my friend is a terrible boss

A reader writes:

Several months ago, a friend asked me to interview at his company for a position that was being vacated. I went to the interview with hesitation — it’s 50% less in pay and not in my field — but since I had been out of work for so long, I went anyway. After the interview (which felt more like training), I think we both realized that I was not his ideal candidate. A week later, he told me that he was offering it to someone who was perfect for the job. His intention was to bring the person in and offer it to them in person, but they never showed up and he was left with an unfilled position. That’s when he asked me to fill in for a few days while he looked for someone else. Since I needed work and he needed help, I said okay.

In the time that’s passed, I’ve learned that he’s a horrible manager. I often get contradictory directions. For example, he’s told me to manage the schedule, not to manage the schedule, and to take messages so that he can review them and tell me what to schedule. He’s asked me to focus on a time-consuming project which he wants completed ASAP, but yells at me when I don’t do the regular duties quickly enough. The project is a scaled-down version of something I did at a former job and would take a small team weeks to complete. As I am only one person, I estimate it will take months. When I knock on his door because I actually need his help, he yells, “What do you want, I’m on the phone.” Even though I only help out once or twice a week, he calls me at home to blame every mistake on me. It’s reached the point of ridiculousness.

A little side note: I’m the fifth person in this position in the past twelve months.

I’ve brought my concerns to his attention in a professional manner, respecting him as I would any boss, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. I’ve also offered to help in finding a more suitable, permanent employee, which he declined. I’m stuck! I want to quit but I’m just not sure how to handle it. I want to help him, but I’d rather keep my friendship than keep a paycheck. What should I do?

Stop agonizing and just quit. Seriously. You both agreed you weren’t well-suited for the work, you’re miserable, he yells at you, and he calls you at home to blame you for mistakes. It’s not working out, time to wrap it up.

Here are a whole bunch of ways you can say it:

“I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity, but I don’t think I’m well-suited for the work. I’ve decided my last day will be in two weeks.”

“I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity, but it’s clear we don’t work well together, and I’d rather preserve our friendship than the job. I’ve decided my last day will be in two weeks.”

“Thanks for giving me the chance, but this isn’t for me.”

“I’ve decided I need to focus more time on ___.”  (Fill in the blank; it could be anything — job-hunting, family stuff, watching re-runs of Top Chef, whatever.)

“Dude, you’re yelling at me and calling me at home on my days off to blame me for things. This isn’t working out, so let’s figure out when my last day should be.”

Figure out which of these approaches you’re most comfortable with, and then just say it. Agonizing won’t get you anywhere; it’ll just make you even more unhappy and prolong the day of reckoning.

And seriously, do not work for friends. 99% of the time, it is disastrous.

{ 60 comments… read them below }

  1. Obvious*

    went to the interview with hesitation — it’s 50% less in pay and not in my field — but since I had been out of work for so long, I went anyway.

    How is that 50% less when she’s been out of work for long, just curious?

    1. Josh S*

      It’s something like, “Even though I’m unemployed, and even though I have been unemployed for a while, I still value my time at $XX/hour.”

      A few years ago, I was out of work for a while. Job hunting in my chosen field was not going well, and I needed something to pay the bills. Instead of selling myself short in my field and progressing ‘backwards’ in my career, I decided that any “just fill time” job would be minimum wage. It would keep me motivated to keep looking for “real” work, it would help pay the bills in the meantime, it wouldn’t pigeonhole me to a type of work I didn’t want long-term, and it would be something I could reasonably leave off my resume.

      I wouldn’t have wanted to move from a salary of $50k to a job in the same field that would only pay $30k. But I *would* be willing to work a flexible schedule at a place that paid me pennies without taxing my mind/energy in a way that would keep me from job hunting well.

      1. KayDay*

        That is a great strategy…I’ve always had conflicted feeling about the best approach in such a situation (and have been fortunate enough not to have to face that situation, yet). Thanks for sharing!

      2. Liz*

        I like this analysis. Unfortunately the minimum wage jobs I’ve applied for aren’t a fail safe. They still require years of direct experience, and the managers were NOT thrilled to see me. If anything they seemed offended or possibly just skeptical that someone without direct experience would think to try for a position in an already crowded field where employers have many other more qualified applicants.

        The era of fallback, no specific skills or experience required jobs appears to be over, at least in my town.

      3. OP*

        Josh S is exactly right on all points. The pay that he is offering is 50% less than what I used to make and what I still value my time at.

      4. Idontwantaminwagejob*

        WOW….you know I’ve never heard this kind of strategy before but it seems to make sense to me. neve rreally thought of it this way. I know this was posted several months ago but has it worked out?
        Would you include this on your resume? If so, did it help you get something better? if not, how would you address the gap on your resume?

    2. Sheritz*

      I’m assuming she means 50% less than what she was earning/would earn in the role she was previously in and is currently seeking.

      @ AAM: I agree with you completely. This needs to stop asap, and it’s rarely a good idea to work for a friend. Even working with friends in general can cause problems.

      1. Piper*

        This is what I assumed. Just because you’re unemployed right now doesn’t mean you didn’t have a decent salary before.

  2. Josh S*

    I would add this to Alison’s advice:

    AFTER you’re gone–at least a month after your last day AND last official contact with the company–call your buddy and see if he’d like to grab a beer or sit for a coffee. Tell him about the way his managerial style (or lack thereof) really made it hard to deliver to expectations–either yours or his. Keep it as neutral as can be. Frame it as “if I were in your position, I’d want to know.” Offer one or two positive changes he could make (and no more than that).

    Then move on to sports. Don’t make it a big thing.

    1. anonymouse*

      I wouldn’t do that at all. If you choose to sever the business relationship and ask to stay friends, you are then bound by friendship ONLY and should keep work out of it. He tried to do you a favor (that you were a willing participant in) and it went flat. Lesson learned. Move on.

      1. Sophie*

        I think it’s a good idea to talk to him about his management style, but maybe I’m just a dreamer…I think an honest discussion as a friend could help. Although yes, he could be thick and unaware of himself and never change. It could also hurt the friendship. But just some things you would have to weigh. Feel him out to see if he’s even receptive to a conversation like that.

        1. fposte*

          Right, you can just come out and ask him. “I noticed some things about your managing style that may be contributing to your employee turnover. As long as you don’t think it’ll hurt our friendship, do you want to hear about them?”

          1. Tamara*

            This is a great idea. It puts the responsibility on him to decide whether he’s mature enough to handle honest feedback. He could always say no, but then at least you know you made an effort.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        Op should definitely say something, whether it’s the day she leaves or sometime later on when they’re having a beer. As a friend, OP should tell him that there’s a reason why there have been five different people in that position in the last 12 months. She could then mention what she observed during her time there and help him figure out what he can do to improve as a manager.

      3. Jamie*

        How often do even reasonable people respond well to unsolicited criticism – and this guy isn’t even reasonable.

        His management style is his bosses problem to manage and his reports’ problem to endure…quit and he’s no longer your problem.

      4. OP*

        anonymouse – You’re right, he did do me a favor, but our original arrangement was only for three days over the course of two weeks so I also did him a favor by giving him more time to find a great applicant. It was a two-way street until he stopped looking for someone else (which is when I offered to help sift through the applications).

        You are right though… lesson learned. Time to move on.

    2. OP*

      I’d love to do something like this but there’s no way I could see it going over well. He would say that he didn’t want to hear it and that I don’t know what I’m talking about. After all, he’s the manager, not me.

      1. Josh S*

        That’s really too bad. Well, enjoy the beers, and just stick to sports then!

        Good luck, and please let us know how the situation turns out!

  3. Sadya*

    I think that there isn’t going to be a friendship left anymore. The boss friend is most likely going to respond badly to OP’s resignation, and I’m betting he will give a tirade on ‘how he’s doing the friend a favor’ and ‘how its the friend’s attitude because of which she’s unemployed’.
    People who yell at the office are people who yell at home. People who display bad behavior at the office are also morons after work-hours.

    1. MaryTerry*

      I suspect Sadya is correct. No matter what happens, this friendship is probably over, or at least seriously impaired. If this friend is so clueless on how to be a good boss and won’t listen when you’re trying to deal professionally, he’s going to take your resignation personally. That said, you need to resign.

      I like Josh S’s idea of taking a minimum wage flexible job – you’ve got income coming in, but not in your field, so you’re bound to continue to look. I was an awesome temp back in the day, so I’d probably try to go that route if I were out of work right now.

      I was one of the rare, lucky ones that had a friend for a boss and it worked out fine at work and personally for both of us. The OP’s situation is not like that. Time to quit. Down the road, if he asks, then you can talk to him about his management style. I wouldn’t do it now.

      1. OP*

        Sadya – You’re probably right that he will go on a tirade about me, but so far our friendship is okay. We still hang out together.

        MaryTerry – This was the flexible, minimum-wage job but I get what you’re saying… I’ll have to find another one.

    2. Anonymous*

      Basically what I was going to say – that the OP can kiss this friendship good-bye.

      And truthfully, that’s how I would want it. If I was the OP, and I saw this side of him, I don’t think I would want to be around him anymore. He might treat friends all right, but if that’s how he treats other people, then he is not a great person. Take for instance going to a diner with a friend. The friend might be a great person to you, but as soon as you see him/her treat the waitress like crap, then you know who you are really dealing with. The same might be applied here.

      1. Liz*

        This. I don’t know why so many people squirm to make excuses to save a friendship with someone who treats people like dirt. Past is prologue. You already know what you’re going to get from him, so move on.

        1. Anonymous*

          Yup. It happened to me a few years ago. I wasn’t working with my friend like the OP, but we got in a disagreement. Instead of politely handling the situation, this friend came out with both barrels loaded with insults and grasping for straws type comments. WTF? It was like years of pent up anger that I didn’t know existed, and I came to realize the friendship was a fraud (obviously not in the legal sense).

        2. Lindsay H.*

          Quote of the Year:
          I hate people that say, “He’s a nice person once you get to know him.” They might as well just say, “He’s a complete dick, but you’ll get used to it.”

          1. Anonymous*

            The other one to be watchful for is the “I am easy to get along with.” The only way that is true is if you do take their way and not the highway.

    3. Piper*

      Yeah, safe to assume the friendship is over. Perhaps I’m projecting too much of my own situation into this, but this guy sounds a lot like the guy I used to work for. One time, the police almost had to be called in when someone gave their notice because the guy got so scarily violent. Any time a female gave their notice (which was often because that place had a faster revolving door than any restaurant I ever worked in), their husband or boyfriend would come in as backup because of this guy’s volatile history. No joke. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. It was the most insane work environment ever.

      And this guy had a track record of hiring his friends. He doesn’t have many friends anymore.

      1. K.*

        Did this person own the company? How does he get “scarily violent” at work and still get to keep his job?

        I think it’s because I just got a “you’re overqualified” call this morning, but I find this really depressing – someone who gets so scary that people need fucking bodyguards around him, and someone else who sucks at his job and has huge turnover so it should be obvious that he sucks at his job, gets to go to work every day when I, a pleasant, educated, experienced, hard-working person, am unemployed.

        1. Piper*

          Sadly yes, he owned the company and he was known to remark on a frequent basis, “I own the company, I can do whatever I want.” And his continued success despite riding on everyone else’s coattails (and stealing, lying, cheating, abusing, etc) baffles me. Karma missed this guy, for sure.

          1. Natalie*

            Restaurants seem particularly immune to karma, IME. The customer base has no exposure to the working conditions, and typically chalks up single bad experiences to that particular waitress/cook/day/meal rather than the management. And, sadly, there are a lot of people in the food industry willing to accept atrocious, and frequently illegal, treatment so they can “pay their dues”.

            1. Piper*

              Yeah, this wasn’t a restaurant. This was an professional business services firm. I was comparing the revolving door scenario to how high the turnover is in restaurants. And honestly, I worked in restaurants all through high school and college, and this job with this insane CEO was the worst display ever.

        2. Liz*

          That is exactly how I feel. I can’t pay my bills and so many talented and qualified people are unemployed, but this kind of office mess still happens all the time. What is going on in hiring?

            1. OP*

              Wimpiness must be a big part of it. They weigh their risks and decide that it’s cheaper to hire someone that they don’t have to train. Or they take a temp as a “try-out.” On-the-job-training had become a thing of the past. Nowadays, you have to prove that you’re more than just talented and qualified.

              A bigger part of it, I think, is that since the economy tanked, companies have learned to do more with less. They largely have smaller staff numbers and yet productivity is about the same.

          1. Anonymous*

            I take my part-time job seriously (not that anyone shouldn’t), but I have two coworkers who obviously don’t. They come in late and take off whenever their little hearts desire, and I wonder about people who are out of a job and would love to be working the job my coworkers only deign to work.

  4. Piper*

    Are you working for my previous employer? I went through this kind of thing, too (and the guy was my friend – we aren’t friends anymore).

    When held the position, I was the third person in the position in the past 12 months. One had walked out, the other had been laid off, and then I got laid off (that was a year ago). There have been two more people in this position since then. The first walked out. The second just started and has no idea what she’s in for. God help her.
    In addition to being a raging lunatic, this guy also steals credit for other people’s ideas, steals ideas from clients and uses them for other clients, and generally violates OSHA all over the place. He’s the most unethical, dishonest, snake in the grass I’ve ever encountered.

    I’m convinced that he hired me, knowing exactly how long he was going to keep me on – long enough to get a ton of ideas generated and strategies created and plans started, but not long enough for people outside the company to recognize me as the person who created all of these things, so he could take the credit for them (as he continues to do, all over town, a year later). This combined with the crappy work situation I ended up in after that, and people wonder why the heck I’m so bitter. Yeah. That’s why.

    Seriously. Quit. It’s not worth it.

  5. The Other Dawn*

    Op doesn’t owe this guy anything and should not feel guilty about quitting. They both agreed before she took the temp position that she wasn’t the right fit. Cut your losses and go. Now.

    1. Jamie*

      ITA. The second he yelled at you for anything your obligation to him ended. You may have needed the cash, but this was a favor to him as well and once he acted like a jerk about it you owed him nothing.

      I would assume the friendship is already dead, so I wouldn’t worry about that. But then, I can’t see why anyone would want to be friends with someone who behaved like this.

    1. K.*

      From what I can tell, the manager hasn’t really respected their friendship by being such a jerk, so I don’t know that I’d go out of my way to make things much easier for him. And it’s not like two weeks’ notice is unreasonable.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      Two weeks is reasonable. It’s not like the boss didn’t know it wasn’t a good fit going in. He told OP it was temporary.

      1. Corey Feldman*

        The OP also said he is worrying about preserving the friendship. It is hard to fill positions in 2 weeks. A months notice shows that while he is unhappy and needs to move on, he is willing to give his friend the opportunity to replace him.

        1. Josh S*

          Presumably, the OP’s friend/boss has been looking to fill the position PERMANENTLY while the OP is filling in temporarily. So it’s not, “Well, now you’ve got to fill this position out-of-the-blue in 2 weeks,” but rather, “You’ve had a long time, and you’re clearly taking advantage of me, so now I’m drawing a line.”

          2 weeks is plenty.

  6. Anonymous*

    A) I actually don’t think your friendship is over pending how you handle yourself when you say you’re quitting
    B) Just b/c somebody is unemployed and doesn’t have a salary doesn’t mean they can’t look for a job close to what they used to be making – therefore something could definitely be 50% lower than what they were making
    C) QUIT! I don’t think you need to give them a months notice but you can just say it’s not working out etc…etc..and you really appreciate the opportunity and them thinking of you – be professional which I’m sure you will be and I don’t think your friendship is gone – at least if you both value each other?
    D) DON’T tell him about his management style needing improvement, that’s not really your place IMHO. Keep your friendship, let somebody else tell him about his management style, give your 2 weeks, be polite/professional and move on.

    Maybe he was acting this way because you were friends and he just thought, whatever, no big deal it’s my friend? Who knows – either way – I wouldn’t stay if I were you, find something new.

    1. Dave*

      This guy is a terrible manager and who else will tell him if not a friend? He sounds like a jerk too. If the friendship blows up because of it everyone is better off .. the OP will stop investing in a relationship that is not worth it and the friend *might* realize that it’s time to reassess how to manage people…

  7. Dana*

    …Am I missing something? You agreed to fill in for ‘a few days,’ right? Clearly he’s not able to hire someone in that time frame but it’s not your responsibility. Sounds like you’ve lived up to your end of the ‘deal’ and can just tell him it’s not working for you.

  8. Anonymous*

    Someone mentioned the boss was doing his friend a favor. The way I see it it was the other way around. He couldn’t fill the position in time and needed a back up until then so he asked his friend the OP to fill in for a few days and then the OP got stuck. They both knew from the get go it wasn’t a good fit for the OP. Just because the OP is unemployed doesn’t mean they are under obligation to take just any job, especially one with as bad a fit as this. If it were me the friendship would be over. I don’t think I could separate business and friendship and forget the way I was treated.

  9. Editor*

    OP should go gracefully as soon as possible.

    Friends shouldn’t work for friends. One friend hired me because she said her office was so disorganized. I felt I was good at analyzing why things get disorganized, and we discussed it. It turned out she really wanted someone to do her filing, and when I suggested the office furniture be rearranged for better workflow and wanted to reposition my desk, she allowed me to do so, then she and her husband rearranged everything yet another way the following weekend. She pretty much left me to my own devices unless a client was in the office, in which case she ordered me around in front of the client. I finally told her I would be leaving, and I think we were both relieved — and I learned my lesson.

    People who own successful small companies can sometimes be pretty tone deaf to their own shortcomings. Someone I know worked for a guy whose idea of inspiring his staff to work harder was to gather them all in the conference room and moan to them about how the employees had let the company down and he hadn’t been able to spend money on whatever. One time he berated them because even though he had the latest in televisions, he wanted two and had only been able to buy one. The money should have been there, what had they been doing??? (Coping with their antiquated computers, which weren’t getting replaced because his year-old computer worked fine. His brother-in-law, the CFO, had shown how new computers for the executives would be cost-effective, but lost interest when the IT person wanted to upgrade the LAN.) Did they think he was made of Money?

    This makes me wonder if there’s any correlation between controlling personalities and entrepreneurship.

    1. NicoleW*

      “This makes me wonder if there’s any correlation between controlling personalities and entrepreneurship.”
      Yes! I’ve often wondering this where I work…
      Just today I was informed of the new decree from the CEO – you must pick items up from your snail-mailbox immediately, so you should be checking the mail room multiple times a day.

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