your manager sucks and isn’t going to change

Three letters, one answer. One answer that’s awfully similar to this one.

1. How can I improve morale when our president is so difficult?

I work for a very small nonprofit with fewer than 15 employees. We have had a difficult history with a lot of turnover. Due to that turnover, I am now second in command and most of the organization reports to me.

I have been trying to improve morale, but the line I am increasingly getting is “Things won’t improve until the president leaves.” He is a difficult person; he has wild ideas that he will make everyone work on and change his mind suddenly about large projects that take a lot of effort. He also publicly holds people accountable for things that really aren’t their fault, or aren’t realistic, but does it in a group setting so there is no way for them to defend themselves without making him look bad. I could go on, but how can I help build a stronger team that works together without fixing the real problem (the boss)?

Your manager sucks and isn’t going to change.

You can’t build a team that functions as if your difficult, demoralizing president isn’t heading up the organization, because he is. You may be able to make small improvements around the edges, but the fundamental problem is going to remain. Do you want to be second in command to someone who operates that way?

2. How can I make my boss see reason?

I recently started a new job as vice president of content for an online company with about 25 employees. The CEO/owner has a long history of successful start-ups. However, he’s into his 70s now and I’m wondering if he’s losing his grip a little. I’ve been in this business for decades myself, and the money he wants to pay the freelance writers is absurdly low–about half the going rate, and he wants me to cut it further even while he brags that our content is better than our competitors–it’s not. He even found some outsource content providers that send us barely literate copy for next to nothing. The stuff is ghastly. And yet his plans are so grandiose that even if he tripled our budget it would still be a stretch. He approached an old friend of his who’s a fine writer–I checked his work–and offered so little money that his friend was hurt and insulted. The CEO seems very confused at this. Ironically, if he lowered is quantity expectations, I could create a very profitable site for him.

He seems impervious to reason and is getting more and more annoyed with me that I can’t produce the quantity and quality he wants on his low budget. I’m thinking of quietly talking to the sales staff and telling them the boss is going to wreck the company if this goes on, but that sounds dangerous.

Any ideas? I want to stay here–the pay is good and I see a lot of potential.

Your manager sucks and isn’t going to change.

You can try spelling out reality for him (“the going rate for the work we need is $X, the plans you have for the site will cost $Y to do well, and so we need to pay more or accept shoddy work”), but it sounds like you’ve tried and it hasn’t gotten you anywhere. Since you don’t have a magic wand that can make him see reason, and he apparently isn’t changing his mind, you’ve got to decide whether you want to be VP of content for a site with content you consider ghastly.

3. My boss always favors new employees over everyone else

I’ve worked for the same company for almost six years. It’s had its ups and downs, but I’ve remained loyal, putting in long hours and hard work. Having been here this long, I’ve noticed a recurring problem. Whenever a new employee is hired, my boss gravitates towards them and holds their opinions and decisions above everyone else’s.

To me, this seems backwards. Rather than giving the new guy a chance to work hard and prove himself as a valuable employee, my boss automatically gives him that advantage. For example, the new employee who has worked here for less than five months has currently taken it upon himself to redesign our company logo. Said employee does not even have a background in design, yet this is being allowed.

My coworkers and I have brought this problem to the attention of our boss, and yet he completely disregards our concerns. And it’s not just this new employee — it happens every time. Any time a new person is hired, they automatically know more than anyone else and are put on a pedestal. I call it the “shiny new toy effect.” I would think our boss would value and respect the people currently keeping the company afloat, especially since new hires have been like a revolving door. In general, my boss is pretty naive, I just don’t understand why he favors new employees and shows no loyalty or respect for those of us who have stuck by his side.

Your manager sucks and isn’t going to change.

All you can really do is decide whether you can work there reasonably happily knowing that, or whether it’s time to look for another job.

{ 206 comments… read them below }

  1. Eric*

    At what point, if at all, should OP #1 consider going to the board with these concerns?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hard to say without knowing lots more context, but most of the time it’s not worth doing. There’s only a slim chance it’ll work, and if it doesn’t (and it’s likely not to) people are likely to lose their jobs over it because now their boss can’t trust them. The board’s loyalty tends to be to the president, they often don’t have relationships with the staff beneath that person, and the president can often explain things away and/or is being judged on things other than staff morale.

      That’s not always the case, but it’s the case enough of the time that you need to be prepared to leave/lose your job if you try it. It’s generally going to be lot of drama and often just doesn’t make sense.

      1. Shabang*

        I managed to work a turd once. Big turd in little bowl syndrome. Scariest thing I’ve ever done, but the sanity and livelihoods of 20 people were on the line. The turd would “gun” for whomever wasn’t in lockstep with her agenda, and we had no information path to those higher up, so we all “didn’t know what we were doing” and the like. We were already loosing people – 2 in two months, at a place that historically had maybe one person turnover every 3 or 4 years. For me – I had been there for 15 years and wasn’t about to let someone run me (and many others) off of a job that I had worked so long and hard at.

        The key to going upfront is to bring everything you got and be ready to walk. I was already in the cross hairs and had started a job search. I went up front, gave specifics on what was happening, dropped every card I had, and managed to get the flush going. They didn’t get rid of her, but they did put her in a box where she couldn’t hurt anyone else. Without the logjam she presented, our work situation became much, much better.

      2. John*

        +1. As someone who sits on a board, I can say that the only time to speak up is if members of the board (not lone wolves but the board chair, personnel committee, etc.) take you aside for your input, making it clear in the process that they suspect there is an issue with the president.

        The board’s role re: staff is to hire/fire the executive director (they seem to be called president here).

        Now, if there is a lot of turnover, they should be asking themselves (and the executive director) why.

        They should also be sufficiently involved in the org’s operations to spot these issues.

        1. Shabang*

          Sometimes turnover in one department (skilled and certified with 20 people) vs turnover in the rest of the plant (entry level jobs with 5000-ish people) are two way different things. When you look at turnover overall, the turnover rate at that time for our department didn’t look out of sorts. But for us, it was extreme.

          I guess I am throwing an orange into a bushel of apples – my circumstance didn’t have a board so the dynamic is way different – but sometimes it pays to do the right thing.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          Wow in my experience I’ve never seen the board go to staff for input unfortunately but that would be like a dream come true for my bf right now.

          Let me say to all board members that when you see the company you’ve invested in start to tank don’t take the executives spin on things as gospel please give others a chance for input. Often the “little” people are smart and have good business sense and great ideas how to turn the company around but they are being blocked by bad management

      3. Anon Accountant*

        Exactly. In my experience any staff member that goes to the board better be prepared have another job waiting for them or be able to withstand being unemployed for a while if they try this.

      4. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

        Yup. I can confirm this. I used to work for a very small non profit. 3 employees total. My executive director had turned mean and vindictive and had begun exhibiting behavior that was making it difficult to do my job and yelling at me for failures that were his fault. I was close with one board member and decided to talk with her. I was forced out within a month after that. The executive director reduced my hours to a ridiculously small amount (7 hrs per week) and also spread them out so my 45 minute commute became an expense almost over and above what I was being paid after taxes. I was forced to quit. The executive director became someone I couldn’t trust for a good reference even after an extremely strong relationship up until things went bad and an excellent track record of success on my part.

        Don’t take it to the board. Years of hard work will be thrown down the toilet. I learned that lesson hard. Find a new job.

    2. Lanya*

      Sometimes the executive director is so good at being manipulative that the Board doesn’t have a clue what is going on. That was the case at my OldJob. Our turnover rate was close to 80%, and our company was slowly dying, but she was able to keep it hidden in page after page of confusing spreadsheets that looked more impressive than they were. I often considered going to them to explain what was going on, but I never did. I felt it would be futile. The ED would simply find a way to keep fooling them, and I would probably be let go. For me, it was better to simply leave, and I’m so glad I did.

    3. That Marketing Chick*

      I left a job I loved – that I had been at for 11 years – because a new CEO came in and polarized the company in the ways you described (and many more). I decided that since the stress I was experiencing was causing physical issues (upset stomach, headaches, etc.), it was not worth it in the long run. I left over a year ago, and am so glad I did – I hear the company has had the first real layoff they’ve had in a long time (maybe ever)…and he’s redesigning the grounds to look like DisneyWorld. His words. Yes, seriously.
      Sometimes, you need to know when to fold ’em. Not my monkeys…not my circus.

    4. grasshopper*

      Although people feel like a non-profit board should be involved and should care about a CEO/ED/President’s performance and behave like his/her boss, in my experience they don’t. I had a similar problem with the head honcho at OldJob. I found NewJob and then went back and gave my exit interview notes about his lack-of-leadership to some board members of OldJob who I kept relationships with. The response was that they had already received complaints from other staff about his behavior and performance, but that he would continue in his job. That felt almost as demoralizing as having a bad manager, but I realize that they selected this person to run the organization and either actually believe he is good at the job or are unwilling to admit their mistakes. However, I’m still glad that I spoke up because in spite of bad management I believe that the organization does good work so I felt obligated to try to make it better. If the OP is going to the board, I would suggest that she already have an exit strategy in place just in case. If it is a small org with an involved board, you might get a better response than if it is a large rubber-stamp board that isn’t willing to upset the status quo.

      1. chrl268*

        I googled it before realising your-manager-sucks-and-isn’t-going-to-change Sunday!

        I think we should make it a thing, I enjoy these letters – though I feel sorry for the people working under these horrible managers.

        1. Karowen*

          I honestly couldn’t finish reading them because I started getting sick to my stomach for these poor people.

  2. Kat*

    #1- the hell with keeping him from looking bad. HE is making himself look bad. Stick up for your people. Tell the truth about why it’s not their fault. Even if it won’t change anything, the employees will feel somewhat better knowing you have their backs and you’ll feel better inside too.

    …….and start looking for another job.

    I’d suggest documenting everything, factually, and giving it to the board as you leave. Sadly, the board probably is aware of his behavior.

  3. Ruffingit*

    Your manager sucks and isn’t going to change has seen me through tough situations including the one I’m in currently. It’s a fantastic mantra to repeat when the going gets tough. I’m also a fan of not my circus, not my monkeys. Do what you can given what you have to work with and don’t invest too heavily in anything you can’t control or change. When that becomes too difficult then get out of Dodge. It really is that simple and it has saved me more than once to remember that.

    1. Melissa*

      I looooove “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” I have a tendency to involve myself in monkeys and circuses that are not mine because I just want to make it better (or, in many cases, just plain correct). I have to repeat that mantra to myself over and over.

      1. KTB*

        Your manager sucks and isn’t going to change was my entire last position. Unfortunately, she was the ED of a very small nonprofit, and I worked very closely with her. Fortunately for me, a fantastic opportunity fell into my lap about six months ago and I was able to leave OldJob. I still get email updates, and have lunch with former colleagues (NEVER my old boss!), and sometimes find myself getting mad about something and then remembering “not my circus, not my monkeys anymore.” It’s like PTSD!

  4. Not Fiona*

    YMSAIGTC (Your manager sucks and isn’t going to change) is the AAM version of Dan Savage’s DTMFA. (Dump the MF already) Yes!! *Fistpump* This is such a helpful slogan. Although I guess this leaves it up to the employee to decide whether they want to quit (dump the manager) or not.

    1. A Non*

      Indeed. It’s popular (and reassuring) to think that if you just tie yourself in these particular pretzels, you can make everyone happy. Unless you’re a circus contortionist, that’s not likely to work. Quick check: are you wearing a unitard with a lot of sparkles? If the answer is no, it’s probably not worth it. It doesn’t matter if it’s you or the other person who is the problem – if it’s not working, it’s not working. As someone who’s been there several times, I suggest you cut to the chase and start sending out job applications.

          1. A Non*

            They say to dress for the job you want, not the job that you have. I really, really shouldn’t do that.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              Ooh, there’s an idea for the Friday open thread: if you’re supposed to dress for the job you want, not the job that you have, what would your work attire be? (That may not be quite enough work related.)

  5. Petrichor*

    Well this was timely. #3 made me realize that this is exactly what I am experiencing right now. I was hired about three months ago and my new boss treated me with respect and couldn’t wait to hear my feedback and ideas. He just hired an additional team member two weeks ago and now I can’t do anything right. There were some red flags my first week on the job. I found out that people in my role only tend to last for 3-6 months (he said it was because the people that they were hiring before were “too junior”). Now I know better and that I’m likely not the person who is going to buck that trend. I’ve known something was off since my first day, but I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I read this comment. Now I can only think to myself “What a waste of my time.”

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Wow, I had heard of favorites, but I had never heard of someone who makes every new person the Golden Child before today. It’s like a savior syndrome or something — anyone who works here is too stupid to change anything, so we have to bring in new people who can save us from ourselves! Oh, wait, they’ve been here too long, they’re part of the problem now….WE NOW MUST GET A NEW PERSON TO COME SAVE US!

      1. Darcy*

        I once worked for a company who paid thousands of dollars to a (rude and arrogant) consultant who ended up putting together a recommendation that exactly matched what our team said we should do. I had a good relationship with our CFO so I pointed this out to him. He told me that while I was right, it was like in the bible, the prophet always had to come from another land.
        I think lots of people believe that the current people they know aren’t smart enough or good enough, so of course the people they don’t currently know are going to be better. :(

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Once had an expensive advertising agency pretty much replicate the exact same branding the in-house department did 6 months previously. But like you said, the prophet has to come from another land.

        2. Artemesia*

          LOL. There is such truth in that old Biblical cliche. I was among the top 3 experts in my field in a particular area in the entire country and was hired to go to places all over the country and occasionally internationally to consult and speak on the topic and of course at my own patch, they brought in lesser experts when they wanted to have a consultant on X.

        3. Marcela*

          Ugh. My grandmother and MIL do the same thing: my husband and I would propose a solution, they don’t believe it. Then somebody else tells them to do exactly the same thing, it’s the perfect solution, inspired by gods. Double uggghhh.

          1. Pennalynn Lott*

            Yup, this is my boyfriend. He is constantly telling me wonderful, fascinating things he has learned from other people. . . that I told him about months/years ago. Ditto solutions to problems: “I was talking to David about that issue we’ve been having with the garage door, and he said we should try a long-neck eye bolt.” Really?? Because that’s what I told you to go buy at Home Depot SIX MONTHS AGO.

            So very frustrating.

      2. A Non*

        I’ve heard of something like this with narcissism, too. One of the features of the disorder is seeing everyone and everything in very black and white terms, and that combines with needing a constant supply of people to prop up their self-image. So new people are just the best, most perfect people ever and are used as examples to browbeat everyone else, until the new person disagrees with the narcissist. Then they’re disappointments, just like everyone else, and the narcissist goes looking for the next wonderful stranger.

        Required note: this is not an attempt to diagnose anyone! It’s possible to have features of various diagnoses without having the whole thing. This is just a behavior pattern that seems relevant to this conversation.

        1. Golden Yeti*

          Yes, this. You might get away with some small, insubstantial changes, but there is a change/challenging the status quo parameter that you Do Not Cross. Once you have, suddenly you’re not to be trusted, out of your mind, and not that great at your job anyway.

          Unfortunately, I’ve seen this play out a little too much.

        2. James M.*

          Maybe it’s just me, but I love finding out that behavior I believed to be simple jackassitude in fact has a clinical description.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        Or like people who lose interest in the person they’re dating, and change girlfriends/boyfriends after a few months. I love the “shiny new toy” analogy. I’m stealing that.

      4. OP No. 3*

        It’s definitely like a savior syndrome. He gets so excited every time he’s bringing in someone “new” to deal with “xyz” issue. Some “expert” who really just winds up being phony enough to get the job and not provide any results.

        1. Petrichor*

          Yeah, I’m getting the exact same vibe now. Although I’d like to think of myself as a consummate professional with a killer work ethic (as to quote my DH). I can clearly see how many of the failings of the previous people in my role had more to do with this guys warped expectations. I mean, I’ve seen there work. Even though I am coming accross a lot of minor technical errors (which does indicate junior level and anyone who doesn’t do my kind of work wouldn’t even see), their overall work didn’t suck, and some of it I thought was pretty good. The whole situation is sad, because the rest of the team has some pretty spectacular people to work with. I almost wonder if he thinks I was tainted by them and am no longer on “his side”. Actually, now that I type this out I think that’s exactly what’s going on in his head. Oh well… it was ok while it lasted and I still need to use my AAM resume review.

      5. Jake*

        My parents did it with children. Whoever was youngest was always right.

        It was tough for the middle children to adjust from being always right to being always wrong.

    2. Anonymouse*

      Yes! This! I just went through this with my last employer. The big red flag when I interviewed was the supervisor saying that the last person just wasn’t smart, wasn’t a good writer, didn’t do anything right. I thought, “Wow, that employee must’ve been really terrible.” I was hired and my every suggestion was met with “That’s an excellent idea!” When a new coworker came on board, though, I suddenly couldn’t do anything right.

      The first red flag that I saw in the interview should’ve been my warning. I’ve since learned that just like a potential employee shouldn’t say anything negative about their former employer, a potential employer shouldn’t say anything negative about their former employer.

  6. Erik*

    I was in situations #1 and #2 simultaneously at a previous company. The best move was to leave, and I never regretted that decision. It’s led me down a much happier road and opened up new areas of growth for me.

    1. Cheesecake*

      This is the key: sometimes you just need to leave. But people get used to this environment and think a)they have to stay to make things better (while the fact that broken cup can’t be mend remains) b) maybe now is not that bad and somewhere will be worse.

      1. Not an IT Guy*

        Or c) your manager does things that ensure that you look unappealing to potential employers, thus making sure you can never leave the company.

        1. Jeanne*

          Very common. How do you go on an interview and say your boss has made up things on your reviews and that’s why you have no promotions? It’s impossible.

      2. Xarcady*

        Or under a really bad manager, employees get so used to being yelled at, scorned, mocked, and otherwise demoralized that they think this is the best they can ever do. They lose all will to seek out new jobs, because they can no longer conceive of a workplace that isn’t just like the one they are in.

        1. K.*

          Or they begin to see their manager as right – “I’m such a bad employee, how could I expect to find a new job? No one will hire me.” Classic abuse (and I didn’t see this boss’s behavior as abusive until someone – a C-level exec who noted that he would never ever treat his employees the way I was being treated, and used the word “abusive” specifically – pointed it out to me) scenario. Been there.

      3. Jennifer*

        Or you just can’t get another job and you’re stuck in this one or otherwise you end up homeless.

  7. Steve the Pirate*

    OP#1, good luck. I used to work at a branch office in Texas for a nonprofit that did legislative research to increase civic engagement, and because of the internal drama at the main headquarters, I’m not sure if my work is going to have much of an impact.

  8. Jeanne*

    Your manager sucks and isn’t going to change. Okay, that’s nice. But it can be really hard to get another job with the salary/insurance/commute or whatever you need. You can be stuck in that situation for another couple of years at the worst. It really depends on your field. I think people who write to you are looking for acknowledgement of the crappy situation and maybe a glimmer of hope or help. Not all of us are any good at saying NMP and not being upset by it.

    To the OPs, my advice is to consider getting a therapist. It can make you feel awful when the people in charge are crazy or mean or otherwise off balance. Having someone to talk to can really help. It helped me survive a tough situation. My conscience didn’t allow me to just brush off the bad behavior. But my therapist helped me figure out when it was important to take a stand and when not to. She also helped me feel less crazy when my boss was very crazy.

    I don’t know if you (OPs) can make your situation even a little more bearable. Make sure your conscience is clean and that will help you through.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The thing I see is that people in these sorts of situations are often banging their heads against the wall, searching for some solution and frustrated that they can’t find one. Sometimes there is no solution; you either resign yourself to your employer sucking or you leave, and those are really the options. It’s immensely helpful to recognize when that’s the case, rather than continuing to struggle for something that will make it change.

      1. UKAnon*

        Overall, I can see the benefit in saying to people it isn’t going to change. BUT that still leaves employees stuck in a dreadful situation for quite a long time – how long does the average job search take? So even going with ‘ultimately you need to move on’ I think that what people are saying is there also needs to be interim measures to help employees cope.

        For example – OP #1, can you stand up for those under you more? Personally, I’d be tempted to call him on it directly. Every time he starts berating people in a group setting, can you defend them and their work? Or is it more tactful to speak to him privately and ‘bring him up to speed’ on where people are doing great work but leave your employees without the assurance that somebody is sticking up for them?

        I think that people are looking for that sort of advice to get them through while they look for a new job. New jobs don’t just fall off trees unfortunately, and whilst helping someone to accept and move on *is* important, so is offering advice for how to approach their work in the meantime.

        1. Cheesecake*

          The best advice you can get is sheer acknowledgment that the boss will not change. It will move a ton from your shoulders. I said it 3 times already and here it is again: you can’t mend a broken glass and you will get yourself cut in the process.

          I don’t think speaking to that boss privately will help; it will make OPs life worse than it was. I am against trying some ground breaking changes when your boss truly sucks. I only saw it massively backfiring.

          1. UKAnon*

            No, your boss won’t change, and as I said, it is important to acknowledge that. But it is also simple reality that people are still going to be stuck in these situations probably for at least months. So a discussion of any ways to help them cope with their work situation – not change it, cope with it – is really useful. A dysfunctional workplace can destroy your mental health for years. Just saying ‘not going to change’ isn’t going to help much with that on a practical level. Hearing suggestions for helping might at least provide some relief.

            My point bout talking to the boss privately was that I wouldn’t necessarily advocate speaking up in public, but I do think OP should consider standing up for those below her. I know people stuck in toxic situations where knowing they were going in every day to help others, even if it made their working lives more miserable, was a huge part of being able to face work every day.

            1. Cheesecake*

              But honestly, this is the only thing that will help and keep you sane: realization that it will not change. I don’t think OPs quite get it yet and as Debbie said bellow, they try to spin the wheel like crazy, finding solutions. So once they realize that it is not changing, they can steer their energy to either getting another job or being more calm about current situation.

              Now OP1 gets frustrated and worked up after every group scolding. When you realize nothing will change it – it is so much easier to brush things off.

              And i agree with you: it is silly not good to point stuff out in public and way better to discuss privately. But i bet my morning coffee with this kind of boss it will not work. I saw people trying to deal and reason with awful bosses and this got them fired.

              1. AnonEMoose*

                Realizing that the manager isn’t going to change does take some of the load off. Because then you’re not going through the mental contortions of “well, maybe if I did X, or tried Y, then he/she wouldn’t….”

                Accepting that, whatever you do, he/she isn’t going to change frees up a lot of mental and emotional energy. Internalizing that “it’s them, not me” makes it easier to cope, and to find coping mechanisms that will actually work, instead of wasting energy trying to figure out what you’re doing “wrong.”

              2. Jeanne*

                It never became easy for me to brush things off. Never. That’s why some people might need a therapist. It’s a personality thing. I just couldn’t say I didn’t care or that it didn’t hurt to be abused.

            2. Merry and Bright*

              I agree. The main thing is to admit that the boss won’t change but unless you leave without a job to go to, you do have to find a way to survive in the meantime. Been there and it does suck.

        2. MK*

          Advice about coping while you job search can be useful, but after you have accepted Alison’s advice and began searching. The OPs in question did not ask “how can we stay sane till we find a new job?”, they asked how they can change things. And the answer is, they can’t.

      2. Rebecca*

        I can’t agree more. It’s very liberating once you realize that things aren’t going to change, and you can start to focus on finding a new position while still getting a paycheck.

        1. De Minimis*

          So true.

          I think the point of the advice is more to stop people from wasting their energy trying to fix something that isn’t fixable, and focus on things they can change—like finding another job and trying to make the best possible exit. There’s plenty of advice here on doing both of those things, but those are different questions than “What can I do about my crappy boss/workplace?”

        1. LBK*

          Curious – how do you foresee that playing out when boss is just nutso rather than willfully exploitative? In the situations outlined here, I’d see it as more likely that the managers would just say “Good riddance” and attempt to hire a new workforce that will do what they want because they are clearly not operating within the bounds of what normal, non-delusional people do. Unionizing makes more sense to me when the managers seem more aware of the immorality of their actions and are choosing to take them anyway.

          1. Spiky Plant*

            I think that unionization is a better option when management is nutzo rather than when they are deliberately exploitative. A nutzo manager may, indeed, just fire you for attempting to unionize. A deliberately exploitative manager will realize that that’s supes illegal and will make your life miserable while dodging any explicit laws. It’s much better to be in the first position, where you have recourse.

            Another way to look at it is that the exploitative are more immune to reason than the clueless/ignorant/impulsive/whatever, because they’re usually smarter and know the angles. A nutzo manager can be reckoned with more easily than a deliberately evil person.

        2. SerfinUSA*

          Unions are an option, but sometimes they are making their own deals with the devil to survive, and are not willing to rock the boat unless the issue aligns with a bigger item on their agenda. Although my view is drastically tainted by personal experience & observation, ymmv.

          1. LBK*

            That aligns with what I’ve heard about unions as well – that the trade off is being at the mercy of the union rather than management, which is often a six/half dozen situation. Although that’s just stories from others, having never been in one myself.

            1. De Minimis*

              I have been, my experience was that they were a little too reactive and not proactive….if management was breaking the rules you often would get compensation some time after filing a grievance, and most of the time nothing would really change as far as conditions on the workroom floor. I think in theory if enough grievances were filed and enough was paid out there might have been pressure to quit breaking the rules, but I suspect management often considered it an acceptable cost of doing business to get a short-term result.

              I’ve also been in a situation where you had facility closures or other changes, and the union really wasn’t helpful at that point to prevent negative impact on employees–they would just tell people, “At least you still have a job.” I wonder though other unions might have been able to handle it differently. We did not have the right to strike, and that probably gave us less leverage.
              In the end, it was still a bad workplace, but we at least got a living wage for putting up with it.

              Of course, firing or disciplining employees for union activity would be highly illegal, and I don’t believe a small business would be exempt. But again, I don’t know if they could actually get their jobs back or if they’d just be compensated–assuming they even won.

            2. Jennifer*

              I’m theoretically in favor of unions, but holy jeebus, mine has terrifying people in it. I’m technically forced to be a member but I refuse to pay extra and become a voting member (this would not be something I’m interested in doing anyway), and a few times a year they send people to harass me, they talk to my coworkers about me, and I literally ran away from them the one time I went to a union meeting because they started yelling at me about why wasn’t I paying extra to vote. They have kinda resorted to bribery to get more voting members. And I think it’s telling that the two most pro-union folks I’ve known–well, one of them got canned anyway despite union “help” and the other one has quit dealing with them.

              I don’t know what crazy pants they have going on, but if they get in my face again, I will unleash a whole lot of hell on them as to why people don’t want to join up.

    2. Cheesecake*

      You can have awesome salary/insurance/commute but nothing will count if your manager sucks. I once heard a statement that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses. And this is so true.

      There a lot of cases on AAM where a therapy would be beneficial, mostly because problem is hidden inside the letter writer. It is not the case here. Actually, if OP goes to therapy, any good therapist would advise to move towards getting a new job. Having a separate “your manager sucks” post is a great idea. It is not OP’s fault; they should acknowledge this unpleasant fact and move on to get a new job.

      1. BRR*

        I agree that they should start looking. But therapy can be beneficial when you’re in a terrible manager situation. As Jeanne says just someone to talk to or they can provide coping techniques.

        1. Cheesecake*

          Well, if OP wants coping technique and someone to talk to – yes. But not “so how do i make my boss increase our budget” or “boss scolds employees in a group – how do i make him see it is demoralizing”.

          1. Jean*

            “As Jeanne says just someone to talk to or they can provide coping techniques.”

            Exactly! It helps tremendously when you are able to react to a horrible boss with “radical acceptance”* (the fine art of acknowledging the unarguable existence of a situation as it is, not as you wants it to be or believes that you can change it to be). But it’s still good to have someone to whom to vent, or with whom to brainstorm about ways to cope without self-destruction and/or ways to move on.

            I agree that sometimes it seems impossible to move on because of a combination of restricting conditions: your finances cannot take a loss in income;your household cannot relocate; and/or the local job market offers nothing. In these cases the best thing to do is to strengthen your coping skills _off_ the job. Work on your confidence. Pick a small project or networking challenge. Work up from small successes to larger successes. From my years in the workplace I’ve learned that Things Do Change, often in surprising ways. In my own experience the toxic workplace went merrily along, but after being laid off and having a series of both adventures and misadventures, I was able to land in a better place.

        2. MissDisplaced*

          True. Sometimes it just helps to have someone outside the situation to unload to. Very often, people in these situations feel (or are made to feel) as though it is “their” fault, or that they are the one in the wrong, or sometimes even that they are crazy (as in gaslighting). It won’t help you fix anything, but it can help you find a way through the mess.

      2. Jeanne*

        Yes, they can count. I had a chronic illness. All I could do was work my time at a desk job, go home, and sleep. No one at work knew I was sick but many other jobs would have exposed my limitations. I had a 10 min commute and excellent health insurance. I interviewed for other jobs. They had crappy insurance and a 45 min commute. As it was, I didn’t have enough energy to do grocery shopping or cleaning. With a longer commute and having to find all new doctors, I may have collapsed.

        For some others, it may have more to do with childcare. Or working in a very specialized field. Or who knows. There are some very personal reasons that can make a real difference.

    3. Uyulala*

      Think of the job as Florida and the boss as the weather. Hurricanes (the bad boss behavior) are part of the job. You can decide that you are okay with that and stay and accept that as part of the deal, or you can leave the state. You can’t stop the hurricanes.

      1. LBK*

        I like this analogy a lot. Particularly because Florida is also known for its “colorful characters,” if you will, which seems to fit with the theme of unreasonable and/or delusional people.

        1. Beezus*

          As a native Floridian, yes. :)

          Also – if hurricanes are your dealbreaker, you can definitely move somewhere else, but that place might have blizzards, or tornadoes, or earthquakes, or wildfires, or a bad economy, or crime problems, or no good takeout. Every place has flaws. You just have to measure the drawbacks in your own personal preference ledger and figure out if it works for you. There are some places, though, that no reasonable person with choices would or could stay, and I think it’s valuable to know when you’re in one of those. (In Florida, that place is called Palatka. ;)

          1. Florida*

            Another Florida native here. Yes, no one does crazy like Florida.

            And yes, Florida has hurricanes, but we don’t shovel snow. It just depends on what boss behavior is more tolerable to you.

            Uyulala, this is an awesome analogy!

        1. Jennifer*

          Yup. At this point my policy is to lie down like a dead dog and just take it all. There’s nothing I can do about anything I have objections to and I’m being paid to put up with it and I can’t get any other job, and it can always get worse if you’re unemployed, so there ya go.

    4. TootsNYC*

      Also–recognizing that the boss isn’t going to change is the first steep in finding *coping* mechanisms as opposed to *fixing* mechanisms.

      I work at a place that is never going to change, in terms of deadlines and workflow. Every now and then, we get a new person who says, “I’m going to fix things,” and they pressure us to staff for the ideal workflow.
      But that’s very stressful. All their insistence that “this is fixable” makes things infinitely harder. We’re always so relieved when they eventually figure it out, and then get down in the trenches with the rest of us figuring out how to staff, schedule, gear up, and protect and buffer and reward ourselves. And motivate ourselves.

      If your boss is abusive, calling people out on mistakes they didn’t make, then if you all say, “hey, that’s boss–it’s not reality,” you can stop stressing that he chewed you out in front of your coworkers, and focus on, “will he ding my raise for this?” And if the answer is that he won’t, really, he’ll just be unpleasant, then you can stop caring what he thinks.
      And you can engage in “self-care” and “colleague care” to help buffer one another from the effects.

      And yes, you can all start to look, instead of trying and trying to fix it. That’s a mistake I made one; not that my boss was so horrible, but the situation wasn’t working, and instead of looking for a new job, I kept trying to fix something that couldn’t be fixed.

      What a waste of time, energy, emotion, etc.

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        “Coping” vs. “fixing” is such an important distinction. I’ve also had a wise friend suggest that I focus as much as I can on projects that will look good/get me to my next boss.

  9. Internet person*

    I’d be quite annoyed by that answer tbh Alison, (however right you probably are). If people are asking you for advice, the answer “your situation sucks, but you can’t change it. Live with it or quit” is less than helpful.

    No situation should be un-changeable, if I were in your shoes, rather than just poo-poo their chances, how about suggesting options to move forward that are a bit out of the box, but highlighting the potential risks? For e.g., the old manager who isn’t going to change, he’s obviously old, perhaps OP could approach them with something very on the nose like “Look Ebidiah, I think you’ve let the times pass you by a little, these plans and cost expectations would be valid in the 90s, but nowadays come across as either unrealistic or insulting”. Then point out that highlighting his age is quite likely to strain the relationship badly.

    Also, you’ve recommended that a few people should think about other jobs. I know that people jump jobs a lot nowadays, but a lot of the time giving up paid work is bad, and leaving a job you’ve just started sounds worse (especially if you’ve done it before). They are quite likely to be stuck there and needing other options.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But sometimes the answer is indeed that your manager sucks and isn’t going to change, and your solution is to either accept that these are the conditions of the job or to move on. Fixing little details around the edges isn’t going to change the fundamental problem.

      I don’t really understand saying “no situation is unchangeable.” Some situations are indeed unchangeable.

      I actually think understanding that fundamental, core problems with your employer aren’t going to change and that you can either live with it or leave is far more helpful than not being realistic about it and continuing to be frustrated.

      1. Grey*

        All situations are changeable. The question is: Who makes the change? Sometimes, as you point out, it’s the employee that needs to make the change and not the boss.

        Situations are changeable. People are not.

        1. MK*

          Situations are changeable, but it’s not always in “your” power to change them. It’s useful to know when that’s the case.

          1. Grey*

            The change I was referring to is quitting and/or getting new job. You always have the power to do that.

        2. Artemesia*

          Sure the situation is ‘changeable’; it always is. One change that might happen if you try to change the boss is that your situation changes to unemployed.

          1. Grey*

            I think people are misunderstanding my point. I was only agreeing with Alison and pointing out that you can change the situation by leaving the job. I wasn’t suggesting trying to change the boss.

    2. MK*

      To be frank, if I was OP2, I would be frustrated by the answer you suggest. OP has made clear that they did repeatedly try to make their boss face reality with no results; being told to try again would be much more annoying. And the approach you suggest is more likely to get the OP fired.

      Also, while it’s true that many people are indeed stuck in bad jobs, there are many others who do have options that are, if not better, at least healthier, but stay in toxic situations because they hope that things might change. Being bluntly told that it’s not going to happen is usefull; many sent updates saying they found a better job or that they started job-searching and feel better about the situation knowing they are doing something about it or that they left and are still searching, but are better off unemployed than in an abusive workplace.

      1. Cheesecake*

        I am not sure if i understand this right, but this advice will indeed get OP fired. It can get anyone fired actually or turn a good boss into your worst enemy.

        And yes, toxic situations are unpleasant but if boss is the cause, it will eat you alive. And on top, trying to fix a broken glass, will take any strength and willpower you have while result is still 0.

    3. DebbieDebbieDebbie*

      Although it initially may be annoying to hear that YMSAIGTC, it is also often then most legitimate advice for Alison to give. After finding this site, I wrote to her in frustration about my own toxic workplace and when I first read her response, I was disappointed that there was no one specific answer to my problems. After years of trying to change my boss and work culture, it was hard to hear that these had been wasted efforts. Since I respected the non-YMSAIGTC that Alison gave, I decided to consider what she was saying. For many reasons, I will not be quitting so YMSAIGTC is a concept that I need to apply every single work day. I also share it with coworkers who come to me to vent about said boss. It is way way better than spinning wheels like crazy trying to change the unchangeable.

      1. DarcyPennell*

        I’m so glad you wrote this. A lot of LWs and commenters here describe hearing the “accept your bad boss or leave” advice and leaving — I did after finding a letter in the archive that was very similar to my situation, and I’m much happier now. It’s rare to hear from someone who decided to stay & learn how to live with the bad situation. I can’t imagine it’s an easy thing to do. I wonder if you could share some strategies for how to stop beating your head against the wall, how to let go of the desire to fix the problems.

        1. DebbieDebbieDebbie*

          I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Some of the most practical things that I did was to stop ruminating so much about Toxic Bad Boss (TBB) and the problems he creates. In the past I would think about it and talk to my coworkers about it and vent to my hubs about it and discuss it at dinner some more, maybe read a book about work or management and stew on it some more. That would be literally hours of my day. Now When I see his face or hear his voice, I expect the toxicity and am prepared. If something disturbing happens, it just happens and then I do my best to not talk about it. When coworkers want to talk about it, I just respond blandly. I’m not interested in doing another post mortem on how obnoxious the dude is. Breaking that pattern was HUGE. I have a lot more time to do good work that is satisfying and my family is much less stressed and anxious for me.
          I also began to think positively about potential opportunities to advance or move from my department. I spend an hour or so a quarter updating my CV, try to network a bit more, etc. I actually think that it is UNlikely that this will happen, but the exercise is useful.
          Lastly, my faith is personally important to me and has been an incredible source of strength and stability.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        Great comment. This kind of reminds me of when the book “he’s just not that into you” came out – it was a novel concept for a lot of people at the time and now it’s just a given. I think that’s what Alison is doing with her phrase – pounding it into our thick skulls so we finally get it. Some things can only be changed by moving on.

      3. MissDisplaced*

        I think the idea of “Your manager sucks and is not going to change,” and “What can I do to survive in a sucky workplace until I get the hell out,” are different sides of the same coin. Sometimes people need to hear the first one in order to accept the second. And while people can’t be changed, you can change at least some of your reactions and maybe even a few other things in the process.

      4. mirror*

        Yup, this. I’m one of those “let’s fix it!” people and I got way too emotionally involved in trying to fix toxic workplaces. Then I read one of Alison’s posts a few years ago with YMSAIGTC and it Blew. My. Mind. Instantly years of anxiety lifted off my shoulders.

        My current workplace has its issues, but I live by this mantra. A fellow employee has been frustrated over things for years before I started and loves to complain about it. Slowly but surely, I’ve gotten him to relax and see the light.

    4. nona*

      There is no advice for some situations. You have to cope with them or find a way out.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I think there’s some shooting the messenger here. Employees–for that matter, people–frequently don’t have the power to make a vital change. Your choice is often live with that spouse or leave; live with that friend or break up; live with that job or quit. Much as we’d like to believe we could change anything about someone if we knew how to present our case effectively, it’s not true. And it’s a reminder to devote your energy elsewhere rather than trying to convince somebody to be somebody else because you want them to.

    5. BRR*

      I’ve always thought of Alison’s advice as being results oriented. In these 3 letters the desired result is to not work for a manager who is terrible at their job, to get that result they need to leave. The most helpful advice is for them to leave. Out of the box is really what this site is against. It’s about what is likely to work. She’s also not suggesting they quit without something else lined up. I’m not sure why you don’t consider looking for another job a realistic option?

      In general I call it the practical vs. the principle. The principle would be telling #2 that they’re terrible at their job. The practical is the letter writers likely need jobs and their managers suck and likely aren’t going to change.

    6. Katie the Fed*

      But it’s reality. You can’t change other people – you can only change yourself and how you communicate. In situations where your manager sucks and isn’t going to change – there’s no point in beating your head against the wall. It’s time to get out.

    7. LBK*

      What’s the point of offering “out of the box” solutions that don’t work? You can suggest any number of minor suggestions and outline their risks, but ultimately you can’t change people, especially people you have no authority over and who have made it clear they’re not open to listening to people under them.

    8. neverjaunty*

      perhaps OP could approach them with something very on the nose like “Look Ebidiah, I think you’ve let the times pass you by a little, these plans and cost expectations would be valid in the 90s, but nowadays come across as either unrealistic or insulting”

      Wait, you think that the best way to get results from OP #2’s boss is to lead off by insulting him repeatedly?

  10. Internet person*

    Looks like someone beat me to my point! Sorry wrote it, then re-read it, then changed it, then someone had already posted the comment. Damn.

  11. Rebecca*

    YMSAIGTC is perfect for me today. I’m dreading starting the work week, due to the very reason. But, since I realized this fact, my life has gotten easier. I just go with it, like water off a duck’s back. As long as I still get my paycheck, whatever. Now I’m just on autopilot until I can DTMFA :) I feel a bit like Peter Gibbons!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Autopilot is a good thing. I could not get a handle on my frustration with Exjob until I stopped caring. I did what I could, prepped for the stuff that was late so I could get it sent out when the late parts arrived, and any bitching I had went in Notepad documents on my flash drive so no one but me could see it. Even though I still got laid off during the restructuring, they assured me it was NOT because of performance.

      I recently reread those bitch documents and WOW. I’m surprised I made it out of there alive.

    2. puddin*

      This reminds me of the biker adage DILLIGAF*. They make patches with this ‘slogan.’ I have one that I pull out of my desk drawer and fondle when I need to be more wise about what I care about at work.

      *Do I look like I give a F#@%
      *Do I look like I’ve got a flat – if you are talking to your parochial friends/family

  12. "See Reason" Poster*

    I’m the guy who sent it OP #2. Thanks to Alison and everyone else for such thoughtful, helpful responses–much appreciated. Since I sent in the original post, things have gone downhill fast. The boss sends me almost incomprehensible emails at 3:00 a.m. He’s launched several new major projects with little thought and no budget and waves away all concerns. He told me to launch something new with a “syndication” model, and when I said I wasn’t sure what that meant, he laughed and said he didn’t either, but it sounded good, and please explore it. I already have feelers out for something new.

    1. Sans*

      Oh good lord. Sounds like he is, literally, losing it. Best wishes on a fast and successful job search.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      You know, I’ve been thinking about your letter in particular, since your boss used to do such good work. If you’re still up for pushing back a little (and believe me, I’m not telling you that you should, because he sounds pretty deluded to me), can you maybe take one of his most successful earlier ventures and compare what you’re doing now to what he did then, and ask if you can do [the thing that his earlier venture was lauded for that you’re not doing now]? Like the quality of the content or whatever. That’s the only thing I can think of that might make him realize that he’s running his current venture into the ground, until maybe when he’s standing in the empty offices and all the furniture is being repossessed. (And from what you said, he might still be in denial even then.)

      1. NickelandDime*

        This might be a good suggestion, if it wasn’t strongly suspected that there might be some health issues going on. For example, what if this president is in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s? Would any of this do any good? Should the OP sit at this company and wait for this man to run the place into the ground, leaving him unexpectedly with no paycheck? As someone pointed out above, some things/people can’t be fixed. All you can do is leave.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Which is why I said “[i]f you’re still up for pushing back a little (and believe me, I’m not telling you that you should…)”.

          I agree that a medical workup is warranted if this is a personality change, but that’s not something that a coworker can usually decide, much less implement, which is why I didn’t mention it before. If he said this guy was a mentor or hired him for his first job years ago, then it might be borderline, but that wasn’t mentioned in the original post.

          1. "See Reason" Poster*

            Your advice is very helpful “Cosmic Avenger.” Thank you–maybe I can tap into those earlier ventures with him. For now, I’m afraid that at this point he’s committed to a very grand scheme and is desperate to create a large and highly profitable company while there’s still time. He’s worked with some of the same people for many years so he has inspired loyalty, but there may be something else going on for this venture.

            To be fair, it may be part my personality. I always work hard and go the extra mile, but I’m not a confrontational person by nature. When this boss overrode me again and again, it became easy to just step back and do my best rather than keep pushing back. I’ve had bosses who will yield if you push back diplomatically and infrequently, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      This guy needs a full medical workup – he sounds like he’s really losing it. I hope his family is looking out for him.

      1. AnonAcademic*

        Yeah, it could easily be something neurological if he is with it enough to come up with ideas but the ideas themselves are incoherent and much lower quality than his past ideas. OP #2, my husband worked for someone who turned out to have serious neurological problems that led to a goldfish memory and erratic behavior. In her case she knew she was sick but refused treatment (and was eventually fired because she made large financial mistakes). If your boss has a partner, children, a close confidant, etc. maybe after you leave you could drop them a tip that he hasn’t been himself and should get a checkup.

      2. "See Reason" Poster*

        BTW: The boss’s son has a sales position in the company and seems to be a bright and focused person–all occasions where we’ve worked together have been profitable and harmonious. However, Dad and Son once got into a mild argument at a meeting. I think the son was right, and felt bad his dad overruled him so sharply, but I wisely said nothing.

      3. No Longer Just Passing By*

        This reminds me of the letter several months ago where someone thought that their CEO was going insane and wanted to know if they should contact his wife to let her know. What happened with that?

      4. Seattle Writer Girl*

        As someone who also works as the head of content for an internet site, I want to shut down this “he might have dementia” line of advice. Everything OP#2 mentioned in their letter has happened to me at other companies with managers most definitely too young (early 40s) for dementia. Hearing buzzwords like “syndication” and telling your staff to “do that and now!” without actually knowing what syndication is, is very, very common in the Internet Industry.
        To me, your boss sounds like an old guy who just realized the technology train has left the station without him and is now frantically trying to jump back on to the caboose.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I never actually said he might have dementia, so I’m not entirely clear who you’re responding to. But when someone’s behavior changes that drastically, it’s worth ruling out an underlying medical reason.

        2. Anon for this*

          As a regular commenter who has worked in dementia information and education for more than 15 years now, I concur that any sudden and/or dramatic change in behavior or personality in anyone of any age is a valid cause for medical concern, and medical reasons should be ruled out in cases like these. In rare cases Alzheimer’s disease can start when the patient is in their 30s. It’s very rare, but definitely possible.

      5. Jeanne*

        I agree. How do you even go about suggesting that? HR? A phone call to a family member? A letter to his doctor?

    4. nona*

      This is bad. This actually sounds like one of my relatives. Um, if you notice pressured speech or anything seriously delusional, call for an ambulance. This can’t be reasoned with and it gets worse fast.

      1. nona*

        I’m trying to figure out how to say this without diagnosing by internet. OP2, I don’t know if your boss has mental or physical health problems. I do think it would help to research some things to see what might happen from here, and one thing to research is bipolar disorder. This sounds like mania in someone who has previously shown the symptoms of bipolar type II.

        1. NickelandDime*

          But as a couple of people have pointed out above – this isn’t the OP’s place. It’s sad, but this is something the president’s family should handle.

        2. Artemesia*

          Might be; it does sound like manic behavior. When I read it, I thought Alzheimers. This usually manifests itself years before diagnosis and early on the person becomes vaguely aware and a bit desperate to masquerade as still competent.

          But of course, not the employees place and inappropriate to intrude on the family on suspicion of such things. Tough situation to be in all around.

          I once observed a kind boss basically carry a formerly top employee showing signs of early dementia for several years until retirement and retirement pension. He took him out of areas of responsibility where he could mess things up and made him a sort of senior consultant to help him with problems. It saved face and the guy still had quite a bit of ability at that point, he just couldn’t take responsibility for completing highly technical projects. He was able to do work he could do and that could be monitored. I suspect that would not happen in that or similar companies today.

  13. Florida*

    I agree with others who have said that Alison’s advice in this situation is very frustrating. It is frustrating to be powerless in a situation (or when the only power you have is to leave). I also agree with Alison that, in all three cases, the letter writer either needs to accept the situation as is, or move on to another job. Trying to change the manager is not going to work.
    I’m sure Alison would have loved to have been able to say, “If you do A, B, and C, your boss will change and all will be right with the world.” But it would have been a disservice to the OPs and readers.
    Isn’t there a phrase about accepting the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference? Thanks Alison for pointing out the difference.

    1. LBK*

      I think some of the frustration in these situations actually comes from people not realizing that they’re powerless. It can actually be a relief to realize that you’re powerless because that means you’re not obligated to try to fix the situation – you can focus your energy somewhere other than pushing a boulder up a hill for eternity.

      1. VintageLydia USA*

        It doesn’t help that, at least here in America, we have bootstrap/just world/Protestant work ethic culture. If you work hard enough, say the right the things, etc etc, you can change anything in your favor. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true. You can work diligently, go to good schools, be agreeable, and do everything “right” and still end up working for one of the above bosses, or only able to live paycheck to paycheck, or still have chronic medical issues or something outside of yourself that can limit you through no fault of your own.

        It’s really relieving to finally realize that, no, you’re not a failure because despite all your work things aren’t good yet, and may never will be. You still should try to make the best of the hand that’s dealt to you, but sometimes that means looking for another job entirely and not relentlessly trying to change a situation that never will.

        1. Jean*

          +1,000 to your second paragraph!

          Vintage Lydia, I think that in the second sentence of your second paragraph you said the same thing I was trying to say, but much more clearly. (I can’t reread now because I need to run out the door to work!) Getting swamped by circumstances doesn’t prove that a person is horribly ineffective in all areas of life. And yes, if you can get out of your present swamp, by all means work towards making that happen.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I second the +1000! And + the getting out of the swamp thing.

            I got into an argument this weekend with someone who has a “bootstraps” and positive thinking mentality. It just doesn’t apply to every situation. In fact the word bootstraps makes me want to scream now. I hate that way of thinking, and I know it’s mean, but I want people who think that way to experience a situation where it doesn’t work. I want them to either wake up or shut up.

            1. Anonymous123*

              Fine, I’ll bite. I am a bootstraps and positive thinking mentality and I think it can apply in every situation. To the 3 letter writers: your manager sucks and isn’t going to change. You need to decide if you will deal with it or look for another job. Both decisions are hard and will involve lots of hard work. It will not be easy, but if you truly want a shot at career happiness, you’re better off trying to find something else then deal with someone who will never change. You can do it! I’m rooting for you.

            2. Dynamic Beige*

              I want people who think that way to experience a situation where it doesn’t work.

              Or a series of situations that completely destroys your ability to pick yourself up by your own bootstraps and start all over again, at least temporarily. Not that I would want that to happen to someone, but sometimes Fate/The Universe and Everything just decides that you’re the one who they are going to kick around for a while for no obvious reason and you just get so damn tired that instead of picking yourself up… maybe I’ll just lie here for a while instead. I’ve been in some places where just having a little lay down is preferable to more beatings that continue until morale improves.

              You know what would be picking yourself up by your own bootstraps in these situations? Accepting that YMSAINGTC and you have two choices, learn how to cope with the situation so that you can remain sane on your job because you have A, B, C from that job that you like/it’s the only game in town or that you can’t learn to cope/don’t want to/other aspects of the job also suck, so it’s time to leave and find a new opportunity. Otherwise, it’s the definition of insanity. As others have posted, you can either change your expectations/how you react, or you can get the hell out of dodge.

            3. Jeanne*

              That would be amazing wouldn’t it? Someone who thinks hard work and the right thinking will get you everything you want. Then they find out that illnesses or accidents or hurricanes or whatever can happen to anyone and no bootstraps will help you. I don’t wish them ill. I just wish they would learn compassion.

    2. puddin*

      This reminds me of a story – parable really – that I once heard. (Not sure who to cite on this as it was a million years ago.)

      The poor little fly is trapped indoors, but wait! There is a Way Out! The fly buzzes over the window and pushes with all his might against the closed glass window. Buzz buzz buzz, push push push. But he never makes it outside. He can see the outside – it is Right There! Why can’t he muster the strength, perseverance, or stamina to get out?? We all know the answer. The little fly just will not be able to get what he wants in this case, regardless of how strong, determined, and resilient he is. All Mr. Fly needs to do is buzz a few feet to the right to fly out the open door – which he will never do because he is too focused on pushing open the glass window. A few days later you find his carcass on the windowsill.

      Sometimes its not that we are not trying hard enough, its that we are not putting our efforts in the right tasks.

      Stop putting effort into changing the monumentally sucky bosses and use that energy to either accept the situation or job hunt – perhaps a little of both.

      Good luck to all those out there in these situations!

  14. Sans*

    #2 is a situation common to any freelance writer these days. For some reason, everyone thinks writers should work for free, or darn close. And you can’t even say this 70 year old is just living in the past, with outdated freelance rates. Rates were better back in the 90s — MUCH better. I used to do freelance on the side, routinely making $50-$75 an hour. Brochures, ads, direct mail, etc. Then someone decided that writers should be paid $5 for each piece (not $5 an hour, which would be bad enough, but $5.) Probably because of those horrible bidding websites that cropped up where writers compete against other writers so they can be obscenely taken advantage of and hardly paid. There are always beginning writers desperate to build their portfolio and others who are hardly literate. You get what you pay for.

    The last time I considered a freelance job, it was for a white paper. I would do all the research and writing. I figured out how many hours I thought it would take, and gave a reasonable quote. He laughed and told me the quote someone else had given him – it worked out to about $8-10 an hour. Umm, no. I’m a writer with 30 years of experience. I’m not a 21 year old living with my parents who can work for $8-10 an hour without benefits. The person who recommended me to this guy was appalled when they heard what he expected to pay. But at $8-10 an hour he was better than some I’ve run into.

    So #2’s boss can probably find crappy writers for his crappy pay. He’ll get what he pays for.

    1. Jean*

      Yeah, this belief that writers can produce content out of thin air for no money is totally insulting! Good writers think _hard_, check their facts, revise, proof their work, etc. Not to mention that they have to pay for food & shelter like the rest of the 99%.

    2. Me*

      They’re doing that in my place now. Been ‘reorganizing’ editors out of the dept for 3 years now and boss just made the genius discovery of onet or somesuch website where you can get freelancers. So we’ll save money, yay! You get what you pay for imo and ime. But whatever–I’m powerless.

    3. Demanding Excellence*

      This. All of it. So true.

      I’ve been a working freelance writer for almost 10 years. I’ve been trying to pick up some additional freelance work for financial reasons, and I’m appalled at what writers are paid now. I’m lucky to have had a client who has paid me very well for several years and doesn’t try to low-ball me. Like Sans said above – you get what you paid for. If you want to have crummy, misspelled, incoherent writing, then sure – pay $8 an hour. I’ve seen some atrocious writing on major websites ( – I’m looking at you), and it’s just so sad.

  15. "See Reason" Poster*

    And this comment is for OP #3. Your comment about new employees is so common in my business I gave it a name: The Outside Genius theory. That is, even when everyone is competent, the boss believes somewhere there is a genius who will double sales and cut the budget in half in the next three months. Of course, the boss is crushed when this doesn’t happen. Even when the new managers prove competent, they are almost never the geniuses the boss had hoped for. Disappointed, they sometimes turn vengeful and the result is a revolving door, as the boss looks for the next “genius.” I have no solution, except to say it is quite common–you’re not alone!

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Another term for this is “the honeymoon period,” which I’ve experienced myself. After about two years, I was no longer new and none of my ideas got traction with the boss any more (but last I heard, a bunch of those ideas are being implemented by the new person. Constantly bringing new people in ensures that “no man is a prophet in his own land.”

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        In higher ed, I’ve heard that there is a honeymoon period for the new dean or department head with upper admin, during which she can get funding, get initiatives approved, etc. because of the hope upper admin has in the new “outside genius”. When our previous dean stepped down after twelve years, one factor he cited was that, after twelve years, he’d already called in every favor he was ever likely to get, and the school needed someone with the ability to call in more favors.

    2. Sans*

      I’ve seen the “outside genius” theory in action in the marketing department. It is always assumed that an outside agency must be better. Look how much they charge, they must be special! They’re an ad agency! (I’d say this is some Mad Men side effect, except I’ve seen this happening since the 80s.)

      Thing is, the people who work for the ad agencies are … people. Just like the people who work for an in-house advertising/marketing department. They may have a fresh perspective. They may not. They may be good writers or graphic designers. Or they may be kinda crappy, actually. What they definitely do is charge massive amounts of money for mediocre work. Again and again I’ve seen the higher-ups disappointed in blowing the budget when they could have gotten better work (and faster) from their in-house people. But then a few years later, there are new people in charge, and it’s “Oh, let’s use an ad agency for this oh-so-special project!” all over again. A new and shiny toy, indeed.

        1. Sans*

          Of course not all ad agencies are bad. But they have copywriters, graphic designers, some good, some bad — just like the inhouse writers and designers. So many companies automatically think the agency employees will be better simply because they’re the “outside genius.” Also, the ad agencies I’ve dealt with (and maybe all of them?) have different prices for different levels of writers. So if a company wants a lesser price (but still pretty expensive) they get a lesser writer. Which makes sense, but that “lesser writer” should still meet a baseline of competence and creativity. Which they don’t always do.

          I’m not really insulting agencies, though. It’s more that an agency isn’t automatically better than the inhouse people. When you get the same level of result as you would have inhouse, why pay for the agency? You’ve already got writers and designers on your payroll.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        Or the exact opposite. I’ve seen loads of crappy work done by the in-house people that I’ve been called in to fix because it’s simply not up to snuff and I have expertise that they do not. It cuts both ways.

        Because you’re right, people are people. You can hire a dozen different ad agencies for the same project and get a dozen different ideas, some will be OK, others will be great, it all depends on who is working on the project. The thing that drives me berserk is when management automatically assumes the in-house people are bad/incompetent and hires outside “prophets” to do stuff. IMO, if you’re got in-house staff, then you should make an investment in making sure they are all as good as they can be and only hire outside for overflow or donkey work. But that’s me because that’s the reason I left OldJob — My Manager Sucked And Was Not Going To Change.

  16. TotesMaGoats*

    I feel for all of you but Allison is right. Your boss sucks and isn’t likely to change. Your best option is to find a new job. It’s sucky advice because it’s usually hard to achieve quickly. In the meantime:

    OP#1-You should, as best you can, stand up for your staff. Letting someone get creamed in public by the boss for something they didn’t do. That makes you a boss that sucks.

    OP#2-It’s entirely possible that age is a major issue here in the area of cognitive degeneration. My mom is dealing with this. She’s had the same VP for about 15 years. They had a great relationship. He called her God, told people she walked on water and every year it was the same “Mary Poppins” review. In the past year or so, their relationship has gone down hill. He doesn’t remember things he’s specifically told her to do. Making bad decisions and then changing them when someone else points out the problems. It sucks. I don’t think you can bring it up with him but be aware that your boss might not doing some of this on purpose.

    OP#3-Shiny new toy syndrome is it. I’ve seen it a lot. It sucks.

    1. Blue_eyes*

      OP#2 – I was wondering the same thing. Since your boss used to do great work, this change may be due to age or disease. Still frustrating for you to work with, but it might not be his fault. Although if that is the case, there’s really nothing you can do about it since going to your boss and saying, “hey boss, you seem to be losing your grip a bit” is not likely to go over well. ;)

  17. It'sOnlyMe*

    The YMSAIGTC advice really resonated with me. I understand why some people don’t like that advice but the reality of life is that you can’t change someone else’s behavior, you can only change your response to that behaviour.

    For me, that realisation gave me permission to go to work, do my best effort and go home. I stopped frustrating myself with endless efforts about what I could do to change different things; it wasn’t my place to make changes, it was my manager’s job to do that. It took a while but I found another job which I’m enjoying and I left without burning any bridges. I wish I had to make the move years ago but it was only when I truly realised MMSAWGTC that I changed my behaviour and really threw myself wholeheartedly into finding a new position.

    Thank you Alison, your honest advice niggled with me until I listened. And guess what, six months later, ex-Manager still sucks and hasn’t changed.

  18. Empress Zhark*

    “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
    -Reinhold Niebuhr

    I think a lot of the time in these situations, people need permission to stop trying to fix the broken situation. So much of work culture seems to say “if you just work harder/try a bit longer then it’ll pay off”, and so people try and try and try to remedy the bad situations they’re in. Accepting that YMSAIGTC can feel like you’re giving up, that you haven’t got the guts or temerity to stick it out & change it for the better. Which is totally the wrong way to look at it, obviously, but I know I’ve fallen into that trap before.

    1. Empress Zhark*

      Oops, comment fail – this was meant to be in response to Florida above .

    2. neverjaunty*

      Yes, exactly. Simply hearing that you can stop trying to fix things, and that there’s nothing you’re doing wrong, can be an immense relief.

    3. Lynn Whitehat*

      Yes, exactly. There’s this belief in our culture that “quitters never win and winners never quit”, and sometimes people take it too far. Sometimes the situation sucks and isn’t going to change, and it is OK to either literally quit (the job), or quit trying to make it something it isn’t. Been there, done that. It took a long time for my career to recover from my efforts to make a bad employer not be bad. I should have left years earlier than I did.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Sometimes to be a winner, you have to quit, and start running a different race, where you have a chance to win.

  19. Dasha*

    One of the best decisions I ever made was to leave a toxic work environment. I stayed just long enough so it wouldn’t look bad on my resume. Both my physical and mental health improved after leaving.

  20. NickelandDime*

    I’m trying to figure out what people think employees should do to rectify significant problems in small companies where the one causing the problems is in charge, or has been there a very long time, etc.

    OP#1: I’ve been at this company more than a decade, with high turnover, and a crazy president, should I go to the board? So you think that in 10 years the board doesn’t know all of this? Newsflash – they don’t care!

    Op#2: I think the owner/president of my company might be losing his mental faculties, what should I do? What can anyone do about this? It’s his playground, his toys. Families find these kinds of situations hard to handle. What can a new employee do about this?

    Op#3: My boss makes bad decisions. Nothing you can do about this either.

    There is no other option in these situations than to find another job. I don’t even think you can come up with coping mechanisms on the job to handle it. Some places are THAT DYSFUNCTIONAL. All you can do is take care of you, ensure you have support in place outside of the job, and look for new employment. Not all problems can be solved, and frankly, it shouldn’t be up to employees with no skin in the game – stock, partial ownership, etc., – to try and fix them. This is often the problem with small companies, and I’ve seen it come up on this blog over and over again. They house a lot of crazy people and you can’t transfer to another division or manager, etc., to get away from the problem. The only option is to leave.

    I wish the OPs godspeed in finding something new.

    1. Cheesecake*

      Preach! This why i don’t want to work in a small company; from what i’ve seen it is either a huge hit or horrible miss and if it sucks – there is no “other” way to deal with this than to leave.

      1. NickelandDime*

        I worked for a small company, and I’ve heard lots of horror stories from other small company ex-employees. I would never do it again.

      2. Anon Accountant*

        Agreed! Taking a job working at a small company was the worst decision of my working life. Total dysfunction that I’ve posted about here before. Some days I wanted to videotape it because I think others wouldn’t believe some of the crap that’s tolerated.

    2. Cleopatra Jones*

      Yes to all of this.
      My one and only experience working in a small company was a private medical practice in which the office manager was the doctor’s spouse. It was so god awfully horrible. The spectrum of awfulness ranged from bounced payroll checks, to forced prayer meetings, to horrible health insurance coverage that meant the female staff had to get our yearly gynecological exams by the doctor (our employer) or pay out of pocket at another doctor’s office (I chose the latter). Yes, it was that bad. I lasted about a year and then I RAN away from there.

      So yeah, I will probably never ever ever work for a small business again.

      1. Elizabeth West*



        Oh no. God, no. I would not even have lasted as long as you did. I could fake my way through the prayer meetings, but no no no no no no. Just knowing that was a thing—eewwwwww.

      2. No Longer Just Passing By*

        Nightmare. A family friend also is a gyn and his wife his office manager. They keep trying to get me to use him as my doctor. Why do they think that this is normal behavior??? It skeeves me out, even the request.

    3. Lia*


      In #1, you are correct. The board DOES NOT CARE as long as there are results, and if the president can spin the way the board wants to see it, even a lack of results will help them keep their job. I have seen it myself in several places, and all that can be done is to get out ASAP, because any intervention will, at best, get you canned.

      Trust me, I know how hard job searching can be, but there is something to be said — a lot, actually, for working in a place that doesn’t completely grind you down.

  21. Stitch*

    One of the department heads at my school, who I’ve had to work “with” (read: around) multiple times as part of a club, is JUST LIKE THIS. And our only option is to deal with it, because students have no influence on that sort of thing.

    She does whatever the fuck she wants. If she doesn’t like you, you’re fucked and won’t get anything you asked for. She’ll make up rules she said she told you but that you have no record of and no recourse because She Said So. She’ll withhold things out of spite. She’ll change her mind on large projects in an instant. If she does like you, she wants to have a Very Special Bond. This means you’ll usually get what you want, but you’ll have to endure some emotional manipulation on her part.

    If you want anything done, you go to people on her staff. They’re actually pretty amazing. But they still have to deal with her, too. It’s really rough.

  22. Retail Lifer*

    My immediate boss is awesome, but upper management here is awful. At one point many of us in different departments banded together and reported, en masse, all the things that were happening here: sexual harassment, OSHA volations, ethics violations, and major policy violations, and people just being straight up a**holes. We succeeded in getting an HR investigation launched and…nothing happened. A couple of slaps on the wrist and that’s it. When things are that bad, it’s time to start looking elsewhere. I’m having a really difficult time finding anything else, but I’ll be damned if I stay here and continue to put up with all of this for years to come.

    1. NickelandDime*

      I’m sorry about this. It’s sad when you have a good boss, but everything else is messed up. I would leave and hopefully your boss can be a good reference for you. This is the other side of “As a manager, you should stand up to town hall for your people!” Often, there is little they can do.

    2. neverjaunty*

      I’m not sure where you work, but can you speak to a lawyer privately? Not much you can do about the straight-up glassbowlery, but if there are illegal things going on, THAT might be something a lawyer can get involved in. (And not necessarily by filing a lawsuit, either. In some industries, like tech, it is not at all uncommon for a company to agree to a quiet go-away settlement with confidentiality agreements all around, so the company doesn’t look bad and the employee doesn’t get a bad reference.)

  23. I live to serve*

    I am with AAM on this one YMSAIGTC. She isn’t saying quit tomorrow. She is just saying THIS isn’t working and it is time to explore other options.

    In my former position, I loved my job but upper management stonewalled all innovative work, a person I didn’t respect and had no respect for my experience was put in charge of one of my projects and someone I worked really well with retired and was replaced by someone who misrepresented his experience with our work….sooo…
    There …was…nothing…I …could…change.

    I did not want to leave but I was in the “hit my head against the wall stage” and I had put in 15 years and imagined that I would retire in that position.

    Someone in my field 1/2 way across the country was retiring, in a state I had no interest in moving to, in a position that was extremely competitive (that I thought I was not qualified for) and I thought “what the hell” The hiring process took 8 months (not unusual in academia)

    Two years later- two people replaced me at my old job, the senior management all retired or quit last year- my old supervisor (who I adored) is now in charge of my innovative projects and they are coming to fruition. I look back an realize that I needed to move on and it was the YMSAIGTC situation that made it happen.

  24. anonymous on the job*

    Something that has helped me immensely is to start behaving as I *know* he behaves, not as I think he *should* be behaving. It leads to some clarity as to what is really going on and what I need to do for myself.

  25. Workfromhome*

    I think I enjoyed the responses to #1 as much as any I’ve read on this site. Given some recent events at my company where I have been for over 10 years I almost thought someone from our place wrote this. Since we were taken over by the overlord company years ago things have gone downhill. Head honcho 1 has embarked on rapid expansion hiring left and right for vaporware product introductions and then changing his mind every week. Turnover especially in some senior positions is astounding VPs that last 2 weeks. Directors of important departments that dissapear overnight with not even a departure email. Finding out from clients that someone had left when employees don’t know. The head honcho has managed to lose 2 major long time customers that make up over 30% of the business.

    BUT even when we have meetings with mr 2nd in command its very obvious that head honcho and 2nd in command don’t agree on much of anything. Clients tell us all the time :”Wow if you guys keep losing good people like x and y they will really feel it or “Wow they better be treating you great they can’t afford to lose you” but guess what nothing changes.

    Its not nice to hear but the advice is sound. Some things you cannot change yourself. Bosses like this will not change. Someday they may be exposed but it can take longer than you can stand (or even live). Its entirely possible they are replaced with someone just as bad because ownership’s culture keeps hiring bad people.

    Its sad to say that I took this advice on my own a couple years ago. I’ve been looking but just haven’t found the right new job. I do just enough to keep the clients who can help me get a new job happy. When something goes wrong that I don’t control I just shrug my shoulders and move on. At the end of each day I try to shut work out. I no longer fight for what is right because it does nothing but frustrate me. Apathy becomes a shield. Its the lesser of two evils but I can honestly say my life is better just not caring than feeling like a failure because I cannot change the unchangeable

    So to the OP of #1:Line up the people inside and the clients outside that can help you get a new job. Do your best to help them and ignore the rest. Make it your mission to help the people who can help you and to change only what you can change. Survive until you find a new job. You have not failed your employer..they have failed you.

  26. YandO*

    I’ve been at my job exactly 14 months. First 3-5 months were honeymoon like. I was getting along with bosses/owners, they were loving me, we were collaborating, etc, etc, etc. There were many red flags (high turnover, bad/offensive/sexist jokes, too much personal stuff), but we were getting along.

    Then things started getting progressively worse as I realized I was being manipulated and lied to on daily basis. Our expectations of each other as employee/employer did not align. Jokes got meaner/ruder/more personal.

    The next 6-9 months I spent being constantly upset/stressed/on verge of tears. Hating everything about my job. I started looking for a new job at that time as well.

    I am still looking, but a few months ago I decided I cannot change them, so I will change my attitude. They still suck, but I don’t have to a – take it personally b- suck back. It has returned me my sanity, made the office a much better place, and hopefully will allow me to look for the *right* job, not just *any* job.

    At the end of the day this lesson is worth learning. So, that’s how I am choosing to see it.

  27. Liz in a Library*

    Shiny new toy syndrome…oof, that is such a terrible way to treat people and can cause so much damage. I’ve had a boss like that (and two family members…), and have so much sympathy for OP three.

  28. Emrin Alexander*

    When I think of all the lost productivity and wasted time the managers who suck cost the organizations they work for, it makes me ill. Translated into dollars, the cost must be astronomical.

  29. LizNYC*

    #1 — is exactly the reason I left my last job. While the managers running my department were trying to make life bearable for us underlings, the president thought us workers were there for one thing: work. If we tried to have a chat in the kitchen while making coffee, we were scolded. If (heaven forbid) we ordered pizza for an end-of-the-year thank you and did so on our lunch hours, we’d be discouraged from doing that again, since we should all be working (through our lunches apparently). Salaries were frozen, as was hiring. And the prez treated everyone as totally replaceable — we were supposed to be glad for a job. So I left. It was the best thing I’d ever done.

  30. Clever Name*

    I believe googling “my manager sucks” several years ago is what got me to this site. :)

  31. So Very Anonymous*

    Re #3’s shiny new toy syndrome: definitely a thing. I see a fair amount of “we have a significant problem with deep roots in our culture which will all be solved when we hire a purple unicorn!!” And then a purplish unicorn gets hired, but can’t solve the problem, and instead of there being any awareness of the deeper roots of the problem, the unicorn is dismissed for being insufficiently purple, and the cycle starts again. It’s putting the responsibility on the shiny new purple toy unicorn to solve a problem just by being shiny, rather than getting at the source of the problem.

  32. MsChanandlerBong*

    Just wanted to tip my hat to LW #2. A big “thank you” for understanding that professional writers deserve professional pay. Your boss is probably getting content from places like iWriter, which offer people $1.50 for a 500-word article. At that rate, you can pretty much expect junk content.

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