my boss wants help with her dating app profile

A reader writes:

My new boss started here in January. My coworkers and I are upset and concerned over her complete lack of boundaries. It hasn’t gotten better as time goes on.

I could write you a novel about all the stuff she does, but here are just a few examples to show what I mean:

* My boss told us she’s trying to lose weight. She said her goal is to lose over half her weight. She says my coworkers and I have to keep her accountable to make sure she stays on track. One time she was upset with the five of us for not “calling her out” when she had a doughnut with her lunch. If she strays off her diet, she expects us to say something to her. But when one of my coworkers saw her eating a chocolate bar and reminded her about her diet, she got upset with him. None of us are comfortable with this because we can’t win whether we say anything or not.

* Related to her diet, she told my coworker Jane to write down everything she eats and what she does at the gym because she wants to weigh the same as she does. Jane isn’t a dietician or personal trainer and she has no experience with this kind of thing. Jane told us she doesn’t want to do this but our boss won’t take no for an answer. She thinks it is off-putting and invasive. She’s mentioned shopping trips together when she loses weight.

* Our boss had a meeting with all of us because she wanted us to help her with her online dating profiles and wanted opinions from men on what she could do to make them more appealing. She’s asked us about this more than one time.

* Our boss, my coworkers, and I all live alone. None of us have any children or dependents. One of my coworkers, Mark, has a girlfriend, the rest of us are single. Mark is moving in with his girlfriend next month. When our boss found out, she hid in her office for the rest of the day. At one of the mandatory after-hours bar trips she puts on for us, she cried and said Mark was breaking up our “single people’s club” and said over and over that she didn’t know his relationship was serious. She talks all the time about wanting marriage and kids.

* She has all our personal phone numbers and calls us at home after work and on weekends.

She should know better because she’s the director of HR. I could make a list of all the ways she crosses the line. If anyone says anything to her or doesn’t do what she wants, she gets upset.

She calls us her family and as you can see from the examples above, she gets way too personal with us. It is way over the line. No one is sure about going over her head to her boss because she reports to our VP of Operations. I have talked to my coworkers and no one wants to get fired for standing up to her or saying no. She doesn’t like it when we don’t go along with her.

Your boss is a nightmare.

You can’t make your co-workers assert themselves in the face of all this boundary-crossing, but you can set your own boundaries and stick to them.

That means:

1) When she asks you to “keep her accountable to her diet,” say something like, “Oh, I could never do that” or “I wouldn’t feel comfortable commenting on someone else’s food” or “I try not to think about dieting like that so I can’t help, sorry!” Say it in a brisk, matter-of-fact tone like of course she’ll accept that because any reasonable person would, and then change the subject. (She’s not reasonable, but using that tone can be surprisingly effective.)

2) If she asks you for help with her online dating profile or for dating advice, say, “Oh gosh, I wouldn’t have the first idea. But I wanted to ask you about [work-related topic].” If she pushes, then say, “To be honest, I prefer to keep that stuff outside of work. Thanks for understanding!”

3) If she hides in her office and cries because someone has a significant other, ignore it.

4) If she talks about your “single’s people’s club,” ignore it.

5) If she talks about wanting marriage and kids, make vague noises like “mmm hmmm” and then change the subject.

6) If she calls you at home after work or on the weekend, don’t answer. Consider blocking her number or labeling it “don’t answer” in your phone. If she asks you about it later, say you often turn your phone off at night and over the weekend.

Ideally in this situation you’d be able to have a conversation with her, where you explain the boundaries you prefer to have at work. You could possibly do that here, but so far all signs point to her being an emotional child who won’t be able to handle that, or someone who will cry and sulk if you say something. Frankly, it might be fine for her to cry and sulk as long as she eventually pulls it together, but she sounds so juvenile that I worry if you’re the only one who calls her out, she’ll take her displeasure out on you in ways that will be bad for you professionally.

In fact, I’m concerned about her retaliating against the actions I just advised you to do as well, except you have far less of a choice there — it’s not a tenable solution to write her online dating profile and shop for clothes with her and take her evening phone calls, so you’ve got to put up those boundaries now. It just may not make sense to have the Big Conversation about boundaries as well, as opposed to being matter-of-fact about how you will not get involved, and just going about your business.

I do think you should consider talking to her boss, if you know her boss to be a generally reasonable person. A decent manager would be horrified to hear what your boss is doing and would intervene. You said no one wants to get her fired, but companies don’t usually fire managers on the spot for this kind of behavior — it’s far more likely that her boss will just talk to her and tell her to cut it out (and then she’ll probably sulk for a while and act terribly hurt, which is fine; you can ignore that).

But ultimately there’s no magic wand here. You’ve got to decide if you’re willing to set boundaries (on your own, if your co-workers won’t join you). If you’re not comfortable with confronting her, please know there’s no shame in that — sometimes with a boss who’s this out of her mind, it’s easier to just roll your eyes but not push back too much. You’re allowed to choose that path if it seems like the best one for you. But if you do want to try to push back, this has the most chance of success.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 361 comments… read them below }

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      The longer I spend time reading on this site, the more I think that HR departments can (can) be the nest of the worst of the worst.

      1. pope suburban*

        I think a lot of people seek out HR departments as some kind of extra layer of armor for their dysfunctional behavior. Not most, not even many, but those who do shine on, those crazy diamonds. The previous HR assistant where I work used her position to bully other employees, for example, and to exploit every possible time-off loophole. While people were aware that she was absent, they felt that what she was doing must have been ok, because she’s in HR, so she knows what the limits are (Which…technically true, but not at all how they meant it). The victims of her bullying and their supervisors felt similarly powerless to tackle her demands, which were overreaching and deliberately demeaning, because, well, she’s HR, she knows where the line is, right? It took a lot longer than it should have to terminate her, and that’s in no small part because she leveraged her role. So yeah, that handful of people who want to hide in plain sight can make things really bad for everyone else.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I wonder how much lack of training and background in HR contributes to this? IME, in smaller companies at least, HR is often short-shrifted as an actual *field* that requires actual *skill and training* and so people get hired and/or promoted to HR in a way they wouldn’t in, say, accounting or tech support. Sometimes this works out great, and sometimes it goes full Dunning-Kruger.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes. You’ve got the small company where the admin handles HR (meaning like payroll and benefits, not much beyond that) and then the company grows and they don’t realize they need to fundamentally change their model and professionalize it.

            But there’s plenty of bad HR at big companies too.

            1. Magenta Sky*

              I have lived through that (the small company version), except that I work for some very smart people, and when there started to be issues, they went looking for someone with real HR experience. It only took two tries, but we got a darned good one in the end.

              It doesn’t always end badly.

            2. That Work from Home Life*

              I work in a smaller branch of a large, international company. One of those departments (mine) closed our physical office in a major US city a few years ago and our staff is 100% remote, while the other departments in a neighboring state retained their physical location. Not long after that our sole HR rep, who is really lovely and smart, was laid off and her duties were then passed on to the account manager (?!) at the remaining physical office. And whoa boy, to say the account manager is terrible at HR duties is a massive understatement. She’s outright hostile when processing the simplest of requests and formalities. It’s crazy.

              1. Ego Chamber*

                I thought it was very weird when I went back to college and intended to major in accounting (I’ve since switched majors) and at least 1/3 of the required courses were HR courses—there were more purely HR-focused courses than purely accounting-focused courses.

                This is a thing that really happens, a lot, and schools are responding by trying to prepare future bookkeepers to be competent HR-lite professionals. So weird, but here we are.

              2. Glitsy Gus*

                Yeah, I have had something similar happen, where I’m in an office that loses their HR person so the main office HR takes over. In theory it works fine, but the main office is in a “Right to Work” state and I’m in a much more “Pro-Labor” state, so it’s fun when I, as the employee, end up explaining step-by-step how PTO on overtime laws work where I am to my HR department head because they keep trying to impose policies on us that are fine where they are but totally illegal where I am.

            3. Valegro*

              Yeah, I worked for a very large hospital and our department had a major sexual harassment problem that our boss ignored or laughed at. HR’s suggestion was a “diversity potluck.”

          2. pope suburban*

            Definitely that too, and I think that is much more common than a dysfunctional person looking to make a fortress out of a job title. I’ve worked for a fair few companies that just kinds threw “HR duties” onto the office manager or an admin, and…no? Even the most lovely, capable person is going to need a good amount of training and continuing education to adequately perform HR duties, because it’s its own field. It’s dismaying that so many organizations either can’t or won’t see that.

            1. jb*

              The problem is, that a company can get by with bad HR for much longer than with bad operations, accounting, etc. So it’s more likely a poorly-run company will fail at HR than elsewhere.

              1. Jadelyn*

                It won’t bite you as immediately – but when it finally does bite you, it’s got very big teeth. Wish more small companies understood that.

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Yeah, a relative got a degree in (something with no practical application that I cannot remember the name of) and ended up in HR. I believe I heard a few other similar stories. It’s like HR acts as a catch-all for people with college degrees that they got, but don’t know what to do with. Which is sad, because we as employees do need qualified HR staff.

            1. Genny*

              Yeah, unfortunately some fields have a reputation of being “easy” and that anyone can do them (I think communications, especially entry level communications work like social media, is another such field). They either end up attracting people who have no idea what they want to do or just wanted an “easy” degree so they could skate through college.

          4. NextTimeGadget*

            At my (very large) organization, HR is given absolutely no respect as a field that requires specialized skills and knowledge. People are often moved into an HR leadership role with absolutely no experience or education in HR. As someone who’s dedicated my life to continuing education and skill-building in my HR-related profession, it’s incredibly disheartening to repeatedly see people who are successful in Operations or Marketing be moved into high-level HR roles with no qualifications.

            1. Aitch Arr*


              BTW, my undergrad degree is in French. I had no idea what HR was until I joined the working world. I then went back to school for grad work in HR Management and also got my PHR and SHRM-CP.

              So it’s not all bad when “people with college degrees that they got but don’t know what to do with” go into HR. ;)

              1. GreyjoyGardens*

                I think this happens more often than not – a *lot* of folks work in a field that has no relation to their undergraduate degree. Of course, most wind up doing what you did – getting additional education and/or training, and/or certifications.

                It’s the people who *don’t* do any of that who cause the most trouble. “Human Resources? Easy-peasy! I’ll just wing it!”

          5. cathammock*

            Honestly, this is me right now. In my small nonprofit I’ve had my position “redefined” multiple times in a whirlwind tour from program management to operations management (which was already a stretch for my knowledge and skills) and a final swerve into full-tilt HR. No training whatsoever.

            I’m a conscientious enough person to do my research and try to think through contingencies before acting, but there’s only so much you can do to, say, meet compliance requirements you don’t know exist, or know that your “reasonable” decision snags hard on one of a million CA labor code technicalities.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Oh my god. Not only did they throw you in the deep end, if you’re in CA, they threw you in the deep end of a pool filled with piranhas. CA labor law is its own beast, and nobody is familiar with it if they don’t have to be. I can’t tell you how many times we have to tell the HR folks at our headquarters office on the east coast that no, we can’t do our stuff the way they do it, CA labor law requires we do it this way. (I am perpetually startled whenever I’m reminded that they don’t have to pay out people’s final checks on their last day, but can just let it run with the next regular payroll. I literally forget that other states don’t have that requirement.)

              You have my deepest sympathies – and if you’re going to be staying in that kind of role, I’d be happy to share my contact info and answer questions if I can. Just let me know.

          6. Mrs_helm*

            Oh, it is true for IT as well. Any company with less than 20 staff is very likely to have no actual IT staff, and is lucky to have a real network set up by an employee/family member/intern who “knows computer stuff”. And there are plenty ofnpower-trippy IT people.

            Growing out of that phase is expensive, but so are the problems that come with not implementing proper Enterprise Systems – like firewalls and account management…

            1. Just Employed Here*

              Yes, I came here to say this. I’ve seen both the HR and the IT messes.

              At one point in one organization, we ended up buying external IT services (when nonprofit program guy who happened to know a bit about computers left), but people were then *afraid to contact that external IT person, lest he get angry*!

            2. emmelemm*

              Preach. I work for a company that does highly specialized software, and a lot of our clients are smaller companies that definitely have no IT staff. And it shows. And it’s difficult because they always have an “IT consultant” from some outside company except the actual person keeps rotating, so they have zero familiarity with anything specific to our client and so on…

              1. Not Australian*

                I worked for a legal firm where our ‘IT consultant’ quite literally spent his regular working hours selling vegetables from a market stall, and could only problem solver for us in his spare time. Or when he’d sold all his vegetables, I guess.

                1. Autumnheart*

                  Jeez. Either the firm wasn’t paying him enough, or the vegetable market stall business is surprisingly lucrative.

          7. MN HR gal*

            I’ve also discovered that it’s hard to explain to my company that I have “skills and training.” I have my PHR and I don’t think anyone knows what that means or remembers that I do. They were recently raving about an HRIS that includes access to “HR professionals” for questions, but looking into it it’s just people with the same qualifications I have. I’m the first HR professional they’ve had that they didn’t just promote from an admin role, and I think they still have a hard time realizing I didn’t go into HR to plan the happy hours.

        2. Jadelyn*

          Whether it’s deliberate or not, I think you’ve hit something important in that when one of those toxic coworkers winds up in HR, they have the potential to have a much more intense impact, so they get Noticed in a way the same type of behavior from a different team wouldn’t be. If an accounting assistant was bullying folks, the victims wouldn’t have felt as intimidated about pushing back – so even if it was the exact same type of behavior, coming from someone in HR it has more impact than elsewhere.

          Plus, folks in HR tend to be a lot better informed about their legal options and how they can twist regulations to protect themselves if they want to, which can make some companies scared to discipline or fire them for fear of it turning ugly.

          So whether Crazypants McGee sought out HR as a layer of armor to let them get away with their behavior, or just happened to be there, it has the same kind of magnifying and protective effects either way.

          1. pope suburban*

            Yes, in the case of my employer, it was definitely that the bully had extensive knowledge of how far a rule could bend before breaking. She put the whole organization through a pretty bad ordeal, and only some of that is attributable to an organizational tendency not to discipline full-time staff. She stayed juuuuuust this side of all the lines, which allowed her to drag it out and scoop up as much PTO as possible. It turned out that this was something of a pattern for her, so I kind of wonder if I’ll ever read about her here, or if I have. I fortunately never met her, since she left shortly before my time here- as did her favorite victim, the person who used to have my role. Hearing about it was wild, and I sincerely hope she never succeeds with it again.

      2. kittymommy*

        The more I read this site, the more I appreciate our HR department, which I thought was a mess and the HR director tone deaf. Jeez louise, I may need to get them a department present to thank them for not being all boundary crossings nuts.

      3. Leela*

        Former HR person here! My experience is that companies very often take the attitude of “oh it’s just HR” and don’t bother to invest in it, manage it properly, or properly pay/retain people who are good at it. The result is that everyone good leaves and many companies are left with garbage HR, only furthering the impression that HR isn’t worth investing in. HR is also often caught between ridiculous corporate policies/stagnation and the employees who are upset about it, and the frustration can drive anyone who can leave right the hell out. Unfortunately I agree, a LOT of dysfunction gets nested in HR because of this and god help you if you’re in HR and your HR manager is the problem (this was the case for me at a job I had a few years ago. It was so bad I just left)

        1. pope suburban*

          Aaaah, that kind of thinking drives me up the wall! Having personally experienced the difference between qualified, dedicated HR people and “Eh, we’ll let the office manager do it, whatever,” I’m keenly aware of how much the job takes- and how badly it can affect everyone if the job is not getting done, or if the person doing it does not have the tools they need. It’s not just busywork or mandatory fun-planning, it’s an essential component of a functional working environment- or at least it’s meant to be. I really wish people would take HR more seriously. Good HR is like water: you have no idea how important it is until you don’t have it.

          1. Leela*

            “Good HR is like water: you have no idea how important it is until you don’t have it.”

            Yes. Totally this. Even the people that worked with me in HR didn’t seem to take it seriously, the thought is so pervasive that it’s a ridiculous department for people who failed at everything so they wound up there. If it was taken seriously and cultivated well I think they’d see huge improvements in HR’s usefulness to the company.

    2. Asenath*

      I thought some of my former co-workers/supervisors were difficult. This one is in a category of her own!

      1. Umvue*

        With a boss this bizarre, what are the chances that the grandboss is unaware?

        I’m hoping the situation is “grandboss knows and has been waiting for an excuse” rather than “grandboss knows and isn’t keen to fix the issue.”

    3. pleaset*


      Speaking from an editorial perspective, this is good, but the OP should edit it with this sentence last:

      “She should know better because she’s the director of HR.”

    4. Aphrodite*

      OMG, can we add her to the 2018 Worst Boss of the Year list? This is nothing less than unbelievable.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is truly one of the most amazing and epic letters I have ever read (although my heartfelt condolences go out to the OP).

        1. Clorinda*

          At this point, I think Alison should only accept write-ins that include the potential for grievous bodily harm. The bar has been set very high (or very low, depending on perspective). You can only put in bosses who have the chance of unseating Ignore the Concussion or Ignore the Physically Dangerous Pranks. Or Fake CPS. This is bad, but it’s no Fake CPS.

        2. Psyche*

          Considering the ones we had this year, she probably won’t make the cut. No one can die from what she is doing…

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Scarily enough, this sounds like my worst old boss, but mine was even more graphically boundary crossing. Like TMI beyond TMI. I’d think it was the same person, but we aren’t in HR.

        I’m sorry OP. I only got away from it when I left.

  1. Armchair Analyst*

    OMG I might have to pay for a monthly subscription to The Cut to read the answer!!

    Your boss is Michael Scott from The Office. Remember when he thought he was going to be the baby’s godfather? They ended up giving him another honorary… honor.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Can you not see my articles there without a subscription anymore?? (I know they switched to a paid model, but I thought you got a certain amount of access for free.)

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        I’ve read too much of TheCut this month…. If “too much” is wrong, I don’t wanna be right…

          1. Cascadia*

            Just switch to a different browser! Use chrome/firefox/safari/internet explorer. Or if you’re in chrome, go into incognito mode.

            1. Clisby Williams*

              You can do this with Microsoft Edge as well. Instead of “incognito” it’s called “inprivate” or something like that.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          On Safari, hit Preferences -> Privacy -> Manage website data and delete The Cut. Other browsers should have similar options.

      2. KatieRuth*

        Sadly I’ve already used up my free Cut articles. But I need–NEED–to know what you’re going to tell this poor guy!

      3. Esme Squalor*

        I can still see it… But weirdly, The Cut is blocked on my work network. I find it strange because NOTHING else I’ve ever tried to go to is blocked on my work network, including BuzzFeed and trash clickbait sites and the like.

      4. AnonyNurse*

        They’ve gone to a subscription model but it doesn’t have a specific number of articles; it’s supposedly using a machine-learning algorithm for each user to determine when to cut (ha) them off. It’s across all NYMag sites, so Vulture, DI, etc. “count.”

        Yes, you can use incognito modes and cookie clearing. Frankly, I’d just appreciate a number like other sites: you have 3 more articles this month or whatever. Their paywall is making me read their sites significantly less. Many of their posts are just a rehash of a single other source, so it isn’t worth using up a hit to find out I need to read the original. I am not looking at the site at all to preserve my unknown quantity of available posts to yours (and the sex diaries. Those are gold. Actually it would be amazing for your take on them as so often the activities described take place in the workplace or with colleagues. Or bosses).

    2. anony*

      You can read for free even if you’ve exceeded your monthly quota there by opening it in an incognito window.

  2. fposte*

    Oh, I started making a loud keening noise of alarm while reading this. This is not a manager with a weakness; this is a manager unclear on the whole concept.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes, and rocking back and forth in my chair going NONONONONONONONONO.

      Honestly, how do people like this manage in the world? OP, I hope you’re able to set and maintain firm boundaries with her, and also that you’re job hunting and will be out the door very soon!

      1. Drew*

        My reading went, “OK, that’s bad…that’s really inappropriate…that’s just silly…DIRECTOR OF HR WTG ZOMG HAIL NAW.” There may have been flailage.

    2. ditzy in denver*

      I let out a blood curdling screech so loud people came to investigate!!!!!!! jaw is in the BASEMENT!

  3. Isben Takes Tea*

    OP, even if she were to be fired, she is getting herself fired. The person who calls the fire department is not responsible for starting the fire!

    1. Marthooh*

      OP actually said “No one wants to get fired for standing up to her… .” I’m guessing they’d actually be okay with the boss getting fired. She sounds vindictive on top of everything else, so I understand everyone being cautious, but I wish the whole team would get together to talk to the grandboss.

      People, people, this kind of thing is why God invented gumption!

      1. Observer*

        Is this the first time someone on this site has actually RECOMMENDED *gumption*!?!

        OP, that tells you how bad your boss is. I’m sure you knew it, this is just validation.

      2. Cautionary tail*

        Thanks for saying it. They aren’t scared of the boss losing her job, they are scared of losing their own job.

      3. Legal Beagle*

        Yes, it sounds like this is the exact situation that calls for a group approach. If one person complains to the VP, it’s easy to ignore (and I’d also be afraid of it getting back to HR manager and being punished for it), but if the whole department complains as one, that’s much harder to ignore, or retaliate against.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          This was my exact thought. They aren’t going to fire an entire department.

          I think Alison misread that last bit as the coworkers worrying about getting the manager fired, not that they were worried about themselves getting fired.

        2. Laurelma01*

          This would have my passive aggressiveness coming out in full force. I would set my cell up to go directly to email after working hours. If she complains that she cannot get a hold of you after hours, if you have kids …. blame it on them carrying off the phone and you couldn’t find it until Sunday night, etc.

          I would be thinking about doing a mail a spud to her, etc. I’ve thought of doing that to my boss so many times, but haven’t. Get a book on leadership, etc., for Christmas. No idea what to think in this case. Run, and run. Many times people do not tell upper management, so the behavior continues. Unless the VP is made aware, nothing can be changed to address it. If some of the weird stuff is done via email, it can forwarded to the VP, document the issues in a log, or email yourself the odd things each time it happens, so it’s date & time stamped. It’ll serve as a log.

          Someone, or all of you are going have to bite the bullet and tell him. And stand up to her.

          1. mrs__peel*

            “I would be thinking about doing a mail a spud to her”

            I’m dying laughing at the idea of someone opening up a packaged potato that says “OMG YOU ARE A TERRIBLE MANAGER” on it.

      4. Isben Takes Tea*

        I guess I was reading too quickly at the end–my brain must have wanted to get out of there as soon as possible!

      5. Emily S.*

        I noticed that in her answer, Alison apparently read it as the OP not wanting to get the manager fired — but as you say above, the OP wrote that nobody wanted to get themselves fired, for sticking up to her.

        I imagine they’d actually be happy to see her get fired!

    1. The Original K.*

      Nope! I think this was: “Mark is moving in with his girlfriend next month. When our boss found out, she hid in her office for the rest of the day. At one of the mandatory after-hours bar trips she puts on for us, she cried …”

      And the cherry on top is that she’s the head of HR! I mean …

          1. Anonny*

            I dunno, I’d appreciate mandatory bar trips for dealing with this kind of boss. As long as it goes on the company expenses.

        1. kc89*

          some people seem to think you are single until you get married

          I guess that’s true for a lot of forms, but in a casual sense it’s a funny way to think

          1. Iris Eyes*

            Well in most cases legally you are single until you get married (for taxes and whatnot). Although, just moving in with someone =/= marrying them. So she must mean single as in still in the hunting/sorting phase.

      1. Comms Girl*

        Yup, that’s what got me too – not that the rest wasn’t wildly inappropriate too. But *crying* because one of your subordinates is moving in with his SO and thus breaking a (official-in-her-head only) singles club is dumbfounding. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up, can you?!

    2. Observer*

      I agree, but the dating app and asking the guys how to make her profile more appealing was the one that made me gasp.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I know. How does the HEAD OF HR not know that is sexual harassment?

        hoo boy. I am quite sure the VP of Operations would want to know HR is exposing them to lawsuits instead of protecting them.

        Unless the VP is inappropriate also, he will listen to what the co-workers have to say. Just because the HR is a direct report doesn’t mean they are protected.

      2. Asenath*

        Oh, I think the bit where people are supposed to write down everything she eats and tell her not to eat her own food is way up there, too. Especially since she thinks that will make her as slim as the other worker – and lets not forget, she gets angry when people try to stop her from eating her doughnuts and chocolate bars! In what world does someone buy sweets and then get angry BOTH if her workers try to stop her from eating them, AND if they don’t stop her from eating them?

        I can’t think of anything better than what Alison said. Opt out (or ignore) as much as you can. I think this one is past fixing.

        1. kupo*

          No, it’s worse. One employee who the boss wants to look like was supposed to write down what she (the employee) eats so the boss can copy the employee’s eating and gym habits.

      3. Antti*

        Same. I don’t know whether this meets the bar for potential sexual harassment, but it’s sure toeing that line and no way in hell is it remotely appropriate *for a manager to be doing with her reports*.

      4. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        I think there’s an argument that that’s bordering on sexual harassment. (Not a strong case, but just using the words tends to get results with higher management).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, I don’t think this actually rises to the legal level of sexual harassment, but you could frame the concern that way anyway and it would get their attention.

        2. Lord Gouldian Finch*

          The “crying over Mark” thing certainly at least adds to framing it that way with upper management, because I could see a hypothetical case where Mark got a demotion or something and sued claiming sexual harassment by his boss.

        3. mrs__peel*

          If she’s going around asking male employees things like “What do you like in a woman?”, that certainly seems like sexual harassment territory to me.

      5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Same here. The “asking the guys” part might be even worse than the crying-in-the-office part.

      6. pony tailed wonder*

        My co-workers VOLUNTEERED to make my dating profile better. I let them look mine over and make improvements and they did make it much better.

    3. Amber T*

      Agreed – when I read the title I thought, “Oh maybe it’s not that bad…” When I was single and using the app, (non single) coworkers were curious, so there are definitely ways to talk about this stuff at work without being that inappropriate. But oh man… just that bit is inappropriate in the work place, but then you combine it with every-frickin-thing else? Sheeeeesh…

  4. lyonite*

    My eyebrows were going up until I got to “she’s the director of HR,” at which point they left without a forwarding address.

    1. Shira*

      Love this metaphor – but also, SERIOUSLY. Talk about burying the lede! (Although somehow, I’m also not all that surprised…)

    2. lyonite*

      That said, maybe there’s some potential for a solution there? Not that I have a lot of hope for this working, but maybe if your department was leading a company-wide initiative about professionalism and appropriate boundaries, it might jump start a little self-reflection with her? Or at least inspire your colleagues to be more ready to push back against her ridiculousness. (Or not. But it might be worth a try.)

    3. H.C.*

      Yeah, my reaction as I kept reading was “Well, LW should definitely bring this up with HR……. Oh [wtf?!?!??!]”

    4. AKchic*

      Hey… I thought I saw something weird floating here in Alaska… I can’t reach ’em with my butterfly net, but I can at least contact Santa at the North Pole and maybe he can snag ’em on one of his practice runs?

  5. Ginger*

    Send the VP a link to this post. Maybe from an anonymous email address. If that’s how the head of HR acts, it’s not a question of if but when you’ll be sued.

    1. MB*

      Yeah it’s unfortunate given the OP’s concern about not getting her boss fired. These actions alone don’t warrant termination, but it’s just really, really hard to see these examples and not worry about what else might be wrong with the HR Department

      1. Observer*

        It doesn’t sound like they are worried about getting the boss fired, but are afraid of getting fired themselves for standing up to her.

    2. Amber T*

      Took me a minute to figure out what you meant (is Boss going to sue the OP?) but yeah, excellent point. Boss isn’t just inappropriate, there’s a super good chance she’ll do (or has done) something illegal.

    1. Parenthetically*

      Ye gods, I just re-read it, and what’s that part of the atmosphere that’s JUST before you get into space? My eyebrows are there.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Now I’m picturing the earth as a planet with rings, only the rings are made up of all the sets of eyebrows that flew up off their owners’ faces upon reading ridiculous things.

    2. Relentlessly Socratic*

      Between you and lyonite, I am belly-laughing at the location of all y’all’s eyebrows.

  6. yikes!*

    The worst part is that she is the head of HR!

    She clearly has no boundaries. I’d be terrified she’s accessing and using personnel info for her own purposes.

    1. irene adler*

      I cringe in fear at how she is handling workplace problems brought by other employees in other depts.
      Presumably they have no idea what they face should they bring issues to her.


  7. Kyrielle*

    I was starting to think about how I’d have to fish my eyebrows out of my hairline when I hit “she’s the director of HR” – now I don’t have to fish them out, they shot up and got stuck in the ceiling tiles all of their own accord. Good GRIEF.

    Her behavior is completely ridiculous, untenable and unacceptable. Push back as much as you feel comfortable doing, OP, and using Alison’s scripts or something similar where applicable. Honestly, “What the actual F***?” would also be an understandable response, however, as Alison notes a more measured response is less-likely to blow back and more likely to work.

  8. pope suburban*

    Aaaaaaa! Also, aaaaaaaa!

    Is this the kinder sister of the couples-counseling boss who’s in the “Worst Boss of 2018” poll? I mean, I’m just saying, we’re looking at a really similar level of invasiveness, just with less screaming and threats. I am having such a hard time wrapping my mind around anyone ever thinking that any of this is okay. I mean…aaaaa!

  9. Engineer Girl*

    This person does not belong in this job. She’s the head of HR, has access to everyone’s personal data, and has shown willingness to cross boundaries and retaliate. This is the HR person from hell. She has the ability to sink the company. She does not deserve this job. She has earned her firing.
    I would strongly suggest you go as a group to her boss. Give him the list you gave to Alison. This should terrify any person that interacts with HR.

    1. Me*

      I don’t think she belongs in any job frankly. At least not one that involves interacting with other humans.

    2. Shira*

      Totally agree on going to grand-boss as a group (I was surprised this wasnt part of Alison’s advice as she has suggested it as an option in the past)

    3. Remote Worker and Dog Lover*

      I once had a difficult boss with a whole host of issues. Talking about the problem as a group with my coworkers and the boss’ boss was helpful. My boss got a little better after that but the real benefit was the reassurance that higher ups knew what was going on and, as much as was possible without throwing their staffer under the bus, acknowledged the challenges we were facing. That being said, this worked because the boss’ boss was a good listener and wasn’t willing to ignore the problems, like previous leaders had done.

      Is there a time when LW’s boss is out of the office that everyone could talk to the VP of Operations? That’s what my coworkers and I did; it took the pressure off since we were fairly sure the person we were talking about wasn’t going to suddenly show up in the middle of our discussion!

    4. Snargulfuss*

      Yes, I’m surprised this wasn’t included in Alison’s advice. I know the OP said her co-workers are reluctant to push back, but if they go above HR lady as a group I don’t see how the VP could ignore this.

    5. Sienna*

      This part of the letter:

      “I have talked to my co-workers and no one wants to get fired for standing up to her or saying no to her requests. She doesn’t like it when we don’t go along with her.”

      Suggests that going to the VP as a group is out because everyone is scared of getting fired. That’s probably why Allison gave those suggestions of the OP pushing back by themselves.

    6. Mockingjay*

      Strongly urge pushing back as a group. I’m sure each of you can provide detailed problematic examples to support your case.

      The Head of HR is supposed to set the standard of how to behave professionally, not demonstrate every wrong that an employee could possibly commit.

    1. Michio Pa*

      Absolutely. Actually I think that might be a good way to survive day to day: make :| faces to an imaginary camera, ignore or dismiss the insane requests and instead speak to the emotions behind them (desire for attention, approval, companionship, affection).

  10. TheBeetsMotel*

    Honestly, I kind of hate to start the chant of “get out”, but if it’s not realistic to go over her head to her boss, there may be little other long-term option beside voting with your feet. There’s just… so much going on here, coming at you from all sides; it’s not just setting a boundary; it’s setting several boundaries with someone who clearly has no idea as to professional norms, let alone managerial norms.

    Your job might be amazing and enough to offset this nonsense, but if it were me, I think I’d get very jaded, very fast.

    1. PB*

      Yes. Sometimes, commenters here jump to “Start job searching yesterday!!!” too quickly. This is not one of those times.

        1. Random Thought*

          +1 This does not seem like a “Grand Boss talked to her and she was upset but eventually got better” situation.

    2. LKW*

      I’d say that searching for a job, and all that it entails, is going to be difficult to manage with a boss this intrusive. It can be done, but this woman sounds unhinged. If someone turns in their resignation I can only imagine she’d lock herself in her office, hide under her desk with comfort food and then go on a destructive rant because of said snack food.

      I mean, you can’t let her potential behavior stop you from doing what’s doing best, LW, but for cheeses sake, be careful.

    3. Queen of the File*

      I think it miiiight depend on what senior leadership is like.

      I worked for this person (not literally the same person, but effectively the same person) and it didn’t take long before she was crying about her personal life with her higher-ups, derailing management meetings with inappropriate personal conversations, and generally letting them know she was unfit for her job. We just had to wait it out.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I, too, have the “you just have to wait it out” experience. You have a coworker that everyone is scared to work or even interact with, or a boss from hell, and then next you know, they are all of a sudden being fired, or demoted, or told to start looking for work, because there’s no longer a position available for them. Sadly, in my experience, it takes a couple of years for things to get to that point. In the meantime, people are leaving and work is suffering because of Horrible Boss/Coworker Person.

  11. Em Dash*

    Wow. So we’re all in agreement that she was secretly crushing on the guy moving in with his girlfriend, right?

    I wonder if she’s new to management in general. It seems like she hasn’t learned to treat employees like employees and is instead treating them like a built-in friend group–though, for the record, she sounds like the most exhausting member of any given group of friends.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      No… I think it’s more straightforward. It’s the friend who is furious that someone in the friend group got an SO, thereby changing the dynamic. Or moved out of their parents’ house, thereby changing the dynamic. Or got interested in other things and the group isn’t the center of their life any more, thereby changing the dynamic.

      The twist is that because she’s the literal boss, they haven’t bluntly let her know that this isn’t a friend group, this is a freakish forced association they endure to earn money for rent.

          1. fposte*

            I wouldn’t have actually ascribed it to this situation, but it’s the metaphor of live crabs in a bucket, trying to get to the top to escape by crawling over the others.

            1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

              I think the metaphor also includes, though, that any crabs that make it to the top and are about to escape the bucket will get pulled back down by the other crabs — if they can’t all get out, no one is allowed out. They aren’t just uncooperative with each other, they are actively against another crab succeeding.

          2. annakarina1*

            Meaning that if one crab tries to crawl out of the bucket, the other crabs will pull them back in.

        1. Oranges*


          Crab bucket: “Anyone experienced in handling seafood knows that no lid is necessary on a bucket of crabs. If one tries to climb out, the others will pull it back. Crabs fall considerably lower on the evolutionary scale than primates and, certainly, people, so this seems to be a basic force of life. Petty jealousy or a reluctance to see anyone do better has probably slowed the development of civilisation more than anything.” –Pratchett

            1. Oranges*

              No worries, it’s actually a myth (95% sure of my facts on that). But it definitely is a needed metaphor.

      1. LKW*

        Agreed, this is more about not being close enough to co-worker to know how serious it was and the mis-perception that dynamic of the group will change (because it won’t because they work together and moving in with a girlfriend won’t change that all they do is work together).

        I don’t think she had a crush on the guy.

      2. Oranges*

        I think it’s more about she’s measuring her “success” at life via her co-workers so any time any one else get’s to a marker before she does, she’ll be upset.

        Not about the dynamic changing but by the feeling of “I’m x years old and I still live with my parents/don’t have a partner/don’t have a “real” job/etc etc”


    2. Lance*

      To that first point… I doubt it. I think it more so just shone an extra light on the fact that she badly wants an SO, and now one of her direct reports has gotten one before her she had a (totally unwarranted) breakdown.

      1. Bee*

        Yeah, I think it’s related to the old chestnut that it is somehow embarrassing for the younger sister to get married before the older, especially since she sees them as a family.

          1. Jadelyn*

            “I met this really great guy, but I’m third in the queue for partner availability at work, so I had to ask him if he’d be willing to revisit in 6 months. It might be sooner if I can help Chris upgrade his dating profile so we’re not all stuck waiting for him to find a boyfriend before the rest of us get our turn.”

      2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        +1 I think this is it. She’s jealous of the couple because she’s not in a couple. If she were to get coupled, her team would be forced to get into couples, possibly of her choosing, in order to maintain her equilibrium.

  12. Emily K*

    OK, I totally laughed out loud at, “She told my coworker Jane to write down everything she eats and what she does at the gym because she wants to weigh the same as she does,” because that is literally exactly what Rebecca Bunch’s crazy mom did in the episode before last of Crazy Ex Girlfriend this season. Rebecca introduces her to her (thin) friend Valencia, and her mom sizes her up and goes, “Hi dear, write down everything you eat and when you eat it. I’m always looking for tips!” while Valencia looks bewildered and mildly terrified.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Also weird because if she wants to lose half her weight, eating and exercising like a thin person probably won’t work. I don’t think the hormonal profiles and metabolisms are the same.

        1. chickaletta*

          Same. I just *love* how being thin somehow makes it ok for other people to comment and ask about my diet, clothing size, weight, etc. What in the world makes other people think that’s going to be a comfortable conversation for me, especially if I know that weight it an issue for them? None of those conversations, in 41 years of my life on this planet, have ended without awkwardness.

      1. Bee*

        A) This, and b) if the thin person is a regular gym-goer, that workout won’t be helpful anyway! The boss won’t be physically capable of it and will be immediately demoralized! This is why you talk to an *actual professional* who knows where to start you in a way that is sustainable!

      2. Antilles*

        Not to mention the fact that for most people, the reason for being unhealthy is usually not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of time/willpower/planning/whatever: The issue isn’t that you’re doing the wrong routine at the gym, it’s that you’re not going to the gym at all; The issue isn’t that you wrongly believe that drinking two sodas a day is healthy, it’s that you enjoy them and don’t want to change; The issue isn’t that you want to eat processed fast food every meal, it’s that you don’t have time/desire to cook; etc.
        Even if Jane wrote down everything she ate and her workout routine, I doubt it would help the Boss at all, because odds are it wouldn’t result in a change to Boss’ behavior.

      3. Oranges*

        Also the fact that your body’s muscles change to be more efficient when you loose weight because our body wants to keep as much of that stored energy as possible.

  13. StressedButOkay*

    OP, I understand that no one wants to get her fired but if you reported her, she wouldn’t get fired because of you and your coworkers, she’d get fired because of her own actions. This is so far beyond normal office/boss behavior that it’s landed right in loony land.

    This sounds like it’s having a huge impact on moral and, very likely, the work that you all are supposed to be doing. Because if she’s holding meetings to go over her dating profile or locking herself away from you all (which – what?), how on earth is anything getting done?

    For the sake of your sanity, someone needs to report it.

    1. StressedButOkay*

      And apologies, I misread that you all were afraid SHE’D get fired, not you all. That’s harder and maybe there’s a way to do it anonymously?

  14. Amber Rose*

    Nooooo. D:
    I know you don’t want to be fired but that might actually be a mercy, if the alternative is working with this waking nightmare of a human being.

    Do go over her head. Document all this weird crap, and all the times she calls/emails inappropriately. And if you can convince other workers to go with you, even better.

  15. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I worked for this woman. She relied on us for everything social and had absolutely no sense of boundaries. I once got to hear all about her bikini wax in lovely detail. Heard all about her sex life and her dates. I also will never forgive myself for letting her cajole me into breaking a personal rule (being vague about this on purpose), but I was new to the industry and trying to impress. Nope. I have since doubled down HARD on that rule. The worst part was that if I did something professionally that she didn’t like, she would blow up. According to a former teammate, my replacement got a very stern reprimand for putting her own, work-related tasks above something somewhat personal that the boss could very well have done herself. And G-d forbid you ever said anything like, “Hey, I don’t think that’s appropriate,” because you’d get an earful about how wrong you were and how you should get the stick out from your rear.

    How I handled it: I got the eff out. I worked for this woman for five months. Someone on another team approached me and told me she had a friend in another division who was hiring and I should have that job. I got it and stayed for over 8 years. When I gave notice to my horrible boss (we secretly called her “Katrina”, like the storm), she demanded to know who had given my resume to my new team. I played dumb. It took me a while to recover, to be honest. I feel for you, OP.

    1. Panda Bandit*

      I worked for this woman’s twin. Beelzeboss seriously suggested that we all go on vacation together. Also that one day we were all going to be living together. Had no clue about professional norms or boundaries. She absolutely flipped the f#ck out when I gave notice. She counted the keys on my keyring and kept asking if there were more than usual. I had a key for the building and we’d all leave together at the end of the day, which is how she would see my set of keys. I think she was thinking that I had gotten hired elsewhere and they’d given me a key before I even started, which was a really bizarre assumption.

    2. Ralkana*

      I worked for her too. I’d go into her office to ask about something work-related and she’d ask me to close the door and show me finger-shaped bruises on her arms to illustrate “what a good night” she had. She flirted with every man who wasn’t a direct report. Every time I mentioned speaking to a man on the phone -customer, vendor, coworker, it didn’t matter – she’d ask me if he was hot, and if he was married, and then she’d add – every time – “not that that matters!” and laugh. She was fired, but I never found out why.

    3. AKchic*

      I feel you so hard here.

      At my last place, as much as I appreciate NPOs, the whole “we’re not a company, we’re a family” thing can get taken too far, and in my boss’s case, and in my immediate coworkers’ case, it did. So much that I actually took a job with my mother (who I don’t really even like) to get away from, and I’d spent nearly a decade at the last company. But, I knew nothing would change, and I knew I wasn’t going to get more money. Now I make twice as much, with 1/4 of the work and much better benefits.

    1. periwinkle*

      Talk about under-promising and over-delivering. I was not expecting this level of bees.

      There are times when I’m embarrassed to work in an HR function. Then again, I seriously doubt this “director” is an experienced and certified HR professional. (if she *is* a SPHR or SHRM-SCP, damn…)

      1. Jadelyn*

        I mean, I’ve had a couple colleagues where I found myself staring at them thinking “Good grief, you (theoretically) have an SPHR-CA, how am I, the lowly peon who isn’t even eligible to sit for the PHR, having to educate you on this law?”

        (I may or may not have checked up on that colleague’s certification within the HRCI database. She did in fact have it, and it was in fact current, so I have no idea how she managed to not know some of the things she didn’t know and still have that credential.)

        1. Where do y'all get those wonderful user names*

          I assumed (mistakenly) that my boss, who was the ED, knew certain rules. The first time she told me to do something that I later found out to be against policy, I started double checking anything she told me to do that sounded suspiciously against policy.

  16. Ew*

    I remember a letter as well as comments in the past about bosses who were fixated on or constantly talked about the weight of their subordinate. This boss is just as bad. Her behavior is gross. If she wants to lose weight (and by the sounds of it, a lot…half of someone’s body weight is a lot) that is her business. Her reports are not the ones who should keep her accountable. I bet she is jealous of Jane for being thin too and she makes the jealous by pretending to be complimentary.

  17. Jess*

    Wow. Just wow.

    HR director. Wow.

    If the company (her boss, her boss’ boss, etc.) knows about this and keeps her on, you have a MAJOR problem with the company and it’s time to start looking for another job.

    If you and your coworkers are too chickenshit to bring them into the loop, well, you’re getting a major lesson in the costs of cowardice.

    Good luck… hope you discover that your company is willing and able to handle this appropriately.

  18. Hummus*

    Oh my goodness, I really expected you to say you worked in banking. Other than the fact that my old boss is now married, this could have been her!

    I had a coworker also under old boss who is very conservative with how she lives her own life, and was extremely uncomfortable with the sexually explicit details my old boss gave about her dating adventures. She started giving non-responses when old boss would overshare. Soon after, she was pulled into a meeting with old boss and the manager higher up, asking if she was okay, and why she wasn’t friendly anymore.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Right? “Asked us to help with her dating profile” was mildly ick-inducing, and then I read the letter and…boy, that escalated quickly.jpg

  19. mf*

    I had a boss a bit like this. She had no boundaries and was always asking pushy/personal questions. The way I coped with it was to always, always, ALWAYS bring the conversation back to work:

    Boss: You’re so skinny! How do you manage to stay so thin?
    Me: Uh, ok, I have a question about the latest design for our new teapot launch. What would you like me to do about the revisions that John recommended?
    Boss: Yes, we need to discuss that. I’m ordering a salad for lunch. Would you like a salad? I bet you eat a lot of salads.
    Me: No thanks. You k now what, I’ll go ahead and set up a meeting to discuss John’s recommendations.

    Never answer her personal questions or engage in boundary-crossing conversations. If you give her an inch, she’ll take a mile.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      ^^ This. I am a thin person. I do not want to talk about my weight, your weight, that person’s weight, or food unless we’re deciding what to order at a restaurant. I do not want to talk about exercise or the gym. I do not want to hear input about what I eat/don’t eat/should be eating. I do not want to compare bodies, and I don’t want you making your food and body hangups my problem.

      1. Lumen*

        I am kinda fat and I feel the SAME WAY. It’s absolute absurdity that we have to navigate people’s food and body hangups at work!

        1. CommanderBanana*

          I hate it. And it’s always someone projecting their own body issues on me, which is 1) not my fault and 2) not my problem.

      2. AnonyNurse*

        Yes, I brought a sweater to this meeting. No, that was not permission for you to say I’m cold because “you’re so skinny.”

    2. Where do y'all get those wonderful user names*

      I don’t like questions about my weight, or exercise routine either.

      When Oldboss would ask questions that I didn’t want to answer, I did just that-I didn’t answer. One time she commented that I hadn’t told her where I was going on vacation. I did a double-take because I couldn’t believe that she was speaking as if disclosing my plans was a requirement. But still, I responded with silence. After I’d gotten married, she asked why I’d wanted to change my name. She then went on and on about how she hadn’t wanted to change her name upon marriage. As I sat and listened in silence, I wondered what the heck any of her past choices had to do with me.

  20. jenniferthebillionth*

    I started reading this and had a visceral reaction – my stomach started hurting for the OP and colleagues! Ouch, wow, and OMG. (and again, ouch.)

    If you can make this work for you using Alison’s suggestions, OP, then I will be glad and salute you. If you decide to leave, then I will be glad and salute you. I hope that you update us some day!

  21. Observer*

    OP, either go as as a group to her boss r start looking for a new job. This is a disaster already, and this could blow so sky high that you would never be able to get rid of the taint, even though it is COMPLETELY not your fault.

    The VP of Operations sounds like the perfect role to talk to, if they are any good. Because your Boss’ behavior has, among many other problems, the potential to totally tank the operations of the company. Is she going to start hiring and firing specifically based on membership in the “single people’s club”? Is she going to start trying to hit on people she decides might make a good SO? Is she going to stonewall projects because she’s busy sulking that someone hit a life milestone that she wants / doesn’t approve of? How many of her best people are going to be driven out by this lunatic of an HR director? etc.

    Not that I’m minimizing any of the other problems with overgrown toddler is causing. I’m just addressing the most direct potential effects on the VP’s direct domain.

  22. swimmyfish*

    Not to undercut the seriousness of the situation, but this is honestly such a well-written letter. Keeping the reveal that she’s the Head of HR until the end makes what seems like fairly run-of-the-mill workplace unpleasantness instead a truly shocking situation.

    You have my sympathy for having to put up with such a childish and exhausting buffoon, but I bet you can put together an equally killer cover letter and get out of there right quick.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      More likely just garden variety incompetence. People get promoted into management positions because they’re good at the function they’ll be managing (which is different from being good at managing), or because they’re around when their boss leaves and the position needs to be filled (like a management game of musical chairs), or because they say the right things in the interview and no one thinks to probe more deeply into their management instincts, and so forth.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They’re masters at manipulation. They find companies who don’t care what they do and bank on being the all mighty boss card.

    3. atgo*

      It’s also possible she had some problematic behavior earlier that wasn’t this bad, but some personal situation has gotten her totally nuts and exacerbated problems that were latent before. Sounds to me like she’s got some serious issues with herself.

    4. Fish Microwaver*

      I’ve seen unsuitable people promoted because of life situations. At one workplace, a fairly junior coworker was promoted to management because she was diagnosed with a serious chronic illness and being in management meant she did not have to work a schedule that would exacerbate it. She had no experience, aptitude or desire for the role but that’s where she landed. The funniest thing was finding that she had written that she didn’t like me in a communication book accessed by all staff. Another coworker had their spouse die suddenly and was similarly promoted. Hilariously, I did most of their new role on a day to day basis.

      1. Where do y'all get those wonderful user names*

        When I took a professional development class, the instructor mentioned that sometimes people get promoted because they complain. Which made me think of a scene in the movie Norma Rae. I did have a coworker who I suspected got promoted for just this reason. She would report people to management for being late back from lunch, among other items. She turned out to be a horrible manager, and later on it was discovered that she’d been a poor manager at a previous place of employment.

  23. CommanderBanana*


    LW, head over to CaptainAwkward and read all the posts tagged ‘boundaries.’

    It is an extra layer of icing on the shit-cake that she’s the HR director.

    With people like this, I find that disengaging and radiating an air of civil boredom is the best way to deal with this. When she asks you to police her food: “oh, no thank you”
    When she asks your coworker to write down her food and exercise regimen: “oh, sorry, I don’t keep that information.”
    When she asks you to evaluate men on a dating app (!!): “oh, I don’t have an opinion.”

    Generally people like this will give up in frustration when they don’t get a reaction – but also, document and I woul start looking for a new job. This is bananacrackers.

  24. Fibchopkin*

    Wtf did I just read?!!? Every time I’m feeling a bit grumbly about my boss w/ mild control/micromanagement issues, I can always count on an LW at AAM to make me realize how good I’ve got it!

    OP- this is a dysfunctional working environment, if you and your coworkers feel that you can’t go to the VP who is this woman’s boss, then I would start a fast and frantic job search, pronto! Ideally though, you and your coworkers could actually make that list you talked about- include all the things you listed here, as well as the other things you alluded to, and ask for a meeting with the VP. Present your list matter-of-factly, and as a group. Tell the VP that this situation is resulting in an uncomfortable and unproductive working environment and that you’d like to work to come up with a solution so that you can all be more productive and focused on your professional duties. Alison has written about the effectiveness of united fronts before, and I think this situation definitely calls for one.

  25. Lady Phoenix*

    You know that boss that was forcing and blackmailing the OP to attend couples counseling with her and OP’s dad (cause they were dating?)?

    This is about as outrageous as that story. You need to talk to her boss YESTERDAY, and maintain sone strong boundaries and documentation in the meantime.

  26. Foreign Octopus*

    From just the topic line, I thought – oh, okay, a boss has misread how friendly they are with someone, not the end of the world, push back politely and all’s well. And then I read the rest.

    Oh my stars above and below, this woman is a bag full of problems. The crying because someone’s moving in with their partner? The calling a meeting to help her with the dating profile and then singling out the men to help her appear more attractive? The everything of it?

    I mean…what?

    I am so sorry, OP, that you’re stuck dealing with this. I think the best advice I can give, other than seconding Alison’s, is to remember “not my circus, not my monkeys”. Slam those boundaries up and keep them in place so that you can view it from a distant, almost anthropological viewpoint. She does seem like the type of person who’ll sigh loudly and dramatically “oh, OP doesn’t like me any more, isn’t that right, OP?” but I would take that over the status quo any day.

    Also, the fact she’s HR – wowza.

  27. Better call Saul*

    The boss in this letter reminds me so much of the boss who was jealous of the employee who was prettier/better looking than her (the boss).

      1. Anonybus*

        The weird “give me details of all your food intake and activities” thing also seems similar to the obsessive observation in that copycat coworker letter a while back.

  28. Observer*

    This person is a disaster. But she also makes me sad. This is clearly someone who needs a lot of help that neither the OP, nor anyone in the OP’s group is in any position to help. I only hope that she gets gets pushed into finding help for herself.

    I’m thinking about the one where someone was mistreating a report who was prettier than her, and the one with the beer runs. Both got fired, but the good part is that they both were shocked into turning their lives and behavior around. I think that that’s the best thing one can hope for this woman.

    In the meantime, the OP needs to take care of themselves. And, really consider going to her boss.

    1. Femme D'Afrique*

      And if this was somehow the Daily Double, I have a feeling I’d have lost all my money.
      No way could I have predicted that ending. Or the middle. Or any of it.

  29. CaribouInIgloo*

    I’m sorry what the actual fuck?!
    OP you gotta go to her boss as a group. Sure, she may fire one person for standing up to her. But what’s she gonna do if you go as a group? Fire you all?
    And start job hunting, like YESTERDAY.

  30. GreyjoyGardens*

    In my own experience, having this badly boundary-challenged of a boss never ends well. I had one boss – who owned the company – take me out to lunch only so she could dump on me that her husband refused to have sex with her (!) but she was too religious to divorce him; cue Misery Martyrdom. (I left that job shortly after.)

    Another time, this didn’t directly impact me but I saw the fallout; another Boundary Challenged Boss was always palling around with the people he supervised; not exactly professional but not the worst, until he (married) started an affair with a woman he supervised (had a boyfriend) and that imploded with a whole lot of messy drama and it impacted the whole department because it led to a lot of layoffs and reorganization.

    LW, you have my heartfelt sympathies; BCB’s are H-E-Double-Toothpicks to work for and it rarely ends well. Keep your resume polished and your eyes out for other jobs or at least other departments.

  31. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is one of those things I FEEL SO BAD about laughing about. I’m sorry you’re suffering, LW…but she’s so OTT and ridiculous. I hope this later turns into “lol our crazy ex-boss” nonsense.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Seriously, though: Polish up that resume and get the heck out of there. This woman is over the edge.

  32. ZSD*

    The headline for this post fails to convey how bananas the complete letter is.

    And also, I realize this is obvious, but what’s with her having the goal of weighing exactly the same as another person? And thinking that if she eats and exercises the same way, her body will act exactly like the other person’s?

    1. Blue*

      I think she’s mostly interested in looking exactly like the other person? Which ignores the fact that two people can weigh roughly the same and wear the same size and have bodies that look very, very different. But then, most of what she’s doing here doesn’t come close to reason, so we probably shouldn’t be surprised.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        And people can eat exactly the same thing and be at the same level of activity, and one will maintain or lose weight, and the other will gain weight.

        1. Nerdy Library Clerk*

          Genetics is wild!
          But, yeah, if you want to figure out diet and exercise and other lifestyle changes (I believe they’re finding proper sleep to be important there?) to lose weight, you go to someone who’s an expert at that. Chances are very good that the random thin person you ask is just going to tell you that they’re the weight they are because, well… genetics. And even if they do have a routine, the odds that it’s the right one for you are still not good.
          And that’s not even the most bananacrackers thing in the letter.

  33. Notasecurityguard*

    This boss sounds insane. And not like fun insane but like “needs an actual mental health intervention” insane

  34. voyager1*

    Can’t imagine why this woman is single…

    Okay serious part. If she is trying lose 50% of her body weight, she probably should have a doctor/professional help her with that.

  35. Yllis*

    I dont normally do this but

    what dah fu…..?

    I mean, wow. Just wow.

    Is it too late to add her to worst boss?

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That was my first thought – “I can’t believe we already voted”.

      Can we roll her over to 2019?

    1. Ali G*

      Yes please. Please come back to the Friday open thread and regale us with more of this person’s antics. It’s the least you can do for those us who will still be working :P

    2. Oranges*

      This novel would be hilarious but sadly it would be hard to write. (after a while you’d get “wtf” fatigue).

  36. V*

    If a man was making the women on his team help him with his dating profile or asking them about his appearance and attractiveness, he would rightly be disciplined and possibly be fired and sued.

    If an overweight man commented on the body of a woman on his team and talked about her thiness and attractiveness he would get in trouble and rightly so.

    The boss shouldn’t a pass because she is an extremely overweight woman.

    1. Amber Rose*

      No one is saying she should? This isn’t a double standard here. The company is just extremely dysfunctional. There’s a good chance that even if this boss was male, they’d still overlook it. That’s what dysfunctional companies do.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Also her weight has nothing to do with it, and it’s extremely gross and unsettling that you think she’s getting a pass because she’s overweight when there’s no evidence that’s the case.

    2. Observer*

      What makes you think that she’s getting away with anything because she’s a woman? Everyone here is horrified and advising the OP to either go to the boss or get out. But the OP can’t discipline their boss. So the question is whether the company is just terribly incompetent and dysfunctional or the HR director is so good at managing up that her boss doesn’t realize what’s going on. In either case, the fact that she hasn’t been fired yet almost certainly has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman.

    1. E*

      My thought was that gym coworker needs to opt out of these events because she has to exercise, but then this person would end up trying to tag along, so whether that excuse was real or made-up it would backfire worse. Ugh. Perhaps a round of illness that kicks in at the end of each day for the group is in order instead.

    2. cheluzal*

      That’s the part where I would laugh hysterically and sabotage everything.
      I don’t drink for religious and personal reasons (never mind my time is my time after work), and I would have no problem pushing back right then.

  37. Budgie Lover*

    In dark room, holding flashlight under chin: “Gather round, workers, and hear the story of the manager who wanted help on her dating profile…”

    Audience sits cross-legged, leans in: “Oooooo”

    At the climax of the story, whispers dramatically: “…and the manager was also THE HEAD OF HR.”

    Audience: “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” Flees in panic

    1. Nessun*

      I want to imagine stories from writers read in this manner from now on! Such a wonderful image setting the tone for the crazy. (But in all seriousness, OP, if you’re living in a world that can be made into an office-style horror movie, you need to GTFO for your own mental health!!)

  38. Mirea*

    Like many others, this letter reminds me of a boss I had many years ago. Although my former boss was generally good-hearted and didn’t violate boundaries like this person, she was lonely, overweight and felt deeply unworthy of the things she so longed for.

    I’m not excusing LW’s boss at all but it’s sad because she seems quite desperate for closeness and connection, mistakes workplace civility for that, and has trouble coping with any sign that her staff is not her “tribe”. Loneliness wreaks havoc in so many ways.

  39. Coffee Owlccountant*

    So presuming you do not otherwise work at a House Full Of Evil Bees and you generally like your work, coworkers, and company, I think you want to take a two-prong approach: disengage and deflect.

    1) Disengage: When it comes to relating to your boss, be very VERY boring. Do not engage. Don’t talk (either to her or when she is around) about outside interests, home, family, pets, hobbies, anything. When she tries to talk about HERS, meet her with the conversational equivalent of vanilla pudding. Do not ever ask for details or more information. Suggested responses: “Huh, I’ll think about that.” “Sorry, I don’t know.” “That’s not possible.” “Well, then.”

    2) Deflect: any, and I mean ANY, request that crosses a reasonable supervisor-employee boundary (edit my dating profile! act as my dietitian and personal trainer! pretend that we are currently starring in whatever this generation’s iteration of Real World is!) is met with an immediate turnaround back to work with ideally a question that Boss should weigh in on.

    Boss: I need you to tell me every time I eat something that I have arbitrarily determined is “bad” so that I can get all pouty about it.
    OP: Well, then. Client called about the about teapot spout refurbishing; have we decided yet on whether to go with Spout A or Spout B?
    Boss: We should totally go speed dating together, team! Let’s do that Saturday night!
    OP: That’s not possible. Here’s the monthly summary of incidents of spout explosion for review, do you have any questions on the numbers?

    Again, this is presupposing that you 1) LIKE your work and workplace and 2) are not actively being hindered in your actual work or career progression by this octopus. If either of these conditions apply, I fully support GTFO.

      1. Emily S.*

        Edited to add — I had learned about doing the disengaging before, but had forgotten. So this is useful.

  40. come on bruh*

    did i write this letter and not know it? i too am struggling with my immediate boss aka the head of hr that should know better. worst part is that she’s too buddy-buddy with her manager (aka the CEO) so we’re forced to deal :((((

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      perhaps you and the OP are coworkers?

      … I kind of hope you are because the idea that there are two of them out there makes me want to weep.

      1. come on bruh*

        i wish, because then LW would also mention the upwards gift giving, complete staff participation in the secret santa, and the giving our whole department the cold shoulder because management wasn’t invited to a happy hour (shocker!!!!).

  41. Chris Traeger*

    I’m uncomfortable with the extent to which this hit home about my previous Beelzeboss. Mine was married, so we didn’t have to help her with her dating profiles, but she did constantly try to set me up with a single coworker despite my protests (he was my friend, and also I was closeted the whole time so it was double awkward). Plus about a hundred other inappropriate behaviors that I probably can’t talk about publicly because they’re too identifiable.

    The only thing you can do is leave, OP. Trust me.

  42. Person from the Resume*

    Your boss is bonkers. I thought that by the time I finished the second bullet. And it just kept getting worse.

  43. BadWolf*

    Oye! I had an Ex that tried to get me to police his eating habits. I gave that a hard no. Certainly not for the boss!

  44. WhoKnows*

    I say this as a person who very sadly identifies with nearly all of the “issues” the woman in this letter has: This lady likely has some serious work to do regarding her mental health. It’s fine to feel these feelings, but you can’t bring them to the workplace, and you can’t actively have your employees involved in your weight loss or your belief that everyone should stay single at all times just because it makes you feel better.

    I wouldn’t even know what to do here as she’s in HR. Can you talk to this person’s boss? This is beyond inappropriate behavior.

    1. Observer*

      Well, that’s the real issue, isn’t it? Most of the stuff she’s dealing with ranges from not great to hard but very normal. It’s the bringing it to work at this level and dumping it on subordinates that makes it so problematic.

  45. The Other Dawn*

    I don’t know what to say about this woman. She’s sounds absolutely horrible. I don’t even put up with this crap from a good friend, I can’t imagine putting up with it from my own manager!

    This woman doesn’t want to take any responsibility for her own well-being. By telling her team that they need to call her out on her poor food choices, write down everything they do to stay thin, etc. she’s putting the onus on someone else. That way if she doesn’t lose weight, it’s not her fault. It’s OP and her team’s fault.

    Apparently she thinks her team is a great source to find friends. Um, no. That’s not how managing works. You (the general you) shouldn’t be looking to your team to fulfill your social life. You can (and should) be friendly, warm and supportive, but that’s where it should end.

    And does anyone else think that maybe OP’s boss has a thing for Mark and that’s why she’s so upset he and his girlfriend are moving in together? I’m torn as to whether it’s that, or the whole” breaking up the club” thing. Or maybe it’s both!

    OP, take Alison’s advice. If talking to her directly and turning down her requests doesn’t work, go to her boss. If that can’t happen then you need to decide if you can live with your work environment the way it is now.

  46. GreenDoor*

    “She should know better because she’s the director of HR. ” Holy smokes.
    As I read each item on the list, I had visions of The Office staff reacting to Michael Scott’s crazy ideas by blantently saying “No, you are not going to do that” or “No, I will not be doing that” because you just have to be that candid with someone who is this bats*it crazy.

    In this season of letter-writer updates, I sure the OP will grace us with one in the new year.

  47. drpuma*

    I totally understand why the OP is reluctant to talk to her grandboss. I wonder if it could be helpful for OP to talk to one of her boss’s more empathetic and reasonable peers, especially one who also reports to grandboss? That could potentially help the OP understand whether grandboss’s reaction is more likely to be “oh no, thank you for telling us!” or “oh, that’s just your boss, that’s how she is.”

  48. IcePandaGrizz*

    Oh, this doesn’t surprise me at all, because this is my last boss to a T. I was one of her two favorites and one day she came in and forced us out to lunch to gossip to us about having slept with a client. We got all the gory details.

    I don’t understand how this type of person can keep a job.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      Oh, I can. Think about it for a minute, IcePandaGrizz….if she slept with a client, she could be sleeping with her boss, the CEO….

  49. MLB*

    As I was reading this, my brain was saying “run to HR immediately”….until I read that she is the HR manager. Wow, just wow. I would ignore her ridiculous statements, and repeat “I’m sorry but I’m not comfortable doing that” over and over. And I would go to her boss. I wouldn’t care if the boss was the head of the world, this is 100% inappropriate for a manager, especially one in HR. And then I would start job searching. Because if nothing is done about her, you should run far far away, as soon as possible.

  50. This Daydreamer*

    Fess up, Alison. You deliberately picked the least outrageous thing in the letter to make the headline, didn’t you?

    Well played.

    Kudos also to the LW for ending with the boss being the head of HR. And good luck with the job search.

  51. Fact & Fiction*

    Some letters here make me wish I wrote contemporary women’s fiction, chick lit, or contemporary romance rather than urban fantasy/fantasy/SF. Although I guess that TECHNICALLY I could still model a character after this HR director…

  52. Aitch Arr*

    I was all “my god, she’s awful” and then I got to the line about her being the head of HR.

    *record scratch*

  53. Lost cause*

    “Our boss had a meeting with all of us because she wanted us to help her with her online dating profiles”

    Look at her very deliberately and slowly from head to toes, and say: “I can not help you.”


  54. Liz T*

    This has to be one of the most WTF bosses ever.

    In a sense this is mundane next to chemo-crashing boss or liver-demanding boss or “I’m CPS lol” boss, but this is so cartoonishly inappropriate…can you imagine if you saw this behavior on a sitcom? Would you believe it for a second? And in HR!

    Some people break my brain.

  55. Gumby*

    I am a terrible, terrible person. Because living with this boss must be a horrible experience, but reading about her? Is sort of making my day. It’s hit that “so awful it’s kinda funny” point.

    So sorry, I really don’t want to minimize OP’s pain in having to deal with it in person.

  56. Jennifer Juniper*


    Seriously, I was yelling “No!” at the computer over and over again before I got halfway through this letter.

  57. Overshare Overload*

    And I thought my former coworkers overshared! Clearly this woman needs boundaries.

    I almost want to see if this woman actually loses the weight or finds a bf. But then she would move on to telling the team stories about their dates, having them help her pick out outfits, date ideas etc.

  58. Yikes to this one*

    God I would just love to respond to that request for food lists by handing her all my food diaries from when I was in the depths of my eating disorder. I bet that would teach her about boundaries.

  59. ENFP in Texas*

    “She says my coworkers and I have to keep her accountable to make sure she stays on track.”

    Sorry, that’s not in my job description.

  60. mrs__peel*

    “she’s the director of HR”

    My eyebrows shot clear off my face when I got to this part, AND YET it felt strangely inevitable…

  61. Where’s my coffee?*

    HR should be a licensed profession, not just certified. We don’t let a receptionist who has collected a few receipts suddenly declare herself a CPA, and we don’t let a guy who’s used a bandaid before declare himself an RN—but companies are all too willing to do this for HR staff (and IT staff.)

  62. MissDisplaced*

    Oh man. This person just has zero sense of boundaries. And while she hasn’t done anything truly horrible here (yet) it’s just so far beyond professional norms. I sense a very lonely person here who can’t control herself and is trying to be buddies w/staff. Bad enough, but even worse as she’s HR.

  63. LGC*


    But also: they can’t fire all of you, which seems like your main concern. But if your boss is this terrible where I’m wondering if we can write her in for Worst Boss of 2018 and your management is so bad that you’re more worried they’ll fire you…your job is full of evil bees. I know the stereotypical answer is “lol quit your job op,” but…lol quit your job op.

    (And somehow, I’m reading this letter as if it were written by Bill from HR. I can definitely imagine Bill from HR writing this letter, although I’m sure he would have also mentioned the international sales director’s overly emotional response to corporate espionage and her subsequent formation of a secret society to fight back against said corporate espionage that has an obscenity in its acronym.)

  64. Katy Preen*

    Perhaps not the answer many people are looking for, but having worked in companies that have knowingly employed some seriously dysfunctional people (engineering, in case you wondered), I’d recommend you start sending your CV out to some other places. I’ve complained about awful and creepy managers, illegal hiring and remuneration activities and incompetent project leaders (I’m talking stuff that wouldn’t get them through high school science class). Where did it get me? Precisely nowhere, although I did get a great big target painted on my back.

    The idea of speaking to the big boss as a group is promising. I never had that opportunity (not for want of trying) because established staff know how awful the manager is, but don’t want to disrupt the ‘equilibrium’ in the office because they know it won’t be tolerated. These workplaces and individuals rapidly get more and more ingrained & toxic until it’s virtually impossible to do anything about them.

    It’s you or her. Whatever you do, it needs to nip the problem in the bud – it can only get worse and it sounds utterly horrendous already.

  65. 342g*

    what the bucket!? who cares about what your coworkers say about not getting her fired — she needs to be! or at least talked to. go above her head.

  66. ReallyAnon*

    Holy Moly! I think I’ve worked with her before! She was the Controller (director level at this company) . – The Marketing guy did massages on the side. She made him come to her house and give her massages when she was completely naked! – Every Monday we had to hear her cry about her dates and how she was never going to find someone. – She demanded a guy from Accounting help her move. – She would come up behind single guys and start massaging their shoulders. – She would call single guys over to her desk and start crying if she didn’t get whatever reaction she wanted from them. – She only “mentored” the men and not the women. – I could go on and on (also had diet issues she expected us to help her with) – I was a female manager that everyone trusted so I went to to the VP I reported too. Told him the company was going to get sued for sexism and sexual harassment. He said he would address it but never did. The headhunter the company used called me and said the owner told him to only send over male applicants, he wasn’t hiring anymore women! – after nonaction I quit with no job on the horizon. Employees started coming to me almost on the daily to help them and I couldn’t. It was affecting my health so I did what I had to do.

  67. Where do y'all get those wonderful user names*

    Wow. This is something else. Although, sorry to say, I can relate to the LW. My former supervisor would call me and email me on weekends, on my days off, and when I was out sick. She would even send emails to my personal email, which she had ONLY because I’d used that email to apply for the job-I never said that it was OK to use it once I was hired. I wound up blocking her phone calls AND her emails on my personal devices because it got to be that bad.

    An important thing I had to learn was to say “no” to inappropriate requests. I agree with the people here who say that you should not respond to requests for diet information & diet monitoring. It’s not part of your job to do all this. If she wants to hire a personal assistant, then she can pay for it out of her own pocket. She has clique issues? That’s not your problem either – again, she can hire a personal assistant. She can hire multiple assistants if she wants company so badly. She can also ask her assistants advice on dating site profiles.

    I can tell you that in my situation, I was in a small organization. I thought of approaching Oldboss’s boss in a group. The problem was that it was a small organization with high turnover. I even tried reaching out to my predecessor to see if she’d had similar issues, and how she’d handled them. I wanted to communicate via phone & made a few attempts to call. She would respond by email only, asking me what she could help me with. I didn’t want to go into detail by email (obviously), so I eventually gave up on that route. In the end, I found a different position that paid more money. It was a hard decision, because I really did like Oldjob. However, Oldboss was becoming more and more difficult. The last straw was when she’d criticized me sharply for taking time off and not providing her with vital information, which she said had caused us to lose a client. Not only had I provided her with the information multiple times, but I knew that the situation could have been handled in such a way that we would not have lost the client.

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