party!
    When I was a medical student, during my IM rotation the clinic director was a tyrant, and that’s putting it lightly.
    When we had to do rounds, which was never scheduled, and always depending on the whim of the director, we had no more than two minutes’ warning to grab our notes and start. No matter where we where or what we were doing at the moment.
    I used to carry my phone on my white coat’s breast pocket, and every time I received a call instead of a text, I knew what was going to happen, and why it couldn’t be a text to tell me something. It was rounds time. By the end of my 3 month rotation I had developed an almost Pavlovian response to feeling my phone vibrate on (well, there’s no nicer way to put this) my boob. I had made the connection that vibration on my boob = something bad is happening.
    It took me half a year to get over it.

    Reply
  218. Jill

    The four years I wasted feeling stupid, like I was missing something everyone else understood, and like I was going to be found out and demoted….only to discover when New Director took over that normal bosses actually explain the outcome they want, ask for periodic updates, give both positive and negative feedback, and describe how your part of the project fits into the bigger picture.

    Oh also, as a policy analyst, I came to accept that I was not to talk to anyone outside our department bout my work. So, yea, somehow discuss best practices, show the fiscal impact, describe what we currently do vs. what we could do….all without talking to the people that actually have that information and work with it every day.

    I’m still weirded out when I get clear directions, clear feedback, and have to be reminded to “go talk to X Department about that.”

    Reply
  219. EmilyAnn

    I have a huge fear around evaluations and I don’t trust supervisors to write them.
    At a prior job I found myself in a situation where someone created an evaluation system for the sole purpose of getting the opportunity to articulate why she didn’t like me on paper. When I rebutted what she wrote, I think she was surprised. Then she left it on a share drive, so I told her it didn’t belong there. The whole evaluation process had nothing to do with actual job performance.

    When I moved on from there, my new boss wrote me an evaluation that was really good and I called my best friend crying because it was so positive. I had another boss who did the same thing and then he left. At one point I refused to sign a work plan because my office wanted to allow someone with a personal vendetta against me to have “input” into my evaluation. This was after they tried to make her my supervisor of record. In the federal government you can’t just decide to make someone a supervisor, there is a specific process. I fought it tooth and nail. Within a few months, they fixed it and we went back to having a proper supervisor. He’s given me 3 great evaluations, put me in for an award and is overwhelming positive. Still, in my mind evaluations to me are a weapon that people use as a cudgel, not an objective measure of someone’s performance. That thinking is purely based those negative experiences.

    Reply
  220. Djuna

    After a recent promotion I spent a good few hours worrying about possibly being “too expensive” because I was laid off 4 years ago due to budget cuts.

    Everything is fine at work, there is no reason for me to worry, but tell that to my brain that remembers the horrors of 14 long months of fruitless job-hunting (tech+not management+over 40=no fun).

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      I lost a job due to being too expensive too. A bunch of us got laid off because we cost too much, were replaced with younger people oops I mean “digital natives” because of course someone who knows how to use Facebook and Twitter is more savvy than someone who has been using computers since the 1980s.

      At NewJob I earn about $30k less and get patronizing treatment from the IT nerds at NewJob who seem to think I was born the day I arrived here at age 50.

      Reply
      1. Djuna

        Urgh, I am terribly familiar with the “THIS IS A KOM-PYU-TER…for the EMAILS?” treatment. Been a while since I had to put up with it, thankfully.

        I also really enjoy discussing video games with dudebros at work who cannot wrap their brains around the fact that I’m (a) a woman, (b) over 40 and (c) love me some vidya games.
        Mind. Blown. gifs in real life ;-)

        I hope things pick up for you at your NewJob!

        Reply
  221. That Would Be a Good Band Name

    I have several, mostly from the same person but I’ll stick to the one that I think affected me the most.

    My worst boss didn’t speak directly to us when we messed something up. There were 3 of us, exact same title, exact same job, just on differing shifts. She would wait until after the last person had gone home for the day and then send an email that would be pages and pages long when printed. It would detail how we were all horrible and awful and in danger of losing our jobs. This could be for something as simple as a typo in an email or if one of us was in the restroom when she attempted to call. We would be required to print the email, sign it, and then slide it under her office door where it would become part of our file. The reason we had to slide it under her door was because she wouldn’t come to work for a day or two after sending one of these emails. And, the emails always went to all of us. There was never any private feedback given.

    It took me at least a year of having a normal boss that would actually give regular feedback to realize that it is not at all normal to have your job threatened for every tiny mistake. I worked for her for 3 years and I still have to remind myself not to panic when I see an email from my boss came in overnight. It also took awhile to realize that in normal places coworkers don’t have to spend a ton of time finding out whose fault it is or placing blame since the goal is to fix the error and move forward, rather than dwell on how horrible the mistake was.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      Where I work people cover up errors rather than fix them because every tiny mistake is a huge deal, and our raises are based on our evaluations. So…. sloppy work goes out with the hope that nobody will find out.

      Reply
  222. AnonAcademic

    At one of my first jobs the IT department monitored/limited internet activity at a level that was pretty invasive. At one point I was browsing the internet on my break, and I clicked on an article about Madonna’s personal trainer and it came up blocked it as “adult content.” This apparently got run up the chain to HR by IT and my boss called me in for an uncomfortable conversation where he was like “I know this is probably nonsense but HR can go over my head and fire you for this sort of thing so don’t do it again.” Except I hadn’t actually viewed or tried to view anything inappropriate! I wanted to meet with HR to defend myself but he advised against it. So instead for the rest of my time there, every single time I got a “blocked for adult content” screen I printed it out, wrote notes about what site I was trying to access, and put it in a folder in my desk. I was blocked from viewing information about breast cancer screenings and for other dumb keyword based reasons. But somehow none of those ever got me reported to HR and I left the job on good terms.

    Reply
    1. AnonAcademic

      Forgot to add the effect this had on me – I am still really jumpy/paranoid about IT stuff at every job I’ve had since. I only access stuff like AAM and the news on my work machine, and view facebook or more entertainment type sites on my phone or laptop. I also am a bit obsessive about keeping CYA records – I almost compulsively document anything I ever think could come back to bite me – rude emails from coworkers, timelines of projects where someone didn’t pull their weight, my own activity logs on our systems – I have not really had to use any of it so far but having it there makes me feel better.

      Reply
  223. Leah

    At my last job working as a creative within a government agency (need I say more?), my role was frequently referred to as a “luxury, not a must have like other departments.” Admittedly, there was truth to that. Sure, if you have to choose between having a graphic designer/web designer and a police department, you’d choose the essential services over tourism (as would I as a citizen!). But my boss hung this over my head as if to remind me that I should be thankful just to have a job because, after all, everyone else was more important. My talent was belittled all the time, as if I just had a hobby, not a career.

    At first, it made me very insecure. But I wised up. Creatives, too, have unique skill sets, and companies hire them because they see the value they bring to their organizations. Where I feel my boss failed is that she straddled the fence here. She wanted to have all the services I offered, but she also wanted to pretend they weren’t very valuable. If you are offering a position for employment, please believe in the need for the po