will it hurt me to stay in a job where my managers don’t like me?

A reader writes:

I’ve come to accept that my supervisors (my manager and VP) and I mutually dislike one another on a personal level. Part of it is a function of differing pesonalities and different approaches to project management. But part of it is an entrenched dysfunctional culture at my department and organization and how my supervisors have managed to operate within it for a combined 20 years in the organization and how I have been reacting to the culture in my two years.

Despite the personality clashes, the manager and VP pretty much leave me alone to do my work. As long as am productive, I am generally left me to my own devices. So in a lot of ways I’ve been able to thrive in my performance and results despite the dysfunction. But the formal reviews I’ve gotten have been tepid at best (despite a lot of raves and positive feedback from coworkers up and down the org ladder outside my department). Also, my supervisors don’t seem to put a lot of thought and care to making their performance reviews. I get the impression from their comments on my last review that they took all of 15 minutes each to gloss over what I wrote, scrawled some comments in a hurry and that was it. There is no opportunity given to program staff like me to put in a review about our superiors.

Will it be harmful for my career in the long run to stay in a comfortable but dysfunctional workplace, knowing my supervisors don’t like me on a personal level? I like my work, the hours are humane, the commute is pretty good, and the pay is above average. But the passive-aggressiveness, petty sarcastic remarks, demeaning tone that they talk to me in, and general lack of clear communication pretty much leave me demoralized on a regular basis.

I’ve gone to EAP counseling, and I’ve sought your advice many times on specific incidents. I’ve been job-hunting also, but so far no luck in a year and a half of effort.

I have found that I can work productively and I can make it work if I need to stay. But I am curious if you think I am doing more harm to my career and mental health by staying in a dysfunctional situation where my bosses just plain do not like me and the feeling is mutual. I can make the job work day to day, and in a lot of ways I have excelled. But I know I’ll never get official recognition or respect from them.

Ugh, sorry you’re dealing with this. Yes, I do think it’s harmful to stay in a job where your managers don’t like you. It might be low-grade harm, but it is harmful:

* You’re less likely to get raises, promotions, good projects, training opportunities, and other benefits that often accompany a good relationship with managers.

* You’ll forego the reputation-building that a manager who likes you can do for you — speaking well of you to others and introducing you to people who can become part of your network / help you professionally / hire you in the future.

* You won’t get useful feedback to help you develop professionally. Your peers can give you positive feedback, but it usually takes an invested manager to show you where you could be doing things better or differently.

* And most of all, the situation will almost definitely impact your head in bad ways — eating away at your self-image, instilling in you a defeatist attitude in regard to praise and recognition, and generally making you feel miserable.

So keep actively looking at other jobs. Tolerate this place in the meantime, but try to get out.

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    It sounds like you’ve accepted that you will be in this environment for a long time and made peace with it. I don’t think you should settle. You said you’re job hunting and I think that’s the right move. If you find something better, take it! Don’t pass up a better opportunity to stay at a place where you won’t grow personally and professionally. You and your supervisors may not be the best of friends but it’s very unprofessional of them to treat you poorly just because of personality reasons.

    There are many stories on AAM of people that left horrible, toxic jobs and found how much of a relief it is to work for somewhere better. Good luck!

  2. Natalie*

    In the meantime, if you have a professional organization they might have a mentorship program where you could connect with someone more experienced and get more helpful feedback.

  3. Lee*

    I agree with Natalie that if you are not already a member of a local professional organization, try to locate one in your area. A good and inexpensive alternative is a meetup group or two in your area of interest or based on a skill or topic you want to learn more about. And maybe there is also somewhere you could volunteer as well? A meetup group I belong to is always looking for presenters and contributors. This is a great way to stretch yourself and will help you keep your current job situation in context. It sounds to me like you are doing the right thing by doing the best work you can do despite your situation. Keep it up, keep a list of accomplishments. Now is also a good time to continue your job hunt as well.

  4. Joey*

    I know it sounds obvious but whether you stay depends on if you find something better. So of course keep looking but also start thinking about where you have some flexibility in terms of your expectations and where you don’t. Chances are when you find another job there will be aspects of it that are better and some that aren’t. So you really need to make sure your expectations are prioritized. I can’t tell how bad your situation is and I’m not trying to minimize it but I know a lot of people that would gladly put up with a crappy boss to have a job with good pay, hours, commute and interesting work.

  5. Anonymous*

    What about just on a human level? You used the word “demoralizing.” It would be very irritating to me alone to hear constant sarcastic, demeaning comments from people I had to deal with on a constant basis. It sounds like, to some degree, you have thick skin, but on the other hand, it is obviously bothering you, especially since you took the step to write the letter. I think you already know the answer, and I think you should continue that job search. Life’s too short to be around people who will drag you down by the comments and mediocre performance reviews. I don’t think you are happy with any of that. Why, then, subject yourself any further with that? And what do you want to get out of your career? Job hunt like it’s your second full time job, and try to get out of this one as fast as you possibly can. Good luck and let us know what happens.

  6. Sparky629*

    If interviewing for a job is like dating then working in the job is like marriage. When I have a problem at work, I just put in the context of a marriage and ask myself would I accept this? That puts a lot of things in perspective real quick.

    >>But the passive-aggressiveness, petty sarcastic remarks, demeaning tone that they talk to me in, and general lack of clear communication pretty much leave me demoralized on a regular basis.
    I’ve gone to EAP counseling, and I’ve sought your advice many times on specific incidents.

    If this were a relationship, it would be verbal and emotional abuse. Would you want to stay in a relationship like that because it’s ‘comfortable’? It’s not really that comfortable because you had to seek counseling because it didn’t feel right to you. It still doesn’t feel right to you but you are trying to talk yourself into believing it will be OK. Please don’t do that to yourself.

    You have some great skills that some other employer would love to have on their team and they will treat you better as well.

    1. Anonymous*

      I have been in a toxic work environment for 6 years. I’ve always compared it to an abusive relationship. They start out charming, promising new employees the world and more. However, they eventually mistreat people, are sarcastic, belittling, rude and derisive. But they pay well, always give raises and bonuses, and have fantastic benefits. It has eaten away at my self-image because I don’t have a particularly thick skin, but it has allowed me the ability to afford to continue my education on the side without having to take out loans. That is pretty much the ONLY reason I stayed. But it definitely has the dynamics of an abusive marriage, with the whole wooing you, then breaking you down, then wooing you again, etc. Extremely demoralizing.

  7. Sparky629*

    As an aside, can someone tell me how to italicize and bold text when I am commenting here?

  8. AnotherAlison*

    Is there any possible avenue for an internal transfer, since you mentioned positive feedback outside your department?

    Even if your immediate reaction is that you’re very specialized so nope, it’s impossible to transfer, take a look at it. A great company (and communte & pay) is worth a lot, and if you think there’s any possible way to get away from your dysfunctional bosses, it might be worth sticking around. I was in a similar situation for 3 YEARS, but had invested a lot of time in the company before that, loved the place, and wanted to stay. The difference was beyond my immediate boss, I had VPs in my reporting chain who liked me and were able to change the situation. You have to find a champion somewhere in the company who can help you.

    1. Lesley*

      I was just going to suggest this! I was in a similar situation–except I’d been in the department longer than anyone else (a whopping three years…in my first job out of college) and there was some internal shifting of personnel. I wound up with a temporary department head who actively disliked and constantly said demoralizing things to/about me, and a manager who was extremely passive-aggressive. But I loved the actual work I was doing, so I stuck it out for quite a while. Then, another department had an opening and the head of that department encouraged me to apply, then encouraged me to take the position, even though my sucky interim manager blocked it from being a promotion and made it a lateral move instead.
      I didn’t realize until I left how much damage had been done to me psychologically and how much damage had been done to my career. It took two years of having a wonderful boss actively championing me to undo the negative impact of the manager that didn’t like me. Even though I’d gotten good reviews, apparently she had spoken to HR about me.
      Don’t stay there. You deserve better!

  9. OP here*

    Thank you very much, Alison for answering my message, and thanks to everyone who have sent in their feedback. I really appreciate it!

    Yes, after getting Alison’s advice it just confirms to me that staying longer at this job will most certainly eat away at my confidence, self-esteem and just plain make me miserable in the long run. Add to that the very practical reasons of the positive things that can happen if you had a good relationship with one’s manager which I have no chance of getting in this job.

    What complicates the job-hunting for me and why it has taken so long (I’ve been job-hunting for a year and a half): I have a 22-month old toddler which requires a certain level of income and also she is at daycare which has certain hours I need to work around. So any new job I will consider would have to be within commuting distance to the daycare, allow the hours for me to pick my child up before it closes at 6PM every day, and pays enough for raising a child with my wife.

    I have had to turn down interviews with organizations which are much farther away than I could manage commuting and have been interviewed for positions which I found out in the process paid 10-15K less than what I am currently making. So I am getting bites on my resumes and cover letters. It is just the right offer which combines commute/pay/hours/healthy working environment has eluded me thus far.

    In the meantime I rely a lot on reading the Ask a Manager blog to keep my head straight and to commisserate with other folks who are facing the same issues with toxic bosses and job-hunting trials and tribulations. It is tough maintaining one’s confidence and appearing poised on interviews and to resist the urge to badmouth my current bosses. But I think I am handling things much better and with a more zen-like state of mind than in the beginning stages of my job hunting.

    1. Anonymous*

      On the commute: it’s not ideal by any means, but would it be possible to change daycare centers if you get a job in the ‘wrong’ location?

      1. KellyK*

        My understanding is that the good daycare centers tend to have long waiting lists, so you might end up with a long gap between leaving one and getting in at the other.

        But it might definitely be worth finding out about daycare options in any area where you apply, and trying to figure out whether cobbling together some kind of childcare solution between friends, family, and in-home babysitting for a couple months is a possibility if you do land a better job further away.

    2. Kelly O*

      OP, I totally relate to what you’re saying and am in a very similar boat as far as the personal issues go.

      My daughter will be 22 months tomorrow, and I have to think about being close enough that I can swing daycare hours, or get her if something happens. So my radius is smaller than it might be if I were without a child, and my ability to say yes to overtime without question and notice is hampered.

      I keep telling myself that when the right thing comes along, it will be worth waiting for. It’s just a matter of finding a way to deal with the day-to-day while that happens (and finding time to job search with everything else going on.)

  10. Jeanne*

    This letter could have been written by me. I loved my job but did not respect my managers because they were terrible and they did not like me although they relied on me to do the most and the best work. I looked for another job but could not find one. I had some limits on job searching due to health problems. I got a wonderful psychologist who helped me through the mental part. And it helped that many coworkers appreciated me. Now I am out of that workplace due to a disability. But I know it has scarred me. Now that I have to search for a job again I wonder if good managers actually exist or if I will just end up abused again.

    The other worry for you is that eventually they will try to make you miserable enough that you quit. They tried that on me and I really had to fight to keep my job. It was nasty. Be careful.

  11. Tiffany In Houston*

    I could have written this letter as well and this is the first time I have been in this situation. I am not the only person who dislikes my current manager, as other staff and other managers have their own beefs with him, and the VP is aware his interpersonal skills are horrible but he placed him in the role. However I have been in my position for a while and have a lot more knowledge in my particular area than he does so he is very reliant on my skills set to execute his job. I also really like my job and am learning a lot.

    I have been job hunting since April both internally and externally as this is affecting my home life to some degree. I do think based on the OP, I will go back to our dispute resultion personnel for some more coping strategies though until I can get out.

  12. Jennifer*

    The thing about managers that don’t like you is that they will take the opportunity to get rid of you when they can. When layoffs come, they’ll put you up on the chopping block rather than try to save you. If you fuck up, they’ll use that as an excuse to can you.

    I say this looking at myself–I should have been laid off this year, but my office generously offered to transfer me instead–versus a friend of mine whose manager has hated her for years. Friend got in a serious accident this year and was out of work on leave for months, and now she’s getting writeups at work in preparation for firing her come the fall. Unfortunately, it looks like the accident finally gave them the excuse to get rid of her somehow, as they are claiming she’s “different” since she got hurt. So that’d be the #1 thing I’d worry about.

    You know the drill: job hunt, stay in this job until you get another one.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! I meant to add that as a bullet point — it can endanger your job. You can end up first on a layoffs list, or not get the benefit of the doubt in a he said/she said situation, and so forth.

    2. EngineerGirl*

      Yes! I was in this situation too. I had received good performance reviews until psycho project. Under the manager that didn’t like me, I suddenly started to receive medium to low reviews – even though I was considered one of the best engineers. Bad manager blocked pay raises, transfers, and gave low reviews. And yes they then tried to lay me off (breaking several HR policies). An old manager rescued me. I immediately started receiving exceptional reviews and big pay raises. It was so painfully obvious what happened. I’ve been on several projects since then and have always received good reviews. So yes, an unprofessional manager that dislikes you can heavily bias your success.

    3. anonymous*

      I had a mgr like the OP’s in a govt job. She couldn’t fire me or lay me off because of the Union rules, so she just did whatever she could to make my life miserable. Demoted my position (not salary at least) & moved me to another desk, and refused to transfer my extension there (when everyone else did keep their old extension, and this was before everyone had a cell phone so I had to tell the whole world I had a new daytime #), wrote me up for being 2 minutes late when other people she supervised were 5-30 minutes late (&, no, they were never written up), & made remarks about my figure in front of other employees.

      I have been laid off at another job, & it was scary & horrible, but I almost wish the boss I mentioned above had just done that because I was so miserable.

  13. DWoods*

    I agree that it is harmful. Unfortunately I was in the same position but once I called EAP my managers were able to figure out who called and became very aggresive with feedback on performance as negative when in fact I was by the company standard way above expectations (which by the way was exceeding my coworkers numbers, THEIR numbers, as well as employee feedback) I ended up leaving the company but felt better by documenting all the innapropriate behavior and handing it off to EAP. Having such a short term postion looks terrible on a resume but I felt like it would be less harmful then getting fired. In my state it would be very difficult to prove a wrongful termination so it just seemed to be the lesser of two evils.

    1. anonymous*

      that’s so unfair! How did they even find out? When I have called EAP it’s always an outside organization, and I can tell that the person I am speaking to is likely not even in my part of the country.

  14. tp*

    I work in a very toxic environment with a terrible senior management team and have a similar relationship with my managers. I’ve worked here longer than both of them and for the first four years, did great, receiving nothing but praise and accolades. Then there was a shift in management and departments, they came on board, and it all went downhill from there. I feel like I’ve been demoted for no reason whatsoever other than the fact that I don’t care for these people and they for me. On top of that, the general manager (who is also new) is a complete bully. Things are not going to get any better here and morale is at an all-time low, I know that. That’s why I’ve been looking for a new job too. It’s tough out there! Been trying for two years, but I’ve also been targeting my search with hopes that I can make an upward transition. Because it’s taking me much longer than I thought it would, this whole process has been eating away at me and has been a pretty demoralizing experience. Some days, I tell myself to forget it and accept my current job for what it is as a new one just doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. But then I wake up and know that I MUST keep trying if for nothing else than for my own self-respect. You know what you’re worth, what you bring to the table and the great work that you do. Ultimately, their lack of management skills and cattiness will catch up to them. You deserve better!

  15. Anon1*

    Yes, don’t wait to move! I tried to tough out a difficult management team. I’m pretty good, so if I do a little better, try a little harder, keep at it, I’ll win ’em over in the end, I told myself. Bad idea! I was close to the tipping point all right, and it tipped the wrong way. A little stress on the management team – business issues, nothing to do with me – shortened their fuses. There I was, already returning the petty nasties with a smile, making me the ideal department stress ball. Things escalated suddenly to hollering, malicious gossip, silent treatment, badmouthing me to my team, undermining my efforts, threats of firing. It’s hard to scrape up the self respect and energy for a job search when things get out of hand like that. If you’re not treated with respect, but you know you can handle it, don’t! Go before things escalate and you’re in over your head. Go find all those good manager advantages AAM talked about.

  16. B*

    Keep job searching, even though it may feel like a waste of energy at times. You’ll find something eventually and it will be so worth it! I was in a job that was demoralizing in other ways, and it took me 2 years to find a new job. I didn’t job search consistently, because it is emotionally draining to keep going on interviews and everything while you are a busy working person, but I did finally get my dream job and I am SO MUCH HAPPIER. I recognize myself in your comments. I also tried to make the best of my job and downplay what I didn’t like about it and rationalize the negative parts away. Doing that is important for staying sane while you are there, but don’t give up on finding a better position. Those frustrations really can going away if you find a job that is a better fit!!! (And that does deserve three exclamation points, because it is such an amazing relief to drop those issues and move on with your life.) I sincerely wish you the best. Just keep at it and remember that “this too shall pass.”

  17. Miss Displaced*

    I’m in a similar situation where my boss (the owner) and I just really don’t like each other much. We have managed to come to some tacit agreement (or agree to disagree anyway) but it makes for a stressful work situation.

    They will never change. So, unless you think they would eventually leave the company, you will probably eventually have to find another job. Hopefully, you can take your time and make it on your own terms.

  18. moxie girl*

    I stayed in a position with a very small company, where the owner was my boss. She was devious, unkind, and all around a bad and deceptive business person. I felt like it was my job to make sure the clients actually got what they asked/paid for and tried my best to do everything on the up-and-up. I asked for favors from SO many people and “hid” anything that would have raised her ire. Quite literally, I kept *her* out of trouble with clients, the press, you name it and in the end, I couldn’t keep up the charade, she caught on to the fact I wasn’t doing exactly what she would instruct me to do, we had a major disagreement (i.e. she threw a hissy fit) and a few days later I lost my job (she claimed it was cost-saving measure, but we both know the truth). It’s been more than a year-and-a-half since I lost my job, which has been brutal, but I have NO regrets that I did the right thing that I did my job ethically and properly. My advice to anyone would be, keep your head down and FIND A NEW JOB FIRST. This economy is so tough, and heading toward the election (uncertainty) and fourth quarter of the year (hiring slows), unless you don’t need the job don’t jump ship without a back-up plan.

  19. Anonymous*

    My goodness, this sounds familiar. My immediate supervisor and the “HR person” were both very unpleasant & made it clear that my work, despite being above the formal expectations and that of my coworkers, was never good enough, and if I mentioned anything they claimed I had a “bad attitude”. I had the same experience being written up for being late when most of those ‘above me’ swanned in and out as they pleased — and on and on. Fortunately one of them has left which has eased the situation somewhat…but am waiting for the other one to disappear as well ;)

  20. OP here*

    Just wanted to send an update. I have been offered — and I have accepted — a position at another organization! It’s been a long job-hunt and I am relieved I now have a means of escape from my current toxic workplace! The new position is for an organization which meets my requirements for commute, pay, flexibility on schedule and (at least it appeared from my interviews with them) a sane and reasonably healthy work environment.

    Now my decision this coming week is when I give notice at my current job, how candid I should be when answering the inevitable question of why I am leaving. I am considering just keeping it generic and neutral and saying this new job is an opportunity to advance my career that I just could not pass up. My current organization’s problems run much deeper than anything I say honestly can solve and it is, frankly, just not my problem to deal with.

      1. OP here*

        Thanks! And it’s gonna be a challenge keeping to the non-generic answer as I anticipate some of my colleagues approaching me to get the details or the “real deal” — I know enough about how quickly word gets up and down the office grapevine to keep mum and to just do the best job I can in my final two weeks in the organization.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Eh, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. People change jobs all the time — it’s normal. They’ll only assume there’s a “real story” if you imply that.

          1. OP here*

            Uh oh. My manager seems to have taken my resignation personally. He had a hissy fit over something very minor last week and my spider sense is tingling like crazy that he’s on the lookout for nitpicky stuff to have an excuse to raise his voice to me again in the office. And people are coming out of the woodwork not just to congratulate me but also urging me to use my exit interview with HR to talk about the dysfunctional dynamics with our boss and office — they are hoping HR will do something about the boss if someone leaving points to the boss as the reason for leaving.

            Sigh. Is there a polite but firm way to tell people if they have a problem with the boss nothing is stopping them from approaching HR themselves? The problem with the office dysfunction is not my problem to solve and I don’t want the responsibility of fixing the office culture to be put on my shoulders.

  21. Anonymous*

    All, thank you for this thread. I’ve just come across it and I now don’t feel so alone! I’m also in a position where my manager (and their manager) can’t get around personal differences. This will affect your career, granted, maybe not directly as that would be dangerous ground for a manager. Talking to HR has been suggested and would really depend on your company. Beware, large companies stack the cards against their employees and you might just have a boss who has already laid some groundwork with HR – not nice, but it happens. There is another reason for not going the HR route in that this at best, will affect the careers of both your manager and yourself – no one comes out of a grievance case well. All I can say is good luck with the job hunting! We share that in common!

  22. Anon*

    I am in a workplace where the manager gives me positive comments all day everyday. He has asked me not to leave the company. I have tried to look for other jobs but found out that he is lying against me behind my back to human resources at other companies who ask for references. He gossips to other employees about the fact that I am looking for another job. It’s a very small company

  23. Anon Contd*

    Continued from above post -Himself and his daughter both work for this company and they have fake recruitment agencies calling my personal mobile phone and sending fictitious emails to me on a daily basis. I do not understand the point of this. Because they have friends in other companies, they have asked these people not to give me another job. I do not understand what is going on. Its seems they don’t want me to leave or progress. There are no progression opportunities in this company, no training, my manager creeps me out with all his ‘positive’ comments, he makes them to the point that they are just plain scary ‘oh that was fantastic, well done’, ‘you are the best employee any organization can have’, yet i explained to him, I would like another job closer to home, better hours, training, better structure, security and diversity protection etc as i’m fully qualified for all of this, yet I hear him gossip over the phone to colleagues saying how i applied here or there and he’s interfering with the application process. His daughter has a lot of friends and they have spread so many lies about me yet smile to my face and tell me how great i am. This is absolutely dreadful and I would appreciate honest advise. I spoke to an organization and the procedure is the raise an employee grievance but how do i do this when I want to leave the company, what will the grievance be about? I want to leave but they are not letting me? Please help

  24. Anonymous*

    Alison, I would love it if you wrote (if you haven’t already) about toxic workplaces (signs and symptoms of them, how to handle them, etc.) If you also included signs of a healthy workplace, that would be great too! Like people in abusive relationships who often don’t know what “normal” is, people in toxic work environments end up so demoralized, they expect future employers to all be the same. Just a thought :)

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