my boss is smothering me

A reader writes:

I work for an insurance agent who is based in another insurance agent’s office. He basically rents out a couple rooms in the office for himself and his employees, who are just me and another girl. Recently, that other girl left (she was my best friend in the office), and so it’s just been me and the agent I work for, and I feel like he’s smothering me.

He has his own separate office, but his computer recently stopped working properly, so he’s been sitting at my old coworker’s desk (right next to mine) instead of getting a new computer. At first I was mildly annoyed having my boss sitting a few feet away from me all day long, but I figured it’s his computer and he pays my salary, so it’s none of my business. But now he’s using this as an opportunity to constantly be monitoring me, going so far as to go through my files when I’m away from my desk, even taking supplies and leaving behind his garbage! The rare moments he’s in his own office, he’s glancing up at me every few minutes through the window that looks out to my desk, as if he doesn’t trust what I’m doing or something.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he’s stolen my one moment of solace during the day – my private lunch break in the back room of the office. My boss used to always go out for lunch or eat in his office, but he’s suddenly decided to come sit next to me during my lunch break instead. Today he just sat there – 2 feet away from me – reading the newspaper. Couldn’t he have just done that in his office? Why must he be breathing down my neck all the time? I don’t want to end up eating out for lunch every day because that’s expensive.

I feel like I’m in a sticky situation – it’s not like I can tell him to “go away” or “stop going through my stuff” or “buy a new computer and go back to your office,” etc. But I’m really starting to feel smothered (especially since I don’t have a companion anymore) and I’m worried the irritability it’s causing might affect my relationship with my boss. What can I do? How do I hint that he needs to give me space and be more respectful of boundaries, even if he is the boss? How do I at the very least reclaim my private lunch break?

It doesn’t sound like he’s monitoring you because he doesn’t trust you; it sounds like since he’s now sitting in the same space as you, he’s just looking around at his surroundings (which in some cases are your files), leaving his stuff around in the same way he probably did in his own office (only now it’s in yours), and using your supplies because they’re right there. In other words, this stuff is all just a side effect of proximity.

What’s your relationship with him like? With most managers, it wouldn’t be out of line to just ask what’s going on with getting his computer fixed and then, depending on where that conversation takes you, to say something like, “I’ll admit it’s stressful sharing an office with my boss” or “If you’re going to work in here for a while, would you mind if I worked from your old desk? It’s easier for me to concentrate when I’m alone, and since we have the space…” Or even, if you have the right dynamic and can say it with a smile, “You’re not the most low-footprint office-mate.”

But from there, it’s up to him. Hopefully he’s good-natured about getting the hint and moves along, but if he doesn’t, you’re right that he’s the boss and ultimately he can sit where he wants.

You don’t need to compromise on lunch, though. He’s certainly entitled to use the lunch room if he wants to, and you can’t really tell him not to use it while you’re in there. But you do have options: You could take your lunch somewhere else (is there somewhere outside you could sit?). Or, what about eating in your office? If you’re worried about him joining you there, you could even say, “I like to unwind at lunch and get away from everything — do you mind if I start eating in my office with the door closed during my break?”

If none of that works, you will have to learn how to fix computers and repair his.

{ 85 comments… read them below }

  1. GigglyPuff*

    I would also suggest maybe moving the computer he’s using into his office, if he’s not going to be hiring a replacement anytime soon.

    You could also maybe sit in your car for lunch, and he if asks, say you like listening to the radio.

    1. KH*

      It sounds to me like maybe the boss likes you. (I mean, _likes_ you). Is that a possibility?

  2. GigglyPuff*

    Sometimes I wish there was an edit button…Is it also possible these things were going on before and you just didn’t notice because your focus was on your other coworker? It sounds like you not only lost a friend, but also the coworker mentality. For me, it would be pretty awkward being the only one around my boss, all day long, and not having that coworker there to have some solidarity with or a buffer zone, could be harsh. Is it possible, you’ve just become hyper aware, and you’re a little annoyed because the coworker did leave?

    1. OP*

      This definitely hits a nerve with me as far as how my thought process has been lately. My boss has always had these annoying habits (glancing through his window at us, taking my supplies, etc), but at least when I had my coworker, she did act as that “buffer” between us – literally (she sat between me and his window) and figuratively (we could always vent to each other about him). Now I’m not only alone, but having to deal with his annoying habits without anyone to share in my suffering lol. Btw, the lunch break thing is a totally new phenomenon :/

  3. Celeste*

    I wonder if he’s going to replace your coworker who left? It seems like if he was, he would want to get his machine fixed so that he can have the spare open for the new person. Mostly I wonder if he has a track record of being able to confront problems. Using a spare computer is fine if you’re waiting on a service call, but it’s not the way to get your broken one fixed.

    I would ask what it would take for him to get his computer in his office fixed, to see if I could be of assistance in setting up the repair. I would say that I’d like to help because it seems best for each of us to go back to having our own space, that things were working really well like that. I wouldn’t go into detail about his messy habits and monitoring behavior if I could help it. If pressed, I would probably say something gently about how sitting next to the *boss* all day is a bit stressful for me.

    I like the idea given by AAM for keeping your time alone at lunch. Maybe you could offer to have lunch with him now and then, if that’s okay with you. Frankly, he sounds lonely to me, and maybe a bit anxious. I can almost see some of what you call monitoring as bids for attention.

    1. A Bug!*

      Your question about replacing the coworker set me off on a speculation chain. As a disclaimer, this comment is pure speculation, it’s well possible that the OP left something out for irrelevance that would invalidate it completely, and even if she didn’t, that doesn’t mean that anything in here is likely, just a possibility.

      First speculation: Boss has recently stopped going out for lunch. He is apparently in no hurry to repair his computer, or to hire a replacement for the former coworker. He’s nabbing supplies from the OP’s desk instead of picking up enough supplies to stock them both. All of these things could suggest concern for finances; has the business’s financial picture changed recently? Maybe less work is coming in or the work that is coming in is less lucrative?

      Second speculation: Boss is in no hurry to hire a replacement for the former coworker. OP doesn’t mention struggling under an increased workload (which doesn’t mean she isn’t, but I feel like it would be about as relevant as the fact that she misses the companionship). Is it possible that the loss of half his staff hasn’t resulted in a corresponding reduction in profit because his staff’s time wasn’t maximized by the work that’s been coming in?

      If there’s any merit to either of those speculations, then it would certainly provide context to the boss’s apparent sudden interest in the OP’s day-to-day work.

      1. Celeste*

        I wondered too, especially since her boss is sort of a tenant rather than having his own place to begin with. Has he hit on hard times, or is he transitioning down to retirement? But I’m not sure how she would know if business is down, other than if the work flow which she has to process is dwindling even with one person gone.

        1. A Bug!*

          That arrangement’s not uncommon where I live, for several professional fields, including insurance. But you’re right that it usually is a cost-saving measure of some sort, and it is one of the reasons that I wondered about the finances.

          And it just occurs to me that maybe he’s working at the former coworker’s desk because he’s considering changing the space-renting agreement to ditch the second room.

      2. OP*

        He’s not doing poorly as far as incoming work goes. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Work has never been this busy, and it’s only more hectic since my coworker left, since he hasn’t decided to hire a replacement.

        I think it’s just a matter of cheapness. I didn’t mention this in my original post (I was trying to keep it brief), but the reason my coworker left was because our boss was trying to classify us as “independent contractors” for tax purposes, even though, by the legal definition, we’re employees (that he must withhold taxes from). This resulted in us paying more than double the taxes we otherwise would have. She tried to discuss it with him several times and he kept blowing her off, even having the nerve to say “maybe you have a bad accountant.” He didn’t agree to mark as employees until I told him that I went to the IRS and they told me he’s not allowed to do that, and he could get in big trouble. It was all about saving HIMSELF money, and putting the entire tax burden on his employees.

        So him not fixing his computer or hire someone else is simply a matter of him not wanting to pay the money. Believe me, every chance he gets to cut corners (money-wise), he takes it.

        As far as me not complaining about him not hiring a replacement – what can I say? I feel like it’s none of my business, or at least I have no graceful way of asking. I’m able to handle the workload because I’m a competent, fast worker… Though it would be REALLY nice to have some help and companionship.

        1. A Bug!*

          That makes sense to me; thanks for the clarification.

          I think if I were in your position I’d be looking for another job, because with your new comments your boss seems like a person who’ll do what he wants, when he wants, unless he’s actually made to do otherwise.

          1. Jennifer*


            But in my experience, most bosses kinda are like that. But the sheer amount of following-you-at-all-times that he’s doing seems excessive.

        2. neverjaunty*

          If you paid taxes you weren’t supposed to, you should talk to a lawyer. He owes you that money, and in many states he would owe you extra (penalties for that can be pretty significant). And in your shoes, I would be very concerned that he was pulling other illegal or sneaky things with my paycheck – such as withholding taxes and then never actually sending that money on to the IRS.

          1. OP*

            The woman who did my taxes told me that there’s a form I can file with the IRS to claim I was misclassified and get my money back (ALL of it, too, not just the portion I wasn’t supposed to pay), but I didn’t know if it was a good idea to rock the boat that much when I still work for the guy. It seems like I’d have to at least wait until I get another job before I file a complaint. Maybe I should ask Alison another question lol

            1. Julie*

              Ask your accountant if there’s a deadline for filing the form because it would be too bad if you missed out on getting reimbursed. Also, it doesn’t sound as though it’s a complaint, but more of a notification and a request for your money back. I realize that they IRS would then probably go to him to get the money, so maybe that’s an issue, but it’s not like you’re reporting him for illegal behavior – you’re just getting back what’s yours. It really irks me that he would try to “save” money by taking it from his employees!

        1. MaggieMae*

          Which would be totally creepy….

          Seriously though, it reads like he’s completely jazzed that the other coworker left so they can spend time together. Are we even sure his computer is broken? O.o

          But yes, smothering indeed. I’d start looking for another job because it’s simply not enough social padding between myself and my manager with just three people. I need supreme autonomy and (literally) rubbing elbows just wouldn’t cut it.

    1. OP*

      LOL… I really don’t think he’s lonely. I think he’s just incredibly naive and un-self aware sometimes. Some people can’t really take a hint.

  4. BCW*

    Most of this stuff seems like things you need to get over. I mean really? You are mad that he is reading the newspapaer while you are eating lunch? Maybe he just wants to leave his desk for a while too. It sounds like you just don’t really like him personally (maybe you are fine with him professionally), because if this was your former co-worker doing the same things, aside from leaving the garbage around, I’m guessing it wouldn’t bother you nearly as much.

    1. LBK*

      I don’t think it’s fair to say that she should just let things go that wouldn’t have bothered her if the coworker had done them. There’s a difference in someone’s presence depending on whether they’re your coworker or your manager. Take it outside the office – if you ran into your manager at a bar, wouldn’t you feel less uptight and on watch about your behavior than if you ran into a coworker, even if you weren’t doing anything questionable?

      1. LBK*

        Sorry, that should say *more* concerned about your behavior if you ran into a manager.

      2. Ruffingit*

        Exactly, the power deferential does make you look at things much differently.

      3. BCW*

        Outside of the office and in the office are wildly different things. Its ridiculous to say that in the de facto lunch area that the boss shouldn’t go in there. Point is, if this is bothering her so much, she can leave. He doesn’t have to, its his office.

        1. Jamie*

          Of course he doesn’t have to. My boss owns our company and building and they can go where they likes…but if they stood outside the ladies room whenever one of us was in there it would be…strange.

          If whenever someone left for the day they followed them to their car silently and walked back to the office…sure, it’s their parking lot and walks are good for you. It’s still strange behavior.

          Not sure how choosing to take lunch at the exact same time as the only other person and spend it within 2 feet of her is any less bizarre.

          I own my house and my family presumably loves me, but if I picked one and decided to be within feet of them the entire day even if it meant reading while they were eating they’d wonder what the hell was wrong with me. This is not normal.

          1. BCW*

            Thats fair, but maybe its context. I feel like many people take their lunch between the hours of 11 and 1. I eat around noon everyday. My point is, I don’t think its reasonable to think that he shouldn’t take his lunch just because she is taking her lunch at that time. Now if the second she goes to lunch he follows her in, thats one thing. If she is in there for 15 minutes, and he decides he wants to eat at the same time, I think its perfectly valid that they both eat their lunch at that time.

            1. LBK*

              The reason it comes off as particularly odd to me is that he wasn’t eating with her before – OP says he would eat out or in his office. Presumably he doesn’t need a working computer while he eats lunch, and we know his office is very close because he can watch the OP from it through a window while she’s at her desk. Why can’t he continue to eat lunch there? He specifically changed his habits to eat lunch next to her, which is weird even if he’s not following her to the lunch room the second she gets up to eat.

              1. OP*

                Yes! Exactly. It’s a new habit that he’s developed for reasons unknown. He used to always eat out, or eat in his office. Us employees (myself and the people who work for the other agent in the office) aren’t allowed to eat at our desks because it’s not our equipment, but my boss can eat at his desk because it’s his equipment. He has no reason to even be in the back room, so it’s all very strange to me.

              2. Julie*

                I can see how it could be incredibly frustrating if you can’t get a second to yourself during the day and if you used to rely on the lunch hour to be able to relax and take an actual break from working.

          2. Hannah*

            I work in the Insurance business too, and like the OP I first started with another girl, and she has since left. It has been me and the Agent for over a year and I will agree, it can get kinda boring, tedious and lonely being just the two of us. However, my boss stays in his office, I stay in mine, he takes his lunch at 12 and I take mine at 1. He basically leaves me alone all day and checks up every now and then on how things are going. We have a really good relationship because of this. I feel like if he was to start sitting in my office, eating lunch at the same time as me, and nabbing the supplies provided for me, I would be a little miffed too. Of course there’s really nothing to do about it, but I can see how going from having your own space and quiet time to always having the boss hover around, could be distracting. Above all, this post has really made me appreciate my boss so much more haha.

    2. Del*

      I don’t know, I’d be pretty irate if I found my coworkers going through my files or nabbing my supplies without asking!

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Except he owns the company. They’re his files and supplies. Depends what we’re talking about. Is the boss thumbing through a stack of folders looking for Tom Jones’ paperwork, or just rummaging around being snoopy? He wouldn’t have to go through the files when she’s there, because he could ask, “Hey, where’s the Jones file?”

        1. BCW*

          Exactly. If OP isn’t there and the boss needs something now, he is within his right to look for those files. Would I be annoyed if my boss was on my computer when I was out? Probably. But when you work someplace and are using the office items, your boss has a right to do what they need to, within reason. If you have your personal email open, no, thats not cool. Aside from that, if something is that private that your BOSS shouldn’t see it, then don’t do it at work

        2. Del*

          I was responding to BCW’s point above speculating that the OP wouldn’t have minded if it were the former coworker doing those things.

          Which, I agree the boss ultimately owns the files and supplies. But it seems to me that, for instance, with the supplies it’s polite to at least say something before taking them, so the OP isn’t left going “I swear I had a stack of envelopes sitting here…? Did I misplace them? What happened?”

          I guess I just have a broader view of someone’s personal space than some others.

    3. Jamie*

      You are mad that he is reading the newspapaer while you are eating lunch?

      A two person office, he sits next to her all day long…he has to be 2 feet away from her on her break? I have no words – that’s ridiculous. If he wants to get away from his desk and read the paper why does it have to be on her lunch break?

      I’d sit in my car the entire break rather than get no space whatsoever.

      Everything else would annoy me, but I’m easily annoyed, and it’s his office. If he’s too lazy/cheap to get his computer fixed he can sit where he likes. But taking the exact same lunch as her and sitting in the same room – when there are at least 2 empty rooms out there? I think that’s really creepy.

      They aren’t friends, they aren’t talking. This is the equivalent of getting on a bus where there is only one other passenger…every other seat is wide open. And someone sits in the one directly next to you.

      1. class factotum*

        every other seat is wide open. And someone sits in the one directly next to you.

        That happened to me on the train to work when I lived in Miami. I was the only person in the coach. A man got on – looked around – sat right next to me.

        It was an hour-long ride to work.

        “I have to nip this in the bud,” I thought.

        So I said, “Do you have to sit right there?”

        He got all pissy and stomped away, which was fine with me. I had just moved back to the US after two years in Chile, where every time I went to the movies alone, a man would sit by me, even though there were tons of empty seats. I later learned that the assumption was that a woman alone at the movies was looking for action. I just wanted to watch a movie!

        Anyhow, after two years in South America, I became pretty direct with men who were bugging me because the usual code I knew didn’t work. I had to get over being bothered that men I didn’t know were angry with me, but now, doesn’t bother me at all and life is a lot easier.

        1. Elysian*

          When this happens to me on the train, I change seats myself. In my experience, men who sit next to me when we’re basically in an empty train car have foul intentions. I want none of it.

          That doesn’t seem like the OP’s problem, here, though.

          1. Maudie Atkinson*

            It is so creepy when that happens. I once had a man change seats twice so that he could be next to me. He was a big guy and I’m…not. I have no idea what was going on in his head but it sure didn’t feel friendly.

      2. Jennifer*

        I hate to say it, but I think at this point either the boss really doesn’t trust OP to be left alone for a second, or he has a crush on OP. Either way, that’s….really bad.

    4. OP*

      As other people mentioned, there’s a difference between a coworker/coworker dynamic and a boss/coworker dynamic. I’m not his friend, but I am friends with my coworkers. I’m not saying he’s a bad guy or anything, but just that it can be incredibly awkward and annoying to have him breathing down my neck all day.

  5. Ruffingit*

    This guy strikes me as someone who is lonely and now that co-worker is gone, he’s taking advantage of being around the only other person in the office. I say see what you can do about getting his computer fixed. Ask about the timeline on that. Also, definitely start eating lunch elsewhere – your car, a nearby park, whatever. It’s helpful to get away from the office at lunch sometimes anyway.

    1. Lili*

      I agree, he must me lonely.

      I share the office with my manager as well and it is not an ideal situation. When she has a day off I can breathe, literally.
      This is one of the reasons why I ‘ve decided to leave this job.
      Micromanagement happens naturally when in such proximity.

    2. OP*

      The reason I haven’t just gone somewhere else for lunch is because A) it would be a really noticeable and sudden change of routine for me, especially in such a small office, and B) I can never predict if/when he’s going to join me. Most of the time I go in for my one hour break, and he pops in like 5-10 minutes later. It’s not like I can get up and leave right then and there, sandwich in hand lol. I should mention that I live in FL and the weather is intolerably hot,humid, and/or rainy so eating outside is not a very desirable option. Maybe I could eat in my car, but I don’t think that would make me too happy either, having to leave what made me most comfortable just because my boss can’t take a hint… It sounds childish, but I’m just being honest lol

      1. Ruffingit*

        No, I get that. I live in a really hot climate too where eating outside would not be feasible many times of the year. Unfortunately, it sounds like you’re just going to have to put up with this behavior unless you can talk to your boss about it, which is a super awkward conversation in the best of circumstances.

      2. Jennifer*

        Well, you can only control you here. It may end up being worth it to you to eat outdoors in the hot and muggy and being uncomfortable that way rather than being uncomfortable because your boss is in your lap with the newspaper.

  6. Not So NewReader*

    Has he lost the use of that office space? Maybe he downsized the area that was his and never told you.

    My boss’ desk is right beside mine, too. And we are constantly passing stuff – staplers, tape, etc back and forth. I never see any of these behaviors that OP mentions. So I can see how this could be really annoying- it’s not one behavior but all things combined. I think that the creepy one is him checking on you every few minutes from his own office when he uses it. And the sudden need to eat lunch with you.
    Do you think he has a crush on you? Or is it just plain creepy behavior?
    I wish I knew more about how he talks to you. I never even gave it a second thought that my boss works beside me all day. She has her own work and I have mine…. plus she gives me some of the incidentals that pop up as she is working along. We are both quite . busy.
    I guess I would just ask him, “Is everything okay?” when I caught him staring at me. Or a similar question such as “Did you lose something?” My boss tried to look for things on my desk. To a causal passerby my desk looks like a paper bomb was dropped. But I know where things are. I suggested to her that she ask me and not only could I find it quicker she would not be messing up my system of organizing my work. She actually seem relieved that I asked her to do this. I said that was my job and I am happy to do that for her.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I don’t think it’s necessarily creepy from what the OP wrote. Annoying, sure, but for a manager to glance in the direction of his employee repeatedly isn’t so unreasonable. Maybe because he’s been working in the shared office, when he’s in his own office and trying to remember something he looks back at the shared office to jog his memory.

      I think this part might be addressed by asking about it as a performance issue, even if the OP is pretty sure that her boss isn’t actually concerned about her work. She might say something like, “Charles, I’ve noticed that you’ve been going through my files when I’m not at my desk, and when you’re in your own office it sometimes feels like you’re looking at me to check what I’m doing. Do you have any concerns about my work, or anything you feel I should be doing differently?” That might make him realize that his behaviors are impacting the OP and make him stop. Or, if there IS a concern about her work, knowing about it is far better than not knowing.

    2. OP*

      He’s not creepy and he sure as heck doesn’t have a crush on me (at least I HOPE TO GOD not). Like I said in a previous comment, I think he’s just a little naive and not very self aware sometimes. He might not realize that sitting next to his employee all day and having silent lunches with her is making her extremely uncomfortable.

  7. Mena*

    I’m not sure I understand the feeling of smothering … it sounds like he is just in closer proximity than he was previously. There isn’t really much you can do about that.

  8. AnotherAlison*

    I wonder if the boss might think the OP is lonely & thought spending time in that office would be nice since the coworker is gone. One of those extrovert/introvert misunderstandings, maybe?

    I’m always thankful to have my dark corner office away from everyone else, while others make comments how it must suck to be over there all by myself.

    1. Ursula*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. Usually trying to keep someone company doesn’t involve leaving a mess, though!

    2. OP*

      Haha this is the same suggestion my family members made when I told them what was happening. I think if he was better at picking up social cues/hints, he would notice that if I was lonely and wanting his company, I’d probably be more excited about seeing him barge into my lunch break… lol

  9. Elizabeth*

    If you live in a place where the weather’s getting nicer, maybe you can find an outdoor space for lunch. When I worked in a “corporate park” I used to take my lunch to the berm on the far side of the parking lot. I sat behind some trees so I wasn’t really visible from the lot, and read while I ate my lunch. I really enjoyed having some time out of the fluorescent-lit, climate-controlled office, and the time alone with my book.

    If you don’t have a nearby outside space, maybe bringing something to read during your lunch would at least give you some mental space.

  10. The Other Dawn*

    Offer to move the computer tower he’s using into his office. It’s just a matter of unplugging some wires, bringing it into the other room, and hooking it up. Maybe he’s just being lazy about it.

    Or maybe he’s lonely, like others are saying.

  11. EM*

    I understand that he is the boss, it’s his office, and he can sit and work where he likes.

    That being said, I have sympathy for the OP because I think I would be annoyed as well. My boss & I sit right next to each other in a small space as well, but she is out of the office very often. If she never left and was here all the time — while I truly love her and think she is a delightful person and boss — I could see myself feeling a bit the same way as the OP does.

    I think previous suggestions are good — offer to move the computer that works into his office, ask if he needs you to look up some IT help information or if he would like you to take his computer in to the Geek Squad or similar (I have taken my boss’ laptop to the Apple store previously), etc.

    I definitely think one thing you can begin implementing immediately is the lunch hour issue. Even if you can’t sit outside somewhere, you can at least go sit in your car. I’ve often done this in previous offices where I just needed to get out of there for a bit — you can drive your car 5 minutes away from your office if you’re worried it will look weird, and then find a parking lot/street where you can just chill for a bit and relax — that might help.

  12. Jamie*

    On the glancing thing, obviously we’re not there and if it’s actual staring I would be concerned – but as someone with lousy vision if I’m thinking about something I stare into space and don’t see what’s in front of me. I’m conscious not to point my face in the direction of another person because I don’t want people thinking I’m looking at them when I’m not looking at anything.

    But looking up and out the window of his office – that could just be shifting his field of view when thinking.

    And I totally don’t mean this in a snarky way, because if I thought someone was glancing at me too much I’d totally be watching them to see how often it happens…but if you see him glancing at you, you’re looking in his direction as well. Maybe he’s glancing at you wondering what you’re looking at.

    1. OP*

      His window is in my peripheral vision, and he has to kinda move his chair back a little to be able to look at me through it, so it’s definitely noticeable when he decides to have a look. Believe me, I make every effort possible to avoid unnecessary eye contact! Haha

  13. Anonsie*

    Wait though– she says he’s going through her files when she’s away, not just glancing at them. Those are quite different things, boundaries-wise.

    This is tough because it would aggravate me but, as you say, there’s not anything to be done.

  14. Rayner*

    I think a lot of this is about context, and about how it’s done.

    It could very well be that the boss is merely changing how he approaches things, being more financially conscious (not hiring extra staff, sharing supplies etc), and the OP is just not used to it after so long of not having a boss like that.

    It could also be that the boss is creepy and invading her space. I mean, it’s one thing for the boss to claim ownership of supplies and stationery, because technically, it is his. However, in such a small staffed space, I would expect him to ask or at least tell me that he’d looked for a file etc, so I wouldn’t be wondering why he’s poking around in my desk.

    Likewise, the fact that he doesn’t just move the coworker’s computer into his own office, and instead works right next to his subordinate is a little weird. Space is important.

    The lunch thing plain wigs me out. I don’t like hearing other people eat, and would get highly agitated having to listen to someone eat within two feet of me.

    OP, can you move files and other communal equipment to another place that’s not at your desk so he has less opportunity to come rifling through your desk? And perhaps suggest to him the name of a few good computer repair people or suggest moving the coworkers computer into his office.

    Be polite and don’t come at it as a demand but say that you work best when in your own space, and now that you have the room, it makes sense for you to both spread out. After all, if he still owns the other office, it’s paid for but not being used efficiently. Likewise, suggest that like Alison said, that you’ll be taking your lunch in a different location now, and hope that he’ll enjoy the peace and quiet while you’re out.

    I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, it’s possibly seriously legitimate. On the other, it’s weird as all get out if he’s not, or if he’s being ‘off’ in other ways.

  15. SBL*

    “It occurred to me that you could move this computer back into your office if you like.”
    “If you want to sit out here, would you mind if I sat in your office so I would not bother you when I am on calls?”

  16. Puddin*

    This is exactly why it is important to know what kind of physical environment you want to work in. Personally, I know that a company of less than 20 people in one office is too small for me. People early in their career should start to discern if their work space needs to be ‘cool’, ‘classy,’ or if any ole desk will do. Figuring out what is important – what you value in the work space that you will spend the majority of your time is a worthwhile exercise in values. It seems that a lot of college career counselors do not go over this kind of stuff. (Based on our interns reactions to our office environment.)

    Side note…referring to yourself and other women you work with as ‘girls’ could diminish how other’s perceive them and you. Just a thought…

    1. Raive*

      Perhaps after your coworker left he’s worried you plan on leaving too and is looking for evidence that you’re job searching? ( e.g looking through papers for resume copies). He could be sitting in at lunch to see if you get any calls too.

  17. OP*

    I think I addressed most of the issues brought up in the comments, but I did want to elaborate more on my boss going through my files when I’m away. This isn’t like “oh, I need Mr. X’s file, I’ll go grab it” It’s more like “you need to work on this,” even though I already am… Let me just give an example…

    A lot of the time we fax in a client’s application, wait for it to be processed and assigned a policy number (this can take a couple hours), then fax in additional information that needs to have the policy number written on it. A couple of weeks ago, I was working on several files at once, and some additional paperwork for one client was on the bottom of the stack since I was still waiting for the policy number to come in. I went to lunch, and a little later my boss comes in with that paperwork in his hand, reminding me to fax it in.

    1) What’s he doing going through all my files, to be able to reach the items on the very bottom of the stack? He never does this when I’m there, only when I leave the room – why is that? The fact that he’s so secretive about it bothers me.

    2) Shouldn’t he know the protocol for faxing things with policy numbers? He’s the one misunderstanding the situation, yet the fact that he’s “reminding” me to fax it in suggests that *I’m* somehow incompetent or “not on top of things,” when it’s to the contrary.

    3) You really gotta interrupt my lunch break for this? Couldn’t it wait? It’s like getting a work call on your day off or weekend. Sure, it’s not the worst thing to ever happen, it’s not gonna kill me, but sometimes it’s just pesky and unnecessary.

    I hope I’m not coming off as immature or anything. It’s difficult to make people outside the situation understand your feelings, especially when you have to live through it every day :/ Plus living through it every day magnifies the situation in my mind, I’m sure.

    1. Jamie*

      I don’t think you’re being immature. Tbh I would think working in a 2 person office would be a nightmare under the best of circumstances. For me, at least. I am sure there are people who thrive, or who have the exact combo of temperaments to make it work…but for me it’s too much of any one person.

      Other people take some of the pressure off and it’s less like living in an aquarium. Concentrated contact like that – it’s a lot of any one person. So I do get why it’s bugging you that he is getting closer than need be – but I also think it probably wouldn’t bother you so much if he sat there if there were a couple other people also working.

    2. Rayner*

      I think the thing you need to do is write out a list of stuff that bothers you – from the big to the minute (from going through your files to eating in the same room as you for no reason) and then pick, say two or three that are the major issues between you. The rest, you can just keep as motivation for job searching if the time comes, or bring up later on if he’s still doing it in six months time.

      Go and speak to him about the big issues, and have some solutions made up in your mind – for example, suggesting moving your coworker’s computer, asking if there’s any issue with your paperwork, and talking about needing to have a quiet space to focus so switching offices might be an idea if he likes your one better etc.

      Although you can’t demand he change, it’s possible he doesn’t realise how weird and disruptive this is for you, and he thinks he’s being companionable or whatever. Pointing it out might make him more aware of it so he curbs it (like with the staring).

      Coming in with the problem and solution might help make your boss more amenable to it, and get him off your back. At the very least, you can get clarity as to why these things are happening (he’s lonely, he thinks you’re doing something wrong).

      And if worse comes to worst, and you can’t take having a grown businessman toddler * following you around and going through your stuff, then you know that you can put the feelers out to job search.

      *My friends recently enlightened childless me about how toddlers won’t even let you go to the bathroom alone because they can’t bear to be apart from their parents. Hopefully, your boss won’t escalate to this point.

  18. Aisling*

    About the lunch thing: him sitting near you is not smothering. Him sitting near you and trying to engage you in conversation would be smothering. I worked in a place once where everyone always ate together, and I was ‘weird” if I wanted to eat on my own and read. Having someone in the room, but not interacting with you, would have been awesome. I started leaving for lunch just to get some peace.

    1. Rayner*

      It depends. If someone comes in and is just generally occupied in having their lunch – they just happen to do the same thing as you – it’s not smothering. But if that person takes their lunch when you have your lunch (it’s not assigned, it’s by choice), starts taking lunch in places that they’ve never done before just because you do it, and packs up again when you leave, it can feel a little oppressive.

        1. Rayner*

          My friends recently had this experience with some very new exchange students they brought into the department over the way. I think they took the ‘model the employee you want to be’ thing a bit too seriously.

          Same suits, same morning greeting, same lunch routine, eating at the same table in the same restaurant… Little bit creepy.

          NGL,though, I thought it was hilarious. Clones XD

    2. OP*

      It’s pretty much how Rayner described it. It’s the sudden change of routine that’s left me feeling smothered. It’s the fact that he chooses to sit next to me all day, then chooses to follow me to my lunch break… I said in another comment that he doesn’t even have to be there. The employees (myself and the other agent’s staff) aren’t allowed to eat at our desks because we don’t own the equipment, but my boss can eat at his desk because he owns his stuff. That back room is pretty much a place for employees to eat. He has no reason to be there, and even if he wanted to eat there for giggles, why at the same time as me? Especially when he used to always go out or eat in his office? I know it’s not the crime of the century, but it still bothers me.

  19. Liz*

    I sat next to a micromanaging, verbally abusive boss who napped and played on EBay all day. He had his own office, refused to use it or let anyone else. The job required intense concentration, and for someone who has ADHD, it was extremely difficult to work and concentrate. He snored very loudly, and was constantly yelling at me to come see what he bought on EBay. In the mean time it was how is that coming, got 10 more files here to do. After getting reprimanded 2x in as many months for things that were not my responsibility, I left. One reprimand was for something he told me to do, and when a client called with a question, he went off on me big time. If you can’t get him to move, then I would seriously start looking for another position.

  20. Kiwi*

    He’s in a responsible position (insurance) and has form for attempting to screw both his employees and the authorities (tax department). He’s also acting strange around you and your work files.

    Something about this seems a touch hinky. I’d get outta there. IF he’s up to no good, you MAY find yourself implicated. It wouldn’t be the first time a superior has shafted a subordinate when it suited them (or, indeed, the first time for this boss).

  21. Saucy Minx*

    OP, can you arrange to meet one or more of the employees of the other agency for lunch in the break room? Or just make a point of going when you know someone else is in there? I’d make sure I was not alone in the break room anymore, just to avoid this behavior on his part.

  22. BritCred*

    Ok, random question: WHY did the co-worker leave? Or more to the point why does the boss think she left?

    If it was due to a lack of bosses oversight and assistance? Or if after they left the boss found a number of mistakes, cover ups or matters not covered correctly?

    It could be he’s trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again by being more hands on and just has no tact….

    1. OP*

      See one of my above comments where I explain a messy tax situation that came up a few months ago. It’s what made her search for another job, and I only decided to stay after he agreed to fix things.

  23. T*

    I don’t think I would say that you need to be alone to concentrate. After having worked with an office mate for however long and all of a sudden needing a whole office to yourself, saying this would come across as disingenuous (which it would be for the sake of politeness).

  24. MR*

    I don’t have anything to add other than it was nice to see the interaction from the OP. It would be nice to see more of that here…

  25. Vv*

    Search for a new job. No need to adjust all these things. All the best and my advance wishes. Congrats bro…

  26. Melanie*

    I have just started my first ever full time job. When I went for the interview I was told that I would be the first employee. It is a start up business and it is in the very early stages. I took the job in the hope that I would gain lots of experience and learn a lot. I hoped that if I braved being on my own with my boss day in day out that one day it would pay off when the company takes off…In my mind I could see myself being a manager by 6 months time, and having my own team. But frankly, I have been working here for 1 month and I am already starting to feel lonely, craving some face to face business (everything is online) and feeling like I made the wrong decision. My boss is lovely but this was not what I had imagined.

  27. Vanessa*

    I’m experiencing a similar thing at work at the moment and it’s making me consider changing jobs! My boss literally follows me around our office, if I go to a colleagues office and am away from mine for over 10 minutes he comes to find me and asks me what I am doing. He follows me to the kitchen if I go to make a coffee and the conversation is never related to work! It can range from problems at home, DIY and his kids. To begin with I thought it was ok as he saw me as someone he could confide in but now he spends hours a day sat in my office talking about nothing, I love me job but I am being suffocated! Has anyone got any advise? It hasn’t gone unnoticed in our office either with colleagues joking that I’m his favourite or that he has a crush, I really don’t know what to do about it as I don’t want to upset him and get pushed out of the business however his behaviour is making me feel uncomfortable.

  28. JJ*

    OP, I’m curious if you have any updates to your situation. I’m in a similar situation but for almost 2 years and counting. I had a coworker but he was laid off nearly 3 years ago, leaving just my boss and I in the office for the entire time. The business wasn’t doing so well until recently, but nobody else was hired. I’ve been looking for another job for over a year to no avail yet.

    My boss doesn’t follow me around or try to eat lunch in the same space as I, but I’ve put up with sitting within a few feet of him for almost 2 years (he used to sit across from me at the desk behind my monitors but out of the blue one day, he said he wanted to move next to me and has sat there by default for the entire time, despite having an office of his own.) Plus, we have this huge office space but he chooses to sit next to me the entire time. We have lots of empty desks and rooms in this spacious office and I’m considering just bringing my laptop and moving to one of the others rooms one day when I get fed up this.

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