update: I can see a coworker doing work for me incorrectly over her shoulder — can I step in?

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who could see her coworker doing work for the letter-writer’s projects incorrectly and was wondering if she could say something? Here’s the update.

Firstly, thanks so much to Alison and all of the commenters for their insight and advice. It really helped me think about the situation from a different perspective. In the end, we actually had an office reshuffle and I was seated directly next to the designer. This worked out great because I couldn’t see her screen without turning and looking to the side, and we were able to have conversations about the work whenever she liked. We’ve now become quite friendly! The company has also switched to a new task management system which is much simpler to use, so the designer has started to pay more attention to outstanding tasks and deadlines. We still have the odd miscommunication over a brief but it’s easily and quickly resolved.

However, unfortunately, it turned out the issue was a symptom of a much larger issue: My managing director’s raging ego and tyranny over the company. I suspected the designer may have been getting mixed messages from him about what work to prioritise, and this turned out to be true, as I was soon to experience for myself. In general, he’s a hugely erratic and impulsive person. He does whatever he feels like doing [A relatively minor example; accessing our company social media accounts and putting up posts riddled with spelling errors despite my repeatedly asking him to run them by me first, or improvising a presentation that he had months to prepare for and getting annoyed when it doesn’t go well] and then blames the rest of us when it doesn’t work. He also has a nasty, nasty habit of getting blackout drunk at industry events and verbally abusing potential clients within their earshot, loudly showing off as much as possible and, on one occasion, calling his friend [our taken, female coworker] a slag because a man from another company asked to buy her a drink.

Here’s a recent example of his ‘mixed messages’ when it comes to priorities:
1. MD texts me repeatedly at 6pm on a Friday, telling me that I must drop everything and work on a ‘huge priority’ task, writing a 20 page support document for a client.
2. I, naturally, change most of my plans for the following work week and go flat out on completing the document by the deadline, which I manage to do. I warn MD in advance that in order to get this done I will have to put my other projects on pause.
3. The day after that deadline, MD sends me a flurry of ‘f*cking furious’ messages, swearing and generally fuming that I haven’t finished all of my other work on top of the ‘high priority’ document. Phrases like ‘welcome to my world’ and ‘everything is top priority’ are thrown around.
4. MD sits me down and tells me I need to learn how to prioritise.

Work-life balance is non-existent, we’re ridiculed as ‘slackers’ if we leave at 5:30pm and jokes are made about taking a half day from our leave allowance. Strangely, everyone else seems to have been around this toxicity for so long that they’re just used to it and shrug it off as eccentricity and passion.

I’m about to start a job hunt to get out of here, but I’m reluctant to jump ship too quickly and have it look bad on my CV, so i’m waiting for the right opportunity to come along. I’ve recently been given a monthly target that is completely unachievable [think, generate 500 teapot leads in 3 months, when there are only 200 teapot companies in the country] and my performance from now on will be tied to hitting those targets, so I know I won’t be able to progress far in this company without being subjected to a lot more abuse on the way.

Hopefully things will be on the up soon!

{ 30 comments… read them below }

  1. triplehiccup*

    While I think it’s a great idea to be selective about your next job, I wouldn’t necessarily wait for the sake of waiting! One short stay that ended die to unambiguous problems with someone who’s infamous in the industry shouldn’t hurt you.

  2. EinJungerLudendorff*

    Goodness, this took a sudden swerve into toxic madness!

    Good luck OP, I hope you can find a company with actual sane and reasonable management!

  3. Hills to Die on*

    My Gosh! We are going to need another update, and it hopefully centers around you finding a new job!

  4. Observer*

    Start looking NOW – and look intensively. Having a relatively short stint on your resume is going to be a lot less of a problem than the issues this guy is going to cause you.

    1. Wintermute*

      It sounds like the LW is on a short course to being railroaded into being fired, giving someone impossible quotas is a very old trick. Better a short stint and a resignation than a short stint and a firing on record!

  5. Detective Amy Santiago*

    My first ‘professional’ job when I graduated from college had a manager like that. He’d come to my desk and say “I need you to do this ASAP” and I’d start working on it. Two hours later, he’d be back at my desk with another project that was “top priority” so I’d put aside project 1 to work on it. Lather, rinse, repeat, until the end of the day when he’d be mad that project #1 wasn’t done even though the six other things he interrupted me saying were top priority were done.

    I was young and there was no AAM, so I went to HR and said “I don’t know how to deal with this” and she had a conversation with him and things improved.

    Good luck with your job search!

  6. Phillip*

    I once had a client tell me “everything is top priority,” and when I pointed out that wasn’t possible, he said “yes, that is the challenge.”

    1. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

      When EVERYTHING is top priority, then by definition NOTHING is, because everything is equally important.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          In a weird way, it reminds me of Lake Wobegon, that place “where all the children are above average.”

      1. Phillip*

        Agreed, and that’s how it turned out! Effectively it all became low priority. Made me laugh though that he found a way to agree with me and double down at the same time.

  7. Coder von Frankenstein*

    ” I’m reluctant to jump ship too quickly and have it look bad on my CV, so i’m waiting for the right opportunity to come along.”
    As Alison is fond of reminding people, one short stay on your resume is not a problem. It’s not until there is a pattern of short stays that red flags go up. And given this guy’s behavior (getting blackout drunk and abusive at events where he is representing the company?!?), I have to assume he has a reputation in the industry–one that is not going to do you any favors in your own career to be associated with any longer than necessary.
    Obviously, do your due diligence to ensure you aren’t jumping from the toxic frying pan into an equally toxic fire. But if you see a decent opportunity, I would STRONGLY advise not passing it up in hopes of finding a “perfect” one. Get out get out get out.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Yeah, I would cut bait on this one. Sticking it out longer is going to hurt more in the long run than having a short stint on a CV. Also, since the manager is setting impossible targets, there is a chance the LW can be fired for not hitting them, which would not help the CV

      1. Wintermute*

        exactly, that’s a very old trick, “If the average production quota is 50, I’ll set yours at 200, then fire you for producing less than half your quota even if you’re doing twice what everyone else is”

    2. Sara without an H*

      He also has a nasty, nasty habit of getting blackout drunk at industry events and verbally abusing potential clients within their earshot, loudly showing off as much as possible and, on one occasion, calling his friend [our taken, female coworker] a slag because a man from another company asked to buy her a drink.

      Umm, OP, given that this guy’s behavior, sticking around too long may actually damage your reputation. I’d start looking now.

  8. Perpal*

    OP I agree you don’t want to go “out of the frying pan, into the fire” with a job change, but if you have the resources for it, consider just quitting and then full time job searching

  9. Marthooh*

    OP, you’re working for an overgrown toddler — which doesn’t mean he’s harmless. On the contrary! Having a vindictive, irrational boss messes with your mind, even when you’re aware of the danger. I’m joining the GET OUT chorus.

  10. T2*

    Your boss’s behavior is completely and totally unacceptable. You should jump at the earliest opportunity. You will not be rewarded for loyalty to this company.

  11. Juniantara*

    I’m trying really hard, but I can’t think of a single situation where “everything is top priority” isn’t a huge red flag, a sure sign that the person assigning the work has no idea how to prioritize and wants to push their bad judgment on you.

    Normally I can think of an exception/edge case to almost any maxim, but I honestly can’t here.

  12. Beancounter*

    LW, I’ve been there and done that with a toxic boss (who owned the company) – just get out. If you just absolutely cannot afford to just quit, I hope your next job lands quickly & is an excellent match. Then build a rainy day fund for potential unemployment – it’ll give you more power than you realize.

Comments are closed.