my boss is a nightmare — should I quit without another job lined up?

A reader writes:

I’m stuck in a dead-end publishing job. I’ve been here three and a half years, and it’s clear this job is going nowhere. Basically, I manage the entire office, do all contracts, finish all deals, work with clients, but all the money goes into my boss’s pocket. I generate a lot of income for the company, but my annual bonus is very small and I make under $35k a year after three and a half years.

I’m now looking for a new job in a completely unrelated industry, but my boss has been getting steadily worse over the years and her behavior is driving me up the wall. A few times, clients mailed Christmas gifts to me to show their gratitude for something I did. The notes written were addressed to me. The labels on the gifts had my name. My boss took these gifts without consulting me. The only reason I knew about them was that 1) I saw her hoarding them and 2) she told me to write thank you notes pretending that I was the real recipient of the gifts they sent. Two or three times in the past when my parents called the office, my boss told them there was no one here with my name. One time my friend called with an emergency. There is nothing wrong with my friend’s English or my parents’ English. Both times my boss told them either 1) they had called the wrong number or 2) there was no one working there of that name.

My boss also picks my vacation days for me and told me, for snow days, that I could sleep in the office instead of commuting home. In July, she was already telling me about how I couldn’t be out for any snow days. Then when I told her if she was really adamant about it, maybe I could stay overnight in the office for just a day, she told me that was no longer an option and she would have to call her insurance company.

When I tried negotiating a raise for my salary, she told me I could use my 401(k) plan. She also at one point asked me to decide between a raise and better health insurance. She said she could either give me a raise using health insurance money or put my raise money in health insurance.

She also makes racist comments. One time, she mimicked an Asian accent in front of me. And she lies about working from home and taking three-week-long “business trips.” When my stepdad passed away from an aneurysm (he’d been living with my mom for the last few years), she said it was a great time for me to take advantage of the situation and move to a predominantly Asian community (Queens, NY). And believe it or not, she never once offered during this time to give me a day off to deal with the illness, death, or any of the aftermath of the death. I came to work every day, knowing she would raise a stink otherwise.

I’m trying desperately to leave this job. I’m using two headhunters while also applying to jobs on my own directly to employers. At the same time, this job is really getting on my nerves, and I’m at the point where I would be fine quitting without even giving two weeks’ notice. Should I stick it out until I find a new job or can I quit now?

Let’s be clear: Your boss is a horrible person.

But if you can manage to stick it out there until you find a new job, I would, for a few reasons:

1. It’s easier to find a job when you’re employed. Rightly or wrongly, many, many employers favor job candidates who are already employed. They assume they’re more valuable (someone is currently paying to employ them!), they assume your skills are fresher, and they don’t have to wonder why you’re not working.

2. Quitting without a job lined up will raise red flags for some employers. Righty or wrongly (again), employers generally assume that people don’t quit jobs without another one lined up unless (a) they were about to be fired, (b) they actually were fired, or (c) they’re can’t or won’t hack it when things get frustrating.

Hiring managers do realize that some jobs (or bosses) are so terrible that a reasonable person might quit with nothing else lined up. But because it’s difficult to tell from the outside what the real story was and because they don’t know you, it’s often a red flag anyway. That is unfair, yes, but it’s the nature of having to use limited data to make risk assessments.

3. Finding another job can take a long time. In this job market, it’s not unusual for a job search to take a year or more. Plus, even if your finances allow you to go without work for that long, simply being unemployed — especially for a long time — may make it harder to find your next job (see #1 above). As a result, you risk walking away from a bad situation only to find yourself in a much worse situation (unable to pay bills, unable to find decent employment, or forced to take the first job offered to you even if it’s a bad fit). You want to take your next job from a position of strength, not feel obligated to take an offer because you’re running out of time or money.

4. If you’re currently employed when you become a finalist for a job you want, you have an excellent reason for not letting your crazy manager be contacted, since it’s widely understood that many candidates don’t want their current manager contacted because it could jeopardize their job. But if you’re not working there anymore, it’s much harder to explain why reference-checkers shouldn’t contact her (and you really don’t want them calling her, since this is a woman who has told callers she doesn’t even know you, when you’re sitting down the hall from her).

None of this means that you can’t decide that quitting now is the best option for you anyway; it very well might be. But if you can stick it out until you have a new job, I’d try to, and meanwhile kick your job search into high gear.

But wow, your boss is a horrid, horrid person.

{ 194 comments… read them below }

  1. Adam V*

    Wow. This woman is insane.

    I was going to ask whether there’s any way to get her to stop pretending you don’t work there, by having some sort of state or federal agency call to ask about you, but I wouldn’t know whether that would work or how to pull that off.

    1. Adam V*

      By the way, I would totally have written the thank you notes like “My boss tells me I really enjoyed the chocolates you sent!” or “thanks so much for the restaurant gift card! My boss and her husband had a great time!”

      1. KJC (Question Asker)*

        Hi Adam, I totally should have done that!
        It was so awkward writing thoughtful thank you letters when I didn’t have the gifts in front of me. Like one time I was gifted this beautiful wine basket from a client, and she asked me did I like the wine, and I said I love white whine, but it turned out to be champagne. So that was quite an awkward situation, and it made me look bad/thoughtless in the process.

        1. Laurie*

          What is the deal with this woman that is your boss? Is she bi-polar or have another mental illness? Does she own the company or just a manager? If she is just a manager, I would go to your HR department. She is creating a hostile working environment from my opinion where she is constantly harassing you. I hope you find something very soon! I am still shocked with what she has done and continues to do to you. She is a very horrible person and boss.

          1. Zillah*

            I’m not clear on how any of that made you jump to bipolar disorder in particular, and people can and often are awful without being mentally ill.

        2. Mephyle*

          It made you look bad/thoughtless, or it made it look as though you didn’t actually get to see the contents of the basket? I think it’s horrible that you felt an awkwardness that was caused 100% by someone else victimizing you; that is, by someone else’s bad deeds towards you and not by anything you did wrong.

      1. LBK*

        On what grounds, though? Being an asshole is, unfortunately, not illegal. I’m also not certain there’s any protection for your employer denying you work there as long as it’s not in some kind of government employment verification capacity – like they can’t legally lie to the IRS about your employment, but there’s nothing to stop them from lying to your mom.

        1. Fabulously Anonymous*

          It pains me, but I agree: it’s not illegal to be a jerk. As far as I know, it’s not illegal to do any of the things the boss is doing, with the exception of perhaps making comments about the OP’s ethnicity. I’m not an expert so I can’t even comment on that, but I do know that employers can open your mail, take your gifts, not give you time off, force you to work if weather makes it impossible and even hang up on your mother. Jerks. Who does that?

            1. That Marketing Chick*

              Many companies have a policy that employees are not allowed to accept gifts; and any gifts received must be turned into HR/your boss/whatever. At my last company, we received many gifts around Christmas, so we would put them all on a table, and take turns choosing what we wanted as a sort of Christmas party. It was lots of fun, and got rid of the stigma that a gift was specifically for the person it was addressed to and allowed for everyone to receive something.

              1. neverjaunty*

                But illegal behavior by a company does not magically become OK because it’s “company policy”. This doesn’t sound like OP works for a business where there are ethical issues that prevent employees from accepting gifts; her boss is just a thief.

                1. Emily*

                  We get a LOT of gifts from vendors at the holidays. It’s mostly food–candies and baskets, and last year we got like 6 Georgetown Cupcake boxes. They get put on a communal table and the whole department shares them. I don’t know that anyone writes any thank-you notes. We pay these vendors thousands of dollars in contracts each year and as a general rule they send the gifts as a business convention to keep our business, not because they personally like us. Of course, the ones we work the most closely with hear our thanks in person. One year a vendor who comes to our office every week for a morning meeting gave us a bunch of oversized coffee mugs, and several of us brought it up and thanked them verbally at the next meeting with them, where many of us were using the mugs Somehow until this thread it never even occurred to me that business gifts would be a thank-you-note-required situation, but now that I think about it I suppose I’ve never been told business gifts are different from personal gifts, and the etiquette-ists probably always favor thanking over not thanking.

            2. kd*

              Nope. The gifts came to the workplace. We have to turn all gifts over to HR or our boss. Those days of wine, giant cookie trays and popcorn buckets are over for us. ;)

        2. BethRA*

          Making racist comments would certainly be grounds for a complaint.

          That said, it didn’t sound to me like this outfit is large enough to have and HR department.

          1. OP*

            It’s not, and that’s another part of the problem. There’s nobody to fall back on when these outrageous things happen. My boss has adopted a “my way or the highway” attitude for a long time since she’s the sole proprietor of her company. There’s no one above her.

          2. LBK*

            Unfortunately making a few comments may not qualify for the legal definition of harassment. From the EEOC website:

            Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.

            Furthermore, the EEOC doesn’t even apply if the company has fewer than 15 people, which based the OP’s description sounds like might be the case.

            1. Rose*

              LBK I usually think you’re spot on but I’m hoping you’re wrong this time. This language for the EEOC is so vauge. I think a slight is more akin to the OP from this week who’s coworker only talks to her through gmail. But what makes a comment an annoyance vs harassment? I don’t thing this is really an isolated incidence since OPs boss has brought up Asians more than once.

              1. LBK*

                This is far from my area of expertise so I’m happy to be proven wrong! I think the law is intentionally vague because the creativity of horrible people seems to know no bounds, so they don’t want to categorically exclude any form of harassment from being covered. Unfortunately that also has the opposite effect of making cases like this fall in a grey area – how many comments make it more than annoyance? One a day? Three per week? Seven over the course of a month? I don’t have the answer.

            2. AndersonDarling*

              I think a good employment lawyer would be able to connect the racist comments and the terrible treatment. But it is a hard road to go down…not one the OP would want to travel without another job lined up.

          3. Danielle*

            In the workplace it’s my understanding that racist remarks whether there was intent or not are considered to be against ESA/LRA/CCR/OHRA. But I’m Canadian…. *exits stage left&

        3. HR Manager*

          Making racist comments is a completely within the domain of the EEOC. Especially with her comments about the moving to an Asian community and the mock accent. This is one occasion where a hostile work environment label does apply, if she is making similar comments persistently. Once or twice is borderline. Any more than that and you should start documenting the pattern of behaviors (what and when and what circumstances).

          She sounds like a nasty person – sorry you have to deal with her.

  2. Amy*

    If it’s possible to work for a temp agency, that could be a place to leave for. This boss isn’t going to let someone have a day off for an interview so how can a person line up a new job before leaving? I left a horrible job without one lined up because I couldn’t get away for an interview, and also it was really harming my mental health. It took me 5 months to find a new job but it was in my field and I had a good story (I’d been given an unrelated job to do and displaced from what I’d been trained for). If the career story is “I want to learn new things,” then a temp agency is a perfect place to go, in my opinion, assuming there are jobs through temp agencies in that area.

    1. KJC (Question Asker)*

      Amy, thank you, that is definitely an idea I’m considering right (re: temp agency). And another thing I had to realize is the job hunt is slow right now, so it’ll probably be a long time before I’m able to leave this place. And a temp agency would allow me to leave without having to raise red flags to potential employers.

      1. Zahra*

        Believe it or not, the end of the year is a good time to job hunt: companies have their next year’s budget finalized or pretty much, less people apply because they think there are less job offerings or they are busy with the holidays themselves, etc. Just be careful not to sound desperate in interviews or phone screens. A simple “it’s a small office and there’s no professional and/or financial growth paths” should be enough to justify why you’re leaving your current job. Also, looking in a different field makes you able to say something about wanting to change fields/responsibilities.

      2. BOMA*

        You know, I worked with a temp agency for awhile and I actually had a pretty good experience. My situation was definitely different from yours (I was a recent grad coming into a terrible job market), but the temp agency turned out to be a HUGE asset, and helped me land my current job. I know they don’t always have a good reputation, but there are good ones out there, I promise. And if you’re in the Boston area, I’d be happy to refer you :)

      3. Mister Pickle*

        I haven’t seen anyone suggest this so far, but – OP, could you leave and start your own competing business? It is unclear to me just how small your current company is, and how much of the work you are doing, but – maybe you could leverage what you know (and who you know) into your own business?

    2. Armchair Analyst*

      This is actually a really good idea. A temp agency will still allow you time to interview. You could quit either the 1st job or even the temp job with no notice. It might be a pay cut. But, it will allow you time and space to refresh yourself.

      1. Michele*

        I agree with the above! A temp agency can find you long term work while you recover from this horrible situation. You can start to focus on what you what want in a career and at the same time you will have a paycheck every week. I am currently freelancing after making 2 bad decisions in a row. I am not sure where you are at in the country but I may have some good ones that I can forward on to you!

    3. Anon.*


      I’m another who thinks this is a great idea if you can’t bear being there anymore and are at the end of your rope. It sounds like such a miserable situation, and your boss sounds like she’s inhumane and a bully. I mean, if clients specifically gave you gifts, and not the boss…that’s a big sign of what they think of you and her, considering most clients etc. will give gifts to the big boss for political reasons. IOW, people must know she’s not such a nice person, but you are.

      Temping give you new experiences, and an opportunity to show others how swell you are and they may offer you employment. Plus, you get the opportunity to see if it’s a place you’d want to work.

    4. the_scientist*

      This is a fantastic idea, I think!

      Also, OP, I don’t know if this is possible and how much you trust your company’s clients, but would it be possible to discreetly approach a couple of them (say, the ones that have sent you gifts or cards and praised your work) and mention that you’re looking to get out ASAP? If they’ve worked with your boss, they may be well aware that she’s a horrible excuse for a human and would be happy to connect you with people, act as a reference, maybe point you towards openings at their companies. Of course, you’d have to do this very, very carefully since you don’t want word that you’re job hunting to get back to your boss.

      1. ProcReg*

        This is a great idea! The already knows your boss sucks, and they’d be a better reference for you from this job.

        Seriously, OP, think about going to clients.

        1. John B Public*

          This was going to be my suggestion too. These are people who valued what you did for them enough that they went out of their way to specifically give you gifts. It’s worth looking into, despite the awkward “I like white wine” discrepancy.

      2. NP*

        I came here to suggest this as well. You could start with the clients who gave you the gifts since they seem to appreciate you a whole lot more than your boss does.

      3. Sans*

        Another thought is that some of these clients could serve as references. Again, only if you are confident they will keep this request confidential from your psycho boss.

    5. AndersonDarling*

      I was in the same situation and went to a temp agency. The best part was that I was placed in some normal/functional companies and it help me get used to a regular work environment. Kind of like a rebound relationship.
      Being able to separate from the horrible job allowed me to interview better because I wasn’t harboring the crummy feelings from the bad job.

  3. Adam*

    Agreed with Alison. Make job searching your #1 of work priority and get out as quickly as you can but don’t leave before you’re able to.

    The holidays are descending upon us and we have our first Ebenezer (Ebenezra?) Scrooge. Here’s hoping she doesn’t make you stay late with a frozen inkwell.

  4. Armchair Analyst*

    Just so you know, it’s totally ok to get therapy. It helps you (OK, me) to understand that I’M the normal, healthy person for taking care of myself and that this other person is insane and here’s how to deal with it without me going (too) insane.

    1. hayling*

      YES! My therapist has actually helped me deal with my own boss a lot better and feel better about our interactions. (My boss is kind of difficult although not to the scale of the OP’s!).

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Interestingly,OP, you sound very put together considering the huge amount of unfairness and cruelty you put up with. I am not sure I would be sounding as strong as you do, if I had to deal with all that crap. Definitely consider this a two part process. Maybe all you need right now is to put all your energy into getting out of there. But then follow up with therapy/books/internet articles/whatever you feel you need to support yourself and heal yourself.

  5. Mason*

    I think that part of the issue here is that the OP is acting like they’re afraid to lose their job – which apparently they are not, as they are looking for something new and considering quitting with nothing else lined up.
    My suggestion is that she’s letting her boss walk all over her and she should really stand up for herself. The boss is a bully and should be treated as such. After all, what is she going to do, fire the OP? It doesn’t sound like the boss can make life there WORSE, so what’s there to lose? If there’s no boss above her to work with, then the OP just needs to start saying “No” and taking off time for illness or deaths or whatever – even if it means without permission “I’m taking tomorrow off for my stepfather’s funeral. If you want to send flowers I can give you the address”. Stop asking for things from this horrible person and start telling them what you’re going to do and then doing it.
    It’s not like you’re going to use them as a recommendation anyway.

    1. KJC (Question Asker)*

      Thank you, Mason. You’re totally right about having my boss work over me, and honestly, believe it or not, it’s something I didn’t even realize until probably 1.5 to 2 years into the job. It was almost like an a-ha moment when I realized this isn’t normal to be treated this way in a “professional” work environment. I have raised concern on some points, but my boss hasn’t changed her behavior. She’s just a bully through and through. I do agree with you, though, that if I do stick with this job, some things are definitely going to have to change, like my taking sick days when I really need them and dealing with family emergencies, etc.

      1. Mason*

        KJC, I was given advice a long time ago “You teach people how to treat you by how you react to their actions”. Talking to someone isn’t necessarily enough – people rarely change without given a real reason.
        I don’t want you to lose your job, but to stay there, something needs to change – and those things are REASONABLE things. Your boss doesn’t want to have to replace you, so use that to your advantage. I’m not saying that you should start acting out, but you should certainly start taking the things that are EXPECTED in the real work world. You deserve sick time, you deserve going to a funeral. Your boss not admitting you work there is INSANE. Give people your cell phone number and use that to take calls.

      2. LizNYC*

        I’m SO sorry that you’re dealing with this horrible person! She sounds like a complete nightmare!

        When I was at OldJob, though my Boss wouldn’t have even been in a same category as yours, she was very passive aggressive as far as vacation time and taking personal days (like I’d ask for time well ahead of time, and her response would be “well, if you think that’s a good idea…”). I started telling her when I’d be taking days off, like, “Boss, I’m taking nov. 25-28 off. I’ve planned to finish up this task and this task, leaving any emergencies with Coworker X [who I’d already cleared it with].” It was harder for her to say no when I told her what I was going to do and it was clear I had thought it through. I used to include “let me know if it’s not OK” (bc denying me would have been awkward for her), but I wouldn’t with your Nightmare Boss, since she’d say she has to wash her plants or something that day.

        1. Jessica*

          I tried telling my current boss, “I plan to take X days off; please let me know if this will be a problem,” and he responded, “Requests for vacation should be phrased as asking, not as telling.” So now I have to say, “I would like to take X days off. Do you approve?” Which is annoying to me because the message is basically the same, and I have an office job where taking one day off is no different than taking another day off. But I suppose if someone is picky about how particular things are phrased, better that they tell you than just be annoyed with you.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Yes, that’s just a power play from someone who needs to feel validated by making subordinates jump through hoops. Nowhere near as bad as the OP’s boss, but still light-years from Manager of the Year.

            1. some1*

              No kidding. As though it’s impossible for a boss to respond to, “I plan to take Friday off” with, “Sorry that won’t work.” because it wasn’t phrased as a question. It’s not Jeopardy.

              1. Another Kate*

                I might say something like: “Subject to your approval, I plan to take X days off. Happy to discuss if this is a problem.” :)

        2. KJC (Question Asker)*

          LizNYC, these are all great ideas that I can try in the meantime. I do think there have been times where I should have put my foot down and I didn’t. And it made me seem like even more of a pushover, kind of like how bullies will target victims who don’t stand up for themselves. But I’ve gotten better in recent months, though the results are discouraging. It’s still a very toxic work environment. The worst thing is this is a very, very small company. It’s a boutique agency, and there’s no HR, no one within the larger “company” that I can talk to. It’s my boss, me, and a few part-time others.

          1. Marcy*

            I had a boss like that (not quite as bad but close) and sticking up for myself not only didn’t work, it made it worse (which, at the time, I didn’t think was possible). I was lucky enough to find another job just as I was ready to walk out one day with nothing lined up. Your mental health is worth something and if you are unable to find another job, you may need to make the decision to leave anyway because the stress just isn’t worth it. Hopefully, the right job will come along soon, but in the meantime, make sure you are taking care of yourself outside of work and don’t feel any shame if you have to leave before finding another job.

            1. John B Public*

              Keep this in mind, too (add a bit of schadenfreud): if your boss is that horrible, and you are the glue that holds it together, AND everyone else is part time, it may well be that when you leave, everyone else does too.
              And wouldn’t that be fine?

              1. Jazzy Red*

                Something like that happened to me. I was Crazy Lady’s secretary, and we had a part time receptionist from a temp agency. I left the company after 3 months, and on my last day, the receptionist told me she was leaving too. (She didn’t want to be left alone with Crazy Lady.) I often wonder what the Executive Staff said to CL when the office opened after the holidays and she had no receptionist and no secretary.

            2. AndersonDarling*

              I was thinking the same. If the boss is this crazy, she wouldn’t know how to handle the OP confronting her. The boss could become SUPER crazy. It is a risk.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            In my experience, that seems to happen much more often in companies like that because there are no checks.

            I hope you find something soon, and if you can’t, the temp idea might be the way to get away from her. She sounds like she could a character from Horrible Bosses.

            1. MissDisplaced*

              This is indeed very true. The sole proprietor CEO-Owner type places are often the worst for this, which is exactly why these people started their own businesses! They want it their way or the highway, and they seem to love the power trip of not having to answer to anyone. I worked for one of these and it was simply horrible.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      I agree. This person probably knows she can’t find anyone to do what OP is doing at the salary she wants to pay. So if you start being less than everything she wants, she may realize she can’t do anything about that. I say take your days off, start saying, “Client was very kind to give this to me, and I’m going to enjoy it,” and “I’ll be happy to work from home if it snows”, etc.

      The worst she can do is fire you, which she might given that she’s that unreasonable. I suspect she knows what a good deal she has, though (and even if she doesn’t, she doesn’t want to pay more unemployment insurance).

      1. SerfinUSA*

        And do some basic documentation, in case you get fired and need to discuss things with the unemployment office.
        I had a crazy boss and ended up walking out after a yelling match. Of course she beefed my application for UI, but I was able to produce documentation that she was cheating customers and instructing employees to cheat customers, and I had ethical problems continuing to work there. I got unemployment and went on to a better job.
        Crazy boss lost major customers (someone might have let them know they were being cheated ;) and now operates out of her garage, with no employees to bully.

        1. AMG*

          The only thing better than seeing someone get the Karma they deserve is having a hand in it. I love this story.

      1. AGirlCalledFriday*

        Er…point of view about just suddenly pushing back and refusing to comply with the boss’s desires, if they are unreasonable…and seeing as how this person might be a little wary of confrontation, maybe a script for pushing back on some of these things?

    1. KJC (Question Asker)*

      I wish there was an HR person I could turn to. Unfortunately, this a small boutique agency that is run singlehandedly by my boss.

      1. just passing through. . .*

        My sympathies KJC. I have nothing to suggest aside from what’s been said here already. But if it were I in this situation, I’d probably start inventing ways to innocuously start messing with her. Just for my own entertainment.

        A bright future to you, KJC.

      2. My 2 Cents*

        Since you asked if you could just leave without having anything else lined up, I am going to assume that you are actually able to do so financially and whatnot, so here is my advice: You no longer have anything to lose because the worse she could do is fire you, but you want to leave anyways! So, start pushing back and start demanding fair treatment. If you have a job interview and she won’t let you leave, tough crap, do it anyways! Maybe the pushing back will get her to realize that she is totally F’ing crazy, but you really have nothing to lose at this point, so why not try it? You are in the position of control here, try using it and see what happens.

      3. Virgo*

        I worked in the same situation. It was a one-woman show, and my boss was everything (editor, publisher, founder, CEO) and absolutely terrible. The only thing you can do is get out.

    2. Bizzie Lizzie*

      HR are not there to help in this type of case – IMO – going to HR will damage the person not the boss. HR are there to protect the organisation, in a big company a complaining staff member is seen as ‘a risk’. People like OP’s boss tend to manaage upwards’ well. (Yes I know the OP does not have HR so it is a moot point).

      1. HR Manager*

        Man, you must have worked for some depressing companies. I’ve never helped a boss or manager hide illegal and discriminatory behavior. Do we minimize risk for the company? Absolutely. But if the risk is the manager – I would not and have not hesitated to make it clear the manager’s behavior is unacceptable must stop. I’ve never had an executive management member see it this way either.

  6. Name*

    No advice, but I am so, so sorry you’ve had to deal with this awful trash-pile of a person for so long.

  7. LizNYC*

    My add’l two cents: I don’t know if you’re planning on staying in publishing, but the industry (as I’m sure you know) is SO slow and kinda dying. That could be affecting your job search too, if you’re trying to stay in the industry. Be sure you check out web publishing, advertising and other industries that could use good editing/writing talents :)

    1. B*

      This this this!!! Branch into areas of contracts, writing, anything related to what you do but try to branch into lots of industries.

    2. Biff*

      I agree — traditional publishing is fighting some pretty ugly battles with the small presses and independent authors right now. And it’s main tactic has been to throw a hissy fit, which doesn’t showcase any of the good things it has to offer, which is too bad. Traditional publication could be leading the charge in some cases, instead of dragging it’s feet. If OP is poorly paid (and she is) and poorly treated (she is) then this is definitely an industry to get out of.

      I think OP could turn her talents to content strategy/content generation jobs and she could also look into e-zines. Or online book reviews, which are fast becoming very popular. If she has some good connections (it sounds like she does) she could even build her own book-review service.

  8. Jessica*

    I left a job without having another one lined up, after I’d been there less than a year. (As Alison discussed earlier this week, I knew this was really my one-time chance to do this, but I felt like it was worth it.) I felt like a failure for not having a job lined up before I left, but I realized I had to leave when I stopped being able to put together job application materials because I couldn’t think of anything good to say about my work. I knew rationally that every boss previously had given me glowing reviews and raved about my work, but my job at the time was so demoralizing and my boss so terrible that it had sucked away all my will. I quit, and it took me six months to find another job, but I know it was the right decision, and it was a lot easier to job search after I regained my mental health.

    I say this not because I think your situation is exactly the same or that I think you should definitely quit before finding another job. Alison’s points are all good ones. But I want you to know that if you feel like this job is detrimental to your mental health, you will not be a failure if you just leave now. You will be taking care of yourself, and no one should fault you for that.

    1. Danielle*


      And if you go that route , when an interviewer asks why you left without another job lined up, you can just say “I was dealing with a health issue that’s since been resolved.”

      “Health issue” doesn’t necessary mean physical health, but that’s where most folks go when they hear it.

      1. J-nonymous*

        Or, if you don’t want to bring health into it, OP, you could say something like, “It was a small company, so I had a lot of opportunity to learn and develop a variety of skills, but there wasn’t much opportunity for advancement.”

        1. KJR*

          I wouldn’t use that if you don’t have something else lined up. It sounds fishy. I would think something else was up if someone used that reason to leave without another job to go to.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I like the “dealing with a health issue” because you are not saying it is YOUR health issue. ;)

      3. neversawthatb4*

        I would not use health issues as a reason. I think that raises red flags. Either that you may become ill again, and have a a lot of absences or that you may be a drain on and big expense to their health insurance.

    2. Suzanne*

      I also quit a job after less than a year and in the midst of the financial meltdown, without another lined up. I’m not sure I’d do it again but the job was such a mess (not I the OP’s league! Wow!) but to the point that I couldn’t sleep at night, walked around with a pit in my stomach, and pretty much had to give myself a pep talk everyday just to get myself in my car to go to work. My final epiphany came when I sat down with my supervisor and told him that I was really struggling with the job and his response was “What do you expect me to do about it?!?!” I knew then for sure nothing would get better.

      I’m over 50, so trying to find a job while unemployed was brutal. I finally did, have been through several lousy jobs since, and have not gotten up to the salary of the job I quit after 5 years, but at least I sleep and am not a shrew to be around.

      If you quit, it will come up in interviews and you will have to explain why your former manager isn’t on your reference list, but if it’s quit or go insane, I say quitting is the better choice. Good luck!

      1. OP*

        I’ve read elsewhere that while not giving two-weeks’ notice is never recommended because you want to be responsible for the people you work with even if you don’t care about the boss, if a job is really, really bad and actually affecting your health, it’s “excusable.” My boss is the kind of boss who would freak out and go insane if I told her I was leaving (which will have to happen at some point), and so she wouldn’t be a person I’d use as a reference at any point in the future. Thankfully, there are one or two others in the office who I do confide in and who would act as a reference for me going forward, which is such a relief.

        1. Marcy*

          You know, I hire people regularly and I have never once asked how much notice they have given their prior employers. Also, when an employer wants to get rid of you, they seldom give you notice. While it is the nice thing to do and the professional thing to do, I doubt it would come back and haunt you, especially in a case like this where the boss is not going to give you a good reference anyway.

          1. Seattle Writer Gal*

            I just want to second Marcy’s comment. Earlier this year I hate-quit my OldJob via email with no notice (I know, I know–but my boss was a real piece of work). EVERYONE told me how bad that was, so unprofessional, no reference, burning bridges, blah, blah. Well, it took me 6 weeks to land a new job and no one cared about why I had left beyond “looking for new opportunities.” They also checked references and it wasn’t an issue.

            Personally, I wouldn’t recommend quitting without anything else lined up just because of the financial hit and the mental head game that is job seeking. In the OP’s case, I’d say just check out at work and spend your energy job hunting. If your boss is that bad, you won’t be getting a good reference anyway.

          2. J-nonymous*

            That’s true, but some HR teams when checking references, do ask if the person is eligible for re-hire, and not giving notice is a frequent reason for not being eligible for re-hire.

        2. Sans*

          Heck, if you found something else and gave two weeks notice, those two weeks could be so much fun. She could rant and rave and you could just nod your head and smile. None of it would smile. Or she could just tell you to get out immediately, and you’d be just fine with that, too!

        3. Biff*

          I’d like to advise a slightly different tactic. When they ask the question about why you quit, I think you could spin your key points into a complete answer that covers all the bases and leads to questions about the future, not the past. I’m thinking something like:

          “As you know, publishing has been changing rapidly in the last few years. While I appreciate my time at Chocolate Book Promotions and I learned a lot about interfacing with magazines and newspapers, we weren’t plugged into the digital media wave and that was what really exited me. I wanted to jump into it, but Chocolate is a small company and they just didn’t have the resources to let me develop that project. I ultimately decided that I needed to take some time off so that I could invest in learning about digital book promotions and decide if that was absolutely what I wanted to do.”

          I think a savvy manager can determine that the company was small, ruled by an iron fist, and that you have go get-em from that. It’s also specific. It doesn’t sound like a canned, safe answer. You may hate it, but I feel like something like this will cover all your bases, and lead into talking about the future.

          1. Biff*

            I realized that you could also add something about “wearing as many hats as I did, it wouldn’t have been possible to search for work and still maintain the kind of quality and personal contact that Chocolate Books was known for.”

    3. K.*

      I’m starting a job search after two years, one of which was spent with a boss who hated everything I did. She left the company after a year (I have other reasons for leaving, but if she hadn’t left, I and at least one if my colleagues would have). I am starting therapy to deal with the anxiety I feel now (that I never had before her), and part of that is the constant thought of “No one will hire you. Your work sucks.” Intellectually I know my work doesn’t suck – she’s the only boss I have had who thought so – but I’m having a really hard time psyching myself up to sell myself, because I got used to hearing how bad I and my colleagues were.

    4. AUB*

      I agree with the mental health aspects of being able to job search with dignity. Some situations really can be ‘that bad.’

  9. Robyn*

    my husband has the same kind of situation where he works. However his job also includes wage theft. It’s a start up medical company and he’s been promised a full time salary and benefits “when they get on their feet”. Until then he’s expected to work 50+hours a week and be paid for thirty with no benefits at all. He’s even had to get a portion of his pay at times, then get the rest of it a week later.

    What I’m saying really is this person’s situation is not unique. It’s happening all over the U.S. And as an employee there is no recourse other than to quit. But as the manager says it’s difficult to get a job when you don’t have one. Couple that with being highly experienced and over 50 and its a nightmare. Never would I have believed we’d be in this situation. It’s terrible.

    1. Artemesia*

      Operations like this will never pay back what they owe — they will dump the employee before they do. I know two people who worked for equity in start ups and essentially had their work stolen for a year and then were fired before the equity kicked in. They worked for free.

      I hope your husband can find something where he is paid what he is worth — this place is never going to do that because they know they don’t need to.

    2. Mike C.*

      Keep records of the hours worked versus hours paid in case you feel like later dropping a dime to your state department of labor or the IRS. Those folks are more than happy to nail jackasses like your husband’s boss to the wall for stunts like that.

    3. neverjaunty*

      Robyn, your husband should talk to a lawyer specializing in employment law ASAP. Wage theft is illegal everywhere. You might not want to sue anybody now, but an attorney can give advice on how to document his wages, etc., and can realistically advise him on his options.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      Oh no Robyn… Your husband really needs to get out of there! I also worked for one of these places that “didn’t pay” and the situation never really got better, even after the product launched I stuck it out for 2 years and eventually the owner laid us off as the company never did get going. I count myself fortunate that at least the CEO did square up on pay and made sure we got unemployment, but for a while there it was a terrible situation.

  10. LouG*

    #4 is really smart. That’s the first time I’ve heard of that reason, but especially in the OP’s situation it makes so much sense.

  11. Kristin C*

    KJC (Question Asker),
    Many colleges have alumni career services- I would contact your college ASAP and see if you can make an appointment with an alumni career counselor to help you find job leads. Also, network, network, network! As Alison has pointed out, many jobs never get posted, and many people land jobs by networking. So go to an industry event, or an alumni networking event that your college may be hosting. Bring a friend with you if you are nervous about networking!

    Not all publishing companies are bad, and NYC is a great location for publishing career opportunities. It seems you could leverage your 3.5 years of publishing experience into a better organization, with a better boss, and a better work culture. These do exist, I promise!

    1. KJC (Question Asker)*

      Thanks, Kristin C! I have gotten in touch with my old college and will be doing alumni searches (through the alumni network) and directly contacting people I think might be able to help me.
      Yes, I also agree with you. I don’t want this one bad experience to turn me entirely off from publishing. There definitely are better places out there. It’s just unfortunate that because this company is so small and completely dominated by my boss, she can do whatever she wants and get away with this kind of behavior.

      1. Andy*

        Please please please put a penny in the Piggy Bank of Irony and write a book about this woman, and then it will be published by her rival and she will read it and KNOW everyone can see her ridiculosity hanging out. She is the WORST. You might be great at whatever type of job requires you to work with terrible people, tho. Ever considered applying to the NFL?

      2. Mister Pickle*

        Jeez. What bugs me personally is that I read a lot. I sure hope I’ve never bought anything from this company. *shudder*

        (Lest I be misunderstood, no, I’m not asking that the boss be “outted”).

  12. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I have one small, small quibble with #1. I would look askance at someone leaving without a job lined up if it were, say, less than a year. At my old job we had an applicant who left a situation after five months because he said it was untenable, and while I took his word for it, five months is such a short time that I wondered if he’d made any effort to fix the situation. Three years wouldn’t strike me as “giving up” in the same way, especially for someone early in their career. “I realized the industry was not for me, and I wanted to focus all my energy on working in this new field.” Best said while you’re temping!

    1. Artemesia*

      Biggest mistake I ever made was not leaving my first big professional job when I discovered how much they had lied about the financial stability of the organization — I should have gotten out immediately and started over on the job search instead of moving my family into a miserable situation.

    2. puddin*

      Meh – if one job was less than a year I could easily chalk it up to a bad fit. But a history of short term employment would be a red flag to me.

      I get that you wonder about the candidate’s tenacity at resolving a situation. However, I am a cut your losses kind of person so I would not think twice about a one time short term stint.

    3. Amy*

      Most employees are not in a position to fix their workplace or their boss. If they are alcoholics who come in late when they bother to show up and they know they’re about to be fired, that would be one thing. If they’re Dorothy and find out they’re surrounded by flying monkey warriors, they should get out ASAP!

  13. Michelle*

    Wow. I can’t believe the insanity you’re having to deal with. My only advice is….don’t be tempted to take the first job that comes along. Consider your current job a (poorly) paid internship that’s sole purpose is to teach you what you do and don’t want in a job. Take care and good luck!

    1. ChristinaW*

      I agree – don’t take the first job that comes along just because it will get you out of your current situation. Make sure it’s a place you could really be happy and grow for about 2 years.

      Temping is a perfectly fine way to fill the gap!

  14. Michele*

    I would also start networking too. Is there are a way you can discreetly connect with the clients to inquire about possible openings?

    1. OP*

      Yes, I’ve started asking around (very very) discreetly and I do have people who are totally understanding of my situation who are helping me look for a new position. But it’s still a much, much slower process than I’d like it to be.

      1. AVP*

        That’s the one nice thing about working for someone who is so transparently crazy – your clients and vendors almost certainly notice it, and none of them will blame you when you eventually get out of there! And ideally some of the closer ones will be able to help you by passing on openings and giving you referrals if they can.

        1. Biff*

          I remain baffled at how these places maintain clients year after year after year. I worked for one place with a nutty boss and he killed the business within about 3 years of being the main point of contact for most customers.

      2. Michele*

        I would also start putting any extra money you can – like maybe $25 or $30 per paycheck – away so that you can some kind of cushion to carry you through.

  15. Jamie*

    I get it – I’ve never been in a situation that bad, but I’ve hit my own limit and quit without something lined up once and never, ever again.

    She’s awful, no question, and you absolutely don’t deserve that crap…but I’ve been in too many meetings where people wet themselves over the chance to hire people who are already employed. I hate it, I’ve pitched for how many awesome people out there are looking for work, it sucks, but it’s very real that having a job makes you so much more attractive to another employer.

    Also, you’re there every day – use your people skills to network with your vendors, customers, anyone in any business with whom you interact. Don’t be obvious or ask for jobs, but be friendly enough that if they were interested they’d know they could make an overture without you running to tell on them.

    It’s people like this who scar employees and then they go into another job where people are reasonable and the aftermath goes with them. Please understand this isn’t normal.

    1. OP*

      Thanks, Jamie. A part of why I wanted to post my situation was because I was starting to lose track of how downright “abnormal” this situation is. I’m here every day, like you said, and you start to think this is normal and that if you whine and complain, you’re being a big cry baby. But I’ve had as much as I can take of this job, and I’m really going to think hard about my next step going forward. If anything, this work experience has taught me to be super aware and careful of the next job I go into. I definitely don’t want to have another tyrannical boss waiting for me somewhere else.

    2. ProcReg*

      I’ve definitely suffered from “Kicked Puppy Syndrome”.

      I’ve had terrible bosses, enough for a lifetime. I’m in a reasonable place now, and I can tell the PTSD is real.

      I’m getting better! And so will you!

  16. Golden Yeti*

    Wow, OP. Just wow.

    I can definitely offer sympathy, as some aspects of your current situation resemble mine (small company; same low pay after several years; nobody above the bosses; bosses who do questionable or insensitive things; you want to switch industries; you maybe don’t stick up for yourself as much as you should, considering how obviously valuable your work is to the organization).

    But, your situation is like 5 notches worse than mine, so I really want to stand with you and say I know how anxious I am in my situation–I cannot even imagine going to work every day with bosses that bad. So, seriously, you have my full sympathy and support.

    Far as advice? I really don’t know. The temp idea was a good one. I made the suggestion to someone else recently, so I might also suggest something like retail to you, just as a way to get out quickly and be in a field where you have more flexibility to interview. However, I don’t know if that kind of work would be enough to cover your expenses.

    I can vouch for what Alison said about job searches tending to be over a year, as that’s been my experience. Because of that, I probably wouldn’t recommend quitting without something else in place (even if it’s temp). Still, that doesn’t mean you should stick around where you are now, either.

    I guess it all comes down to what your finances will allow and how much more you can take mentally and emotionally.

  17. Joey*

    I disagree with Alison. This isn’t something Id thought I’d ever advise anyone, but eff that bitch and give your 2 weeks if you can afford it. That’s beyond what anyone should put up with.

    1. LBK*

      The problem with that is in the long run, the OP gets hurt more by that than the manager. It’s satisfying to imagine dropping the mic and watching your crazy boss suddenly realize how valuable you were and how wrongly they treated you, but I don’t think that ever happens. Instead, they just go on being horrible to whoever they can con into replacing you. They might even be deluded enough to think YOU’RE the horrible one for walking on on what they don’t realize is a toxic situation. Meanwhile you sit at home eating into your savings while you try to get another job.

      It may not have that feeling of incisive victory, but the most satisfying way to get back at a bad manager in the long run is to find another job that compensates you fairly and values you as an employee.

      1. Adam*

        Agreed. Lord knows I’ve directed many a movie in my head about leaving jobs in a manner that would have earned me a nod to the academy, but in real life this is pretty much never a good idea. Your happy ending comes from finding a better job and leaving knowing you maintained your sanity while the lousy boss will continue to wallow in her own muck.

        1. LBK*

          In my movie I’m played by Anne Hathaway in a daring gender bending role begging for her second Oscar win; she sings a triumphant anthem as she exits the office, twirling and chewing the scenery all the while.

          1. Adam*

            If you want to inject a little bit of theatrics into your last day if you have a significant other you could have them pick you up outside your office as you leave, holding a bouquet, and enveloping you in a passionate smooch. If your now ex-co-workers it’ll give them something to talk about at least.

      2. Joey*

        I’m sorry, I just don’t agree that someone should stay regardless of how they’re being treated. I absolutely think it’s worth it to get out without a job lined up. It’s not like the op won’t ever find a job unless she is currently employed. Even if you have to take a step back just to get any job, Id much rather do that than endure the hell the op is going through.

        It’s not about sticking it to anyone or teaching lessons, it’s about getting out of a situation where you’re consistently demeaned and treated like shit.

        1. LBK*

          I don’t think it’s something you can determine from the outside, though – only the person in the situation can accurately judge the danger to their physical and mental health if they stay. If they determine they can stick it out in order to reap all the benefits Alison described, then that’s up to that person. It sounds like to you, the danger and damage to mental health is too high – which is totally valid, but it’s a judgment call that you have to make individually because no one else can tell you how much you can handle.

          The point isn’t staying regardless of how you’re treated or putting up with abuse, because the end goal is still to leave – it’s just whether you leave now or later. You have to genuinely acknowledge and weighing the consequences of leaving now vs. the consequences of staying until you have a new job.

          1. Joey*

            Of course it’s hard to make that decision from the outside, but the op asked for an outside opinion.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I agree with you, Joey.

          Maybe a reasonable compromise is for OP to pick a date- weeks/months from now and decide, “I will pull out all the stops to find a new job before this date. However, if I do not have anything by this date, it will be my last day anyway.”

          People are amazing. Sometimes if a person knows something will end, they can gather the determination necessary to plow through what they need to do. Food for thought, OP.

  18. louise*

    A couple thoughts.

    1) If one were to quit without something lined up, is it possible to answer an interview question about it by saying “I was in a difficult position because I was looking for work but my boss wouldn’t allow me to take time off without firing me.”?

    2) If she doesn’t make her irrational demands by email, then this is what the iPhone voice memo feature was made for. I’ve never in my life recommended surreptitiously recording someone, but this seems like the one and only okay opportunity to. To what end? Probably nothing, but I’d feel good knowing I had it.

    3) If you can make it through until Christmas this year, write a very different thank you note to those kind clients. “What a thoughtful gift! Thank you! I feel awkward mentioning it, but Beezus chose to keep the gift for herself. This is, unfortunately, rather representative of her managing style in general. I’ve been looking to move on to a new position for quite awhile, and would greatly appreciate it if you would let me know of any openings you hear of. Also, would you be willing to serve as a reference in my job search? I’ve learned so much in my time at Teapot Publishing, but it’s time to explore other opportunities.” It just seems like if you’re making people so happy they send you gifts, that you’ve a network that may be able to save you from this!

    1. OP*

      Regarding 1), I have heard of situations where employees wanted to give two weeks’ notice and then they were fired on the spot. I’ve had two general interviews with headhunters that seemed to go well and another with a big headhunting agency lined up next week. So hopefully something will come of all this, and with any luck, I’ll be out of here before another full year has passed. Temping is something I am seriously considering now.

    2. Marcy*

      Please don’t advise someone to record someone else without their knowledge unless you know it is ok in their state. It is absolutely illegal in my state and plenty of others. If getting a job without currently being employed is difficult, try getting one with a criminal record, too.

      1. LizNYC*

        It sounds like the OP might be in NY state, in which case, totally legal as long as one person knows (the person doing the recording).

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I had to chuckle- one friend did this. Friend planted a recording device on herself and carried it around all day. Whenever she did this the boss did not misbehave. Now how the heck did the boss figure it out???? Anyway, I said. “I see your solution for your overall problem. Just wear a wire all the time!”

          [NOT INTENTED as real advice. Just an amusing story that kind of shows even IF you can wear a wire that may or may not solve your problems.]

        1. Amy*

          1984 is here. Big Brother is a 19-year-old with a smartphone. Everybody everywhere could be recorded and humiliated on youtube. Who needs an eavesdropping deity threatening Hell when you can get your comeuppance on the web?

      2. Anon this time*

        I had to record my evil boss, and also HR who was not taking care of the situation. I was in a state where it was legal as long as all parties were in the same room. (no recording phone conversations)
        But there is no reason to do this unless you are going to an attorney. This made my case and the company gave me a settlement. Oddly enough, no one even listened to the recordings I had. HR knew what they had said and new they needed the case settled before it went to court.

  19. Bea W*

    You’re boss is a loon. Here’s what I would fantasize about doing – line up a job, quit on the spot, and take two weeks to gather your head after all that insanity. Holy moly.

  20. Colorado*

    Good luck OP! Something will come along and one day you will look back with one hell of a story. Give us an update!

  21. Sherm*

    I know this isn’t the biggest problem with your workplace, but perhaps you could ask the clients to send any mail of a personal nature to your home address. (I wouldn’t mention “gifts,” in case that sounds like you expect/demand them.) If they ask why, you could just say something like “Oh, I just don’t want them to get lost in the workplace shuffle.” And they *are* getting “lost.”

  22. AggrAV8ed Tech*

    Here’s a question… What if you’ve been at a job for, say, 15+ years and quit without another job lined up? Particularly if moving out of state? I have a feeling this is a situation I’ll be in within the next year or two – my only escape from this toxic workplace is to get out of state and start fresh.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      If you’re a tech with a toxic boss, see if your best clients (even if they’re internal) will provide references/recommendations instead of the Boss From Hell.

  23. Alien vs Predator*


    I wish you the best of luck. It sounds like your boss is a very sick, mentally ill person. I gather from your post that you are Asian and she mocked Asian accents right in front of you? No freaking way. That is a show-stopper. That is Michael Scott/Dunder Mifflin behavior, except not funny.

    Think about your skill sets and what else you can do with them. Try to be geographically flexible as possible. Cast your net far and wide. Don’t get too hung up on titles or companies. Think about what your day-to-day reality will be like in any other job or other industry. Because it is really the day-to-day that will make or break you in terms of overall job/life satisfaction.

    There are plenty of good places to work out there. You sound like you’ve got a very level head, a lot of great experience, and a lot of drive. Go find someplace better.

  24. Anon Accountant*

    Wow! She is a horrible boss.

    Since you are looking to change fields is there anything else you can do to help your search along? Take evening classes to help you gain skills for when you switch fields? Online classes? Volunteer opportunities in your new field?

  25. Mimi*

    I would start taking at least some of your personal belongings home now, and it would be best to do it slowly if you can so it is not a red flag for your boss, who is insane. This will make things easier whenever you leave, and especially if you have to quit on short notice, because you just might, because your boss is insane.

    Signed, Been There

    P.S. Did I mention your boss is insane?

  26. neverjaunty*

    OP, in addition to following the great advice here, I think you (like Robyn’s husband) need to talk to a lawyer ASAP.

    NOT because you are necessarily going to run out and sue your boss or because she is doing anything illegal (although she may be), but to protect yourself. Not to add to your anxiety here, but an evil boss can get you into trouble you don’t know about – like failing to pass on tax withholding to the IRS, lying about you to clients after you leave, blaming you for ethical problems at the company, etc. A good lawyer can tell you what your options are.

    Also, at least in the US, employment attorneys generally work in contingency (commission) and you can get an inexpensive consultation just to talk out what’s going on.

    1. jasmine*

      Failing to pass on tax withholding to the IRS would get the employer in trouble with the IRS, not the employee.

  27. JournalistWife*

    Oh, dear. I feel for you, OP. I only ever once quit a job with nothing lined up — my first “real” job where I worked admin at a car dealership for almost 4 years. I tried so hard to get ahead and make myself non-expendable from the day I started, but unfortunately did such a good job of absorbing work that after 3.5 years of getting passed over for promotion, they finally did promote me, but then 90 days later when my new “commission” for the new position was supposed to kick in, they changed their agreement (I had only gotten it verbally…dumb me!) and when I challenged them on it, they said that they couldn’t give me a commission with the promotion because they had ended up having to hire 3 people to do the work of 1 “me” in my prior position. I was so upset, but I knew that quitting without having something lined up was an awful idea (I had literally $0 savings), but when I got home, my husband looked me in the eye and said, “If you don’t walk in there tomorrow and put in your 2 weeks’ notice — if you decide to stay and let them do this to you — then you will never again have my attention when you come home and complain about your job there.” It was tough love, and I resented him for saying it and felt it was unfair, but I slept on it that night and woke up in the morning realizing he was absolutely right. Luckily, I still lived in the same region where I grew up, and was only out of work for 1 week before the bank corporation my mother worked for agreed to hire me “part time” (e.g., I could work full time hours but without benefits since they knew it was low pay and just something to tide me over and still look “employed” until I found meaningful work). I worked at the bank for about 3 months, which gave me enough time for my civil servant exams to be graded (I had taken those the day I quit) and luckily I was offered a job at the university where I’ve worked for 9 years now.

    My point is, if you know someone who works outside your field (even part-time banking or something, as long as it’s not teenage food service work or something that would drastically stick out on a recent job history and send up red flags about your level of experience/skill/education) they may be willing to help you stay “employed” during your search period until you find something good. In my case, the people in my mother’s company had known me since I was a small child, and were happy to help because it got them extra help during the holidays (when regular employees take time off) and it kept me in a white-collar title until I could be eligible for university interviews. Maybe you could mention that in your networking pursuits — that even a “sort-of real” job would help you for a while. This is a similar strategy to working for a temp agency, but might be handy if you know anyone who is sympathetic and needs a little holiday staff coverage!

  28. J-nonymous*

    OP – I recently left a job (after being offered a restructuring that would have lowered pay and responsibilities) without another job lined up. I was very fortunate to find my next job within 2 weeks, and for that job to be a heavenly fit.

    It can happen, but it’s not likely. Either way, you’re at risk for taking the first offer that comes your way, either because you’re eager to escape your current situation, or eager to escape unemployment.

    Here’s what I wish I had done before arriving at the situation I found myself in in March: (1) I wish I’d sought some professional help/counseling from a person experienced with workplace bullying (or at least something along those lines). I spent a few months getting over all the feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt stirred up by my boss, and I wasn’t in the position for nearly as long as you’ve been. (2) I wish I’d devoted more time to sticking up for myself. I got better at this toward the end, and even gave firm and clear feedback about what was and wasn’t acceptable behavior (and then proceeded to get ‘restructured’ out of my position 4 days later). Still, I wish I’d done it sooner rather than continue the cycle of self-doubt and second-guessing.

    Here’s what I’m glad I did: (1) Build really strong networks within and outside my company – people whose opinions and feedback I trusted, who confirmed (through firsthand witnessing, or just through trust in me) that I wasn’t crazy, and that I was being bullied. It sounds like you’re there, but need continued support so that you don’t lose sight of the fact that your boss is horrible human being. (2) I’m glad I took a long look at my value as an employee in my field. It really helped when it came time to reaching for the next position.

    Here’s what I thought would matter, and sure it felt good, but not as good as finding the right fit in a good organization: (1) I got to tell my boss “I’ll do what you need me to do to transition duties, but my preference is for today to be my last day” and watch her gobsmacked reaction. (2) I had an HR department, and I got to give a factual and scathing exit interview where I provided solid documentation about my boss’s bullying behavior. (3) I kept in touch with my friends from that place and learned that my ex-boss was eventually ousted from her position due to how terribly she managed people and work. – Those things were all satisfying, but they do not sustain any sort of ‘recovery’ from the horrible times as much as being in a great job that recognizes my contributions and values me as a person.

    So, for the tl;dr version: Find/engage your support network, get some counseling if you can, set boundaries, and set your sights on finding a great job/fit for you.

  29. DavidH*

    Just writing in to express sympathy. Please be sure to send in an update when you manage to escape this utterly insane person, as we’ll all want to know how you make out.

  30. Virgo*

    I worked for a one-woman publishing company too. AND IT IS JUST AS HORRID! I’m hearing more and more about publishing environments like this, and I’m beginning to think this dysfunctional dynamic is common in small publishing companies (with under 5 people in total).

    I was the Publishing Assistant and my manager was the founder and owner of the financial publishing company. She was the writer, editor, and publisher of her own books. I did everything for her, and she didn’t appreciate anything. She was really egotistic, thought she was high and mighty because she was the ex-senior editor of this major financial journal in the 80’s. I knew right off the bat from the interview that she was a bad person, but I just graduated and needed a job. She didn’t know how to run a business though and couldn’t afford to continue paying me and this other girl, so she laid us off after 4 months and wanted to hire us on a contract basis. When I finally quit working for her, she sent an angry email calling me ungrateful for taking advantage of her generosity (when she was the one who laid us off). I’d post it, because it really was unprofessional and unbelievable how someone can say such things.

    Anyway, I’m not just writing to commiserate. I’d like to suggest that if you want to work in publishing, work in the STM (Scientific, Technical, Medical) field because these companies actually generate revenue unlike a lot of publishing companies. I’m working now for a legal educational publisher and I really love my environment. These publishing companies are very stable (as there will always be an ongoing demand for these texts) and aren’t as chaotic.

  31. kristinyc*

    OP – I have friends at several of the Big 6 (5 now I guess..) publishing houses in the NYC offices. I’d be happy to put you in touch with someone. I’ve left jobs for WAY less awful situations than what you’re going through. You deserve better, and I’m sorry you have to deal with that. :(

  32. AB Normal*

    Someone mentioned above indicating in the thank you note that the boss kept the gift for herself, and taking the opportunity to ask about any openings the customer may know and for references.

    I’d phrase it differently, and while I agree it’s a great idea to ask for references from customers when a manager is going to just sabotage you, I’d not combine the request with the thank you note.

    But it feel to me that the OP, like other people in the same situation, does not have to resign herself to pretending she kept the gift (which can lead to awkwardness if it turns out you describe it incorrectly, as in the case of the champagne vs. white wine). Here’s what I’d write:

    “Thank you so much, Jane, for the gift you send me. Due to our company policy, I do not get to keep (or even open) the gifts sent to me, but I wanted to let you know that despite of this policy, I’m extremely grateful for your thoughtful gesture. I’m looking forward [ our next meeting / working again with you in our next project / whatever. ]”

    I’m sure that, it being a small office (at least it sounds like it), the customer would be perfectly able to read between the lines, and also be totally open to serve as a reference when the time comes.

  33. Bizzie Lizzie*

    I have recently left very difficult work situation – long hours (average > 70pw), extensive travel – as in months away from home in a country where the flight length meant I could only travel home every 5 weeks, plus dealing with a manager whose traits included aggression, and constant switching basic decisions (& then blaming when people could not act on the original now changed decision) was taking its toll on my health.

    Note – I have 20+ years’ experience, a relatively senior position, a good professional reputation/track record.
    I was very very lucky – I managed to get a new position which has just started.

    However what really helped me to cope was over the last few months was that at the end of July, I made a private decision:
    ‘That’s it’ ” by Date X (my birthday), I will resigned from this Job”. This meant that I would either have got a new job, or would have resigned regardless.
    For me that private decision that really helped me – feeling I had an end date.
    I felt that by staying in this situation (i.e. working for the individual concerned) my health and my professional reputation were at risk.
    I appreciate not everyone can do this financially, but my advice is to the OP to go if you can manage it financially – without your health you have nothing.

  34. R2D2*

    Just be prepared for the worst. I get the impression that some here might never have known anyone in this situation, so they are more optimistic about their chances.

    Be prepared to risk:

    1. Finding that some companies follow a policy of never hiring the unemployed (unless you live in a place where this is illegal, like NYC).

    2. Being unemployed more than 6 months and finding that a significant number of employers across all fields now consider you permanently unemployable.

    3. Finding out that many of the companies willing to consider you are equally toxic, and that you may end up with the reputation of being a job-hopper as you move from one to the next trying to find a non-toxic one, which in turn will shrink the pool of employers even more.

    4. Finding that the money troubles that often follow long-term unemployment ruin your credit, and that employers who require good credit as a condition of employment no longer will consider you.

    5. Taking a service sector job to avoid eviction and then finding that you’ve stayed too long and been pigeon-holed as a non-professional, closing doors in your field.

    None of these are certainties, but they are all risks. Just be ready.

  35. Not So NewReader*

    I would like to nominate this boss here for the AAM Community’s consideration for “Worst Boss of the Year” award. It’s not too early to start thinking about viable candidates. I think that this boss here has demonstrated remarkable ability as a bad boss. She seems to have endless creative ways of displaying the worst aspects of her personality.

  36. Darren*

    As someone who has worked on manager development, I would disagree with the advice given here. No one should remain in an abusive relationship and I don’t see this relationship getting any better. That said, you need to have a plan / exit strategy. Start with figuring out your financial situation; building a nest egg to aid during your job search. Next, network with everyone you know; many opportunities come from word of mouth. It already seems that you have good connections from those who are sending gifts.

    Finally, stop being a victim (you are allowing your boss to abuse you). You are not being physically forced to sign your bosses name to the thank you cards. Write them from home. Rediscover your confidence, as you will need it when you go for those interviews.

    Good luck to you.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I think people are generally saying the OP should TRY to hang in until another position is found, or at the very least use the time to plan, prepare, and generally get her “ducks in a row,” so to speak. But of course if the boss is so abusive verbally or physically as to be harmful then by all means walk.
      Unfortunately, it IS still very hard to find a decent job. While OP’s boss is a total ass and general horrible person, I don’t sense any immediate threat here. Sometimes just knowing you are going to leave gives you the backbone to use this time to your advantage and leave on your own terms.

  37. GameOfThorns*

    I do agree with a previous poster about getting some therapy. It did wonders for me. It didn’t keep me from quitting without a job lined up due to an incident between us, but I lived in a smaller area where her infamous reputation preceded her and it wasn’t a red flag that I quit with nowhere to go and got a job two weeks after I quit.

  38. MissDisplaced*

    Oh man, I think I had that same boss! Just kidding, but I know how horrible this situation can be. However, try NOT to leave until you have another job lined up. Start looking ASAP and applying. When you get interviews, you can always try to schedule them very early in the morning so as to keep time away minimal (say you have a doctor or dental appointment or something).

    I know it’s tempting to just walk… and if your boss is truly so abusive then you might indeed need to do that, but make the effort to hold on a little longer while you look if you can. Hang in there! You WILL FIND SOMETHING BETTER!

  39. Anonaconda*

    I vote for putting in your notice and temping right away. What strikes me about your letter is that you are working so hard in your job search and yet not getting any hits. Earlier this year, I quit a job that I’d been trying to leave for years, and had that experience—working a demoralizing job changes how you see yourself, and employers can pick up on that negative energy. After I left, I had a lot more success in my job search. I feel this is especially true when you’re trying to change industries; you just have to make a serious move toward the kind of job you want, and then people will start seeing you differently. It sounds like you’re more than willing to temp, so what are you waiting for? Good luck!

  40. Realist 2041*

    Actually opening mail addressed someone else is illegal and how would she know if its a gift unless she opened it. Since when did it.become ok to let bosses abuse you…Never! Does she not have a superior? People only do things we allow. You seems to be a very sheer person because three years is too long for this type of foolishness. You need to speak to her about this and let her know it’s not cool.

  41. Rose*

    OP, I feel like I must have worked for the same woman, also in publishing. I left for a weekend to see my mother through surgery, then got a call that she was having complications. Her first words, “well, what about your work here?” And she lied to me that she needed to lay me off right before my wedding (overseas, I had asked for 3 weeks off almost a year ahead), but hired another assistant to come in the following Monday. AND she had the gall to complain that I left the place a mess–in a tiny tiny office in NYC, she made me print all her emails, wrote her responses, made me print those too, and file everything in file cabinets that had long given up hope. Plus it was publishing, so I’d occasionally have to jump behind the sad file cabinets when crazies would show up with their manuscript.
    For years, I would blame myself–if only I’d worked harder, if only I’d spent more time after-hours filing, if only I hadn’t made x and y mistakes. Sigh….

  42. James Taylor*

    You seem like a resilient, passionate young professional. If you’re interested in transferring those skills to a positive, healthy environment that craves diverse backgrounds and experiences, check out my organization – CEB (Corporate Executive Board).

  43. Nomore*

    There is something call “sanity of human body”. If its affecting your emotions, giving you anxiety and affecting your health, then the it is very clear it is time to let GO and Let GOD!. I understand that resigning without having another job is a risk but only you know how much you can continue taking. It is easy for anyone to say “don’t do it” but you know what? sometimes things just require a “leap of faith”. Ultimately it is up to you and your family to decide, however if it was me – I would rather be sane and able to find another job than sick and insane. God bless. Pray for it.

  44. Zack*

    I’m wondering if I should be quitting too. I’ve done it 3 times before. Each time was tough in its own way, but eventually, the time off was worth it because it allowed me reflect on myself, identify what my goals were, what strengths I had, and what improvements I needed to make to get that better job with the much better salary. For the gaps on the resume, I used my C-Corp to get gigs from Craigslist, etc. You can form a corporation online in NYS very easily, then register for a tax number EIN to get paid. Before you quit, you need A PLAN to change not your job, but your SITUATION. Just changing jobs won’t improve your situation. In the OPs case, OP needs to develop some backbone and stop taking crap from other people. OP also needs a firm plan and just quit. Sometimes its hard to focus on yourself and change jobs when the job sucks everything out of you. Take a break, do some gigs, and train, retrain your technical skills and desperately work on those softskills – in this case that means standing up for yourself. By the way, I am a manager, but also an employee.

  45. Matt*

    As an HR Director, I have to disagree with your advice. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea for an employee to remain in a situation where they are being ridiculed or taken such extreme advantage of as in this case. I think she should find a good lawyer, send a letter and see where the chips fall…

  46. scott mclellan*

    I have a wife and two children, and I walked out of a job I held for seven years. The work environment was toxic, my boss was a bully, our jobs were always threatened, and I began to find myself at something work related about 7 days out of the week.

    One day my bully boss was giving me too much crap, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t just walk out,I cussed that jerk out. I called him an ahole, and then said “no matter what happens to me after this, you’ll always be an ahole, because you’re just an ahole.” As I drove home I was screaming in my car that I could find a better job even though I had no job to go to. Let me tell you though, it was hard finding work afterwards. I didn’t tell people I cussed out the boss and then walked off. I just said that it wasn’t working out. One hiring manager asked me for the story, and I just told him that conditions at my last job were so bad that I had to quit. I said I was bullied by a manager, and after trying several times to do something about it through HR with no resolve, I was left without a choice. They couldn’t prove the bullying. The manager was a jerk to all the male employees, and too nice to all the female employees.
    I eventually found a full time job as a parts guy for a local commercial landscaping supply company.
    They hired me as a replacement for someone who left for another company. I worked my butt off trying to solve problems and deal with hard to handle customers that no-one else would. On the fifth day, they fired me because the other guy wanted his job back. However, the boss did say I was the most qualified of those who applied. Still a jerk.
    From there I have been working part-time jobs for the last few years, but this Decemeber, I’ll be graduating from college with a social work degree. It’s the most opposite thing to sales I could think of.
    Walking-off helps if you have some money saved up to support yourself for a bit, but it helps to have stories to back up why you quit. It will be hard on your family for a while, but it won’t kill you.

  47. M. Tomkinson*

    I wish that I had known that it was okay etiquette wise to say you don’t want your current employer contacted while looking for a new job, I’m getting the strong impression my manager may have sabotaged my getting a chance at a promotion at our district office. We normally at least get a courtesy interview when we apply “in house” – I haven’t heard a single word back from them.

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