your employer sucks and isn’t going to change

Three letters, one answer.

1. Abusive, lying boss

I have been with my current employer for 11 years, working as a practice manager for a dentist. Everything has been fantastic until the last year. The dentist hired a friend of hers to be a receptionist, and gradually I became the enemy. In the last 6 months, things have become so terrible that I drive home crying. I have been looking for another job, but haven’t had any luck finding anything comparable.

My boss has recently demoted me, and constantly screams and humiliates me in front of the entire office. She doesn’t even give me things that I can improve on. The things that she says I am doing are completely untrue. I am unsure if her friend is lying to her or they are coming up with the lies together to make me look bad. The accusations are so crazy that they have gone as far as accuse me of hiding the mail!

She hasn’t ever fired anyone before; she always gets them to quit, because she doesn’t want to have to pay unemployment. What do you recommend I do?

Your employer sucks and isn’t going to change. It’s time to look for another job. I’m sorry.

2. New boss sucks, board doesn’t care

I work for a nonprofit that, like many others, is finding it difficult to make ends meet. There’s a paid staff of about 4, with additional 30 volunteer staff.

The board decided to appoint a businesswoman with no experience of charities as the director, and on a massively inflated salary. This woman only comes to the office twice a week, and leaves by 2 pm on those days. Despite claiming to be working remotely, she refuses to take phone calls or emails when away from the office. Little work seems to come from her, and her only contribution seems to be aggressively barking orders at staff and volunteers alike when she’s around. She has ignored any attempts to talk about the behavior/position. Some staff have approached the board to air concerns. Rather than listen, the chairman has dubbed them unprofessional meddlers, and threatened to fire them for being so disloyal to a woman they should be respecting.

All staff and volunteers are now very concerned, and are only staying because of their commitment to the work. If you have any wisdom to add, we’d all be very grateful.

Your employer sucks and isn’t going to change. It’s time to look for another job. I’m sorry.

3. Employer promoted the office slacker

Recently, I was overlooked for a promotion in the most blatant, demoralizing way.

I have been with this company for a number of years and my responsibilities have been steadily increasing. I readily take on new challenges, including training new hires. Several years ago, we offered a full-time position to a young man named “Ben,” who I had trained. This was despite my recommendation that Ben was not a good fit for our company due to his poor attitude and even poorer work habits.

Last year, during our busiest season, we were already understaffed. Ben periodically came to work hung over, or called in sick following a bender, forcing the rest of us to pick up the slack. In addition, Ben has never stepped in to train interns or new hires, something that is generally expected of all of the higher level staff. His work frequently needs to be reviewed by other associates to correct his mistakes. Most of us work 80+ hour weeks during our busy period. Ben can barely be counted on to complete a basic 40.

In addition, last year I was the only full-time associate assigned to one of our most complicated clients. Usually, three associates at my level are assigned.

I recently learned that Ben had been selected over me and over several other associates for a middle-management position. Of the five people eligible for this job, three of us are women with more experience, and better work habits and output than Ben. When I asked my manager about this situation, I was informed that they had promoted Ben as a way to force him to “sink or swim.” I am both disheartened and angry by this.

Your employer sucks and isn’t going to change. It’s time to look for another job. I’m sorry.

Overall: Some things are not solvable. An owner who screams at you and makes up false accusations, a board that clearly tells you that they don’t want feedback about a boss who you’re confident is awful, a company that can’t figure out how to fire a horrible worker and instead promotes him — these are all cases where you can’t use reason and logic to solve a problem. All you can do is get yourself out.

{ 120 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    OP#1 said that she is already looking for work and just not finding anything. Her question was more about knowing that her boss likes to get people to quit rather than fire them outright. So what should she do? I’m wondering if there’s anything she could do be able to get unemployment even if she feels she needs to quit. It seems like a non answer to just say “You should get another job, sorry” when the OP already said that she is trying to find other work.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I might have tried too hard to make all three letters fit under one three-sentence umbrella.

      However, while she’s looking, she said she can’t find anything comparable … she may need to decide if she’d rather continue on where she is or take something less desirable.

      It’s possible that she could get unemployment even if she quits, if the conditions in the office are sufficient that it would be judged “constructive discharge” — a term that basically means that any reasonable person in your shoes would have felt they had to quit because the conditions were so bad. It depends on what state she’s in though, and how her boss responds to the unemployment filing.

      1. Lisa*

        How do you feel about a confrontation? When they start in on her, should she goat them into firing her? “If I am so horrible at my job, why don’t you fire me?” In the heat of the moment, they might say, “fine, you’re fired”. She can immediately leave, and collect unemployment. Thoughts?

        1. Anonymous*

          Because some employers will ask if you’ve ever been fired from a position. And then, in the best case, the OP will have to come up with a way of explaining that their boss was crazy without bad-mouthing their former employer – I’m not sure Sir Humphrey could do that. Worst case, it could be an automatic rejection.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, and it’s also harder to find a new job when you’re unemployed. So ideally she’d stick it out as long as she can and find a new job as quickly as possible.

            1. Lisa*

              but sometimes, its better to get out than being degraded day in and day out. I would rather explain that I was there for 11 years, that the doctor no longer agreed with how I was doing XYZ, and I was let go to make room for the dentists friend (a recent hire) to take over my responsibilities

    2. Josh S*

      Sure, she could technically resign and still apply for unemployment. But it’s also possible (perhaps likely) that the employer will contest the unemployment claim (since she’d have to pay it).

      And isn’t it better to put your effort into finding a new job while you’re still employed and collecting a paycheck (even in a bad place), than when you’re unemployed and in a legal battle to collect a meager percentage of your former paycheck?

      1. Anonymous*

        But if your unemployment claim can be bolstered by, say for example, a log where you track interactions with your boss, then it’s important to know that now. My husband used to work for an insane guy who would say “Get out of here!” and people would assume they’d been fired. Then he’d contest their claims by saying they’d quit when he only meant it to be a suspension. When my husband finally ran afoul of him, just knowing that piece of information meant that my husband purposely kept responding “I don’t understand what you are telling me” until the boss screamed “You’re fired!”. While the OP may not want to quit until she has another job, if there is anything specific that can help her out down the line if things don’t go her way, she probably should be doing them.

    3. Long Time Admin*

      Hey, OP # 1 – This is hostile workplace. Document these incidents immediately after they happen! You need to have it in your own handwriting and painfully detailed: Date, time, place, exactly what happened, who said what, and who witnessed it. Keep this in a notebook and keep it with you at all times. Do not use your employer’s computer, do not leave it in your desk or file cabinet, keep it with you. Do not trust anyone in your workplace. I wouldn’t tell them that you’re writing this all down, either. But do it.

      If you do quit, file for unemployment, and show them this. They don’t like bosses like this, and I’m sure they’ve seen this happen before.

      1. Josh S*

        A note of clarification and correction–
        “Hostile Workplace” has a technical and legal definition. Basically, it means that there is discriminatory conduct or behavior offensive to an employee or group of employees based on a protected class status. This means that it is based on sex, race, religion, creed, age, and/or possibly sexual orientation (depending on your state).

        While being picked on and made miserable because you don’t get along with the new receptionist makes for a rotten, lousy, antagonistic, frustrating, and impossible work environment, it is not a hostile workplace. At least not by the proper definition of that term.

        It might seem nitpicky, but it’s like all those “is this legal” questions that AAM gets–the boss’ actions suck, they make life miserable, and they’re bad management. But they’re not illegal, and they don’t constitute a “hostile workplace.”

        1. Candice*

          Wow, good to know. Thanks for chiming in on that, as I was thinking hostile environment as well.

        2. Long Time Admin*

          OK, it’s a BULLYING workplace.

          I was going more for a description of the workplace, not a legal definition.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            (I know it might seem nitpticky, but I think it’s important to clarify because otherwise people walk around thinking they might have legal recourse in situations where they don’t, and can make the wrong decisions as a result.)

      2. NewReader*

        I love the idea of documenting the problems though.
        I did this at one job and suddenly the problem level tapered down.

        It did not entirely go away- but it went down enough so that I could keep showing up for work.

        I wondered if offending people knew I was doing this. Or perhaps I changed in some small way because I knew I was doing something to protect myself. Perhaps I came across as a little more confident and it worried them?

        The documenting helped me to see patterns in behavior. I was better able to describe how the behavior prevented me from being effective at my job.

        I never needed to use the documentation. But it was helpful in allowing me to vent. I made myself write in a professional manner that would be read by other professionals. It really helped to channel/direct my thinking. A couple of times I really noticed my thinking was sharper and I was able to respond better to difficult situations at work.

        OP, I am really sorry that you have such a miserable working experience. But it does help me to know that these things happen to others also. There is a doctor near me that has a miserable office, also. Slowly but surely word is traveling around town that there are many problems in that office. It does reflect poorly on the doctor eventually.

  2. Josh S*

    Each of these situations has more that could be said. But the bottom line is the same for each, and Alison has nailed it (yet again): “Your employer sucks and it is horrifically unlikely that they will change. There is certainly nothing you can do about it. Time to get your resume together and find another job.”

  3. Rob*

    I respect a significant amount of the posts that Alison does on the blog, but this post is a cop-out.

    “Your employer sucks and isn’t going to change. It’s time to look for another job. I’m sorry.” is something that could be said to 90 percent plus of every person that writes into AAM.

    This is of no help to the OP of any of the three, but I’ll chalk it up to Alison not being able to bat 1.000 all of the time :)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, I disagree, obviously. It’s not a “cop-out” when it’s the actual answer to the situation. Presented in fewer words here than in any other cases, but that was the point.

      (And statistically, this is probably the correct response to about 10-15% of the letters I receive, and even fewer of the ones I print, although that’s not really the point. Although if it WERE the right answer to most of the letters, this post would be even more warranted.)

      1. Anonymous*

        I see both points here – yours and Rob’s. Yours because it’s the out and out truth. These poor people have terrible managers/bosses, and they need to remove themselves ASAP. That’s the bottom line.

        But I think these people need a little more than affirmation that their bosses suck. Getting a new job – comparable to what they have now – is easier said than done, as I’m sure you are fully aware of. But I think they are looking for advice as to what they can do while they look for a new one. Is there anything they can do to keep themselves sane? Anything they can try to do to correct things at the office (yes, I know you said logic can’t win here)? For example, I would have thought that the first OP could try talking to the boss alone, without the friend receptionist being around (a divide and conquer sort of strategy). Furthermore, with that one, perhaps explain how “constructive discharge” works with unemployment so if you feel she should leave now give her the tools on what she might need.

        Just my two cents. It’d be interesting to see if any of the OPs respond to this and how so if they do.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Eh. There’s always a longer answer I could give, and I usually do (and there’s advice all over this blog about staying sane while you look). But the point is what I wrote below in response to Jamie’s comment — that ultimately the details don’t really matter because the bottom line is that your employer sucks and you need to leave. Everyone wants to think their situation is different, and what about X, and what about Y … but those are distractions, because ultimately your employer simply sucks and your energies are best focused on getting out of there.

          That’s the point of this post.

    2. Jamie*

      I had an entirely different take on this post.

      I thought it was a great way to illustrate the point that not everything is within your power to change. Some situations are outside of an employees ability to influence and all discussions about the minutia in the world won’t change that.

      It’s hard for some people to quit, it’s hard for some people to accept that they can’t inject fairness into a scenario. So it is helpful for an objective third party to validate that and affirm that sometimes the only thing you can do is cut your losses and find a better job.

      Where you see cop out I see a helpful statement of truth.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Thanks! That’s what I was going for — the point that in situations like this, the details ultimately don’t really matter. You just need to leave. So often, people get sidetracked by the details of the situation (“but my boss said X!” “and what about the fact that my work is great?” etc.), when it still just comes down to the same thing: you can’t change it, and you need to leave.

        1. Anonymous*

          It is beyond interesting to me that the economy has dictated to these poor kids that they have to put up with this…well, crap. Even though I graduated after the end of the baby boom, when nearly every job was already taken, I never felt that I needed to put up with something like this. I quit my first, awful job, and took four PT jobs not in my field. I was very lucky, I think.

          1. Josh S*

            You actually nested in the right place. The +1 is a child-thread to Jamie’s. Hard to tell because of the multiple-levels of threading above, but it lines up correctly.

      2. ChristineH*

        Another +1 for you Jamie! Yes, easier said than done, believe me, I know.

        But that leads me to wonder what the OPs can say when asked in interviews or on job applications why they’re leaving their current jobs.

    3. Josh S*

      Rob–Let’s do the long-form response for each of them.

      Your boss hired a friend as receptionist, and things have suddenly taken a turn for the worse. It’s unlikely that you’re going to change your boss’ mind, and getting the friend to leave/quit/be fired isn’t going to happen. There’s very little you have the power to change in your current workplace; the power structure is skewed and your boss is giving too much attention to the receptionist and not enough attention to your 11+ years of quality service.

      Someone who is unreasonable enough to overlook a decade of great relationship for the sake of a personal friend is unlikely to listen to any reason. “Your employer sucks and isn’t going to change. It’s time to look for another job. I’m sorry.”

      The board has hired your boss for reasons that you clearly can’t see. It’s possible that they have made a mistake that they aren’t willing to own up to. It’s also possible that they’ve changed strategy or direction and brought someone in to make some changes to your area, and that person isn’t communicating those changes well.

      Regardless of the reason, the Board has refused to make a management change despite information/requests/warnings from multiple people in your department. It is unlikely that adding your voice to the throng will do anything except cause the Board to label you “unprofessional” as well.

      For the moment, keep your head down and do your work. But “your employer sucks and isn’t going to change. It’s time to look for another job. I’m sorry.”

      “Ben” should have been dealt with as a problem employee at his current level, given an improvement plan, and either met those requirements or been fired. Clearly, that hasn’t happened, which signals that the management at your company isn’t prepared to actually manage.

      The fact that they have promoted Ben means that they either 1) value something they see in Ben that you don’t value at all, making your fit with the company culture poor, or 2) they grossly misunderstand the Peter Principle. In response to your incredulity, they admitted that Ben was not a good fit, but expect something to change by promoting him…. (like people who think “Oh, the problems in our relationship will magically vanish once we get married, I’m sure.) In either case, you are unlikely to see any advancement there because of the poor management above you.

      “Your employer sucks and isn’t going to change. It’s time to look for another job. I’m sorry.”

      In each case, there’s more to be said. But the bottom line remains the same, and Alison has nailed it pretty solidly. “Your employer sucks and isn’t going to change. It’s time to look for another job. I’m sorry.”

        1. Josh S*

          I might just hang a shingle and compete with you. Steal away some of the “big bucks” you make off this blog… :/

          1. Steve G*

            Your response to #3 got me thinking – do employers ever think like that? I mean, I totally understand why people get the it’ll-get-better-when-we-marry idea. But does that happen in other scenarios?

            1. Josh S*

              I’ve seen it. Employee is god-awful at their job. Not just incapable of doing the work, but unwilling to try. Work avoidance, passing the buck to others and then pointing fingers when it isn’t done right, etc.

              I was in a supervisory position (in charge of the project, but not the people; no ability to hire/fire/discipline). Complained til I was blue in the face, documented the awfulness for the managers, tried my best to get the guy fired (or at least put on an improvement plan that he wouldn’t live up to).

              Their response? “Let’s give him more responsibility. We think he’s just bored with the repetitive stuff. He should shape up once we recognize that he is capable and challenge him a little bit.”

              Yeah, it happens. People who just can’t see the reality in front of them.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yep. We’ve even seen it in the comments on this site — I remember at least one post where a manager had written in about a problem employee and a couple of commenters suggested giving the person more challenges to engage them.

                1. Jamie*

                  I think this goes back to when kids are underachieving in school sometimes it is because they aren’t being challenged enough and are bored. These kids tend to thrive when given more advanced curriculum.

                  But the huge difference is a second grader can’t articulate this and ask for added responsibility. An employee who is up for a more challenging role should address it by excelling in their current position and asking for more.

                  When sub-par performers are rewarded over their more competent co-workers its affects morale so significantly.

                  I have to believe that the Ben’s of the world do end up paying the price eventually. Hopefully the OP will find a healthier workplace soon.

              2. Josh S*

                After the word “Me:” should say [Jaw hits floor]. Forgot that &lt and &gt don’t show in these comments…

              3. AdAgencyChick*

                +1. I was given an employee to deal with once who had been a disaster on another team. They thought that because my team handled a more technically demanding account, that he would be better (because they thought his technical background was why he couldn’t write an English sentence to save his life). Nope. Not so much. I ended up spending several months documenting his lameness before I was able to fire him.

            2. Long Time Admin*


              I’ve been working in offices for 40 years, and I’ve seen it at least 100 times. Most managers that I’ve encountered did not have managerial training, and this was (and still is) a very common occurance. At my present company, the bullies in the company were promoted over and over, so they would have less contact with other employees. It actually only made it worse, because then they had more power.

              Employers are not really all that smart, just because they own or run the company. They might be good at one thing, but if that one thing is not Effective Management, things like this happen all the time.

              1. Steve G*

                Thanks for all of the replies, I haven’t seen this so am suprised. I’ve been suprised and complained at a situation I thought was bad enough – bad employees keeping their jobs at all. But if one of them got promoted around me, I’d freak!

              2. HRanon*

                I’ve seen this too- and the other unintended consequence is reinforcing the problem behavior. The bullying, (or incompetence, laziness, whatever) got them promoted… they believe they are golden and this is the way to get ahead. I have *never* ever* seen promotion or added responsibility make a problem employee into a better one.

  4. EM*

    I’ve been there. It sucks. I knew 6 months into my last job that my boss was a db. I took a year and a half to find something else (I was very picky) but it was totally worth it. I love my job and my boss and coworkers are amazing.

    1. EM*

      Honestly, about the only thing you can do in the meantime is to practice lots of self care and self affirmation. Working for awful bosses has a way of making one feel worthless.

      1. Jamie*

        Why? It can make you dread going to work, but I don’t know why it would make anyone feel worthless.

        I had a lousy boss once, and I thought he was pretty worthless – but I can’t imagine anyone I work with having the power to change how I feel about myself.

        1. kac*

          We spend a great amount of our waking hours at work, and those interactions and relationship are important. How we are treated at work affects a lot of people on an emotional level.

          I think it depends on the kind of lousy boss. Someone like OP#2s boss, who doesn’t pay attention and doesn’t get her work done on time and is generally absent and lazy? Frustrating to deal with, but not going to make too many people feel bad about themselves.

          But the OP#1? Her boss is screaming at her, embarrassing her, hurling accusations at her and not giving her the chance to defend herself. That’s going to be really, really tough not to take personally, at least on some level.

          If that kind of harassment wouldn’t make you feel bad about yourself, then kudos to you because that speaks volumes to your level of self-confidence. But try not to put down people who would have a different experience/response.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Looked at from a certain perspective, that kind of abuse can in one sense be easier to withstand — because it’s so clearly not you, the boss is so clearly insane/out of line, whereas if the person is just a bad boss, it can be more insidious; if a person doesn’t seem like an obvious monster, it’s more likely to make you doubt yourself.

            Obviously, this varies wildly depending on individual psychology and all kinds of other factors. But I wanted to throw that out there. (You shouldn’t tolerate either, of course.)

            1. Spiny*

              I work in customer service, and the abuse from the people that are clearly crazy is easily dismissed.
              It’s the people that are awful but come off as sane that rankle.

              I think some people are quicker to categorize and dismiss while others want to understand. And monsters just refuse to wear horns and be readily identified already…

          2. Jamie*

            I didn’t put anyone down, I asked a question because I don’t understand letting someone you don’t love have the power to affect your self-esteem.

            I would be angry and embarrassed, absolutely. I would dread driving into work and maybe cry in frustration on my way home. But it would be because I felt powerless (temporarily) at the hands of a boss like that. I’ve formed a pretty definate opinion of myself, the good and the bad, and just don’t see how the behavior of some jerk I didn’t respect could affect that.

            I wasn’t being disrespectful of people with different emotional reactions, but maybe it’s good for them to hear that you don’t have to internlize the crap other people throw your way.

              1. JLH*

                No, I think Jamie was quite clearly “This isn’t how it works for me, why should it work differently for someone else.” It’s a pretty immature way to think that your response to something is the only response.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  No, you’re reading that into it when it wasn’t there. She asked why someone would respond that way. That doesn’t mean “and you suck if you do.”

                  Some comments have been taking a harder edge around here in this last week, and I’m going to ask that everyone who comments here try to give each other some benefit of the doubt and resist making things personal. Thanks.

            1. kac*

              I read a tone/intention into your post that wasn’t there, and I’m sorry about that. I really do admire you’re ability to be self-confident through that; it’s not easy and a great strength of character.

              1. Anonymous*

                One way to look at it is not about self-confidence. It’s just that the other party is wrong. I understand that sounds strange, but I have found it’s a helpful advice route when dealing with a terrible situation. It takes the focus off party A and puts it on party B, and finding that distance can be helpful.

          3. JLH*

            +1 to this and to EM’s posts.

            Do take care of yourself both mentally/emotionally as well as physically while you’re still stuck at jobs like these while looking for something better. Get enough sleep, do meditation or yoga or whatever you do to rest your mind, exercise, eat well, and get out and have fun. It’s really easy to get burned out in these types of situations and unfortunately this economy isn’t the best for quitting without something else lined up.

        2. EM*

          Well, it can make you feel worthless when your lousy boss tells you you are “unreliable” or berates you for forgetting to change one formula in an Excel table that results in an error in approximately 4 cells in a spreadsheet with over 100 cells (that was caught during the internal review process), or calls you when you are heading back after a meeting to ask “why it’s taking so long”.

          I am an incredibly responsible person, and I know that based on feedback from my graduate program (where I was a top student) and my other jobs and my current jobs that I am a stellar employee. I had one job with a crappy abusive boss that could very well have undermined any confidence in myself if I didn’t know for a fact that it was my boss that was incorrect. Others who are facing a similar boss may not be so fortunate to know that their awful boss is full of it. I am very grateful that my awful job was not my first one because I knew that I was a great performer and it was my former boss who was the dud.

          1. Jamie*

            I may not have articulated properly what I was trying to say.

            I see these types of bosses as grown up versions of bullies on the playground. Their abuse of power is always about their issues and failings and not those suffering at their hands.

            It just makes me sad to think that they have the power to hurt people to the core of their being…their own self-worth. Because people like that just aren’t worth it.

            I do understand everyone reacts differently, but I just hope that anyone going through that can find a way to see that it’s not a reflection on them…and no matter what they say it doesn’t change your inherent gifts and abilities. Too many people in the world are happy to strip others of their dignity . The more people who refuse to give them the power to do so the less power these bullies have.

            I do feel for anyone in that situation.

            1. A Teacher*

              +1, especially to the bullies part. I had a boss like that and while what she was saying shouldn’t have meant anything because I knew she was wrong, it was still hurtful and frustrating.

              People also have home problems, health problems, and sometimes mental issues, like depression to deal with on top of a horrible boss. To say just ignore or dont give them credit is really difficult. Just like when people say leave work at work and home at home…the feelings you bring from both have some carry over and a crappy boss can be the final straw.

            2. Anon2*

              I’ve never been bullied myself, thank goodness, but I think one reason it’s so effective is because it’s often gradual. It’s not that your boss is happiness and sunshine and “you’re my best performer” on Tuesday and then on Wednesday your boss screams at you for placing the report on the wrong side of their desk. Then on Thursday they scream at you for placing your pencils eraser side down in your cup and berate you as an idiotic, incompetent mess. Etc, etc.

              It’s more probable that it starts slowly, over mistakes that might actually have been real, but minor, mistakes and increases from there. Clearly the boss in #1 has gone so far off the deep end that the employee can see it’s really not her, but most bullied employees are not as lucky. Bullies are manipulative, they exploit real weaknesses and make you believe you have even more – this is why it can often make someone doubt themselves so much.

            3. Boina Roja*

              These bullies perfected their toxic skills over the years, they can smell weaknesses in others and are masters in exploiting it.
              The one being bullied often rationally knows that the bully is in the wrong. It is often the lack of control of the situation that leads to the self esteem issues. Plus don’t forget the victim is almost always alone while the bully has at least one or more people behind them.

              1. Piper*

                I’ve been in two workplaces where a boss bullied me. And no matter how great your level of confidence is (I have a pretty high level), it can start to wear you down after a while.

                No one, no matter how confident and no matter how much they know in their head that the bully is wrong, likes to be told their stupid, worthless, a piece of crap, etc. And to be stuck in that situation and unable to get out because of a bad economy and an area that lacks jobs even in a good economy (both times this was the case with me), well, that just makes it almost unbearable.

            4. Debbie Downer and the Negatrons*

              It can be really hard to separate out the elements that result from a bad boss and what is really you, especially when it is your first real job out of college. I got a performance review from my boss that basically hit on my exact anxieties, that you’re smart, but generally incompetent and everyone hates you. And this is from someone who is just bad at managing, not a mean person. He was trying to justify why I hadn’t been promoted on schedule, the real answer being that he can’t manage and doesn’t know how to work the, admittedly bureaucratic, system where we work to get my promotion through. It helps that I have a supervisor who is looking into early retirement himself tell me “you know, this job used to be fun” after telling me he’d been pushing for my promotion. It can be really hard not to take things to heart, especially when you know there are legitimately things you need to work on.

              1. Another Job Seeker*

                “Debbie Downer and the Negatrons”. Hilarious! Descriptive! That is both creative and funny.

            5. some1*

              I see a Boss like #1 as apples & oranges to a schoolyard bully, and here’s why: if I got picked on at school, I had teachers and parents to intervene on my behalf. If worse came to worse, my parents could switch me to another school. (I could have been bullied at my new school, obviously, but you get the point.)

              I’ve had 2 bad bosses in my career like #1. I was bullied, berated, and both bosses tried to set me up to fail because they inherited me and wanted to bring in friends to do my job. Btw, this didn’t just do a blow to my attitude and self-esteem, it actually caused health problems I had never had before. I had insomnia, indigestion and developed ulcers which magically went away once I was able to leave those jobs.

              I was single, with bills to pay, and no family members were in a financial position to help me. Even though I was in a crappy situation and looked furiously for another job, I had to stay & muddle through because I needed the paycheck and the insurance. If there was anyone to advocate for me at these jobs, my bosses wouldn’t have pulled the stuff they did.

              1. some1*

                Btw, in case anyone was wondering, most of my co-workers had issues with both these bosses as well; they were the both the kind of bosses who though they could give orders to everyone because they were supervisors, even people they didn’t supervise.

          2. EngineerGirl*

            Yup. They always make sure there is a grain of truth to what you are saying. So then it becomes a magnitude thing. You start to second guess yourself after a while. Especially after the exhaustion sets in from the stressful situation. It can become an pseudo brainwashing. Especially if you can’t leave right away.

            1. EM*

              Exactly. I was lucky in that it wasn’t my first job and I knew my abilities. I also was lucky in that I discovered pretty quickly from other coworkers that he was generally hated within the company and some managers outright refused to work with him. That was about 6 months in, and it was also when I started looking for other work. While I was there it was nice to know I wasn’t the only one. It was a truly toxic environment, and working there was really bizarre.

        3. Kelly O*

          I can empathize with the feeling worthless. I know in my head that I am worth more than this, that I’m smarter than this, and that all these things that keep getting tossed up in my face are not truly representative of me and what I can do. I know this place is not healthy. I know better people would have just as hard a time here.

          It doesn’t help every time though. I think sometimes we hear so much negative – everything is wrong, everything is bad, you’re not doing this right, you should have known you need to do that, how come you didn’t know this had changed (even when no one tells you and you don’t know to ask) – at some point it wears on your self-esteem, and it takes everything you have to remember that you’re truly good enough to find another job.

          To me, that’s the hardest part of the whole premise of “keep your head down and just find another job” for so many people (and I speak for myself too.) You wonder if you really are as dumb as you’re made to feel during the day. You start wondering if you can really do all the things in those job descriptions. You begin to question all sorts of things you might not question. It’s like being in an abusive relationship. You know in your head all the signs, but you’re still not ready to give up, or you believe all the things you’re told.

          It’s not that you go into things trying to lose your self-esteem. It just happens, sometimes before you realize it. And you forget you really do have the power to change it.

          1. Anon*

            Yep. I’m several years in with a Jekyl and Hyde boss. Management is aware and protects him/her. That’s where the second guessing myself part really kicked in. Are all of them wrong, or just me?

  5. Steve G*

    OMG I am so mad about that BEN character even though I’ve never had to live through anything like that. I have experienced the scenario of someone doing a basic forty when I was doing 60 during a busy period and they were totally disconnected from the fact we had 2X the work. It’s bad enough that some situations require you to leave your job, but it really ads insult to injury when it happens in the great recession, when its the victim that has to pay.

    My thoughts go out to you,

  6. Chocolate Teapot*

    In a previous job, I had been led to understood more responsibilities were on the way, although my request for a new job description kept being sidetracked.

    The next thing I knew, I was being moved back to what I was doing before since my new boss didn’t “need a full time Chocolate Teapot Assembler”. This was bad enough, but then several months later, someone else was appointed into the Chocolate Teapot Assembler role with the new job title!

    At this point, being very unhappy and bored, I started looking for something new. It was tough at first not to believe that my boss was going to admit they had made a mistake (yes, I know) and that but from what I gather, things have not changed at the company!

    1. A Teacher*

      And that’s why some employers earn the reputations that they do…or become the stop-gap places where you go to get needed training/experience and then move on ASAP

    2. Gotta Be Anonymous*

      Wow, Chocolate Teapot, your story sounds SO similar to mine! I spent 10 years going from entry-level Chocolate Teapot Maker to Senior Chocolate Teapot Maker (just a tiny title change, nothing to get excited about), while getting my degree in Chocolate Teapots and making leaps-and-bounds improvements in various processes within the department. They dangled a carrot of someday being a Supervisor of Chocolate Teapot Makers, and even had one-on-one meetings with me to talk about the goals I would have, the team structure, how we’d divide up the current tasks I had, the politics involved, etc. Then, all at once, just after I got that degree, it was yanked out from under me, and Senior Chocolate Teapot Maker is all I would ever be in that department.

      Coincidentally, a different job, mostly unrelated but still using my skills in from the Chocolate Teapot Making job, another internal job opening was posted, in a department that is more respected in the company, and always has upward progression available to those who deserve it. I applied, got it, and have been SO happy in the past few months.

      In the old department, a co-worker got the job I was promised and lost access to (though that co-worker was also going to be getting a similar promotion at the same time as my promised one, and to be honest, I don’t think is all that happy about getting this promotion instead of that one) and they hired a replacement for me, but the things that were crappy about that department still are, and I’m happy in my new role.

      Too bad we’re both anonymous posters on a blog–we should totally get together for drinks and a bitchfest about our respective formerly sucky situations. It sounds like you moved on (different company)? How is your new job going?

  7. Anonymous*

    Great post – I remember when you first pointed out the idea that “your boss is crazy, it’s not going to change” or something like that. I found that sentence surprisingly liberating.

    I think this post is a follow up to that post – and that particular idea. It would be interesting to see where the difference is between salvageable and unsalvageable – like a series of tips to decide how crazy is too crazy because my situation (while very crazy) is not to this degree…

  8. Elizabeth*

    Something to think about with posting comments: you don’t have the benefit of the person in front of you to get facial cues about how they are saying things or inflection of their voice. What happens most of the time is you hear the comment with your “voice and inflection”. Many a time I’ve received an email and thought that the person was angry – they weren’t. It was my interpretation of their email. I wonder if anybody has done a study on this?

  9. Blinx*

    So, in these situations, say everyone manages to get new jobs and leaves. Is there any way to make management “see the light” when they give their notice? Or are these lost causes?

    1. Adam V*

      Until something else happens – like the mass exodus of employees, or another trusted friend comes by and says “why the heck does that person have a job here? I just saw them doing X.” – people’s eyes often stay closed shut to the reality around them. Sometimes gross misconduct can do it, but in both #2 and #3 it looks like that’s already happening and it’s being ignored.

    2. Tater B.*

      From experience, lost causes.

      I left a job last year that was so miserable, it was life-threatening. My blood pressure shot up to stroke levels and something had to give. I gave my two weeks’ notice, which they accepted immediately. Later on, I learned that they basically pushed me out of the door so my position could be given to a woman whose husband was in upper management and they were interested in relocating to my area. *shrugs*

      During my rather hasty exit interview, I told the HR Director exactly what had been happening. Textbook hostile work environment. A week after I left, my former boss was fired. Six months after I left, the HR Director was fired in a huge brouhaha. The turnover in that place is actually humorous to me, because upper management wants to blame everyone but themselves. So many employees have been fired, I’m thinking about forming a support group. LOL

      But here’s my advice to anyone currently in this situation: when you finally leave, stop thinking about it. The only reason why I know all of this happened is because I have friends who still work there, but I asked them to stop giving me these updates. Yes, I was treated unfair; yes, it would be nice to see them pay penance for their MANY wrongdoings. But I got out and it is OVER!

      As soon as I quit, my blood pressure went down AND I lost that layer of “stress fat” that had been hanging out around my midsection. But that was just icing on the cake compared to all that I learned from the experience…which is essentially the stuff Allison covers everyday on this blog.

      Especially what NOT to do in a supervisory position! LOL

      1. Josh S*

        A note of clarification and correction (and one I made elsewhere in this thread)–
        You mentioned “Textbook Hostile work environment” in your comment above. Your case actually does NOT appear to be a hostile workplace.

        “Hostile Workplace” has a technical and legal definition. Basically, it means that there is discriminatory conduct or behavior offensive to an employee or group of employees based on a protected class status. This means that it is based on sex, race, religion, creed, age, and/or possibly sexual orientation (depending on your state).

        While being pushed out the door in favor of the worst kind of nepotism is unfair, rotten, lousy, antagonistic, frustrating, and absolutely a reason to complain, it is not a hostile workplace. At least not by the proper definition of that term.

        It might seem nitpicky, but it’s like all those “is this legal” questions that AAM gets–the boss’ actions suck, they make life miserable, and they’re bad management. But they’re not illegal, and they don’t constitute a “hostile workplace.”

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          Actually, it easily could be. I think Tater B. provided the info about being pushed out the door as a sort of after-the-fact, he’s what’s going on. I don’t think the poster actually gave us any examples of the initial environment. She says “I told HR exactly what was happening. ” but doesn’t seem to tell us.
          I appreciate the legal clarification but I think she’s left out more detail than you’re realizing here.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If the treatment was based on her race, sex, religion, etc., then yes — but absent any mention of that, I’m going to assume it wasn’t there (since people so often incorrectly use this term to mean “it was a hostile, nasty place”).

        2. Nichole*

          As an acknowledged devil’s advocate, I initally wondered, even though Tater didn’t reference it directly, if this actually *was* hostile work environment in the technical sense based on the factor that Tater appears to be a woman of color from her avatar. If I’m wrong (or if the replacement was also a WOC), then the following may not apply, but if she has reason to believe she was actively pushed out to bring in someone they found more “fitting to the office culture” (eye roll), this situation would cross into being legally hostile, no? Again, Tater didn’t mention it, and this is a situation where I assume she would have if she thought it could be a factor- just thought making the distinction of a place where that line might be crossed would be useful to those who are still feeling out the difference between hostile working environment and garden variety crappy job/boss.

        3. Tater B.*

          I am aware that there are differences between “being mean” and hostile workplace. This WAS a hostile workplace. I did the research and also spoke to several lawyers who explained the difference to me. I won’t go into details about why it was though. Thanks.

          1. Tater B.*

            I’m sorry, but this really rubs me the wrong way. The intent of my comment was not to define what is and is not a hostile work environment; I just wanted to share that in ANY case, it’s advisable to leave the past in the past.

            I guess next time I share an anecdote, I should come prepared with full documentation.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              You’re taking this too personally. Many, many people call things “hostile workplace” when they just mean that they were treated horribly (which is understandable, because the term is confusing). In fact, there’s an example of this happening earlier up in this thread.

              It sounds like in your case you do understand the term and used it correctly, but you’re one of only a few non-employment-attorneys who I’ve seen use it correctly. There’s no reason to take it personally.

              1. Tater B.*

                Perhaps I am and for that I do apologize. Even though I am far removed from the situation, certain discussions just bring those negative emotions back to the surface. It is an ordeal that I would not wish on my worst enemy.

                Again (not necessarily to AAM but moreso to the readers), my point is that I just left it alone. There were people who said I could have sued and won, but in the end, I just wanted to be done with the whole situation. I took away some great life lessons and even managed to remain friends with a select few. To me, that was enough.

          2. Josh S*

            Sorry. I see I irked you a bit. Not my intent; I wanted to bring some clarity to the term ‘Hostile Workplace’. It seems you’ve done your homework as it were, and you know this already.


  10. Elizabeth*

    Also a great book to recommend: Emotional vampires : dealing with people who drain you dry by Albert J. Bernstein.

    He doesn’t waste time by trying to “fix” people but gives different ways to work around them using their bad traits against them.

    It must be a pretty popular book at my library because I was on the waiting list for it for a long time :)

  11. some1*

    To add on to Jbeaux’s question, how do you handle the interview question about why you want to leave your current job if you have a crappy boss? There’s always two sides to every story, and you never want to badmouth your boss or company in an interview because it makes the candidate look bad. (like the dating analogy, it looks bad to trash your ex on a first date, even when your ex was jerk).

    I was in this situation twice, and I used the “looking for a new opportunity” which worked well the first time, but when I was looking to leave because of another bad boss a few years later, I was asked “Why are you looking for a new opportunity?” instead of “why do you want to leave your current job?” I was able to come up with something about not being anywhere for me to move up in the company (which was technically true, but was something I figured out about a month into the job and wasn’t a huge deal to me).

  12. Jamie*

    “I was able to come up with something about not being anywhere for me to move up in the company (which was technically true, but was something I figured out about a month into the job and wasn’t a huge deal to me).”

    That’s exactly it. Something along the lines of looking to move up (into) a career path not available at current company.

    Leave out the part where the career path you’re looking for is just wanting to work for someone not batcrap crazy.

  13. Anonymous*

    #1 – Since you say you are being falsely accused of things you didn’t do, do what you need to CYA. Especially if you have access to money, make sure you are documenting properly so that you can defend yourself against any theft accuasations. Likewise, document and defend yourself against any accusations immediately, e.g. Dentist: “You didn’t schedule Mrs. Jones’s appointment” You: “I left her two phone messages, one on 8/1 and one on 8/7 and she has not yet returned our calls.” Politely and professionally refute false accusations – don’t just let them stand.

    1. Piper*

      This. I had a batcrap crazy ex-employer try to accuse me of all kinds of false (horrible) things that wouldn’t even cross my mind to do. Fortunately, I had CMA’d ahead of time and had all the documentation to prove him wrong. In the end, he actually ended up owing me money because he failed to pay me according to a written agreement, and I got a lawyer to send letter to him. Of course, since he thought he was above the law, he ignored the letter.

      I could have sued (and probably won), but like Tater said upstream, I just wanted to wash my hands of that place and how it made me feel. Dragging it out was just not an option. Although, there’s still the argument that I shouldn’t have let him get away with what he did because he keeps doing it to other people, but for my own sanity’s sake, I couldn’t pursue it any further.

  14. Banker*

    This was a situation two years ago; I have left anyway since I have changed cities. However I would like to ask this question since it could be relevant for others.
    What should one do if the boss is a total ass: 1) when I asked “how do I improve my performance from a 2 into a 1.5 or a 1?” she answered “you cannot really measure these things, blah blah…” she avoids the subject and seem to deliberately leave everybody in the dark and ask you to complete a work last-minute. I did not expect to have such a boss since the time our team was set up it used to have a different boss; she was hired last hence I had the impression that she acts like she is not responsible coz she didnt hire us anyway; 2) she often uses BCC (caught one ‘corrective email’ for me in the monitor/inbox of a colleague when i was helping her with her IT stuff), 3) general liar…

    How to handle a person when one loves the job???

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You either resign yourself to it and accept that this is who you’re working for, or you look for another job. If your boss is a “general liar,” that’s not someone you’re going to be able to change.

      1. EM*

        Yep. I actually enjoyed what I did at my last job, but I couldn’t stand the boss. So I found something better. :)

  15. nyxalinth*

    Having dealt with a bipolar boss (she was mostly cool to work for, but on bad days…) and a mother with bipolar AND borderline personality disorder, I wonder if Boss From Hell isn’t experiencing late in life onset of either or both conditions? These illnesses don’t always occur early on, or in the case of borderline, right after the trauma that can cause it. It can take years or even decades.

    It doesn’t excuse her behavior one whit, but it might give some additional insights, especially if things were fine then bam! Suddenly Crazy. I think the friend being hired is just a secondary thing.

    #2 Smells like major nepotism and possibly an affair going on, just as an alternate view of the board not wishing to own up to mistakes and tired of being questioned on it.

    #3 Possible Peter Principle going on. Promote an incompetent employee to management where they can do less damage. Supposedly.

    1. Josh S*

      What you describe is actually the opposite of the Peter Principle.

      The PP says that in a functional workplace with competent employees, people will eventually get promoted beyond their level of competence (at which point several things can happen, few of them good). This is people who are GOOD at their job getting promoted to a point where they aren’t able to handle it anymore.

      What you describe is people who AREN’T good at their jobs getting promoted for idiotic reasons. That is neither descriptive of a functional workplace or a competent employee.

  16. Anonymous*

    “Your employer sucks and isn’t going to change. It’s time to look for another job. I’m sorry.”

    Amen. This is the only answer that, when I accepted it, brought me peace.

  17. Another Job Seeker*

    I have some thoughts for anyone whose supervisor whose put-downs and negative comments lead to them questioning themselves.

    What is your motivation for going to work? (This is a personal, rhetorical question. I am not asking you to answer it on this board; I think that if you think about this answer, you might help to get some perspective). Some answers may be “to contribute to your company”, “to help others”, “to make money”, “to learn more about your field”, and “to network with co-workers”.

    Now, ask yourself – why does your supervisor go to work? Perhaps some of the same reasons. But I would also venture to say that one reason your supervisor goes to work is to feel better about herself. Putting you down is one way she feels better about herself. This has nothing to do with you at all. Not your level of intelligence, your qualifications, or your dedication. It is an unhealthy process that your supervisor uses to address her own insecurities. I know it can be hard not to take constant put-downs personally. I have been there. I used to internalize negative statements people made about me. But I had to learn who I was – and what I have to offer. Who I am does not change when I have an excellent supervisor who makes glowing statements about me. (I’ve been there). Who I am does not change when I have a terrible supervisor who makes negative statements about me. (I’m there now). If I tell you that you’re not a person, but you are a car, does that make you a car? Of course not. If you make a mistake on your work, does that make you incompetent? Nope. That’s why we have backspace keys on keyboards and erasers on pencils.

    One of last week’s posts is called “feeling anxious about leaving my bad job for a better one”. The poster said that when she started to look for another job that her attitude changed. What spoke to me is the fact that her attitude changed before she got a new job and (if I read her post correctly) before she had the promising interview she talks about. In other words, she was still in a negative situation – but her attitude had changed. She changed – but the situation did not. I think that is such a key point. When she did something to address her situation, her attitude changed. I believe that there are things you can do, also.

    One thing that you can do is to encourage yourself. Look in the mirror and make positive statements about yourself. Write those statements down. If your supervisor says or does something that makes you feel bad, look at what you have written. Read it out loud. I know this may sound a bit silly, but it is powerful. Our words are powerful. (For me, hearing words about myself out loud is helpful). Maybe for now, your supervisor’s words and actions have the power to make you feel bad about yourself. Well, guess what? You can use the power of your own words to make you feel good about yourself.

    You can also look at ways your current responsibilities can enhance your resume. My supervisor can be quite nasty. “Charles”, my supervisor, lied to HR about the quality of my work. (Charles’ supervisor called him on that, but did not make any long-term changes). “Charles” hired a new person, gave my “cool projects” to that person, and assigned me boring work I do not enjoy. Yes, that’s bothersome, annoying and unfair. However, I am having to learn new skills to complete these tasks. You know what? These new skills and new projects can only enhance my resume and my skill set.

    There is a lot of wisdom, support and compassion on this board. Continue to reach out and learn from it. Perhaps you can speak to a counselor, pastor or priest. (Some churches will allow you to speak confidentially to someone; you don’t necessarily have to be a member). Do you have a close friend you can speak to? (Not a friend who truly does love you but can’t keep his/her mouth shut or is judgmental. And definitely not an acquaintance who gossips). What you want is a true friend who loves you and will be honest, discreet and compassionate with you. Perhaps you can open up to that person. If you do not have anyone in your life who you feel comfortable opening up to in that manner, you are not alone. I find that prayer and meditation help me.

    I will be so glad to get away from “Charles”. I am looking for another position, but I am also looking for ways to manage my time here in a healthy manner. I have no intention of quitting before I have another written offer that I have accepted. Fair or not, many hiring managers discriminate against those who are unemployed. Hang in there. We’re pulling for you. Stay positive!

  18. Anne*

    I recently left a job where I had become the target of my manager ( I was the one who commented on another thread regarding being told by same manager/owner that she did not like me).

    I e-mailed my resignation to the other owner and did not return.

    I am losing our health insurance, but I had become suicidal and was concerned by the last outburst from her that I would respond to the next outburst with a string of profanity and end up being fired for “gross misconduct” which would leave us without even the COBRA option.

    She cornered me, seated at my desk, and leaned down and screamed in my face. She could not have done it any other way because I am almost 6 feet tall and also female.

    I know I should have found another job first, but I was concerned that I had reached that point that I might have pushed her away from me when she continued to lean into my face and caused myself some legal problems.

  19. Cam*

    On the related topic of not bad-mouthing former bosses at interviews:
    I went on an interview recently and when they asked me the dreaded “why are you leaving?” question, I tried to give the vague answer of “looking for new opportunities that align with my interests more”. They didn’t really seem to buy it, but I stuck with that story.

    When they called one of my current coworkers for my reference check, they asked him why I was looking to leave my job, and he told them that the workplace was a very toxic environment.

    I didn’t end up getting the job (for unrelated reasons I’m pretty sure), but is it bad that my reference bad-mouthed the place? Does it make me look insincere (even though my reasons for leaving are true, just not the whole truth)? Should I advise him not to mention the toxic workplace next time he is my reference? (Otherwise, he’s an awesome reference.)

    Sorry this is so detailed, but I always like knowing all of the details before coming to conclusions.

  20. Pat*

    I can tell you that your answer is perfect. I find we often try to internalize and over analyze these situations. At the end of the day if it is affecting your health and well being then it is not worth it.

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