my constantly AWOL boss holds me to a higher standard than she holds herself to

A reader writes:

In my job, I report to the director, Jane, and am the second in line after her. I supervise about half of our small staff and she supervises the rest. Although I have several years in the profession and am very mature for my age, I am on the young side and Jane has decided that she considers herself a mentor to me in this leadership role. She’s never explicitly discussed wanting me to move into her position once she retires, but this has been inferred to some extent and she alluded to it in my first interview. All of this seemed good to me when I was hired, but in the two years that I’ve been here now, I’ve lost all respect for Jane and I don’t intend to stick around to be her successor. She is close to retirement age and it is clear to me (and the staff) that she has one foot out the door. She is the first to leave work every day and leaves several hours early at least one or two days a week with no explanation and often without mentioning it to anyone. All full-time staff are given generous time off, including four weeks of vacation, but Jane has been taking at least six weeks, which is impossible to not notice. The person who approves her time off is completely removed from our program and I’m sure does not compare actual time taken off with what is being reported — where I’m sure there is a massive discrepancy.

All of this is annoying and sometimes infuriating, but until now I’ve rationalized that “Jane is the boss, so she can do whatever she wants,” decided I shouldn’t question her, and focused on staying busy with my work. It comes up with coworkers occasionally but it is usually laughed off (if Jane leaves early, people place bets on if she’ll have nails or hair done the next day, which is usually the case). The overall message I get from her, even when she is at work, is that she just doesn’t care and is over all of it. She seems to put in the absolute minimum and delegates anything she can. She seems to spend her time in the office mostly shopping online, having long lunches, and talking loudly to her family on the phone. It seems like she knows she can count on me to be the de facto leader, so she’s checked out. I have decided that all of this is not acceptable to me, but that no good could come of addressing this with her. I decided to accept the current circumstances and have been looking for other jobs while continuing to give 100% and no hint that I’m dissatisfied. I’m disappointed that I don’t have a boss I respect, and going to work every day and dealing with Jane has not been great, but I’ve hope to one day soon make a graceful exit to another job, and I want to preserve her as a reference.

So the straw that broke the camel’s back: Last week, Jane met with me privately and commented on me leaving a work event early (10 minutes before the rest of the staff) and explained this was significant because of the impact this has on the team’s view of me as a leader. She said she wanted to make me aware of it and then lectured me on how important it is to stay until the end of events as a leader and to always be seen staying with everyone else. I would normally agree completely, and if I were not hoping to be working somewhere else, I’d have been the last one to leave the event. But Jane’s behavior has given me the impression that leaving a few minutes early isn’t a big deal, and she is always the first one to leave! I actually asked the rest of the staff if they would mind if I left, as they knew I have the longest commute home, and they all assured me that they didn’t mind. I was speechless at Jane’s hypocrisy, and all I said was, “Okay, thank you for the feedback.”

The next day she left for a week of vacation, and it is all I can think about. My instinct is to still let it go and focus on work and ultimately finding another job, but I’m having trouble reconciling her behavior with her feedback. This is a clear case of “do as I say, not as I do.” Would letting this go make me a pushover? Any tips on tolerating this until I find another job? She has to know how hypocritical she was being; did she not expect me to react? Is there anything to be gained by addressing this, and how would I even have that discussion? Who holds our bosses accountable if they clearly believe they operate under a different set of rules?

Jane is indeed a hypocrite.

The person who’s supposed to hold Jane accountable is her own boss, who sounds like she’s fairly checked out herself — or at least thinks things are running well enough in Jane’s department that she doesn’t need to look particularly closely.

As for what you should do, I think your original instinct to let it go and focus your energy on getting out of there is still the right one.

I get that you’re taken aback by the blatancy of her double standard for herself versus you, and it sucks to be criticized by someone who’s regularly doing a far bigger version of the same thing (and doing it over and over). But I don’t know that there’s really any new information here, as ridiculous as her chastising you was. I mean, you already knew that she has one standard for herself and one standard for the rest of you — or at least I assume you did, since I’m guessing that you’ve figured all along that she wouldn’t be okay with the rest of you leaving work early multiple days every week, or taking several more weeks of vacation time than you’re actually entitled to, or any of the other “perks” she’s giving herself. So while you understandably feel stung by her chastising you, she just verbalized what the situation has been all along: She doesn’t follow the rules, but you need to.

That sucks, and it’s a reason to lose respect for her, and it’s a reason to job search. But I don’t think it demands that you address it with her, since she is your boss, and she does get to set the rules in your department.

As for how to deal with it until you get out of there … well, this probably isn’t the only job you’re going to have in the course of your life where you don’t respect your manager. It’s useful to learn how to let it roll off of you for as long as you’ve determined it serves your interests to continue showing up there every day. It’s also useful to observe bad managers, because it can teach you some pretty valuable lessons about what not to do (and therefore what you should do). This particular situation is also potentially an opportunity to build up your resume and get some useful experience, since she seems happy to delegate responsibilities to you; you might as well take advantage of that and use it to make yourself a more desirable hire in the future.

But to the extent you can, let go of being outraged by Jane. She’s a hypocrite and and a bad manager, and the most useful thing you can do is to see that clearly without letting it eat you up emotionally.

{ 114 comments… read them below }

  1. TotesMaGoats*

    So been there and did that for about 2 years. It’s soul sucking. Get out when you can but in the mean time just let it go. Channel Elsa. CYA as much as possible. I would say that you should do your job to the best of your ability but that doesn’t mean saving the boss from her actions. You have to be careful on that but just because they’ve given themselves enough rope doesn’t mean you have to stop them from the consequences.

    1. LadyTL*

      I really wouldn’t channel Elsa. She made a huge mess, ran away from it, and pretended it wasn’t there until she was forced to.

      You do have to be careful though of them hang them with their own actions. I’ve seen people get in trouble for that before with the reasoning that they could have done something and chose not to.

      1. Liane*

        I think she was talking about the title of Elsa’s signature song, “Let It Go” rather than Elsa’s management style.

  2. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    That sucks, OP, and I hope you can escape soon. As for how to deal with this; as with so many unjust situations in life, you have to decided if you are going to fight the bitter fight or just let it go. In this case, you seem committed to the latter, and it sounds like that’s the right choice all round, so as contrite as it sounds, you need to find a way of literally just letting it go. Maybe when find yourself thinking about it you could train yourself to hum a catchy piece of music, or have an activity like making a cup of tea, or *anything* to break the thought process. Also, if you don’t already, leave work completely at work: no emails, calls, texts, anything. Once you walk out the door, work is done until you next walk back in.

    This is a tough situation to be in, but as Alison said it sounds like a great opportunity, and if you think your job search might take a while, why not ask your boss if there’s anything else you could do/learn, to add to your resume? If you can see this as an opportunity and not an annoyance (big if, I know) this could be really beneficial; good luck!

    (And please provide an update!)

      1. Joline*

        Well. Now that earworm (is that a commonly used calque?) will be stuck in my head all day. Could be worse, I suppose. :P

        1. Kas*

          Earworm is indeed a term used in English for a tune that gets stuck in your head. Now I’m curious what that’s called in other languages :)

          For the OP, I recommend “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton.

          1. Worker Bee (Germany)*

            Interesting we have the exact same phrase in german which translates to Ohrwurm.. But when I talked about it with my american friends they didnt know about the whole earworm thing…

            1. bad at online naming*

              I think we grabbed it from German because it’s such a great word! The only people I know who use it either also speak some German (me) or know people who speak some German (a coworker) or, in one case, know people who know people who speak some German (a coworker who sits next to the other coworker). It will eventually spread outwards into the rest of the populace.

            2. Kas*

              Neat! It’s a pretty widely-known word in my circles, but there is a wide range of nationalities/cultures amongst the people I regularly spend time with.

  3. Jillian*

    Are you sure she isn’t approved to have a reduced schedule, for health or other reasons? She may not choose to discuss that with you, but her boss may be well aware that she works less than full-time.

    1. LBK*

      I think when you’re the boss, though, you have to be more transparent about that kind of thing. You don’t have to dish out the details of your medical history to your employees, but I think you need to a) be at least somewhat clear about what their expectations should be about your attendance, and b) make sure you’re actually being productive and an otherwise great manager when you’re in the office. Frankly, if you do B, you might not even have to do A, although I think a good manager would naturally want to do A anyway.

      It would be one thing if the sole complaint were that she was working short hours but was otherwise a strong leader and good boss. I think Alison probably would’ve said MYOB (and it sounds like the OP has already done that to an impressive extent). But I don’t know what kind of medical or other reason would make it okay to do zero work when you’re actually in the office.

      1. Nina*

        I thought the same. Even if she does have a particular reason for working less hours, it doesn’t explain why she works so little when she’s actually in the office. I think it’s what the OP said; she’s checked out.

        1. LBK*

          Right, so if somehow this is a medically approved absence, there’s even more of a need to make that clear if all signs point to it just being laziness/abuse of power.

      2. INFJ*

        I agree with your comments regarding transparency. My manager has always kept us in the loop when she has to be more absent than she likes due to a very sick family member. But it’s because she’s such a supportive and attentive boss under normal circumstances that nobody bats an eye when she does have to deal with these issues.

        Even if OP’s boss had an arrangement with her boss regarding more vacation and flexible hours, she should communicate her availability to her direct reports. The lack of communication is almost like an admission of guilt here.

      3. SL #2*

        One of the things my team and I really appreciated when my boss was dealing with health issues was that she was very open about how it would affect her schedule and quality of work. If anything, we were the ones saying that she needs to take it easy for the time being! But her being open with us allowed us to delegate as needed and pick up the slack whenever it fell without all the gossip and confusion (not that the OP is doing that at all!!) about why Boss is much more hands-off than she used to be.

      4. Liane*

        And also do C) Let your staff know when you’re going to be out of the office!
        You don’t need to tell them whether it’s for chemo, nails or a hot assignation.

          1. JD*

            Yes, that is a very important detail. If the manager is going to be unreachable, people need to know that ahead of time in case an emergency pops up that would normally require that manager so the manager can be bypassed for the situation and briefed on it upon their return.

    2. Judy*

      I’d also point out that just because the employee handbook says everyone gets four weeks of vacation, it doesn’t mean someone doesn’t get more. I’ve had at least one coworker at my current (one year) job make snarky comments about my vacation, the handbook says new hires get 2 weeks. I have 20 years experience and negotiated 4 weeks of vacation to start.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I also have a coworker who gets the max vacation, but since he’s someone who never takes it anyway when he told the boss that he didn’t think it was fair to have the same as a 15 year person with 30+ years experience, our EVP told him, “Bob, if you ever need more, you let me know and it’s taken care of.”

        1. Aideekay*

          For the record, in California vacation time is considered deferred compensation. That means when you leave you are paid out for what you’ve accrued.

          So he can quite literally be leaving money on the table by not pushing for it.

      2. My 2 Cents*

        Yeah, I also get MUCH more vacation than the handbook says for various reasons. I got an extra week because of my experience, and since I get healthcare through my spouse and save my employer $5,000 a year by not taking their insurance I got my boss to approve an extra week of vacation for it. So, I should be getting 3 weeks according to the handbook and instead I get 5 because of different negotiated circumstances, so you just never know.

      3. More Cake, Please*

        Yes Jane may very well have additional time off, or have negotiated reduced hours for her last few years of work, or simply be taking unpaid leave. And even if she is ditching work, that’s Jane’s problem. Either she gets busted and fired, or she retires with her shoddy reputation and the problem is solved, or OP finds another job. I don’t see any gain for OP in making Jane’s absences an issue, and it could reflect poorly on OP if Jane has made these arrangements already. (Imagine if you’re Jane and you’ve arranged these absences and someone accused you of ditching work–how would you feel?)

        I don’t think leaving 10 minutes earlier from an event is even worth mentioning, but since Jane thinks it’s a problem it’s probably best to adhere to the (double-)standard. Personally, I think it’s easier to just work an extra 10 minutes next time than start a battle you may not win. I sympathize, OP. It is ridiculous.

        1. Kas*

          “(Imagine if you’re Jane and you’ve arranged these absences and someone accused you of ditching work–how would you feel?)”

          Yes – how many letters have we had here from people who have discreetly arranged reduced hours with their manager, and are now finding their colleagues commenting on it? I do also sympathise with the OP here, however – Jane could be managing perceptions better.

      4. sam*

        yeah – at my company, a standard employee starts with 20 days of PTO, and after 5 years you get more days automatically. My assistant, who has been here for far longer than me, gets more PTO than most of the lawyers in the department. You can also roll over up to 5 unused days from the prior year (or more with manager’s permission).

        And super senior executives start with more.

        That’s not to say that’s what is going on here, but but don’t assume that a senior manager who has been there for many years is operating under the exact same “default” rules as everyone else.

        Also, and this really depends on office culture, but no one in my office is expected to log PTO time if we need to come in late or leave early for an appointment (at least for the exempt employees). We work enough “extra” hours that it’s generally one of the understandings of the job that we sometimes need to take care of personal things. For non-exempt employees, unless it’s something that’s going to take a significant amount of time, they can usually just “make up” the time (i.e., come in an hour late because of a dentist appointment, stay an hour late at the end of the day – we’re all certainly still here!).

            1. sam*

              it does – PTO is all of our time. Although since we’re in NYC, anyone who is non-exempt had to have 5 of their PTO days designated specifically as sick leave this year (due to the NYC law requiring paid sick leave), which actually annoyed a lot of people – they went from having 20 “use for anything” PTO days to 15 PTO days and 5 specific sick days.

              That being said, there were a lot of people who would still come in when they were sick because they wanted to “save” their PTO for vacation. Having days that were specifically required to be sick days did encourage them to stay home and not spread their germs around the office. Exempt employees like myself are still stubborn disease-carrying monstrosities (although I was sick enough two weeks ago to actually take a day off!).

    3. Phoebe*

      Yeah, it seems to me that there a lot of assumptions being made based on very little real information here.

    4. BuildMeUp*

      I’m not sure it’s worth it to start examining all the possible “acceptable” reasons Jane might have for leaving work early. It’s possible she has health issues, sure. But even if she does, she’s still spending her actual time in the office on personal calls, delegating most of her work, and generally not seeming to care, all without communicating well to her team that she’s going to be out or leaving early. The fact that she’s not there full-time is only a small part of the problem.

  4. AnotherAlison*

    ITA that Jane sucks. I’m not sure I agree with her lecture that the leader has to stay to the end of an event. It depends on what sort of event we’re talking about. My dept. is full of senior people (VP, Mgr, line managers, project managers). It’s no big deal for the VP or Mgr to let another manager be the last one to leave an event and wrap it up.

    Overall, though, it’s not a bad thing that she’s pointing out to “do as I say not as I do.” To me, it indicates she knows she’s not modeling good management. It would be better if she did, but at least she’s not inviting you to leave early with her for a manicure while the office runs amok!

    Last thing, I hope NOT to be Jane when I’m near retirement, but I can totally see where she’s coming from. Maybe you know her personal situation, but maybe there’s more to it than end-of-career burnout. My parents are in that age group, and a lot of the women are dealing with husbands with failing health, some are widows. Some still have living parents who they’re caring for. Some have kids in their 30s who can’t get their acts together. Who knows. It’s not an excuse for slacking at work, but when you’re that close to retirement, I can see motivation to put work first flagging.

    1. AMG*

      I think the point about ‘do as I say, not as I do’ is important. Personally, I would not quit over this, especially if you are the heir apparent. Take the message, leave the messenger. Just because she’s a hypocrite doesn’t mean she’s wrong, and if there’s potential to grow that would be worth sticking around to me. There are always things you like and things you don’t like in any job, and this is hardly the worst it could be (as we all know from reading this page).

      1. JessaB*

        Yeh to me the worst part is the lack of communication about availability to her covering person. If the OP is supposed to be the cover person, then the OP needs to darned well know where the heck Jane is (in terms of in office or not, available for call or not, not specific location, but when out, when back kind of information.)

  5. LBK*

    As frustrating as this is, I genuinely don’t think people who exhibit this level of hypocrisy believe they’re doing it. Not that they don’t realize it – they know what they’re doing and they just straight up do not believe it’s hypocritical because they’re so delusional that they have an ability to internally justify any action to themselves and to believe their reason for doing so is valid while yours isn’t.

    That doesn’t it okay or any less annoying, but I think it’s helpful to understand that these are people who do not live in the same reality as you and trying to reason through it or talk them out of it is a pointless endeavor.

    1. AMG*

      So many people have a stunning lack of self-awareness. I always wonder if I’m one of these. Is that possible? Like, only people don’t think they are crazy are actually crazy and the rest of us who wonder are sane?

      1. Whippers*

        Oh god, that is my worst nightmare. But then again I self-analyse so much that it has made me crazy in the past so….

      2. Mirilla*

        I’ve wondered this so many times myself. I know someone with absolutely no self-awareness that it’s scary. She believes her own lies and has no concept of the consequences of her own behavior. If you’re even remotely wondering if you’re like that, then to me, it’s a good sign that you are not like that. These people would never even doubt themselves so those that do self-reflect are the sane ones I believe!

    2. Roly Poly Little Bat Faced Girl*

      This is a really good point. People like Jane can rationalize it to such an extent that it becomes their reality, so they just don’t see the hypocrisy.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Totally. She probably thinks she put her blood sweat and tears into the job for X years and deserves some breathing room now or something like that. I’m really surprised her boss hasn’t noticed. Op should make sure she’s cya and the boss isn’t taking credit for things she’s done or anything like that.

    3. Ad Astra*

      She might be delusional, or she might be one of those people who thinks The Boss has earned the right to do whatever she wants, while everyone else follows the rules. Plenty of people thinks that’s how things should be done, even though, yeah, good managers would want to set a good example for their staff.

      OP is focused too much on the hypocrisy and not enough on finding a way to either succeed in that environment or start job searching. Pointing out someone’s absurd cognitive dissonance does feel good sometimes, but it won’t do anything to improve the situation.

    4. Manders*

      Yes, this is exactly what I suspect is happening with Jane. OP is right to focus on getting out, rather than trying to make Jane see her point of view, because Jane has been doing this and getting away with it for long enough that in her mind, it’s normal.

    5. Kate M*

      Yeah, and it’s possible that this has been Jane’s experience her whole life – the big boss gets a lot of leeway, and that’s one of the perks of working all those years to get to that spot. Whether it should be like that or not is another question, but I know a lot of places that work like that.

      Right now, most of the directors at my firm probably come in 3-4 hours per day. Sometimes they’re at extra meetings outside of the office, or are participating on calls from outside of the office or working (sometimes “working”) from home. But they definitely don’t put in a full 45 hour work week. And to me, that’s just how this firm works. We still get done what needs to get done. I have to watch myself sometimes to make sure I don’t fall into the trap of thinking “they do it, so so can I” (and I ESPECIALLY have to watch people below me and interns to make sure they realize that rules for directors are not rules for them). But sometimes peoples’ value they bring to the firm is seen to balance the more flexible schedules.

      1. Whippers*

        There is no way that this should be the case. Lots of people work their ass off for years on minimum wage and whats their reward? Years more of working their ass off on minimum wage.
        I know you’re not agreeing with this opinion but it just annoys me that people think because they’ve worked for a certain number of years, they are justified in taking it easy even though they are getting paid way more than those below them.

        1. Kate M*

          Oh I’m not saying I agree with it. It does get to me sometimes, especially when all of a sudden one of my bosses check their email for the first time at 8pm, and then email me something to do (when if they had checked it before 5:30, I could have had it done during the working day). I’m not a fan of the way this works (at least to this extent – I do think the higher up you go, the less you get to be bogged down with administrative/smaller tasks and get to be bigger picture. I’m also ok with people higher up having more flexible schedules and more vacation). But yeah, it does really get to me sometimes when they say they have no money for raises, but I’m one of the few people that actually work full-time there. But for me to not get too stressed about it, I just have to accept that this is the way this firm works.

  6. Development professional*

    You said a few times that you hope to move on to a new job eventually, but you don’t mention being in an active search for another job. Could you start that now? Even if you start small, with a goal of applying to one job or making one professional contact a week, that could do a lot to lessen your frustration. Just don’t try to leave early to do it, lol.

    1. OP*

      Thank you, yes, I am actively searching and applying. I’m trying to be careful about job searching and leaving in general. I don’t want to have the “grass is always greener” mindset and jump into a different job just because I won’t have the same boss. I recently passed the 2 year mark, which is the minimum time I wanted to stay, so I’m getting serious about applications and preparing myself to resign- but I’ll still only leave for the right fit position. I’m also actually discussing a promotion with my boss which could tip the scales in favor of staying- for now at least. I already know my boss’ issues and if I can learn to work with those, maybe I can still maximize the experience for myself.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I’m glad to read that you’re being rational and not automatically jumping to leave because of an unbearable boss situation.

        I was in a situation that was similar several years ago. A promotion was promised, which put me parallel/not reporting to my bad boss, but I didn’t get the full promotion promised (being his boss*). I stuck it out about another year and a half and then made an internal transfer, but I don’t regret that I tried a little longer than was sane.

        This may sound odd that the employee and boss swap, but it’s really common here. Just yesterday, an announcement went out with this happening in a different dept. The former boss typically becomes some sort of Savvy Expert Specialist title and individual contributor instead of manager.

  7. Charityb*

    Maybe if OP was planning to stay and become the new boss there is more incentive to try to fix this workplace, but if she’s already on her way out it seems more trouble than it deserves. It’s kind of like ordering cable for a Porta-potty; it’ll be a lot of work for basically no lasting benefit.

  8. Elizabeth West*

    Would letting this go make me a pushover?

    No, it makes you less stressed. You can’t do anything to change Jane–your energy is best used to do your work and find another job. Don’t let her suck it away from you. Letting it go is empowering. If you need to vent about it, fine (but not with coworkers). Then dump it.

    Someone posted a thing a picture on Facebook of a beautiful blue and purple butterfly, tied to a big rock with a string, with the caption “Let it go.” I liked that. Let it go and you can fly away, far far from Jane’s crap!

    1. jmkenrick*

      “Would letting this go make me a pushover?

      No, it makes you less stressed.”

      That’s so on point – I think we could all do to realize this in our day-to-day lives. So often we get caught up in this idea about ‘should’ and ‘the principle’ and let that shoehorn us into expending lots of energy and righteousness over a situation we have little control over.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I see so many people fall into this, but just because they are in a perpetual stew of righteousness about “the principle” of anything and everything around them, doesn’t mean that anything is going to change. I mean, there are some situations that can be changed with a well-timed word into the ears of the PTB, but for those situations that aren’t ever going to change, maintaining a constant anger about it isn’t going to help. Of course, getting all chill about it is easier said than done.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          It certainly is, and it took me a LOOOONG time to get that chill. But once I internalized it, it really helped. I want to make a poster of that butterfly thing I mentioned, to remind myself when I invariably backslide, LOL.

      2. OP*

        Yes. This has been my intuition. All of my friends who I’ve vented to have said “I don’t know how you didn’t explode! You have to point out her hypocrisy!” But I don’t expect to be able to change my boss at this point in her career, nor is it my position to. So I’ll focus on the positive until I have better circumstances. Thanks!

    2. Cattitude*

      Wise words! but it’s just so hard to let go of (perceived) control! This is my #1 goal when I’m trying to reduce the level of stress I’m under.

  9. Tilly W*

    I had a former manager like this who left early all the time while dumping her day’s deliverables on me. (Which would require me to work several extra hours so she could make her yoga class.) Now, she is trying to be a consultant and looking for opportunities and recommendations from me and other former direct reports. No way…karma.

  10. AnotherHRPro*

    The beautiful thing about feedback is that you get to decide what you want to do with it. From your letter, it actually sounds like you think the feedback is valid but that you are upset with the hypocrisy. Then accept the feedback and learn from it (A. just because your boss does something that isn’t right, doesn’t mean you can/should, B. you work for a bad manager – which you already knew and C. leaders should think about the messages their behavior sends to the team).

    For what it is worth, I don’t think there is any value in confronting your manager. Your job isn’t to determine if their performance is acceptable to the organization. You can only determine if she is someone you want to work for and you have already decided that. Good luck.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I agree, there’s a lot the OP can learn in this situation once she looks past the “It’s not fair!” angle. Sure, Jane sucks, but she’s cluing (clue-ing?) OP in on how to get ahead at that organization.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      Ugh, it would be so tempting to play dumb and be like: “Oh no! I had no idea this would be an issue since it was only ten minutes and a one-time thing – and because I respect you as a leader even though you leave early several times a week!” Tempting, but not smart to actually do it.

  11. Frances*

    Jane clearly has expectations of you that she isn’t following herself and that type of behavior can certainly be frustrating. At the same time I felt a lot of anger in your letter and wonder if you are missing some of the picture to your own detriment. For example assuming that she is cheating on her time off rather than assuming perhaps she negotiated for more time off or has more time off because of seniority. The other thing that bothers me about the letter is that you appear to be discussing Jane’s faults with the other staff. This isn’t ok especially if you are in a supervisory role. If you are discussing this with coworkers and placing bets on whether or not she is going to get her hair done when she leaves early you are creating a negative environment.

    I’d worry a lot less about Jane’s actions (It’s unlikely she’ll change if she is gunning for retirement) and instead use this experience to focus on what you can do and avoid to become a better manager.

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I agree with this 100%. OP, as a supervisor, you can not gossip with your staff about Jane – especially not with the people that report to you. As mentioned here, maybe Jane goes to get her hair done, and then logs on from home and does a few hours more work. Or maybe not – but that’s not your call to make.

      I also think it’s possible that Jane’s lecture came not from a “I’m the boss and you are in trouble” place, but rather a “I am your mentor, and you should know that if you want to succeed long term you should do A and not B” [with an implied “at least until you have reached the level of seniority I have”]. One of my best mentors wasn’t necessarily my best boss -she did things like played favorites (me), gossiped about upper management with me, and helped me get out of our terrible company – but she was a great mentor, and she would often give me advice that was more along the lines of “FYI, if you want to be successful with people like [Biggest Boss] you should do XYZ, not LMN” – even though she didn’t do those things, because she knew that I was still learning, and I was still trying to play by the rules to get ahead, while she had given up on getting ahead at that company and was just trying to survive until she could move on.

    2. BuildMeUp*

      I do agree that the OP should make sure not to engage when coworkers are gossiping about the boss. I didn’t get a sense from the letter that the OP was participating in the “placing bets” thing, though. And to me, the fact that all her coworkers are very clearly aware of the issue means that the OP probably isn’t missing much.

      I think it’s always good to consider reasonable explanations for stuff like this, but in the end, I don’t think it really matters if the boss has negotiated more time off. She’s still slacking when she’s in the office (delegating most of her work, taking long lunches, making personal calls, etc.) and dropping the ball on communicating to the team when she’ll be in the office. She’s still affecting her subordinates to the point that they assume she’ll be leaving the office to go get her nails done while they’re picking up her slack.

  12. Bend & Snap*

    This seems like a lot of time tracking your manager, and things aren’t always what they seem. I have a ton of flexibility to take care of family matters and often come in late/leave early etc. But what my direct reports don’t always see is that I’m online late at night working, answering emails, hammering away on deliverables that they don’t know anything about, and I ALWAYS get my work done.

    That may or may not be the case with Jane but it’s worth considering.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I think people can usually tell when their manager is doing their job well and when they aren’t. I had one manager like you who did a lot of stuff after hours and no one ever doubted it because he was just great in general. But our last boss here was never around and was incompetent and it was just so obvious that when he was out, it was because he was at the gym or hanging out with friends (he got fired two weeks ago and it’s like a cloud has lifted from our entire division).

      1. LBK*

        Agreed – you can tell the difference between a manager who’s utilizing flexibility while still being a successful manager and a manager who’s abusing flexibility while not doing anything. The impact on the department will be clear.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes but usually it’s obvious when coworkers are working at night from home because she’s most likely be sending emails time stamped at those times or you could look at the last time certain shared reports were last updated and things like that. Maybe not always but I’d think by now someone in that office would know if Jane is doing work from home in the evening.

  13. Heather*

    OP, your boss is a narcissist. I’ve had the displeasure of working for a couple myself, like my last one who would schedule early morning team meetings, demand punctual attendance, then stroll in 20 minutes late with a bowl of oatmeal and pass around her iPhone to show us photos of her new baby. It’s mind-boggling how people like that lack self-awareness, but try not to stress yourself out trying to understand their behavior. You can’t. They live in a world with themselves at the center and view you as a tool to exploit for their own gain. And I wouldn’t bother trying to hold her accountable. She’ll probably have a sudden case of amnesia or bring up how you checked out somehow to take the spotlight off of her. DISENGAGE!

    1. Malissa*

      This! Exactly this!
      The lack of self awareness can drive you bonkers. I’ve learned to view it as more of a, I wonder what crazy boss is going to do today thing. I gives me a bit of perspective and distance. Distance is key, because being too close to the mess means you risk getting dirty.

    2. KTB*

      ^This!! A million times this! My boss at OldJob was the executive director, and the rules for her were very, very different than those for the rest of the (very small) staff. It drove me absolutely nuts, and I could tell hundreds of examples of her narcissism.

      A particularly egregious example was the day I scheduled a 3:30PM offsite meeting with a major, repeat funder. Although the ED usually left the office at 4:30PM, her calendar that day was clear, and 3:30PM was the only time the funder could meet. She was out of the office during the email exchange, so I made the appointment without her OK. Apparently, she had some sort of personal conflict, that she hadn’t put on her calendar. I pointed out that there was no way for me to know that, and maybe she could block out her calendar if she had conflicts. She snapped that her personal life was none of my business, and she didn’t have to block out her calendar. It took me two years to get out of that job and I have never missed it, for a minute.

  14. Be the Change*

    So, agreeing with the consensus that Jane’s behavior is unacceptable due to its egregiosity.

    How about a slightly opposite situation: I am a boss/leader who works hard, tries hard, does well, etc. (based on feedback from our clients and my boss; hard to get detailed feedback from the team), but I am very well aware indeed of my own shortcomings. No, I’m not always in perfectly on time and sometimes I leave early. Yes, I miss things. Yes, I jump the gun. I make mistakes.

    Am I a hypocrite when I tell people that they missed something, made a mistake, need to be in a little closer to the time because their job is to cover the front desk?

      1. Manders*

        This is crucial. If Jane had told the OP, “I know it looks like I’m taking off earlier and using more vacation than the rest of the team, but I can do it because I negotiated extra time/it’s one of the perks of seniority in this office/I agreed to take a pay cut for the flexibility,” OP might still feel like it’s unfair, but she’d be less confused about what she’s supposed to do and possibly less resentful.

  15. OriginalYup*

    Jane sounds like a crap boss. However, there’s a third path between “stay and ignore it” and “leave,” which is that you can stay and push for more formal authority.

    Are you interested in sitting down with Jane (pretending she doesn’t make you insane) and having a talk about you getting a promotion and more official responsibility? I’m talking about you-will-have-new-title-with-raise-in-90-days, not vague mumblings about one-day-when-I-retire stuff. I totally get it if this whole thing has a left a bad taste in your mouth about this organization. But I’ve seen situations like this be the occasion for junior people to rise up through the ranks quickly and impress everyone with their can-do skills by stepping into the vacuum to do what Jane is getting done.

    1. OP*

      OP here. Thank you for your comment. I can’t believe how on point your suggestion is, it’s actually what I’ve been working on for the past year. It was in idea mode for a while as I’ve struggled if I could tolerate continuing- I really love the work that I do – and I brought the idea of a title and salary increase up at my formal performance appraisal. I’d happily accept more responsibility and work longer hours if it came with a title that reflected my level of accountability- even without a pay increase (which I didn’t say, because Jane assumed a pay increase was included and didn’t totally shoot that down).

      In my field it is common to have an Assistant or Associate Director, but our program doesn’t have that title, which is weird because I’m totally doing that job- just getting less recognition and $$. Jane actually agreed that I was doing the work of a higher title, but did not want to make any changes to my title yet and said she would reconsider in another year at my next review. I wasn’t thrilled with this response but it isn’t totally unreasonable because she planned to give me a list of goals to meet over the next year when we would reassess- great idea and rational. I’m good with goals, so I welcomed this. But, the goals never materialized and it was like the conversation never happened. I think she knew there was no way she could say “no” outright to my request, since that would be unreasonable, but she was not going to make it easy for me.

      Since I didn’t want this to get away from me, I took the opportunity to be proactive and made my own list of goals (in line with what I believe she would want to see accomplished) and approached her with them. I still never got an enthusiastic response, but she seemed to have accepted this as a list of things I can do to get to the next level. I have my fingers crossed that I’m working towards the promotion. In the meantime, I am actively searching and applying to other jobs. I’m a pathological optimist, so I am trying to make the best out of learning opportunities that come my way in spite of obstacles.


      1. BuildMeUp*

        That’s great that you’re being so proactive! When you’re applying for jobs, even if you can’t list the Assistant/Associate Director title on your resume, you can use your accomplishments on your resume and cover letter to show that you’re doing similar work.

        I love OriginalYup’s suggestion, and I was thinking something similar when I read your letter. I was going to suggest sitting down with Jane and talking about a possible plan to officially train you as her replacement, if she has a timeline for her retirement, but from this comment it sounds like that probably wouldn’t work! I hope you either find a new job you love or get the promotion!

      2. Dynamic Beige*

        I was thinking along the same lines as BuildMeUp — if Jane is definitely going to retire and there is a timeline in place for that that is not excessive, say a couple of years, then it may be worth sticking around as much as she drives you batty, so long as there is also a plan in place for you to move up into that position that is actively in effect. I’m not saying stop looking for something better, just don’t be ready to jump ship at the first opportunity.

        I’m sure all your reports in the office know the score and that you’re the *actual* leader who is getting things done while Jane faffs her way through the day. As a total aside, could someone give me a job where I get paid to do pretty much nothing, get my hair and nails done regularly, not put in a full day and go on lots of vacation? That sounds totally awesome. :P

        If you know someone higher up than Jane, you may be able to find out if she is really leaving by being concerned about it. “We were talking about this the other day and we were wondering if Jane had expressed any timeline for her retirement or succession planning (because she could get hit by a bus… er… I mean, win the lottery)? We just don’t know what we would do without her — the office will change so much when she leaves.” Which is partially true — throw a party? Get a cake? Have people not angry that their boss isn’t pulling any weight? I say if you can find out discreetly if there is some sort of plan in place, do it.

        Finally, since Jane has shown you exactly the sort of person she is… I mean it would be one thing if you were constantly ditching events early — but one time for 10 minutes that you already discussed with your colleagues? I think that Jane knows that you are kind of “her” face in the organisation and if you’re there, people assume she’s there or something. The work you do means she gets to slack off, she doesn’t need to be as visible because you are there. I bet someone came up to her, asked her a question she couldn’t answer, she went looking for you and found you had left, which left her holding the bag. While it’s very bad form to track someone else’s time… in this case, I think an exception could be made as a CYA measure. Just in case she decides to do something to scupper your chances or throws you under the bus, along with a list of the deliverables you’ve managed, project timelines, stuff she’s dumped on you, whatever. If she’s petty enough to take you to task for 10 minutes, then I wouldn’t be shocked at all to find that she’s petty enough to use that as a way to ding you on your review or something. It may be the opposite of “Let It Go” but it may also be cathartic to write it down somewhere and get it out of your system.

    2. Ernie*

      As Alison always says, talk about the behaviour and how it is affecting your work. Clearly if Jane is checking out, then most likely the OP has to deal with Jane’s subordinates when they have questions or need to make a decision. That adds to the workload and it is not fair that OP is dealing with problems that Jane should solve. The OP can use this time to formally ask for more authority (and the perks that come with that authority).

  16. LizNYC*

    I had a boss like this, though not to quite this extent. She got to work from home 90% of the time in a company that didn’t allow that sort of thing for anyone else, she delegated everything assigned to her, and on her one day in the office, she’d come in late, leave early and take a long lunch. We didn’t know what she actually did, except criticize her department’s work.

    I learned to just laugh at it (with my coworkers) and worked really hard to find a better situation / job. The best part? Refusing the counteroffer of more money (which I’d been asking for for the previous 4 years) and laughing to myself when she said, “well, we couldn’t give you a raise, but we gave you more work to broaden your skills and experience.” hahahahahahahaha

  17. Mena*

    This letter sounded a lot like my boss until the hypocrisy part came in. My boss lives in another world while I focus on my work; at least she doesn’t call me out when I very occasionally mimic her bad behavior (she’d have to be present to even realize that I’m doing it and that isn’t happening any time soon).
    Bigger issue is the loss of respect. It is hard to work for someone you do not respect (and/or cannot learn from). Might she retire soon? Is it worth staying to see how this plays out? If not, quietly look around for something new. You can look selectively while continuing your current role.
    Good luck finding your next great opportunity!

  18. hbc*

    How much does she rely on you and how does she respond to criticism? I ask because I’m in a very unusual position, but I’ve been able to tell my boss directly when he’s been a hypocrite. He needs me here, he respects me, and he knows I’m easy-going and wouldn’t raise anything unless I’m legitimately ticked. So when he rang a couple of extensions without an answer and then complained, “Where is everybody? Isn’t anybody working?”, I told him “Wakeen, you went radio silent for two weeks without warning, so maybe you can wait longer than ten minutes for us to get back to you.”

    Obviously not for most situations, but some people *do* respond to having a mirror held up to them.

  19. Jwal*

    I have worked with managers/people with authority that I didn’t respect, and even thinking about some of the things that happened still makes me angry now. I really sympathise OP!

    I want to really re-iterate what Alison said about the experience you get looking great on job applications. The interview I did that got me out of the frustrating place was, according to one of the people conducting it, one of the best they’d seen in the organisation, and it gave me lots of opportunities that I might never have had otherwise.

    You’ve got a great opportunity with your boss being like this, and it may help reminding yourself of this when struggling not to mentally curse her next time she does something ridiculous! Good luck in your job search :)

  20. Special Snowflake*

    This seems to completely mirror the behaviour of my last boss – in fact to the casual observer, this is a carbon copy of what she did leading up to her retirement. The difference was that this was all a pre-planned and pre-approved soft exit strategy where she gradually passed her work to various people in her department and coached us on implementation. Yes, she arrived late and left early – because she no longer had very much to do. Yes, some of those times she would be going to get her hair done – and why not? Again, this was pre-approved by management. However, this was all done with complete transparency, and everyone was on the same page. By the time she did leave, the department was running smoothly, and everyone knew their new roles. So, OP, not trying to white knight for your boss, but if she is already heading towards retirement, it makes sense that more work would fall on you, and she would do less and less. At the end of the day, it makes for a much smoother transition when she does leave. It could be that her only fault is failing to let you know the big picture. As to the calling you out on leaving your event early – knowing that she will be leaving, she could just think she’s passing on some wisdom to help you in the future. I wouldn’t take it personally, although I do agree that in the circumstances it would be hard not to. Maybe a look at the situation through a different lens might help you deal with your frustration.

    1. Charityb*

      That’s a good perspective for the OP to take even if it isn’t actually true. There isn’t much she can do to change her boss’s behavior but she can let it affect her as much.

      “At the end of the day, it makes for a much smoother transition when she does leave. It could be that her only fault is failing to let you know the big picture.”

      See, to me that’s a pretty huge fault. Honestly I would consider that to be worse than just ordinary laziness, since essentially the manager has concocted a ‘transition plan’ without sharing it with the OP. The OP doesn’t even have any confirmation that she will be the next manager and the OP is planning to leave. If her goal is to gradually transition responsibilities from herself to the OP so that she can take over later, keeping that a secret is alienating the OP and endangering the company (since, presumably, if the OP found a new job next month she’ll leave).

    2. UsedToDoSupport*

      I read it the same way, although reading the comments it doesn’t seem like I’m in the majority. I read it as mentor passing more and more responsibility to mentee and beginning to bow out entirely. If I were the OP I think I would consider this less as an “it’s not fair” situation, and more a commendation and trust in my abilities.

      1. Special Snowflake*

        That’s exactly how I read it, only you worded it far better, and more succinctly than I did!

  21. Merry and Bright*

    My line manager at OldJob was a clone of Jane. I get paid less now but I am so much happier and never dread going to work anymore

  22. Aideekay*

    So I am facing a similar level of hypocrisy at my current job, with the addition of some two-faced behaviors and unwarranted criticisms about my “people skills.” Never once when he has been wrong has he acknowledged it, and in fact he frequently picks up what people tell him and move forward as if it was his own idea to begin with. The worst is when he takes my position and then turns it around on me, criticizing me for failing to notice it first!

    I would be fine with this, similar to the OP, except for one thing: this bleeds into performance reviews and is jeopardizing my job.

    A relevant side note: I am female and working for a male boss in a male dominated industry that has noticeable bouts of sexism (video games). His boss is also male. Because I have received feedback that I don’t take disagreement professionally and accept my error and move forward with a solution instead of complaining, I feel like my hands are tied with bringing any of this up. It begins to sound like I’m just whining.

    What is the best way to move forward with this?

    1. Aideekay*

      For the record, I am not denying that I am blameless in the situation. I simply want to know how I can handle what’s being turned around on me when it *is* unwarranted to prevent it from impacting my job. Imagine it in these terms: bad ideas happen, good ideas happen. Rather than receiving useful feedback, I get credit for my bad ideas and chastised for “failing to generate” my (now his) good ideas.

        1. Cattitude*

          Ha ha Then, Blameless, you hall be!
          May I still this? I am in the legal profession an this will come in very handy. =)

    2. Cattitude*

      The best way I can imagine to get out of this is presenting whatever issue you have in the most objective matter. If you can avoid naming names it’s even better.

      Just try to make it “a fault with the process” that can be streamlined. Something like “every time we need to finish the Teapots reports it takes longer because the data is not easily available. Should we implement a sign-in sheet so we make sure all teapot builders submit the data on time?’ or something of the sort… you get the idea.

  23. mirror*

    Jane could work all 8 hours every day for all I care, and I’d still be annoyed if she lectured me about leaving 10 mins early. Ten frickin’ minutes!! Sure don’t do it every day or at every work function, but one time and that deserves a lecture about lowering morale and your employees’ perception of you? Gimme a break.

    OP is a supervisor, she made sure her employees were ok and could handle wrapping things up, and stayed for everything minus the very last 10 mins. Big whoop.

  24. Penelope Pitstop*

    I’ve worked for Jane, or rather a Jane. My situation was virtually identical to what you described. I finally set up some time and talked to her about it.

    In our I told my Jane that I felt like her standard was different for me/team than herself and offered evidence. She agreed that it was and felt like she was actively grooming me to be her successor and that she had earned the right to have privileges that I – as an up-and-comer – had not. The different standard wasn’t so much for her benefit as it was so that my peers would see me as the leader/manager de facto and she was effectively managing herself out. The reason her boss did not intercede was that they had unbeknownst to me settled on a timetable in which I would be promoted and envisioned a smoother transition because I’d already been acting the part. We talked about what that timetable was and that’s exactly what happened.

    That convo gave me a long-term perspective with some concreteness I didn’t have before and her actions felt more rational/tolerable. I did, in fact, move very smoothly into Jane’s role and she made a graceful exit feeling confident her team was in good hands.

    So, two questions and a suggestion: how do you feel about leading/managing the team and Jane’s boss? In other words, if Jane weren’t in the picture, would you want to stay? And suggestion: have a convo with your Jane–it may give relief; or, it may give you more assurance you need an exit plan.

  25. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

    I think I’d consider myself lucky if the worst things my boss did were leave early and take a lot of vacation time.

    There are so many more egregious behaviors I’ve experienced in managers, this one barely pings my radar.

    Being micromanaged over leaving 10 minutes early is annoying, sure, but the rest of it isn’t stuff I’d consider leaving an otherwise enjoyable job over.

  26. Court*

    Alison, what would be your take on OP telling Jane that she’s not interested in taking on the management role? It seems to me that this could alleviate some of the pressure on OP, because right now, she and Jane are operating on two different sets of beliefs and each acting accordingly (OP is getting out of there but Jane is still trying to coach her to be the leader because she thinks OP wants to become the next leader). Her coaching is definitely hypocritical but it seems like Jane might be trying to help her out based on what she thinks OP’s future looks like.

    Would there be any benefit to saying OP isn’t interested in taking the management role anymore, without letting Jane know that she’s looking elsewhere? Or would admitting OP doesn’t want the role anymore run the risk of Jane figuring it out?

  27. OP*

    Dear Alison & Readers,

    Thank you. I appreciate your advice and readers’ comments. This blog has been a tremendous resource for me in other situations and I knew this was the right outlet for my current issue. The timely response and comments are very helpful and I feel validated in my course of action- to let it go. And I will focus on the positive things I get at work until I find another one. I feel better already. I hope to one day have a triumphant update to provide!


    1. LBK*

      Thanks for the follow up! It sounded like you had a really good attitude from the letter and this confirms it – I envy your ability to remain so calm and let things go.

  28. Transformer*

    Maybe its just me but why wouldn’t you take it to Jane’s boss? It said she was a director… which to me means that there is another level above Jane. Why is this not an option?

  29. Mindy*

    I’ve had bosses that have a double standard, I have one now, and I have had ones that micromanage every time you sneeze. I’ll take the double standard. Look at her extra time out of the office as a benefit. That is what we do when our boss takes 1 day of “comp” time for every day she spends at a conference. If she plans a vacation and is sick, she counts it as sick leave instead of vacation. If she comes in for an hour on a day she had planned to take off she doesn’t use vacation time. If she answers e-mails or phone calls at home she keeps track of the time spent for “comp” time as well as any time worked over 40 hours. She is exempt, but we joke that she is exempt from the rules. She has threatened to write everyone up who hasn’t done a particularly (stupid) weekly assignment that she also doesn’t do even though it was her idea. She is totally clueless as to how everyone perceives her, she is incompetent and if she didn’t have such a good team would crash and burn. She has made some “A class” mistakes that would have gotten anyone else fired but always seems to slip away from consequences. Her boss, clueless and just as bad. Look for a new job if you feel the need, but consider that there are jerks every where and you may not have as much flexibility or the same benefits at the next job.

  30. Employment Lawyer*

    “This is a clear case of “do as I say, not as I do.” ”

    Well, duh.

    Bosses GET TO DO THAT. I want my paralegal to work; I can play Minecraft. I want her to show up on time; I can come late and leave early.

    What’s the issue?

  31. KH*

    I might have a different point of view.
    Is this perhaps the culture in the company? The more senior you get, and the better you are at delegating authority, the more lenient the company is? Is it an unwritten perk?

    Sounds to me like Jane wants you to step up and use your full authority and leadership. Most people are already doing the job they want to be promoted into, before they are promoted.

    Perhaps Jane just wants you to act like the leader that she WAS and is no longer expected to be, because you’re supposed to be doing that.

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