my boss had his wife do my coworker’s assignment

A reader writes:

We have a new department head who started about a year ago. He is my age (young-ish) and has a lot of enthusiasm and ideas. That being said, we work for a large government agency and there are a lot of rules, budget issues, etc. A lot of things he wants to try have already been tried, or are not allowed etc.

Now we are planning our big annual dedication event. The great thing about having a new leader is that he wants us to try new things and make it bigger and better, but he won’t tell us what his vision is and then when we come up with something, he says no.

He asked a coworker to make the website for the event. She made it, he didn’t like it. She remade it per their meeting and he still didn’t like it. He then came in the next morning and said his wife (!!) had made the website, but prefaced it by saying “don’t be mad.” Well, if I were that coworker, that was when I would have taken an opportunity to have a WTF/come to jesus discussion then, but she didn’t.

I was put in charge of VIPs and food, etc. I do this regularly. I had meetings with coworkers, vendors, etc., developed a plan, and then turned it in and it was completely nixed/changed. Again, wasting my time and others. So he’s either “testing” us and wanting to see what we come up with or he’s just clueless so when we ask him what he wants and he says for us to plan it and doesn’t give specifics, well, he should let us plan it.

I can handle this for this one event but after the event is over how do I/we approach that this method is impractical?

Wow. There are two separate problems here: one is that he sucks at delegating and communicating clear expectations, and the other is that he thought it was okay to have his wife do someone else’s job.

Having his wife do an employee’s work is messed up on a bunch of levels — and the biggest one is that it’s demeaning to the person who was in charge of that work. The message it sends is “I don’t think you’re capable of this, so I’m going to have someone who doesn’t work here or have any known qualifications for the job do it, simply because they live with me.” It devalues your colleague’s work, and it conveys that he doesn’t think it’s worth investing the time in working with her on her job to get it right.

Your coworker isn’t the one who wrote in, but she’d be on solid ground in raising this with your boss if she wants to. She could say something to him like, “It’s important to me that we communicate well enough that I’m able to understand what you’re looking for and incorporate it into my work. I was taken aback that you asked your wife to do a piece of my job and I hope in the future you’ll work with me directly instead.” Given the dynamics with a new manager where you’re all just getting to know each other, she might prefer to wait and see if it happens again before she addresses it — but it would be entirely reasonable for her to say something now if she wants to. (And really, he needs to be called out on this and to hear that it’s not okay.)

To be clear, when a piece of work is absolutely crucial and must be done in a specific way in a short period of time and the employee it’s assigned to isn’t getting it, it’s fine for a manager to step in and find another way to get it done — ultimately getting important, time-sensitive work done is the immediate priority. But if that happens, it shouldn’t be framed as “don’t be mad” (!). It should be framed as “this is important and it’s got to be done quickly, so I’m going to ask (other coworker) to handle it since she’s done this before, but let’s talk later this week about what I was looking for here so that you’re set for next time.” (And not only did he not do that, but it doesn’t even sound like this was crucial enough to justify reassigning it in the first place, totally aside from the wife issue.)

Then there’s the issue of him sucking at setting clear expectations. He either needs to delegate enough authority to you and your coworkers to do your work the way you judge will best get the outcomes you’ve agreed to, or he needs to be more specific about how he wants it done at the outset. Right now he’s not doing either of those things, and that’s wasting your time and setting you up to be frustrated and demoralized.

It’s true that sometimes a perfectly good manager will assign something and not realize until it’s turned in that they needed to be clearer. That happens to all of us! But when it does, the manager needs to figure out that’s happened and correct it.

At some point, you might want to say something like this to him: “I’ve noticed that when you’ve delegated work to me, after I complete it, you tell me you want it done a different way. I don’t want that to keep happening, so I’d like to spend more time talking at the outset of a project about what you’re looking for, what the final product should be, and if there’s a particular approach you want me to take. Otherwise I’m likely to keep putting time into work that isn’t what you’re looking for.”

The complication here is that I suspect he may be bad at doing that — or is just lazy in his thinking, doesn’t bother to take the time to think things through at the start, and finds it easier to just react to something once it’s turned in. So you may need to be really proactive about drawing details out of him (“what I’m thinking I’ll do is XYZ — does that sound right to you?”). But at some point you may also need to have a big-picture conversation with him about what kind of autonomy you want in your role, and the level of trust he should have in you to figure out how to approach things that are part of your job if he’s not giving specific guidance to the contrary, and the demoralizing effect of letting you continually invest time and energy in things that he repeatedly changes at the end.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 194 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon From Here*

    I’d guess the agency employees’ union would be interested to hear that he’s given work to his wife.

    1. Anon and on and on*

      I would so kick this information somewhere. You have to be kidding me. “Oh, HIS team, yeah, he had his wife doing all the work.”
      Oh, hell to the no. Do not go down with that ship.

      1. JessaB*

        Not to mention if this is government work is he giving his wife access to systems she should not have access to? How can she do a website without having access to the actual log ins and things you need to make said site?

        1. Rumbakalao*

          This was my thought. My SO has a clearance . I do not. I do not work in his field at all anyway, and if he had given me work to do and access to the resources needed to do it there would be some serious repercussions. That is absolutely something that can be reported.

          My guess is that they are government affiliated but aren’t actually government and do not actually have the restrictions that would get him in any real trouble.

          1. Cat mom*

            Some of us work on publicly available information for the U.S. government. The drafts could be reviewed on paper or, say, in MS-Word by an external source without repercussion, but the logins would be way off limits.

            That said, this was handled appallingly. The manager sounds untried and impulsive. “Don’t be mad” is about as clueless as “No offense.”

        2. AnnaBananna*

          You can very easily create a dummy website with a free wordpress account and then have your developer recreate it, or have it attached to the server – all without her ‘having access’. Very very easily.

          1. JessaB*

            This guy does not seem to have the sense to do it this way, though, I have a feeling that idea never came up. He doesn’t seem to have the ability to work things out like that.

          2. OP*

            OP here, this is what she did. They did not alter the real website, the webmaster in IT or me would do that. They/the wife just created the whole thing to submit and didn’t use staff.

    2. Alli525*

      THIS. And since it’s government work, I imagine there might be some issues with security checks, or at the bare minimum a HUGE unpaid-labor issue.

    3. Emily K*

      Yeah, my first thought was that he either had to pay his wife as a contractor at additional expense to the agency over and above their existing salary budget, or more likely, his wife did the work unpaid in violation of federal labor laws. There’s no “unless it’s an employee’s spouse who performs the work” loophole in the law that says companies must pay their workers.

    4. Liane*

      I know it wasn’t the question but I was surprised Alison didn’t go more into who the OP could talk to who had standing to address the “Giving work to someone who doesn’t work here, especially your SO is unprofessional and maybe against the rules/law” issue

    5. LQ*

      I saw the head line and was ready for a huh that really isn’t great and then I saw government and went NOPE! So hard. Not that you might not still have unpaid labor and other issues if it was a for-profit, but there are a lot of checks and institutions in place to slap this down in government.

      1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        I’ve been wondering what level of government and where. I can’t imagine a government agency where having your wife work would be according to policy or a good idea. But depending on where, there may be fewer checks and balances or places to go to complain. For instance weaker unions, or general understaffing, combined duties….
        Basically, I’ve seen government agencies where it wouldn’t surprise me to find out this had happened.

        1. LQ*

          Yeah, OP says large government agency. And new boss is department head, but that could mean a lot of different things. I could see someone referring to one of my coworkers as a department head which…true…but also there are lots of people above her, like 9 to get the governor (8 to get to an appointed by the governor spot).

          Sometimes turning internal audit spotlight on your own area can feel harsh but can be really valuable, and it might be worth considering especially if there are other issues with this (serious understaffing, messy duties etc). Even if you are in a place where you have those other issues where it could happen (and clearly has) you can still find a path out I think. (Unless you have other places where all the scrutiny is going that are embroiled in scandal on fire.)

          1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

            “Large government agency” looks different from state to state or county to county or city to city and its very possible to be large and poorly funded or slipshod.
            I work for a large government agency with great controls. Internal audits would have been on this immediately. I agree if OP works for a semi- functional agency contacting HR or internal audits is an option to consider.
            But before that I came from another large government agency, same level of government, that didn’t even have an internal auditor. And if I’d contacted HR for something like this not only would they have at most slapped the guy’s wrist, it’s likely they would have let slip who told them. In that kind of agency, I would probably put more effort into my resume than into reporting.

  2. Anon and on and on*

    I can imagine his interview. He came in with ideas blazing, a fresh new perspective. Change! Modernize! Streamline! Improvements! He’s ready to push up his sleeves and get to work! Unfortunately, working is not managing. Leading is not doing (behind the back of a staff member, no less). Whatever he promised to do when he was brought in, is irrelevant (sp?). He was hired to manage.
    It’s not even that he’s trying to run his department like his family, “hey honey, make me a website, exactly like this,” but that he’s not running it at all. He gives you assignments to keep you busy while he does the work the way he wants.
    Who knew there could be something worse than micromanaging?

    1. AnnaBananna*

      Yep. It’s his youth and lack of vision that leads me to think that Alison’s advice that he’s a lazy thinker might be spot on. When you’re overwhelmed it can seem way easier to just have your staff try out a bunch of things while you say yay or nay – but it’s incredibly short sided due to long term budget and morale issues.

    2. chickaletta*

      He’s the kind of guy who gots through school on personality, not grades. You know the one – the charismatic one who showed up for class once a month but when he did he’d engage the professor on everything they said and even though he didn’t do the reading he’d bring up some other text and get the professor to talk about that instead. Then he’d hang out after class to come up with a creative assignment to make up for all the other ones he missed and turns out the teacher really loves it….then nobody would see him again until finals.

      1. TardyTardis*

        I have to admit that I have played the game to some extent–at a group final (graded on participation), the professor asked something that I was really up on, and so I plunged right in and gave a concise explanation of stagflation and why a Phillips curve wasn’t really helpful (yes, it was 1974 and I’m old). I finished, and then he raised another topic I wasn’t as familiar with, so I Graciously Sat Back to let other people talk.

  3. CatCat*


    If I were the coworker, I would be going to my grandboss. My spidey sense is tingling that you can’t just give work to non-employees (and especially a relation!) just ‘cuz.

    OP, I hope you’ll use the scripts for your own issues here and that you’ll update us.

    1. CatCat*

      Gosh, the more I think about it, if there’s an ethics hotline or something like that, OP might want to call it for guidance on this wife thing.

    2. Psyche*

      Aren’t there laws about for profit businesses having work done by “volunteers”? And if he did pay her that is a clear conflict of interest.

      1. CatCat*

        From the post, it’s government position. Government usually has anti-nepotism laws, there could be a bargaining unit agreement (though we don’t have that fact from the OP), and specific processes for hiring outside work.

        When I was a federal government employee, we could not volunteer (this came up right before some potential furloughs due to lack of budget being passed and we were told in no uncertain terms that we could be fired if we worked during furlough.)

    3. Anna*

      Yeah, and I am not an expert in copyright law, but I think there might be a potential legal issue with the website. Typically employers keep copyright for the work they hired for, but if someone did that unpaid, who owns the copyright to that website?

    4. OP*

      The grandboss is not someone I would go to unless something VERY severe was going on like embezzlement, child abuse etc. This is not that.

  4. Où est la bibliothèque?*

    Wow, that’s egregious. My guess is that this guy feels like he has total ownership over these projects, and his staff (and wife!!!) basically exist so that he can be satisfied. Like making movers rearrange the furniture in your new house in various positions until you like it.

    It doesn’t even occur to him to think of things as team projects or to think that his employees will feel invested in the outcomes or that they’ll have any stake outside of helping him. Clueless and completely self-centered.

    1. Anon and on and on*

      I was thinking of this guy as I wrote above “don’t go down with the ship.” And I can’t stop picturing Edward Hermann in Overboard, screaming “Mutiny!” and trying to harpoon Goldie Hawn. Because his compass has slipped a couple degrees from due north if he thinks, “don’t be mad, I had my wife do it,” are words that should ever be said in an office.

    2. Salamander*

      I worked for a guy like this many years ago. I should have known I screwed up in taking the job when people offered me condolences on my first week “meet your co-workers” walk. He was a “kiss up, kick down”-style manager. I learned that he had burned out three people in my position in less than two years prior.

      He constantly changed what he wanted. Constantly. He would say to do x, and I would do x. Then he’d think he wanted y. And I’d do y. And y would sit in his office for a week until a day before it was due, and he’d want z *right now.*

      I stayed in that job for five months. It was not worth the aggravation to me.

  5. LKW*

    If I give my team directions and upon seeing the results, I don’t get what I envisioned, that’s entirely on me. Unless I’ve given them explicit instructions that can’t be misinterpreted, it’s my responsibility to communicate clearly.

    You’re going to have to manage up and possibly bring his manager into this – in particular about having someone not contracted or employed by the government work on a government project. That’s got so many red flags that he needs to know that’s not to be repeated.

    1. Psyche*

      Exactly. I now refuse to do craft projects with a friend because they have a vision but are not good at communicating it. I just won’t go down that road anymore.

    2. Antilles*

      Honestly, I’m not even sure it’s a communication issue. Reading OP’s letter, I don’t think it’s that he’s giving unclear instructions or allowing for interpretation, I think that he doesn’t even have a clue what he’s looking for period.
      You’re right in general that if the results are bad, it’s the manager’s fault…but I think it’s more than just bad communication, it’s that he doesn’t have a vision period.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        He’ll know his vision when it walks into the office, climbs onto his desk, and gives him a big hug.

      2. Lance*

        Agreed on that point; from the sound of things, he’s telling people one thing, then deciding, when he gets that thing, that he doesn’t like it. In which case, I wonder how worthwhile it may be to go over his head sooner rather than later, since going back and redoing something because director doesn’t like it after all is creating a whole lot of time-wasting and dropping morale.

      3. Myrin*

        Yeah, I was actually somewhat surprised when I saw Alison bring this up as a communication issue when, reading the letter, that didn’t seem to factor in at all to me. It reads to me like this guy can’t (or simply doesn’t) think in greater detail than “Thing”, leaving it to his subordinates to figure out what SubThing 1, SubThing 2, etc. are and how they fit together, and then can tell when he sees it that, well, this certainly isn’t what he had envisioned!

        I do agree though that whether this is actually the case or not, it’s certainly best to bring it up as a communications issue.

      4. AdminMeow*

        The least he could do is be honest about it. I worked with a boss who straight up told me “I can’t picture what I want, I can only look at something and tell you what I like/don’t like about it”. Yes, it was incredibly frustrating to come up with several versions of everything for them to review.

      5. Damn it, Hardison!*

        I worked for a manager who was very much as you described. My approach was to only do a very rough draft of whatever she wanted me to do, then run it by her. I knew it wasn’t what she wanted (if only because she was so vague) but once she saw something it was like her thoughts crystallized and she was able to articulate what she wanted. I wasted a lot of time trying to get it right out of the gate, before settling on this approach, which worked very well in the end. Of course, I didn’t have to worry about her outsourcing my work to her spouse, which is a whole other problem.

        1. Oranges*

          I would have this same issue with design. I don’t know what I want until I see it and then I’m like “YES! THAT!” Aggravating but thankfully I don’t have a job where I’m directing designers. If I did… I’d probably have to pay them above average for the PITA tax.

        2. OP*

          Yes, this is a good idea and is actually what we did for our meeting yesterday with him, which went well!

    3. MuseumChick*

      This. It reminds of the saying the The Art of War. I’m going to butcher it, but it’s something like: If orders are not followed because they were not clear, it is the fault of the commander. If the orders were clear and they were not followed, it’s the fault of the solider.

      1. Qosanchia*

        The full quote is, “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame. But, if orders are clear and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.” It’s a solid point here, because no matter how the situation is parsed, this manager is sabotaging his own employees, and is ultimately at fault for any fallout from this fracas he created.

    4. Emily K*

      Just wanted to +1 that this is a perfect use of the phrase “managing up.” In a previous post I learned and have since seen reflected in the comments that a lot of people think it’s the same thing as “sucking up.” But this is the perfect scenario: You need to effect a change in someone who is above you in the management hierarchy, so because you don’t have the “authority” tool handy that you would for someone below you in the hierarchy, you need to figure out what other tools are available to get the person above you to buy in on the change you need made to make your work life run better and more smoothly.

  6. AnonEMoose*

    I don’t have a lot of advice, just empathy for the OP. Your boss sounds a bit like this: “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” Which I personally find incredibly frustrating to deal with.

    In some situations, I’ve found it helpful to come up with two or three options near the beginning of the process, and ask the boss if any of these are what they’re looking for, or which comes closest. Sometimes having something to look at does help them narrow it down, at least. I don’t know if that would apply to your situation, but it might be something to consider.

    1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      I have the same feeling also, that he doesn’t know what he wants until he sees it. Either his wife knows him well enough to know what he likes or he stood over her shoulder telling her what to do.

      I agree with AnonEMoose’s suggestion that you do 2 or 3 rough sketches and present them to him and see which one he likes.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Yeah, this can be a normal part of brainstorming. EARLY in the process–I’ll write a quick sample focusing on one thing, recast it focusing on another thing. Or the expectation is that the first chapter is going to go through a wringer as people figure out all the things not working. But “I’ll know it when I see it” is only a tolerable guideline in a very narrow range of jobs. Ones where there are not deadlines, for example.

    3. Ellex*

      I used to have a boss that had difficulty expressing what she wanted. I later realized that she can’t visualize things, which is inexplicable to me but apparently she’s not the only one with this issue. I also found that the best tactic was to come up with several sample options and ask her for feedback, because once she actually had something to look at, she was able to give more explicit instructions.

      I found it very stressful, as it’s completely counter to my work style, but she was otherwise a great boss, so it was worth adjusting to her needs. Although I never did quite get used to the amount of trust and autonomy she gave me!

    4. always in email jail*

      I can often be a “I’ll know it when I see it” person when it comes to things like designing a website for an event. BUT I’m self-aware enough to communicate that. I’ll make it clear that the person shouldn’t spend a bunch of time perfecting what they come up with, but that I’d like to see 2 or 3 templates/design ideas and then we’ll meet in person to discuss and refine. I think the key is telling the person that you’re not looking for a perfected finished product, but a starting point that will likely be edited. Otherwise, someone pours a lot of time and energy into something that gets tossed away

      1. AnonEMoose*

        For me, this is a lot less frustrating – sometimes, it’s about setting expectations. “I need you to come up with 2-3 options for this and we’ll figure out how to proceed from there” is very different from “Do this. No, not like that.”

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah–if you want a couple of roughed up sketches to give you a general feel, you need to communicate THAT really clearly. Don’t make people slave over the details when you don’t even know what the final thing should look like.

        Sometimes people are trusted with a lot of autonomy, and “Give me a website that does A and B” means “Give me a finished, fully functional design that can slip right into place; I’ll glance over it for minor tweaks once before it goes live.”

      3. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yeah, I was going to say, this sounds like a great place for some iterative development. Do a little bit, get his feedback on what’s been done so far, repeat. Going dark for weeks and then showing him the finished product does not sound like it’s going to work with this guy.

      4. LostTime*

        I have a boss who unfortunately can’t even extrapolate from an early draft. I have to get my work to a stage that’s several rounds of editing and polishing on my side before he can tell me what he likes. He’ll fixate on the rough parts of the rough draft otherwise, and I always need to be super specific about the level of feedback I need from him at each stage or he’ll start marking up comma usage or dummy text. I also have to tease out exactly what the concerns are and am gradually training him to tell me what’s not working vs. what he thinks I should do to “fix” it, since that’s not his skill set.

        It’s a lot of time and energy, and can be super frustrating. We’ll frequently rush the final stages because I’ll get deep into a direction to find out it’s not what he was looking for. My predecessor used to push back really hard when she disagreed with his concerns or edits, especially as time ran low, but I’ve found that those aren’t typically battles worth fighting. Even when I disagree with the feedback, it’s extremely rare that it’s something that will ‘break’ the piece or otherwise jeopardize its goals. When I’m worried it will, I do push back hard and make my case. And in that case he’ll frequently defer to me because he knows I don’t do that over every little difference of opinion.

        It takes up a LOT of my time and job that could be done much more efficiently with earlier direction, but it’s a small part of my boss’ job. AAM’s point that his time is literally more valuable than mine is something that I keep in mind and keeps any resentment from brewing.

        1. always in email jail*

          This is a lesson I had to learn on the manager side, as well. If it’s a task with room for creativity, it’s not going to look exactly how I would have done it, but I have to accept that I delegated it for a reason. Which means I have to let certain things that aren’t “make or break” go for the sake of getting it done and not running off an employee.

    5. Emily K*

      It actually surprised me when I became a manager how easy it is to do this to your reports. I would have an idea in my head, but I didn’t want to micromanage, so I would specify to do A, B, and C, and encourage my employee to make decisions on everything else herself. And she’d come back with something that was so different from what I’d been imagining that I hadn’t even considered that it was within the scope of variation I’d permitted.

      The thing was, I’d anticipated that she would make choices on D, E, and F, but I hadn’t even considered that G, H, and I existed because they were sort of implicit things that I always did the same way every time, so I was blind to the fact that I was actually making choices about them.

      Eventually I got the hang of it, but it’s a whole new skill to learn to make visible to yourself all your own invisible choices.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Things that I always did the same way every time, so I was blind to the fact that I was actually making choices about them.

        Unknown unknowns! The suckers will trip you up every time.

      2. LostTime*

        I’ve definitely done this before and crashed and burned on the followup feedback. Learrrrning currrrrves.

      3. AnonEMoose*

        I actually learned about this through my gaming experience. Game Masters (GMs) sometimes refer to this as “Situation 11.” Basically, when you, as the GM, are putting together a scenario for the players, and you think of 10 ways the players could resolve the situation…they will use the 11th.

        And most of the time, their solution is entirely within the bounds of the scenario and the game rules; it’s just something you didn’t think of. It’s taught me a lot about my own thought patterns and blind spots.

        I’m not a manager in my paid job, but this experience has really helped me learn about clarifying questions to ask when my manager gives me a task. Or when I’m working with coworkers on something.

        1. Smarty Boots*

          This happens to teachers. I’ve had students complain about the length of some my assignments (the directions), but if it’s important for them to learn to do XYZ, I’ve got to make sure they know it. Otherwise, QRS gets handed in.

      4. TardyTardis*

        I had you for a boss…and you had me for an employee. GAAP can be expressed many different ways, depending on who your supervisor is, but ExBoss could never get her head around the concept.

    6. Marthooh*

      This is good advice in general, but OP says the coworker…made it, he didn’t like it. She remade it per their meeting and he still didn’t like it. He doesn’t know much about management, he just knows what he doesn’t like.

      1. Salamander*

        Decisiveness is a trait that good managers need to develop. Working for indecisive managers is hell. Gathering info to make a good decision is one thing. But being chronically indecisive and power-trippy about it is a great way to lose good people quickly.

      2. Marthooh*

        Oh! And he did much the same with OP’s plans for VIPs and food. That doesn’t sound like an inability to visualize, it sounds like he’s expecting people to read his mind.

        1. LKW*

          I repeatedly say at work “As my skill set does not include ESP, you’re going to have to tell me what you want and if you have examples you like, by all means, send them my way.”

      3. designbot*

        But why would she make a whole website with only that one conversation for input? That’s a level of autonomy that is crazy to me. Consider that if they hired someone outside the organization to make that website, there would be no fewer than probably four meetings about it. Quite possibly more.

    7. designbot*

      Yes, I was scrolling down to say something like this! It sounds from the post like OP and her coworkers are used to going and doing a thing, and then coming back to their boss when they consider it “done.” That would never fly in my office—if you think it’s done, that just means you’ve wasted your time polishing a turd. My strategy with someone like this would be to sketch or outline how you plan to do it, or a few options complete with pros and cons of each, and run those by him before embarking on the full scope. That way he can see it start to take shape and react to that before you’ve sunk a lot of time into it.

  7. Hooray College Football*

    Here is a fun fact: At U.S. Government Agencies, it can be Antideficiency Act violation to accept voluntary services. Violations of the Act can lead to discipline for civilian employees, including potential written admonishment or reprimand; reduction in grade; suspension from duty without pay; or removal from office. Link to GAO website in user name.

  8. Psyche*

    Yes. Sometimes showing a first draft can help someone to vocalize what exactly they want because it is clear what is not being communicated.

  9. Mockingjay*

    If the agency is federal, having the wife work on the website violates a plethora of security and privacy laws and should be reported. Immediately.

      1. Works in IT*

        This. So very much this. What if the web design work involved working on the xml or php files? Now she could possibly know a variety of things about their back end structure depending on what was and was not in a header file!

        1. pleaset*

          And what if the agency was part of DoD?

          What if the office was aboard a submarine and the wife came aboard? Even worse!

          1. Works in IT*

            I mean… I’m giving the manager the benefit of the doubt here and assuming he’s one of those people who think minor bending of the rules is okay but major breaks are not, and not extrapolating beyond the behavior already described.

            The place where I work isn’t government has lots of people who don’t see anything wrong with breaking the lock your workstation when away policy if there are coworkers nearby to “watch” their computer, but they would never give a stranger access if the stranger walked up and wanted to use it to access privileged data.

    1. OP*

      Not federal and they/she didn’t change the site themselves, they just did the mockups to be submitted to IT.

  10. Greg NY*

    He’s a bad manager by having his wife make the website just because he didn’t like the one made by the LW’s coworker, instead of sitting down with the coworker to go over his concerns. Good managers try to build the careers of those that report to them. If this happened to me, I would be incensed. I would definitely sit down with him, with the hope of getting him to change. However, given that he has tried to implement various things already that weren’t feasible, I wouldn’t be holding my breath. He sounds like someone very set in his ways and he most likely falls under the category of “your manager isn’t going to change”.

    While he’s doing a bad job of managing and a functional department or workplace doesn’t have this happen, the reality is that when there is a new sheriff in town, you have to shape up or ship out (I would in this case recommend the latter). The LW’s coworker needs to quickly get on board and complete all assignments to his complete satisfaction (and in a timely manner) or they can be expected to be kicked to the curb in short order. This is the kind of manager he sounds like.

    1. Lance*

      To that last paragraph… not always. If he was at the absolute top of the org (I’m very willing to say he’s not), then sure; if he had heavy backing from those above him, also sure. But given that he’s fairly new to their company, and assuming OP and coworkers are generally reliable and trusted, there could very much be value in pushing back as a group, or, similarly, going over his head.

      If none of that works, though, then yes, it may be less of a headache to leave. But that’s very much an ‘if’.

      1. OP*

        We had a staff meeting today (the actual 5 people planning the event without him) and we are unified on everything so that’s nice and it is actually bonding us a lot!

    2. LKW*

      It actually sounds like he’s new to being a manager and therefore not set in his ways, more like he’s not used to delegating, communicating and accepting that two people can be right, even if they don’t agree.

  11. Akcipitrokulo*

    No. Just no.

    Depending on relationships/politics, I’d be thinking about escalating this. It is so not OK.

    1. T. Boone Pickens*

      I smell a running joke at the office a-brewin’! Time for the staff to unite and push back against the manager! TPS reports coming up? “Have your wife do them.” Expenses reports need to get turned in? “Have your wife do them.”

      Come on! The possibilities are endless!

      1. LKW*

        Oh my. I would love it if they could say “Why not have your wife draft that up first?” on every deliverable.

  12. Falling Diphthong*

    Having his wife do it sends the message “Only my wife really gets me. She understands what I want even when I can’t explain it to other people.”

    Which may be charming in a “Where’s the thimgamabob?” “By the whatsit” non-work dinner party, but is absolutely unworkable if you are managing people who are not your spouse.

    1. Collarbone High*

      At the same time, it manages to be disrespectful of his wife (assuming she wasn’t paid for this work, because of government rules about this sort of thing). She’s not a subordinate to assign tasks to.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        The only time I picture the wife being happy about this, it’s because husband is flailing and she thinks stepping in is the only way to keep him in the job. Not a good look.

        (I occasionally act as a sample user for my spouse, to test whether something is intuitive, and he and oldest occasionally look over something like a diagram where I want a second set of eyes before I emphatically type out “This is WRONG and must change. I don’t care that someone already signed off on the diagram, it’s still wrong.”)

        1. Smarty Boots*

          Agreed. My spouse and I often talk over work problems or new projects, read each other’s written work when it’s appropriate and legal (FERPA restrictions) — but neither one of us ever even pretends to do the other’s work.

  13. Winterfire*

    It’s been a year! He’s not that new. It’s definitely time to start having the awkward conversations with him.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      That was my thought too! Though I am assuming from context that it’s the first time he’s running this event since coming on board.

      It makes me curious about if there were other flags before now though.

      1. OP*

        Yes, this is the first big annual event he can put his “stamp” on. We have tons of monthly events but they’re too small for him to really change much and have it be worth it. This one he can change a lot and make it better since we have unexpected budget money from someone retiring.

    2. Lisa Babs*

      I agree with this. The whole thing of him being new and still trying to work out the culture and what can and can’t be done, would make sense 3 months in… but after a year… he’s not “NEW”. After a year he’s a clueless manager or a bad manager and the OP has to change their mindset on how to deal with him.

      1. OP*

        He’s still new enough because certain things and events are only happening for the first time. Once December hits it’ll be everything for the 2nd time which is when I suspect he’ll want to chance a lot like he’s doing with this one. Thus me wanting a “nip it in the bud as much as I can” plan. He’s been neither clueless nor bad thus far just observing everything and taking copious notes.

  14. MechanicalPencil*

    When a conversation begins with “now don’t be mad”, my dander is already up because what follows is never good. I just can’t with this dude. It’s so egregious.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yeah, “don’t be mad” is like “I’m not racist/sexist/prejudiced but…” It simply warns you of what is coming.

    2. Washi*

      Yes, “don’t be mad” would have me annoyed all by itself! That’s how a kindergartner confesses that he ate some play dough, not how a manager addresses an employee.

      1. Works in IT*

        Occasionally my manager uses it, but in the context of “the people who I am telling you to not be mad at are dumb and I agree that they are dumb so let’s try not to waste time being mad at them, only spend five minutes banging our heads on our desks and typing facepalm emojis at each other on skype, and then start brainstorming a way to counteract their dumb idea because it’s ridiculous and bad and we have an audit next week and this dumb idea cannot still be in place when the auditors arrive so you can’t be angry because we’re panicking too much to be angry”.

        Not “I did something that will make you angry you must deal with it”.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          It’s different when “don’t be mad” actually means “don’t kill the messenger.”

    3. Independent George*

      “Don’t be mad…” is going to be the thing that kicks off your employee’s job search or the moment they stop caring.

    4. OP*

      Yep. I was somewhat disappointed in coworker because he gave her out or a lead-in to say “you’re saying that because you know this is completely inappropriate” or something similar. BUT she actually went the next day and had a come to Jesus with him. Honestly I think because of my reaction to her telling me this which was basically the loudest “what the actual f*ck” heard in our building in years.

  15. Leela*

    OP, my sympathies! I had a manager who operated like this (save the delegating work to her spouse – that’s a new one and I can’t imagine how frustrating that must be). Basically every time she’d give me a project, I’d follow her instructions to the letter and she’d say no and honestly get pretty upset with me, even to the point of claiming that I hadn’t followed her instructions because she wouldn’t have asked for this. I started going over the instructions with her again, didn’t help. Eventually I insisted on a paper trail of instructions that we could refer back to when the inevitable “no, this isn’t what I wanted!” blowout happened, and while I was able to use it to shield myself from her accusations, it actually didn’t stop the problem at all. It took grandboss intervention unfortunately and I suspect it will here too.

    Now the wife thing, that’s so egregious it needs to be brought up immediately! As others have mentioned there are likely payment/privacy concerns and you might actually be lucky in a way that boss is going this way with it, because without it there’s a much greater risk of going to the grandboss not going well. I’d have to imagine that this would be handled immediately. Now whether that would result in your boss magically realizing he likes what he sees or at least accepting it I can’t say, but you do have at least this one easy shot to bring it up!

  16. kittymommy*

    How does she even have access to alter/update the website. At my government organization there is only a select few who have that ability, and none of them are the head of the org. I think it’s our PR department and a couple of IT people. That’s it. And even if he did, there are very serious rules about sharing access to our internal org sites/files via your personal log-in with co-workers much less a spouse!

    1. Government worker*

      That varies greatly. At my organization, there are many departments, and each has someone who can update the website. (But sharing that with your spouse would still be a no-no!!!)

      1. OhNo*

        Yeah, in my current job everyone can update or change our department’s website. Still, we don’t share our passwords or privileges with anyone from other departments, let alone people outside the organization. I can’t even imagine what kind of fuss that would cause!

    2. Anon to Protect the Innocent*

      This reminded me of something at an OldJob. There was a guy in our group that no one liked working with. There were rumors circulating around the department that, during his on-call weeks, he would have his wife log into the system and make the changes to resolve a support issue if a call came in during the night, so he would not have to get out of bed. To that end he’d have given her admin passwords. No details were given, but the wife would have had to have admin passwords to production. This guy was supporting a mainframe system with financial data in it. This was 15-20 years ago, and those were simpler times, before Sarbanes-Oxley and the 2008 crash, but I still don’t understand why no one went up the chain with that, assuming the rumors were true.

      1. Observer*

        Well, no one wanted to be a “tattle tale”.

        Even on this site, with Allison constantly talking about how that concept just doesn’t apply here, people use terms like “snitch” and “narcing” for going up the chain with bad behavior.

  17. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    In a previous (government) role, I had to inform a “boundary pushing” consultant (change! New ideas! Fresh perspective!) that while I saw where they were coming from, that approach wouldn’t work because it was against the law. Not only did I had to send them the text of the law to prove it, when I did the consultant asked me, “How should we go about getting that changed?” It took every iota of self control not to send a YouTube link to “I’m Just a Bill.”

    OP, it sounds like your new manager kind of falls into this category. He has very specific ideas of How He Wants Things Done, and while some of them may actually be a great launching point for making some positive changes, a lot of them aren’t realistic for how you do business in a bureaucratic environment, either because there are laws in place, negotiated contracts, political sensitivities, etc. You may have to go over his head to have someone rein him in, but in the meantime make sure if you are shooting something down, you have a solid reason (such as a law) to do so. If you don’t have that, then, “Hm, yes, I will look into that. In the past we tried something similar to X and met with Y issues and problems, but we can look into this approach again.” And let someone else be the bad guy.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      “We storm the State Legislature, dressed as sandwiches, and TAPDANCE OUR DEMANDS until they pass legislation repealing this law.”

    2. always in email jail*

      This. Some people truly aren’t suited for government. Working for the government requires accepting that, most of the time, you have to work the best you can within the system you’re given. Not to say there’s no room for innovation, but that if there’s an obvious improvement to something that hasn’t been done, there’s probably a reason other than you’re the first to think of it.
      I’ve had a few employees/coworkers like this. They usually don’t last long in the government sector.

    3. Anon From Here*

      There’s a reason why Business Administration and Public Administration are two separate, very different master’s degrees.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        Ding ding ding! My BWF (Best Work Friend) and I talk about this a LOT. (Both of us have MPAs. Neither of us ever considered MBAs. We did both consider law school. I find there’s more crossover with MPA/Law than MBA.)

    4. Anon for this one*

      That triggered a painful flashback. Except it was my boss, not a consultant, who wanted us to do X. When I said, “The law requires Y,” boss said, “I don’t care what the law says.” He said other things, too, but that was where my brain broke. I sat there staring at him for a while. He eventually calmed down and let me do it the legal (!) way, but yeah. I already had problems with him, but I lost all respect for him in that moment. If I hadn’t needed the income, I’d have quit on the spot, but I did manage to leave shortly thereafter.

    5. OP*

      “Hm, yes, I will look into that. In the past we tried something similar to X and met with Y issues and problems, but we can look into this approach again.” Good verbiage, I have had to say similar many times.

  18. Penny Hartz*

    My husband had a boss like this (luckily for a very short time). It was a fairly successful nonprofit. He was the communications director, and his “work wife” was the development manager. They had a HUGE event every year that fell onto them. Trouble is, their boss was impossible. They’d ask her what she thought about A,B, or C and she’d either be “don’t care, you decide” OR she’d get mad at them for bothering her. Everything from the theme of the event to the color of the tablecloths was decided by hubby and coworker, and then ripped to shreds by the boss. No direction, just “WRONG!” when they did it.

    A month or two later they both got new jobs and quit the same day.

  19. Yllis*

    He could be violating ethics rules doing this.

    Our state takes that very seriously. A call to the hotline would be expected

  20. Not All*

    omg…if it wasn’t for the part about the wife, I’d swear one of my coworkers wrote this. My manager is the worst “bring me a rock” manager I’ve ever seen.

    for those not familiar with the management style…
    “Bring me a rock”
    “What kind of rock?”
    “Just bring me a rock…I trust you” immediately followed by “NOT THAT ROCK…bring me a different one”
    “Bigger? Smaller? Different color?”
    “Just bring me a rock…this is supposed to be your job!”
    “NOT THAT ROCK! Fine…I’ll just do it myself”

    gaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh….back to USAJobs… (because in 10 years no one has ever gotten this guy to change)

    1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      That is the best example I’ve ever read about how to explain why I hated a previous manager.

    2. Jam Today*

      I had a manager like that, when I asked him for guidance or instructions he would reply “I’ll know what’s right when I see it” and I was like “…what do you think your job as ‘manager’ *is*, exactly?” Basically, he set up every assignment as something people could only fail at, that way he got to be the smartest person in the room at all times.

    3. InfoSec SemiPro*

      “OMG, its a rock! How hard can it be to BRING me a ROCK? Are you stupid?”

      I hate people like this.

      I notice myself doing something similar at points and I think its a part of management to figure out how to slow down and clearly describe your needs/train people on how you want things to be done and/or figure out how to accept work that fits your assignment, even if it wasn’t what you wanted. Bring a rock is the manager screwing up.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      There’s a scene in Season 1 of The Good Place–tragically not on YouTube–in which Michael gathers a few dozen rocks on his desk and glares at them, trying to decide which one is plotting against him.

    5. Eirene*

      Oh gosh, until you said “this guy,” I thought you were talking about the contracting officer at the government agency I used to contract with! She did this so constantly and wasted so many people’s time so frequently (and she had an incredibly inappropriate demeanor for a federal worker – there were many teleconference meetings I had to transcribe for CYA reports where I had to leave some of her comments off the official record) that I was almost relieved when I got laid off.

    6. MattKnifeNinja*

      This is my SO old boss. SO is a Web designer. Bonus round is Boss got mad and had his 15 year old son take a crack at designing the site.

      (Insert the pizza carrying guy with room on fire gif here). The company couldn’t take online orders for a week. Boss was not the company owner.

    7. OP*

      This is it. Most accurate comment of them all, down to the “I trust you” which is EXACTLY what he says.

  21. LadyPhoenix*

    A quick call to the highter ups for the wife fiasco plus an added complaint about his lack of delegation and instructions might set a fire under his ass…

    But seriously, report this dunderhead for the wife fiasco. That is a big ol case of WTF

  22. Cassandra*

    Ah, yes, the “I won’t tell you clearly what I want, but whatever you do mysteriously turns out to be wrong” situation. Been there.

    OP, you and your colleague need to cover your posteriors vis-a-vis whatever work assessment practices are in place where you are, in addition to the concerns rightly brought up by others. This boss will blithely torpedo you two at your next review without the least regard to fairness.

    Process and documentation are the two tools in your toolbox. Creating a prototyping process (as suggested above) might help, and documenting the boss’s expressed requirements (such as they are) by email after meetings is a good idea.

  23. Rey*

    Is this his long-term plan? To continue taking work away from his employees so that his wife and he are splitting the department’s entire work load? This sounds like a recipe for burn-out on their part, and a lot of dissatisfaction for employee’s (who theoretically picked this job because they were interested in the work). And it doesn’t speak well to his managing skills if he would rather take on the work himself instead of using his words to give constructive feedback to his employees.

  24. CherryGirl*

    >Then there’s the issue of him sucking at setting clear expectations.

    I had a boss like this. No amount of communication got good results and I concluded that he didn’t have a clear picture of what he wanted and he needed something in front of him to formulate it. So when he asked for something, I would take a really brief bit of time, sketch something out without a lot of work on my part, and send it to him. He would turn it down, exactly the same way he would if I spent hours on it, and I would finally get some feedback on what he really wanted. He was good at his limited scope of things but terrible at managing people; we are both still with the company 6 or 7 years later, but he no longer manages anyone.

  25. Yllis*

    In order to do that website, the wife would have had to get access. So
    1. He gave her (a non employee access) – bad
    2. He let her use his or someone else’s access – bad
    3. They used a go daddy or something to make this governmental site – so so bad.

    I dont see how he didnt eff up bad in doing this and violate the rules

    1. always in email jail*

      I get the impression it’s a stand alone website for an event, not for the actual government agency website. We sometimes use eventbrite or simple website builders to build a website to allow people to register for a training or conference we sponsor with government.

      1. Yllis*

        But she (a non employee) would still be the owner of it and her email would be linked to it. That’s just bad.

        Doesnt this government agency have ethics training?

        1. always in email jail*

          No I 100% agree it’s not OK, but maybe less concerning on the security front if it’s an eventbrite or something vs. actually altering a .gov website.

          To me, the fact he ACTUALLY ADMITTED he had his wife do it is almost more egregious than the fact he did it! It’s one thing to be like “hey honey you’re really good at web design and we’re trying to get a website going for this event, do you mind sitting down with me and helping me figure it out?” then you go to work and say that you worked on it at home. But to not even recognize that it is NOT OK to say “so I had my wife do this!” shows such a serious lack of judgement.

        2. pleaset*

          “But she (a non employee) would still be the owner of it and her email would be linked to it. ”

          How do you know this? It’s certainly possible, and arguably likely, but I don’t see how you can know this for sure.

      2. OP*

        It was not the actual governmental website, you are correct. Heck, I don’t even know if HE has access to that. I do, but updating it is part of my job, it’s not like he’s correcting links and adding new agendas to Legistar.

    2. Clay on My Apron*

      Not necessarily. She could have created the web site files and he could have uploaded / published it. It’s still completely out of line that he has her create the site, obviously.

      1. Tau*

        +1 from a software dev who does web development work. The vast majority of the time I am working on our websites, I’m not touching anything that’s live on our systems.

  26. Tabby Baltimore*

    Fed here: If you’re lucky, your manager is still working under his 1-year probationary status, in which case I’d take all my documentation about this “outsourcing” incident straight to your agency’s HR HQ. But, if you have a good relationship with your grandboss, sure, start there. But HR *needs* to set him straight that this approach to getting work done is completely unacceptable. If he’s done this multiple times during his probationary period, I expect he could get fired. Good luck. And please let us know what you decided to do.

    1. OP*

      He is still on probation but I’m not high enough to go to grandboss, who is a high ranking official. I get your point but in this case we will just document.

  27. Clay on My Apron*

    Ugh, I’ve worked with people like this. They’re unable to give a clear brief, and when they critique your work they usually give rubbish feedback like “make it pop!”

    This behaviour is often the sign of someone who sees themselves as a “visionary” or “big thinker” but lacks the strategic thinking to define objectives and the communication skills to describe the vision.

    Maybe that’s a bit harsh though and you guys just don’t communicate well.

    Some things you can try.

    1. Create a template or checklist for yourself to complete when he briefs you on a new piece of work. Go through it and make sure everything is covered. If he hasn’t touched on something, ask specifically. And then email it to him afterwards and ask him to confirm that you have everything. You don’t want to do this in a passive aggressive way, but rather present it as a way for to you make sure you have everything covered from your side. It could help both of you to get the requirements clear and it helps you cover yourself as well.

    2. Keep him in the loop on your progress. Feeling that he is included can reduce the desire to change things at the end. Alternatively he’ll have the chance to let you know if you are going off track.

    3. When you review work with him, bring your brief document with as a reference. If he gives vague feedback that you can’t action, ask him to be more specific. If he struggles with that, make some suggestions and see how he responds to them. Make the session more interactive try and work towards and understanding of what he’s looking for.

    Hopefully you will learn to understand each other and communicate better, and he’ll learn to trust you to do your job, because this type of situation is aggravating and stressful.

    Good luck!

    1. OP*

      I like the idea of creating a template especially since many of our events have similar elements even though the end result is quite different. Thanks for the idea! #templatemebro #yousaidthisonthisdate #dontbeadouchebossman

  28. Lumen*

    I had a boss like this at ToxicJob. He talked a lot about letting employees forge their own path and how much he wanted to hear new ideas, but… lol, no. He also didn’t want to “hold your hand” and was keen on people “figuring it out”. But basically the reality was that he had a very specific idea of what he wanted done and how he wanted it done, but he wanted everyone to read his mind. This wasn’t good for him getting what he wanted or for employee morale, and IMO it really contributed to a sore lack of diversity in hiring. He just kept wanting people who looked and acted and thought exactly like him.

    1. OP*

      The good news is he doesn’t have too much say in hiring because the panel or two weans people before he sees them and let’s just say given the area I live it it would be inherently diverse. He hasn’t hired anyone yet but that’s been my experience after working here 13 years. #unitedcolorsofbenettoninthisjoint

  29. Employee #52b59*

    A bit off topic, but…

    There’s one thing in the OP’s letter that drives me nuts: “A lot of things he wants to try have already been tried”.

    Sometimes that is an okay thing to say, but circumstances change, companies change, teams change, the world changes. Things that haven’t worked in the past might work again. I’ve seen it many, many times. Saying “we’ve done it before” is rarely a good reason in and of itself. Sure, if you just tried it a month ago and it didn’t work, maybe it isn’t the time to try again, but I generally don’t agree with this approach at all.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I think it depends on the reasons why it didn’t work previously. As you said, sometimes things do change and open up options that weren’t feasible before. But I’ve also experienced people wanting to try something again that didn’t work before…when nothing has changed that would make it workable. It’s more that whatever it is would benefit them (at everyone else’s expense), or they just have a fixation on whatever it is. Both of which are profoundly annoying.

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Agreed. The best way IMO to approach the “A lot of things he wants to try have already been tried” is to respond with… “Sure, we have tried that in the past and it we chose a different path. Things may have changed since then, but here are a couple of things we tripped over. Let’s see if conditions have changed on those things and give it another shot”

      Overall I’m probably at a 50/50 success rate on the ‘already tried’ success.

      1. OP*

        This is great wording. I am 1000% for changing things up when we can and that’s why I’m excited to have a younger leader, but I’m speaking of things that cannot changed (policy, law, local ordinance, etc.) or things that historically the public has pushed back on. Vehemently. He doesn’t have the historical knowledge for a lot of it.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      It’s a good idea for the OP and the rest of the team to speak up if the ideas are in violation of the law or government policies! But if it’s a case of “we already tried that” I like Random’s suggested wording. Things do change, and an idea that failed previously could work now.

    4. Kella*

      “We’ve done it before” is sometimes a shorthand for “there is a list of reasons why this approach didn’t work and we’ve already been over the issue of whether it’s worth it to try to get around them.” In order to try something that’s been tried before in a way that doesn’t waste resources, the manager would need to acknowledge that it’s been tried before, acknowledge the reasons it didn’t work/wasn’t allowed/was decided against and make a plan for how this time would be different. Otherwise, he’d be ignoring institutional knowledge and using valuable resources only to make the same mistake again that he was warned would happen.

      The way I read the letter, I think the OP implied that this manager is trying things that have been tried before as if they are brand new ideas that no one has thought to attempt before, and is therefore ignorant of the context that makes the ideas non-workable.

      1. Employee #52b59*

        Sadly it’s also often shorthand for “we don’t like change so we actively sabotage things”, which is why I’m sensitive to it because of managing teams like that in the past.

      2. Jasnah*

        This is how I interpret it. I have a major pet peeve of people who hear their brilliant idea has been tried before, and instead of asking about the factors that caused it to fail with the intent of information-gathering and learning, they approach it with the assumption that the brilliant idea is the default, obvious, universal solution so you must not have implemented it right! Or you just didn’t try hard enough! Or the factors that stopped you before no longer need to be considered because now you have me! /s

  30. iglwif*

    Wow, OP, that is *amazingly* inappropriate.

    I wonder if your co-worker was just too gobsmacked in the moment to say anything to the manager? I suspect I would be–it’s just not something you could possibly expect in a typical workplace.

  31. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    Why do I feel like the coworker who shared feedback from his wife found a new management job? (in the “You may also like” list above).

    Umm, yeah, this guy’s a peach. I’m not sure where to start. Let’s give practical advice a go.

    The next assignment he gives you or your coworker that is open ended like this, maybe schedule a check in meeting or sending a proof of the work at a point where not too much time has been invested. If possible when you get the assignment, maybe ask a few questions; What’s your vision for this? Do you have anything specific you want included? If needed point back to the website or the event as a reason for why you are asking.

    Wakeen: I need you to plan the next whosit award banquet
    You: Great! Let me ask you a few questions about what you are thinking.
    Wakeen: No need just go ahead and plan it
    You: Hmm, for us to be successful, we should start from the same page. What is your vision for the event? Are you thinking standard banquet w/awards ceremony or something different? Formal/Informal? Is there anything I should know about the event? Is there anything you specifically want included or excluded? Our typical awards banquets include the following…. and follow this format…

    If he’s new he may not be very good at translating what’s in his head to requirements. Weirdly that is a skill that has to be learned. On the surface it seems like it would be an easy one, but it can be really difficult.

    1. Clay on My Apron*

      It’s actually incredibly difficult because of Unspoken Assumptions. People don’t say something if they assume it to be Really Obvious. But usually it’s only obvious to them :-/ I’ve been on both sides of these conversations.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        That’s why I really like the ‘vision’ question. It’s been quite effective with helping to pry out the important bits.

        In a former life I was a data analyst. I would default to pulling every bit of data that I could possibly think of. That way when I would sit down with the person who asked for some nebulous report about widgets. I could refine with what I already had. Much easier than going back to refine the script each time.

        But I would also start with similar questions. What question are you trying to answer? This one was especially important because it’s really common for people to give you requirements they think they need instead of what they actually want. I’d have people ask me for A, B, and C specifically and then when I gave it to them, they’d say “But how do I tell what D is?” “Umm… by asking me to find “D” and I’ll tell you what the relevant data is to answer that question”

  32. Coder von Frankenstein*

    I agree with the other folks suggesting an iterative approach. Do the minimum possible amount of work that gives you something to show him. Show him. He rejects it. Collect what feedback you can, and repeat.

    Of course, that’s assuming he doesn’t get fired for assigning work to his wife. Which, yeah, report that to whoever one reports such things to in your organization.

    1. LKW*

      But this leaves the staff open to repeating the cycle over and over and then being accused of not being good enough to get it right in one or two cycles. That leads to poor performance reviews for requiring too many design cycles. It’s a no win situation – they can go fast and be wrong or go slowly and be wrong.

      1. Coder von Frankenstein*

        The boss *might* react that way. But he also *might* react positively to being consulted more throughout the process. You won’t know until you try, and since the current approach is not working, what’s to lose?

  33. Deja Anon*

    I had a boss very like this. Not to the point of bringing in his wife (!!!) but he seemed to feel that only he understood what was needed vis a vis outreach, marketing, and user support and thus considered anything brought to him as either a very vague first draft or as simply “wrong.” There was only one other person on the team that he felt truly understood his vision – so this person, who had no relevant experience (or job title change), was suddenly being treated as a supervisor. And the new supervisor was even more fond of saying “wrong” without explanation or for the most tenuous of reasons.

    He wanted to do it alone, and the entire marketing/outreach team soon gave him the opportunity to do so by moving on – at speed.

    The whole marketing/outreach/support team bailed within months.

    1. Anon and on and on*

      This is the comment I was looking for, because I want to speak to this point. This guy and people like him are simply not managers. They may be great at creating and executing projects, but they can’t simply say to a staff member, “call bob on Tuesday,” because they either can’t let it go, or start explaining how a telephone works and get frustrated and “just do it myself!”
      These are not managers. They are not managing. They are actually obstructing not only progress but every day functioning of the company. How the hell does this go on?

      1. Deja Anon*

        In his case, it was because he excelled at the most important thing – selling his project to upper management (which is not necessarily the same thing as marketing.)

        This was an advantage when he wanted upper management to be impressed with shiny new features. It was not an advantage when he insisted on writing the user guide pages for the new features and turned in something that was “not to be changed” that consisted SOLELY of management-speak for how shiny and new the feature was and lacked boring stuff like how to access and use the new feature.

        How that passed non-supervisor supervisor, I don’t know. The shining moment of “I think the technical writer’s going to run for the hills” came about the same time, when non-supervisor supervisor failed a brand new screenshot as “Wrong.” When challenged, the explanation was “the URL in the screen of the background screen below the expanded window of the new feature has the wrong URL, and someone might type that URL in by hand and they won’t get to the new feature, so it’s unacceptable.”

        1. Anon and on and on*

          I was very much leaning toward this theory when I speculated about his interview. Big, bold projections and promises. He’s your man! If he can’t do it, no one can. And in his mind, no one CAN do it. Because he’s the genius, so “don’t be mad! but, I did this, instead.”

  34. The Rat Catcher*

    “the demoralizing effect of letting you continually invest time and energy in things that he repeatedly changes at the end.”

    Thank you so much for this wording, Alison. I have been trying to put this feeling into words for YEARS and every time I have tried, it has been brushed off. This might really help me!

  35. SusanIvanova*

    The clientsfromhell (dot net) site is full of stories about clients who didn’t like a designer’s work and had their wife or other relative redo it. The end result is invariably tacky.

    1. MattKnifeNinja*

      Or when the Client says everything is fabulous! It’s a go! Then breaks/reworks everything until it’s not usable. Calls in a panic, then fibs about what really happened.

  36. Jerry Vandesic*

    “I don’t think you’re capable of this …”

    I think that’s exactly what the boss thinks of the co-workers capabilities. Co-workers job could very well be at risk.

  37. SigneL*

    A question: if having his wife was a security violation, shouldn’t the department head have known this? My husband worked on a variety of DoD contracts, and they were given very strict guidelines which they were expected to follow.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Just because he was made aware of it doesn’t mean that he thought about it or that it actually applies to him.

  38. MaureenSmith*

    I used to work for a manager like that. It took years to realize that they were a micromanaging gas-lighter. It’s not a single rejection based on internal ‘vision’, it’s becoming a pattern. For your sanity, keep records of what was asked for so you can prove to yourself that you aren’t losing your mind. Nothing you turn in the first time will be approved. All mistakes are your fault because you didn’t read your managers’ mind correctly.

    Hopefully, the one good thing is that the manager will get frustrated and annoyed about never being able to implement their (constantly changing) vision because of the government culture and then leave.

    Personally, I’d be looking for a transfer to a different boss.

  39. Nita*

    So not good, and possibly illegal, for all the reasons others have pointed out.

    I’m scratching my head over something else, too. The boss looked at the re-done website, didn’t like it, and then came in the next morning with a new website made by his wife. That’s fast. Either the wife tweaked the one that the employee made, or she’s been making one all along (because it’s her hobby? because she wants to put “made a website” on her resume?), or it was actually slapped together in a few hours. Hmm.

  40. Dawn88*

    OMG—This just happened to me, when volunteering and helping my neighbor’s group trying to prevent a private school from building a huge stadium above our homes. They wanted a website, Facebook page, flyers…and had just hired a zoning lawyer. They said he told them to “get the word out-flyers, website, etc.” so I got the basic website done and the group was thrilled. I got an email they wanted to do a big “Reveal” on Sunday at one gal’s home on her big TV, so I spent 2 more days to finalize the website, add aerials and custom logo (I’d come up with the name too)…and edited all text to be PC/neutral, plus got 500 flyers printed, all by Sunday. I was exhausted on Sunday morning, when I get a frantic email, “Pull the site off line! Lawyer wants to approve ALL public materials first!” WTF?? I was on fire! I calmed down to reply, “I’m leaving it as is, it’s a job to pull it and how will the lawyer review it? Nobody knows about it or will see it.” It’s not like flipping a switch! The next day, I get frantic emails, including the group’s lady copyright lawyer, who lived nearby. Drama over nothing, and I again told them the same speech, asking when the lawyer would review it? I wasn’t following another order from anybody until they knew what they were doing first! I got no reply. The flyers that MUST be ready that day were never mentioned.

    One pushy member of the group had insisted I give her the website codes, “In case of emergency.” which I politely said I had arrangements made and not too worry. I explained that since all was on my credit card. I bought the domain and hosting, so I’m not giving that out. Two days later, they insisted on a meeting, and came over to basically bully me into giving the codes. I was calm and gave them a copy, so they left, after the lady lawyer interrogated me about each stock photo, like I was a criminal. Once they left, I logged on to park the domain, and laughed about the irony that they don’t have the codes I jotted down to re-activate it! They had no skill or experience, other than being entitled bitches! I’m planning to delete it, cut my losses and bail. My professional webmaster/mentor told me to dump them and never look back. Sounds good to me, especially when I just retired!

    Hell will freeze over before I volunteer again! I plan a Carribbean cruise instead! Working 32 years is enough for me, and I made my last mortgage payment yesterday!

  41. Kitty*

    Our entire work flow is micromanaging like this. Everything has to be reviewed by several senior staff, which causes terrible bottlenecks around deadlines, and things are randomly changed after the fact without even talking to us about it. It is extremely demoralising that we’re not trusted to make a single decision in a project by ourselves, no matter how small. It does make me wonder why the more junior staff are involved in these projects at all, when the senior staff clearly just want to control every single little detail themselves. The work flow is pretty entrenched so I don’t think me saying anything is likely to change things, so I’m concentrating on getting out.

  42. Jemima Bond*

    This reminds me of that bit in The Devil Wears Prada* when Miranda wants “a skirt”, nfd.

    I also had a boss who would want changes which might not have been unreasonable but instead of saying “can you make these few edits” she would claim the work was “all wrong and makes no sense” when the changes she wanted were minor. This situation only improved when she took a long unpaid career break. I hope I never have to deal with her again.

    *autocorrect win: The Devil Wears Pravda”

  43. Bluesbelle*

    I work for someone who does this all the time. Wants something written/created, gives no specifics (even after several meetings and multiple attempts to “manage up”) and then ends up getting his wife to do it once he hates whatever the team sends over to him for review.

    My advice? Get out now. This type of thing never gets better.

  44. Aaron*

    It’s one thing for your boss to say “My wife could make a better website than that!” and something else for him to actually go ahead and have her make one. Sounds like he has issues with boundaries.

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