my boss is out of her gourd and threw a fit about my coffee

A reader writes:

My workplace is a small company owned by one woman. We have four full-time people who work in the office plus her. There are many positives about working here. I really care about the work that we do, its close to home, the pay is very good, three weeks paid vacation immediately upon hire, 12 PTO days and very flexible with your schedule and we can even bring kids to the office in emergency situations. Also my coworkers are awesome.

The downside…the owner is a basket case!! She has severe mood swings, anxiety issues, nitpicks about ludicrous things, yells at us with raised voices, has cried in the office on more then one occasion, and changes her expectations depending on her mood and what is going on that day. She is incapable of having a rational conversation. If you don’t agree with her or if you question something, she will ask “Why are we arguing?” or make a condescending remark when I am simply asking for clarification. I want to pull my hair out! Once when she was on the phone, I went to let her know of a phone call on another line and she yelled “Speak!” when I opened the door.

Her mood swings are intense and she takes them out on all of us. The next moment she could be crying that she loves having you here and she apologizes for her behavior. She can be very empathetic as well and goes above and beyond for employees, including personal loans, paying premiums for people on medical leave, and donating to everything people bring her. She is an enigma!

She completely knows she is the way she is, and though she apologizes, she acknowledges she’ll never change and she knows her flaws.

The straw that finally made me write you is that she reprimanded me for bringing in my own K-cups this morning. I decided to cut back on my daily Starbucks run and use the Keurig to make my own caramel flavored coffee. I put the cups in the communal coffee basket to share with others. She buys regular coffee for the office. Well, she stomped into my office this morning asking me if she should even bother buying coffee anymore because nobody is drinking the stuff she buys anymore (it’s been a week since I brought mine in and I am the only one drinking it). I didn’t know what to say so I said, “I don’t know, I just like caramel coffee.” She then told me that next time I need to communicate with her better about what I am bringing in for the kitchen. I couldn’t believe I was getting yelled at about K-cups and that I couldn’t even bring in my own coffee with out it being an ordeal!

She is causing me so much anxiety with her moods and yelling and never knowing who I am going to get at each hour of the day or what I am going to yelled at about today. Her changing expectations every day based on her mood are exhausting. I was semi-warned by my coworkers in the office during the interview, but some have been here for years and just roll with it and tell me not to take it personally.

After eight months, I am not there yet and not sure I will ever enjoy working in this environment or not take it personally. I am getting a great deal of HR knowledge and adding lots of great stuff to my resume in this position, plus all the great things I listed above. Should I stick it out for year at least and then move on? Or any advice for just learning live with this environment and let it roll of my back like everyone else? Or should I just get the hell out now?

Your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.

I can’t tell you whether this is something that you can stick out or not. Clearly some of your coworkers have decided that the trade-offs are worth it. Other people would decide hell no. You have to figure out for yourself if the benefits you’re getting are worth the pretty severe downsides.

Keep in mind that the downsides aren’t just the obvious downsides, like the mood swings, yelling, irrationality, condescension, and coffee tirades. You also risk that this office will reset your ideas of “normal” in messed-up ways that you’ll then bring to your next job. And you’re missing out on the professional growth that comes from working with someone who lays out clear expectations and gives you the chance to meet them, and who provides useful, level-headed feedback.

That might sound like I’m heavily steering you toward leaving, but I’m not. You just need to factor all of that in when you think about the trade-offs here.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 246 comments… read them below }

  1. Junior Dev*

    Your boss sucks. I’d start applying to new jobs. If you do feel you can stick it out until the year is up, you should still apply to new jobs–just be a little pickier about making sure they would be a better fit.

    Even if *you* think you can tolerate it for a while longer, this sounds like the kind of boss who might either fire you on a whim or randomly decide to make your job a lot harder or any number of other things that mean you don’t get a choice.

    1. BRR*

      I personally would start applying too. Adding some of Alison’s past advice, one year isn’t a magic number. A short time here is going to be different depending on the rest of your career history and should be factored in as well.

      1. AMT*

        Also, getting a new job can take a while, and hiring timelines can be long. Your new start date could be months after you first started applying for jobs, even if you got interviews right away.

        1. myswtghst*

          Exactly this. It took me approximately 3-4 months of searching and interviewing before I nabbed my current job, and having my previous job at the time allowed me to be both patient with their timelines and picky about my selection, since I wasn’t desperate (even though I was fully ready to leave my last job when I started looking). If OP starts looking now, they still can end up with 1+ year at the current job in the end.

    2. Paige Turner*

      Yes, at least look around to see what is out there- those are good benefits, but not once-in-a-lifetime amazing benefits. If you don’t find something better, than you can stay, at least for the time being. But you might be surprised by what else is out there.

    3. Koko*

      Yes, OP, your situation is crappy but also uniquely awesome in one particular way: you know that both 1) you want to leave this job and 2) you’re not struggling with the work/in imminent danger of being fired.

      Most of the time in your career, you’re either going to be relatively happy where you are and not that invested in trying to move on, or you’re going to be looking for a new job in a hurry because you’re miserable/on the verge of being fired/already unemployed.

      Take advantage of this unique time in your career where you have the motivation to really invest resources in seeking out good new opportunities and going after them. Be choosy, because you can afford to be. You’ll be more attractive to potential employers because you’re currently employed and you’ll have more leverage because you aren’t desperate to accept an offer, any offer. And if you see a “dream job” posting and realize you aren’t qualified for it, you can potentially use your current job to gain that experience over the next several months.

      My current position has been my favorite job I’ve ever had, and I got it on the heels of a situation like yours – I was gritting my teeth at a small company that was offering me decent opportunities and where my job was secure, but my boss was unreasonable and although I wasn’t *miserable,* I wasn’t happy there either. I ended up staying there 2.5 years, the last 1.5 years of which I was selectively interviewing for jobs (maybe 4-5 over that time), and when I finally accepted my current role I was confident I was moving on to something better. I’ve been here for 5 years now and am so, so happy things worked out this way.

      1. Mike C.*

        If nothing else, seeing the upside of this otherwise terrible situation makes the problem seem easier to handle.

    4. Shamy*

      I agree with all of this and the replies so far. I had a boss like that. She was so kind when she wanted to be, even threw me an expensive surprise baby shower after initialing advising me to give my child up for adoption (I was a rather young, single mother, but had no intention of doing so nor did I ask her thoughts). Like you, I literally loved everything else about my job, but eventually, the bad was so egregious that it outweighed the abundant amounts of good. It also took me a long time to realize it’s not ok for your boss to insist you wear a wedding ring because you are pregnant and unmarried, nor is it ok for them to give lectures on birth control and insist no women get pregnant. Ah, young naivete, how I don’t miss thee. It really doesn’t hurt to see what’s out there.

      1. Junior Dev*

        Ugggh what a gross, invasive boss! Why the hell did she think any of that was ok?!?! (Rhetorical question.)

      2. General Ginger*

        Oh, wow. Wow. How on earth did boss ever think ANY of that was OK? I mean, WOW. I am so glad you moved on!

      3. Koko*

        I’m really hoping this happened in the like, the 1960s. Not because that makes it any better but because I could hold out hope that society has bettered.

        1. Shamy*

          Sadly, no, this was back in 2004. I actually had it “good.”. The woman after me that got pregnant was told that she had an “obligation to the company, not some guy she was shacking up with and to get rid of it.” She was engaged, not that the circumstances matter in the least, but she had a habit of minimizing people’s outside work lives. I came to pity her for the sad and lonely woman she became. She cried my last day.

          1. Shamy*

            Sorry for all my typos, I’m on my phone. Meant to add the woman she exploded on straight up walked out right then. She didn’t come back.

    5. Mike C.*

      Even if the issue of the short term of the job comes up in an interview, you could always explain this away along the lines of “instability within the business environment”. No reasonable hiring manager would look in askance of someone with a short term job if they were looking because there were layoffs expected or sales issues, which is what this sort of statement tends to imply.

      I’m not suggesting you outright lie, but I think the misdirection is morally justified given the social convention of never saying anything bad about a current or former employer.

    6. Artemesia*

      By developing a move on strategy now even if it takes months you will give yourself a sense of purpose and an ability to compartmentalize a bit which might make it easier to cope. It isn’t so much the time on job but that searching for a new job and getting it is easier when you are employed. You don’t have to leap into another bad situation because you are desperate for a job.

    7. So Very Anonymous*

      Yes — totally agree re possibility of firing on a whim etc. I had this boss and after the first six months I spent my entire time there being yelled at and terrified to the bone that I was going to be fired. I finally left to go back to school. I would start applying now, or at least looking at ads to see what’s out there and get a sense of what you’d need to be doing at this job in order to move on quickly if things would go south.

      Sidenote: until I got to the “HR experience” I was 99% sure that this was my former boss. And I’m just going to pretend that it is, so that I can have heard an official “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” AaM ruling on that situation.

    1. Giles*

      Literally the only difference between this workplace and my last job is that we had more than four full time employees. Man I don’t miss that.

    2. SansaStark*

      Me too! Except I got yelled at for spilling coffee on the carpet…except I am well known as a non-coffee drinker.

      1. Artemesia*

        Well then it was even worse that you were going around spilling coffee on the carpet, I mean, really!

    3. Ol' Crow*

      I came to write the same thing – that this has to be my old boss (i.e. the most horrible boss ever)! I actually reread the first paragraphs because it sounded like her. However, this boss is more generous. And she has never retained an employee long-term. I was the longest at 3 years.
      If you are feeling like this at 8 months, it’s probably a good idea to find a new job now and save your sanity. I was an absolute mess by the time I left Horrible Boss. My mental state was so bad that I wished for and prayed for a car accident to send me to the hospital every day of my commute in the last year or so. My self-esteem was so shot that when I started my new job I almost started to cry when I’d do something wrong, I was that used to being berated and having her go completely crazy on me. I’d have left earlier but the economy hadn’t yet recovered. I love my life now (that I’m recovered and working in a sane place).
      Find a new job – there are no benefits to make up for hating life and maybe even wishing you were dead.

      1. Lisa Thaviu*

        Yeah, I had that boss too. I left when I realized that I was happy to be at the dentist getting a tooth drilled instead of being at work. It’s not worth staying under those circumstances and every morning , you end up walking on eggshells until you know which way the wind is blowing.

  2. DrPeteLoomis*

    OP, have you observed exactly how your coworkers deal with the boss? You mention that they let it roll off their backs, but I would bet that they have developed some pretty specific coping mechanisms over the years (even just the subtle, silent eyes-widening in horror/amusement at your coworker across the room).

    Also, you mention that your boss is very self-aware about this. Only you know if this will work with her or not, but sometimes self-aware loons can be sort of taken out of their irrational ranting by calling attention to how ludicrous it is. So, for the coffee example, you could say something like “Are we really having a discussion about K-cups right now? Is this really something that rises to this level of importance?”

    1. Amber T*

      Agreed, observe and even ask your coworkers how they handle it. “Susie, you’ve been here for five years now, how do you not take it personally when Lucinda flies off the rails?”

    2. Banana Sandwich*

      I agree; if shes self aware, she can probably take direct criticism about this and if you do it consistently, she might eventually change.

    3. Oranges*

      Depending upon her inner mental landscape (eg. her brain-weasels are saying you don’t appreciate her because she’s trying to give you this gift of “free coffee” but you’re rejecting it and therefore you’re rejecting her) this can make her double down. Only you can decide if you wanna risk it.

      1. Jenny*

        I agree with Oranges. This woman knows her issues and thus far has decided not to work on the at least in a professional capacity. If she feels insulted that you aren’t appreciative of her coffee or worse thinks you are out shining her in coffee purchasing capabilities I would walk a fine line. Those people can make your life a living hell and no THEY DO NOT CHANGE. Get your resume ready and start looking.

    4. Zombii*

      OP, whether you leave or stay, I want to emphasize the importance of developing coping mechanisms for this.

      Storytime. Back when I worked in retail, I had a coworker who was a supervisor-but-not-a-manager who had a lot of mental health issues like it sounds like your boss may (I’m not speculating about my coworker, she was open about this in a not-TMI way to explain what was going on with her). I called her out on it whenever it was directed at me and that seemed to work. Nothing hostile, no annoyance or vitriol, just “Tina, it’s not okay for you to yell at me in front of customers” or “Tina, we’re not arguing. I’m asking you to clarify what you want done so I can do it right.”

      Sometimes this would work and she would continue the conversation more reasonably, other times she would turn on her heel and go to the back room for a while so she could call her shrink and get a quick reset. Either outcome was preferable to what had been happening before and I don’t think it ever occurred to her to try to retaliate. She was trying to work on it though, and would have had to go through the store manager to penalize me, so ymmv and know your circumstances.

      Whatever you end up doing, I hope it’s an improvement over where you’re at and what you’re dealing with now.

  3. Lady Phoenix*

    Ahem… Nope. Nope nope nop nope taking the taxi out of Nopeville to Nope Airlines and heading out a Nopepia.

    No amount of bonuses is worth this headache.

    1. Bea W*

      Truth. Once I got a bonus that had a whole lot of zeros at the end, and all I could think of when my boss presented it to me was “OMG that’s a lot of money. It’s not worth it.” That was the answer to every question I was asking myself about staying in that job, when someone handed me a ridiculous wad of cash money, and instead of being elated I was questioning whether it offset the crazy.

  4. Rachel in NYC*

    My aunt had a boss like this for a number of years and it was hard. OP, you are actually in a better position since at least she is self-aware enough to be aware of be behavior (though those swings are severe). That said, my aunt was able to make it work since she split her time between two offices- while that doesn’t sound like it is an option for you, since the schedule is flexible- on a day she’s in a good place, maybe she’d be willing to agree that one or two days a week, you could work from home. If she insists everyone has to be in the office and you don’t want to leave, just be aware her behavior won’t have a chance of changing unless she wants it to (and she doesn’t).

    1. Naomi*

      I don’t know if the self-awareness makes it better or worse. On one hand, at least she’s capable of recognizing that she’s behaving badly… but on the other hand, that means she knows she should amend her behavior but is choosing not to change.

      1. DecorativeCacti*

        Yeah, you don’t get a pass on being a jerk just for admitting it. Reminds me of people who are “just being honest”.

      2. Rana*

        Yeah, if she genuinely thinks it’s a problem, she should be taking steps to fix it, whether that be therapy, medication, or whatever. Since she’s not doing that, it sounds more like a way to avoid taking responsibility. “Oh, yeah, I’m a jerk sometimes. Sorry!” ::goes back to being a jerk::

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          Some mental health problems can’t be “fixed.” There is nothing in the letter that states that the LW’s boss isn’t doing all of those things, and given her self-awareness of her issues, I’m inclined to think that she is probably on medication, in therapy or both. Those things are not magic, and are less effective for certain mental health problems than others.

          Now, I’m not saying that jerks don’t occasionally hide behind mental health problems as a way to enable or justify their jerkiness. However, in my experience, it’s not the norm.

          1. Ol' Crow*

            Due to my experience with a boss like this, I’m inclined to think that she should be on medication and in therapy but has chosen not to for whatever reason. She’s aware because she’s had enough feedback and period of mental clarity to know what she’s like. But she doesn’t care enough to take care of the problem. But I’m projecting here because that was the case with my most horrible boss ever.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              You are waaaaaay projecting here. Medication and therapy are not magic wands; you don’t immediately begin to function neurotypically after your first appointment or pill. Looking at what the OP has presented here and assuming a) that the boss does in fact have a diagnosable mental issue and b) she is not seeking appropriate treatment for that issue is an epic longjump to conclusions.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Do we know she has mental health issues, though? I mean, OP refers to “anxiety issues,” and the nature of her behavior being pretty volatile, but it’s not clear to me that this is obviously a mental health issue vs. a raging jerk issue.

          3. PlainJane*

            I’m not sure it matters though. A mental illness doesn’t give her the right to abuse employees.

      3. RabbitRabbit*

        Dammit, I said the same thing down-thread in response to the OP, and missed this was here. Yes, exactly.

      4. Jennifer Needs a Thneed*

        The really sad thing is that it feels *awful* to feel all those angry, sad, etc feelings. Someone with mood swings like this might feel justified in their actions, but they’re still having horrible days. They probably don’t have good days to contrast with. They probably don’t really realize that they *could* feel differently inside. (None of which makes them easier to live with.)

  5. LSP*

    OP, I have worked for people like that before, and for me, the trade-offs weren’t nearly as good, and definitely weren’t worth staying. I ended up staying three years at a place very much like that because it was the depths of the recession, and I couldn’t find anything else. It caused me a great amount of stress which led to a lot of physical symptoms (insomnia, increased migraines).

    I can’t tell you if it’s worth you staying there, but I can tell you to listen to any warning signals your body might be giving you, because no job is worth risking your health, mental or physical. If you start to feel a toll being taken by such erratic behavior, start looking elsewhere.

  6. Jana*

    I really thought for a moment that this letter was about a former boss of mine… You should, of course, definitely believe her when she says that she won’t change. Only you can decide if how much you enjoy the work and your coworkers is enough to keep you there, but it seems like you’ve determined this is not where you want to be for the long term. There’s no reason you shouldn’t start sending out applications now. Since job searches can take a long time, it’s certainly possible that if you start looking now, you’ll have clocked a year at your current job by the time you find a new one to move into. Take it with a grain of salt, but, in my experience, the kinds of problems at work you’re describing don’t become less frustrating as time goes on.

    1. k*

      Yeah, four months isn’t very long in the world of job hunting. You’re at a point where you can still stand going into work everyday and aren’t completely burnt out over this nonsense. That is the perfect time to start looking for a new job. You have the luxury of being picky and only applying to and accepting an offer that seems like it would really be a good fit. If wait until you’re at your breaking point to start looking, you may end up in another bad situation out of desperation.

      1. KellyK*

        Good point. Formulate a good escape plan now, and you’re much more likely to end up somewhere you want to be.

        1. KellyK*

          Also, as you’re looking, start socking away money if you can. Both because she might randomly fire you in a fit of temper and in case it gets so ridiculous that you do have to leave with nothing lined up.

      2. Jana*

        You’re absolutely right. When I had a boss who sounds almost exactly like the person OP is describing (minus the reasonable benefits package), I waited until I hit my breaking point to start looking. I jumped at the first offer I got and ended up just trading one awful workplace for another.

      3. LBK*

        This is a really great point. The worst time to start hunting for jobs is when you’re already at the end of your rope.

  7. Sibley*

    Wow. Women like this are part of the reason the rest of us have to put up with crap about “being emotional” (not all the reason, but it doesn’t help). Either she’s got a monumental case of never-learned-self-control, or mental health issues.

    I’d find a new job, but if you can let it go and find the tradeoffs worthwhile, stick around.

    1. Stephanie the Great*

      Oof. Let’s be careful about stereotyping here. There are plenty of crazy male bosses out there, too.

        1. Sibley*

          OP said “owned by one woman” and all pronouns are “she” and “her”.

          And yes, there are plenty of crazy male bosses. People don’t use their poor behavior to discriminate against all men. They do however use one poorly behaving woman to justify treating all women poorly. If you’ve never run into that crap, please let know where you live so I can move there.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Women don’t bear an extra burden of responsibility to represent all women. This boss is bad because she’s a terrible boss. That’s all.

            1. OP*

              OP here- I have worked only for female bosses in my last 10 years in the workforce since college and they other two were AMAZING and helped me so much in my past career of hospitality. Seriously both are accomplished and are great leaders. My boss here I really think has some mental and emotional issues.

            2. KellyK*

              Women don’t bear an extra burden of responsibility to represent all women


              1. LurkingAlong*

                This! This thinking is exactly why women feel they have to not only worry about their performance but also about whether each and every reaction/social interaction in the workplace is going to be perceived as “emotional”.

                In my last workplace I had (and knew of) several managers who had severe anger issues and blew up constantly. They were still considered competent and capable. All of them were men. But as soon as a women was seen crying or getting “emotional” she was immediately stereotyped as not leadership material and considered a person who can’t handle herself professionally. Even if it was on rare occasions. Anger is not recognized as an emotion because it is a “man’s emotion” therefore normal when exhibited by men.

              2. Fictional Butt*

                Yes. If you complain about one woman “not representing women well,” you’re the same as the people who assume all women are emotional because one woman is emotional. It is literally the exact same thing.

          2. animaniactoo*

            Pardon, I know this is off-topic, but I want to HEAVILY push back on this.

            Yes, men DO all bear the burden of representing all other men.

            Every time a guy cries (and worse if it’s in public and nobody died!). Or wants to be a nanny or a nurse, or an elementary school teacher. Because a small segment of men are creepy pervs and pedophiles and and and and ad infinitum.

            It happens All. The. Time. And in many ways it is just as detrimental to men as it is to women. The primary difference is that men generally appear to be “winning” because they are (on average) taken more seriously (as long as they’re doctors and not nurses) and paid more, etc.

            But you too live in the land where all of each gender bear the burden of being discriminated against for the actions of a few. The drawbacks are simply less obvious and don’t get nearly as much attention for it.

              1. animaniactoo*

                Yes, but on average, the women don’t have to deal with people assuming they must be gay or a pedophile because they want to work with children.

            1. Stephanie the Great*

              Yeah, this is really off-topic and probably not the place for such a conversation. What you’re saying is problematic, and the implication that men somehow have it “just as bad” as women in the workplace is just not accurate in the face of loads of data. I do agree that both men and women suffer under the rules of the patriarchy, but it’s important to remember that it’s the patriarchy to blame, and to not get caught up in oppression olympics.

              1. animaniactoo*

                I’m not saying men (or the majority of men) have it just as bad. I am pushing back against the notion that they don’t suffer at all and don’t deal with having to “represent” their gender (or have to turn in their “mancard”), an idea that comes from the perspective that they are “winning” and therefore somehow have only benefits from that.

                I think it is extremely important to remain aware of that as part of readjusting all of our social training and focusing on a need to work together to change it.

                1. Optimistic Prime*

                  Well, you did kind of say that:

                  And in many ways it is just as detrimental to men as it is to women.

                  Nobody said that men don’t deal with issues of being stereotyped at all; the point that was being made is that men face this FAR less often than women do, which is simply fact.

            2. Mike C.*

              Yes, patriarchal structures hurt men, which is a great reason for men to speak up and say something when these situations arise. The expectations for masculinity are rigidly defined and exclude many. It’s good that you recognize this.

              At the same time, you should also remember that the majority of this sort of harm is directed at women. It’s happened longer, in more areas and these same structures also obstruct women who wish for things to change. So it’s not about exclusion, but about knowing that some are being harmed more than others and helping the latter folks first.

              1. Mike C.*

                And if I’m abusing/misusing the academic nomenclature here, feel free to correct me, I’m certainly no expert.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  You’re doing fine Mike. I appreciate having men who will stand up and say these things to other men. It is so important that we can see that “yes ‘abc’ happens” but that it is far from the norm and whatever ridiculous gender norm expectations are placed on men —in the workplace and without are far, far, far less than anything that are expected of women in all walks of life.

                  I am old enough to remember when former president Reagan’s son was a professional ballerina ( believe that’s a correct term for female *and* male dancers, but someone correct me if I am wrong) and the ridicule he faced for wanting to dance…because he was male. Apparently people in the 1980s had never heard of Nijinsky, Baryshnikov, et al. That was absolutely unfair and a gender norm expectation however it was so much *less* unfair than NASA telling Hillary Rodham (Clinton) that she could never be an astronaut because women weren’t —allowed— to be astronauts.

                  Men do not normally have to [sometimes literally] fight for opportunity and are accorded mass privilege from the moment the doctor says ‘it’s a boy.’ Women on the other hand have to fight to have anything even remotely resembling opportunity…from the moment the doctor says ‘it’s a girl.’ Even in 2017.

                  Male privilege, like white privilege, Christian privilege, and many other privileges enjoyed by those in power, and make no mistake men still hold *the power* is something that those of us who are not part of that power structure fight every single day. It’s massively important to have members of the power structure stand up and lend their voice to the cause.

                  To say that men do have the same struggles as women is akin to saying that white people face the same types of discrimination and challenges that people of color do. Absolutely not accurate at all. For the record no matter who is making that type of assertion, male or female doesn’t change things. Many women will say that men face an equal battle: untrue and misogynistic even if the speaker is a woman.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I really appreciated this comment, Mike C.

                Although I also think this general subthread is way off-topic and not really helpful to OP.

          3. Observer*

            That still doesn’t mean that this boss, and people like her, are “part of the reason” why people are stupid and prejudiced about women. The WHOLE reason that people are stupid and prejudiced is because they *are* stupid and prejudiced. If they can manage to understand that when a man does something it’s not a reflection on MEN, they can understand that when a woman does something it’s not a reflection on WOMEN. The failure to accept that has nothing to do with what any given woman does.

            1. Artemesia*

              We have watched another round of male Senators shushing female Senators and calling them ‘hysterical’; it never does seem to end. Just went to dinner with friends last night — 3 couples and once again a very good friend whom I like enormously nevertheless interrupted and talked over me several times and I am fairly assertive in such matters. It is pretty deeply ingrained in the culture.

              My most abusive boss was male, but the OP’s boss really does sound like a nightmare. The only way I could survive here would be to adopt the ‘anthropologist frame’ and draw back within myself and observe the behavior, finding it interesting and amusing. Hard to do when you are being berated for the stupid coffee.

          4. Optimistic Prime*

            Yes, and the fault and blame lies with the people who stereotype others on the basis of one person’s behavior and not the person who acts that way.

    2. Ann*

      I’ve dealt with a man who acted like this, other than he didn’t cry. Irrational hot one moment but not the next; yelling at you for something that didn’t get done to his specifications when he’s already told you it wasn’t your job and not to concern yourself about it; yelling at everyone bc someone used half a packet of hot chocolate, folded over the top and left it in the company provided basket of hot chocolate to use later, (I guess they were supposed to just throw the other half away and do the same in a few hours???) and no, from what I could tell, it didn’t spill over. It was just something out of place for him to wig out about. Micro-manage everything the employees did bc no one was allowed to think for themselves or research anything on their own, or know something he didn’t know, bc that would be questioning his judgement and lord knows, he apparently didn’t hire anyone for their expertise in their field. Yeah…left after 10 months. I don’t handle crazy very well or very long at all.

    3. JB (not in Houston)*

      No, the reason we have to put with crap about being emotional is not because there are some women who have mental health issues in the workforce. Even if we only ever had calm, collected, patient, reserved women in the working world, women would still be labeled as too emotional. Why? Because that argument has never been based in reality. It has always been an excuse. It’s why women who are practically robots will still be labeled as unfit to be in charge. The OP’s boss is to blame for how her office works, but she’s not at all responsible for that label men (and some women) put on women.

      1. KellyK*

        Exactly! If you’re a woman, you can come awfully close to Spock or Data levels of emotional neutrality and still be seen as crazy or hysterical. And even if you do reach Spock levels of measured, logical response, the stereotype just shifts—now you’re a cold-hearted, soulless b-word. For added fun, you can even be viewed as two mutually contradictory stereotypes at the same time!

        1. Artemesia*

          So spot on. In my youth I kept my private life totally out of the office on my second professional job, such that my co-workers were unaware that I had a 5 year old and a baby. I am analytic and professional and not at all emotional on the job. I was thus cold and standoffish although I did in fact do the usual greetings and such — but I didn’t share personal details about my life.

      2. Cary*

        God this is so spot on. I ended up leaving a HR job partly because I got so fed up with so many male and some female colleagues acting like I was being overly emotional when I pointed out their employee’s lack of professionalism was going to blow up in their faces. Of course when it did they were all so surprised.

    4. Turquoise Cow*

      I’m pretty sure this is a mental health issue, unrelated to gender, but I’m also pretty sure that we’re not supposed to armchair dose letter writers or their subjects. It doesn’t help the OP to know the cause, and since there are plenty of women who do not do this, the “women like this” comment is supremely unnecessary and unhelpful.

  8. Turtlewings*

    Since she’s not ALWAYS terrible, and the job has other upsides, I would stay the year just to avoid the job-hopper look — but yeah, then it is 100% time to bail. She’s not going to change, and maybe some people can deal with her long-term, but it sounds like you’re not one of those people. Protect your sanity.

  9. VermiciousKnit*

    You don’t happen to work in a liberal-midwestern-city architecture office, OP? Cause I feel like that’s the exact description of my boss when I worked at one. I put up with it for a little over a year, and while I got yelled at a lot, I got excellent reviews and huge raises and my boss was grooming me to take an active role in various professional organizations. Then, one day in the beginning of the economic crash of the late aughts, a big tax bill plus three clients dropping their projects plus me missing my bus and being 6 minutes late from catching the next one combined on one of her bad-mood mornings and I got fired on the spot. When I protested, she gave me a spiel that in an at-will state they can fire me at any time for no reason at all if they want.

    While there was much good that came of that regarding my mental state, I was at a point in my career where the firing plus the industry-wide layoffs ruined my career, and I had to change fields entirely. It was really hard for a long time to come to terms with that. So, if you think your owner might be the kind to abruptly fire you in one of her moods, look for other work right away.

    1. Sadsack*

      I’d also be concerned about her mood when she receives a reference call. Who knows what she’d say?

      1. Alton*

        That was my concern. I haven’t been in a situation like this, fortunately, but one of the consequences I encountered from spending multiple years in a pretty dysfunctional workplace was that I didn’t end up with many professional contacts or references that I felt I could trust or rely on.

        I would have reservations about devoting too much of my career to a job where I had any reasonable concerns about my manager flying off the handle. What if you stay there for five years and later need a reference from that job but don’t trust her to be honest or fair?

      2. General Ginger*

        I would be concerned about this, as well. Is someone other than boss able to give references, or does it have to be her?

  10. Luke*

    I can identify with the OPs struggle.

    At a previous employer I reported to a man who ,among other grievances, encouraged unethical sales floor behavior and berated the female staff like they were slaves. When I brought those concerns to his manager,I got a shrug and “that’s the way it is” speech.

    So I left.
    I won’t lie- for three months I was eating Ramen and saltine crackers to make the drastically reduced income work as I looked for work. But the experience was a growth opportunity for me to realize the big paycheck and company smartphone wasn’t worth the BS.
    A properly run business doesn’t treat their staff like Israelite slaves in a Ten Commandments movie, and peace of mind is compensation worth more then all the money and PTO on the planet.

    My words to the OP: note this behavior as an example of “How NOT to run a business unit” ,and remember it when you become a Person of Importance later in your career.

  11. MicroManagered*

    My last boss was similar. I’ll never forget the time she stomped around yelling about someone not setting the toaster oven back to HER preferred toast-setting after using it. (Shhhhhhh It was me!)

    One thing I eventually learned as a coping strategy is that some things like that can be ignored. People like this often don’t have a sense of emotional permanence attached to outbursts like that. If she’s upset about the K-cups right now, you can just, not respond when she says those things. And she can choose to stop purchasing regular cups if she wants, but she probably won’t. She may or may not even remember feeling that way about the K-cups the next day.

    1. Paige Turner*

      Agree with your observation that people like this “don’t have a sense of emotional permanence attached to outbursts.” It might help in the short term to recognize that the boss isn’t really upset about the K-cups- most likely, she’s upset in general/about something else, and the K-cups just happened to be the thing that she could pin her feelings on (I’m sure there’s a better/more technical term for this phenomenon). OP already seems to have a good understanding of mental health issues as it relates to Boss. Whether or not you stay in this job, OP, remember that you’re not to blame here. If you minimize your responses and visible reactions to Boss (to the extent that you can), it may help, but don’t feel like it’s your fault if you have trouble doing this or if it doesn’t help.

      1. Artemesia*

        Someone upthread nailed the K-cups. It is about rejecting her gift and thus rejecting her. And not accepting her choice of coffee. It is like an insecure MIL who feels personally attacked because her DIL breastfeeds when she bottle fed or vice versa.

        1. Librarian of the North*

          I know this is off topic but I’m living that exact MIL scenario (also it’s just so she can’t babysit dontcha know).

            1. DArcy*

              Even with an exceptionally mature kid, asking them to babysit their grandmother is a pretty steep challenge.

    2. AFineSpringDay*

      If my former boss wasn’t dead, I would think this was about her! A paranoid, micro managing control freak who didn’t trust us to do our work. I tended to ignore her as well as much as I could, because I realized early on no matter what I did, she wasn’t going to be happy with me. The only reason I stuck with the job is that I have a pension, and pensions are rarer than unicorns in my line of work, and I wasn’t giving it up because she was unhinged. But then she died of cancer, and everything is much better at work now. My new boss is a bit of an absent minded professor-type and doesn’t remember what we talked about, but he trusts me to do my job and doesn’t have random outbursts.

      1. Artemesia*

        ‘but then she died of cancer, and now everything is much better’ have to be the sorriest saddest words in the language. Imagine that being your legacy. I am always astounded that bosses like this have existed in the workforce long enough to become bosses. I had two loons — one eventually killed himself and the other screamed at me for rather inexplicable reasons and took after every idea I presented in meetings — usually minutes before adopting my suggestion not of course credited to me. It was awful. A colleague after one of these meetings said ‘Wow, I don’t get it; you must remind him of his ex wife or something.’ Luckily I had political capital that protected me to some extent, but it was a rough few years.

        1. AFineSpringDay*

          I feel bad for saying things like that sometimes- it’s sad when anyone dies of cancer, but at the same time I’m glad I don’t have to work for her anymore! She had a lot of problems, most of which I realize had nothing to do with me. This is where working in more customer service oriented jobs helped – I’m a master at not being bothered by unhinged people yelling at me.

    3. Izzy*

      Oh, man.
      I admit, I would probably have deliberately set the toaster to a different not-hers setting every day after that.
      Agreed, though. Over the years, I’ve learned that the only response “FINE I’ll just SIT IN THE DARK” merits is “…’kay, do that.”

      1. MicroManagered*

        I might have turned it to the “wrong” setting even when I wasn’t using it… once or twice!

  12. DecorativeCacti*

    Thus sounds like the boss I wrote about on yesterday’s warped thinking thread. One time she yelled at one of the other people in our department for saying goodbye to someone in the hallway in passing then bought us donuts the next day to make up for being mean (but never actually apologized).

    I stuck around for the benefits (lots of vacation and accrued sick leave, dental/vision that costs less than $1 a month, etc) and sometimes I don’t know how I did it. If you can find something else, do it.

  13. lowercase holly*

    i worked for someone like this and was warned ahead of time. i still took the job because of the pay and flexibility. you just have to let it not get to you, remember they are not normal, and the situation isn’t normal. otherwise it is not the place for you. we had a ton of turnover because putting up with that behavior is definitely difficult (and this boss fired people pretty frequently). not everyone is wired to brush it off, and that’s fine.

    1. lowercase holly*

      of course in my situation the boss was out of town really frequently. she was only physically in the office like 1 week every month. otherwise we just had to deal with her on the phone. so that is a big difference!

  14. OP*

    OP here! Wow so weird to see my situation so black and white. It seems so crazy and sad that this is my work life. Things haven’t gotten any better as I am approaching my 1 year mark here. Yesterday she threw a fit because I had paperwork sent from our office in the southern part of the state for an employee who moved here. Whenever she asked me (ridiculous, obvious) questions about why I had the paperwork set here and I would reply, I got a wonderful condescending “I’m just asking questions”. I was only questioned because she was upset about something totally different and she needed to take it out. She loves holding on to her crummy moods. Sigh.

    She plays the martyr card a lot (“I’m so stupid”, “I guess I can’t run my business the way I want”, or my personal favorite “I’m just a horrible person”) when she is questioned or pushed back on and this makes me frustrated and frankly uncomfortable. I already have a toddler at home!

    My husband and I are currently house hunting further out closer to his job, giving me the longer commute so I feel this is a huge incentive to really start looking.

    I am reading and taking in to consideration ALL of your comments! Thanks!

    1. KatiePie*

      Congrats on making it to nearly a year! You’re right that this is a prime opportunity to look. Hopefully once you find something and give your notice, the explanation of “we’re moving and I don’t want to commute/be too far from home/toddler/etc” will be a nice, non-offensive reason so that Crazy Boss won’t hold it against you. Seeing how unstable she is, it would be nice to secure a positive reference because I would guess she would fall on one end of the spectrum or the other, no in between.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      Considering how much she loves wallowing in the crappy moods, I don’t think that makes her self-awareness about it better. I think that’s worse. She knows she has a hair trigger about stupid stuff but doubles-down on making people around her miserable and spreading her awfulness.

      1. K.*

        I definitely think it’s worse – she thinks that self-awareness about the behavior absolves her from having to, you know, cut it out and act like a reasonable person.

        1. Artemesia*

          This. LIke people who grove and self flagellate she does this to absolve herself of being a decent human being. All the self punishment in the world doesn’t unmake bad behavior unless the behavior really changes. You aren’t sorry if you keep doing it.

    3. Kyrielle*


      I will add to this something I’ve seen Alison recommend elsewhere – if you do decide to stick it out, OR if you are job-searching but not yet out the door successfully, one way to help it roll off your back is to make yourself an (embedded) observer in your mind. You are an anthropologist, studying the strange ways of this odd culture (alien species, whatever framing it as works for you – don’t make it so amusing you have to suppress a smile when she loses it, though, I bet she’d think you were laughing at her).

      If that doesn’t work, maybe thinking of how much mileage you’ll be able to get out of the story (after the fact) among your friends might.

      Something, anything, that causes you to observe it from an exterior perspective as much as live through it in the moment.

      1. Malinowski*

        We don’t investigate “odd” cultures – we investigate cultures, period. The general motto is “making the familiar strange, and the strange familiar.” We also don’t just observe, we also simultaneously participate. I just had to clear this up, because (cultural) anthropologists are continually treated as disengaged observers in comments here, and that hasn’t been the deal for several decades now. She could totally do an anthropological project, but it wouldn’t actually look any different on a functional level.

        1. ArtsNerd*

          I appreciate your speaking up about your profession. Would love to see AAM interview you about being a cultural anthropologist!

          Also now I’m trying to think of an alternate framing metaphor instead of doing my chores…

      2. Izzy*

        “If that doesn’t work, maybe thinking of how much mileage you’ll be able to get out of the story (after the fact) among your friends might.”

        Yes! Think of it like your friend’s sucky drama SO from college (IMO, everyone’s got one). On the one hand, it’s super awkward now, but on the other, you’ve got a great story. If you can’t get out of the situation, close your eyes (metaphorically) and think of brunch.

    4. Bea*

      YES! Take the opportunity to change jobs with the relocation, that will be wonderful when searching for jobs. “Why are you leaving?” “We moved :)” It was what saved me when I was trapped in what turned into a hellish position a few years ago. “You’ve been there so long, wow why now?” “I have to relocate.” “Oh that explains it.” Pow.

    5. Liet-Kynes*

      The beating herself up is so irritating. “I can’t manage my emotions, so you need to be my punching bag, then do emotional labor to make me feel better when I realize how abrasive I’m being!”

    6. Carla*

      Sounds like a diagnosed bipolar, narcissistic member of my family. There is no reasoning with people like that.

    7. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      The martyr card (along with everything else) is emotional abuse manipulation. She lays on the guilt, gets you feeling sorry for her, feeling like she’s not so bad, then bam! Hits you with a bizarre and aggressive accusation that leaves you reeling.

      My experience has been that some people let this stuff roll of their back and some can’t. I can’t. I’ve tried, and I can’t. I don’t know how other people do it.

      Moving is a good reason for looking for a new job, so good luck and hope you find something soon!

    8. Princess Carolyn*

      I have family members who act this way, so I’ve gotten good at not taking their comments seriously. When she’s being condescending, ignore the tone/intent — as if you simply don’t hear the sarcasm in her voice — and respond to her words at face value. Stop thinking/caring/wondering about what’s going on in her head, and handle what comes out of her mouth. It takes some practice, but it’s helped me survive a lot of chaos and emotional manipulation.

      Good pay and benefits aren’t enough to make this situation livable long term, imo. But hopefully you’re able to sock away plenty of savings and take some time off while you wait for something better to come along!

      1. Optimistic Prime*

        This was going to be my advice, too, from someone who also has family members who behave this way. Generally I ignore the emotionally charged nonsensical comments (“I guess I’m just a horrible person,” “I suppose I can’t run my business the way I want to”) with a silent stare, and I only respond to an actual statement/question that makes sense (“I transferred the paperwork here because Kate needed it to begin her employment here.” “Well, I’m just asking questions!” *stare*) In my experience, those folks are trying to provoke a rise out of you because they need to involve someone else in their emotional drama. Don’t be the person!

    9. Mike C.*

      I guess I can’t run my business the way I want

      People are in positions of power at the consent of others.

      Bosses can get fired, Owners can go bankrupt, Priests can have their churches abandoned, Presidents can lose elections and even Dictators can be overthrown. The sooner (likely never) your boss understands this, the sooner she can be a more effective leader.

    10. knitcrazybooknut*

      Also be aware that any self-denigration on her part is bait for you to reassure her. She’s supposed to say, “Oh I’m a horrible person!” You’re supposed to respond, “No you’re not! Of course you’re not!” Then she is absolved and she never has to worry about her behavior again. You’re supposed to take her bad feelings, make them better, and hand them back to her. This is indeed emotional labor for which you’re not getting paid.

      On the lines of the observer comment below, you can also imagine yourself in a white lab coat with a clipboard. “Hmmm, the new species is acting quite interestingly today.” Start a blog about it (anonymously). Write it down for your new novel. Tell stories to your friends. Let it be more distant than right in your face. You can subtract the personal investment from it if you try.

      1. Artemesia*

        ‘I am a horrible person’ ‘oh I am soo sorry you feel that way about yourself’

    11. Dzhymm, BfD*

      I would be sorely tempted to get a new job but not give notice; instead, I’d stick around and be 100% agreeable when she goes off like this: “I’m so stupid!”/”Yes you are” “I’m just a horrible person”/”Damn skippy!”

      I suppose that would make me a horrible person myself…

      1. Izzy*

        If so, I am a horrible person with you.

        “I guess I can’t run my business the way I want.”/”I guess I can’t be 5’9 and a D cup, but this is the world we live in.”

      2. AllTheFiles*

        I hope you aren’t a horrible person, because I would be right there with you. I can only ignore all tone, emotion, etc. and stare at a person when they say garbage like that for so long…eventually it would just come right out:
        Her: “I’m such a horrible person”
        Me: “Yes, you are.” (stare blankly)

        1. Lehigh*

          “I’m such a horrible person.”
          “Well, it wasn’t a great thing to do. But it’s good you recognize that, and now we can move on.”

    12. General Ginger*

      The “I’m just a horrible person” schtick is so manipulative! She’s expecting the “oh, no, you’re not horrible, here, I’ll change what I’m doing, please don’t think you’re unappreciated” response, or some facsimile thereof, so she can be absolved of any wrongdoing or guilt, you are actually suddenly the guilt-ridden party, and she doesn’t have to actually change her crappy behavior. She knows she’s like this, and she’s not interested in doing anything about it except throw up her hands and say “I guess I can’t help it”, or “I am really upset about other thing”.

      I really hope you start looking for something else, OP, and find it soon!

  15. Shadow*

    Don’t forget there are positives to working with a really crappy boss. If you do it right, you’ll learn how important it is to be a good boss and you’ll see how bad it can get when a boss doesn’t do those things.

    1. Shadow*

      If you choose to stay you just have to learn to check out emotionally in the same way that you would/should when you hear a stranger say something mean.

  16. Former Employee*

    I wonder why people cling to behaviors that make them unhappy. Since the boss is constantly apologizing, it’s obvious she isn’t ok with her own behavior. However, in the next sentence, it’s “this is how I am and I won’t change”. It reminds of young people who can’t separate their behaviors from who they are and think that making behavioral changes means they are denying/trying to change their true selves.

    I guess what I’m saying is that regardless of the specific behaviors, it sounds to me as if the boss/owner is really immature.

    I’d try to sick it out for as close to a year as possible, so this is a good time to start looking. It’s unlikely that a great job will appear immediately, so it might be about a year before the process yields the right job, notice is given, etc.

    Best of luck to you, OP.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I think is really insightful. I was going to say that the boss seems to have a really hard time separating the professional from the personal, and doesn’t understand that everything her employees do isn’t about her. So, to her, the OP’s caramel coffee wasn’t just that the OP likes caramel coffee, it was a statement that the coffee the boss was providing wasn’t “good enough.” Hence, the tantrum.

        1. Kyrielle*

          It is, and it didn’t occur to me, but now that it’s been pointed out – IF you want to manage this sort of thing (and you may decide you don’t and will just let her run with it!), you could keep yourself alert for similar things in the future, and you may be able to pull something like this (changed for the circumstances):

          “Gosh, I’m sorry. I just didn’t want to impose when you’re already being so generous, and I know my preference for caramel is pretty weird and specific. It seemed selfish to ask for my particular flavor when you were already supplying better coffee than most offices do.”

          …which is gaggingly awful but the way it mixes praise with ‘my fault’ language might work.

          (Mind you, while I’d be managing things this way myself, I’d also be working to run for the hills under these circumstances – because sooner or later I’d lose it under these conditions.)

          Anyway, if that feels like something that might work on her, file it under tactics to try next time something similar comes up. And if it doesn’t, toss it, because goodness knows you don’t need additional mal-adaptive coping skills if they won’t even work. :)

            1. Sara*

              Sometimes my mom gets like this, and that’s pretty much the strategy I use with her. It sucks but at least it keeps the peace.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I was going to say something similar. OP mentioned elsewhere that the boss will say things like “I’m a horrible person.” Sometimes when people say things like that, they aren’t being a martyr type–they really think you think that, or, in the moment, *they* think that. That type of person doesn’t take anything that could in any way be twisted into a criticism (like the coffee thing) because it feels like they are a failure, and maybe everything about them is a failure.

        If someone is like that in every area of their life, and all the time, then yeah, they aren’t changing. They don’t know how.

        1. Turquoise Cow*

          Yeah, and it may not be easy or even possible for her to change on her own. If this has been her personality forever, it’s not like you can just turn that off and start thinking and acting rationally because you know you should. You have to really want to, in order to be motivated to ask for help. She probably hasn’t faced enough of a consequence for her behavior for it to push her in the direction of mental health or whatever she needs.

          1. Liet-Kynes*

            She can work on it, though, not just swing between being a psycho and wallowing in self-recrimination with demands for emotional labor.

            1. Turquoise Cow*

              But why would she? She’s not really facing any serious consequences for her behavior aside from occasionally making herself feel bad (assuming she does, and isn’t just telling OP and others what they want to hear.

              And, work on it, maybe. But change completely? No.

              1. Liet-Kynes*

                No question, but I think there’s a difference between “could, but won’t” and “can’t.” It’s possible for people to change. A personality is not graven in stone. By nature, I tend to be angry and irritable, and it still pops out sometimes, but those are traits I have had to ruthlessly suppress in myself now that I’m a dad and a husband.

                1. Turquoise Cow*

                  Sure, but that’s not a full blown mental illness. Which I’m not saying the OP’s boss has, but.

                  I was diagnosed with depression as a teenager, and I lashed out at my family rather than crying in a corner. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I couldn’t stop being irrational without therapy and medication helping me. And even then, the thing that really helped was to get me out of a horrible situation.

                  The OP’s boss may very well know that she’s being irrational about coffee, but that doesn’t mean she has the ability to cope with this in any other way, and she’s not going to be able to change without help. It’s not the same as remembering not to yell at your kids, it’s relearning everything you’ve ever known about how to cope with things. Her current coping mechanisms (random mood swings and yelling) are working for her. Why would she change?

            2. Bea*

              If by “work on it” you mean she needs medical assistance and possibly medication, I’m on board with you there.

              Calling her psycho is feeding into the idea that mental illness isn’t real, please don’t do that.

              1. Liet-Kynes*

                With respect, none of us have seen any kind of diagnosis whatsoever for this woman, and we have no idea if a diagnosable or diagnosed mental illness is at play here, or just a seriously stunted personality with emotional control issues.

      2. Oranges*

        As a person who has a couple borderline personality relatives I found this behaviour familiar. I’m not saying your boss has that. I’m saying that she is displaying the “take everything personally and (usually) as a rejection” that is common in that disorder.

        My coping mechanisms:
        Know they feel very anxious about being “part” of things. They are phobic of rejection and this appears to me to drive a large part of their behavior. They will bend over backwards for you but also be aware of their swings to the other side of it (eg. “I do SO MUCH for “your name here” why won’t they do the same for me).

        If you become uncomfortable with ANYTHING they want to give you always frame it towards YOURSELF because the other person will always take things personally even when they KNOW they shouldn’t.

        If they do take a simple thing personally:
        Acknowledge their feels.
        State that your choice has nothing to do about them. Eg.” I brought in these cups because I’m very picky about my coffee and I need to buy my own coffee so I can make sure I always get what flavor I want.”
        Let them manage their feels. Continuing to reassure at this phase can be tricky. Generally I advise not to.

        When they’re projecting/insecure (eg. “You’re sure you’re not mad? / I’m just asking!”)
        State your current mental state. Usually the first one will be “No I’m not mad”. Then it gets to “I wasn’t but the constant checking is making me slightly annoyed.” Ramp up as it goes.

        Good Luck!

    2. Emily*

      It really sounds like a mental illness to me. Possibly bipolar disorder, but I’m no psychiatrist, just someone with a mental illness.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I’m really tempted to counter that with a different potential diagnosis, but we’re not supposed to armchair diagnose. :)

        1. Optimistic Prime*

          …exactly the reason why. It’s impossible to conclude that this a mental illness from the sparse amount of information given here, and it also stereotypes and stigmatizes the expression of mental illness. It’s entirely possible that this woman is simply this way because that’s her personality.

    3. Sylvia*

      Sometimes I think this brand of assholery can be a not-entirely-conscious form of self-destruction, if that makes any sense? No, it’s not physical self-harm, but continuing to choose to engage in behavior that has lasting, serious, painful consequences to you is… a thing.

    4. Fictional Butt*

      I had a friend whose behavior was similar, although not so bad. She would also express regret and embarrassment about her behavior. One day, I was talking about journaling, and she told me she doesn’t keep a journal because she doesn’t want to have to reflect on her own actions. That was a real eye-opening moment for me, when I realized that even though she knew her behavior was unacceptable, even though she felt bad about it, and even though she had already faced some serious negative consequences from it, she was not interested in doing the emotional work required to change. That was a while ago though… she has gotten a bit better since.

  17. lowercase holly*

    i’m seriously amazed that bosses with terrible personalities/managing skills stay in business, but i know with my erratic boss, she was totally different with clients. i dunno!

    1. Shadow*

      Shitty personalities can be outweighed by skill/talent/results. Shitty management skills and personality is doomed to fail. The only question is when

      1. DecorativeCacti*

        Sometimes people change when they advance, as well. They let the power go to their heads.

        There are also a lot of people at my current job who got to the top simply because they outlasted everyone else and the people above them didn’t have the guts to get rid of them so they got promoted instead.

        1. KTB*

          That was my last boss to a T. She was a very good project manager, but an atrocious executive director. She had also been with the organization since practically its inception.

    2. Bea*

      It’s the power of manipulation over others. You find people who put up with you and offer them something they want and don’t want to look elsewhere for.

  18. amy*

    “My family situation is great in all kinds of ways — beautiful house in a great school area, my kids are happy here, I love my neighbors, we take fantastic vacations, and I have time for committee work that means a lot to me. Downside: my husband is an alcoholic, he doesn’t want to or can’t change, and he beats the crap out of us on a regular basis. What should I do?”

    It’s not the only house, it’s not the only neighborhood, it’s not the only job. Start sending out that resume.

  19. 2horseygirls*

    Not everything in life needs a reaction. Sometimes you just have to let people do what they are going to do.

    My husband is the unicorn that never takes anything personally. I do not know how he does it – I tend to get SO worked up about the dumbest little things.

    What would happen if everyone in the office just . . . stopped reacting?

    She is continuing this behavior because she gets something out of it, even if it’s the ability to swoop in and provide treats to “make up” for things. If everyone just continues on neutrally, do you think it would even out (think rolling hills vs. Mount Everest to the Mariana Trench)?

    RE: the coffee. If no one else is drinking it, put it in an airtight container in your desk drawer. I did that for years at an office where one of the faculty had a Keurig she let the admin staff use. No point in waving a red flag in front of a bull.

    1. Artemesia*

      Sure solves the coffee problem, but the problem isn’t coffee. You have to have a tactic for every damn thing and you have to guess what the thing is going to be.

  20. Employment Lawyer*

    Or any advice for just learning live with this environment and let it roll of my back like everyone else?
    Do you generally handle crazy folks well, OUTSIDE work? I mean, some people just don’t care much, in some situations.

    If so, this is mostly an issue of adjusting to the fact that it’s happening at work. In that case, file your boss in “crazy” status, whistle, work, and enjoy the VERY considerable perks of working there. It’s like “crazy Aunt Jane” at the Xmas party, or “that crazy Bob guy from accounting”, or whatever.

    If those people generally upset you or you don’t handle them well anywhere, you’ll probably need to look for a new job.

    Good luck!

    I don’t know if the boss is all that bad *overall.* She is offering high compensation to counter working for her, and the firm is small enough that she can find folks who can live with it; you may not be one of them though.

  21. AnonEMoose*

    This might seem like weird advice (but, hey, I’m weird). I’ve been catching up on the first season of “Supergirl” on Netflix recently. If you haven’t seen it, you might find it helpful in your work situation.

    Because, the main character’s secret identity works for a media company, and is the assistant to Cat Grant, who owns the company. And Cat Grant has a number of the qualities you’ve described in your boss. Not all, but enough that there are similarities. It might help you in a couple of ways. For one thing, seeing similar behavior might help you retain your sense of what is and isn’t “normal” in the workplace, and feel less alone with this. For another, you might come up with some new coping strategies.

    The other thing, though, is that Cat isn’t just an evil caricature…she’s depicted as a person. Who doesn’t treat Kara (the main character) very well. BUT also gives her good advice on more than one occasion, and actually does show appreciation at times.

    1. KellyK*

      I also thought of Cat Grant instantly when I read this, though not so much with the crying. In addition to being a fun show, it could definitely give you ideas for coping with an unreasonable boss. In general, picturing the boss as a larger-than-life, too ridiculous to be real fictional character might give some emotional distance.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I’m glad it wasn’t just me! One of the things I really like about it is that Cat isn’t ridiculous or unreasonable all of the time. She also gives Kara good advice and insight…and she clearly cares about her son, although she has a hard time showing it. I like that, while she is ridiculous and unreasonable, she’s also human. Which I think might be helpful to the OP in figuring out how to deal with her boss.

    2. Construction Safety*

      Or take a page from Sheldon Cooper from that documentary series “The Big Bang Theory” and pretend you are on an recon mission to an odd planet & you’re theru to observe and document their behavioral eccentricities.

  22. itsallgood*

    this is unfortunately the down side of many small, one person owned businesses. the workplace takes on the personality of the owner. I spent way too many years working in these small shops. My advice, go to a larger organization. It’s good for several reasons–there is usually more professional management, more training and development, some ability to grow, and written policies/procedures to help if there are disagreements about workplace practices. the downside is that it isn’t very flexible in a lot of ways and you may not a lot of consideration for your individual needs and circumstances.

    1. JulieBulie*

      I agree. The boss’s behavior is the sort that is much less likely to be tolerated in a bigger company.

      OP, it doesn’t matter whether your coworkers can live with that craziness or not; it doesn’t even matter if YOU can live with it. What matters is whether or not you WANT TO live with it, as opposed to working somewhere that you don’t have to.

    2. 2horseygirls*

      Not necessarily JulieBulie. I worked in higher ed, and the BSC types were aplenty, but it’s hard to remove them when they are at the dean level, or have tenure. Good place to learn coping skills!

      1. JulieBulie*

        From what I understand, things are very different in education than in business. There’s no tenure, and it’s easier to get rid of them. It didn’t sound to me like OP was involved in education.

    3. Shadow*

      What’s interesting is most people that act like this in small businesses only do it because their bad behavior kind of snowballs on itself and there’s no one there to set them straight. You know, it’s sort of like if you allow yourself to think negative thoughts you’ll become a negative person.

      1. General Ginger*

        And it’s so much easier for a small group to just cluster in and decide “yep, this is how it is around here, nothing weird, all as it should be!”…

    4. AllTheFiles*

      So very much this. I work for sales teams and my last boss was a male who broke down from addiction issues into a pile of crazy. My current boss seemed really stable and now I’m finding is all over the place emotionally, anger wise, how well she deals with stress, how much she actually cares to do her job, etc.

      I’m not sure if I’m just a magnet for people with mental health issues or if it just happens because a lot of people who can’t hack it in corporate America turn to jobs like this. It is so frustrating though, trying to deal with your own life and mind, without having to worry so much about another person’s (who also happens to be in charge of you).

  23. Workfromhome*

    Start a job search NOW. As long as you keep it under the radar what’s the worst the can happen . You don’t find another job that is better or pays enough? So you stay stuck in the same job you have now. no change.
    The best that could happen is you find a job that satisfies your requirements and doesn’t require dealing with a lunatic.

    While I wasn’t dealing with a lunatic I can tell you from dealing with a very dysfunctional job for years that the act of looking/interviewing helps cope with the day to day lunacy. Its like there is a light at the end of the tunnel and you are trying to get out not being a victim.
    Yes you may need to put up with it while you search but now you can at least daydream in your mind about the day you leave when they are yelling about KCUPS and just let it roll off you rather than taking it personally and stressing about it.

  24. Bea*

    Are you in an industry that relies on references and its a problem if you appear to be a job hopper?

    It sounds like you’re in HR and that means you may be just fine hanging in there awhile to get a decent amount of time in to fluff your resume.

    If you need a reference there, you need to work your exit plan strategy soon to avoid the damages that this unstable person brings to the table. These are the bosses who won’t worry about the laws regarding references and may act a total mess when someone calls to confirm you worked there.

    Just keep that in mind when deciding what you’ll do.

    I’ve seen people locked into these jobs because they see no way out. That’s why they tell you to just roll with the punches and have done so themselves. It’s depressing to me having witnessed it first hand.

    1. JulieBulie*

      From what OP has said, I think there’s a good chance that when asked for a reference, the boss will either say something really nice, or reveal herself to be a total lunatic, depending on what mood she’s in. Maybe that’ll work out okay for OP.

    2. Liet-Kynes*

      What laws are there, exactly, around references? As far as I know, there are none. It’s not against the law to give a bad reference.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I am not a lawyer, but I *think*:

        Only if they say something objectively false, and you can prove they said it, prove it’s false, and prove it had an actual cost to you. (Not because of laws around references, but because of laws around libel/slander, depending on whether they say or write it.)

        Which is…often difficult to prove. Or even discover.

        1. Liet-Kynes*

          Yeah, unless it rose to the level of demonstrable, legal-standard slander/libel – which is an incredibly high bar to clear and usually attempts to do so are unsuccessful – a boss can offer whatever personal impressions of you they want.

          1. Bea*

            There’s a reason places will only answer questions about the dates a person was employed and if they are eligible for rehire. There’s a lot of problems to be had if you don’t want the labor board down your neck.

            That also depends on your region. I’m in an area that jumps to put a business in their place when they tread lines they shouldnt be. I’ve seen and been involved in these from an HR perspective for single owner businesses. They have to follow up on all reports. Even if it’s just a pain in the ass amount of paperwork and the investigation process, it’s no good to open yourself up to it. They’ll comb through your workforce past and present for people who will back their cases.

            1. Natalie*

              I don’t think the labor board would get involved in a slanderous reference case anywhere in the US. That’s a civil issue that is only resolvable through private action, not something covered under labor law generally.

            2. Zombii*

              >>There’s a reason places will only answer questions about the dates a person was employed and if they are eligible for rehire.

              The reason is usually that it’s a shitty company with shitty policies, or an uninformed one that tells its managers that this is the law even though no such law exists (company policy? fine. but don’t say that it’s law unless it is).

              I have an aunt who was a manager in food service and upper management lied to her all the time about fake laws they made up to justify company policies. My mother worked in a non-profit residential health institution and it was the same thing. The call center I used to work at fires people for giving detailed references, because they don’t understand employment laws and don’t want to learn (HR is outsourced to a website in another country, so contacting them is pointless).

              Employment law is complicated, I know, but spreading misinformation about it just makes the problem worse.

  25. Liet-Kynes*

    What do y’all think about pushing back a little?

    >:( “Next time you need to communicate with me better about what you am bringing in for the kitchen!!!11one!1”

    :| “Given that I bring my own coffee in for my own consumption, I don’t really think that’s reasonable, sorry.”

    1. OhNo*

      I think it depends on how it’s phrased. Generally speaking, people like this boss don’t take pushback well – they either take it too personally (“You just hate me and think I’m a jerk, don’t you!”), or they double down (“I’m the boss and I say it is reasonable, so do it or you’re fired!”). But if it’s phrased more subtly, sometimes it will hit home without causing more trouble.

      Although even if OP does push back, I wouldn’t hold my breath for the boss to change. Seems like it’s too deeply entrenched in their personality now, if they’re aware of it and how it makes them look but still act the same way.

    2. Marisol*

      I think pushing back is probably the best strategy, although I wouldn’t specifically do the coffee pushback since the owner has the right to decide what supplies go in the office kitchen, whether or not the policy is reasonable. (I want to comment further with some examples of my own but have to do some actual work now…) But I think a polite refusal for other situations would be great. She may be the boss, but she’s not the master of all she surveys, and abusive behavior should be called out. With the coffee situation, I’d like to see the OP respond by calmly saying, “you’re yelling at me” and addressing the abusive behavior before discussing the kcups. It’s hard to keep one’s presence of mind in moments like that, but I think it’s an ideal to strive for. By not addressing the abuse, by ignoring it and pretending that a civil conversation is taking place, the abuse gets normalized and even rewarded.

    3. General Ginger*

      In my experience, people who do the manipulative handwringing of “oh, no, I’m such a terrible person” generally don’t take well to pushback, they just handwring some more. But it’s possible boss hasn’t had any pushback in a while, and it could hit home. Maybe just call out the boss’s reaction rather than what the reaction is really about — in other words, not “I brought my own coffee” but some version of “you’re yelling at me, please don’t”?

  26. Jimulacrum*

    I had a boss somewhat like this at one time (fits of rage, unclear expectations, screaming at people, berating people for doing what she had directly commanded the day before, totally strung out on caffeine all day). She wasn’t even my direct manager, but the owner of a small, family-dominated company.

    I only had to deal with her occasionally, but when I did, it often ruined my mood for the whole day, and I eventually found myself going home feeling angry and awful. I was far from the only one affected by her like that. One of my coworkers even casually referred to her as “the devil” as if it was her official title.

    My situation was so bad that I didn’t even wait to find a new job, but it sounds like yours might be just tolerable enough to stay long enough to find a replacement first. Being subject to the psychological instability of someone like that is terrible for your own mental health, and IMO is too high a price to pay even when decent money and benefits hang in the balance.

    Find a new job and politely bow out.

  27. Still learning how to adult...*

    Truly, this boss is off the rails. Been similar places; boss doesn’t like what the manager in another office says? Rip the phone right off the wall. Etc, etc. etc. OP, like others have said, start looking right now.

    In an awful sense, 100 years ago such behavior from a male boss might have earned him a genuine beating. Today, physical fights are often against company rules, and never against a woman for society in general (even if she ‘deserves’ it; that’s not justifiable). But we still don’t have culturally acceptable ways to counter such manic behavior.

    Repeat often: Being a boss does not entitle anyone to irrational abusive behavior.

  28. Janelle*

    My boss has the tantrum issue. He is currently mid tantrum because while I was at the hospital with my boyfriend (which he knew about), as he was in surgery he yelled at me for not having passwords to something. I instructed him on where I keep a list of said passwords in the office on my comp and he continued screaming about how pissed off he was at me because it wasn’t there. I go in this am and it of course is right there. I mean screamed at me saying “i now see your true colors and who you really are”. All because I said if he cannot find it I can get it to him tomorrow. Oh and he didn’t even need them at that moment. Just his tirade of wants them now regardless. One of many of his fits. Basically if you don’t bend over backwards at any moment (like when he emails you at 4am while you are sleeping) he throws a fit. Today I locked up the office, slid my key through the mail slot and am done. I have my own company I can run luckily but was continuing to work for him to keep money coming in while we get off the ground. Not worth it anymore. I was shaking like a leaf the whole time I was in the office today I was so anxious and stressed out. I had to block his phone number, emails everything so he couldn’t continue to harass me. I honestly want to move and change my phone number he is so insane.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Wooooow. That’s awful. So glad you are out of there and good luck with your business! At least you know you will be an amazing boss. Hope you get all the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

      1. Janelle*

        Thanks so much guys. I already feel relieved and it’s been mere hours. At the hospital waiting for him to be discharged. Woo hoo. Oh ya and I love my new boss. She lets me sleep in and wear sweatpants to work (ya know my desk in my house).

        1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

          What a fantastic boss! ;) Congratulations and very glad to hear all is well with your boyfriend. Hope he gets well soon!

    2. Marisol*

      You can always have a lawyer send a cease and desist letter if he continues to harass you. Of course you can send one yourself too but lawyering up sends a message and most bullies aren’t really that hard to intimidate. Glad you got out of there.

      1. Janelle*

        Oh gosh I forgot to mention. He said he was calling an attorney if I didn’t provide these passwords. Oh gosh the laughs I had. Enjoy that phone call with said attorney.

    3. General Ginger*

      Yikes. That is horrible! So glad you noped out of there. Best of luck with your new business venture, and a good and speedy recovery to your boyfriend!

  29. Alex Mac*

    This hits close to home. My last boss yelled at me and my co-workers for a long list of ridiculous things including: choosing to breastfeed, over Ryan Seacrest’s radio show, about the office blinds. She also wore a white dress to a co-workers wedding.

    Though we all stuck it out for a year or so – we were in a small office too, only 4 of us (maybe you have my old position and if so, I’m so sorry!). We were able to laugh it off and formed a really tight knit group by accident.

    I wish you all the best OP – keep applying to your next perfect role and keep your head up!

    1. AllTheFiles*

      That may be the most nonsensical list of things to get upset about I’ve ever seen.

  30. The Queen of Cans & Jars*

    *Your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.*

    Not sure if there are any Savage Love readers here, but this reminds me of his DTMFA (dump the mother f’er already). AAM’s version is…YBSAIGTC? :D

    1. Kyrielle*

      We had a discussion of this in the comments of a thread…I think years back now, except in that case Alison was strictly recommending leaving rapidly. (For which I’m still rather pleased with Your Employer Sucks, Get Out! – but it doesn’t work when you’re just saying ‘this is not going to change, decide how to deal with it’.)

      1. Greg*

        As I recall, she did an entire column (I think it was earlier this year, maybe last) where she listed a bunch of people in bad situations, and her response to all of them was YBSAIGTC. Which is very much in the style of Savage’s DTMFA. The whole idea behind that is he was always getting these long letters from people whose “otherwise perfect” partner was lying/manipulative/emotionally abusive/serially cheating/etc. Rather than responding to all of the details in their letters, he cut to the chase and told them to just get out of the relationship.

        I actually think it’s a very interesting phenomenon, in both relationships and jobs, where people can describe their situations in terms that make it obvious to anyone other than themselves that they need a new start. I once spent an entire wedding weekend hanging out with my wife’s friend and the friend’s then-boyfriend. I had heard that none of her friends liked the guy, but based on my interactions with him, he seemed OK. However, hearing my wife’s friend talk about her relationship when he wasn’t around, it was painfully obvious to me, as a casual observer, that she needed to DTMFA (which she eventually did).

        Same deal with letters like the OP’s. In fact, I bet in some cases simply writing a letter like that does as much to clarify the situation as hearing Alison’s reply.

  31. Interviewer*

    Is there anyone your boss behaves around? Magically, all the crazy is held in check for a few hours in a row? A colleague, a client, a vendor, family member, former employee? If so, you’ve got an immature brat who has learned to operate this way because it gets results. She acts crazy, irrational, etc. and a certain subset of the population will actually jump to please her, anticipate her every whim, and keep doing all of that in hopes she doesn’t go crazy again. If she can hire enough of that type, she doesn’t ever actually have to work that hard. The ones who refuse to play the game – either she respects the power they have enough to back off, hoping it won’t create a negative impact on her, or she has figured out by trial & error that she’s not getting results, so she moves on.

    So if there’s someone that keeps her crazy at bay, observe that person like a hawk. Do they push back? Refuse to cave in? Flatter her endlessly? Act disinterested? Make any threats? Deflect her “I” statements? What about body language? See if you can pick up any patterns. You might gain some useful tips here.

    And if she’s like this around everyone – well, yes, that’s probably mental issues that you shouldn’t be trying to diagnose, and you probably should be looking for a new job. In the meantime, you can at least console yourself that while it might be your worst boss ever, this one doesn’t come close to worst boss of 2017 at AAM.

    Good luck to you.

    1. MicroManagered*

      I agree with you–most people I’ve met like this (in my professional and/or personal life) have someone they can reign it in for. Unfortunately, with bad managers, I think the people who report to them don’t have the power differential that that client, vendor, supervisor, etc. might have.

  32. Bostonian*

    At least, I would advise casually looking for another job. You’ll never know if you don’t look whether you can find a job that has all the perks of your current one PLUS a sane boss.

  33. Veruca*

    I had a boss similar to this, and when I left, I was really careful to phrase it as “I’m moving! SO SAD I can’t work for you anymore!” No reason to poke the dragon by telling them anything they can use against you, no matter how satisfying it would be. Might improve the chances of getting a decent reference if you were to ever need it.

  34. Rebecca Z*

    I had this same boss – right down to the coffee. We all hated her preferred custom blend, and had to hide a different, more palatable coffee in a co-worker’s desk. Another time, former boss threw out a banana bread brought in by a co-worker (baked fresh that morning!). Boss had decided to go on a diet, therefore the rest of us had too. Too many times to count were the “mandatory fun” events in the evenings and weekends. You see, because former boss owned the business we were not just employees, we were family – and family spends time together! (gag)

    OP you have two choices: learn to ignore crazy boss, or get another job. I strongly advise the get another job approach. And be prepared to go through a bit of PTSD once you’re in a better position. It really is abuse, and once you start normalizing and excusing it, your own mental health is in danger.

  35. Liet-Kynes*

    I’d just like to share that the news has broken my mind, because I saw the title of this question and I swear I saw “covfefe” for a split-second. Stop the world, I need to get off for a bit.

    1. General Ginger*

      I have to let you know that I read all of this comment in Max Von Sydow’s voice and was ridiculously delighted.

      1. Liet-Kynes*

        New site rule: all of Liet’s comments must be read in Max Von Sydow’s voice, effective immediately.

  36. Bea W*

    So much like my boss. When she’s good, I can almost convince myself to stay, but when she’s nuts I lay awake at night plotting my escape. The roller coaster isn’t healthy. It’s really best to get out before you go crazy yourself.

    On a side note, it’s sad to see so many people have replied similarly about how this could be their work place or their boss. :(

  37. MissDisplaced*

    I’ve always wondered how people like your boss can start and run a successful company or organization. They are often SUCH nutcases and sincerely neurotic people. I wonder how they function at all?

    Your boss will not change. You have to learn to live with this or leave (as many of them are prone to firing you on a whim). I once worked for a male business owner who was the same way (minus the crying part). His moods set the mood of the office and everyone walked on eggshells so as not to set him off on another tirade.

    1. Managing to get by*

      It’s their only option, since they addrrss unable to work for anyone else. Decided early on my career to never again work for a sole proprietor for just this reason.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Yeah, I think you’re right. They CAN’T work for anyone else anymore and so start their own business. But somehow, sometime they must’ve been good to make those connections (or have family money) and get clients?

  38. Noah*

    Your boss sucks. Get a new job. But, remember this: flavored k-cups do affect the flavor of other coffee made in the machine. I wouldn’t let somebody use them on my office Keurig if I owned a small company.

    1. Janelle*

      Oh this. This woman I used to work with would put some hazelnut in and if I used it after her I’d nearly barf. If just end up tossing the coffee I made. Hazelnut is the most disgusting taste ever to me. Luckily in my office with crazy last boss we had equal hate for hazelnut (only us full time in the office) so we pretty much banned it. Hahaha. I swear I’d buy my employee their own Keurig over ever tasting that again. Then again even the smell makes me ill.

    2. Observer*

      Oh, please!

      The problem here is not the taste of hazelnut. If it were then the conversation would have looked something like “Hey, I don’t like the taste of hazelnut and it affects the taste of other coffee. Either don’t use it at all, or keep it in your desk and run a plain water cycle through after you’ve used yours.” (Maybe even leaving out the last part.)

      The rant she unleashed was about her own issues, which sound like a combination of being a control freak and trying to maintain the fiction of being a really good boss who everyone “looooves” despite some really bad behavior.

  39. Stellaaaaa*

    Your boss THINKS she’s a good boss. There’s a category of boss who has a few “good boss tools” in their toolkit and they think that they can do whatever they want as long as they continue to pay well and give you a lot of vacation days. I’ve seen this a few times when working for very small businesses launched by people who reallllllly can’t hack it working for anyone else. It’s an easy problem to solve: make sure your next employer is a larger business. This specific problem doesn’t seem to exist when there’s more of a chain of command and when there are multiple employees with long-term job experience.

  40. AnonAcademic*

    Ok, my boss is not this disconnected from the social norms of humanity, but he does do this thing where when he’s in a bad mood or feeling under a lot of pressure himself, he projects that onto other people’s work. Instead of “why don’t we try X” it’s “why aren’t we doing X already – I thought we were – you should read my mind next time and I’m upset that didn’t happen.” I have labelled this behavior a “mantrum” and my direct reports call them shit fits. The point is that the content of the complaining is secondary to whatever emotion he’s expressing, so as long as you make helpful noises in his direction he generally backs off within hours or days. Last week he was ON my team, very negative and critical during weekly updates – this week he never even replied to the weekly update at all.

    I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t rattle me but here is what has helped:

    1. Imaging him in my mind as an angry muppet
    2. Eating something delicious to distract myself when he is yelling at me/my team
    3. Playing a mental “bingo” game whenever he launches into a common topic of complaint
    4. Rewarding myself every time I keep my cool in a meeting with him that goes sideways
    5. Alcohol
    6. Friends in similar workplaces to vent to
    7. Interests, commitments and relationships outside work that give me a clearer dividing line between work time and personal time
    8. Realizing he does this to everyone and it’s not personal

    There are totally still days where I’m disgusted by his behavior, especially when he punches down, but this job is a stepping stone for me, not an end game, and so for now it’s worth sticking out until my major projects reach completion.

    1. MyTwoCents*

      This is a great list! Thank you. I especially like picturing him as an angry muppet and mental bingo!

  41. No more nonesense*

    If you stay for any length of time, see a therapist. This stuff can take an emotional toll.

  42. NYC Weez*

    I’ve had three really crazy bosses in my career, and pretty much “not working for them” was the only long term solution. I’m pretty easy going and was able to let a lot roll off my back but eventually it always became too much to put up with. I walked out of one job, had a quit date already set on the 2nd (but got an offer ahead of then), and only lasted at the third bc the jerk got demoted.

    In my experience, the people who were able to put up with it long-term usually were either “untouchable” or they were really good at defusing the crazy. Ond of my coworkers was able to figure out Boss #3’s triggers, and would usually avoid being the one to set him off, so she then was often the only person he’d respond to.

  43. Wrench Turner*

    I will gladly steer you towards leaving. It’s just a job, not who you are. Start applying now.

  44. CQ*

    Alison, at what point are you going to make “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” an official AAM category?

  45. Been There, Done That, Don't Want a T-Shirt*

    I once had this exact. same. boss in the same size of office, only her mood swings weren’t quite over nearly as petty things…except I could maybe see my old boss flipping out over her Kcups not being good enough. Maybe you actually work at my old place? Does “Berry” mean anything to you? (Kidding!)

    When I interviewed at my old workplace in 2010, I got a number of hints that the office staff had turnover issues. It was almost a dealbreaker, but it was my path to a “real” job post-college, so I jumped on it. On my FIRST DAY, my boss screamed at me for being too eager, then brought me candy to apologize. I should’ve freaking known then. It never got better. I literally spent an entire year counting down the days until it would look good on my resume to quit, but then…

    Well. Let me just say. By the time you’re hoping a car blows a red and slams into you on the way to work–not to kill you, but just to get you out of work for a while–you’ll be too beaten down and tired to look for another job. You’ll be too tired to worry about how to explain a morning off work away (because your boss will want to know all the details about your gyno exam cover story); you’ll be too stressed to want to worry about a potential employer calling her for a reference and then having her flip out on you and then WHAT IF THEY DON’T EVEN HIRE YOU; and you’ll be too beaten down to think anything better exists. Getting out will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.

    (And she’ll be so offended and hurt about you leaving that you’ll never get that glowing reference out of her, no matter how amazing and incredible you were and how much you billed and how much money you made her. Bitter? Me? What?)

    Your boss seems crazy and laughable and WTF now. After four years (less than that, actually), it will be normal, and it will take you years to relearn healthy work habits. When I had my first good boss after that crazy boss, I literally broke down in tears when he encouraged–ENCOURAGED!!!–me take a long weekend for a friend’s wedding (I was at home and it was over email but the tears were real okay).

    Get out now. GET OUT NOW.

    1. Been There, Done That, Don't Want a T-Shirt*

      Because I’m still fired up about this.

      At that workplace, the secretary had worked there for over 20 years. She regularly came in at 5:30 a.m. and stayed until god knows when–definitely longer than I did, and I usually had to have my $25K/year salaried butt in a seat from 7:30 am until 7:30 pm–and then usually worked at least one weekend day, if not both. She was also salaried (total rip off). My last year there, about two weeks out from Christmas, our boss screamed at the secretary: “If you want to keep your job, you damn well better quit your {holiday musical activity} and put in more hours here. I’m not going to put up with you anymore!” The secretary was already putting in at least 80 hours a week. For about a month out of the year, she needed to leave work ON TIME after COMING IN EARLY in order to get to practice for her Christmas thing. But, nope, it was just interfering too much with the job.

      I was the first person to quit after a major reshuffling of the business. When my boss realized that the old vacation and sick-leave pay-out policy would mean I would get a boat load of cash from her pocket, she retroactively changed the policy…and screwed the secretary out of YEARS of sick time and vacation time. I also got screwed, but I had a different job and I WAS EFFING OUT OF THERE.

      My boss also scheduled a major huge ginormous work event for the week of my honeymoon (I was two years into this job). Do you think she cared? She told me I could only have my honeymoon if the major huge ginormous work event got cancelled beforehand (I’m trying to be vague here…). I was young enough, dumb enough, and desperate enough to say, “Oh, I should have planned my honeymoon earlier and let you know! I’m sorry.”

      All of this is just to say and add to my original comment: Small business owners who are like yours and mine demand a special brand of loyalty, but they don’t give it back. They say you’re all family, but they’re the golddigging third-cousins-removed who are waiting to go through your house after you die. Whatever you’re expecting to get out of this position, you’re not going to get it. Expect her to screw you, sabotage you, and manipulate you at every turn. Please don’t learn it the long, hard way. Get out get out get out.

  46. Christine D*

    Are you in NC? Your boss sounds EXACTLY like my old boos, down to the personal loans and small office. I handled it for about 2 years before every day started to feel more and more like a punishment. I would cry on my way to work, cry on my way home from work, and sometimes cry at work. I finally had enough, and after getting screamed at for following her precise instructions I gave my 2 week notice that day with no job lined up. It was the best thing I ever did.

  47. Safely Out of Reach*

    I only just read this now, and I haven’t the time to go through 244 previous comments. My gut reaction is probably one that nobody should try, but it amounts to (1) keep your temper, and (2) calmly respond that [whatever the boss did this time] is uncalled for and you know it. Don’t wait for her to come back later and say it herself, make it clear as it happens. The idea is to hold up the mirror for her to see herself.
    A good idea? Almost certainly not. But just maybe, since Ms Jekyll recognizes the issues with Ms Hyde, the cycle can be cut short. If she wasn’t always coming back as sorry I wouldn’t even think of such a crazy idea.

  48. Melissa*

    In a very similar situation. I have started looking for a new job, however, I am having difficulty putting into words why I’d like to leave my current company without going into detail that would make me come off as unprofessional. Advice?

  49. All Hail Queen Sally*

    I had a psycho Executive Director once. In addition to all the above personality “quirks,” she loved firing people. When I discovered a black widow spider had made a web in my front yard, I named it after my ED and every day when I got home from work, I would go to the web and ask “Who did you kill today, Lenora?” My coworkers loved hearing about little Lenora. I would make up all kinds of stories about her. The office stress made us coworkers much closer and we still meet for lunch every so often.

  50. Liz T*

    The reason your job pays so well and has great conditions is because you are getting “danger pay”. She has to bribe people to put up with her s**t. If you want to stay, stop takjing everything she says seriously. Just go with the flow. She’ll have forgotten about it tomorrow!

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