your bad boss can haunt you even after you leave

Have you ever worked for a terrible manager, and been relieved to move on to a new and better job? I recorded a piece for the BBC arguing that you might not be fully leaving that bad boss behind as much as you think you are — because you might be taking bad habits and dysfunctional modes of thinking with you.

It’s three minutes long and you can listen here.

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. Pennalynn Lott*

    Almost a decade after leaving behind one of my worst bosses ever, I still panic when anyone senior to me says, “Pennalynn, can I talk to you for a minute?” I’m sure it shows on my face and in my body language that I’m bracing for a purposefully-humiliating browbeating about not only my performance but my inherent character. I do my best to smile and casually say, “Sure, what’s up?” but I know it sounds forced.

    I also still have frequent nightmares about her.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I’m the same way four years after leaving mine. Also the sound of whispering makes all the muscles in my shoulders tense up, since she used to whisper to other staff about how awful I was, only I could still hear what she was saying.

      Also I still fear asking for things I need to do my job because of the one time I asked for some file holders or organizers or something and I was treated like I’d just asked for a diamond tiara. It’s amazing how that stuff sticks with you.

    2. Triplestep*

      It’s only been four weeks, and I was hoping it would not last much longer.

      For the exit interview, we could either fill out a form or sit down with someone. I took the form home and have been trying to write something that describes why this person should not be a manager; I am the third person to leave her team in two years. It’s taken me this long to get it down to two pages that isn’t just up a bunch of horrible anecdotes, and now – not only do I feel like it’s too late to send it – I feel like the idea that I *might* send it is keeping me from moving on.

      1. Bubbleon*

        Send it! I don’t expect you’d ever be using that manager as a reference, and if they treated everyone else as horribly it’s possible that no one’s given the feedback you’ve already prepared. It’s definitely not too late, but you could always include some language in the email that you wanted to take some time with it and make sure you were giving valuable, constructive feedback instead of what might have come from lingering frustration immediately after leaving.

      2. PMeIL*

        I had a manager where I was the 5th person to leave in 1 year. I was the one who got her demoted. She had a lot of enemies by that point. I got a promotion out of it and I left A.S.A.P.

      3. Bunny Girl*

        Send it in. Seriously. Something needs to be documented, even if the only benefit to you is peace of mind. The last toxic job I left, I think I was in HR’s office for an hour and a half. I’ll never forget the look on her face when I came in with a full folder and was like Okay let’s get started.

        1. Windchime*

          I’m usually against being honest in exit interviews because of the reference thing, and also because anything I would raise in an exit interview I would have already raised before I left; they didn’t care then, so why should they care now? But I made an exception for the last job I left. Around six months after I left, the old toxic boss was still up to no good; still setting people up to be fired, still gaslighting her own employees and pissing off customers. So when I heard that her employees were banding together to complain to HR, I sent an email to the head of HR outlining everything that old boss had done while I was there. I like to think it made a difference in finally getting her fired.

      4. Slartibartfast*

        Either send it or burn it, whichever would help you let go. Anything but holding on to it.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          I’d burn it. Toxic Boss could do things to sabotage your new job if the industry is small enough. Or give you a bad reference, complete with lies.

      5. Tiny Soprano*

        Especially when you know they’re not going to give you a good reference anyway, it’s good to send it. I wrote an absolute doozy of an exit ‘interview’ (they did them on paper) once – I was one of two people leaving at the same time who both had some… negative facts to share about a certain manager. There’s got to be a tipping point somewhere, and there’s no way either of us were getting a good reference anyhow. When the bridge is already rotten, politely but firmly setting it on fire can be very satisfying…

      6. Texan In Exile*

        You don’t have to do an exit interview. You don’t have to complete the form.

        They know there’s a problem. Let them deal with it. Delete and move on.

        1. Mr. X*

          Yep. The majority of people just nod their heads and say everything’s fine. Once someone who tells the truth gets interviewed they get written off as an angry employee and nothing changes which is why the guidance I’ve read states to just not bother with an exit interview if at all possible since it can only hurt you.

    3. it's me*

      15 years after I left (uh, fired for insubordination, go me) I still don’t like to hear “What are you working on?” or to see beige Lexus SUVs. Ha.

      1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

        Thick Chicago accents make my eye twitch to this day. It has been 3 years

        1. Texan In Exile*

          Australian for me. I can’t even listen to the radio ads for a local car dealership. No, I don’t know why an Australian is doing the ads for a Milwaukee dealer. But it’s been almost five years since I left that job and I still have PTSD.

      2. Cute Li'l UFO*

        Oh god.

        The Google Chat noise


        No caps. Nothing else. Ever.

        “what are you working on?”

        I could read it in his voice. And even three years on I HAVE to have the Google noises muted. I thought they were annoying before but they’re so much worse now.

        1. The RO-Cat*

          Thank God old Nokia keyphones are a thing of the past. I never used a certain ring after allocating it to the worst boss I had. All subsequent Nokias were just missing it when they entered in my possession.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          One of my former coworkers saved the contact for our then-boss in her phone as “The Actual Devil”. It’s been several years, and my current boss’s partner works in The Actual Devil’s former position, and he hasn’t changed her voice on his phone. My boss called his partner, and when I heard The Actual Devil’s voice on his voicemail, I almost jumped out of my chair and ran out of the office.

        3. Tiny Soprano*

          OH MY GOD my old manager used to type ‘hi’ in the chat and then not add the next part for (I measured) up to 20 minutes. Then ask you to do something you’d already done and sent to him.

    4. Polaris*

      After close to a decade of working precarious temp jobs with capricious and occasionally abusive bosses, I am completely paranoid that the slightest mistake is going to cost me my job, even though I know realistically that this is the kind of place that would sit down with me and discuss any performance issues rather than unceremoniously canning me. I’ve been here going on three years and that fear just doesn’t go away.

      My very worst boss also terrified me back into the closet, at least in work situations. That one also took a long time to go away.

      1. Mad Scientist*

        I’m in the same boat here! I’ve been in my job for 4 years and a manager has discussed exactly ONE issue with me in 4 years, but I still have a nagging feeling that that’s going to happen. I was unceremoniously canned…on my day off….because it just “wasn’t working out” with absolutely no warning. I was only there for a month at a company with absolutely no training program–and I think they were upset that I didn’t immediately know how to do my job, even though they knew I was just out of school with no experience.

        This triggered a whole lot of “how did you get fired on your day off?!?” ribbing from my friends, but I think I dodged a bullet with that one. The anxiety is real though!

        1. Mad Scientist*

          Unceremoniously canned from my last job******, sorry I changed the sentence format around and realized that I deleted that. It’s been a long week.

    5. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      This is why a good boss will say something like, “Can I see you in my office to talk about the Jones Project” or “Can I speak to you for moment, it’s nothing bad”. I did have one grand-boss who did that and I was very grateful for it.

      1. Cedarthea*

        When my boss is generic, I will sometimes ask “Is there something you would like to prepare for our meeting?” which can give me a preview and makes me look responsible.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        “Come on in, sit down and you’re NOT in the hot seat, so relax”

      3. Drax*

        My toxic boss would do that, and then drag you brutally over the coals for stupid crap. Every time I hear “its nothing bad” I wonder what the hell I did wrong now. She lived to catch people off guard and try and emotionally destroy them.

    6. AnonEMoose*

      I still, years later, tense up when my current (very reasonable) boss asks to talk to me, and I still get a bit nervous about performance reviews after having been sandbagged with stuff that happened 6 months that had never been brought up as problematic before. Fortunately, my current boss had similar experiences, so he doesn’t do that stuff. Still…that stuff is hard to truly shake, even years later.

      1. Reliant*

        Same here. New boss is one of the most empathic and genuinely nice guys I have ever known; he repeatedly tells me how much he values that I’ve stayed on in a part time position to keep the project on an even keel. Nevertheless, when he closed the conference room door, leaving just me and him in the room, and said “can I speak to you for a moment”, my mind started racing to figure out what transgressions I had engaged in recently. Ironically, he wanted to ask if I could work more hours in order to lead the team like I used to when I was full time. I think I’m too mentally damaged to consider that.

    7. Vivien L.*

      The Outlook mail notification sound and Skype ringing make my shoulders go to my ears and my heart stop.

      I also spent the last week trying to create a report from scratch that kept being rejected by my boss with vague feedback, and I had such bad flashbacks from my previous boss doing that I went to lunch early just to breathe through the anxiety attack.

    8. not in the bad place*

      I stopped teaching in 1994 and it wasn’t until my current job (which I starting in 2011) that I could go into any kind of one-on-one meeting with my supervisor without having panic attacks. I was hired to fill a spot a few weeks before the school year started and they had no intention of bringing me back the next year so they made sure that every meeting that I had with the principal, vice principal, or any other administrator was as humiliating and demoralizing as possible, that way there wouldn’t be any questions about renewing my contract.
      I’m a rockstar at my current job but for the first couple of years my boss would have to start every one-on-one meeting with, “Don’t worry you’re doing great.” just to keep me from breaking down.

    9. Aaron Aardvark*

      I had the same. It took me about eight years of working a truly wonderful place to change my reaction to “Please come into the office” from cringing and pulling my shoulders up around my ears as my stomach dropped, to the now reaction of “OOOhhh — cake!”

    10. CatMintCat*

      I’m only a year and a bit out from toxic boss, and it is still strong. New boss is a nice man, and I think realises how bad she is, but it’s still hard. I still have friends there, too, which doesn’t help (very small community, social connections are an intricate web, not just a string of “work friends”, “kid friends”, “craft friends”).

      Getting better, but still hard. It probably won’t ever go away completely.

    11. cncx*

      YUP. it’s been seven years since my bad boss and i’ve had the same very good boss since then and i still hyperventilate for performance reviews. My boss knows now that when he says “can we talk for a minute later” telling me why is a good idea but that stuff has stayed with me, even after therapy.

    12. Panda Bandit*

      There are certain words I can’t stand to hear because Awful Exboss used them frequently.

      Sometimes when problems come up I think of the way they’d handle it and I’m like, nope, I’m doing the opposite. They’ve been a good lesson in what NOT to do.

    13. Bowserkitty*

      This, so much! And almost every single time it has been for something completely unrelated to whatever is going through my mind, like asking me about a participant in a recent event we held or pulling me aside to ask if I have ideas for going-away presents for soon-to-depart coworkers. It is just way too hard to shake that feeling where my heart jumps into my throat, though.

  2. PJ*

    My last workplace and last manager were so toxic I left less than a year into that job.

    My issue is that I haven’t been able to find a new FT job since….and I think I’m doubting my own sanity and wisdom when it comes to the judgement I had about dealing with that toxic environment. So it’s definitely had an effect on me. It would be too strong to label it as PTSD, but I certainly feel like I have more of a protective vigilance about those interactions. It’s affecting my freelance work and my ability to find a new role, I’m sure.

    1. CastIrony*

      My toxic boss has affected my life so much, too! I still think about what he did. In fact, I am pretty sure I don’t leave my house other than work because of the trust and fear issues he gave me!

      How did everyone recover from toxic bosses?

      1. Pink Hair Don't Care*

        You just have to wait to find the right manager who appreciates you and your talents. I too left toxic job after less than a year. It took a while to trust my instincts again but after 5 months at perfect job I can do that. It takes time to trust your gut again but it will happen.

        1. CastIrony*

          It’s going to be two years for me soon! I hope I can heal soon!

          Well, time to search for that good manager (Do they even exist?!)

      2. Sapphire*

        I’m still in the midst of recovery from a toxic work situation, but I’ve found it helpful to write down what my boss has actually said about my performance so my anxiety can’t go into overdrive with worry about what I’m doing wrong.

      3. TardyTardis*

        Watching people before me and people after me have the same problems with Toxic ExBoss (save for the final one who actually *could* read her mind) made me realize that hey, it probably wasn’t me…

    2. PTJD*

      My therapist called it, mostly jokingly since it’s not a real disorder, “Post traumatic job disorder.” I’ve been out from my terrible boss for 3 years, and am still dealing with that mess.

      1. Auntie Social*

        My very Southern brother-in-law says work PTSD is really “post traumatic sumbitch disorder”. It’s not the job, it’s one jerk guy.

  3. LM*

    Yes! I left a job back in 2005 that would never allow you to take time off without making you feel horrible about it. I had little kids at the time, and when they were too sick to go to daycare, I would have to basically fall at their feet and beg for forgiveness when asking to use my sick days to care for my children.

    I quit to go back to school, and in my first job after that, my daughter was sick and I immediately kicked into guilt mode. They were 100% like “WTF is up with that? It’s your child and your sick time! Of course you should take it off!” I’ve spent over 10 years trying to not feel guilty when using my own earned time off.

    1. Cordelia*

      This is me. My boss of 10 years made sick time and vacation requests such a humiliating ordeal that – five years later – I still give my totally normal boss long-winded explanations of why I’m hoping to take a day off in a couple months. He usually interrupts me with ‘it’s YOUR time! It’s fine!,’ just genuinely mystified that I’m groveling to take time off. It bothers me how much she warped my sense of professional norms – when you aren’t treated like a professional or even an adult, it sticks with you. Although I hope to one day stop feeling total panic before asking for a Friday off or (heaven forfend) calling in sick, mostly I just want to make sure I’m never, ever that kind of manager.

      1. Peachkins*

        Same here. If I’m sick, all I need to do at my current job is shoot my manager a text message telling her that I’m not feeling well and can’t work. Even though I know extensive details about my illness are not needed, I still find myself providing them just to prove how sick I really am. She probably wishes I’d stop doing that, lol. A couple of my old bosses were terrible about trying to get me to come in anyway or guilting me for staying away.

    2. Justme, The OG*

      This is also me. We often had people denied when they wanted to make medical appointments. It’s taken me all of the 3 years I’ve been at my current job to not feel bad about taking care of myself and my kid.

    3. ThatLibTech*

      In a previous job I held a similar thing happened with a co-worker (her son caught the flu, and was daycare-aged). She had the most horrible fight with my boss, who refused to approve the time off and my co-worker was in tears over the way our boss handled it. I know eventually she relented, whether because grandboss got involved or not I’m unsure (it’s a small five-person non-profit).

      I do know she seriously tried to demand my co-worker to send her son to the daycare anyways. With the flu. Because that’s what she “would’ve done”.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        That boss was not in touch with reality. I’m guessing the daycare would have turned away the sick child at the door.

    4. Hold My Cosmo*

      My job is very clear that sick time is for a sick employee, and PTO is for sick dependents. They don’t give you crap for using it, but they are sticklers about choosing from the correct bucket.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        There are still jobs out there that distinguish between sick leave and PTO?

        1. Iconic Bloomingdale*

          Yes. I work for a municipal government agency and there are separate banks for leave – sick leave, annual leave (vacation), compensatory time leave.

          Sick leave is only used for the employee’s own illness/medical appointment, except three days per leave year may be used as sick leave documented for family illness.

        2. nonymous*

          Yes, and the employer expects that you will only use a % of the sick days in their budget calculations. My current boss bends over backwards to accommodate leave for child care, but gets grumpy if I take more time then he thinks it’s appropriate for personal medical (he gave me a stern talking to because he didn’t believe that it takes 40min to drive a dentist in the same city – I work remote in a more urban area than him). The other woman in my group without children sees it as a badge of honor that she doesn’t use sick leave for medical appointments.

  4. I Work on a Hellmouth*

    When I saw the headline on this, I thought it was going to be about being harassed by old bosses after you leave–my current boss does that to former employees that she feels have “wronged” her (which is why I am just trying to keep my head down and get out quietly), however, this might be even more relevant to my eventual exit from my current place.

      1. I Work on a Hellmouth*

        Yeah, she sues them, sends them glitter bombs (or rather, has friends and family members send the ones she makes from public mailboxes in other states), sues them again, finds out where they are working so she can leave fake online negative reviews that mention them by name, all sorts of stuff. I think she also had someone’s power turned off at least once. It turns out she is terrifying.

        I am going to be going into my next job with some serious former-job-PTSD and am going to have to be really careful about not being too messed/bringing too much mental baggage in with me.

        1. Anon Accountant*

          Not to derail but if she does this to you I’d consider speaking to a lawyer to see if she’s breaking any laws. Particularly if there’s false info she posts in an online review. Some of it isn’t likely illegal but some of her behavior may be.

          And she’s an awful person to do any of this.

            1. LaDeeDa*

              It was insane! I actually listened to it twice, once on my own, and then with my husband. It was just as horrifying the second time around.

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

          my god. Um, when you’re ready to leave, treat it like leaving a domestic abuse situation: give no forwarding info, make plans to completely cut ties with anything she has access to, warn family and friends not to give out any information about you to anyone…maybe talking to a domestic abuse counsellor or police would even be a good idea to get advice on how to set up your departure and do it safely.

        3. I'm Not Phyllis*

          This is awful – I first read this without reading your user name, and then when I did I suddenly wasn’t that surprised anymore. How terrible is that?

          I hope you get out of there soon, and I agree with the poster that suggests you treat it like a domestic abuse situation. Do whatever you can to cover your tracks as you leave that place!

        4. MRK*

          AAM hearby grants you one “Ghost This Job Now” card. Good for ghosting one job, no questions asked. No cash value

          1. I Work on a Hellmouth*

            Not friends, exactly–I had worked for her previously at a different company where she got fired. At the time, she spun it as her being discriminated against and set up, which we believed because corporate had been so weird and terrible with all of us. We all viewed her as being difficult to work for, but an otherwise great boss because we thought she was sticking up for us with corporate and being highly ethical. After I accepted my current position and saw her REALLY going off of the rails (and she tried to make me be a character witness for her in one of her lawsuits–while I was on the clock) I reached out to one of my coworkers from that office and found out that, actually, the termination had been justified and corporate had been terrible and restrictive with the office because my boss was secretly throwing us under the bus in order to deflect from her shady practices up to the day that she was terminated.

            It all sounds so much like a frigging soap opera that talking about it makes me feel like I sound like I’m either crazy or testing material out for some really convoluted novel. Also, like I sound like a total dummy, and a double dummy for winding up working for this person again.

              1. LaDeeDa*

                YES! Write this book,,,, it could be the next Nanny Diaries or Devil Wears Prada! Who will play you in the movie?

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              At one point in my life I went through a series of such terrible and even unlikely events (ALL things that were Completely Beyond My Control, or really, Anyone’s Control) that it was soap opera level unrealistic, and every time I went into my therapist or psychiatrist with the latest crazy twist or turn I felt like they HAD to think that something was off either in my telling or perception of events because nobody’s life could REALLY be THAT weird/awful/chaotic/unlucky! It was almost impossible to explain to regular people what was going on (and it ended up actually being WORSE than it seemed at the time.)
              In other words, I get it, and I have alll the sympathy.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Wow! That is quite a story!
      But we’ve had a few cases on here where someone’s old boss tried to call and ruin someone’s job. So it does happen.

      1. TardyTardis*

        After I told a certain author ‘no, I will not write your next book for only $500 when I know for a fact you’re getting $50,000’ I had a terrible time getting editors to look at my work. Now I just indie pub, because I barely have time to write, never mind play Chase The Agent.

  5. Mel*

    I worked for a slightly dysfunctional company for many years. I worked really hard to try and identify and shed bad habits and coping strategies I might have picked up after being there for so long.

    Turns out I shouldn’t have bothered. I ended up working for – and being fired by – a boss way more dysfunctional that 90% of the people at my previous job. I don’t know that my previous coping strategies would have worked for this other environment, but they couldn’t have made it any worse!

    1. Boomer Reader*

      I’ve pretty much had the same experience. I eventually figured out that it was my dysfunctional parents who instilled in me the inability to judge what was normal and what was not.

      I’m retired, and while I’ve had the freedom, time and experience now to sift through the chaos of my career, I still don’t know if I could have changed myself to handle it all differently…

  6. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

    I left ToxicJob in 2014 and am only just now being able to take people at their word when they say “Thanks” and “Great job” rather than wondering, “What did they REALLY mean by that?” I still have trouble with defaulting to “managers = incompetent backstabbers” mind-set.

  7. W*

    This was an awesome podcast, I never thought of it in this context but it’s so true, you take learned behaviors from one job to the next. I hate people yelling, I think anyone would, but a former boss used to constantly scream and it just sets me on edge now to hear anyone raise their voice. My ex boss stood over me while I was seated in a conference room and yelled so loud everyone at their desks outside could clearly here everything she was saying through closed doors. A friend told me he was so startled he dropped what was in his hands and several people were freaked out by the screeching. I left soon after and didn’t say a word to HR, but found out later another employee that left a month before tried to file a claim against her.

  8. Boomer Reader*

    I had a boss who made me beg for a Friday vacation day to attend my brother’s out-of-town wedding.

    I had a boss who deliberately started trouble among staffers by lying about them.

    I had a boss who threw her cane at an employee who fumbled a project.

    1. MarsJenkar*

      Yikes! Was this all the same boss, or different bosses? Either way, that sucks, and I’m sorry you had to deal with all that.

      1. Boomer Reader*

        All different. I think I was attracted to dysfunction. It was all I knew. I never saw the warning signs.

    2. irene adler*

      Think carefully boss: Any cane thrown at me will not be returned to its owner. Ever.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Oh no, I’d be returning the cane…jammed up the nearest convenient orifice of the boss who threw it.

  9. Anon Accountant*

    I had 2 old coworkers who would regularly scream at you when angry. Once 1 of them screamed at me so loudly a client standing at our front counter heard him. From 2 hallways away.

    At my new job a coworker was in trouble for yelling briefly at another coworker. She slightly raised her voice and later apologized for her reaction.

    Her manager (different dept) had a long talk about how to handle her frustrations. What a difference in companies.

  10. Sloan Kittering*

    Lord I can’t read this – my current boss is a bit of a micromanager who likes to review everything I produce and make a lot of small, relatively meaningless edits. I’m trying not to let it seep into my subconscious and damage my confidence and sense of my own ability to communicate and it’s only been a few months haha.

    1. only acting normal*

      Oh man. I’m in very early recovery (like week 2) from a couple of years of being micromanaged. It has done a *serious* number on my self-belief: I am second guessing everything I do.
      The complicating factor is, due to matrix management, on my new project as lead, I am tasking my former micromanager (our roles were reversed on the last project).

      Good luck to you (and me!)

    2. KTB*

      OMG, I had two of those!!! I’m still recovering from my last one, since there was absolutely no way to be transparent enough for him. He needed to see proof of my work, like, constantly. In my current, functional position, I recently realized that I was annoying my boss by giving her constant, incremental updates about my work. She doesn’t care, because her expectation is that I’m doing my work. She doesn’t need constant updates, because she’s not a crazy person.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I’m on my second of those. Oddly, I’ve reached the point where I know it’s not me at all, it really is just him, and I have given up getting upset about it. It’s very freeing. The last one used to change words for absolutely no reason beyond putting her stamp on something. This time around, I have learned that I am not the only one. I’ve also addressed this specifically in therapy, so I credit that with my turnaround.

    4. StellaBella*

      My last 2 bosses were this way. Not knowing when to use Its vs It’s and rewording things they did to be…inflated… in annual reports etc. Both of them were narcissists tho, and in both teams there was 70% and 90% turnover in 2 years, respectively (one job I held 2011-2014, then the most recent one 2015-2017). In my case and in the case of several of my colleagues, I sought therapy and help. I have just started a new job, and I want to be sure I am not going to have similar reactions/interactions based on fear/PTSD. I may find a new therapist to work with or a coach.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      I think your boss kind of sucks… but if that’s the extend of their micromanaging you can probably take steps to mitigate it and work around it (allow ample time for her edits, have her review a draft, etc.) and just kind of realize she’s gonna do this and not take it personal. Some managers subscribe to the theory that they have to “put their own personal stamp” on work, especially written or creative work, which is more subjective.
      I know it’s annoying as crap though!

    6. nonymous*

      Mine sends the meaningless edits reply-all to the larger group after he’s approved the document as-is in a previous email iteration. Only mine. My coworkers get their feedback quietly.

  11. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

    It took me about 6 months to fully recover from my bad boss. I had a habit of being really defensive whenever my new boss questioned me about something. Took me a while to learn that it wasn’t a lead in to an attack like with my old boss, it was just curiosity.

    1. Chaordic One*

      If it only took 6 months, you were lucky.

      It has been more than 3 years since I was fired from a toxic job and it still haunts me. A disturbing anxiety still pops up from time to time in my current (much better but still somewhat dysfunctional) job.

      1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

        I’m very lucky in that my baseline level of anxiety is something like a -5, so working with this woman only pushed me to a 5-6. For someone with a normal level of anxiety like my coworker who quit at the same time, well, she is still recovering.

  12. KatieHR*

    I am 3 years out from my former job. I had to have a talk with my boss about how hearing the words, “can I talk to you for a minute?” Sends me into a spiral of fear and dread. Three years prior everytime I heard those words I was told how everything failing in the company is my fault. I still have a tough time calling in sick because I was looked down upon for getting sick and not be able to answer the phone for the company. And how dare I not hire white people and only African American….I kid you not! I don’t miss that place at all!

    1. GUMata*

      And how dare I not hire white people and only African American

      Not to derail, but you do realize that a policy of “I only hire people of X race” is illegal, right?

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        My guess is that the boss was lying about that. Or else the boss was a virulent racist who thinks that hiring one African American = not hiring white people.

      2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        KatieHR didn’t actually say “I only hire people of X race”, she said her former Toxic Boss ACCUSED her of that, which is not the same thing at all.
        Given that, to a toxic & gaslighting racist, “how dare [you]not hire white people and only African American” really has no meaning (maybe ONE non-white person is too many for Toxic Boss, maybe the area skews towards non-white applicants & therefore the majority of hires will be non white, maybe the non-white applicants simply happened to be the ones most suited for the job available, etc.)
        Given that racism & racial prejudice are such serious, high profile, and current concerns at the present time, and just how likely it is that the boss meant it in a pejorative sense, I am baffled as to why you’d choose this particular part of her post to push back against, or imply that maybe Toxic Boss actually had a leg to stand on here.

  13. Polaris*

    Essentially my first long-term job out of college was a temp position where I was mostly there to do the physical aspects that my aging boss couldn’t manage anymore. There was a lot of downtime, and during this downtime my boss, having immediately asked me my political views on Day 1 (and I not having the skills yet to dissemble), would treat me to long rants full of conservative conspiracy theories, jokes about women and minorities, asking me invasive questions about my personal life, and mocking my beliefs. I was 22. I was not prepared for this.

    The job allowed me considerable flexibility in my hours, which meant I could attend grad school in the evenings, and so I stuck it out. For a year. By the end of which, I was in the throes of the worst depression I’d ever had, was nearly suicidal, and frequently cried at the thought of having to go to work. I finally, finally called the temp agency and quit after listening to both boss and grandboss trash talk another employee’s same-sex relationship. (Needless to say, I never outed myself at that job. It was bad enough that I was visibly female and known to be liberal.)

  14. DrinkEatTypeRepeat*

    Guh – unpleasant flashbacks.

    I had a boss who promoted me 5.5 years into a job at a publishing nonprofit. Eventually, we got a new volunteer board member editor who for whatever reason did not care for me (it eventually became mutual). So at some point, not long after that promotion, he starts writing me up for little nothing things (a missing comma in a line of code on our terrible CMS system, or 1 typo in a 2,500-word story), and eventually brings HR into it for a PIP. The PIP terms were essentially “don’t make a mistake even once, ever” which isn’t really feasable given the iterative nature of monthly publishing. Clearly this whole thing was at the new volunteer editor’s direction – he decided he’d cave in on me rather than sticking up for his employee, despite the fact that we’d worked together exceptionally for years at that point. All the collegial friendliness (he was at my wedding) from those previous 7 years (this went on for a bit), gone. And he’s acting like this is all completely normal.

    At some point, he sent me an invite on a Friday to a meeting on the following Tuesday after a holiday weekend with nothing in the body of the invite. Just me, him, and HR invited, in the HR office, and “Check In” as the subject. Come that Monday … it was literally just a check-in with HR about the PIP, nothing happening. I got so furious that they told me to go take the rest of the day and chill.

    Anyhow, I finally realized that I was staying there over a misplaced sense of loyalty (they sent me to grad school) and good old-fashioned intertia. I found a new, much better, job at a bigger company before they could complete their weird little plan to railroad me out. Went to work for a wonderful woman who gave me all the skills I needed to step into a management role. But man that first boss really fucked with my head. Took me 2-3 years to fully trust this new fantastic boss – I’d read the absolute worst into any mildly critical or corrective comment, because I was conditioned to be wrong all the time.

    I’ve since moved on from there to another job I love even more, but a shadow of that reflexive “OH NO” is still there, and might always be. It’s certainly informed how I treat people.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      “Eventually, we got a new volunteer board member editor who for whatever reason did not care for me (it eventually became mutual).”

      Every time I read or hear statements like this I tend to think the reason is because they’re trying to move a friend, relation or crony into the role.

    2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      I am astonished that HR let them get away with putting you on a PIP that wasn’t merely ‘not feasible’, but IMPOSSIBLE. Human beings are not perfect and do make errors from time to time, to expect you to (essentially) never make even one mistake, ever, is completely ludicrous and entirely unreasonable. How on earth did they read that over and think “This is fine! It’s totally realistic to expect DETR’s performance to improve to the point of DEITY-LIKE PERFECTION!”

  15. I'm Not Phyllis*

    It takes a long time to recover from terrible bosses.

    After leaving terrible old job almost four years ago now, I’ve been blessed with such an amazing boss – I can’t even tell you. And even though I know he’s amazing – I am still triggered by two things: 1) not hearing from him every few hours (if he’s in a meeting it’s fine, but if he’s just in the office and not emailing me or talking to me I’m like WHAT DID I DO WRONG?), and 2) IT not working in the middle of a meeting. Both are things that are perfectly normal and that I logically know I shouldn’t worry too much about – but still.

    And this is four years later. Things I’ve already gotten over include: making sure he knew where I was every hour of the day lest he thing I was slacking off when I really was just in the washroom, making sure my email is answered within seconds lest someone think I was actually sleeping and not working at 2 am, buying things I need for work, taking vacation days and sick days (although I still answer emails more than I should on those days), etc.

  16. Tysons in NE*

    Yup, I am guilty of still reacting to certain things due to a previous controlling micromanaging “do as I say not as I do” boss. At one temp assignment, that supervisor asked me why I insisted on getting her approval on some things. My answer was that at another place if I had done the same thing, I would have been yelled at.
    Currently there is a new manager. While she is settling in it is hard to tell if she is micromanaging or just trying to get herself situated, but if it is the former, we will not be getting along long term. I have gotten to the point in my career and at a level of experience that I don’t need to be told what to do in such detail and my chosen profession is not to be her secretary. Stay tuned I might be asking Alison’s advice on how to handle/phase what I want to say.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I think if you have a new manager, some level of micromanaging is to be expected initially. After all, they don’t yet know what they need to know.
      But you should be having open conversations about what you can provide during this period of getting acclimated. In a sense, you can set this tone, by stating what you think makes sense to report on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

  17. Dame Judi Brunch*

    I’m two years out of my toxic job and I’m still feeling the effects. My review is next week and I’m anxious. New boss does not handle anything like old boss did, but there’s still the sense of fear and dread. I’m working on not feeling like this, it’s a process.

  18. V*

    I had an experience that kind of helped me? A superior/supervisor at an old job always used to scream at me when she saw me on the phone “IS THAT KAREN? TELL HER I HAVE HER EVALUATIONS” and such. Another co-worker used to come eat microwaved fish on the lip of my desk.

    WELL that prepared me for an open office of any type, sort, color, sound level, smell, etc. Whenever a co-worker takes a hushed call and apologizes they didn’t use their cell phone I’m like oh honey, you could have taken it under my desk while screaming and I’d still finish my TPS reports no problemo.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      What? Who eats their fish (or any lunch, for that matter) at someone else’s desk??

      1. V*

        Well he had his own office and I was out in an open area. I think he viewed it as his social time to eat his lunch on my desk? I’m also vegan so that adds another layer of fun to smelling fish and anchovies for half the day.

      2. Clorinda*

        Someone who doesn’t want his own office to stink of fish for the rest of the day, obviously.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          Ah. That makes sense. I thought he was doing it on purpose to harass the vegan, but your answer makes more sense.

  19. Jl*

    My last job was horrible. I didnt let them defeat me though and i fought to produce good work and get good work from others. The bad habit i developed was rolling in at 930… like that was bad for me. Also just felt worthless and unvalued. I was there for almost 3 1/2 years. Just couldn’t find anything else.

    At new job since December and slowly getting my confidence back and enjoying how energized i feel getting up early to tackle the day. People care about their job and how we look.

  20. Dadolwch*

    More than a decade ago, I took a job as the Executive Assistant to the CEO of a statewide nonprofit. I’d worked in nonprofits for years, so I was pretty familiar with how dysfunctional they can be in different ways, but this place was by far the worst. Everyone was terrified of the CEO – we weren’t allowed any personal items in our cubicles (because something might offend someone), no one ever chatted out loud in the office for fear of reprimanded, staff gatherings were all strictly business, and it was hands-down the most starched-collar nonprofit I’d ever worked at. I’d only been there a couple of months when it all came to a head. There was a conference we planned for our partner agencies and something went wrong with a cake we’d ordered (before I started, mind you) as an anniversary celebration. The CEO blamed me for the mix-up, despite me having nothing to do with the mistake.

    A week or so later, we had a board meeting scheduled in a nearby major city. As the CEO had been requiring me to work overtime without pay (I was non-exempt), I asked for and got permission to take some flex time on the Monday morning of the board meeting so I could do some holiday shopping. The Friday night before, she left me a voicemail ordering me to pick up one of the other staff members at her home to drive her to the board meeting. I called her back, got voicemail, and reminded her she had agreed to let me use flex time at that time and I would not be able to do it – and offered all sorts of apologies and compromises, like not claiming mileage on the way there. She called me back and essentially let me know I was going to be fired at the next opportunity. The next time she was in the office, she brought me in and proceeded to accuse me of all kinds of things I had never done – including showing up to my initial interview drunk! Long story short, I was fired and, due to a lot of other circumstances in my life at that moment, proceeded to have a minor nervous breakdown. Never in my life before or since have I been treated so abusively by a manager, and there are still moments at work when I realize I’m blaming myself for things I didn’t even do.

    It took me years to get past the emotional abuse that horrible woman heaped on me, and longer to get over my anger at how she treated me and everyone else. As a manager now myself, it’s definitely been a formative experience in how I interact with my employees. No one should be treated like that – especially someone who is just trying to do their best.

    1. EPLawyer*

      If you were drunk at your initial interview what does that say about her decision to hire her?

      Not believing you were drunk for one hot second. Just shows how nonsensical abusive bosses can be.

      1. Dadolwch*

        That’s what I said! “Then why would you have hired me?” I admittedly was getting over a cold, but I told them that. And it’s not like I was reeking of tequila and regret. The worst part was the HR Director, who just sat through the whole thing looking like she was a deer in headlights but didn’t say a thing.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I had a boss who claimed I left every day at 5 on the dot. It wasn’t true at all, as I often started at 8am and worked until 6 or 7 pm and without taking lunch! They would also often call at 8:15 or so in the mornings to check I was there (I always was).

      When they said that during one if their rages, I just flat out, without blinking, said they were lying and they were a liar. Needless to say, it didn’t go down well.

  21. K*

    Ugh this makes me nervous for future jobs! I plan to leave my toxic boss soon. But it stinks to hear how much it can stay with you.

  22. Rainbow Roses*

    This isn’t as horrible as most of the stories but I had a boss who gave our team a homemade Christmas present…..except me. Since the team was so small (only three members at my level), it was noticeable. I didn’t know she disliked me but I guess she did.

    I was in my early 20’s in my first “real” job back then so I felt soooooo embarrassed.

    1. MostCake*

      I feel you a lot. I went through many years of certain colleagues being called into the boss’s office and exiting with fancy gift bags around the holidays… plus lots of birthday party celebrations for only select employees. ? I didn’t get it because I’d never had a cross word with boss but I’m talking others who had been with her for decades and I guess I was still a newbie after eight years. Anywho, it’s past tense now because boss got canned one day after apparently too many employee complaints to HR of favoritism among other complaints.

      But it’s really weird to go eight years of eating cake for only certain employees and never have your own birthday even acknowledged, right? I’m not a particularly birthday-centric person, but it did rankle and I was kind of gleeful when the firing occurred.

    2. Radio Girl*

      Ooh, something like that happened to me once. I was the only person in the office not to get a jar of homemade jelly.

      I didn’t really want the jelly. But it hurt just the same.

    3. Jennifer Juniper*

      I hope you didn’t wonder what you did wrong. I would have reacted that way and even asked boss how I could be a better team player.

  23. AnoninNYC*

    The director at my work place once hurled a phone across the office that I share w him because he was angry w our organizer who was in the other room. I narrowly missed it hitting my head and perhap giving me a concussion. I just got a job offer recently and I’ve never been happier to get out of this hell hole. And yes this man has been sued before by other employees he abused and fired. I think I’ll still get heart palpated in a bad way whenever I hear large foots stomping around with just socks on because he also likes to walk around either bare foot or w just socks on.

  24. LoV*

    I was just reading the AAM post regarding whether parents should encourage their kids to get jobs during school and I think that a potentially forgotten part of working some jobs when you’re young is that it’s really easy to pick up bad habits from toxic or just unprofessional jobs. Heck, some of the bad habits I picked up in workplaces stem from jobs I had in high school, which, *ahem* was a little while ago. Although, reading things like this post has really helped me be more aware of habits that I might have picked up – can’t fix something unless you’re aware of it.

  25. MRK*

    Had a now former boss offer me a ride to work (they lived nearby and it was bad weather out.) They proceeded to use the car ride to berate me like a child, made worse that I was in the back seat. Completely out of the blue. They claimed I should be grateful they were paying me so much ($10 an hour, I had one raise the whole 6 years I worked for them.) They called me ungrateful and lazy (I had just covered a 65 hour week and then a 55 hour week back to back since everyone else was on vacation, without so much as a thank you) and in general basically said I was an awful selfish employee. Never mind that I basically never called out, often took last minute shifts, and was happy to work 10-12 hour shifts with no proper break. Oh and they were constantly behind in paychecks/there were no benefits.

    Now I’ll be the first to admit that I was slacking off at work sometimes (see no breaks so sometimes I’d eat lunch, read, check Facebook, etc rather than make sure the store was perfectly in order.) That would have been perfectly fine to address in a reasonable, adult manner. Not screaming at me in a car like a bad child. And of course they were SHOCKED when I didn’t take this conversation well.

    I’ve had 2 major jobs and a couple small gigs since and I still definitly have issues around calling in sick/needing to look busy/asking for time off. Lest I be ungrateful. And I still have the back of mind thought of “ok, when is this boss gonna flip out and start screaming at me that I’m awful with no warning”

  26. Fiddlesticks*

    Three years after leaving the boss from hell, I still have to forcibly stop myself from ducking behind a door or in an empty office when I see my current boss coming – and I LIKE my boss! It is a literal, physical reaction, based in some primitive part of my brain which is telling me that I need to run and hide from the oncoming threat.

    Alison is so right here!

  27. Zap R.*

    I took legal action against my bad boss and won, but I still have nightmares about her and panic attacks whenever anything goes wrong at work. She blew my life up pretty good and even though I have legal confirmation that she was in the wrong, the trauma has never really goes away.

      1. Zap R.*

        She kept denying my requests for disability accommodations and then fired me when things got so bad that I had to be hospitalized. It’s been a year and half but I still feel physically sick every time my new boss at my new job calls me.

        1. Solana*

          Ugh, I had the guy in charge of HR deny disability accommodations even with a doctor’s note, asking to use something we already had on hand, because he didn’t believe in giving ‘special treatment’. Not long after, I was working for their competitor and now I’m in an amazing job in my field, with a much better salary and benefits and the chance to grow.

          As for the HR guy, I wrote him in one of my novels as a crony of my villain who gets a beehive to the head when threatening my character’s family, and ends up running to a castle for treatment while being laughed at by all his men. He fired another friend after the friend told him off for being nasty to his fiancée and tried to deny him unemployment, but I wrote some things up in support to help him win the case and appeal. To this day, I’m terrified of reviews, getting asked to come into the office, and having my illness interfere with my work.

    1. Argh!*

      That’s why legal action should have monetary payouts! It takes a lot of therapy to deal with that kind of thing.

      1. Zap R.*

        Yeah, losing my livelihood, my friends, and my savings due to discrimination wasn’t how I hoped to spend my mid to late twenties.

    2. Mhoops*

      I’m in the process of a discrimination case with NY state against my last job. I was lucky enough to win unemployment after quitting due to discrimination which is hard. Luckily my job getting that bad is what forced me out. Now I’m in my dream job more in my field and I thank the world I had a good support system in the interim.

  28. LMM*

    I was once yelled at for responding to my boss’s email (not about anything of import, just a “here’s what’s on your agenda today” note) on my iPhone, while I was commuting into the office. You know the automatic “Sent from my iPhone” tagline that the phone attaches to your email? My supervisor flipped his lid over that, raging and raging that anyone who would send him an email ON A PHONE was not taking his correspondence seriously enough and implying that it was somehow less “real” than an email sent from a desktop computer.

    I took that tagline off so that he wouldn’t know where I was emailing from. It’s been 8 years, and I never did put it back on, even though now everyone sends emails from iPhones and, in fact, I received an email from this same supervisor not long ago with the same iPhone tagline on it.

    I never did figure out exactly why he was SO upset by it, but he kept telling me he was going to fire me for insubordination. It was insane.

    1. Roy G. Biv*

      Because “new” technology was an affront to his sensibilities. At least, until he decided to embrace that technology himself, and then it was HIS idea. Just guessing here….

  29. HCC*

    2 from my recent past that have done their damage to me.

    1. The new CEO of a former company explicitly told me several times during the first few months of his tenure that he wanted to hear any & all feedback/information that I could give him on a regular basis (I was the HR Manager) – so as to keep his finger on the pulse of the company. Fast forward 12 months to my performance review and it was in writing that I ‘constantly went over my boss’s head (VP of Finance) and took up too much of the CEO’s time with complaints’ and I was directed to NOT bring anything up to the CEO again, ever. He wouldn’t even look me in the eye after that review. I left that place a few months later – during that space of time, any time I encountered the CEO, he made a point of ignoring me or walking the other direction.

    2. At the next company I worked at – I made a harassment complaint against a supervisor (he was regularly violating my personal space and making very creepy comments to me about my looks). Company policy was that investigations were always done by the General Manager, Division Manager and local HR (that was my position). It turned out he was quite the womanizer and had been having sex with several women over the years who had been too afraid to complain because they felt like they needed to comply or lose their jobs.
    Little did I know that a few days after the official investigation started, a female who actually was close friends with the supervisor then turns around and files a complaint about ME because I said she had cute shoes. She felt that my noticing her shoes meant that I was paying too much attention to her and that made her feel uncomfortable.
    So – during the time I was conducting the investigation on the supervisor – the General Manager and Division Manager were preparing a “Last Chance Warning” for me. I was flabbergasted – as I was never informed about the complaint against me … and literally 24 hours prior to delivering the “Last Chance Warning” to me, both the General Manager and Division manager had been singing my praises. They had been preparing their letter for several days & I was floored that during that space of time, they were able to baldly lie to my face about how amazing my performance was (they even talked about my being groomed for a Regional HR position).
    The day I received my “Last Chance Warning”, I quietly cleaned out my office. The next morning, I turned in my resignation. The General Manager appeared to be surprised and tried to talk me out of leaving, but I literally held up my hand and said “don’t bother” and walked out.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      “The day I received my “Last Chance Warning”, I quietly cleaned out my office. The next morning, I turned in my resignation. The General Manager appeared to be surprised and tried to talk me out of leaving, but I literally held up my hand and said “don’t bother” and walked out.”

      Yeah I had a similar situation early in my career – was put on probation — they were vague about it, but… and found another job – substantial increase, better conditions and benefits, etc. – and when I resigned they actually attempted to counter-offer (this is long before marijuana was legal in Massachusetts).

      I left – BUT – they were not angry at my leaving; they were irritated that while I was the “real bad boy” – I was leaving for a much better situation – MUCH better – and management feared that I might take others with me. I didn’t, nor would I. Not because I respected the screwball “do not poach” management “rule” (there IS no such rule, folks) but because no one in that place was capable of working in the environment I was going into.

  30. Gina Linetti*

    In my thirty-plus years of working life, I’ve had nothing but toxic bosses – but then, I used to work for lawyers.

    I remember the first one like it was yesterday. The man was a true Jekyll & Hyde personality – he could be charming and funny on the phone with clients, but the second he hung up, he turned into a fire-breathing dragon. Most days I’d arrive at the office before he did, and I would dread the inevitable long walk down the hall to my desk, because every single person in the office would try to grab him for a minute every time he walked past their office. By the time he reached me, he was usually In A Mood, and spent the rest of the day giving me the brunt of it.

    I lasted a year, hanging on by my fingernails. When I finally handed in my notice, he acted like it was a personal betrayal, and treated me accordingly. I lasted about two or three days into my notice period before saying, “Screw this!” and walked out. Listening to him yell impotently at my rapidly retreating back was very satisfying. :)

    1. Argh!*

      That’s the classic narcissist boss! My current grandboss is one of those, and my current supervisor is a fuzzy-thinking cowardly classic avoidant personality. They are both horrible people in their own way, and I can’t wait to find another place to be, even if it’s toxic in its way. There’s just nothing good about the interpersonal dynamics of my current workplace. As they say, the fish rots from the head.

    2. Slartibartfast*

      When mine fired me, I said “Then we’re done here”. I stood up to leave and he said “wait don’t you want to hear my reasons?” I said “nope”. I had been interviewing and had one foot out the door anyway, and I had caught him in a lie about an issue that would’ve affected patient safety, which had caused other employees to also push back. I knew damn well when I stood up to him about the issue, I was putting a big red sniper dot on my forehead, but I couldn’t have lived with myself if I hadn’t. Plus it was put in writing as official clinic policy that the issue wouldn’t happen, and since his MO was gaslighting, I know having a way to PROVE what he did/didn’t say is absolutely galling to him. I now have to explain why I’m ineligible for rehire at a place I worked for 15 years, but I can live with that.

    3. Gina Linetti*

      Oh, I forgot to add – the receptionist and paralegals gave me a standing ovation as I walked out the door.

      He treated pretty much all the staff like crap.

    4. Reliant*

      In graduate school, there were many Principal Investigators like this. As genetics students, we identified them as having “inducible charm genes”, the induction being caused by anyone who had something they needed.

  31. Argh!*

    I’m currently in the market for a new job thanks to a terrible boss. I dread the ways she will stay in my brain. Fortunately, I have attempted to be my authentic self within myself, after a couple of years of not recognizing myself. I hope I can bring the real-me to work in the next place instead of the damaged-me that my current boss created.

  32. Sabina*

    More than 20 years ago I had a boss who lied about everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. He also tried to make other people party to his lies, i.e. he once asked me to try to get fake receipts showing he was at a business conference when he’d actually gone to gamble and party in Reno (how would I even be able to do that?). He lied when telling the truth would be far easier. He lied about inconsequential things like where he gone for lunch. He’d lie to your face when the evidence that he was lying was right smack dab in front of everyone. He finally retired (or DID he?, maybe he was kidnapped or taken up in a alien spacecraft) and it took me years to be able to take anything at face-value from future bosses. My mind just defaulted to “Boss says it Monday, it must be Tuesday”.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      The Serial Liar
      Makes you wonder if they also lie to their spouse and everyone. Their whole life is a con, and they involve many others in the con to prove their lies are true.

      1. only acting normal*

        They do indeed lie to their spouse and family, just as blatantly and provably as they lie to employees. Their MO is basically they utterly and unshakably believe everything coming out of their mouth at any given moment, no matter how ludicrous.
        I’d seriously wonder if Sabina worked for my father, but I realise he’s not the only one like this in the world. Growing up with it makes it easier for me to spot them (despite my autism); it’s confusing sometimes that others get taken in, it’s so transparent to me!

  33. Phx Acct, now with dragons*

    It takes me a long time to get over toxic bosses.

    One boss was so bad I’d have to pull over on the way to work, because I was having panic attacks and couldn’t see through the tears.

    Boss #2 would tell me he had to fire X or Y because she was in love with him, and he couldn’t be the reason for an emotional affair/broken marriage. Years later, I heard through the grapevine the reason I’d been let go was because I was “leaving him love notes”. **Rolls eyes**

    Another boss went through 17 secretaries in the three years I was his accountant. Yes, 17. He put a popcorn machine outside my office door, and would smoke cigars in the office. The smell of either will still make me puke, so no movies or Vegas lounges for me.

    A third boss was so coked out he accidentally locked himself and seven floor managers in his tiny cubicle. (A hilarious story for another day) He screamed and backstabbed and was mean to every one around him. He’d fire people arbitrarily, and make me put low performers’ names up on the RSS feed screens in the office.

    I’m not all the way over them, which is why mostly consult now. I tried to switch fields but it was WORSE outside of accounting. Sometimes I’ll temp, but mostly I work for our own company. The idea of truly re-joining the workforce full-time gives me anxiety and nightmares.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      At least he didn’t hire hit men to kill you like in the movie The Accountant.
      My God though!

  34. Anonymous due to continuing PTSD*

    My worst ex-boss and I were colleagues and friends before she became my boss. (She was fired from our mutual company and started one on her own and brought me along.) Anyway, she had been allowed to call me my nickname because we were friends. It is a nickname I only allowed close friends to use.

    The friendship and working relationship became toxic to the point of her bullying me (loudly talking crap about me to another employee so I could overhear her, spreading lies about me in the business community, and things like that.) To this day, I no longer let anyone call me that nickname. Yes, she ruined my nickname, which I’d had for 30 years, for me.

  35. BRR*

    This hits home. I was able to identify my manager was toxic when I started this job. I thought I could avoid or dampen the toxicity’s effect because I was able to identify it early. Nope.

  36. Kimmybear*

    I’m 3 months removed from my bad boss…nothing dramatic like throwing or yelling, just completely inept and disrespectful. She ignored major project risks the team flagged and publicly dismissed recommendations from staff members with more experience than her. It was so small and constant that I honestly didn’t realize how bad it was until several colleagues pointed things out and asked me how I was coping. I’m in a different department now and much happier.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      It’s like being part of a dysfunctional family, you think it is normal until you get away from it and can see it for what it is. I am so glad you got out!

  37. Archaeopteryx*

    The main residue from leaving my horrible boss was that I thought my next- merely mediocre- boss was amazing. Then I finally moved on to an actually great boss, and that’s what made me realize the previous one was pretty lackluster. On the bright side, I’m now like a kid in a candy store- problems get addressed, they actually care about professional development, and communication is so clear and supportive!

  38. El*

    I always say to new mangers on my team that when you manage a staff member, you’re also managing the ghost of their last or worst manager. Dealing with that counter-transference can be really challenging!

  39. LaDeeDa*

    Bad bosses: When I had to put my dog down I was devasted, as most people are. He had been my best friend and constant companion for 15 years. I took a couple of days off, when I came back my boss said “So what happened, you just take him to the vet and leave him and go get another one?” UHHHHHHH I was so horrified, and wasn’t able to cover up my disgust I said “NO! I held him until he was gone, and I won’t be getting another dog any time soon. ” Boss ” You stayed? How weird to watch him die.” I just grabbed my laptop and said “I am going to work from home the rest of the day.”

      1. LaDeeDa*

        And he brought up my dead dog several times over the next few months…. but he was forced out in a Voluntary Separation Package for retirement, and I got his job. Jerk.

        1. Sabina*

          Omg, that is awful! I am so sorry! And somehow I just got a weird flashback to a workplace where my bosses and some other employees were laughing, LAUGHING, when John Lennon was murdered. I left that job with no notice a month later.

    1. StellaBella*

      I am glad you now have his job and he was forced out but I am so sorry you had to endure his behaviour. Big hugs. Losing your dog (or cat or other buddy) is never easy.

  40. EvilQueenRegina*

    My previous boss was a bit too hands off – I’ve compared her in the past to the Harry Potter character Cornelius Fudge because she had the same trick of burying her head in the sand, the “I haven’t seen this happening, therefore it’s not happening, I’ll form my own conclusions of what’s happening and act on that…what do you mean, there really was a performance issue with Cruella and it wasn’t just something people were bringing up because they don’t like her?” A big part of the problem was that she managed several teams based on different sites, and she for whatever reason based herself out of somewhere else altogether and spent so little time with her teams she had no real sense of what went on in the office.

    Flashforward to a restructure, and I end up being managed by someone who was also on one of Fudge’s teams. My next manager was so determined to avoid being a Fudge that she went to the other extreme and became a very strict “Professor Umbridge” micromanager, talking to us all like we were back at school and not letting us do anything independently. She didn’t seem to realise that going to the other extreme could itself be a mistake.

  41. ThatLibTech*

    I have a feeling I won’t be listening to this because even thinking about a former workplace (I mentioned in one of the comments above about my boss’ behaviour towards a co-worker’s sick son) just makes my brain *itch*.

    I’m about 3 jobs on now and I’ve dealt with a lot of the issues, and the workplace has since improved from what I’ve seen, but it’s still pretty rough. I faced daily criticism, favouritism (against me), was watched on cameras and had programs installed on our computers to monitor what we were looking at, a twisted work culture (I should volunteer for free at work events to “pay back” for the benefits I receive!) + nepotism, the blatant racism, and refusing to give me FT hours but expecting FT work out of me. For a good half-year I woke up every day dry heaving from the anxiety from it all. All because of one person … and the system in place that enabled her.

    I am so very, very glad I’m out of there.

  42. Eleanor in the Bad Place*

    I have a chronic illness and used all of my sick time every year at my past job. My boss didn’t believe that I was ill and threatened to fire me over sick time multiple times even though I was never behind on my work and did well in general. But she also reprimanded me if I came in and wasn’t perky and bright, even though all of the work was being done. Anyway, the feeling I’m left with is that I could be bleeding, vomiting, with broken bones, a deathly fever, contagious AF, and I would still rather die than call in to work. The feeling makes me nauseated even if I wasn’t before. It gives me panic attacks. And then I spend the sick time fighting off the panic attack and not sleeping the night before I go back to work and then going back to work terrified of reprimand and judgment. I’ve been away from that job for 6 months now. I hope these feelings go away.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I think in America it is all too common for workers to feel afraid they will be yelled at for taking a sick day when they’re sick.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        And to be at risk of being fired when they are sick. Or to be blamed for being sick because they didn’t exercise/do yoga/eat enough vegetables/be positive and grateful enough.

  43. Bookworm*

    Yep. I still think about my worst bosses from time to time (not willingly, thankfully!). Unfortunately at one of my most recent jobs I had a boss who might have been one of the worst due to his own obliviousness. At best he’s secretly relieved I left on my own and/or he thinks it wasn’t a good fit, rather than acknowledging his own role in why this was so bad.

    My successor also recently left and it appears working for them for just under a year isn’t unusual. Longer than some other places, perhaps but all the same I’ll bet Old Boss and Manager literally have no idea how terrible they are. And yes, I tried communicating this but it was not worth being gaslit by people who are in denial.

  44. tealeaf*

    I had a custom cellphone ringtone when I was working with a difficult manager. I was also on call 24/7/365 at this job. My manager would do things like text me at midnight on a Friday on birthday to gage my response time and I think test my loyalty to him. (He was big on loyalty.) The ringtone was a song I love(d) from the 80s. It’s been several years, but every time I hear the first few notes of that song, my whole body clenches.

    Long story short, I highly recommend never using a ringtone of a song you like for a work cellphone–that song will be dead to you forever. :D

  45. Vampire Manager*

    I feel so incredibly lucky that when I left ToxicJob, I ended up at BestJobYet. I was a little skittish at first, walking away from such an awful environment. It took having a great new boss to help me see that it wasn’t me, it was them, and that I was a great and very valued employee. It restored my self-esteem in ways I didn’t know I needed.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Ditto++++ !!!!! I had the same occur when I left toxic job for paradise.

      And I had a great boss — the first time I ever had a boss who I could trust, and who provided me with guidance and direction – not just ass-whuppin’s out of fear.

  46. AspieGirl*

    Dealing with my boss has become such an utter nightmare for me that I’m in twice weekly therapy sessions just to deal with it and unpack it all. I have panic attacks daily before going into work because I never know what version of my boss is waiting for me that day from yelling at me behind closed doors for having a disability and needing accommodations, to ignoring any work I produce or any contributions I make to the department, to wearing the almost pleasant professional mask that he uses to tell me I excel at the technical parts of my job. The worst part of all of it? My sense of normal has been so badly skewed that I can’t tell up from down any more, and I am essentially unemployable anywhere else at this point since I no longer have any idea how to successfully act in a professional environment or what the reasonable professional norms are in the interactions you have among your bosses and co-workers that you should expect.

    1. StellaBella*

      My last 2 bosses were very difficult. In my case and in the case of several of my colleagues, I sought therapy and help. I have just started a new job, and I want to be sure I am not going to have similar reactions/interactions based on fear/PTSD. I may find a new therapist to work with or a coach. I am glad you are seeing someone.

    2. Short Time Lurker Komo*

      Don’t think you can’t adjust! Don’t be afraid of the job search! You deserve to work in a place that makes you happy! You can adapt when you get there! I know you can! <3

      1. AspieGirl*

        I truly appreciate your sentiment, positivity, and support, but my disability makes it so change is incredibly hard. When I started the job I’m currently in (and essentially my first non-retail type job out of college), I didn’t have my diagnosis. Now I have a list of accommodations I need to perform my job, and while the job may change, the accommodations don’t. I don’t even know how to begin approaching a new employer and immediately requesting the accommodations I need without ruffling feathers and creating a cycle of problems I’m currently dealing with. I wouldn’t be able to function a week in a new position without accommodations, and there is a shit ton of concious and unconscious bias against those with invisible disabilities in the work place. Outting myself all over again is something I am just not in a place to mentally handle and I don’t know that I ever will be. It’s really bad.

  47. M*

    My former Toxic Job was utterly terrible in nearly every respect, including putting me on a set of tasks that functionally required working a 6 day week with no overtime pay. The one exception was that they were reasonably normal about short-term sick leave (horrible about chronic illness, to the point where one of my former colleagues had a very solid discrimination case against them, but reasonably normal for “you’re infectious, stay home” type stuff), which made minor illnesses an exceptional relief.

    By the time I got out, I’d reached the point where I was literally hoping to get ill, and delighted whenever I did. Took years to shake that.

  48. No Name*

    The ghost of my former bad boss is litterally haunting me right now.
    Long story short I stayed 5 months at this incredibly unhinged workplace, I eventually went back working for one of my former employers. This employer had merged with the previous employer of my bad boss, and he used to be manager there as well.
    I have now coworkers who know him very well and still see him outside work, and sometimes his name pops in conversations, leading to me having flashbacks about unhinged workplace.

  49. Tired*

    My boss retired last year and my new boss is lovely but I still really worry about things like asking questions or passing on phone messages because the old boss use to hurl profanities at me when I did.

  50. Rhoda*

    We spend most of our waking hours at work, so of course a really bad boss can traumatize us. It’s been nearly nine years and I still feel I haven’t fully recovered from my worst boss ever. I’d been pretty lucky with bosses up to that point.

  51. Birch*

    “many thanks” is doing it to me. No capitalization, no punctuation. That’s how we know we’re in trouble. It usually ends an email where I’m being asked to do something that either 1. someone else has already done, 2. is a massive waste of time or 3. I was asked to do the exact opposite in the previous email.

  52. Carbovore*

    I still work with my terrible boss (going on 7 years now) and I unfortunately have actual physical reactions to her voice now. I will actually feel my stomach drop or my muscles tense up–always bracing for impact.

    I’ve been able to recalibrate my thoughts about her in ways that help but there are still some days my subconscious reacts before I can even clock what’s happening.

  53. Minta*

    Reading through all the sound-based reminders (ringtones, etc.) of your old bosses reminds me of what sets me off about my old, bad boss: her perfume!

    She wore one of the strongest, thickest (and, somehow, ragingly popular), sweetest fragrance bombs, and my muscles tense to this day when someone walks by me with it on. It’s been over 8 years. Thank goodness one of my coworkers chose not to return after having her baby a while back. She favored the same perfume and wore it with abandon.

    In addition to the perfume thing, I still am sloughing off bad habits I built during the 9 years I worked with her, and it stinks.

  54. Anonymous Celebrity*

    Yeah, I had a bad boss. Luckily for me, I worked for a state agency with a union. I filed a grievance against the knucklehead, documented the heck out of it, researched prior grievance settlements and the reasoning behind them, won the grievance, got a new boss who wasn’t nuts, and stalled said knucklehead’s career. I think he’s the one who was traumatized.

    The guy’s hubris was off the charts. He simply thought that, because he was a manager, the rules did not apply to him. Also, he was also accustomed to having his ass kissed by some of his female employees looking for promotions. He found out the hard way that the rules DID apply to him and that most women don’t try to get ahead by sucking up to egotistical morons…and that some of us will fight back. And we can win. Nertz to him.

    I can’t say that I look back on that experience with pleasure. It was a stressful process, one I wouldn’t want to repeat. But it did show me (and others) that it’s possible to fight back and win against a sadistic, incompetent idiot of a boss and win. I went on to retire from that agency with a nice pension and full benefits. I have no idea where he is now, nor do I care.

  55. Whenthey*

    4 years later and I still ruminate about previous toxic job. Partly why I read AMA now. Even after filing a wrongful termination lawsuit (not protected class) I am still affected by how the large, well respected former organization handled me. I wish I could share the details, but I can only say “ the matter has been resolved”. Trying to move forward.

  56. Ari*

    4 years later and I still ruminate about previous toxic job. Partly why I read AMA now. Even after filing a wrongful termination lawsuit (not protected class) I am still affected by how the large, well respected former organization handled me. I wish I could share the details, but I can only say “ the matter has been resolved”. Trying to move forward.

  57. It’sonlyme*

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one! At a job 15 years ago, some coworkers discussed once how many employees the office manager had gone through in her three years with the company. The consensus was at least 30. In an office of 6.

    Personally, I was fired then later I found out she was giving out bad references to my potential new employers. I was young and naive, and it didn’t occur to me that my former employer would blackball me all over town. I still wonder how many jobs I lost out on because of that.

  58. GetOut*

    We have counted about 14 people who have left my department since my boss became manager less than 3 years ago. The department has completely turned over 3 times. So far in 2019, in the span of 20 days, we had one person fired on the spot, one person work the last day of their notice period, and one person give notice. The people who have left definitely have carried with them the scars and trauma from working for this manager. The silver lining is I think all of the former employees are now in positions that they either truly enjoy, or, at the least, are treated well.

  59. UKCoffeeLover*

    I left behind a fabulous job because of a toxic boss. Her favourite phrase was “it is what it is”. I cannot hear that now with out a shudder. I am now in another fabulous job but this time with a fabulous manager to match. But I still have anxiety attacks if a ‘tone’ in an email sounds wrong. Toxic people leave a scar.

  60. AnonDev*

    I left the non-profit industry over toxic managers. One organization I worked for had a reputation for discriminating against african american women. Their Glassdoor reviews detail the conspicuous lack of opportunities for african american women. It was insane. There was even one supervisor who would fill an admin role with African american women, never promote them and systematically bully them. Then, when that person would leave, they would promote the role and hire out caucasian women.

    I ran for the hills but my next non-profit job was cesspool of bullying. There was someone who trash talked me to her colleagues and across departments. And in front of her supervisor, who couldn’t care less. I was admonished in team meetings in front of other smirking staff members. Yelled at, groaned at, told I was stupid, talked down to when I asked questions. She even introduced my contributions as “she actually did a good job”. She went so far as to tell this org’s members how incompetant I was, which fostered a dynamic where those members refused to cooperate with me. There were a few times she caught me crying in my office and she actually smirked in response.

    At my new job, I’m much more careful and document unprofessional interactions from the get-go, but as you can imagine, it fostered crippling anxiety that still impacts my ability to trust coworkers.

  61. Argye*

    It took a solid year for me to be able to speak in a staff meeting without terror at my new job.
    Former Horrible Boss really, really hated me, for some reason. In the five years I worked for her, she never once said anything positive towards me.
    The worst part was that at weekly staff meetings, one of my male colleagues (it was a small department of 5), would incessantly interrupt me. Every time I would open my mouth, he would jump in and say something. I never got to make any comments at all.
    This went on for *weeks*.
    When I’d look up, I’d see Former Horrible Boss sniggering to herself every time I was interrupted. I have no doubt she worked with the male colleague to make sure I could say nothing in staff meetings. Note: this was happening with my direct reports in the room. I eventually gave up and stopped speaking. And, of course, my lack of participation got dinged in my next review.
    To this day, I wish I had stormed out of the meeting when they first starting pulling that stunt. I’m sure that if you asked, they would say they were just “teasing” me.
    Grandboss at that place once dinged me in a review for “being too conscientious and caring too much about deadlines”.
    Good think I got laid off from there, but, yes, 8 years later, I still feel the effects.

  62. Polka Dot Bird*

    Alison, it would be great if you could talk about how to recover from terrible bosses/workplaces. (Aside from therapy. Which I am doing.)

  63. Anon and Even Still Worried*

    1 year, 3 months, 1 day is how long I spent working for a toxic company.
    Upper management was classist, ableist, sexist, abusive and overall just toxic people. Sometimes it felt like we were working in a reality t.v. show or an HR video of how not to do things.
    I think I won in the end since I was able to leverage my working in this specific industry to get the job I have now which is much better by leaps and bounds.

  64. Finally Free*

    My last day on toxic job was last week – I resigned in mid February after almost 2 years of heavy micromanagement from my boss’ boss. I ignored her red flag of yelling 90 days into the whole journey. I was thisclose to resigning without written offer in hand – it was really that bad. I am going to a new opportunity with a slight paycut but am excited and relieved to be free of the last place. I forfeited any upcoming annual raises/bonuses which are typically given this week, but I valued my sanity. I miss “some” of the people. This will have been my 4th toxic boss (3 females, 1 male) in a 20+ year IT career (I am female), so I am doing some deep introspection/meditation and self work before I start the new opportunity.

  65. Daphne Castle*

    I had nightmares of toxic boss for two months after I left. My experience with that boss hurt my self-esteem too, so I really made sure that my sabbatical would a) be all about rest, because the emotional stress led to some health issues and b) building myself back up. It’s been four months after I left and I’m starting to feel healed from it. I can also say I’ve moved on to the point wherein I see myself forgiving that boss. I’m in a much better headspace than I was in recent months and I’m looking forward to getting back to the job hunt and working on my personal projects.

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