my boss is a jerk — but only to me

In today’s podcast, I talked to someone who started started a new job and her boss is being a jerk to her — but not to anyone else. Here’s the letter:

My boss is a horrible, mean person. I just joined this company recently and have just hit my two-month mark. I love the company, but I’m pretty sure that my boss is abusing me. I am a naturally shy, introverted person who does not like to rock the boat and so I almost never have a problem with anyone, until now.

She is extremely critical of my work. Just today, she told me that I am not curious enough for this line of work. Yesterday I apologized for not being able to find a piece of data, so she had to go looking for it, and she turned to me and said, “Okay, stop apologizing. I obviously have to do this. How else do you think it’s going to get done if I don’t do this? Really, I want to hear it.” She had such vitriol in her face and voice that I was completely taken aback. She also loves to put down my work even when I go the extra mile, saying that I didn’t go quite enough of the extra mile. Oh, and she doesn’t do this when other people are around.

This is complicated by the fact that I think I am the only person that she is abusive towards — everyone else seems to like her, and she is pretty funny, and threw a bridal shower party for my peer last week.

I want to add that in my previous job and my numerous internships before that, I have NEVER had a problem with a boss. We have always had great rapport! Yes, I am a little shy and introverted, but people know I’m nice and generally like me. I’m not the center of attention and I prefer it that way – but all my bosses have always said I am smart and driven and generally earnest to do a good job. I held my last job for almost four years and got a glowing recommendation, was in charge of things, etc.

What do I do? Do I report her to her boss, who seems to be nice? Do I go to her directly? Do I go to HR? It’s only two months in and I’m already dreading coming in to work every day. Please help :(

The show is 36 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

Or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 172 comments… read them below }

  1. Lil Fidget*

    It’s funny, I have basically been watching my boss do this to a new employee at my current job. It’s clear that my boss has decided that this person doesn’t have the initiative my boss is looking for, and they’re just working on the process of firing them when the time is right. It’s still stressful and unpleasant from the outside. There’s pretty much nothing the employee could do at this point :(

          1. Lance*

            Or just let them know the boss’ expectations, assuming the boss themself hasn’t told them (which, given how they want initiative, I’m leaning toward ‘they’ve been vague/haven’t said anything’).

            1. Lil Fidget*

              It’s a bad situation for sure. This employee is the boss’ assistant so she has complete discretion over that role (and has nothing to do with me), and she’s definitely made up her mind that this person won’t be able to do the job. There’s nothing I could do to help this employee fix the relationship, even if they turned it around now. I’d like to give them the heads-up about job searching.

              1. AnnaBananna*

                Well, sometimes you just ‘know’. What I’m curious about is how did she even get into her role in the first place? Did she interview well? Have great references? Was due diligence not done? Is Boss having a grass is greener moment and thinking of her last assistant even though they also had issues during onboarding?

          1. Cobol*

            Yeah second this. There’s a super high likelihood that they’re not even thinking of looking because they’re so new.
            Also, most places try to course correct new people who aren’t performing the way they wanted, not push them out. I

            1. Logan*

              I worked somewhere for 6 months where I could not do anything properly. I was successful in other places, so I was confused and frustrated with myself.
              Near the end of my contract, a bunch of people said that they were surprised that I’d made it to the end, and how did I survive working with that group.
              I was fine with their comments, but I really really wish that they had said something (even if it was more subtle) in the first month, rather than the last one!

              1. CastIrony*

                This is a cautionary tale about how even working for a mean boss for a few months can entirely wreck your mental health:

                I had a similar experience when I tried to work at my first-ever full-time job being a cook’s assistant at a restaurant/gift shop (a move up from being a server/cafeteria runner at a cafeteria for almost five years), except that I only lasted three months of having the owner (and my direct boss) who was nice then later critical in a daily cycle as I tried to learn the new skills (barista, cooking meat properly). I would feel defensive and extremely anxious every day.

                I could tell more, but I don’t even believe it was as bad as I think it was, and that it was my fault. When I walked out and rushed back to my “old” job, I developed depression, lack of work confidence, trust in most men, and a reluctance to do anything that requires leaving my house because I “have to go to work”.

                After a cook micromanaged me because he was stressed for one shift the day after Labor Day this year, I developed an “anxiety/waiting for him to do it again” sort of flashback because that’s how my toxic boss would treat me. Now I dread working shifts with the cook, but he’s out on health issues right now, so while I feel bad for him, I feel better working there.

                So, that’s it. If this isn’t relevant or off-topic, feel free to erase it.

              2. Jasnah*

                I agree. It is so incredibly helpful to know whether you are struggling with a steep learning curve and if you stick with it you’ll get it, or if you are really unsuited for this job and if you stick with it it’ll get worse and worse.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Or even to just let them know that you notice what’s going on, and it’s not that they’re incompetent. I remember having a bad boss, and I had no idea that everyone thought she was emotionally abusive and manipulative/micro-managey until my last day. 9+ months of anxiety could have been avoided if I knew it was her, not me.

    1. gk*

      Sad that they are new and haven’t even been given a chance. Is there room for training from you and colleagues?

    2. Sometimes I take naps*

      I had this happen to me. I had the job for 2 years when new boss came in. Worked with her for another 2 years no problems. Then suddenly I could do nothing right. Tasks that I did as needed, but were not assigned to me (like filling copier with paper) were suddenly reason for PIP (I was not responsible for the copier or printers, I’m just a conscientious person). Turned out boss had a Friend who needed a job, and my job was the only one in our dept. at the right level for the friend. It was demoralizing and I felt gaslighted – for weeks I kept ‘failing’ and lived in fear that I was just constantly making mistakes that I couldn’t see, and that would only be revealed when my boss would ask to speak with me. ( I didn’t figure it out on my own, another coworker had to take me aside to tell me.) So I found a new job and left. Friend couldn’t handle my whole job, so they had to hire Friend and another person.

  2. NYWeasel*

    Holy cow, this show could have been about me a few years ago! Talk about a bad flashback!

    I have a slightly different interpretation of what might be going on, and I think it’s worthwhile to consider this before approaching the situation. Your boss may actually be threatened by your capabilities—even if you aren’t trying to move ahead—and is acting this way out of fear. In my case, I tried the conversations Alison regularly suggests and each one turned into a one way diatribe about everything I was doing wrong. (I should add that most of these criticisms were gaslighting—I’d done exactly what he asked of me, but he changed his story whenever we reviewed my work.). He also restricted these bash sessions to 1:1 meetings so I had no proof of the tone he took. I felt like I was the only one who he treated this way and I struggled bc I’d always gotten rave reviews before.

    My recommendations are as follows:

    1. Start building your internal network at your company. You may find other opportunities in different work groups or at the very least have your own supporters to reach out to when your boss is being awful. In my case I eventually found out that I wasn’t the first “victim”, and people were just waiting to see if I was someone that they could open up to about their experiences.
    2. Figure out the “triggers”. I soon realized that what set my boss off the most was when he felt like he might be exposed as being incompetent. If I set our working relationship up to minimize those moments, it was much smoother.
    3. It will be more damaging to your confidence than you may realize. I knew my boss was an ass, and yet when he was pulled out of people leadership, I struggled to act confidently under my new awesome manager. Finally she told me that she wanted me to act boldly and not worry about screwing up bc she knew I was thinking things through up front so she would support me. That was the kick in the pants I needed to recover my mojo.

    As Alison said, even if you are completely hopeless at this job (which you do NOT seem to be), a good manager would work with you in a positive way to move forward and fix the problems. You are dealing with a BAD manager. Good luck!! I’m living proof that it can get better—my old boss is gone and I’m now at a higher level than he ever achieved!

    1. Linda Evangelista*

      Seconded on the self-esteem and confidence crusher. I was at my last job for two years with a manager that, while occasionally brought up good things I’d done, would really focus on the negatives, no matter how small (and honestly, how unrealistic/blown out of proportion). I know this was poor management, but I still have fear around my own job performance, even in a new job where I feel liked, supported, and where I’ve explicitly been given rave feedback. It’s tough, but the sooner you get out of this situation (in whatever manner that may be), the quicker you will gain it back. <3

      1. pope suburban*

        Thirded. I had a boss like this, and Just now, a year and a half out of there, I’m starting to feel like I should trust myself. Like LW, I have never been fired or received a negative performance review, but three years working for someone like that obliterated it all. I knew, intellectually, that it was insecurity and latent prejudices that made him single me out for bullying (Though he also had poor social skills generally), but there’s only so much that knowledge can do in the face of sustained horrible treatment.

        1. Emily*

          I imagine it’s a similar in that respect to when I worked in a call center. Even if you know you don’t deserve it, getting screamed at and cursed out on a fairly regular basis takes its toll on your psyche.

          I worked in a university survey research firm’s call center, conducting health research for the CDC. Just asking people if they would answer questions to help the CDC understand the health of Americans to inform where they focus their efforts. Not selling anything. I had one of the highest successful completion rates, which meant I was “rewarded” by being assigned to “refusal conversion” – calling back people who had already said no once, and asking them again if they’ll change their mind. It’s super important to maintaining the statistical validity of the research that the refusal rate is as low as possible (otherwise the sample is tainted by willingness to be surveyed which could be correlated with other factors), and some people do say yes when you call back because they were just occupied the previous time. But other people are LIVID that you call again after they already said no.

          I did 2 months on regular duty, 1 month on refusal conversion, and then I took a pay cut from $9.50 to $7 an hour to transfer to the mailroom and do filing and data entry for paper surveys and not be screamed at. No matter how much I knew I didn’t deserve it, I just couldn’t handle having to hear it so much.

          1. pope suburban*

            Oof. Yeah, I can’t blame you. When so much of your daily human interaction is screaming, there is only so much that knowing better and practicing self-care will do for you. It warps your whole worldview, and not just in the obvious ways that you kinda notice as they’re happening. This effect was another part of what made that job so unbearable. I was the first point of contact for people who were upset, often justifiably, about my coworkers’ failure to complete their work or follow up on conversations. Most people were fairly decent about it and would even note that they knew it wasn’t my fault, but like…could you not, then? Please? I wish I could find it in me to be intentionally ineffective in dealing with angry people, because the “reward” of getting more of that work is the pits.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              “and would even note that they knew it wasn’t my fault, but like…could you not, then?”

              This shit, man. :( My least favorite calls—the true Hell Calls—in Call Center Hell always, always started with the caller saying “I want you to know I’m not mad at you…” Every goddamn time I was just like Brace for impact! because everything after that is a complete shitshow—and it was even worse if they repeated it in the middle. Yes, thank you for reminding me it’s nothing personal … but then why did you have to get so very personal 5 minutes ago?

              Protip: If you have to call customer service, never say that. It’s seriously better to get blindsided than to have to listen through the windup with that anticipation, just. waiting. for it.

      2. Washi*

        Yeah, I had a boss who was nowhere near this bad, but just randomly hot and cold. If she was in a bad mood (multiple times a week) she would make cutting little remarks to anything I said, no matter how bland. I didn’t realize how much it was affecting me until I moved on somewhere else and realized I was overthinking every remark, even how I said hello.

        1. Scooby-Doo*

          Ah man, I relate to this too much. I didn’t realize how much it was eating at my confidence until reading through these comments. When EVERYTHING you say to your boss might be met with helpfulness or cattiness/yelling it really makes you second guess everything.

          It’s even worse because we’re on a team of two. She’ll go from being nice and super helpful, to yelling at me for the smallest question or mistake.

    2. Anonymous Engineer*

      I would second the assessment that she might be threatened by you. I have worked with/for a couple different people who are reasonably easy to deal with for the average employee, but as soon as they sense someone is smarter/more capable/more well-liked by higher-ups, whatever, that person becomes a punching bag.

      I agree with a combination of Allison’s advice (“I sense you are frustrated with my work”) and NYWeasel’s and would add to document things. Even if it is just for your own sanity, write down what she asked you to do, what resources or templates you used to try to meet her standard, how she “moved the goalpost” on you, and any abusive language. You may never have a need/opportunity to show it to anyone else but it will help remind you that you are doing everything you can to do a good job and she is doing a terrible job of managing you.

    3. NYWeasel*

      I forgot to add: REMAIN CALM

      This situation will be horribly frustrating and unfair and you may be pushed to the breaking point. If you lose your cool, it only reinforces your horrible boss’ narrative.

      1. CastIrony*

        This. It’s so hard to do, though. At my bad job, I was once told to “let him know if he made me angry”. I took it to mean that he wanted to push me to the breaking point.

  3. BirthdayWeek*

    This was me and my former boss. He eventually got fired for not doing much work. He would stretch out projects by weeks and months without clear reasoning, the work equivalent to a kid pushing their food around on a plate to look like more has been eaten.

    I know that isn’t a perfect comparison, but sometimes people’s bad attitudes take care of themselves. Best of luck!!

  4. Yep, me again*

    I had flashbacks reading this. I cried every day at work. I was getting ready to turn in my notice the week I got hired at another job. If I hadn’t gotten it, I would have just left. She was hands down THE WORST BOSS EVER.

    And she got fired 5 months after I left. She’s at another company in silicone valley. Make me wonder if the LW is her new employee.

    1. JokeyJules*

      this was also my boss at my last job. absolute nightmare to deal with. I used to have regular anxiety episodes on sunday evenings, thinking of the impending 5 days. Thankfully they left and moved to another state. March 31st, 2017 was the greatest day of my professional life to date.

      1. Elle*

        OMG yes! I would throw up on Sunday from getting so worked up about the s*** show I was going to be walking into in a few hours. Whats worse, my boss lived around the block from me. I lived in constant fear of running into him during one of my precious free evenings. No paycheck is worth that, I don’t know how I survived as long as I did.

    2. Sapphire*

      I’m kind of proud that I outlasted my own bully boss. Whenever I would document her behavior towards me to the interim department manager (who had to manage two departments), she would turn around and go “Oh, I didn’t mean that, I love having you on our team!” in this syrupy-sweet tone of voice, and the manager would take her word over mine. She bullied all the female members of staff, but treated male members of staff completely differently. Last I heard, she resigned, but I have a feeling it was a “resign or we’ll fire you” type of situation (but I have no proof).

      So glad I’m out of that toxic job.

      1. Logan*

        If she’s like the ones I’m familiar with, I’d almost guess that she’s an ardent feminist and pushes all the time for more women in management? Most women are supportive of their colleagues, but we have a couple really problematic ones who specifically target their female subordinates for criticisms (which is actually a phenomenon which has been shown in studies – women in male-dominated fields can sometimes hold their female employees to higher standards).

        Not that this is likely the case with the LW, but when one person is held to a different standard than their peers, I do suggest doing a quick check for gender or racial differences.

        1. Sapphire*

          I never got the sense she was particularly feminist, but more… out of touch with professional norms about how a boss should behave. This is the same person who reprimanded me about my messy desk after hours on a Friday by email, then cleaned it herself and sent me another angry email about how she’d had to clean my desk for me.

    3. HS Teacher*

      My bully boss owned the company, so it made my leaving as clearly the only option. It put me in a bad spot, but in the long run I’m much healthier and happier being out of that environment.
      My crime was being of a different political party than the rest of the office. I never mentioned it, but I did have a sticker on my car. He bullied me relentlessly about my politics. It was horrible.

    4. Wendy Darling*

      LW could also be at my old job. My boss never had a good word to say about my work, demanded that I come into the office (I worked from home) for our 1:1s but then didn’t come into the office herself, stood me up for more than half of our 1:1s entirely, and once when we were both in the office went around and asked every single person in the office except me and the admin person if they wanted her to order them lunch, in front of both of the people she snubbed.

      Some people just totally suck. She VERY senior and everyone else loved her so I ended up quitting to get away from her.

  5. SC*

    I was in almost the same situation. I bent over backwards to accommodate my boss and consistently went above and beyond but ultimately, her negative perception of me was what was passed along to higher managers due to the perception of her as nice, rational etc. I ended up moving to work in a different position and now see her doing the same thing to the new person working under her. It’s a tough situation to be in and I wish I had more advice for you. My takeaway was that for whatever reason, she was never going to like me or appreciate my work — and working for a new manager has made me feel so, so much better. Maybe see if there’s room for you to move to a different position or report to someone else.

    1. Elle*

      I really agree with finding a way to separate your pride from the boss’ judgement of your work. When I worked for a tyrannical boss I’d make myself sick trying to prove to him that I was hard working and on top of things, but ultimately he just wasn’t interested in changing his opinion of me.
      My husband constantly told me “your greatest weakness here is that you care too much about what he thinks.” I started focusing more on getting as much done as possible, as well as possible, in the 8 hours I was required to be there… and then going home and doing other things that made me happy. My mental health improved greatly which means my work also did. Not that my boss noticed the work was improving, but I could feel more proud of myself and I also got more free time back.

  6. brighidg*

    I had two bosses like just like this.

    I left both jobs without notice. One of them actually cried over that I’m told.

    No regrets.

    1. tra la la*

      I had a boss just like this too, and yes, a colleague told me that the boss cried when they told colleague I was leaving (though I gave something like 3 months’ notice).

    2. Who the eff is Hank?*

      Why are toxic bosses always shocked when their reports quit? My boss at Toxic Job was completely blindsided when I gave my notice, but it would take someone with zero self-awareness to not notice that I wasn’t going to stay in my job given the way she treated me.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        My toxic boss and run through six other people in my position in 3 years and thought it was just because she kept hiring people who weren’t senior enough. (She was offering like 30% below market rate for entry-level so she wasn’t getting anyone remotely senior.)

        1. pope suburban*

          I think you may have had my old job! Before me, the longest-tenured person in the role lasted nine months. They had had a lot of trouble keeping people from temp agencies on. People would ask to be sent to another assignment, and at least one person left for lunch and just never came back. It was an absolute meat-grinder of a position and it paid well below market rate. If I hadn’t needed the job to keep me from literal homelessness, I’d have left much sooner too.

      2. Queen of the File*

        You probably weren’t expecting an answer to this but I have done a lot of ruminating on my similar situation–toxic boss, weekly yelling, gaslighting, formal complaints, the works (but a close friend high-up the chain).

        In that case I think my boss was 100% devoted to maintaining his own delusion that he was perfect. All of the negative feedback he received (positive or negative) he re-framed as a problem with someone else, and he truly, deeply believed it. He excused his own ‘flaws’, extremely occasionally, as tough love or just his style of management–and because he was so convinced he was right, he also believed he had a team of devoted staff that would worship him as father/mentor forever.

        He was constantly shocked when people quit, and his hurt/shock would turn into anger/blame towards the ex-employee within the course of a sentence or two. Couldn’t have been me! They just can’t handle a real job/were too sensitive etc.

        So yeah–zero self-awareness :)

        1. Concerned Lurker*

          Yeah, been there, done that. Toxic Boss A was a lot like your toxic boss. Toxic Boss B was damn well aware of the games he was playing, but just assumed everyone he took on as a practicum student was too desperate for a placement or too green to take action against him or quit. I did both and he was floored when I gave him my notice. Jerk never signed off on my hours (but my prac director did, so they still count for my degree).

          So, in my experience, it is lack if self-awareness, arrogance, and/or a history of being out up with that leads these people to act like this and then be shocked when someone finally puts their foot down.

      3. Traffic_Spiral*

        A lot of times, the reason the boss treats you badly is that they think of you essentially as property – rather than an individual with options to go elsewhere if treated badly. Accordingly, when you leave, it’s like their blender just stood up and said “yeah, you suck and I hate the type of smoothie you always want me to make – I’m out.”

      4. Itchy Scratchy*

        Same thing here, mine took me aside after i sent a gyn’s note for my absence. She asked if I was pregnant as if there were not tons of other reasons I would run from the job.

      5. aebhel*

        Because they don’t think they’re toxic. They think the way they act is justified, and if they can’t justify a particular outburst, then it’s just ‘one little slip-up’.

        My former boss had three people–in an organization of 13 employees–quit within one year, specifically because of her mistreatment, and one more long-term employee announce her early retirement (she rescinded that once Toxic Boss left), and she still didn’t think she’d done anything wrong. Just absolutely no sense of self-awareness at all.

  7. Anyone There?*

    It’s so odd when people do this. Last year my boss was doing this to me and when I told her boss about it, was pretty much told there was nothing to do since the higher ups loved her. It was demoralizing.

    I would document what she has said to you and then see about speaking to someone in HR about what you can do. I would be careful about discussing this with too many internal people though since you don’t know if someone will go and talk about it with her and that can lead to even worse issues.

    With my demoralizing boss she went the extra mile and tried to torpedo my rating review too. Luckily for me I worked for someone else for half of the year, so that person had weight on my review and fought with management to make sure I got a rating I deserved and flat out said he disagreed with her assessment of my abilities.

    1. WellRed*

      But, is there really anything reportable? The boss is awgul, but she doesn’t seem to have crossed any obvious lines.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I actually agree with this. This situation sounds unpleasant, but I wouldn’t agree that the boss is abusive actually.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          You know what I thought more about it and realized it doesn’t really matter to OP. The boss sounds nasty and personal in her comments towards OP and that’s the crux of the matter. I would want to leave as soon as I could.

        2. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

          Maybe not yet. It is possible that the boss has hired someone who is not capable of performing the work and the boss is just terrible at coaching / giving useful feedback and setting appropriate expectations — so she reacts with anger and vitriol. Bringing this forward to leadership / HR is still useful (if the company will do something about it) because managing employees in that way is really crappy -and- counterproductive.

          But it is also possible this boss -is- a bully and she is testing the waters to see how the employee reacts, and setting up an environment in which the employee views herself as inferior to and ultimately alienated from her colleagues. If it is the latter, it is likely the bullying behavior will escalate — perhaps not to the level that is immediately actionable. Lots of bullies in higher up positions have perfected the ability to fly under the radar (and usually end up at places with weak management in the first place).

          It can still be useful to document what is happening even if no single example seems abusive. Together they can establish a pattern of behavior. I did this with a former boss who was a bully, and when I brought forward what I had documented I was able to lay out that pattern of behavior (and I had noticed that bully boss had chosen her next target and was able to tell that to HR too so that they would be aware). In six months, the bullying boss had been let go from the company because of her behavior — she has since moved on to a smaller org with even more weak management and HR and I am sure is belittling and bullying her next targets there.

          1. Anyone There?*

            My former boss is now undergoing coaching because I wasn’t the only person she was having issues with. We all reported the same behavior. They are talking about sending her to charm school too.

      2. NYWeasel*

        That was a big problem with my old boss I described above. I kept a log of all the times he was abusive to me, but it was mostly in the tone of how he said it. For example, he’d sneer at me in really nasty tone “Do you REALLY think that was a good solution??!!” and when I tried to add it to my log, I knew right away that he’d explain in his “sweet” voice how he was genuinely concerned and asking a legitimate question and I was unprofessional and unable to handle being questioned. After a few months of collecting examples, I knew I would look like the problem to an outside observer.

        1. McWhadden*

          That’s a shame. There was a longform article on Huffington Post a few months ago about a man at the bank HSBC who faced retaliation for reporting both sexual harassment (of female colleagues and against himself) and compliance issues.

          He had a very long standing issue within the bank and had been told by HR to document. But when he got on the stand the other side made him sound like an absolute crazy person for all of the little things he had bothered to document. And he lost. It was heart breaking. It’s so hard to “win” in these situations.

        2. Anyone There?*

          Very good points. I kept a log too since one incident wasn’t enough. There were emails, in person conversations, etc.

      3. Anyone There?*

        They may have a code of conduct she’s violating, or even expectations that are set for employees.

        1. LKW*

          This is what I was thinking. Some places have “respect for the individual” policies that guide treating all employees with a level of decorum and professionalism. Snide comments, insults, questioning integrity or capability can fall under the umbrella.

          But it’s a very challenging to prove if you don’t have any witnesses and you’re the only one on the receiving end.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            Definitely not. Alison has explained before that “hostile work environment” is a misleading term – it doesn’t just mean a place that is hostile. It refers to specific discrimination against a protected status.

  8. Bea*

    The best advice I’ve gotten was from my first grand boss ever. Fresh out of high school, my first run in with an unhappy person who was just nasty. “Some people are just bad.”

    This behavior is classic bullying. You’re quiet and nice. That’s “weakness” to a bully. She’s like the popular kids, yeah everyone seems to generally like her but it’s more out of fear that she’ll turn on them and make them her victim.

    I’ve only heard stories about these knuckle draggers in the adult world. I’m sorry to see you in this position. Speaking up may help. Sometimes they just need to be checked and told you won’t accept the treatment (likened to the school yard where they tell you to just punch the bully back, the professional version.) But sometimes they double down. So you’re in a horrible spot and will have to weigh the risks.

    You’ll want to think of an exit strategy in the long run. This treatment will deteriorate your health, mental and physical over time. You’re worth so much more.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I would modify this to “some things are just bad fits.” It sounds like OP and boss have styles that don’t mesh. Maybe the boss is a bad person, but I’ve also seen it both ways. Unfortunately for OP this is really hard to salvage when it gets to this state, so I’d just chalk it up to the wrong combination of personalities and work styles.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I should have said, I was speaking more generally here rather than to OP, because I agree that OP’s boss sounds nasty.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I wouldn’t modify it to “some things are just bad fits.” I would say that “bad fit” is sometimes a thing–but it doesn’t sound as though that’s what this is.

        Because a “bad fit” wouldn’t be nasty.

      3. Bea*

        I’ve had bad fits. But it doesn’t dissolve into the kind of rude and mean things the OP has mentioned.

        It’s a bad fit if Worker needs more supervision than Boss wants to give. Or if Worker gives a long explanation and Boss didn’t need the filler.

        I’ve seen bad fits frequently in executive assistant roles. Where Boss wants you to anticipate their needs and Worker needs direction or reminders or hates interrupting but Boss needs you up lead them from meeting to meeting, etc.

        But it should never dissolve into snapping, yelling or manipulating. Those are just bullying and power plays.

        Sure you may break under pressure and snap at someone after trying to explain it for x amount of times. But these aren’t one offs.

    2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Yes to all of this, especially “Some people are just bad.” The boss is an abusive person and knows how to manipulate her environment to get what she wants. It’s very unlikely she will change, especially none of the higher-ups are interested in challenging her.

      OP, please take lots of care of yourself in the meantime. A person like this wears down your health, both physical and mental, and your self esteem. Surround yourself with good people. Tell friends and family what’s happening (if possible) and let them know how they can support you. Remember that this not your fault, it’s hers. She’s choosing to behave this way. Nothing you did made her behave this way. You will never please her, so don’t waste your mental and physical energy trying to figure her out. The more energy you expend on her, the more she’ll take from you.

      I’d also suggest looking for a new job right now. That way, if the situation doesn’t change (such her leaving), you can get out. If it does change and you can stay, you at least had something else to occupy your mind in the meantime. This is very unfair and shouldn’t be happening, so please do what it takes to protect yourself. Good luck and keep us updated.

    3. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      I was thinking the exact same thing. The OP is quiet, she reacts to criticism by trying to prove herself, she cares if people like her — for a bully, this is juicy red meat. The boss is nice to other people, but she’s picked the OP as her victim. The boss’s bullying hurts the OP, and the boss likes this. It tickles the reward circuits in her reptilian, bully’s brain stem. She will keep doing it to get that little hit of sadistic joy. And she will escalate. And because she’s a classic mean-girl bully, she will turn others against the OP and gang up.

      It will only get worse and worse and worse. The OP needs to get out. It sounds like she has a good work history. You can leave one job soon after starting without looking like a job hopper. “Not the right fit” etc. etc. In fact, since she was so recently on the market, she will be able to ramp her search back up fairly quickly. Get out before the bully destroys your self confidence. As fast as you can.

    4. sunshyne84*

      Sounds like a girl at my job….

      I think the boss is testing or “hazing” OP because they see she’s quiet and think she’s incapable. I know it may be uncomfortable, but you’re just going to have to speak up for yourself. If the boss has an issue with something ask her questions and turn it around on her not giving sufficient training so you know exactly what’s expected.

  9. ArmchairPsych*

    The bosses described in the OP and the comments sound like narcissists…everyone else thinks they’re great, but they single out the one person who makes them feel inadequate and just horrifically abuse them.

    1. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

      Who makes them feel inadequate or does not sufficiently reflect well on them. It is a hard row to hoe : reflecting just well enough on the narcissist boss to make them shine but not -too- much to make them feel inadequate and threatened!

  10. Micromanagered*

    I’d bet everyone else at the company doesn’t love this person. They probably regard OP as too new to be honest with yet.

    1. Yep, me again*

      I concur. Everyone talked so nice about my boss until a few months later. Then they let their true feelings be known.
      And I SO agree with the narcissist point here. On glassdoor an applicant left a review of the interview process for a position she was trying to backfill. She actually told the interviewee that they should reach out to the other members of her team to see how much they like her and decide if they wanted her to be their boss. 30 minutes later, this applicant got a rejection notice from the company. They had passed through two interviews at that point.

    2. Jennifer*

      I’ve tried warning someone ahead of time–she got fired anyway. I’ve given up. Everyone either quits or gets fired in that position and apparently there isn’t anything I can do to save them.

    3. Chelsea*

      OP here. You are correct. This letter is a month old or so and after going to a happy hour with my coworkers (my peer who is also managed by her and this other guy who used to be junior to her but was not directly managed), it turns out literally everyone hates her and has been abused by her at one point or another, but don’t want to go to HR about it. She made the guy cry four months ago and that’s why he was transferred to another team.

      1. Micromanagered*

        That’s about what I figured. I hope things are going better for you, OP, and that, if nothing else, there’s some comfort in knowing it’s NOT just you and that you have people around you who can relate!

      2. Anyone There?*

        OMG! That’s awful. This person sounds like my old boss who we started calling the Vortex of Doom. Everyone that has worked for her has requested to not do so again and we had someone leave over her behavior too. They literally are just moving people around that haven’t worked with her already.

        I hope the happy hour was therapeutic.

      3. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

        OMG. You must feel so vindicated! This sort of situation is one of my top nightmare scenarios (based on what you’ve said about yourself, I’m somewhat similar in personality and have had it used against me like you had, though on a smaller scale), so I’m looking forward to hearing the update.

      4. Frankie*

        Yikes. At least you know it’s not something weird or personal about you, then? Can’t wait for your update.

      5. MM*

        Aha! My first thought when I read your initial letter was along these lines: since she never does it to you in front of others, then you couldn’t necessarily know if she was doing it to other people too. Though it sounds like it’s more that she picks a victim of the moment and focuses on them for a while before moving on to a new target, so the time displacement is bigger. Regardless, I’m glad to see you at least have some people to commiserate with and are able to talk about it now.

    4. It's Pronounced Bruce*

      You never know– I had a boss who was only crappy to me, too, and it was legitimately a night and day thing. She would go many extra miles for her other reports, gave people flexibility in hard times, made special arrangements for people when the need arised, and was generally pleasant. She would scream at me whenever she was having a bad day, though.

      1. OhNo*

        Man, that sounds like a really crappy situation for you. I hope you were able to get out of there (relatively) unscathed. Did you ever figure out why she treated you so differently?

      2. Artemesia*

        I have generally had excellent bosses — but one was horrifying. He would attack me in meetings for suggestions that he would adopt a couple of weeks later — but when I suggested them, they were ‘stupid’ and we worked in an organization where that sort of behavior i.e. calling contributors stupid was really not the norm. I had people say to me after a meeting ‘you must remind him of his ex wife or something — otherwise, what is THAT about?’ I had huge amounts of political capital in the organization and plenty of allies, so I survived, but I am sure if that had not been the case, he might well have managed to fire me. For no reason. Seriously. I was great at what I did. (I was on the search committee that chose him and had supported another candidate — I have always believed he was told that, and that was it — but who knows.)

    5. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I was in this situation, and truly felt like I was the only one getting the brunt of my crazy boss. Turns out I was just the only one getting it publicly. There were two other managers besides myself in this group, and they either learned earlier than I did to just go along with the crazy or something else…

      The boss in question turns out was really insecure, yet had a god complex. Yeah, that’s a fun combination. He’d call me in to his office to tell me someone on my warehouse staff was 2 minutes late. He’d change his mind and not bother telling anyone until after the work was done ‘wrong’.

      The biggest ongoing issue we had was the monthly billing. It’s too convoluted to explain, but the gist is that I was responsible for reconciling our vendors work to what we invoiced our customer. Seems like it would be simple, right? Umm he had some interesting accounting practices. They worked in theory as long as we had enough of one bucket to cover another. So none of the calculations were one for one as they should be because of the crazy deductions I had to do. Honestly, it would take me 3 full days doing nothing but reconciling fuzzy math and documenting it in a crazy spreadsheet that had visual representations of how the numbers tied out. I mean I even went to him and admitted that I was struggling and could he show me how it should be done. The man started sweating and finally gave up and said it was my job to figure it out. (That’s when I figured out he had no idea what he was doing)

      I think my predecessor just lied a lot to avoid the misery.

      I think I had been there about 2 years when I was having a conversation with one of the other managers who finally privately backed me up on an instance of the boss doing a 180 on a previous decision. That’s when I found out that he did it to everyone to one degree or another. Weirdly, I found out that I had scored the best out of the 3 of us managers on our reviews that year. I got 1 exceeds rating in 1 out of 10 categories. I was honestly shocked.

      The good news is I just put my head down and kept at it, I wasn’t in a position to be looking for another job at that point. He got promoted and I got a new sane boss. He was eventually let go as I’m not sure he was able to hide his umm great skills at his higher level.

    6. super anon for this*

      I am a bit unnerved by how much of this OPs situation I relate to. We recently got an influx of new hires because half our team quit over the summer due to my terrible manager (rant below). Whenever we want to complain about her, we make sure we are well out of their earshot because we don’t want to jade them yet.

  11. NicoleK*

    I’ve never had a boss single me out, but I’ve had a person in a senior leadership position start in on me. She was senior to me, but we reported to the same person. I took a clear look at my situation. I didn’t have faith that our Boss would have my back (based on other experiences with her) so I got out of there.

  12. SDSmith82*

    I’ve had a boss/owner single me out, and I’ve talked about him before. Getting out was the only option.

    I see it happening at my current job to some people too. I now work for a very large firm in my industry, and each team has a different make up. Some, like mine, are healthy and fabulous. Others (like the one I was lucky enough to transfer away from) have a very “Mean Girl- Eqsue” vibe. The “HBIC” of the clique (who’s not actually anyones’ boss) picks a target, convinces the actual team leader to join in, and they make that person’s life hell. It’s wrong, and even if you go to HR, nothing changes, other than you becoming the target (especially if you are on her team). She’s been at the company so long she thinks she is untouchable, and since the HR person who should defend the targets is also her friend, until corporate steps in, she sort of is. I’ve advised the current target to just change teams, or he’s going to be miserable. People like her, and this boss, SUCK.

  13. all the candycorn*

    I worked with a boss who was like this. It turned out she was a) like this to everyone and b) had favorites, on a whim. So basically she’d deem someone her pet, until they demonstrated a backbone, and then they were a Traitor Who Must Be Purged. So she’d wage war against that “traitor” until they quit or came up with way to do an end-run around her. Then once the One True Traitor was purged, she’d find someone else who was the root of all evil, and start the process over. And over. And over. Eventually she was fired, but she’d probably set the business back 3-4 years with all her purges through lost staff/customers/knowledge.

    As soon as I started, she started talking to me like she was building a case to put me on a PIP for not hitting benchmarks. On my fifth day in office. So I (politely) asked her what she meant by that, and then I was the One True Traitor going forward.

    I lasted longer than she did, but the damage to the business was so bad I ended up leaving anyway.

  14. ragazza*

    Oof, this sounds rough. Allison’s advice is good, if for no other reason that she has to reckon with the OP putting it out in the open. Of course she might try to gaslight her–“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m not any harder on you than anyone else”–but at least she gets put on notice. But I’d probably try to get out of there, or in another department, tout suite.

  15. Jen*

    I dealt with a similar issue at a job many years ago. The only big difference was that my manager had multiple people she didn’t like so at least I didn’t feel alone. She was amazing to the people she liked, and treated the people she didn’t like as if they were human garbage. It caused even the people she treated well to feel very uncomfortable because she wasn’t shy about her opinions of others. She once pranked someone by fake-firing them and then laughed at them in front of a large group of people. Another time she bullied a subordinate into cutting her hair because she said that long hair is not professional. The list goes on an on. Her manager and HR were very hands off because she had worked there for ages and they were on her good side so they really were not moved to deal with the problem. In my exit interview I literally said that she was one of the most miserable people I had ever had the displeasure of meeting and that I was leaving 100% due to her. At that point, I was super young and didn’t care about burning bridges so much as I just wanted to vent before my escape. The HR Manager called me a couple of months into my new job and asked me to come back. He said that she was no longer with the company. While I was tempted, I really didn’t have any confidence that leadership there would have my back if something similar ever happened so I politely declined, citing not wanting to leave my new position so quickly.

  16. SaffyTaffy*

    This sounds SO MUCH like my former boss, who has protection from HR to do things like this because of her Bipolar diagnosis. Every time a new batch of employees is hired, she ends up being like this to one of them. Her very nice boss knows about it, HR obviously knows about it, and the employees who stay know about it. She’s officially allowed to yell but not touch, use words that are insults but not slurs, throw things at walls but not at people, and slam doors or objects.

    1. Tired*

      This is horrible and a misuse of a mental illness diagnosis. That should not be a license for abusing others and damaging their mental health! If you cannot behave respectfully of others in the workplace, you don’t belong there. Someone with PTSD may be triggered by yelling and throwing. Unbelievable!

      1. Bea*

        Even without PTSD, this behavior increases anxiety and stress levels, which rapidly deteriorates people’s health and quality of life.

    2. Bea*

      This is grotesque and her boss is an enabler. She needs to be held accountable. You do not have to accommodate violent behavior just because they’re diagnosed with an illness.

      It’s not typical behavior for the countless bi polar individuals I’ve known. She’s dangerous. Things bounce off walls and do damage. This behavior creates a huge danger zone.

    3. Chelsea*

      Um. That is crazy. How does someone get license to throw things (walls only, not people)?! Sounds so dysfunctional!

      1. Ego Chamber*

        It is easily THE WORST possible misunderstanding of “reasonable accommodation.”

        “No, don’t worry! We figured out a compromise! She can yell at you but she’s not allowed to hit you; she can insult you, but not if the insult is a slur; and she can throw things, but only at walls, not at people. I didn’t see why any of that would be a problem for you—wait, why are you walking away? Are you going for a coffee? … Bring me back one too?” Jfc.

    4. Susan B.*

      I mean…even if her poor behavior is caused by her illness, she’s ill to the point she shouldn’t be at work, just like you shouldn’t come to work if you’re so sick you can’t stop puking on the floor. Illness is a reason to find accommodations so that everyone can work productively together; it’s not an excuse to make your coworkers miserable with abandon.

    5. Same here*

      Yeah I’m bipolar… that is bonkers behavior that I would never expect to be tolerated at my job.

    6. MM*

      This is evil on multiple levels. In addition to everything others have already laid out, it contributes to the stigma/stereotypes of what bipolar is. This is just licensed tantrums.

  17. Tired*

    To cut to the chase OP, the boss is a mean heifer who has detected what she perceives as weakness in you. She doesn’t like that and consequently doesn’t like you. She only behaves this way with those she thinks will let her get away with it. You have every right not to be demeaned and insulted in the course of doing your job.

    During one of these exchanges, I would ask her “Is there something other than my performance that is bothering you about me? or, “I detect hostility toward me, is there something about me personally that is concerning to you? I would not bother going to a third party, that would just reinforce her perception that you are weak. Just like in other relationships, point out how her behavior affects you without attacking her. If your company has an EAP, you can also ask for suggestions in dealing with difficult bosses. You may end up having to ask for a transfer or something if things don’t improve.

    Rest assure that there is nothing wrong with you, and you don’t deserve this unnecessary stress.

    1. Fishcakes*

      This is my read on the situation. Like the LW, I’m introverted, quiet, nice, and a hard-worker. This is read as weakness by some people and can make me a target. The only solution I’ve found is to move on.

  18. Meredith Brooks*

    A long, long time ago I worked for a non-profit that hired a new Director. Immediately, the Director and I did not see eye to eye. Coworkers were promoted above me and I ended up reporting to someone who was a peer. The next few months resulted in several closed door conversations with me and the Director about things that I was doing wrong. A performance review = 1/5 (5 years of previous reviews were 3 or 4/5). And finally a PIP. I found a new job.

    Five years later, the coworker that I reported to was fired. I think she had outgrown her usefulness to the Director, and so she cut bait. Some people view others as pawns in their own game of chess and treat them as such. I’m still recovering from it. But, I will say — while it is most certainly personal (because no professional should act this way); it’s subjective. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad employee or bad at your job or just bad. Being in a position of power doesn’t make people right.

  19. Eggshells*

    I’m struggling with this too because I’ve historically liked my boss and my performance reviews are glowing but she has a worsening temper and periodically blows up over small things to the point where I feel I’m constantly walking on eggshells, which isn’t great for my professsional confidence or anxiety disorder. I’m thinking of getting out but I have terrific benefits and have historically liked the job until the past six months or so. (Oh and there’s that she and grand boss are being squirrelly about whether a recent increase in workload will result in any kind of title change or raise which I’m assuming isn’t good news for me).

    1. Bea*

      She just flipped switch on you? Increased workload that isn’t coming with automatic raises? Do you have any idea about the company’s financial health?

      My former employer flipped like this and it was largely due to stress of a failing business and assorted family issues (death in the family) coupled with the fact he’s just a total jackhole when aggravated for whatever whimsical crap he decides isn’t making him happy.

      I urge you to take care of yourself. You don’t need to quit or take a job with crappy benefits and run now now now. But cast your line. Look at the waters and maybe you’ll be surprised by what else is available out there.

      You’re worth it.

      1. Eggshells*

        It had been building for the past year as I took on an increased workload and as she had some significant personal troubles. At the six month ago mark I actually nearly passed away and after that experience became really aware of various places in my life where I was letting people treat me poorly and I think that’s when I realized what was going on at work wasn’t cool.

        And our financials at work aren’t great- not quite awful but definitely trying to make a course correction to sustain it long term

  20. Det. Charles Boyle*

    OP, I think it’s time to look into a new job or going back to your previous one, if that’s possible. Your boss sounds terrible and your whole quality of life is suffering and will continue to suffer under this awful person. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Good luck to you.

  21. Bridget*

    I’ve been in a similar situation. The only difference is the woman who was a jerk to me was actually a work friend at first. We’d go to lunch and have friendly conversations all the time. When she was promoted, I was excited for her, congratulated her, and looked forward to working for her.

    Unfortunately, that wasn’t meant to be. I’m not sure if the power went to her head but she did a complete 180. After a few months, she was absolutely horrible to me. Looking back, I wonder if she was threatened by me because I knew my job better than she did even though her job had nothing to do with what I did. The only reason I think that is because she constantly reminded me how to do my job even though I wasn’t making mistakes. That was confirmed by my grandboss (who wasn’t any better about treating me but at least she told me I was doing my job correctly).

    It almost came to the point where my parents were going to send me to a therapist because I was so depressed all the time. I did not want to go into work – the only reason I stayed was because the pay was excellent for a part-time job.

    (I took a semester off from college and they told me that because I was no longer a student that I couldn’t work there anymore. Which is a load of crap because that was never discussed when I started – they tried saying I was a college paid intern when in fact I was hired as a part-time employee. They were just trying to find a reason to get rid of me. So I haven’t been there for 8 years.)

    1. Technical_Kitty*

      Ugh, it’s tough when friends turn into bad bosses. I have a friend where I work now that is actually a pretty good boss to their people, I don’t work in that group, but seems to need to put me in my place in floor meetings. My friend also has “drunk the management koolaid”, so things we could discuss before with understanding about needing to vent are now an argument about why management is making these decisions and how I’m unreasonable.

      We don’t hang out as much as we used to and there are subjects we do not talk about anymore. But they still don’t sound as bad as your friend, sorry your friend turned out to be an insecure jerk.

      1. Bridget*

        It’s made up with the fact that my manager now is awesome to work for. She and the other bosses are very fair and easy to work with. You know. They treat us like adults.

  22. From the High Tower on the Hill*

    Wow, I honestly could have written this myself. My boss is regularly belittling me, insulting my intelligence, and telling me that I am not doing my job well in front of my coworkers regularly. Meanwhile, she is best friends with my coworkers to the point that it seems that she only hates me.

    1. Fergus*

      I had a boss a couple of years ago on my 11th day at the job, yes 11th, tell me I had no critical thinking skills, I was no better than a college intern and they were over paying me. From like day one he was very condescending. I went to HR, and they let me go a couple of weeks later, I didn’t care I didn’t want to work there anymore after that. I should have never taken the job. I had reservations before I took it. That boss was a real ass.

      1. From the High Tower on the Hill*

        Yup. My boss told me recently that I needed to be more like a high school-aged intern because she wrote a letter that my boss really liked. It was a letter that our intern had copied and pasted from something I had previously written. I have been desperate to find something new, but nothing is really open currently in my field and my boss won’t give me enough job responsibilities so I can’t get where I want. The Catch 22 of my bad boss.

  23. EddieSherbert*

    I’m curious what the manager’s role was before OP started at the company – she mentions that the manager was promoted when she arrived. Did the manager have OP’s job before this? Because that could definitely contribute! My manager never got this hostile with me (and luckily I can be candid with her), but we had A LOT of issues my first year because she had my job before me and was extremely resistant to anything I “changed” or did even slightly differently than she would have done.

    1. Eviltwinjen*

      I was thinking the same thing. It can be very hard to let go of the work you used to do and embrace the role of manager—not that it excuses this behavior in any way. But so many people end up in management and don’t understand that it’s different from being a practitioner.

  24. Nonyme*

    My last boss was awful and very clearly targeted me — I was even told by other employees she had a history of singling one person out as a victim, with the goal of getting rid of them, and I was “it.” I had a written warning from her for things including:

    1) “Banging on the keyboard when typing” — one of the reasons she hired me in the first place was that I type 100wpm. Yep, I type loud and the keyboard at my desk was very noisy. My suggestion she purchase a quieter keyboard if she was bothered by the noise of my typing was met with a long rant about wasting company money and that I just needed to learn to “type softer” and that she was going to keep on my case until I did. (Another employee quit, and I swiped the quieter keyboard from her old desk after closing, when nobody was around to tattle that I was “messing with the computers.” Boss never noticed the change in keyboards but did praise me for “being less dramatic about my typing” one day.)

    2) Claiming I “threw my hands in the air, startling a customer, and declared I was having a low blood sugar crisis” … which DID NOT HAPPEN AT ALL. Complete fabrication, a lie. (What happened was after I was done with the customer, I discretely told the boss, with no customers around, that I needed to take a break and eat something, because I was having issues with low blood sugar. I had worked from 730 AM to 130 PM with zero breaks even to pee, and I had documented issues with hypoglycemia.)

    3) Part of the write-up was because I couldn’t get an application to launch and she blamed me … even though there were emails being sent out from IT that day stating that the application was down company wide.

    4) And another application crashed while she was looking over my shoulder, and she blamed me for doing something wrong … even though it was a hideously buggy in-house app that always crashed for everyone.

    (Yep. TWO SOLITARY INSTANCES of technical difficulties were worthy of write ups.)

    5) I wasn’t “productive enough” — even though the productivity standards were flat out ridiculous. I was multi-tasking to the point of doing paperwork for other customers while simultaneously helping the customer in front of me, and just before I left, they were planning to add a third computer screen so we could multi-task even more. The idea was that one computer screen was for the customer to use (to sign paperwork, or review information) one would be for my use for that customer in front of me, and the third screen would be for OTHER data I would be working on for other customers, simultaneously, all at once. So if the customer in front of me was signing a document, or was digging a credit card out of their wallet, or whatever, I could turn to the third screen and work on something else while they did that.

    I was in constant motion, often on the phone while simultaneously assisting more than one customer in-person and drafting an email or skype about a third or fourth issue I was working on at the same time, I race-walked everywhere, I would print multiple documents before going to the printer to save on time wasted on printer trips, I cut every corner I could … and I still could not meet the impossible productivity standards. Nobody in the department save the team lead (who cherry-picked the easiest and simplest work for herself and assigned us all the more complex and difficult crappy tasks) made their metrics. NOBODY.

    6) I failed to recognize a regular customer because I asked for his name. Nope — I recognized him. Company standard was that we ask for the customer’s name anyway, even if we did recognize them.

    7) ON THE SAME WRITE-UP, I … greeted a customer by name, and I wasn’t supposed to, and “made her feel uncomfortable because she didn’t know who you were” … yep, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That customer had been a regular (daily) customer of mine in a previous job, but because I was “out of context” she didn’t recognize ME immediately, but then had a good laugh when she did realize who I was and gave me a hug!

    Oh, let’s see — I was always on time, always, but the boss sent out an email demanding we work EXACTLY 8 hours per shift, not a minute more nor less. Okay — so I clocked in at exactly 8 AM and then walked to my desk, 3 minutes from the time clock, and she jumped all over my case for not being at my desk AT EXACTLY 8 AM. Threatened a write-up. So I clocked in early, and then got threatened with a write up for working a couple minutes over — like, literally, now I was working 8:02 minutes per day. I was the closer, so I couldn’t log out early!

    I asked her what she wanted me to do? And she advised, OBVIOUSLY, I should take a lunch that was 62 minutes long … as if I was stupid for not having thought of that myself, when she was such a stickler for everything being exactly right to the minute, not one minute over or under, on our schedule.

    (And I also wasn’t allowed to go over at the end of my shift, , so if a customer walked in the door at ten minutes to closing, I had to help them. We frequently had people rush in the door right at closing. I wasn’t allowed to tell them “we’re closing, go away.” I never did get a clear answer on what I was supposed to do when I had a bunch of customers at the very end of my shift.)

    Anyway … my only regret on old job is that they fired me just before I could flip my boss off on the way out the door LOL. (They found out I was job hunting, among other things.) New job pays $2.50/hour more than old job (and effectively closer to $5/hour more when I do the math, because I now have a one mile commute rather than a 22 mile commute, and 100% coverage of insurance premiums, and free lunches, and all sorts of other perks that mean more money in my pocket.)

    I start next Monday.

    New company so far has impressed me by being extremely sane, and they have a reputation for taking care of their people and they made comments in the interview that told me they get it. It’s a call center and they told me, among other things, that they deliberately split their CSR’s work up between taking phone calls and answering emails because they think that makes for happier CSRs — you’re not on the phone getting yelled at all day! And they try to have enough CSRs so there’s not massive hold time (which means the customers are happier) and they do not have any metrics as far as call handle time goes — they’re focused on doing the right thing for the customer, which means we can take as long as we feel is needed to fix it.

    Hopefully, they’ll work out and they’re everything they claim to be. If not, there are LOTS of other call centers out there. I’ve decided life is just too short to deal with really bad bosses and unreasonable expectations …

    1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      She… what… I… huh?!
      I think my blood pressure just spiked reading through your list of “infractions”.
      How utterly ridiculous.
      Well done for getting out – it’s only a shame you were pushed before you were able to jump (onto your ex-boss’s head from a great height!)

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        – sorry, I’d written this comment three times trying to take the petty violence out of it, but that one just snuck through!
        It boggles my mind how such absolute jerkholes get into positions of power that mean they can get away with stuff like this.
        I’m going to go watch some old cartoons to make myself feel better

        1. Nonyme*

          She started with the company fresh out of high school, and has been there 27 years and has been a manager for 17. From my understanding, the reason that she’s still there is that replacing her would be fairly difficult — it’s a small town, and they would probably need to persuade somebody to relocate to the town for the job, and they don’t want to pay to relocate a new hire. Specialized knowledge and all that.

          She probably also knows where all the bodies are buried. And she’s charismatic as hell — the customers and upper management love her, and she can make the most insane things sound reasonable.

          Plus she went to high school with most of other managers, who are all as bad or worse than her — I swear it’s like all the mean girls in high school got a job together and are now running the show.

          The CFO once came into a team meeting and gave a presentation about how 15 minutes per employee of chit-chat unrelated to the job cost the department $300K per month in lost productivity. (I never did figure out the math on this; it was a team of 13 people.) We were not supposed to have ANY conversations with each other that were not job related. We were also not allowed fifteen minute breaks, just a half hour lunch, and most of the time, our lunches did not overlap, so we never actually got to talk to our coworkers about anything that wasn’t job related — we had to be perfect little drones on the job and. Seriously, I got a stern talking-to one day because I said, “Good morning! Welcome back! How are you doing?” To a coworker who had been out for major surgery … because this was wasting time.

          I remember I was on lunch and ran into a coworker in the parking lot who hadn’t started for the day yet, and we started to talk about *something that was work related*, and then we both simultaneously looked around and we both decided we would get into trouble if we were seen by anyone in the management, because it would look bad for us to be talking in the parking lot. My coworker said, “They’ll probably think we’re saying bad things about them!”

          So we hurried off — me to eat lunch in my car, and my coworker to go grab lunch in the cafeteria before her shift started. We weren’t even on the clock …

          1. Nonyme*

            re: Lunches — oh, and I was scheduled for an hour lunch sometimes, and then my coworkers would resent the time they had to spend covering my desk and my boss would back them up qnd agree that they were right to be pissy at me about it, because “that takes time away from their work” … but she’d still schedule me for an hour because she “needed me there earlier.”

            Most dysfunctional workplace I ever worked.

  25. Annie*

    This boss sounds like my old boss who basically fired me, long story short. I think you should quietly get your resume together and look around for other jobs.

  26. voyager1*

    I am so glad I listened to the whole pod, oh boy was it long! I kept wondering if she hired you (and why AAM didn’t ask)….

    I agee with AAM about the stressed out new manager assessment. But I would add that she didn’t hire you and she may resent having you being dumped on her (at no fault of your own I might add)

    I do think that talking to her is the best idea, but I think I would lean into the “this feels personal” part of the script more and see what she does. If she tries to say no it is professional, show her where you used her work as a template and how that wasn’t still good enough for her. See what she says. She may backpedal or she may acceept what you are saying about her actions really being bullying.

    I agree with AAM that this kind of conversation could turn bad and lay the foundations of you being let go.

    Let us know how it goes, with an update.

  27. Dolorous Bread*

    I had a boss like this years ago, and I was the employee she singled out. She hated the person in my role before me, and carried that over onto me once I was hired. (by all accounts there was nothing wrong with the previous person, either).

    I was young and hungry and willing to do a huge job on dirt pay. I handled production billing for a roster of over 10 photographers. This involved collating various vendor invoices, PHOTOSHOPPING THEM TO BE MORE (that the company would then pocket the difference on), and compiling all of these bills and receipt totals to one giant invoice (that would sometimes have over 130 pages of backup receipts for), sending the marked-up version to the client, making sure the “real” receipts were taken out for that delivery, tracking payments, sending checks, booking vendors for shoots, answering phones, putting call sheets together training and managing interns, hell, even doing the dishes. For under $15 an hour.

    I did it though and I did a damn good job, but that didn’t stop her from endlessly berating me, yelling about how useless I was to other staff when she thought I was out of earshot, making me send her an hourly breakdown of everything I worked on every day (she just would NOT believe i actually DID WORK), she once even lightly pushed me on the shoulder whilst standing over me. The health insurance was shit. She even denied me using personal days to extend my wedding weekend and tried to make me have to take some of it unpaid.

    I couldn’t do anything because the company was small (no HR) and the bully was the owner of the company.

    I cried every day. I thought I was totally worthless and would never be able to get anything better, until I got poached for an amazing job.

    I quit and my last day there was exactly a year to the day that I started. Months later I learned even after I left she doubted I was actually recruited (because apparently i was so useless and talentless).

    Years later I now work about 2 blocks away on the same street, at the best job I’ve ever had, with great managers and projects. I’ve been valuable at every job I’ve had since with nothing but glowing performance reviews.

    I saw Horrible Boss just last week in front of me at the coffee shop and all of those anxious horrible feelings came rushing back. I had a total panic response and could hardly formulate sentences to my colleague. I made him stand in between us in the line. She pretended she didn’t see me.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Sometimes – and it seems odd — but it happens – being forced out of a job can end up being the best thing that ever happened. At my second job – I’ve related this before – I worked for someone who wasn’t well, and it turned out that the position was a “revolving door”.

      Years later I ran into some of my co-workers from that place, I really felt sorry for them. Getting the (for all intents and purposes) the boot form there was the best thing that ever happened.

      And in my career going forward, I made a lot more money. I had considerably better career experiences. I had a lot more fun going to work in the morning, most times. I was offered and took advantage of professional education. And I will be retiring comfortably – very soon.

  28. Lindsay gee*

    TALK TO YOUR COWORKER. I had a manager situation insanely similar to what you’re experiencing. One of the best things I did and which helped me get the right perspective/handle on that situation was opening up to some of my coworkers. They were best friends with the manager and so I didn’t want to say anything, but once I said something it was like a dam broke. Everyone had the same experiences after all, we just didn’t see it and it helped a lot to see that it wasn’t just me or that I wasn’t crazy after all. You may be surprised about how she treats other people too

    1. Paris Geller*

      YES. I had a previously horrible boss who was a master for awhile at getting us all to think everyone else was having a great time, and it was just us. She wasn’t outright as bad as the boss in the podcast. . . because she went more the mind-game route. The things she did were staggering. She would badmouth other employees in front of you, like she was letting you on a secret and you’d get through anything together, but at the same time, nothing was ever enough. She constantly put obstacles in the way designed to make us fail, and then if we did, we should have forseen them, and if we managed to succeed, then it was all due to HER, like she was carrying the whole team on her back. There were so many times I left work thinking I must be going crazy, but nope! Just crazy amounts of gaslighting. We had a dam breaking down moment too, and that moment was amazing. And despite the bad boss (or maybe because of it?) we found a lot of camaraderie together, and most of those team members became not just work-friends but life-friends. It was still horrible to go through, though.

  29. Ask a Manager* Post author

    We’re really not here to critique that sort of thing (nor would I ever say anything to a guest about that unless it was relevant to their question — and actually I didn’t notice it with this guest, who I thought was lovely).

  30. anoni*

    This comes across as pretty rude! Nitpicking someone’s word choices is so unpleasant and not in the spirit of the site.

  31. Not So NewReader*

    I may have missed this somewhere OP. Did your boss hire you or did someone else?
    My old boss was told that I would be working for her. What happened next was a nightmare. I lasted about a year maybe. I realized that I was starting to have health issues and I got out.

    1. Chelsea*

      OP here. My boss hired me. I was told by others that she was really excited to bring me on because we share a common cultural background.

      1. Cat owner*

        It sounds like maybe she expected something from you that she didn’t get in that case? Maybe either she had high expectations (that may or may not have been reasonable) because of your background that you didn’t meet or expected a closer relationship or for you to comply with certain parts of your culture that you don’t.

        If it’s performance, I don’t think it reflects badly on you or makes you bad at your job – sometimes even when it is similar work there are different expectations that need getting used to. Like even random things – I once had to switch from a boss that expected me to tell her everything I was doing always to a boss that just expected me to be very independent, figure stuff out on my own, and not ask except when I came across I problem I didn’t have the authority to make the call on (but I had the authority to make the call on whether or not I had authority if that makes sense?). Which took some getting used to.

        I’m also not sure this counts as abusive – that’s a pretty heavy word and people can treat you badly without being abusive. I say this not to police your language but to say that I think reframing this as not abuse for yourself might make you feel a bit better or make it seem more manageable (even if it still isn’t acceptable for your boss to be talking to you this way) – this kind of thinking has worked in the past for me but i get it if it doesn’t for you.

        Anyway, I feel for you – I know how it feels to dread work and be fearful of your boss. I don’t know if I’m being helpful with the above or supremely unhelpful but I am meaning to be helpful. Good luck.

  32. Bikirl*

    I noticed OP’s use of the word like, but it really didn’t sound excessive at all. She was probably fairly nervous being on the program.

  33. super anon for this*

    This…kind of reminds me of my current manager, who may be a “lite” version of this manager. What makes the dynamic more complicated is that we have an Assistant Manager who sometimes communicates with us more directly, and she is a super nice human being. Some weeks, if I just interact with her and not my manager, I forget how shitty my situatuation is until…oh, I don’t get a raise or any additional benefits for being one of the more tenured people on my team (at, can you believe it, 1.5 years), getting more work put on my plate and being tasked with training others. I also got passed over for a window seat during some seat assignment reshuffling for someone who started almost a year after me.

    I have had multiple coworkers and project supervisors praise my work and say they respect me as a colleague. I still go home feeling like a garbage employee because my manager never acknowledges when I go above on beyond on a project but nitpicks at things like copy-edits. She will then make a big deal via passive aggressive emails that she has had to make “MANY EDITS” to my work (read: re-word sentences arbitrarily to her liking) without providing constructive feedback. (She also never brings this up in person or provide any sort of game plan on how to improve, despite this being a tremendous ordeal.) She is also the one who lectured us recently to “not be passive aggressive” during our communication with colleagues.

  34. dumblewald*

    “Like” is a very common false start/filler like “um”. It’s not ideal when used excessively, but the OP was obviously trying to find the best way to articulate her experiences. I personally don’t think she used it excessively and thought she was generally articulate.

  35. Jasnah*

    Even if, like, OP said “like,” like, every other word, I, like, don’t think that, like, warrants the boss’s, like, totally awful behavior.

  36. rogue axolotl*

    I’ve had bad bosses who were bad at managing, and I’ve had bad bosses who were just awful, cruel people. Unfortunately some of the details the OP shared put me in mind of the latter group. Particularly the shifting standards and looking for things to find fault with. I had a manager who would change how he wanted me to do things from one day to the next as an excuse to belittle me in front of customers and make me look like an idiot. I had another boss who would blame me for things that did not actually happen and lock me in a room to yell at me until I apologized. Spoiler alert: this just led to progressively worse harassment. OP, don’t think twice about leaving if your boss seems like this kind of person.

  37. Close Bracket*

    “Oh, and she doesn’t do this when other people are around.

    This is complicated by the fact that I think I am the only person that she is abusive towards”

    If she only abuses you when there are no witnesses, she might be abusing other people when there are no witnesses. Others who seem to like her might be 1) used to her and not bothered by it, or not bothered enough by it to not still be friendly with her 2) trauma bonded.

  38. Krystal*

    I am a quiet and reserved person and I think that sometimes can make me an easy target for unpleasant bosses/coworkers. I had one male boss who would pick on me literally everyday saying stuff like that I don’t smile enough, that I am not saying good morning in a happy enough tone. I did attempt to improve but nothing was good enough and he would still harp on me about it so it seemed like he was just doing it to be a jerk.

    I tried to go to another manager in a different area that I had previously worked with and felt I could trust for advice but she just turned around and told him everything I had said. I now try to be more cautious when I run into these types of issues because it seems like they are such a sticky situation that no one really knows how to handle them.

  39. Summerisle*

    As someone who escaped a situation very similar to this (with two bullies running a company) and now is working somewhere I’m very happy in a friendly, professional team, I just wanted to remind the OP that none of this your fault and it can/will get better when you move on. I still struggle with confidence as I’m transitioning to a functional, happy workplace from a toxic one, but I feel better everyday. Sorry to say it but the only option may be to move on, ultimately, before it harms your health.

  40. Anonymously*

    My former supervisor yelled at me because I made notes on an invoice, and according to her, that was a legal document.
    I was written up because a vendor applied a payment to the oldest invoices on the account, not as listed on the check stub.
    Another time, I was written up because a vendor cut off our credit for unpaid bills. Turns out the employee who was complaining he couldn’t order anything had all the overdue invoices on his desk. He wouldn’t sign and submit them so they could be paid.

  41. Nicky*

    This happened to me too and I eventually left the job because of it. It was a small work environment and she would laugh and talk to the other co-workers and then be just awful to me. One of the things that bothered me most was that my co-workers dismissed my feelings and denied that it was happening. I felt gaslighted. She would undermine me and be critical of every little thing. I did talk to her about how I felt but Surprise! she denied it. It still really bothers me even though it was many years ago. I don’t know what I did to make her dislike me.

  42. Wendy Willow*

    I have an employee who is very nice and introverted. They refuse to do challenging parts of their job and pass on this work to others, gettting very upset when I pull them up on it. They have received more training and support than everyone put together in my team. It affects my work because I have to take over the work they refuse to do. I believe my other employees shouldn’t have to handle the dregs of this employee’s work so that’s why I do this. I would award this employee, ‘Nicest employee of the month’ but this doesn’t get me performance results when they won’t do the work.I am now trying to get rid off them as I cannot see results after months of trying. Other employees who are also very nice had far less training and support. They are doing well as they take on challenging scenarios and don’t pass on the work. The nice and introverted employee is very upset and is doing even worse now even though the support and training is still there. My patience has been tested and it’s difficult to deal with this. I’m trying to use supportive channels in my network to deal with this scenario (this offer has also been made to them).

    I agree there are bully bosses and my employee would say the same of me I think, not realising performances management is not bullying. Sometimes after trying with someone like this, it just may be the wrong job.

  43. KC*

    I’ve had a similar experience. Yelling, interrogations, making you feel awful, walking on eggshells, etc. For a long time i didn’t have anyone to talk to, even though people who sat nearby were aware. I really thought i was responsible for all this, and it took some time for me to realize that while there may be areas where i can improve, nobody deserves to be treated this way.

    I wasn’t the only one treated this way, but it was far from her normal temperament with most people (and even with me many times). Things were fine for over a year since i started, and then there were some changes in the company (new boss’s boss), and things changed. There seemed to be a link between her behavior, and how stressed she was. It impacted my performance review and the possibility of a raise, but i still got a bonus, which was weird but deserved because i had really busted my ass despite being treated this way.

    Things are better now due to not directly reporting to her, but i still try to keep my distance (email is your friend). I never had a conversation with her about it, but i could tell she was aware of her yelling and at a certain point, trying to contain it. I suspect her boss spoke with her (his office is right next to hers, and my desk, and the door was rarely closed during these instances).

    Like Alison and others have said (and you have indicated), it’s not worth enduring this treatment. It can damage your sense of self and what it normal/acceptable if it goes on for a while and becomes “normal”. It can stick with you when you job search and move to a new job.

  44. KKA*

    OP, sorry to say this but situations like this generally don’t turn out very well. I was in a similar situation just some months ago, with a manager who just couldn’t seem to be satisfied with my work no matter what I did – there was always something wrong, I wasn’t “passionate” enough (whatever the hell that means), and I was the only person on the team that she was nasty to, despite the fact that I was very clearly performing far better than someone else on that team whom she was nice to. She wrote overly-critical performance reviews that nitpicked on the smallest things. There was nothing I could’ve done to pacify her.

    Eventually, I moved teams and I am much happier and healthier for it. My current manager is a brilliant mentor, appreciates my work and delivers only fair, constructive criticism. I wish you the same kind of outcome OP, that you’ll get yourself a good manager and not a bully. Take care of yourself in the meantime.

  45. KarenBlue*

    This sounds so much like my current boss. If I do things without asking I get in trouble, but if I don’t I am told I am not proactive enough. I work part remote yet she calls me everyday (and leaves multiple emails if I don’t answer.) What makes it worse is that she is married to the boss and I know she gets even more criticism than I do but is just passing it on.

    1. KarenBlue*

      I should add, part of my fear is that my sector is small and who do I put as a referee when applying for new jobs?

  46. cactus lady*

    I was in a similar situation a few years ago and I ended up talking to my boss’s boss about it. I approached it as, “I want to be successful in this position and I’d like your guidance on how to manage this situation that’s going on”. It was kind of a risky move but I was pretty sure I was going to be fired because my then-boss didn’t like me, so what did I have to lose? It turned out she had a pattern of abuse that had been rumored about but never officially reported or anything. The whole situation was a huge mess but it worked out – I ended up getting promoted to a different department. I heard that they did an investigation and after talking to a bunch of my peers and her fellow managers, her supervisory role was revoked and she went back to being an individual c0ntributor, and was really good at that and pleasant to be around. I was long gone by then, though. This is a sucky situation, I’m sorry you’re dealing with it.

  47. TardyTardis*

    Run. The boss enjoys trampling you and then looking all nice to everyone else, so everyone else will think you must be really bad to be treated that way. It won’t get any better.

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