are you haunted by your last bad job?

Ever thought you might have workplace PTSD — that your last job or boss was so bad that you’re still haunted by it now, even though you’ve moved on?

For many people, if you spend long enough in a dysfunctional workplace or modifying your behavior to accommodate a bad manager, it can end up instilling “survival” habits in you that can hurt you once you move on to a better company.

Here are some signs that you’re still being haunted by a previous bad job or bad boss:

You get defensive when your manager gives you feedback, because your old boss used feedback to punish or berate you. Good managers give thoughtful feedback, because they want to help you develop professionally. If you react as if it’s a game of “gotcha” that you need to defend yourself against, you’ll make it harder to get the very feedback that will help you grow in your job – and probably raise concerns in your new boss.

You expect the worst from your manager or coworkers. For instance, you might assume that you need to cover up mistakes, because a former manager would come down excessively hard on you for even minor errors. Or you might assume that your employer will always try to put you at a disadvantage in negotiations, because that’s what happened at an old job. Such managers and employers do exist, but they’re not the norm. Assuming that stance in a healthier workplace can put you out of sync with the culture and even cause problems in your work.

You don’t do your best work, because you learned earlier that it wouldn’t be appreciated. If you worked somewhere that didn’t recognize great work and tolerated shoddy performance, you might have decided at some point that it didn’t make sense to go all-out; after all, no one cared. But if you carry that M.O. to a new job, it can really hurt you and your reputation – and could even get you fired.

You think that “all managers are _____.” It doesn’t really matter how you fill in that blank; if you find yourself thinking that 100 percent of managers think or act a certain way, it’s a sign that you’re not thinking realistically. You want to pay attention to how your current manager thinks and acts. Don’t tar her by association with previous managers.

If you recognize yourself in these descriptions, take these steps to exorcise those bad habits from your work life:

1. Realize when your habits are rooted in old dysfunction. Take some time to think through the roots of your beliefs about work and managers, and spot places where they’re tied to one bad situation. For instance, say you used to work for a manager who would use any sign of personal weakness against you, and it’s left you scared to tell your current manager when you need some help or a little bit of slack. Make sure you’ve processed that you learned this habit from one manager, and she’s not representative of all managers.

2. Recalibrate your idea of “normal.” Make a point of looking around and gathering evidence about how other managers and workplaces operate. If you find yourself thinking “all managers do _____,” try testing that assumption against your current manager and current workplace. What evidence do you have about how this manager operates? Do your assumptions line up with reality? If not, it’s time to adjust them.

3. When you find yourself about to engage in a negative workplace behavior, ask yourself, “Has my current manager given me evidence that I need to operate this way?” Behaviors such as hiding information, not speaking up about problems, reacting defensively to feedback and generally expecting the worst from your employer are behaviors that will harm you in a reasonably healthy, functional workplace. If your manager hasn’t given you evidence that you need to approach your job that way, you’ll make yourself the problem by proceeding like that. Don’t treat your current manager as someone she’s not.

After all, imagine if you started a new job as the replacement for a past employee who had been untrustworthy, incompetent and unpleasant, and your new colleagues treated you as if you were just like your predecessor. Doesn’t sound fun or easy to work with, does it? And it certainly wouldn’t be logical or wise. In that spirit, make sure you’re not letting yourself be overly influenced by difficult people you’ve worked with in the past.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 171 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    One thing I’d like to add to this great advice – it’s going to take time to adjust to a “normal” workplace. Several months is likely for you to feel completely comfortable.

    1. JMegan*

      Absolutely. It’s been two years since I left my “If you don’t have your bum in your seat at 8:59:59, you are LATE!!!!1!!” manager, and I’m still freaking out about getting to work on time. I actually have specific permission from my current manager to arrive after 9:00, and even with that, I’m still checking my watch every few minutes on the way in to make sure I’m not going to be in trouble.

      1. Annonymouse*

        Omg yes!
        I had to become Elsa from “Frozen” to deal with my last boss (conceal, don’t feel).

        He was hyper controlling, micromanaging, stole credit for my work and likely to fly off the handle with little or no provocation. Oh, and I got injured at work twice and got no workers comp or time off.

        It got so bad both physically and emotionally that I had to ice my injured knee twice a day, would get a headache as soon as I entered my work (from stress and tension) and I’d go home and cry at least once a week.

        My first job after him (which I only took to get away from him – not suited for me at all) was a disaster. I carried the scars and behaviours with me which made my not suitedness more apparent.

        I’m getting better and working for a different company but same industry as my old boss.

        I also get satisfaction knowing they had to get 2 people to replace me, have lost a lot of clients due to poor customer service and haven’t had a single we’ll run event since I left

      2. Morgan*

        I’m have the same problem I worked in a horrible place for twelve years and still after being in my new awesome job for 5 yrs, ‘m still on edge driving to work and worried about being late etc. I still feel like someone will come from the old place and ruin my new job completely.

    2. pop tart*

      It took me almost a full year to adjust to a normal workplace. Not only was the environment at my last job incredibly toxic, I had been there most of my independent adult life so I thought that’s just what jobs were like. I ended up quitting abruptly after a particularly horrible string of events ending in my manager screaming “you are too f-ing stupid to work for me” after they screwed up and miscommunicated important information. The bad job was followed by several months of unemployment, so when I finally got hired into my current position, my confidence was fragile at best. It took several months before my boss could say “I need to talk to you later” without me having a panic attack or crying in the bathroom because I thought I was in trouble and going to get fired – that’s how it had been at my old job!! Anyway, it took about a year. I still have PTSD symptoms, but now the episodes are spaced fewer and farther between, but yeah, it’s a real thing that had a severe effect on my life.

      1. Carrie*

        Wow, I can totally relate. Your story is very similar to mine. I had a string of part-time jobs while in high school, college and grad school, then I graduated and got my first “real” full-time job . I wound up in a very toxic environment. The boss was rude, condescending and made me feel like I was the worst person in the world. I tried to be friendly and to take constructive criticism, but I was only criticized further. I would ask how I could improve, and he would never give me a straight answer. Other people got away with things I didn’t. Every day I would dread going to work, I was a nervous wreck. I gained 30 pounds and decided to go to therapy, as I was snapping at everyone and would also find myself crying in the bathroom almost daily. Like you, I also quit abruptly. I finally blew up at him and couldn’t take it anymore. I was unemployed for months, also living in fear that someone would call the company and speak to my boss, which would make things worse for me. I also was upset because my co-workers would always tell me how bad they felt for me, yet no one stuck up for me (which I understand they are not obligated to do, but it still hurt at the time).

        Now, I am in a much more positive environment. My bosses compliment me and offer to give me guidance. However, a few times they told me I looked very anxious/nervous during meetings. Also, when they called me into a meeting another time, the first thing to come out of my mouth was “are you upset with me?”, like I was a guilty kid. They looked bewildered. I am also not the friendliest with my co-workers. I’m friendly and cordial, but I don’t go out of my way to eat lunch with anyone.
        I do believe I am doing better, though.

    3. Maggie*

      It took me more than a year to shake off my old job; going out on stress leave or developing physical and mental illnesses was not uncommon — it was *that* bad.

      I left that place to be a short term contractor for a very large organization (I’ve had 5 assignments here since my old one) and I didn’t (couldn’t?) shake off the old one until I landed at the absolute most emotionally easygoing job (my current one). I basically showed up like a broken chihuahua – shaking, growling and ready to attack at the slightest provocation – intentional or otherwise. I didn’t trust anybody and felt like I was merely trying to survive in order to get a paycheck.

      I think this is why I applied for my current job when it finally opened up — it was the first place that I didn’t feel like I was coming to work at a war-torn combat zone. And who knows, it may have been this department, or maybe it was actually ME, that I was finally able to shed the scrapes and bruises of my previous employer.

      Bad employers are incredibly draining on the soul, until you’re unrecognizable to yourself. But it makes the good jobs feel so very safe and enjoyable. Like a rescue dog, I give my new bosses 110% of me and they feel they are just as lucky to have ‘this’ me (because they tell me all the time — like good bosses do!).

    4. Kelly O*

      I am already thinking about this. Eighteen more days until this job ends, and I’m trying to keep in mind that not every workplace is like this, and I do not need to worry about some of the things I’ve worried about for the last eighteen months or so. It will absolutely take a little time to adjust (but I’m looking forward to it.)

      1. Worker Bee (Germany)*

        Kelly, may I ask you something. The job that you are leaving now, is this the one where Alison shared your awesome cover letter from? If so do you have anything in hindsight that could given you red flags? I do understand if you do not wish to share. I am just wondering since I am jobhunting myself.. And all the best to you. You deserve it!!

        1. Kelly O*

          I don’t think I’m the awesome cover letter, unless I missed something.

          Although realistically in hindsight, a couple of things that should have alerted me to issues:

          – The supervisor was frank about the position being new, and the station being in a challenging place. I should have asked more probing questions about that, and dug for more about the potential for the position.

          – My supervisor is in Dallas and I’m in Houston. Initially he mentioned that I would need to report to both him and the manager here, but the lines would be dotted. That was never really clarified, and I spent a LOT of time trying to pacify the manager here while doing the work my direct supervisor in Dallas wanted, and to this day I struggle with keeping people happy.

          – I should have researched more about the industry. I had no idea how aviation worked, or ground handling, and sort of dumbly assumed it couldn’t be worse than retail back-end. Wrong. This is insanely stressful and cut-throat in a way I’m not comfortable with personally.

          – This will sound petty, but the office itself should have been a clue. I walked in for my interview, and paper was everywhere. People were everywhere. It was a mad house, and I was told they were in an audit (an audit they would fail.) The offices were not kept up well and looked shabby, and my initial glances about *ahem* facilities, including water fountains, would prove to be accurate. We have no water fountain, facilities that are old and run down, and no one wants to pay to repair them. It’s systemic, and is a very substantial portion of why we’re closing down now.

          – My gut told me no. Even with the promise of “50% HR, 50% Finance” I had a bad feeling. But I took the job anyway because I did not want to be stuck without something when my former employer closed shop. I gave up three months severance to come here, and I really, truly, sincerely regret it. Everything I was worried about at the old job has come to roost at the new job, and I wish I were not stuck just riding it out.

          1. Worker Bee(Germany)*

            Thank you for your insight! Adding stuff to my “what to ask employer xyz” list. And I am sorry to hear. Keeping my fingers crossed that the next job will be an awesome one for you!

  2. DB*

    Yep, definitely. My old boss used to semi regularly send emails like “You are very lazy and take too much time doing things and I’m disappointed in how you’ve turned out as an employee but if you worked harder you could be a good “. I would take the actually “useful” information out of emails like that and try to filter out the overly harsh stuff, but it obviously still got to me. I wouldn’t get angry about it because what was the point and he was probably right anyway.
    Now I’m at the point that I’m “too good” at taking criticism, I tend to just believe whatever anyone says and not think about whether they’re actually right and I don’t tend to stand up for myself.

    There was a grain of truth in what he was saying, I was so stressed and depressed about my job that I would just get paralyzed and procrastinate, but low and behold, now I have a job I no longer hate, I no longer procrastinate! Turns out it might have been the job, not me! I still have to work on just believing whatever anyone says about me though, even if they’re not even remotely qualified to judge how good I am at something.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      “I would take the actually “useful” information out of emails like that and try to filter out the overly harsh stuff, but it obviously still got to me.”

      I once had a colleague who told me that during his regular meetings with his supervisor, he would zone out for the first 15 minutes of the hour, because the supervisor would just yell at him about anything and everything the supervisor perceived as being wrong. Once the person got it out of their system, the meeting became “productive” (or at least, my colleague felt there was the ability to move some things forward). Then, the following week, the supervisor would yell about the exact OPPOSITE of what they’d been yelling about the week before.

      The supervisor eventually noticed my colleague’s apparent equanimity and subsequently varied the timing of the tirades. Four people have been through this role in the last eight years.

  3. G.T.*

    Unbelievable timing – I was just making a note to myself to ask for a meeting with my supervisor to discuss my progress, expectations, and any concerns he might have about my work so far. Here is an actual excerpt from my notes (with some minor edits made for the sake of anonymity):

    “I still harbour a great deal of anxiety over job security after my experience with B earlier this year – the first three months of that job were meant to be a probationary period, during which everything seemed to go very well (and I was even told later that things did go very well during that period), and then after that the job switched from researching teapots to designing new tea bags very suddenly, and because of a combination of factors I was unable to catch up quickly enough, and my remaining months there were very uncomfortable.”

    I think this is an article I really need to read.

  4. Sandy*

    Can we take it back a step?

    When you are battling workplace PTSD, and you’re still in the incredibly toxic workplace, what are the best strategies for interviewing?

    After more than a year of being constantly berated, insulted, screamed at in public, etc. I feel like it’s hard to imagine that I will ever be good at anything ever again- making it hard to draft a convincing cover letter, let alone shine in an interview.

    1. Ash (the other one)*

      I totally feel you. One of the best strategies here is make sure you have an answer for why you’re leaving that is something other than how miserable you are. The problem is if you don’t put on a positive face, other employers may see you as someone who is going to be miserable in whatever environment. Dream up the environment that would be amazing for you and work to translate into how you’d thrive in that environment — there’s your cover letter and your interview response.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        A job candidate used the line of “my role has focused on accounts payable and payroll but I’m interested in advancing my skills into tax and audit work. This role interested me because of the diverse industries and my 2 years experience at ABC, Inc. will mean I can transition into the role with minimal training.

        I don’t often get to sit in on interviews but liked her response because it focused more on here’s why I’m interested in working at Chocolate Teapots instead of “here’s why I want to leave my current job”. Plus it tied her current job duties into the duties of the position she was interviewing for.

    2. Sarahnova*

      If you can afford/access therapy, I’d seriously consider it. A new job environment will no doubt help a lot, but getting some real stable and neutral support in your life is something that can help you now, and help you to hold onto your own view of reality – “I am a competent, thoughtful and sane person. I am good at many things. I have intrinsic worth”.

      Reading up on how to deal with/recover from gaslighting may also help you. That’s basically what your workplace is doing to you, after all. I’ll post a link in a follow-up comment.

      1. Kelly O*

        Thank you for the article. I’ve been struggling with how to move forward, because I feel reasonably incompetent most days.

    3. Lucy*

      OMG this this this. I’m struggling both with showing accomplishments (since my duties for the past year have literally just consisted of keeping the day to day stuff afloat) and not speaking negatively – my “reason” for leaving (to HR managers) is that I’m looking for a position with more potential for growth than what my current one offers, when in reality it’s that I cry in the office bathroom at least once a week due to all craziness.

      1. HM in Atlanta*

        Could you frame your recent responsibilities as being responsible for “x operations”? I ask because I have an entire team whose jobs are simply to keep things afloat. For example, they don’t figure out why something happened – they just notice that it isn’t working and do whatever is needed to get it working again. Another team has responsibility for the longer-term (why did it happen, how do we keep it from happening again, etc.), but our clients/customers/peers don’t need to know all that in the heat of the moment. They just want to be able to do whatever they were trying to do.

        Keeping things running/afloat is contributing to the business.

        1. Lucy*

          That’s a good point. I’m in teapot marketing (for example) and my job SHOULD be about communication strategy, market testing, and analytics (long term stuff). Since they restructured the department, however, my day is literally 8 hours of coordinating assets and editorial calendars, getting approvals, and playing catch up because the departments no longer talk to one another – I’m not even IN the strategy meetings anymore!

          Since this isn’t the job description of any other company’s teapot marketer, I’m really struggling with showing my strategy and long-term accomplishments, which is what they’re looking for in a teapot marketer, as opposed to the day to day operational stuff I’ve been doing, that would likely be a completely different position at another company.

          And yes, definitely should have left after the restructuring instead of sticking around hoping it was just growing pains…..

    4. rek*

      When I was interviewing after 18 months of job hell where nothing I did could possibly be right, I found it helped to review older performance reviews and comments from previous managers. I even read through older projects I had developed that were successful. It served to remind me that I was competent – was, in fact, darn good at what I do. If I read through my “success” file just before an interview, I could put myself in a more positive frame of mind. (Also gave me a chance to build really strong answers to those “tell me about a time when …” questions.)
      Good luck with your interviews. I’m sure there is something out there for you where you can shine!

      1. the gold digger*

        I had a similar strategy a few months ago when I was in the hell of SergioLandia and that I use even now. I have been in my new job only three months and I still get stressed when my boss, who is GREAT, wants to talk to me.

        I remind myself that my former boss from Chile was in the US last month and spent her entire Saturday with me. I remind myself that when I went to Memphis last year, another former boss spent several hours having coffee with me. I remind myself that I am friends with many of my previous bosses and that they still tell me that I did a good job. I remind myself that Sergio has driven off a lot of good people and that it is he, not I, who is the dysfunctional one.

        Just remind yourself that you have done well in the past and that you are in a bad situation but that you yourself are not bad.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          It is amazing how a bad boss can quickly make us for get the good bosses and the better times. These idiots wield a lot of power.

        2. Gal Friday*

          Thank you Admin. and commenters,

          I’m smack in the middle of this and starting to try to interview again.

          Looking forward to digging into the gas lighting link below.

          When I realized that my resent experience had a name (gas lighting) and read about it I was so relieved.

          I already had PTSD from a military experience and had a very hard time seeing what was going on in these ‘civilian’ companies as being bad enough to cause it or reactivate PTSD.

          Two of the most valuable mantras I have are:
          1.) Just because I am a common factor, does not mean I am THE Common Denominator. (No matter how often it happens).
          2.) Roll call therapy – Like the success journal suggestion above
          I go through a list of people who value my work and Me
          “Jane Doe raves about your meeting prep. skills, she’s a 10 year manager of a 15 person team, not an idiot, believe her.”

          Oops and C. follows 2 above it’s from AA teaching, if one person says something, you can see where maybe they were just being nice or making small talk. But if two people say the same thing you should think about listening.

          It kind wraps back around on 1, they are a 1 /C combination

          Looking forward to reading every comment.

    5. themmases*

      Two things really helped me. First, I decided to actually count up all the things I’d done while I still had access to all those records. I did it so I could quantify things in my resume and cover letters and be sure I had the numbers right, but it was also a great payoff for the years of being overworked. In my unreasonable workplace, I struggled to express what was hard about my job or that some level of productivity on one of my tasks wasn’t a normal expectation. Even I would start to feel like the expectations were somehow normal and I was a failure for struggling to meet them. On my resume, I put “enrolled over 300 volunteers” knowing that other people would see it as the huge accomplishment that it is. And it reminded me, too.

      Second, I got a hobby. I chose things that were related to my career interests but not to my job– things that my unreasonable supervisors could never claim for themselves. I started learning a programming language just because it interested me; it might be useful in the future, but it wasn’t at my then-job. I liked my work but not my job (and felt that my work was being appropriated by others) so I started a blog. I didn’t publicize it or pressure myself to make it big, I just created work I was proud of that reflected my personal interests and not my employer’s. I didn’t spend any more time on these things than I felt like, but I found they made my free time more fulfilling than coming home, giving into feeling drained and sad, and improved my self-esteem a lot. I also used the blog as a writing sample to get a job recently.

      1. Stephanie*

        I’d go even further and say just any hobby could be helpful. It’s a big confidence booster just to find something you’re good at and get reassurance that you’re not a total screw-up.

          1. Windchime*

            I agree. I love coming home from a stressful day and picking up my knitting or quilting. There is something calming about handing yarn or fabric and making the repetitive motions. Also….at the end, I have created something nice!

    6. A Non*

      Pretend you’re writing (and talking) about someone else – perhaps a good friend, who just happens to be in a situation identical to yours. You know that they’re a decent person who is stuck in a crappy position and probably doesn’t believe any positive things about themselves right now. What can you see that they can’t?

      If you can afford it, consider applying for temp work or something that is way lower level than what you’re capable of. It’s more important to get yourself OUT of the bad situation than to get yourself into an ideal job right now. Filing paperwork could be a good mental break for a few months, and a chance to rebuild your confidence before going out and applying for the job you want.

      Don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help if you’ve got it available. Therapy’s been a major sanity-saver for me when I’ve been stuck in a toxic situation. Just having someone tell me once a week that I am an okay person and do not deserve to be treated like this was really, really helpful.

      All the best to you.

    7. Stephanie*

      Yeah, that’s me right now. I had two bad jobs. My second job was slightly less toxic, but my manager was so, so much worse. Big on belittling and had lots of unclear directives and expected me to be a mind reader. Finding a job that isn’t terrible almost feels impossible.

    8. Anon Accountant*

      I agree with the poster who said find something you are good at and do that often. Plus having things to look forward to outside of work hours can help your mindset a lot.

      Can you consider a community college or continuing ed class that would help boost your skills and you could do well in the class? Would having good scores on computer assignments or acing some Excel skills help boost your confidence? Or take a non-credit class to boost skills- you may not earn college credit but can learn skills and feel more confident as you master new concepts.

      1. puddin*

        Excellent idea…the courses would also give you a chance to network and see how other workplaces operate. Might give some perspective and balance.

    9. INTP*

      I’m not sure if this is even helpful at all, but do your absolute best to hide it all and NEVER mention anything about the workplace toxicity during the interview. I have interviewed people who were so obviously in this situation, and while I really want to be as understanding as possible given that I’ve been there too, I also had to wonder how well they would perform if they were currently so burnt out that they couldn’t even get through a 30 minute phone interview with a total stranger without making their feelings obvious. I’ve also recommended against a candidate when he talked about needing to take a break from working at all due to a stressful political environment at his job (which he was only at for a year, and that was his first job). In that case, the work environment was pretty stressful, so only the thick-skinned could really excel there.

      A good strategy is to make everything about a positive about the other job. “Well, I do enjoy my work at Chocolate Teapots Inc., but in the long term I really want to build a career on the gingerbread side of the teapots world, so I have been watching for a position to open up at Gingerbread Teapots Inc.” If they can read through you and keep pressing you for negatives about your current job, concede to one small and inoccuous negative or a culture-related thing that you are absolutely looking for in your next position. “Well, if I’m completely honest, the commute to Chocolate Teapots HQ is also terrible and I’m settled down on this side of town/our work culture is very solitary and I am more of a collaborative worker/I am looking for more flexibility in my hours/etc.” As an interviewer, I didn’t care so much whether the employee was ACTUALLY happy in their position as whether, if they were miserable, they still had the judgment and composure to hide it, and could at least speak enthusiastically about our position and company (rather than coming across as someone who will take any job just to get out of where they are).

      1. LoFlo*

        This is so timely for me. My last work place checked all the boxes of toxic environment. Wimpy manager combined with toxic workers, in a mission critical department so a blind eye was turned for too long. So many stories of WTF: seriously people throwing things and screaming at me was addressed by management by “What do you want me to do about it?” My FMLA for a hip replacement was resented because my manager had to attend a few meetings during my leave.

        I ended up getting fired because I resisted giving negative feedback on “confidential” monthly “team effectiveness” surveys management devised in an effort to be transparent. I am now searching for a new position and am wondering how I can I have faith in any new employer. My biggest hurdle is saying why I got fired without screwing up interview.

  5. Ash (the other one)*

    Here’s another to add to the list — feeling a lack of confidence even with extraordinary praise and encouragement.

    My last job beat me down to a point that its hard to believe that my current workplace will actually fulfill its promises to me. Last job promised me a specific title and despite praise at the beginning reneged on promises and left me feeling totally discouraged. They told me I couldn’t expect to be at a certain level at my age and “experience” and despite being really angry, guess it sunk it to a degree. At my new job they are pushing me to take on a new higher role with more responsibility and I find myself doubting it based on my poor treatment at last job. I also feel really weird when someone compliments my work right now. It’s all recovery I guess…

      1. HM in Atlanta*

        re “positivity at face value” – That’s a really good point. I’ve struggled with that, my internal voice is going, “is this for real” at the same time my boss is giving me an award. I was trying to find the angle (beyond just a great boss rewarding me)

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Makes sense. When trust is broken the damage goes into every. single. thing. So it makes sense that someone with a positive attitude, or compliments would not be real.

  6. Sans*

    I had one job that beat me down in a much more tangible way. My job involved writing and creativity. But the job took the approach that I should be able to amazingly creative and innovative while at the same time producing pieces at assembly line speed. For instance, a last minute project that someone else had forgotten about resulted in me having to write an ad — a creative, thematic ad, not just boilerplate product info — in 15 minutes. I did it – I’m not sure how, but I did it. Did I get thanks? Did I get an apology because someone else dropped the ball and I was the one who had to fix their problem? No. I got a cold stare and a remark “that’s how fast all ads should be written”.

    They beat the creativity out of me. For the first time in decades, I no longer had confidence in my abilities. I was so worn out, so miserable, so freaked out, that I couldn’t think or write creatively. After I left that job, it literally took me years to get my skills back. And it was excruciating to overcome the blocks and fears. And I don’t think my skills are 100% back and they may never totally come back. But I’m doing the best I can.

    1. Lisa*

      I know exactly how you feel. My old job expected 2 thoughtful and detailed docs to be completed within 2 days of a new client sign on. Each take 2 full days to do correctly. That job would promise these docs to multiple clients, and then tell the employees that complained that it shouldn’t take that long, and therefore it was our faults for ‘giving too much’. I never knew how cramming docs that should be spread over 6 months, but promised within 2 weeks was making the company money – but whatever. Every few years that place goes through a complete 100% turnover. They wanted the detail, but didn’t want to admit the detail took any time to do. So everything got slapped together, and then we were scolded for not producing to the level they wanted. Often docs would be called garbage / worthless after a meeting, but the managers would have known about a promised doc for weeks but only tell the lead 2 hours before the meeting that it was due.

      Or worse, my chaotic director would say ‘no, you don’t need to prepare a doc for this meeting’ then get overruled by the owner – 1 hour before we were leaving for the meeting! I hated that place because of the mixed messages. I did what the owner wanted mostly, and ignored my director cause nothing she ever said held. It was always overruled by the owner, and their directions were always different. ‘You don’t need a doc for the meeting’ and ‘never go to a meeting without something tangible prepared.’ So according to the director, you have all this time since she said you don’t need docs for meetings, but you know you do cause the owner is coming to that meeting. Ugh, I am scarred and getting anxiety just thinking about it. That guy makes me think I will be overruled by my bosses at my latest job, and to not get attached to my work because it might get wiped out by a boss.

    2. Sarahnova*

      Ugh, I’m so sorry for such a horrible experience.

      I know it’s not as easy as saying “get out of a horrible job situation”, but I hope at least this blog can make people feel that they DESERVE to get out of any job situation that is destroying their self-worth and making them miserable, even if it’s going to take time.

    3. Diane*

      My former (great) boss said that in our dysfunctional workplace, once you pull a rabbit out of your hat, they expect you to do that all the time.

  7. Cajun2Core*

    One more sign to add. When your old boss unexpectedly shows up at work (he left, I didn’t) and you have to deal with him, you feel like cowering under your desk like a dog during a thunderstorm.

    1. audrey*

      YES!!! My old (terrible) boss moved on to another area of the company, and I still feel sick to my stomach whenever I see his name pop up in my inbox.

    2. Diane*

      Oh yes! I still have business at the same location I worked, so I tense up at the thought of seeing my old horrible boss.

  8. Jess*

    I had nightmares every night for ages after I left my last job. It’s been two years and I still have one every other month or so. Having a cruel manager can beat you down so much, destroy your faith in your skills, and make you feel like you’ll never be good at anything again. It’s abuse that employees are expected to either take with a smile or move on, which is so hard to do.

    1. Pennalynn Lott*

      It has been four years since I left my last toxic job and I, too, still have regular nightmares about it.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        And these foolish companies have no clue how this stress drives up health care costs. It ticks me off. I have had my lunch inspected, I have had my choice of doctors questioned, I have been ordered to remove bandaging that the doctor said I had to keep on. Just another way for bosses to be toxic. There is no real way to measure how much stress people can take without getting sick. And they have to be severely sick before anyone will admit it was caused by their jobs. As a final kick in the teeth companies drop you off their insurance.

        Where is it? Japan? They have named the disease. The disease is from working long hours with endless demands. Young people are dying from it so much that it’s now becoming an area of concern.

    2. gillian*

      A few months after I left a toxic job, I was walking past my old office building (it’s not far from the job I took after I left). I had a full-blown panic attack that did not subside for 10 minutes.

    3. Cautionary tail*

      PTSD. Two years. It never really ends.

      I left toxic place 1 and got a job at toxic place 2. Those four years were a living hell.

      For the past two years I have been in a normal place but I can’t shake the PTSD of those two back to back experiences. I function and try the best I can but I know they will be with me for the rest of my life.

  9. Rebecca*

    “You don’t do your best work, because you learned earlier that it wouldn’t be appreciated.”

    I struggle so much with this. Before our company was purchased, new ideas were welcomed, encouraged, and people were rewarded with merit increases, more responsibility, etc. Now, no more raises. If there is a bonus, everyone gets the same percentage, so you could be a butt in a chair pushing a button, and get the same percentage as a star performer who suggested and implemented procedural changes that saved the company tens of thousands of dollars. It’s so discouraging. I think people work best and to their fullest potential when they know there’s a reward for doing so.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Annnddd people who are stressed out and bullied make more mistakes and work slower. So, of course they are not doing their best work. I have seen bosses that were absolutely shocked to find out that angry people do NOT work harder. No, they work more carelessly because they are not focusing on the work. They are focusing on how to cover their butts before the next storm hits. Which it will.
      Trying to tell these bosses it’s a bad idea to tick people off totally rocks the boss’ world. Cannot comprehend.

      1. JM in England*

        +1 billion to this! At a couple of previous jobs, felt I was spending more time CYAing than the actual work I was hired to do………………….

  10. Kate*

    It’s been a year and I’m still not use to the idea that not all coworkers talk behind your back, plot to destroy you and if they say hello it can just be hello and sarcastic.

    It also a full 6 months to not have dreams/nightmares nightly about certain people and situations.

  11. owl*

    I have a great new job that I love, but even after eight months I’m still in therapy and on anti-anxiety meds because of PSTD caused by my previous horrible job and bullying boss. It can take a long time to get over. No one at my current job knows about the PTSD but they talk about my potential and all I can think is that I will fail. Moral of the story is get out of a toxic job ASAP, even if it means a radical lifestyle change. It’s not worth the risk to your mental health.

  12. Brett*

    Another bad habit I have learned I developed related to number 3 is assuming that my work is worthless. I’m used to receiving little acknowledgement and no tangible reward for my work at my main job.

    That has carried over to my startup company side job. I always assume that I am not doing anything of value and not pulling my weight. Then I meet an investor or adviser and they tell me I was an amazing find or that they hear raves about my work….

    That might sound like a good thing, but it throws me off. They expect to hear about this valuable work and how I do it, and I have no idea what to tell them because I don’t understand why it is perceived as valuable. That’s a bad thing; I need to learn how to test investors whey I am valuable.

  13. Not an IT Guy*

    Is it actually possible to recover from this? I’ve been in the workforce for 15 years and have never had a “good” job because I’ve always felt I needed to take what I could get. I would love to get out of my current toxic workplace but right now I feel like the only way that’s going to happen is either with an escort or in a body bag.

    1. Joey*

      Never suggests you’re not screening employers for the right things when you interview or that possibly your expectations are unrealistic. Unless you have incredibly bad luck.

      1. gillian*

        Or it could be that many employers intentionally create a workplace environment that is designed to beat people down.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I agree with you that these good employers are rare. And if you go from one toxic situation to another, the damage inside is almost at the cellar level.
      As Joey is saying, the only thing I could conclude was that I picked badly. The common denominator was ME. Unfortunately, this is not instructive. You can clearly identify a problem and still have no clue how to solve it.
      I started with teaching myself to trust again. I had lost the ability to trust. It was easier to assume everything was lie- because it usually was. And I had to learn about red flags on interviews. Additionally, I picked jobs too hastily. I needed to slow down and be deliberate.

      I can count on one hand the number of good bosses I have had. Since I have usually worked two jobs at the same time. this is a few bosses. Also what who you hang out with. Look for people that seem to be moving ahead in life and see what ideas you get from watching them.

      1. LoFlo*

        Find some good interview questions to guage the hiring manager. Like what did the person in this position do x months ago or what is the process for change management? I work in a field that has inflexible deadlines and strict compliance. My last manager had no understanding of these type of limitations and left his staff twisting in the wind when things went sideways.

    3. Sarahnova*

      Good bosses and good companies exist, and you can find them. But it sounds like you will have to work on a) believing that, b) being more careful and selective about your choices.

      You can absolutely leave your current environment; warping you until you believe you can’t is part of its toxicity. I’d recommend reading through some of the recovery and self-protection strategies upthread.

  14. Hermoine Granger*

    Towards the end of my most recent terrible job things got so bad that I suffered from insomnia, night grinding, and constant colds. I was overly stressed and exhausted to the point where I couldn’t do much of anything outside of work let alone job search. Fortunately, I think I’ve been able to put it behind me and don’t have any lingering anxiety.

    I’ve decided to only move forward with the experience and skills I’ve gained while leaving the negativity behind in that environment. I haven’t found a new position as yet but I’m generally optimistic about the future, far less stressed, and feeling a lot better. I’m no longer suffering from insomnia and now have a lot more energy which enables me to be productive and thorough about my search. I probably don’t night grind anymore but I still wear a dental guard at night just in case.

    1. Jean*

      Congratulations on your strong-minded approach to move forward with the positives and leave the negativity behind. No disrespect to people who aren’t able to do this, or aren’t able to do this _easily_, but making the decision to transcend a crappy experience is amazingly effective at diluting or neutralizing the venomous after-effects of said experience.

      1. Hermoine Granger*

        Thanks, I try to take this approach to negative events, experiences, and people in all areas of my life. If it’s unnecessarily stressful or otherwise makes me unhappy, I accept that it’s not for me and try to make a clean break. I move on, try to learn what I can from the situation, and then let it go so I make mental / emotional space for new positive experiences.

  15. Dislike My Boss*

    This article speaks to me. I’ve had the excitement of working for great managers and currently have the disdain of working with a crappy boss and crappier boss’ boss. I remember being sit down and being told, “I’m disappointed in your performance, you have so much potential.” This is after being a top performer in many categories. I understand firsthand the reactions I’m starting to feel working in a toxic environment: disinterest in the work, more agitated reactions, becoming numb to the work environment. Work isn’t going to be bundles of joy, but it shouldn’t be something you dread either.

    Keeping my head up as I’m looking for jobs and using your advice AAM. I hope to bring a success story soon!

  16. AnotherHRPro*

    Wow, reading this really breaks my heart. It is sad to read that so many of you have had such horrible work experiences. There are times when I don’t like my job, company, boss, etc. but I am so lucky to have never worked in such toxic environments!

      1. TheSockMonkey*

        I’ve never understood that–isn’t the cost of constantly refilling positions due to turnover higher than the cost of replacing a manager?

        1. Mike C.*

          The thing you have to realize is that these folks are not rational actors. They treat others like crap because they are insecure, are unable to deal with things being done outside of exactly how they envision (and on their schedule) and thrive on being the entitled tyrant over others. Most of these folks feel that employing you is a favor and act of charity and that if you don’t kneel and kiss the ring, you’re just an ungrateful person who deserves to be thrown on out onto the streets.

        2. Sarahnova*

          Yes, but it’s a hidden cost, i.e. you never have to directly pay it out in cash, so you can avoid the reality of it quite easily if you choose.

          It’s also beyond incredible how far many people will go to avoid having unpleasant conversations, like “Your behaviour is unacceptable”. (Not the horrible bosses, obviously, but the incompetent or ineffective bosses’ bosses.)

          I also suspect the Puritan influences in US working culture play into this to some extent, i.e. you’re not supposed to enjoy working or necessarily to have a life beyond it.

    1. Windchime*

      I have someone in my life who is caught in a care taking role for a person with a personality disorder of some kind…..thanks for sharing this link. I might get this as a gift for her.

  17. AE*

    YES! After I left my toxic workplace… I asked to be let go, it was that bad… I was unemployed for 5 months (with severence) and then found a new job. For years every time something went wrong in the new place, I would have a nightmare the next night and would be back at the old place in my sleep. I still occasionally dream about the old place, 5 years later, though it’s nostalgic as often as it is anxiety-provoking. I now dream about current coworkers who are difficult (only a couple, thankfully) though the dreams may be in the context of the old job.

    I needed therapy during that 5-month period, and I do believe it was PTSD. I told my therapist not to tell me what my diagnosis was because I only cared about recovering from the situation and moving on, so it’s just my opinion.

    The new place seemed so much safer that I was very quiet and kept my head down for a long time, but as time has gone by, sometimes I have been treated unfairly and I definitely stand up for myself more than I would have in the past. I can’t bear to go through the kind of nonsense I went through at that old job.

  18. Clever Name*

    Yeah. I’ve been there. I started typing out a long reply but deleted it when it veered into a rambling rant. *cleansing breath*

    Really, the only thing that saved me from going down a rabbit-hole of career self-loathing was that my job prior was great with an amazing boss who regularly gave me specific positive feedback, so I was able (at times) to step back and remind myself that I really didn’t suck.

    Having that experience enabled me to stick around at my current company and make it through dealing with a difficult PM because I knew she actually was a really good person who was just a bad PM. One other person quit because he didn’t like dealing with her.

  19. TP*

    What about when your new job turns out to be equally dysfunctional and toxic? After a little more than a year at my now not-so-new-job, working a role different than what I was sold, witnessing staff turnover and realizing that half of the department is looking to leave, I don’t think it’s me carrying over PTSD. I never thought I would find another place that was run as badly as my last job, but I did! After two stints of this, I definitely will have PTSD at my next job, that’s for sure!

    1. Lucy*

      And this is why I’m scared of moving on to another job…..better the devil you know, etc. etc. etc.

      1. TP*

        Didn’t mean to reinforce that thought! I think sometimes you need to make a few moves in order to land at the right one…at least that’s how I’m looking at it. I should mention that during the interview process, I did sense something odd about the department, but gave it a chance. Lesson learned for next time…

        1. Revanche*

          Agreed that it can take a few moves. I had about 3 jobs over 9-12 years with horrible toxic manipulative managers before matching up to an unexpectedly great one. The PTSD from the worst of the lot is still wearing off, 3 years in, but it makes an enormous difference working with people who aren’t just vipers in people-suits or bosses who aren’t trying to use you up and throw you under the boss every chance they get.
          I had years where the only positive things I heard/experienced were from the external colleagues who thought I was awesome (they worked with our company but not for the same bosses) and from my mentors who were amazing at reminding me that this was an extremely toxic environment, it was NOT normal, and don’t internalize it as normal. Cope, because I had to support my family, but don’t accept it. Obviously that didn’t stop me internalizing some reactions to certain triggering actions (being asked to come talk to the boss, for example) BUT I knew going out of those jobs that I had to unlink those coping mechanisms when approaching a new boss. That knowledge was invaluable to interviewing and landing one of the better jobs I’ve ever had.

    2. AnotherTeacher*

      Exactly my question.

      My current workplace is, overall, better, but hallmarks of dysfunction have begun creeping up, and it bothers me much more than it should. The one positive note is that I learned the lesson that there is no fighting this kind of bullying (“mean girl” style gossip, exclusion, and passive-aggressive commentary). I am keeping my head down, doing the best work possible, and reviewing the job market. If/when I have a new job, I want to be in the positive mindset that I am moving “towards” that opportunity rather than “away from” my current position.

      1. ItsJust me*

        The Right move is treating each other with respect and you can’t just think that is always a bad move. Its sounds like you have problems and you need to learn what a chance is really. Even though things are old they turn out to be the best thing in your life but you have to want to work at it

  20. so and so*

    My last job put me back into therapy for the depression I had learned to effectively manage years before. Two years out and I’ve just recently been able to handle feedback without immediately assuming that my job is on the line.

    As a young professional with very few job prospects out there, that job destroyed my career and sent me back into hourly, no growth potential work. I doubt I’ll ever move into something decent at this point since I’m pushing thirty and have no decent professional level experience.

    But – and this is a huge point – I’ve worked very hard to get back to being the great employee I once was. It’s important to me, even if I cannot see much growth in my future, to be more than what that awful job set me up to be.

  21. Iro*

    Thank you Alison Green!!!!!!!

    I’m actually in the position where I was starting to get in trouble for the behaviors that were mandatory for survival on my old position.

    Do you have any suggestions for how to be open with this in your new role, particularly if it’s an internal promotion? As your article clearly states, some survival behaviors from a toxic job can backfire on you in a healthy one and I’m not sure what the most professional way to deal with and communicate this is to a new boss.

    It’s been my experience with most traumatic experiences that most people are like “You are still on about that? Come on! Get over it!”

  22. BJ*

    Thank you for addressing this. Most people (who are fortunate enough to not work in an abusive environment) underestimate the impact a toxic environment can have on a person, both personally and professionally.

    I was unemployed for two years after my last toxic job and had to go to therapy, only to land and even more toxic job in a desperate attempt to escape unemployment and become independent again.

    I’m learning that the interview process is just as much for me as it is for the employer and that I need to trust my gut. That I’m a valuable person and employee and that some people in manager positions just aren’t meant to be managers.

  23. Beancounter in Texas*

    Adding to the pile of toxic workplace stories…

    I had a dream boss. He wasn’t perfect, but he nailed all the right elements. When he sold the business, the new management transformed my job into something I didn’t enjoy. I immediately started job hunting. Somewhere along the way, I said something to the HR director to make her paint a target on my back & the lady with whom I shared my office spied on me to the HR director and spread false gossip about me. I was never given a job description and constantly got my hands slapped. My boss was a pushover and let employee drama become so rampant, it rivaled reality TV & daytime soap operas. The final straw that made me lose all respect for my boss was when he instructed me to pay an employee for the three days of administrative leave that was given as discipline. This employee openly and repeatedly disrespected his supervisor in front of pretty much the entire company & received paid time off as “punishment.”

    I accepted a new position, which was a step down in my career, but I was desperate. My supervisor ended up being very harsh over the most minor things that I sobbed in the bathroom at least once a week. The only thing that kept me from quitting was the repeated reassurances that I was hired to replace her (unbeknownst to her). Once the boss pulled the trigger & I took her position, my confidence returned & my performance blew the socks off my boss!

  24. SerfinUSA*

    What do you do when you really can’t leave a toxic workplace? My poor long-suffering partner has been in the mother of all hazard zones for 10 years now.
    We’re talking state job with better pay than any generally available jobs in our town, just nearing 50 & female, so always the fear of being ‘unemployable’ should she leave without something lined up, trying to have something for retirement, etc.
    But the job, OMG! It involves law enforcement, and so many pissing contests it’s not even funny. Support personnel are derided, condescended to, humiliatingly denied any kind of advancement (i.e. you’re just secretaries), played off against each other, and so on.
    Luckily her peers are a tightly knit group. I think they have to be to survive. But between all that, plus dealing with rude, entitled ‘customers’ and 10 years of shift work (imagine being married 10 years and never having the same schedule as your spouse), it can be hard to find a mental lifeline to hang onto and keep this job.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Try to figure out why you can’t leave. How much is real and how much is just stinkin’ thinkin’.

      For example: I am in the over 50 crowd. I would be foolish to say my age is not a problem. So what I tell myself is that I do not want to work for people who have a problem with my age. No skin off my nose if they don’t want me. I don’t want them, either, I don’t need their negativity.
      What happened next was interesting. I started noticing people’s faces relax when they saw my graying hair. Don’t be so intense about the negative ( being 50 something) that you don’t notice the positives (there are people who do not mind if someone is middle aged).

      Why not hit next Friday’s open thread, with your partner’s permission, of course. Throw it out to the readers “What would you do if you have X experience, you are age 50 and you need a new job?” Brainstorm. See what people come up with to say. Get on early so everyone sees the post.

      1. Beancounter in Texas*


        When I came into this small office of six people, I was the youngest at 34. The ages of my coworkers (at the time) were 50 (hired at age 26), 65, 74, 75 (the owner) & 76. I’ve overcome a bit of stereotypes about working with older people, but I certainly value their experience.

        And yes, certainly, line something up before leaving. :)

    2. Sarahnova*

      Has she been job hunting?

      I don’t want to minimise the challenges of where she is, and money is certainly not optional for life. But sanity, self-respect, and a lack of toxicity are worth an awful, awful lot. I picked up a phrase from Captain Awkward about emotionally horrible but financially beneficial/”free” situations: “The cheapest way to pay is money.” If a doable financial hit gets her out of that situation, it’s cheap at the price.

  25. Cube Diva*

    This is 100% me. I’m coming up on a year (tomorrow!) in an amazing job, while OldJob still haunts me. I’m still trying to work on skills that were majorly stunted and punished there– like asking for help.

  26. Suzanne*

    Wonderful article! I had a job I loved for nearly 15 years. Enjoyed the work, great manager, loved my co-workers. When the place closed up, I took the first job I could find. What a nightmarish difference! No training, no guidance, no job description beyond “you are in charge of x & y”, etc. Once the front door wasn’t closing properly so one of my co-workers came out of his office, walked past the front door to find me in the back office to tell me I needed to call maintenance ASAP to get it fixed. Why he couldn’t call, I still to this day can’t fathom.

    1. Suzanne*

      Also, one snowy blizzardy day after an hour white knuckled drive to get there on time, I was called under the carpet by my manager because the student who was supposed to work the first shift was late and didn’t call me. I kept having to repeat that I had left home long before his shift was to start so had he called, I was not home to answer his call.This fell on very deaf ears. I think I went home that night & just banged my head on the wall.

      I ended up quitting that job before a year was up & was traumatized for a long time after.

  27. Alien vs Predator*

    Great article and great advice. The only thing I think I would add is that if you are leaving one of these highly toxic jobs, do everything you can to take at least a week or two off before starting a new job. Not possible for every situation, certainly, but if you have any choice in the matter, I think this might help offset some of the effects of the toxicity of the old job.

    Two years ago I left an absolute nightmare job on a Friday afternoon and started a great job the following Monday morning. I was really eager to get the heck out of there and get started in the new place, but I really didn’t realize the full scope of my stress level until about 2 months into the new job. It really did impact my performance in the ways AAM describes. I really think even one week off between jobs would have made a lot of difference for me, though true healing from job-related PTSD can only occur with the passage of time (much longer than a week).

  28. INTP*

    What is really traumatizing is when you have been at multiple toxic workplaces in a row. I had three, and started to wonder if I have some sort of personality disorder and can’t get along with anyone! I didn’t think that was the case, because when I looked at other people, I could see the effects on them too — often stronger than they were on me, and they often hated the bosses far more than I did. But I tend to believe that when the common denominator for a negative situation is yourself, there’s usually more going on than just bad luck, so I began to wonder whether I have a severe personality disorder and I was imagining not only toxic behavior in management but also negative reactions to it in coworkers when nothing was there! Or if there was, at the least, something wrong with me that made me unable to be happy in any sort of work environment.

    Luckily my streak ended after three, but it was very traumatizing. I really thought I might have borderline personality disorder for awhile. (Not that this is the worst diagnosis that can happen to a person or anything – it’s just frightening to wonder if you have something like this and not even know how to figure it out because you feel like you can’t trust your own perceptions of yourself or others. When I told other people what was going on, they’d always say that the work environment was messed up and I wasn’t the root of it, but I started fearing that I was just retelling my own distorted perception too convincingly.)

    1. Gal Friday*

      Wow, thank you INTP,

      That’s my story almost exactly.

      I used to scores MB tests. I can’t remember if I was also INTP :)

    2. AnotherTeacher*

      I’ve felt this way, too, and am also INTP. For me, the issue stems from my previous good luck in having wonderful bosses early in my career. I worked for a series of confident, supportive people, and that was my “norm.” At the same time, I know I am now very sensitive to certain bad behaviors, and I work at learning how to handle them.

  29. Nicole*

    I was thinking something similar to this PTSD thing recently. I have noticed a strange phenomenon. A have known a few women at different jobs who have been survivors of domestic violence at the hands of their husbands and they have all been incredibly loyal to organizations that are either toxic and/or unscrupulous. I’ve wondered whether this past abuse has given them a sort of Stockholm Syndrome that they have transferred to their employers. The first woman was my manager. She was in her late 50s I’d say. She told me early on in my job that she was known as the “office bitch” (her words, not mine). She was a little bit cold, but after she told me about the abuse she had suffered, I usually gave her the benefit of the doubt. Now even though she was commanding with me, when the CEO came into her office, she turned into a submissive kitten. I overheard her once talking about the company’s “creative accounting” but she never turned the company in or threatened to quit. This manager did her job to the T, was never late and said she’d be at the same job until she died. The second woman is at my current place of work. She’s a coworker who, like the first woman, goes above and beyond normal duties (not saying there’s anything wrong with that at all). We are allowed to make our own hours, but she puts all of her hours into the first 2 1/2 to 3 days of the week, which is incredible, but almost hypervigilant (I encourage you to look up hypervigilance on Wikipedia). I could go on about her accolades despite the company’s unethical behavior. So what is it about these women? Is there something in these women that makes them loyal to people and institutions that mistreat them? Or do the companies subconsciously lift up these submissive people as the ideals for others to follow? Isn’t it a little sick that in these cold, corporate, sociopathic environments, the people who thrive are those that have been conditioned to endure abuse?? I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.

    1. SerfinUSA*

      I’ve seen abusive workplaces enshrine not just submissiveness as ideal behavior, but also getting ahead by less-than-ethical treatment of peers/subordinates (but never higher-ups).

      Selecting younger people over ‘scarred battle axes’ also seems to fill employee ranks with less-confident, abuse-naive people. I can’t recall the exact term (normalcy bias? sliding normalcy?) but it’s where people get so used to bad circumstances that what an objective observer might see as disturbing only registers as normal to someone embedded in the situation.
      I think people who haven’t experienced ‘good’ jobs accept ‘bad’ jobs as the norm, and even more so if you have other factors (like abuse) contributing to a baseline level of acceptance of poor treatment.

    2. cinnamon pears*

      I grew up being the disfavored child. My brother would get breakfast in bed and I would see my mother walking past my room with it every morning and she would tell me on her way back to get up and get in and out of the bathroom quickly because brother would need it for an hour, etc. among other things. I started to date people who treated me as badly and I have had bad bosses who have treated me the same way. I didn’t complete college because I didn’t think I was good enough. I have only started recognizing this because I have a great boyfriend who clued me in on how I was behaving and stops me to ask me if I would be happy treating other people the way others have treated me. Patterns are learned early and it takes a lot of recognize them and break them. What is normal for some people isn’t normal at all.

      1. Beancounter in Texas*

        That is horrible. I cannot fathom how a mother can be so blatantly obvious in her favor of a child. I hope you find the courage & will to break the cycle.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      We are all imperfect or broken in some way. Some folks think that approval/love is hard to get and it hurts. Noooo- they don’t think this deliberately. Nor is it at the forefront of their thinking. It is what they have learned in life. Approval/love is hard to earn, it is scarce and sometimes it is painful.

      Additionally, there are varying degrees of how this scars a person. We can see it here. We have some folks scared crapless to look for a job. We have some folks that will try and cry all the way through it. And we have some folks that pulled themselves together after a period of time and got back on track. Differences in people, differences in life experiences.

      I am optimistic for the folks reading here. Number one, they have found a safe place to be with solid, ethical advice. Number two, the fact that they are reading this means that there is some part of them that has not totally given up yet. Lastly, my personal belief, that they will learn more here than in college. Really life advice that they can turn around and use RIGHT NOW. And that is what a wounded person needs, tools that they can use right now to reweave themselves and their lives.

    4. Gal Friday*

      This is a significant component.

      I define it for my self that I grew up in chaos so I have a real high tolerance for it. And work chaos has a false veneer of “The likelihood for the worst possible thing I can remember like this happening here, in a professional setting (oh the irony of the toxic workplace) so I can handle this.”

      I posted above I was diagnosed with PTSD after military service. Then had 10 years or recovery and life was amazing and then a 10 year string of toxic work environments.

      The last one I actually kind of made it a thing to stand there and take the abuse from my boss, like a game of emotional chicken with myself – Crazy!

      I wouldn’t quit, I made him fire me, that was how I ‘Won’

      So yes, there is something about previous stress and tolerances for crazy and well as ‘Normalization’ and most often, we need the paycheck, benefits too much to leave.

      1. Gal Friday*


        Poor editing.

        The likliehood…is very low that…could happen in the work place.

        10 years OF recovery.


  30. LoFlo*

    This is so timely for me. My last work place checked all the boxes of toxic environment. Wimpy manager combined with toxic workers, in a mission critical department so a blind eye was turned for too long. So many stories of WTF: seriously people throwing things and screaming at me was addressed by management by “What do you want me to do about it?” My FMLA for a hip replacement was resented because my manager had to attend a few meetings during my leave.

    I ended up getting fired because I resisted giving negative feedback on “confidential” monthly “team effectiveness” surveys management devised in an effort to be transparent. I am now searching for a new position and am wondering how I can I have faith in any new employer. My biggest hurdle is saying why I got fired without screwing up interview.

  31. WorkerBee*

    One of my jobs fired me for asking for a couple of days off, well in advance – and not a demand, just a request. Since then, I’ve been terrified of asking for any time off whatsoever, even if it’s for the best reason ever and causes no trouble to the company, and am always surprised when the bosses grant it/don’t make a big fuss about it.

  32. nyxalinth*

    this is great timing. I just ended up losing the Evil Hell Job. I called in, was told to come in or else, I refused. Now I’m kind of scared to even start looking for another, though I know I must.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Oh, it’s gone now. Thank goodness. I am so happy to hear this. Make a list of red flags you are going to watch for on interviews. Good vibes heading your way….

  33. StillHealing*

    I already had PTSD and was managing it quite well until I ended up in a position working with a toxic co – worker. Three years working with coworker and Managers who said they expected me to continue working with this person even after the person started stalking me, I ended up hospitalized. I haven’t been able to return to work for three years now. I don’t even know where to begin with looking for work, and once I get a new job- how do I for ADA accommodations, etc.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Isn’t there a list of disabilities that are specified under ADA? I would start there to make sure you are covered.

  34. Layla*

    My former manager sent me numerous messages to leave my previous job and come work for her. I did. For three months, it was fine, I worked and plugged away. On my review day, she said I was a condescending pretentious worker who was not a team player and was far too unprofessional with the clients, and too stoic with the employees. The kicker was I received the lowest score on attendance, stating “if I were on my 90 day probation period, I would NEVER take time off.” I said, “My mother died. YOU sent me home. If I could have kept her alive, I would have.” She said it doesn’t matter, probationary employees should come in no matter what. It went downhill from there, to throwing things and shouting obscenity after obscenity for being 98% accurate. At my current job, when I received a 5 star review, I gave it back because I didn’t think it was possible. I’m glad I’m gone, but the experience still gives me bad dreams.

  35. Former Professional Computer Geek*

    Once upon a time I worked for a very toxic manager. The only time he called me into my office was to scream at me, belittle me, and mock me. He would tell me that people from other departments within the division would complain to him about my incompetence. I did not get one raise while working there, although I put in long hours and was doing the jobs of two people. When he wasn’t putting me down he would give me assignments that were clearly designed to set me up to fail, of the “I need this thing that should be a three-day-job done by tomorrow” type — except that, then, I was 25ish, single, and still able to pull all-nighters. That I got the stuff done would then send him on another tirade.

    Finally, after three years of this nonsense, I screwed my head on straight, got myself two excellent job offers, put in my notice, and bolted. (Saddest, to me, was discovering how much he’d lied to me — a going away party was traditional at this division, put on by the coworkers/peers, who took up donations. My party was packed with everyone in the whole division who wasn’t on a mission-critical desk, and everyone told stories of how much I’d been missed and how helpful I’d been to the other departments. I got home and cried all night.)

    Unfortunately, my new manager wound up with the results of how I’d been treated. Every time she called me into her office I assumed I was going to get yelled at. She’d say things like, “Calm down. You look like you’re expecting to get beaten with a stick. Where did you work before; does this company own a *prison*?!” It took me six months to stop cringing every time I heard, “Would you come into my office?”

    Icing: A year after I left, a new manager in the previous department/division called me and tried to convince me to come back, saying that everyone (but the toxic manager) had liked my work and could use it again. The former (toxic) manager had been demoted but still worked there. My gut turned at the thought of dealing with him again, and I politely said no.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      holy crap. Well, something you can hang on to, they called you back. That thought is a keeper for you. You were wise not to go back, though.

  36. AggrAV8ed Tech*

    This is the problem I have with my current job. 15 years now, with the last 6 being utterly toxic and not unlike an abusive relationship. Every single day is a struggle and I have no idea how to escape, much less how I’d feel if I actually do. It’s made me physically ill (worried I’m developing an ulcer on top of my anxiety/depressive tendencies) and I find myself hating myself more and more each day due to the treatment by my boss. It’s truly convinced me that this is the way work is and that good, healthy jobs are for “other people”.

  37. EE*

    I may have to print this out and stick it on my mirror. My fear of my manager at my last long job was so acute that when I walked down the street and saw somebody ahead of me who looked like her, my heartrate would jump with anxiety.

  38. Limon*

    I have been working at my new job for a year and a half and am just now really feeling the awesomeness of a good position. I have created a good niche for myself by doing several different things and have been given great feedback by many people. Yeah!

    But it was a real effort for me to pull my head out of my turtle shell because I had two horrible jobs back to back and ended up leaving the second one after I stood up to the boss and – well, if I hadn’t recorded his creepy comments on my cell phone it would not have ended as well as it did. A few weeks after I left, with apologies from the division head (so to speak), my former supervisor’s retirement was announced in the local paper. After 27 years he was retiring for personal reasons. From what I had been told by many people, he had terrorized some employees and driven them out, not unlike what he did to me. I guess, it was my turn up at bat but this player decided she was not going down quite so easily. I don’t normally do such undercover detective work, but I did my legal homework and found out about the laws for recording conversations in my state (one party is ok). Gosh, looking back, I am so glad I did that.

    I will say that when I talk to people I try and make sure I say nothing that I wouldn’t mind seeing on the front page of the NY Times. : )

    I really appreciate every day with my good job and treat my co-workers with good humor and friendliness. I go above and beyond and am very grateful.

  39. Limon*

    “… he had terrorized many other employees,” was what I meant to say. Many other people over the years, for sure.

  40. NoName*

    My last job has made me wonder if I hate working and I’m not mentally tough enough to do what I have to do and work for a living because I wake up wondering if there is any point to living and I just wish I never had to go back. I am depressive, I’m sick, I’m miserable, I’m always crying and I feel like a failure. Doesn’t help I’m stuck in a place and industry I hate and can’t get out of due to lack of experience.

    1. Vitriolic V.*

      Hang in there ol’ paint.

      I feel the way you do sometimes, but have found at my lowest that many times the darkest hour is before the dawn.

      If you can keep going, you just might get somewhere.

      By the way, (this may be crappy advice, so take it or leave it):

      Don’t ever tell yourself something that you would never allow yourself to believe coming out of someone else’s mouth. Personally putting myself through the daily grind day in and day out, I would be outraged if someone else said I wasn’t mentally tough enough, (I am here aren’t I?) so why should I ever say it to myself?

      I wish you luck and pray you find your way to better pastures NoName. They are out there. Keep searching.

  41. former music teacher*

    ahhah oh lord. I used to be an elementary music teacher and now I’m at the college level. In public school teaching, I had to account for every second of every day or else I was accused of being lazy, and because I was the only music teacher, the classroom teachers saw me as their “break” time and treated me accordingly. They would rearrange their class times without telling me until a different set of kids showed up than I’d planned for, ask me to take their classes extra times because they “need a break”, complained when I did concerts because it disrupted their schedule but complain when I didn’t do concerts because I wasn’t “doing enough for the kids”, make snide remarks that because I didn’t grade papers I must “have an easy job”. They’d pull kids from my class as punishment for not getting their “real” work done. Groups would use my classroom after school and leave it a mess. (I once walked in to graham crackers ground into the carpet and sour chocolate milk spilled from one end of the room to the other. And I had to clean it up.) And let’s not even get into parents screaming at me for all kinds of ridiculous reasons.

    At the college level I seriously don’t know how to act. No one is watching me come in and out the building. The professors (I’m just a teaching assistant/grad student) don’t treat me like their break time, but treat me like a colleague. No one pulls students from my class unless it’s like… an ensemble playing out of town and they need to travel. No one tries to “borrow” my classroom or take my stuff. No one micromanages my hours. No one scrutinizes my syllabus or criticises my curriculum. I can go to the bathroom whenever I want and I can have more than 10 minutes for lunch, which I can actually eat sitting down and not in a room full of 300 students. And I’m not even allowed to talk to parents because of FERPA. I think I wandered around for two years in a fog, expecting people to yell at me for something before I realized that I was being treated like a professional and that meant leaving me alone to do my job. I still don’t think I’m over it and I’ve been out of public school going on 4 years now.

    1. cowgirlbythebeach*

      Public school English teacher here, and live what you’ve experienced tenfold! Doing middle school for the first time in a new district after teaching high school for many years; had multiple positions thanks to the recession/RIFs. This year, I have the privilege of “hosting” 175 defiant, undisciplined students who act like Cartoon Network characters on acid the entire period (“It’s my ADHD, and I’m not going to do your #@!* work!”). Entitled parents who always call the principal for every little mistake, and admins impatient for me to get the school bully in line AND grade research papers, presentations and resumes within – oh, a week. Every tiny mistake is documented in the name of “new teacher support”. Nearly 40 students per class, with no support for kids on 504 plans. Super-demanding parents who think they can go right to the school board and complain how their precious “Buford” or “Buffy” has a B instead on an A. In addition to being treated like a little child – with absolutely no support to transition to a new grade level – kids have begun to pull even more juvenile crap – including stealing school property. Drawing body parts on the desks.

      I took the job against my better sense, only because of the need to work. Now, I’ve been exploring how to transition out of the classroom and find a less stressful job/career. It is not worth going home stressed out to the point of breaking down. And this is a “high performing” place of learning.

      If anyone is a former teacher and you’ve found peace in a new career, I’d love to know how you did it.

  42. Vitriolic V.*

    Just a question Alison, (if you are still out there, of course…) most of your job quitting/hunting posts recommend staying at a job until you have another lined up… Does that advice generally still stand in cases like these?

    I avoided doing that last time for two reasons: I feared leaping from the frying pan into the fire (that I would foolishly accept any other job just to get out of the one I had), and because I feared I would blow my next job (reeling from the trauma) and unnecessarily burn an otherwise suitable bridge that could be used later.

    I know not everyone has the luxury of being jobless, but is taking another job when you are in a traumatized condition always advisable?

    Just wondering about your thoughts.

    1. +1*

      I’d be interested to hear a response to this as well. I’ve been in a situation where I feel I ruined a really good opportunity because I was still healing from the wounds from a traumatic job. I was so terrified of making a mistake and getting yelled at in front of everyone, that I didn’t show any initiative which annoyed the new employers and they thought I had a ‘high opinion of myself’ because I always looked like I was in a court hearing when getting feedback….because I was just waiting for it it become personal insults and I also didn’t give my best because I was still recovering from a nervous breakdown and nothing was ever good enough at my bad job, so why try and get insulted anyway. I think I would have beeb better quitting the bad job, being less scared of a ‘resume gap’ and I may not have lost the second one.

      I also wonder if the constant talk about how job hopping is BAD makes people feel pressured to stay in these toxic jobs, especially if you ‘hopped’ to it have been told you need to stay put but got rotten luck and it’s worse than the job you left. I had that happen with my toxic job….I left for it because it seemed great and then the job was mis-sold to me, management were bullies and everything about the job was awful. But I felt pressured to stay.

      1. Vitriolic V.*

        It’s too bad, it looks like Alison wasn’t interested in commenting on this topic. I didn’t see her anywhere on here this time. Oh well.

  43. TC*

    Thank you so much for writing this article! I thought I was the only one. People don’t talk about this which can make you feel more alone and make the PSTD worse! Thanks everyone for your stories, thoughts and wisdom!

    Question – I stayed in a terrible work environment for two years and I quit because I was broken. I had no confidence and was having anxiety attacks at work/at home thinking about work. I left a job that I liked to go to a horrible job. I am getting better but it is a slow process. I am dealing with a lot of paranoia lately. I am looking for a new job. I really miss aspects of working. Recently a recruiter from a temp agency has not reply to my email or my phone message. She was very excited when we talked. She told me that I would hear from her on early last week but nothing. This happened to me after a job interview which I know is common. Are they calling my former employer? Is my former employer saying things that are untrue? I would not put anything past my former manager.


  44. Janet*

    Wow! Great thread. I can relate to so much of what has been commented here.

    Had a job that I loved for 4+ years, except toxic boss and culture. I did love dealing with the clients and taking care of their issues. I learned a lot and enjoyed what I did. But bad boss. The boss would have every new person in her office at about the six week mark, and you would see them crying at their desks after. She loved to screech at us in meetings and actually yelled at me in front of someone who was reporting to me. Way to undermine me. I did get accolades from clients. However, it got to where I could not take time off (except for the two family funerals I attended in that last year) while the boss took off 4 weeks to take care of her mother. I ended up having a panic attack and quit without another job lined up.

    Then, the next job I took started out fairly well. Was for one of the previous company’s clients. Had a really complimentary and great boss to start with. Except the company culture sucked. My job itself was way below my abilities and was the worst job I had in… (frankly I can’t remember when I hate the tasks of my job so much – mundane, tedious and hours spent reworking detail to match the improperly calculated numbers that we were to come up to). The job itself just sucked. And was nothing that I had been promised in the interview. But I wanted to stick it out for a few years to not look like a job hopper. Then my boss quit. And now I reported to her boss. Who yelled at people in the hallway, trashed talked about every other department head and everyone when they stepped out of the room, forbade me to help people (even though I was the only one left who knew how to use the software), told me I was incompetent for using the wrong font on a report (because we needed to reformat reports prepared by others to make it look like our department had prepared them) and generally was the most angry, grudge-carrying person I had ever worked for. What amazed me was how incompetent she was and yet I let her knock my self confidence down. (and as an earlier poster stated, probably back to being the least favored child in my family so never truly believing in myself even though I had accomplished more in the past that this latest boss ever has).

    So boss sent a notice that she would not be in on a Monday and I and the other person in my department were laid off (along with a bunch of other people in the company). So thankful to not be there anymore. Only thing I miss is the paycheck. And now have to convince recruiters and potential bosses to look back past the last year and a half and realize the accomplishments I have done and see what I am capable of .

    And I realized that I need to work on myself. Because I do not want to be like a victim of domestic abuse and keep choosing to align with abusers. I need to learn how to choose good solid companies and good bosses in the future. (Although I should have know better than to go to my last place of employment. A friend of mine joked that every job description said that the employee had to be a jerk)

    So I have been looking but I am completely afraid of ending up in another bad situation. And wondering if I will ever be the shining star I was in the past when clients and co-workers thought I “walked on water” and “hung the moon”.

    The other good thing is I am no longer getting tons of headaches or dizzy spells like I was on the last job. I had managed to go in each day with a smile on my face but my body wouldn’t keep the lie that everything was alright up. But as soon as I got laid off, I haven’t had a dizzy spell or feeling like I am going to pass out.

    Thanks for this discussion. So much good advice here.

  45. Limon*

    It’s really amazing how you can go from a ‘fabulous and excellent employee,’ at one job to suddenly being a ‘terrible and incompetent employee’ at another. If I am always pretty much the same, can it be the environment?

    I really try and chose very carefully where I take a job. If it does not feel safe or like a good fit, then I summon my courage to say no. I have found that when I can wait for the best fit then I am usually on better ground in the long run.

    The times I took jobs I didn’t like and knew would be wrong for me, was when I really just needed the money and tried to ignore my screaming guts. In the end, we just have to do the best we can with what we have and sometimes survival is the bottom lime. But definitely, changing me has changed my circumstances and the outcomes of even sketchy situations. We can only change ourselves, our actions and perceptions, and usually that’s enough to make a big difference.

    1. TC*

      “I really try and chose very carefully where I take a job. If it does not feel safe or like a good fit, then I summon my courage to say no.” That is very true, I think most people who were/are in a bad job saw the signs on the wall before we accepted the offer.

      Thanks Limon for reminding all of to listen to our gut and have the courage to say no.


  46. CW*

    Not PTSD per-se, but I did learn some things:
    1. Make sure people 2-3 steps above your manager know your contributions. That way if your manager turns out to be incompetent, it will be harder for them to pin their screw-ups on you.
    2. Be impeccable with your work and document, document, document. It’ll be that much harder for them to use “bad performance” to slime their way out of paying unemployment.
    3. Keep in mind that the more “employee appreciation” they shower on you, the more likely they are to be layoff-happy cheapskates. A trip to Costco for bulk sodas, coffee, and burgers is still cheaper than paying a decent wage and some professional development.

    Just remember, no matter how well you do or how much value you bring, at the end of the day you are just a potential liability to the company.

    1. Jon*

      Absolutely this…
      Our office does a monthly birthday thing and a monthly departmental lunch where they cater out.

      Meanwhile, their training regime is sad and pathetic, claiming “we’re working on steps blah blah blah” but also putting a noose around everyone’s neck. You make a mistake, you get written up. Doesn’t matter how big or small the mistake.

      Of course, the thought is…. why make a small mistake when you can be spectacular?

  47. OleanderTea*

    Oh, yes. I have workplace PTSD and it took YEARS to get past it. And I still have issues.

    I worked for a major insurance company for 15 years. I have health issues — asthma to start, and then I developed chronic migraine.

    I had to fight them to not be harassed for taking time to treat my asthma. And then when I developed chronic migraine…well, the fires were lit. Basically, my boss refused to provide reasonable accommodations such as flexible hours, working from home, a quiet location, and even a whiteboard (I had really bad memory problems).

    All through that time, every single one-on-one feedback meeting was about the numerous ways I failed. In less than a year I went from the go-to, highly-though-of person in my department, to pond scum.

    And then a coworker started going into my share drive and removing data to be sent to the government! She only did this on Mondays when I was out, so she could save the day.

    It took a while for me to wrap my head around all this, because it was so bizarre.

    Anyway, it took me years to get past the idea that a manager would turn on you like that. You do have to aware of your responses and what you’re really responding to. It helps if you have a new manager who you can tell about the situation a little. In my case, I just said that I get nervous when someone says “we need to talk”, because in my prior job that phrase was always the lead-in to excoriation and never meant “could you share some information about Project X?” Since telling him that, my current boss now sends me an email saying, “we need to talk; I have to give so-and-so a status on Project X, can you bring me up to date at 11?” Works all around! And I’m learning new responses, AND what good management looks like.

    1. Jon*

      Good managers DO exist. They’re just few and far in between.

      I know I have what it takes to be a good manager on the PEOPLE side, because I’ve been downtrodden so much that I would refuse to do that to my own people unless they weren’t:

      Doing their job
      Doing their job
      Or doing their job.

  48. Leah*

    I definitely have PTSD from my last, awful job and it’s so good to see that I am not alone. When I describe my situation as being post-traumatic, no one seems to really believe it since it was a desk job. But I was verbally assaulted by my manager who called me stupid, and then berated and belittled me even further- even though none of it was true. Then, she had the nerve to say in the same breath she used to attack me that she was my friend. Ha! I also knew that she was talking about me to others behind my back and encouraging them to isolate me so that I would feel even worse about myself. I guess she got some kind of sadistic pleasure out of that sort of behavior, since I’d seen her do it to others before she did it to me. It must be terrible to be someone with such little self-esteem that she needs to tear others down to make herself look better. It was the most unprofessional environment I have ever been in- and that’s saying a lot since I’ve worked other places that were unprofessional but this place takes the cake.

    Fortunately, I have moved on now and things seem to be looking up. It might take me awhile to get used to a different environment in which professionalism actually exists, since that last place left such a dark mark on me, but I refuse to let a bad experience define the rest of my life. Work is just work after all.

  49. cheryl*

    I’ve been researching this and finding a lot of comments about horrible female managers. In my experience the female managers who have treated me poorly have all been in abusive relationships with their husbands. The husband’s misbehavior comes with them to work and the female diverts their frustration and anger onto their employees. So the root of the problem is not “females are more prone to bad management tactics.” The issue is that males with bullying tendencies are not dealt with properly in our culture. It is not an issue of equal opportunity employment. It is an issue of men behaving badly.

  50. Bootothebusinessworld*

    I am continually haunted by my last horrendous job with possibly the most corrupt company I have ever known. After getting on the wrong side of a very jealous and manipulative individual, my job was ruined. I was also paid incorrectly for my entire time there. I ended up walking out because the experience was so bad. I am now doing well but this experience with a monstrous corporate company has resulted in me never wanting to work for such a company ever again. Instead, I am self employed running a business with my other half and studying at university. My experience at that awful company haunts me daily and I dearly wish I could get it out of my head. It just beggars belief how corrupt some companies are. Looking back, I had a bad feeling about the place as soon as I walked into it and I will know in future, in the unlikely event of me having to take a position in such a company, to trust my initial instincts.

  51. Marilyn*

    I had a work environment so toic, and so bad, and I put up with it simply because it was my first career-job out of college. I have read too many articles about how millennials are just “bad” for the workplace, and I didn’t want to be that “millennial” so I kept my mouth shut.

    Keeping my mouth shut lead to me being walked all over, being blamed for things and being written up for things I didn’t do, or was not directly responsibile for. I did not stand up for myself. I learned my lesson.Eventually, the coworker who took all the credit for “getting” me the job (simply because we knew each other beforehand, she didn’t get e the job at all) became my supervisor. She micromanaged to the point where any decision I made, good or bad, I didn’t “have the authority”” to do, no matter how trivial it was. After that, I had a very hard time in my next job with making decisions, since I previously was always tiptoeing around any basic decision (down to how I wrote an email) to avoid being written up.

    1. Michelle*

      I still have flashbacks and worries from my very first position 2 years ago. I’m starting what seems to be a great new opportunity for me but I’m scared all because of my first job. I’m scared it’ll be the same way. My first job I was the scapegoat, got blamed for things I didn’t do, I documented to cover my butt when I was in trouble but it didn’t matter because management had the upper hand, I was patronized, I couldn’t do anything at all right like even write an email in fear of getting in trouble, I was crying in my office often and walking on egg shells. I fear of going back to that environment. I’m trying not to let it affect me and starting a new job…I’m trying to think positive but I can’t help but be scared and think it’s the same way.

  52. Snowy Day*

    Ok, I am here today because I googled toxic workplace and found my way here. I know in my heart everything that others have written above it true and is written with sincerity and compassion – not only for ourselves but for others. I am in a training program where I am now the ‘bad one,’ the not-liked student and the other student here with me is the favorite, much loved one. I am not allowed to work there for extra money (and he is, and does make very good money on the side), I am constantly criticized and put down to my face and nothing I do is apparently good. Some people see how I am being treated and are kind, but many others are silent so it’s hard to know if they also agree with the abuse or they are just trying to avoid it for themselves. Then there is the main group who actively put me down, roll their eyes at me and insult me to my face. The speak down to me and threaten me, and I have actually been put on probation.

    I was told when I arrived that they were too busy and didn’t want to train me but just wanted me to get right to work – and work for free for 40 hours a week. Which, I am paying for out of my own pocket. After several weeks, I contacted my program to ask for help and it was at that point that I was put on probation and threatened with termination if I didn’t follow incredibly punitive rules. Yes, I know it is awful and what is happening is wrong – I know that and others have validated that for me. But – I am stuck for now. I decided to take it one day at a time and just not say anything, smile and let them be rude. In response I say “thank you, I appreciate the feedback,” and things like that. : ) I let them own their own behavior and not take on their critical spirit. I am quiet and do exactly as they say, nod and smile. I don’t know if I will make it, but – I appreciate reading others’ experiences and will take that with me into this sad and toxic environment.

  53. rubua hashish*

    Currently working in a workplace that I and most of my coworkers can describe as extremely toxic, in fact it goes far beyond any of the futherest of extremes of toxic.
    Our workplace used to be a happy place under our old manager, he was consistent, firm yet at the same time empathetic, staff and customer focused, he was approachable and professionalism was his middle name he treated us staff with the utmost respect and would reward the top performers of the week.
    In 2014 he left our company and his replacement was a female who had no industry training nor experience whatsoever and got the job through inside connections bypassing the official recruitment process, in short she pulled strings to get in and under her command the culture of our once happy and friendly workplace changed completely. This manager is unapproachable, she’s rude to staff and customers alike, doesn’t want to get to know staff and sees them as a productivity factor, she swears at staff and plays favorites to new inexperienced employees by paying them higher wages than us long servers. Under her reign staff have pitted against one another and several staff have developed health problems – mentally and physically as she has a major attitude problem. She’s even triggered off a civil war in her department which has spread to all departments. Try and speak with her over routine things her response would be “yeh..wadda ya want? ” in a sharp intimidating tone. Shes pitted me against my former mentor when i started with the company 8 years ago and now we’re bitter enemies whose only exchange of words tend to be hostile taunts (I believe this dog (cos she ain’t human) poisoned my mentor cos we were on good terms until she started). Furthermore staff activity days, get togethers, socials which our previous manager had and encouraged suddenly and silently disappeared or stopped – we didn’t even have a xmas party in 2015. Leave applications you put in are recklessly ignored and you never know if your leave is approved declined and I fear talking to this s***bag as I know her b****y attitude well. Mental health has taken a turn for the worst. Ive absorbed this managers attitude that im snapping at coworkers clients family members and im even snapping at random strangers in the street over trivial little things or not at all. Now I hear that our firm maybe closing towards the end of the year due to falling revenues (provoked by that little s*** with no industry customer or people skills) and the PTSD has kicked in. Im going to find it hard adjusting to a new workplace as this b****s toxicity has poisoned us all and any future manager would be bewildered by my behavior but a good manager would understand and organize councilling and help – our present managers at our current workplace care s*** about their staffs health and safety issues hey they’ve even rang people into work while the employee is in hospital including one of my team members who was literally minutes from death…Although he recovered and is now back at work I was disgusted with this behavior from psycho b**** mamager but she didn’t and still doesn’t give a rats backside about it

  54. Jon*

    After reading through some of these, I finally came to the realization that I’ve had Office PTSD for ten years.

    I was at a big logistics corporation pulling more than my weight.
    My reviews were consistently 30-40% above expectations.

    Then came my last boss.

    She did nothing but talk about her stupid dog all day. And because my note-keeping wasn’t that great (it was a failing), she thought I wasn’t doing anything (even though I sat next to her and she could clearly see me working and making calls all day).

    Before she took over, I was recruited by multiple higher ups within our department, and endorsed by no less than THREE of my previous managers. THREE!

    And she decided she didn’t like me, and that was it.
    She demoted me, forced me to quit, and got her direct supervisor onboard with the plan. Within that company, if you were ever demoted for any reason, you were not getting anywhere else ever again.

    I smiled when I found out she was demoted some time later for failing to meet expectations (at all).

    But the office real-politik that she pulled on me has forever stained my perceptions of the office.

    And now, I am frightened of management. I am frightened of HR.

    I do my job, I do my job well, I do my job quietly and out of the way. Apparently because I’m quiet, I am never noticed. Because I am never noticed, I am never promoted. Because I am never promoted, I never get anywhere. But when I finally make a mistake, it is apparently such a shock that I get the worst kind of treatment possible. My work is taken away, leaving me to start from scratch with something different and new (not necessarily bad) . Unfortunately, it is such a murder of morale.

    Tired of being afraid of my superiors.

  55. Carolyn*

    I have worked as a cook for a number of years. My last job was in a family rest., they were bought out by a large chain. A server was promoted to general manager of the rest. , she had always been a nasty person, if you did not get her an order of toast before she asked for it , she would ask very rudely for it. Not allowing me to get a beverage to drink and following me back into kitchen because I had taken the liberty to get one . So she follows me back into kitchen screaming and threatening to fire me because I was thirsty , dehydrated as one gets whilst working in a hot kitchen. Then a new manager arrives on the scene and starts paring down hours, leaving 1 cook to handle a lunch rush, letting other cook to leave at 12:00 noon?? You would never allow this in any other rest. Completely senseless , evil people.

  56. Arya*

    I recently left my old job, but even after being in the new workplace for 4 months, I still loose sleep over the old job. I worked at the old job for 10 years, which is basically all of my working life. My situation is different than most posted here, but still left me feeling defeated.
    The problem for me is that I really loved my old job. My coworkers were amazing, i loved the job and I was working in a field I was passionate about. The downside to this job is that it was only part time, with an extremely low amount of full time jobs available. I needed to get a full time job to be able to actually live. One day they offered me the opportunity to job share with a lady who would be retiring soon – Not only was it full time, it was also a job in the creative field which I went to school for. I did the job share for about a year, I absolutely loved the job. I got great feedback from managers and coworkers alike. When my job share ended, I was asked repeatedly by managers and HR if I would like this job if it became available, to which I said yes. The lady I job shared with was not yet ready to retire however, so I went back to my old position and set out to wait for the opportunity to come up.
    When the job posting came up a year and a half later, I was so excited. Managers and coworkers were telling me about the job and prompted me to apply. Even the lady I job shared with asked me to let her know if I have any questions about the position in the future. Literally everyone knew I wanted this job, and I was the only one internally suited for it.
    Unfortunately, they hired an EXTERNAL candidate. I was crushed. Not only did they hire someone external, it was rumoured to be the hiring managers friend. at first I gave the new person the benefit of the doubt and thought maybe this person is just better. They were infact terrible at the job, which made the situation even worse. There was nothing more humiliating then not getting the job I was trained in and led to believe I would get, only to lose it out to a person who didn’t know what they were doing. This breach of trust was over two years ago. It took me a year to work up the confidence to actually apply for other jobs. I ended up taking a lower paying job in the same creative field with more responsibilities than the job share job, and I am liking the work. I just can’t seem to accept good feedback, and I have anxious moments where I feel they will turn around and fire me for not performing well, even though the feedback has been good. I hope that over time I will be able to trust my new employer.

  57. RatherAnnoyed*

    Yeah – just had a fun time in a randomly-timed ‘Annual review’, where I was given below-satisfactory ratings (just enough for no raise) and yet another final-warning letter(everyone seems to get one every year so they never have to pay unemployment). Looked it up, and this scoring system seems to be intentionally set up to give almost no one a raise. It would literally take a major religious event to get a 5/5 on any item, and 4/5 is almost unheard of. 3 is given for true excellence, and anything less is unacceptable. This is my fifth year, and it’s the latest absurdity.

    Doesn’t help that my boss is basically a belittlement machine – every opportunity, every chance, he’s calling everyone a kindergartner, and similarly belittling someone.

    Not too bad on its own, I suppose… but then there’s my role. I’m a highly skilled programmer, writing in at 8 different languages on this job – C/C++,Python,C#,Fortran (yes, Fortran), SQL, HTM/XML, and the occasional Java variant – all across literally THOUSANDS of software projects.

    Yes, THOUSANDS of delivered commercial products. At least 800 a year, some variants of another, but a large portion of those with a complete product development cycle.

    As one employee.

    With truly outragious ad-hoc requirements. For several years.

    I’m making them many, many millions of dollars a year, managing billions of dollars with my software, and many adjunct product lines as sub-compontents that I’m also managing. Oh, and also providing a large variety of tools to other several other teams (those groups are 4 or more folks, I’m just 1)

    All for $57,000 a year. An absolute embarassement of an income for the US for such a role, just so I can live in a location where I can help my parents.

    Oh, and I’m also performing at least 6 other major job tasks as well, and writing software to test my own projects (without permission, just because I felt it was needed, what’s one more tool set if it helps make things better?).

    Oh, and I manage to do it all in 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, by extreme planning of every contingency that I have control over, and automating every part I can for maximum reliability with the time I’m allowed.

    The response to this absolute miracle of productivity and reliable income generation?

    I’m given a final warning every year for mistyping some input into one of the configurations for one of the 3,000+ projects I’ve made, and denied anything more than a inflation-matching wage increase.

    Most recently, the warning was for typing in a value I was supplied, as it was supplied, I was reprimanded for not knowing that this value could be provided incorrectly, and somehow magically knowing to cross-check it. Oh, and of course the usual contradictory complaints about communication skills (apparently, I offer too much helpful input to other teams, and *gasp* talk about non-work related things sometimes!) – They also blame me for not working the hours other people work, even though I’m at least 4 times as productive, and usually much more so.

    Because I do so much more than other team members, that leaves me on the hook for more too… but 6 errors out of many hundreds of games is a ridiculously low error rate, especially when none of those errors went on market.

    Made me so angry that I just couldn’t sleep at all last night. Called in sick, and again the manager repeatedly belittled me for the ‘excuse’ saying that wasn’t what sick days were for.

    Yeah – makes interviewing for other positions difficult, because folks think you’re mega-overqualified for positions when you go into any detail on the sheer scope of my work, while difficult to turn off the at least some aspects of anger at a boss in time for an interview.

    At least I’ve learned how to juggle extremely well, sorting hundreds of unknowns between thousands of projects, even in an abusive circumstance, with complex programming. It still feels like I’m using my excellent skills to help horrible people waste my own life, while being misrepresented and punished the whole while, all for the sake of folks that I love.

    I’d really rather not abandon my folks right now either.

    Does often remind me of the Monty Python sketch: “Yes, but I came here for an argument” “OH! Oh! I’m sorry! This is abuse!”

  58. Jobless, Sad Teenage Girl*

    As much as I hate the idea of having an abusive boss or an otherwise horrid job, I wish I had a past job to be able to be haunted by, because I have wanted a real job for most of my life, and I’m almost an adult, and I still have never had a real job.

    Yeah…I must be pretty pathetic. Even McDonald’s didn’t want me!

  59. Unhappy&Confused*

    I was fired from my job yesterday because I didn’t know the products well enough. They knew at the beginning that I was low-end for overall knowledge but awesome for cashier work and value-added at the till. The store has added over a hundred new products over the past several months – no product sheets, no coming soon notes for staff, no training manual for anything. Everything given on the fly, overheard, or having to go to the company’s website and dig around for announcements. One hour to say: here is prizing and break down for it. Coulda took 10 minutes or a written one page memo. Did I mention I work once a week for about 4 – 6 hours? Yup. My fault. Total hours this year comes to about 9 weeks of full time work over 10 month period.

    When the other manager finally decided to have a “training session” about salesmanship, she didn’t know the 5 points she wanted to make, couldn’t find a website on the computer or her phone, told me to buy “The Art of the Sale” and do that. The whole book. Which, for those who haven’t read it, is a biography of salesmen and women and their methods. Okay, laid-back employer – which method shall I mimic? All of them, none? Don’t pitch! Ask more questions! Listen more – don’t tell people why you enjoyed a game – tell them the benefits vs the features – but don’t be pushy, learn to back off, make the sale and close it with confidence but not over bearing. Stop giving so much information, you don’t give them enough information! That person, why are you talking to them?! They are here as our friend and work at a different gaming store! Don’t you know the customer(s)?! That’s Mr. Big – he is super important customer! He comes in once in a blue moon and plunks down money! Female manager and male manager both repeatedly tell me that they have trained dozens of sales people and that they have never failed as badly as they have with me. It’s again, my fault.

    I was told it was a laid-back store that wanted to help people entering the gaming world. I was shuffled away from people, ignored at best and as for being welcomed into the damn store as customer: “It’s a public event, come if you want to.” was the answer I got when I tried to ask if it was okay to interact with customers on my night off for open gaming, because I couldn’t handle being the cause of yet another eye-rolling *Sigh* “It’s fine”.

    It became a clean the toilets, do the housekeeping, man the till, come in on 5 minutes notice and don’t bother us – we’re playing Magic: the Gathering. Mystery shopper that was the manger’s friend. Don’t clean while people are around – what are you doing? Vacuum the floor while people are around. Go wash the windows – exterior. Don’t provide the damn password to the computer and then complain when I don’t understand verbally S0nnyM3nD@y. . . the list goes on. They higher a new girl and gushed about her awesomeness to me. I disappointed them – I could not be what they needed.

    My 2 week notification was given because I fouled up a sale. Mister Manager was NOT present for this as he was in the basement but according to him the following was a gimme as this was a regular Couple in every 2 weeks looking to play and game and take something home:
    Couple comes in – I get them gaming with a game, don’t hoover, they seem happy enough, they play two rounds and pack up while I helping other folks. I come back and inquire if they want a different 2 player game and they instead ask about the local cons coming up, one of which is a gaming con that they hadn’t heard of before. I gush about it as another new hire that came in within the past two weeks is that con’s organizer. They mentioned that they came by to get the more expensive weekend passes to a con that is in a week’s time. They asked my opinion on the benefits of each con, will we be at both for sales, etc. I tell them their best bang for the buck is a day pass at the media con and weekend early bird tickets for the later con as they are more keen for gaming then media stars and merch. They bought two passes for the gaming con. Not a sale for the store – a win for the local cons.

    My manager said I failed to make a sale. I didn’t walk over to the “for sale” copy of the game that they played and close that sale. Okay – was there a sale here? Did I really miss it? The couple bought 2 tickets to the gaming con from our store and are looking forward to seeing our booth at the con. Did I mention the female manager repeatedly pointed out that our shit would be on sale at both events and not in store? How in the hell can I make a sale when “Oh come in a week and save 20%!”

    Someone, anyone, dear God – what/where did I muck up that supposedly easy sale?!
    But that was the reason – failing to convert a demo to sale.

    Male manager leaves the store and I ask the female manager about this as I am still upset. She said it was because during this same time period, I recommended a game to people who were friends of the management and myself that the husband liked but the rest of the party didn’t and it was the final straw that my (thought they were) friends didn’t like. They bought loose singles of a collectable card game and used the store as a way station for 2 hours because they were in between events. Not because of the sale thing, but because a poor gaming experience. My fault.

    Yet, I am being kept on to work at the big convention this weekend even though I am bad for business and f*ck up. What gives? I am so confused and demoralized. I asked female manager – so what is my role at the con? You have fired me (2 weeks notice) because I don’t close sales, I don’t ask the right questions, I don’t listen and I suck.
    Her answer: I don’t know. Telling people we’re moving, I guess. *Shrug* Thanks, I think.

    Should I say screw it an leave them hanging?

      1. Unhappy&Confused*

        Quick update – I used FB to reach out to the couple that didn’t like the game suggestion and by the end of Wednesday the male manager called and told me my 5 scheduled shifts would be paid out and that don’t bother coming in. Yay?

  60. RisingAbove*

    From my first day at work with my former boss, I observed he was oversharing, engaging in Too Much Information (TMI) in a big way. I felt uncomfortable when, for example, he started discussing a sexy Christmas gift he was intending to purchase for his wife. I let it slide, however, because he seemed like a decent and highly intelligent person in every other way.

    Fast-forward to about a year later: I was doing well, being paid adequately, and my boss and I had become friendly – in a platonic way that can sometimes be inevitable when you work in a small company. However, he started having severe marital troubles, something that came out of nowhere as far as he was concerned. I felt badly, as he had for the most part treated me well, and I genuinely liked him. I tried to help. I did so much already – watering the plants, vacuuming, emptying the garbage. I would bring in healthy food, fresh flowers, anything to make the atmosphere less toxic. The TMI went into big, fat, ugly overdrive. I became the unofficial therapist, and was forced to sit for many two-hour sessions that featured lurid, explicit details of his train wreck of a marriage. He would show me inappropriate texts and emails, and even sexually-oriented paintings created by his favorite artist. He trashed his wayward wife to everyone he knew and unknowingly made a spectacle of himself. He started telling me how wonderful I was, what a great friend I was in his time of victimization. He manipulated me into thinking I was special in his life. Inevitably, the work product began to suffer. He went from being a wine enthusiast to a mean drunk. He would often not show up for work, leaving me to fumble for explanations when people asked where he was. He nosedived into a relationship with a gold-digger well before he even filed for divorce. The decent man was gone, and I had no respect for the toxic, narcissistic person he had become. I’d pretty much become office equipment. I felt as though I was covered in slime, and dreaded every single day I had to walk into that office. The day I was finally able to resign, I went home and became so sick I had to be hospitalized. I was bedridden for a week.

    My former boss hired another person. She lasted two weeks before declaring him outright crazy and simply failed to show up for work. The next hire started calling recruiters on her first day of work. She lasted seven weeks, delivering the same opinion: absolutely nuts. The third employee, I hear, feigns illness at least once a week, and is reportedly incapable of even flushing the ladies’ room toilets.

    I was overqualified for my new job, and only lasted six months before a family issue made it necessary for me to resign. Even though the people at my new job were great, I was terrified of developing any sort of personal relationship with them. I continue to have nightmares about the former job. Therapy has helped, but the experience was excruciatingly painful. I am very, very particular in my current job search. Any hint of a bad vibe, and I’m outta there.

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