help — manager is giving me negative feedback

This post was originally published on July 22, 2009.

A reader writes:

I have an issue with my manager. She often gives me negative feedback without specific resolution. She has said to another manager that I am belligerent. This has bothered me for weeks and had a negative impact on work and virtually everything. I never got such feedback until this year when I moved into this new group and it is a challenge every day to say the least.

I have no details or examples of why she said this or specifically what she is referencing. Her behavior has been such that I am experiencing a degradation of my character. She micromanages me, singles me out and pings me when I have a call or meeting that she doesn’t know about. I have to give feedback for the year-end review.

You need to talk to your manager. She gives you negative feedback without you understanding why, and she told someone she thinks you’re belligerent? These are not good signs.

There are two possibilities here:

1. You are not performing well and you are belligerent. You didn’t get this feedback previously because you had a manager who was too wimpy to address it, and now you have a manager who’s more assertive about problems (or the problems didn’t come out until you moved into this new job). She is micromanaging you because she’s concerned that if she’s less hands-on there will be problems with your work.


2. Your manager is the problem. Her feedback is unwarranted or she doesn’t know how to deliver it properly, and she doesn’t know how to exercise appropriate oversight without micromanaging inappropriately. Hell, maybe she even has a personal problem with you.

We don’t know which one it is. Remember that if it’s #1, chances are reasonably good that you wouldn’t realize it, because many people in situation #1 have trouble seeing that and assume that it must be #2.

But what we do know for sure is this: You can’t just let this go on without addressing it, or you risk having your professional reputation affected or even losing your job. You must address it with her.

I recommend sitting down with her and telling her that you can see she’s unhappy with your work and you’d like to get a better understanding of what she wants you doing differently. Then listen with an open mind. Don’t focus on defending yourself; focus only on hearing and understanding what she tells you. If she’s vague, ask her to help you understand by giving you a specific example or two. When she does, remember: Don’t focus on defending yourself. You are just trying to understand what her concerns are with your work. (In fact, read and practice the advice here on hearing critical feedback.)

Then thank her. Yes, really. It doesn’t matter if you agree with her assessment or not. Thank her for giving you honest feedback. This can be disarmingly effective.

Now, once that’s over, hopefully you have a better idea of how she views your work. Spend some time thinking about it. Don’t react — even in your own mind — immediately. Let the information sit for a while. Start asking yourself why she sees it that way. Is there any truth to it? If there’s not any truth to it, is there an explanation for why a reasonable person could perceive it that way?

The goal here is for one of the following to happen:
1. You’ll realize that she’s pointing out things in your work that you can/should change, and you can work on changing them. If this happens, let her know.
2. You’ll realize that she’s pointing out things in your work that you don’t particularly want to change, and you can decide to look for other work.
3. You’ll realize that after giving her feedback a fair hearing, you just can’t see any merit in what she’s saying, and so the two of you are at an impasse. This likely means it’s a bad fit and you’ll know to look elsewhere.

The point here is that it doesn’t really matter if she’s crazy or a bitch or not. What you need to know is where you stand with her and why, so that you can make good decisions for yourself, based on candid discussion, not speculation. Good luck!

{ 50 comments… read them below }

  1. MR*

    I’d love to see an update to this. Was the boss batsh*t crazy or was there merit to the feedback? We must know!

    1. WWWONKA*

      My year end review at my last job usually only lasted 10-15 minutes. Mostly because my boss didn’t know what I did and he didn’t even know how to do his job or navigate through our computer systems. He usually spent his time reading or listening to Spanish lessons on tape. True story!

      1. S from CO*

        “Mostly because my boss didn’t know what I did and he didn’t even know how to do his job or navigate through our computer systems.”

        This is describing my last manager! And during annual reviews he would talk about his review, his manager, the lack of pay increases (for himself), gossip about other employees (his direct reports), etc.
        After my second annual review with him I asked him to please keep the discussions about me and my review! I told him that I do not think that it was appropriate for him to talk about the other employees (and their review highlights)!

  2. Sarah*

    Oh god, this can be the worst experience if your boss doesn’t get directly to the point. I had a boss who I eventually realized felt super uncomfortable if people didn’t smile constantly. But she’d never come out and say that she wanted you to be smiling, she’d just say things like “I’m just not sure you’re happy here.” And because it did not occur to me any workplace would require smiling while completing repetitive menial tasks, I had no idea what the issue was at first.

    Happily, seeing her interactions with other employees eventually clued me in, and I faked smiling for awhile, then left because she was emotionally draining (among other reasons).

  3. KM*

    Wow, this sounds just like my previous supervisor. My five months there (before being fired without warning) were so traumatic that I often question whether I did everything wrong, but when looking at the numbers, it’s pretty clear that it wasn’t actually me. Out of a department of 12, three of us who were hired at the same time were all fired for flimsy reasons before 6 months were over (I managed to hold on the longest- woo?), one requested an internal transfer shortly after, two retired as soon as they were eligible, one of our replacements voluntarily quit within 6 months, and one other employee who had been there for 5+ years was fired for a reason that was not shared, but was such that he has hired a lawyer to try to salvage his reputation. This was all within the span of two years.

    That being said, there have been posts with lists of qualities of good managers; have there been any lists of how to be *managed* well? I know that many posts could be classified under that broad category, but I’m wondering whether there’s ever been an actual list.

    1. KM*

      (And to clarify, I mean a list for situations when you and your manager don’t get along so fabulously that it’s effortless and also don’t totally clash. It’s that territory in the middle of the spectrum that I wonder about.)

    2. Bea W*

      This was my last job. By the time I left I wasn’t so sure that it wasn’t me with the problem, even though the bully upper manager (not even my direct manager) seemed to be the only person with complaints, had a reputation for being nasty and being the reason why people left, and up until then I had gotten excellent reviews. Now I am long gone from there, and the experience has not repeated itself. It’s pretty clear it wasn’t me, but it was so traumatizing, it was a hard transition into a new workplace where I had to be outwardly confident but was inwardly questioning if I really sucked at my job and wouldn’t screw the new one up too. I endured that for 9 months, and had put up with it for about 5 months before I started job hunting. So little time, so much damage.

      My former/current managers after that one have been great to work for. When they did have a concern or complaint to communicate, they didn’t let it sit and fester, were clear, gave an example, heard what I had to say and answered questions, then followed it up with practical advice or a correction I need to make as appropriate. They’ve also made sure, in that same conversation, to tell me how much they appreciate my hard work and tell me what I am doing right. I find that very helpful because I am the kind of person who finds it a challenge not to mentally beat myself up over something minor.

      1. Chinook*

        Did you work at my last job? I had the same problem – complaints came from someone who wasn’t my direct manager and was the reason many people left. She knew how to kiss up the chain and beat down it. I thought it was me but my next job is a breath of fresh air and is totally worth working there with no benefits because of the culture.

        On the flip side, I also did a lot of soul searching after that toxic last job and was definitely able to find places I needed some personal improvement in.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          Described a former job of mine as well! Eerie similarities, down to the self-doubt, the non-direct manager issues (including why people left), etc.

          1. Mumbles*

            This is what my current job is like! Up until this position, I have received good reviews and always had productive conversations when there was constructive feedback from a boss. I came here and for awhile it was ok but I was watching as a manager and the director of our department were slowly taking responsibilities away from other employees, talking badly about them behind their backs and nitpicking tiny details while completely ignoring successes. Then we had 3 people (out of 12 total in our department) quit in rapid succession because of this behavior and they were surprised! Once those positions were replaced, I became the next target. Slowly, my job has been scaled back to the point where I not only have very little to do but these other managers (not even my own) hover over every detail of my work to the point where I feel like I don’t even have to think anymore. Now 1 more person has quit and there are 2 of us actively looking for new jobs. Keep you fingers crossed for me because I should here this week about a job I’ve been interviewing for!

            The difficult part has been the loss in my confidence, the changes in my demeanor and the lack of effort. All so uncharacteristic for me but the constant micromanaging, pointing out small errors and ignoring things done well has beaten me down. I am constantly doubting my abilities and feel depressed when I’m here (which obviously makes the situation worse). Trying to talk up my talents in interviews has been especially challenging because I too feel inwardly self conscious. I hope when I’m able to move on and get into a less soul-draining environment, that I’ll look back on this and find areas to grow and learn from the experience. It’s certainly lifting my spirits to see others have emerged from similar situations and are in much better places.

            1. Bea W*

              That was my former Director’s MO. She’d find a new target every few months, and anyone was fair game. My manager attempted to comfort me by telling me to lay low and wait it out until she moved on to someone else because that was just how she was. That was the polar opposite of comforting! It’s supposed to make me feel better knowing she’ll eventually become bored with me and select one of my co-workers to torment. What about that isn’t as horrible and completely messed up as it sounds?

              I could do something above and beyond what she claimed she wanted, and she would find fault with it. She never even communicated with me directly. All commumication was passed down through my line manager who often failed to communicate clearly. Instead of telling me Cruella Deville needed the new mini chocolate teapot production metrics from me, she’d say “You might want to think about how you will track mini chocolate teapot production in case someone asks about it down the line.” Then all hell would break loose when Cruella didn’t get the reports she asked for because I had to urgent deadlines that depended on compiling the chocolate coconut teapot metrics and no directive to do anything with the minis other than to make a mental note to take a look at those numbers when I got a chance because at some point in the future someone might ask for it. So then I’d put together a fabulous report on the mini teapots, and things would seem to settle down…until I’d read in my performance review how I failed to report on mini chocolate teapot production at all. Manager admits she maybe wasn’t clear, but it’s my fault for not reading between the lines, and it doesn’t matter that I did the reports because I didn’t do them when Cruella requested them. So it was the same I didn’t do them at all.

              That hell you know? If you don’t get out, it will eat you alive. I had to hook back up with a psychiastrist for meds just to be able to hang on long enough to get out. It caused a near full on relapse of the depression and PTSD I had gotten under control for years. Seek out whatever support you can, friends, groups, professionals, to help regain and keep your confidence in yourself and sort out what things are yoours that you can work on and control and what things are just really bad management.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I hope the poster who wondered about employee health programs is taking notes here. It does not matter how many pills an employee takes, an abusive boss will keep on being abusive.
                I can see health care costs for this company going through the roof.

                1. Bea W*

                  It’s not just emotional stuff either. Stress makes people physically ill and aggravates existing conditions. I had never been so frequently physically ill as I was that year.. I have never worked anywhere I’ve seen EMTs come into the office as often (or ever) in the couple years I was there. Related? Maybe not, but that would have eventually been me if I hadn’t gotten out.

                  I’m not exagerating. I have since developed a chronic arrhythmia that mostly doesn’t bother me too much but goes nutty under either one of two conditions – blazing hot weather and negative emotional stress. I can’t imagine being able to continue physically working in that kind of environment.

                2. Kit-Kat*

                  Agreed. The last six months of old job were so stressful-no appetite, constant migraines and insomnia. Being fired was the best thing to happen and even then it took months to feel better.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Me too, although my faults were explicitly pointed out to me! Having that happen gave me the impetus to improve them. They did tell me that the layoff wasn’t because of performance; they eliminated my position. And they have not replaced me, so I guess it wasn’t an excuse.

        3. Jubilance*

          This is totally my current manager (came over from another team when my old manager went to a new role). I spent some time questioning myself before I realized that I just have a really bad manager and I’m not the only one subjected to this treatment.

      2. Ruffingit*

        I honestly believe workplace PTSD is real and should be codified as a mental health issue. So many people suffer after having dealt with bad workplace situations. I’m sorry that happened to you!

    3. Ruffingit*

      When there is that kind of exodus from a workplace, you can be fairly sure it’s not you. Amazing how many employers continue to blame the employees when turnover is higher than college students who were given free pot.

  4. Estelleen*

    I had this happen with a former supervisor. While I have empathy that supervising is an art form and is one of the most difficult things to do well, the takeaway I got from her position is that there was no way on earth that it might be HER with the problem.

    This supervisor made everything personal — to the point of whiplash and confusion. It was hard to keep up with it all. And she tended to single out the women, so the men on the team became her assistants. It was glaring and weird and bizarrely competitive (in a passive aggressive way on her part I think).

    What I don’t understand is how consistently, managers can only point the finger one way. That the worker is always to blame, at fault, wrong. I am someone who if you even sneeze I will feel bad and want to help. If you look at me cross-eyed I will question if I did enough, made mistakes, could’ve done more than the 120% I already do.

    This toxic supervision made for a really bad scenario, and although the higher ups knew about it, she was promoted up to global levels of HR for the multi-national company. After firing so many great people (majority women) in her wake.

    I have had great supervisors / bosses in my life. Thankfully. It is still difficult, though, when these people are so toxic and make work about the politics (vs. god forbid the work).

    1. Anonymous*

      Yup, until recently I reported to a manager who expected perfection (in a highly imperfect environment), but not only did not hold himself to the same standards–he even caused many of my “issues” with incomplete or inaccurate management. I tried addressing it directly with him, but it was always my fault–I should have known to question the specs *he* provided me or I should have been able to deliver a project on time when it was assigned to me last minute despite knowing there was no production capacity available for it. I luckily was reorg-ed under a new manager who thankfully is fabulous, and my old boss is slowly being isolated in a position where he’s not going to have direct influence over our department. Otherwise I don’t know what I would have done, since there really aren’t many other jobs like mine around here.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        Yes, it’s especially tough when you don’t have opportunities to find another job. I’m glad to hear it worked out well for you.

      2. Unanimously Anonymous*

        What’s truly disgusting is that in cases like this the top dogs often KNOW they screwed up by putting a toxic square peg into a management position, but are unwilling to fix their stupid mistake because they’re unwilling to lose face in front of the worker bees.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Ugh, that is the WORST. They’re just shooting themselves in the foot, though, because they will end up losing their best worker bees. Good employees will be able to find something else and they’ll be stuck with the toxic peg. It’s far better to just cut out the deadwood, even if it hurts.

          Could I possibly mix any more metaphors there?!

      3. Lora*

        If you didn’t say there aren’t many jobs like yours in your area, I would have thought for sure you worked for my ExBoss. Seriously. Fortunately in my area there are other options.

    2. Bea W*

      “This supervisor made everything personal — to the point of whiplash and confusion. It was hard to keep up with it all. And she tended to single out the women, so the men on the team became her assistants. It was glaring and weird and bizarrely competitive (in a passive aggressive way on her part I think).”

      This sums up the problem manager at my last job. She wouldn’t fire people though. She’d make them so miserable that they either left or were emotionally beaten into helpless submission. I understand firing someone if you don’t like them and think they suck at their job firing them, but it takes a certain level of sick to keep them on and torment them indefinitely. People had been in that department for years putting up with that and would not leave. They firmly believed no matter where they went they would likely be treated the same awful way, and the hell they knew was better than the hell they didn’t know.

      1. Rebecca*

        “the hell they knew was better than the hell they didn’t know.”

        I want to thank you for writing this. It really made me think. I’m in a horrible situation, manager wise. While I loathe working here, I am terrified I’ll jump out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak. It seems like crazy managers are EVERYWHERE!

        Regarding the tormenting, a year ago, she hired someone, but this woman wasn’t manager’s first choice. NewHire was excellent! I spent weeks training her (with no assistance with my own work), but manager was so nasty to her that one day she simply called me, crying, from the parking lot and said she wasn’t coming back. She just couldn’t deal with it any longer.

        A day or so later, manager sauntered through the office, said she thought about what had happened, declared she had done nothing wrong, and just brushed off the entire incident.

        1. nyxalinth*

          I never understand why people do this. I can only think that they have an impulse to be a bully, and carry it out, one way or the other. That and insecurity, especially in the case of the woman who fired or drove out all the other females.

          1. Ethyl*

            I’m not sure if there’s any research on this on bullies specifically, but I know there’s research on perpetrators of domestic abuse, rapists, and child molesters, all of whom think they are totally in the right, that everything they do is justified or at least pretty much ok. So it’s not a stretch to think that people who are bullies justify their behavior in all kinds of convoluted ways.

            BRB, going to go buy 1,000 copies of “The Gift of Fear” kthx.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          No no they are not. I have had crazy managers, but they are not the norm. Don’t let that keep you from looking for something better. Believe me, it will be such a relief to get away from that, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

        3. Bea W*

          I sure felt like I was already in the fire. The frying pan would have been a step up.

          I have 25-30 more years of working ahead of me (God willing!). I kept thinking about the future, and even if I waited out for *her* retirement, that could have been at another 10 years for all I knew…10 years of a stagnating career and being so stressed and miserable I felt physically ill and was fighting off depression and panic and re-emerging symptoms of chronic PTSD. I couldn’t fathom staying. My survival instinct kicked in pretty hard.

          There was also something my manager had said to me that was really an eye opener about how toxic the environment was. I don’t remember what it was off the top of my head, but I do remember thinking, “OMG. That is totally effed up, and it is not going to change. I NEED to get out of here!!!”

      2. Ethyl*

        I can understand that, and I did actually get out of the frying pan and into the fire in my previous industry (which is, in my area, quite small). Previous manager was a micromanaging, passive-aggressive person who was actually (in hindsight) really overwhelmed after being promoted above her capacities. The office was rife with favoritism and rewarded longevity instead of competence, leading to a lot of angry workers at lower levels with zero possibility of promotion. I jumped ship to a company with more interesting projects but where my boss was a sexist bully — but he was good at keeping things *just* this side of actionable (although there should surely be some sort of consequences for “joking” about killing my cat). It got so bad I found myself hoping every day that I’d get into a car accident on my way to work. Yeah.

        But…. I got out of there (despite only staying 8 months, I know it isn’t great) and went back to school, during which I worked in a retail environment for 2 years with great people, as a temp for 2 years largely with great people, at an internship for a semester with truly amazing people, and now have a job with a great boss and awesome co-workers doing work I care about and am good at.

        It can be ok, it really can. I just can’t even describe the difference getting out of there has made to my health, my mental outlook, my relationships with others, everything.

  5. hmmm*

    Actually, someone who used the word belligerent in a job setting, without the employee having a clue it was coming, was probably a narcissist. Belligerent folks are NOT undone and baffled by the charge, they know they’re belligerent.

    Management is not “setting people straight” like children, it’s hiring right, rewarding, modeling and rarely correcting. Usually discipline at work is actually just a step in termination if they need to document.

    2009? I hope the OP found a better job.

    1. fposte*

      I think that’s sweeping on two points. One, even if the boss is wrong, that doesn’t make her a narcissist; two, I’ve definitely known people who are belligerent without believing that’s what they are. They’re just “refusing to be pushed around” or “telling the truth everybody is afraid to say.”

      It still doesn’t sound all that likely here to me, though.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        It’s possible the boss who labeled the employee “belligerent” was secretly nursing an agenda that had nothing to do with her. I’ve posted this before, but I got a job one time at a video store where I sometimes rented tapes. In my second week, someone else replaced the person who hired me and that manager was a cold, unpleasant, critical jerk. He used the word belligerent, along with a whole bunch of other made-up crap he couldn’t back up, when he fired me. I found out later that he hired his best friend in my place. Pretty damn obvious what happened there.

        It was just a cruddy retail job; nothing to do but roll my eyes and take my business elsewhere.

  6. Jubilance*

    This is so timely – I’m struggling through a similar situation right now. I have a new boss that feels like one of those people who you can’t please – no matter what you do it’s always wrong. I’ve tried asking for specific instructions of how he wants things done but then his response is “it’s your job to know how to do this without looking to me for direction”. *sigh* I’m trying to detach and not take any of it personally, since I know he’s doing this to the entire team and not just me. still sucks tho.

    1. LD*

      Flashback to a former director who said almost those exact same words to a room full of her direct reports….”If I have to explain it to you then maybe you aren’t in the right job.” Huh? We’d all been in this job for several months or even years when she was transferred to be our boss. She had been in a role similar to ours but we all had different clients with different needs. (Example: She had one client who did the same project that impacted every employee. Half her team (there were about 12 of us) had clients with multiple projects going at one time and most projects never died. Think keeping up with manuals for equipment that lasts for decades vs. a new advertising campaign every other month. It was a nightmare trying to explain to her that we couldn’t know the content of every project and our project lists single-spaced wouldn’t fit in a three-inch three ring binder, much less on one sheet of paper.
      But I survived to move on to better jobs with better managers including one who had different ways of driving her people away.
      OP, regardless of where the “fault” lies, you might want to consider your EAP. The counselor should be able to help you with communicating respectfully, if you are coming across as belligerent, or if you are allowing some frustration to impact your interpersonal communication. And a counselor could help you do some soul searching and discover that if it really isn’t you you may need help to develop the courage to work your way out of this situation and into something better. Good luck!

  7. LMW*

    Oh, I’ve been there too. All the feedback seemed out of the blue – I was “abrasive” and “seemed overwhelmed.” I was fairly shy, quiet and overly deferential at this point in my career. But I felt pretty confident that I was rocking it on my projects. So getting this type of feedback made me question my sanity and feel like I must have absolutely zero self-awareness. Every time I’d get specific job-related feedback (“Why are the page numbers on the bottom of the page, they are much easier to read at the top.”) it would change on the next project (“Why on earth would you put the page numbers on the top of the page? Don’t you know page numbers should always go on the bottom!”)
    I got plenty of assurances from my coworkers that my feedback was insane, and when I applied for an internal transfer, the hiring manager came to my office, shut the door, and told me I definitely needed to take it because she knew I was great at my job and wanted me on her team and my current boss was tanking my career at the company. It took me a few years to get over that situation and have confidence in myself again.

  8. Unanimously Anonymous*

    Postings like this, and the comments it generates, are why I’m a regular reader. I’m in a reverse situation from the OP and many of the commenters in that while my company’s a toxic stew of high stress and low reward, my department’s management (from my immediate boss and dotted-line managers to our Director and VP) is generally a pleasure to work for. That’s the only thing keeping me in my current gig – that and the realization that another job would likely have a dramatically worse environment.

    1. KM*

      Yes, I never realized until my horrible work experience (see post above…) how blessed I was to have had absolutely fantastic managers in my previous two positions. I’m in a fairly small industry that is generally managed by someone not in the industry, and while I am passionate about what I do, I think I probably would have left the field if the horrible job had been my first and I hadn’t known that there are MUCH better things out there.

      1. Bea W*

        I was contemplating leaving my field, though for what I wasn’t sure. I thought I must no longer like what I was doing and was probably pretty bad at it anyway so maybe I should do something else. I was afraid any other job I took would be a repeat, because maybe the issue was ME.

        It’s a lot harder to find something different when you’ve worked in the same field for more than 10 years and honed some very specific skills. I interviewed for a couple of positions that required similar skills, but in every instance, they went with someone who had experience more specific to what they did. I did end up getting a new job in my field. I love it and I don’t suck at it. Being in a toxic workplace really just skews your whole perception.

        1. KM*

          Agreed. I am also still working in my field (making less money but SO much happier and more respected), and I know that was the best decision for me. My only “regret” is that many of my classmates who did not have to deal with the stagnation of a toxic job followed by six months of unemployment have made huge advances in the meantime and I feel very behind in comparison. I know it’s not a race, but when you mention skewing your perception, that is something I’ve had to really work on.

  9. Lora*

    ExBoss did this to me and all the other women in the department. HR gave me a settlement when I left, on account of his behavior was well documented and obviously discriminatory, and other women (not me) had threatened legal action, so they were pre-emptively offering a chunk of money to unhappy women who agreed to leave.

    Yeah, what UA said about senior management knowing it’s a problem and not wanting to fix it because of office politics. That is a thing.

    I used to ask for concrete examples, repeatedly, whenever I got these vague accusations–what project, what report, what specifically are you saying this about? He rarely had any, and when he did it was stuff like, “you used a report format for your site, not the other site, even though the report is going to be read everywhere.” Except we didn’t have a universal format for all sites. And my site was, derp, where I worked, soooo….? One day I was told the reason I wasn’t considered competent was because I always seemed to be busily running around with papers and a coffee cup. He thought I should put down the coffee cup as it made me appear stressed out, because nobody should drink that much coffee. I actually got marked down on a review, for carrying a coffee cup to meetings. Meetings at which entire meals and snacks were served–soda, chips, salad, sandwiches etc. and several other people also brought their coffee cups and water bottles.

    Dude had issues, what can I say.

    1. Bea W*

      I was told to do something a bit opposite – eat at my desk and spread my food out on my desk so it was clearly visible. This way the Director would know I was taking my lunch break and not goofing off somewhere or checking email on my phone when I should be working.

      She didn’t tell me to do that, since she never communicated with me directly, except to complain in my performance review that I was not at my desk sometimes when she walked by in the afternoon or I was checking my phone. This frequently coincided with the time I’d be taking my lunch break. It was the solution given to me from my manager and HR – eat at your desk and spread it all out like you’re having a g-damn picnic.

      1. FreeThinkerTX*

        I had the same problem at a previous job. I started putting a sign up everyday whenever I took lunch that said, “I’M AT LUNCH – 12:43-1:43 (or whatever the time was)”. My boss made a snarky comment about it (of course) but quit making nasty remarks about me reading books / surfing the internet / whatever on company time. Added bonus: co-workers quit trying to engage me in work issues while I was trying to eat and relax.

  10. WIncredible*

    Ugh. This happened to me, too. Just, “We don’t like how you’re doing X.” when I had been doing X the same way I always had and with no suggestions or hints what to change. Frustrating as hell! Never was so happy to leave a job. I hope we get follow up from this letter.

  11. Del*

    It sounds to me like 1 & 2 could both potentially be correct, as well — that is, even if the OP is having performance issues, the manager is not able to properly document them or provide useful feedback. Even if the employee is a problem, there needs to be actionable feedback.

  12. Anonymous*

    Given that all the commenters seem pretty sure that the manager is at fault, I am not using my regular name!

    Frankly, this post is very timely for me. I just got a new boss. His priorities are the opposite of my previous boss. (I got a wonderful recommendation from my previous boss.) So, it is not surprising that he thinks I have been doing everything wrong and I would characterize my behavior recently as belligerant as my world had turned upside down and I felt that he was saying that I had been doing everything wrong for the last years. Once I accepted that he might have good reasons for his priorities, I apologized for being negative and tried very hard to just listen to his reasoning. He is good at explaining and I think he is almost as relieved as I am that I am no longer objecting to everything he says!

  13. Ann Furthermore*

    Ugh, I had a horrible boss once that never gave me a word of negative feedback until my annual review, and during that conversation it was clear he’d been rubbing his hands together in anticipation, relishing the opportunity to completely lambaste me. When I asked for examples of all my alleged bad behavior, he declined to provide any, saying that if he did that, then I would know who (of the legions of people that he claimed were complaining about me) had said this or that. Biggest jerk I’ve ever encountered.

    That being said though, I think AAM’s advice for this situation is great, because it is easy to blame the other person and not look at ourselves to see if we’re contributing to a problem. It doesn’t make us bad people, it makes us human. No one wants to admit that they’re part of the problem. Once you’ve had that talk with the manager, you should be able to determine what the problem is — if you’re honest with yourself — and then figure out what to do next.

    My current manager is great, and when she has negative feedback to give she is always very straightforward and matter-of-fact about it. She correctly called me on being too resentful and bitter about my experience with ExBoss, and told me I needed to just leave the past in the past. It was hard as hell, but I did it…and I’m glad I did.

    About a year ago she told me people had commented about my personal internet usage, which surprised me, because I’m never behind on things and don’t have trouble meeting my deadlines. Then I realized that my cube was in a new spot, at the end of an aisle, meaning people walk by my desk all day long and it’s not hard to see what I’ve got up on my screen, whether you’re specifically looking or not. Many times, if I’m running a query or program or something else that takes awhile to process, I’ll hop onto the internet to check news headlines or my personal email (or AAM, hee). So of course to someone who doesn’t know that, I look like a slacker. Then I was also honest and admitted that my internet usage HAD been higher than normal, because we were in the midst of selling our house and desperately looking for a new place with a very specific set of criteria, so I had become rather obsessive about checking the online real estate listings several times each day.

    Anyway…rather than getting defensive, I thanked my manager for bringing it to my attention, told her what I thought was making people take notice of the issue, and then told her that I would be much more careful about my personal internet usage going forward. And that was that, it hasn’t been a problem since, nor was it a landmine used to ambush me in my last performance review. The issue had been addressed and resolved, and therefore, it was left in the past.

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