update: my boss watches me by video call while I work

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 whose boss monitored her by video call while she worked (and was nominated for Worst Boss of 2019 earlier this week)? Here’s the update.

I can’t say how valuable the support and advice from you and the Ask a Manager community was for me as I navigated this situation. Since I wrote you back in February, we had every other person on the team quit except for the boss and me. Then I had to complete an entire project on my own (when it was scoped for 6 people). Supreme Boss found out when they noticed my work output was much higher than what they would expect in an average 40 hour week (I’m salary, but we have to track hours). Then everything kind of unraveled.

1. Boss had been over tasking me but not reporting my actual work load to her her supervisor. I was informed that while salary, it is not normal to work 50+ hours and only put 40+ on the time sheet.

2. Boss asked me to misrepresent information on a quarterly report to “make the Supreme Boss” happy. I refused, as the numbers were false, it’s unethical, and would be poor information for business decisions. Boss screamed at me, threatened to write me up for insubordination, and contacted HR about “this f*cked up staffer who won’t listen to orders.” They submitted several mistakes I had made, which while legitimate, raised red flags for HR and my leadership as to burnout versus insubordination as I had received merit-based pay raises every year.

3. I had to go out for a surgery, and this further emphasized how much of my Boss’s work I was doing. I hadn’t known how much because Boss told me it was part of my job. It wasn’t.

4. Boss messed up on a major project’s timeline, and miscalculated how long it would take to review the data. This brought the client in with their complaints about Boss while also giving me an excellent review because I analyzed 6 months worth of data in 3 months. Boss had told me a failure to deliver would be my fault as I was project lead. However, I was never project lead. Boss submitted for me to be, but it was not approved because (rightfully) I am not senior enough to be lead on such a large project.

5. I was able to get co-authorship on more of my articles instead of Boss, which in academia is a BIG DEAL. This is especially important for me as I only have a master’s degree and am applying for PhD programs, so need publication to be competitive.

6. Exit interviews from other employees on the team reported further misrepresented hours. Most of us who are/were on the team worked and extra 10+ hours a week on work that wasn’t not higher priority but Boss would text until received. Or stare at you during work hours via video. Boss was also watching them through “collaborative writing” meetings, where we would be forced to share screens and she would edit as we typed.

7. We have hired two new people for the team and they are WONDERFUL. Supreme boss and leadership are moving one of them into the project manager role (my current boss’ role). I’m very excited because this individual said, “You’re adults hired for your expertise. I have an open door policy for questions. I refuse to text after your google calendar has you off work for the day. Weekends are sacred–I in particular view Saturday pancake breakfast with my toddler as my sacred time. I have no plans to interrupt your version of this. I ask for your patience if you ever are required to interrupt pancake breakfast time, as my toddler will be on a sugar high and an uncontrollable ball of destruction. This will cause some background noise on the call.”

8. I received not one but two bonuses, and got a promotion with a raise and title change. I have also been asked to keep them updated on my PhD applications as they have a program that allows people to work at least part time during their PhD through a site placement program.

9. Boss submitted their resignation last week, and I have my last meeting with her later this week. I AM ELATED. The new hires and I are meeting with leadership and an HR person as moderator to conduct a debrief and a SWOT analysis of the team that is moving forward. This includes examining the leadership hierarchy for how multiple reports went unanswered and this situation left to fester (this is being done by an outside organization).

10. I realized I was suffering from burnout, which I got confirmed by a therapist that I am now seeing. My main goal: help reestablish a solid understanding of normal boundaries after being watched for so long. Apparently my boss made it into my therapist’s 10 ten voyeur stories she’s heard thru counseling people, so there’s that.

So I’m still looking for other opportunities, as this place may or may not ever get my full trust. After all this they might get it back, but I’m cynical enough to think this is to keep me from bringing in lawyers. But I will say I feel less pressured to quit or take a lower-paying job, which is an amazing feeling.

{ 52 comments… read them below }

    1. rayray*

      #7 is one of the most important things to me in a job. I’m a “work to live” kind of person. While I’d prefer to have a job I can enjoy at least a little bit and not be apathetic about, I also don’t want anything that will bother me with texts/emails/calls on holidays or weekends. I think most jobs can handle having people off the clock and unavailable for contact, unless you are specifically on call. It’s also reassuring to know your boss is a real person with feelings and a healthy life where they take care of their needs in their life.

      1. Ann Onny Muss*

        Yes. I enjoy my job for the most part, but I also want to be able to enjoy my time off. I’m very grateful that my new manager is very much about “Enjoy your time off. Don’t log on. Don’t take your laptop on vacation with you.” I haven’t been as lucky with past managers.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        I’m with you. I like my job, but I need that time to unplug. Any company that can’t recognize that is not the right place for me.

      3. A Good Boss*

        Me also.

        I recently switched positions and my new boss’s approach to time spent in the office/working from home/flexed time for appointments/etc. is “Do what keeps you sane.” As long as the work is getting done and I’m in the office for meetings that need to happen in person, I can do what I need to do. My colleague is always on email after hours, checking on things, etc. His statement about that was “You don’t need to do what your colleague does. Maybe that’s what keeps HIM sane, but you do what works for you.”

        I love that.

      4. Bee*

        Yeah, I love my job AND fully expect to do work on weekends because it’s just the nature of the beast, but I will absolutely not respond to emails or calls after I leave the office. There is not a single emergency in this business that cannot wait until Monday, and when potential clients act as though they’re entitled to my attention 24/7, I choose not to work with them.

        1. Ace in the hole*

          Same here! I love what I do and (generally) enjoy going to work… and then I enjoy going home and totally switching gears.

          I work with stuff that can be hectic and high-risk – we DO have emergencies that can’t wait until monday. Being on-call for emergencies on a scheduled basis is fine, but being available 24/7 means you aren’t getting the rest and balance you need to make good decisions when you’re at work.

    2. Betty*

      Yes! The uncontrollable sugar-based ball of destruction is my FAVOURITE thing about this update and also the thing that makes me most hopeful that the LW’s work life is about to dramatically improve.

    3. Door Guy*

      One of the things I LOVE at my new job (well, I’ve been here 9 months). In my interview, when the VP asked me about why I was leaving, I mentioned how much road time and the like I had that was unpredictable and keeping me from my family, and that I was missing things in my children’s lives like a recent school concert because I could and had been pulling into my driveway at 5 pm and would get a call that I needed to go and do something IMMEDIATELY over an hour away.

      VP looked me in the eye and said “If your child has a school concert, or program, or even just a meeting, I expect you to be there.” And in the time since my hiring, that has been held up – I’ve not missed a single event. I just put on my schedule that I am leaving at X time and then when X comes around, I get to go with zero hassle. I only see that VP about once a month (he works out of a different location 2 hours away) but he was here today and actually made sure I was getting to them. Our foreman took today off because his kids had a big pageant at school before a half-day dismissal, and VP expressed gladness that he was able to go instead of anything negative (even in private when it was just managers) about missing the monthly meeting.

  1. Kendra*

    Congrats, OP, on seeing the last of a truly terrible boss! Good luck with the PhD program search, too.

    It does give me some hope for your organization that they’re willing to bring in an outside agency to do the “what went wrong” analysis. Here’s hoping that they’re serious about fixing themselves & not repeating this mistake!

  2. Turtlewings*

    All of what Boss was doing was nuts, but the whole “we would be forced to share screens and she would edit as we typed” thing would have me literally running from the room. I cannot IMAGINE trying to work that way. Good riddance!!!

      1. irene adler*

        How long can one hold down the Delete key without causing the computer to issue beeping alert noises? Cuz, that’s what I’d be doing while Boss edits.

    1. Lavender Menace*

      THIS. All of this sounded terrible, but when I got there I was like “nope nope nope feeling stabbity nooooooope.”

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      Right? It’s no surprise she had to pawn all her work off on to her subordinates, she was too busy doing her own one-person production of 1984.

    3. Perpal*

      I could soooooorta see this working on a googledocs level in some very strange fantasy hypothetical, but nope nope nope I had some palpations when I read it above

  3. EPLawyer*

    “I ask for your patience if you ever are required to interrupt pancake breakfast time, as my toddler will be on a sugar high and an uncontrollable ball of destruction. This will cause some background noise on the call.”

    Gold. Just pure gold.

    A boss who trusts her reports until proven otherwise. Platinum.

    This is not a bad update. Sure things aren’t perfect, but no place is.

  4. revueller*

    #7 had me in TEARS at my desk. I’m so happy you were able to send this kind of update and that the Supreme Boss was so, so supportive. Your new team sounds wonderful, and I wish you continued success in your role there.

  5. Phony Genius*

    I hate to say it, but I think this review of what went wrong will likely lay a lot of blame at the feet of Supreme Boss. There are too many abuses described here that should have been picked up earlier than they were.

    1. your favorite person*

      Its possible, but my friend also worked for someone like this and it was basically all a web of lies. No one knew the truth until after she left. She basically delegated all her work to everyone else and no one was able to talk to anyone else because they were all over worked and burnt out!

    2. designbot*

      I actually have a lot of respect for Supreme Boss and HR after reading this. They were able to pick up on things that many bosses would not—that the errors reported by Boss were symptoms of burnout and not negligence or incompetence, that LW’s work output was higher than her hours would indicate—that really turned the tides here. Sure it would be great if they’d figured it out sooner, but it sounds to me like they saw through a lot of Boss’s BS and clued into it as quickly as they could without actually being psychic.

      1. RC Rascal*

        Kudos to this as well. That the errors were attributed to burnout is a sign of a competent HR person.

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        Agreed. While it would have been better for them to catch it sooner, a lot of people are really good at blowing a whole lot of smoke for quite a long while. I bet Boss is one of these people.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I get why OP would still feel a bit wary but to me most of this reads as though everyone other than their terrible boss who quit are both very competent and very committed to making things better which is awesome.

  6. Employment Lawyer*

    It probably isn’t to keep you from lawyering up. It’s probably that they didn’t know what the problem was; a good liar can really cause issues. Now they found the problem and they’re fixing it. If they wanted to keep you happy and avoid lawyers, they’d be doing other things like having you sign releases, paying you off, etc.

    It sounds like you did a kick-ass job.

    This is much more difficult to do than it is to type, but: If you feel like the problem is fixed, try as hard as you can NOT to be too cynical and bitter going forward, because the people who will now be managing you had nothing to do with BadBoss and they will (fairly!) ding you for attitude if the problem is not ongoing.

    This can be really hard to achieve, I know, but it makes a huge difference for my clients when they manage it.

    1. OhNo*

      Agreed on trying not to be cynical. It is so, so hard, but carrying the feelings you developed under a bad boss with you always seems to cause problems down the line. It’s part of why working for a toxic person or in a toxic environment is so damaging.

  7. Van Wilder*

    This boss is so much worse than I thought based on your original letter! I’m glad your organization took it seriously.

    1. Van Wilder*

      Also… misrepresenting data is usually called fraud? I don’t know if the report would bubble up to external stakeholders but that’s the slippery slope that leads to jail time so I’m glad you stood up to her.

      1. Andy*

        totally. in the future, if the community is small enough, this person will probs pop up on your radar as a bad actor on other levels as well, Capone Theory style.

      2. hbc*

        It depends on the context. It’s not really fraud if an employee says they spent 8 hours on a project but it was actually 6 or 10, assuming no one is being billed or paid by the hour. It’s just a lie.

  8. ZSD*

    I’m so glad this terrible situation is ending for you! And what an amazing job you’ve done!!!

    Alison, the whole letter is careful not to mention the boss’s gender until #9, when there’s a gendered pronoun. For consistency, could this be changed to “them”?

  9. AFRS*

    Thrilled for you, OP, and especially happy that this is happening in academia! This gives me hope that there is staff recourse for bad boss behavior – even though yours wasn’t fired, but hopefully she was given an ultimatum or about to be demoted in some way that forced her out. Best of luck with your PhD program!

    1. RC Rascal*

      My hunch is she was offered the opportunity to resign in lieu of firing. Also, they probably paid her to go away.

  10. Enough*

    ‘re #10 – so this boss made two top ten lists for being bad. Clearly there is a need for a special award.

    1. Heidi*

      I wish we could have had this update before voting for Worst Boss this year. I doubt this boss would have won the competition over mastectomy boss and pee-in-the-sink boss, but they might not have come in last. The original letter was just the tip of this dysfunctional iceberg!

  11. Dr. Rebecca*

    A clarification: You do NOT have to be published at the masters level to be competitive for (soft science/humanities) PhD programs.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Thirded — you should be fine, OP, especially with your industry experience — but congrats on the publication!

  12. AGD*

    Professor here. Attempted to read this while eating lunch and had to put down food between #4 and the rest of the letter because I was literally sick to my stomach. This was a Death-Star-sized tangle of unethical behavior. Good heavens.

  13. J!*

    I am so, so happy for you and elated at this update! Thanks for checking in with us and congrats on surviving/thriving.

  14. Mainly Lurking*

    This is one of the most satisfying updates I can remember – might even knock the Spicy Food Thief update from the top spot!

  15. YA Author*

    I had an interview recently that was briefly interrupted by the agent’s child’s school calling. The agent was very apologetic, as if the interruption might be a deal-breaker. Quite the opposite! I was already convinced of this person’s professional capabilities and professionalism—that’s why we were meeting. Learning that the person had work/life balance was a point in their favor. (I too am a working parent and would have taken such a call.)

  16. Pooh Bear, PhD*

    Another academic here: this sounds like very good experience for the academic world! I say that in all seriousness, as these kinds of power dynamics are rife. OP may well know this, but something I wished someone had told me before the PhD: graduate school is also prime territory for burnout and I would prioritize balance and you’re own well being. I think working at this job while doing your PhD may be ideal (some will disagree), if you can get the appropriate recognition, pay, bonuses and not have to deal with this boss. Wishing you the best of luck!

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