my boss is hostile and abusive and won’t train me

A reader writes:

I recently stumbled across your blog and love it! I have read through many of your posts looking for advice on terrible, micromanaging bosses who communicate poorly, yell and belittle frequently, and seem to play favorites in the office.

I’ve been here less than a year and have never received any formal training. I was told that I was hired at a high level and should “just know”. When I press for details or clarity, it is met with tremendous frustration and ridicule by the boss. I have had no experience in the industry and my boss knew that when she hired me. I get yelled at on a day to day basis. I am told my decisions are poor and that I don’t look at the big picture. My boss frequently has other employees check my work. It’s always degrading.

I can’t really figure out the issues and have actually tried to ask her directly and have been open to feedback. Asking questions only inspires more hostility, so I’ve given up. I’m not even performing the type of work that was described to me during my job interview. I am trying to just keep a low profile as I search for other work.

Since the economy is so poor, I’m anticipating having to put up with more of this abuse for at least a few more months. I just want to make it as painless as possible. I can’t really afford to be unemployed at this point. My question… much of your advice involves bringing HR into the situation. So, where do you go if the boss, the Senior Director of HR, is the problem?

Actually, I avoid recommending HR for issues like this. I’m a big fan of trying to work things out directly with your manager — because while some HR types can help in situations like this, a lot can’t … and when you don’t find that out until after you’ve already gone to them, it can poison the relationship with your boss further. So you really, really want to ask yourself what you know about what sort of track record you’ve seen HR (or in your case, another higher-level manager, someone senior to your boss) have with other people in situations like this. If you know they’re discreet, fair, and willing to intervene when someone is being mistreated, ask for help. But if you aren’t sure, be aware that it’s a gamble

Here’s what I think is going on, based on the information here: Your boss hired someone without experience to do a job that requires experience, or at least training. And your boss is not just a jerk, but also a bad manager. And as a result, she’s taking a problem of her own making — hiring someone without the necessary experience — and taking it out on you.

Yelling is never acceptable. Refusing to give you feedback or answer questions? Pretty much shooting herself in the foot, guaranteeing that the problems that are causing her so much frustration are going to continue. Keeping an employee who is clearly struggling, but not actually handling the situation (whether through coaching or training or even just candid conversations)? Really bad management. Dereliction of duty, in fact.

Because it’s possible that you are indeed a really bad fit for this job. But a good manager would either provide you with training and coaching, and/or would have clear and straightforward conversations with you about what you need to be doing differently (eventually leading to a candid conversation about whether continued tenure in the role makes sense). But just keeping you around and being abusive? That screams “bad manager who doesn’t know how to do her job.”

(By the way, having others check your work and assigning you different tasks than what you were hired to do may be a reasonable response to realizing that you’re not excelling at the work. But certainly not without talking to you about what’s going on and why.)

So what do you do, while you’re looking for another job? It’s tough to say. If your boss were a better manager, the path would be pretty clear — talk with her candidly about her obvious frustration, ask for feedback, and probably take the steps in this post on what to do if you think you’re going to get fired.

But she’s not a good manager, and speaking assertively with her about the situation might lead to her either exacting revenge further or just firing you. My best advice — and it’s not a great option — is to document what’s going on, so that if she does fire you, you have documentation of the fact that you’ve asked repeatedly for training and feedback but were refused and that she behaves abusively toward you. This could come in handy for (a) ensuring that you’re eligible to collect unemployment in case the company contests it and (b) getting the company (someone over her head) to agree not to give you a negative reference.

And last, as you’re looking forward to your next job, look back and ask yourself whether — in retrospect — you could have done anything to have avoided this situation before accepting the job. Were there warning signs? Did you not ask many questions about the training that you’d need? Did you not talk about the manager’s style? Not to blame the victim, of course, and plenty of employers misrepresent things during the hiring process, but it’s worth asking if there are ways to avoid a similar situation in the future.

I’m sorry you’re dealing with this and hope you get out soon. Good luck!

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    OP: are you SURE the job is different than what was advertised?

    It wouldn't be the first time someone had too eagerly skimmed an ad, or had gotten one ad confused with another. I know someone who accused HR of misrepresenting the job, and HR pulled out their copy of the ad that was placed….and sure enough, there it was in black and white. The exact description of the job they found themselves doing. They just hadn't read it properly.

  2. Suz*

    Since the coworkers are already checking the OP's work, they must know something about what is needed to do the job. Why not ask them for training? At most places I've worked the boss doesn't train you. Your coworkers do.

  3. JobFree*

    I don't care how bad you are at your job. There is no excuse for yelling at the employees. That is unacceptable.

  4. Unemployed Gal*

    There are two kinds of jobs out there. First, the handing-holding jobs have a long, gentle training period. Second, the dive in jobs expect you to figure things out very quickly with a little hands-off guidance and lots of independent learning. Experience helps in a dive in job, but its not required. My first office job was a dive in, and I did fine. By the end of my first month, I had mastered operations enough that I could improve them. Its about learning styles, not experience. I thrive in an immersive, independent, high pace environment. It sounds like you (the OP) dont. And thats okay, as long as you choose a position that suits your learning style and temperament.

    Its possible that your boss misled you to think that this was a hand-holding job. (She is a bad manager after all.) But its also possible that in your excitement to get the job, you overlooked the clues yourself. If you work in HR, you have access to job descriptions and possibly the old job ads. Do they contain phrases like fast starter, quick learner, independent problem-solving, high paced environment, advanced, or X experience preferred? Thats probably a dive in job. I think its reasonable for an employer to expect dive in performance, as long as the expectations are clear from the start. Hiring a hand-holding employee for a dive in job is bad news for everyone.

    P.S. Yelling is never okay. It could be the start of a constructive discharge (AKA constructive termination), so prepare yourself for that possibility.

  5. GC (God's Child)*

    To the OP
    do you work at my company? Wow, your director sounds like someone I hear about from time to time.
    Keep your head up. Hope you find something new real soon.

  6. Anonymous*

    To Unemployed Gal – Just because it took you one month at your first job to "master operations enough that [you] could improve them," doesn't mean that this applies to this situation. Even "dive-in" jobs require a certain amount of guidance and training. There is nothing here to indicate that the original poster doesn't "thrive in an immersive, independent, high pace environment." You don't have enough information to ascertain that, and your post comes off as a holier-than-thou attack on the OP.
    In many industries and fields, jobs cannot simply be split into the categories of "dive-in" and "hand-holding" jobs. While everyone has different learning styles, most aren't at one end of the spectrum or the other, and everyone requires at least some guidance or training because every office has its own set of practices and policies.
    BTW, almost ALL job posts say "quick learner," high-paced environment," etc, and you have absolutely no foundation on which to say the OP isn't these things.

  7. Anonymous*

    Anon 1 – I'm sure that after having been interviewed, the OP knew the job a little better than a blurb in the local paper.

    Unemployed Gal – Comparing yourself to the OP isn't helping. It makes you sound like you think you're much better with your particular "learning style." However, "dive-in" vs. " hand-holding" styles, either way, should not result in anyone being looked down upon for asking a question. I'm sure with "dive-ins," questions are still asked and the new person doesn't have the answer to every problem.

    I agree with the abusive behavior described to us – it's not good whatsoever. No one should be subjected to yelling. It's not constructive, it makes the "yellee" resent and scared of the yeller, and it creates tension from here on out.

    Except for the fact that our OP here cannot afford to be unemployed (who can?), I'd say to turn the other way and run. But I think she should look into asking the other colleagues for feedback; perhaps they see what is going on and are waiting for her to step up in order for the yelling to stop. (Remember – no one should be yelled at, but her colleagues might see her in a resentful way if it disrupts the office).

    Let us know what happens.

  8. Anonymous*

    In this economy, I think MOST jobs are coming with less and less training and more and more pressure to do things outside a narrow job description. But the abuse of management is never acceptable- my boss sounds exactly like this one, only her issue isn't so much that my job description has changed, it's that I never had one (I was unofficially promoted- no raise or anything- when my old manager left, and the job has changed completely since then). So there is a lot of yelling, cursing, and 'weakest link' comments when I don't magically read her mind and know exactly what to do all the time.

    After a year of this my strategy to deal with this is basically to ignore her. I know what my job is SUPPOSED to be, and of late I've stopped trying to read her mind, or 'excel' in her mind, as I'm not going to get compensated and am going to get screamed at regardless. It sounds awful, and it does hurt my ethical heart a bit, but distancing yourself from it does actually help. Just keep repeating 'it's only a job, it's only a job', and looking at her as a vaguely humourous character from a Dilbert cartoon and you'll get through it. Talking to her, trying to be rational, or even applying logic to the situation will just make you want to beat yourself to death with a stapler.

    I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has any advice on dealing with sadistic bosses tho!

  9. Anonymous*

    I'm a little disturbed by AAM's comment about HR…"If you know they're discreet, fair, and willing to intervene when someone is being mistreated, ask for help. But if you aren't sure, be aware that it's a gamble." Isn't this EXACTLY what HR departments are supposed to do? If they're not willing to intervene when someone is being mistreated, why do they exist? I just got out of a similar job situation with an abusive boss; her direct reports and managers from other departments had gone repeatedly to HR, over a period of years, and HR just smiled politely and took notes while her outrages were detailed. A better question to ask in this situation is "why is this person being protected?" There was a great list on MSN called "reasons bad employees don't get fired" – it helps provide insight into why abusive bosses are continually defended by HR departments and/or their own managers. If you see your situation on that list, it probably means nothing is going to change and you should just focus on working elsewhere.

  10. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous, yes, of course they should intervene. But my goal here is to give people practical, real-world advice, and the reality is that plenty of HR depts don't run that way.

  11. Anonymous*

    The HR department is not the be all and end all of corporate authority at any organization. In some companies the HR department has the authority to enforce the policies and procedures, in other companies the HR department is reduced to just personnel file organizers and paperwork filler-outers with no authoritative power to enforce anything.

    Remember that its actually the executives (vice presidents and the c-suite) that run a business, make the rules, and enforce them. If youre at an organization where there is someone from HR in that circle that has the power to enforce the rules, great! However there are a lot of companies where this isnt the case.

    Case in point, I work at an organization where the HR department is 2 people and no manager. HR reports to an executive who has no HR expertise, training or education. The executives and senior managers at the organization make the rules and enforce them as they see fit. I have been told directly by an executive that the HR department has no authority to enforce anything, all HR is there for is to give advice to the senior managers who will then act as they see fit (and fill out reports, paperwork, etc.). How is the HR department at my organization going to override the management team on anything when they have no authority to do so? AAM is correct; HR is not always the safety net that protects you from harm.

  12. Anonymous*

    You'll also want to make sure that you rate your abusive boss on sites like eBossWatch to warn other potential employees what it's really like to work for your boss.

  13. Anonymous*

    I understand your problems, I was left out on purpose for the training were I worked. As a result, I applied for a higher position , the person the supervisor hired just work here only two weeks. The most intersting thing he quit. Now no one applied for the position. Now she is doing three jobs in instead of her only job. I decided to move on with life. Like the old saying what comes around goes around. I am looking forward a better future with a better career prospects.

  14. Anonymous*

    I agree that based on your description, your boss doesn't have a clue and is making problems worse.

    On the flip side, as a manager of people, I've noticed the best performers usually require NO training, even when they come in green. They roll up their sleeves and figure it out. It is always a red flag for me when someone is saying they can't do something because they "didn't get the training."

    There is a lot of incentive to figure out yourself how you can come up to speed. The incentive is how much more valuable you will be. It's money in YOUR pocket.

    I'm in the computer software field so maybe it is different.

  15. WhippingGirl*

    I feel for you & I recommend that you JUMP SHIP as soon as you can. I speak from experience REGRETFULLY. I have worked for a FAMILY OWNED business for almost 18years. The Dad is the head of the company & tho has always been difficult to deal with the last year or so has been pretty unbearable. His daughter 1 of 3 & his wife, have all over time left the company due to HIM & since my boss, his middle daughter left in March of 2009, it has been worse. For about 6 months it got a bit better because he REALIZED what a help i was & that i KNEW a lot more than he thought. Then he hired a new lady, who is an EXPERT butt kisser & its started to go down hill since then. I believe she is sabotaging evry1 inthe company but with the economy & my husband had been out of work until recently, who can AFFORD to up & quit. So here I am. Getting belittled every day, gettting chewed out etc. I took on all the things my old boss did after she left,which some things I had no idea about & others I knew but had never handled. With her, she gave me my stuff to do & left me alone. Once she knew i knew how to do a task she didnt mess with me & I could always go to her & ask for help & she gave it. He on the other hand belittles, preferrably in front of others & ends up NEVER answering your questions or showing you what it is that he wants only to yell at you again. Its like we are all working for competing companies against each other. It can be so easy but he makes it so hard & he want to discuss everything with us so that it gives him more of a chance to beat you up. The few times when I have had the nerve to speak up & ask him to listen to me & stop trying to beat me up, that just SETS HIM OFF. He is the main issue with the unproductivity that he COMPLAINS about because instead of picking up something doing it & goin on to next thing, he wants to discuss it, put it down, argue, pick it up, argue etc. I have missed weddings, funerals, worked on my wedding day etc & now I feel that after 18years here, he thinks IM the VILLAGE IDIOT even tho I still handle most of the functions of the company day to day with little or no problem ever. I feel like ive wasted my almost entire working career on a job that now could lay me off because he has it in his CRAZY mind that we are not working, looking busy & not producing even tho we are doing what we always did if not more for less money(he cut us all by 20%). And I cant go above his head cuz he is the HEAD of the company. So in a nutshell I have to feel like a complete failure every day until i can find another job & leave this knowing that he thinks we stink. Its heartbreaking. People like that can never be pleased. Trust me. I have tried it all & to no avail. To think of all the nights & weekends I have worked & put this company first just to PLEASE these people & hold on to my job makes me sick & now in the end, Im his whipping girl. Other than it being against the law, I think he would give us all a bad reccomendation other than MS KISS UP & tht is sad. I have seen so many wonderful hard working caring people come & go thru the years in this place & i see the ones who are still here like me & how much their spirits have been broken. Its sad. I know many people say “Well just quit” & trust me if i could I would, but who can afford to right now. We are all behind on our bills with our spouses being unemployed, or sick here. My house payment is 3 to 4 months behind & I am trying to work it out so i dont lose my house. Who can afford to just walk out. Anyway, my biggest mistake here, is i gave my all to a place that didnt appreciate it & that is it. It has made me afraid to do that again.

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