update: my boss yells for employees to come to her — over and over

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 insisted on yelling for people to come to her, despite the disruption it caused? Here’s the update.

Before taking my issue to Jane with Alison’s script, I checked in with some of my coworkers to get their thoughts on the yelling. Not only were a couple of them on the same page as me, but some of them had actually already provided this feedback to Jane already. One colleague even suggested that we start using the company provided chat software that comes already installed on our computers. In response, Jane said she knew nothing about that software but would look into it. (I haven’t used the software to chat but I did sign in to see what it was like. Interestingly, Jane was shown as signed-in as well but perhaps she wasn’t aware of this.)

Since other people already raised the issue to Jane in the past, I didn’t feel the need to get everyone together again to provide this feedback as a group. We actually don’t have a very “team-oriented” culture here and hardly talk to one another (perhaps because we’re being screamed at all the time) so coming together wasn’t a very realistic option anyway. Instead, I just went to Jane directly and suggested that we take advantage of the chat software because of the disruption and confusion the yelling was causing. She provided me basically the same feedback that she gave my colleague (“I’ll look into it”) but she also mentioned that she wants to get us intercoms for our desks so that she can buzz for us whenever we need to walk to her office. Although the thought of an intercom sounds equally jarring/frustrating (and it defeats the purpose of being able to respond from my desk), I didn’t push back because at least this was something.

Fast forward a couple months and really nothing has changed. When Jane calls for me, I use the opportunity to again suggest we don’t yell (giving a variety of reasons) and request the chat system instead. For the most part, she just nods and then changes the subject to whatever she yelled at me for. In the last instance, she actually said something like “Oh yes, I need to get the office administrator to look into a chat service” and I nearly screamed “IT’S ALREADY INSTALLED.”

And, frankly, its getting worse. Jane handles our assignments in batches. So its not uncommon to be yelled for many times within a a very short time period as she works through an individual’s portfolio. And now that I know Jane is definitely aware of the issue and choosing to ignore it, I am becoming increasingly frustrated with each beckoning.

However, in related news, I have recently bought a new set of headphones that, while not noise-cancelling, do incidentally muffle some long distance sounds. I can still hear Jane yelling but honestly sometimes I just ignore it, blaming my headset. I know this may not be sustainable long term. But today, after yelling an entire litany of instructions that I didn’t quite hear, Jane got up and came over to my desk to tell me. Little miracles.

Update to the update:

Jane has mostly stopped calling for me (I’m not 100% sure why but fingers crossed that it continues). Instead, she often opts to come to my desk or float around the office space, providing drive-by instructions to me as she walks by. Which is a relief.

She still does call for my colleagues now and again but everyone is pretty slow to respond, typically waiting until Jane says their name once or twice before leaving their seat. This has kind of backfired for Jane though. A couple days ago, she spilled a massive jug of water over all the papers on her desk and started yelling “Ah! Help!” But since she never said anyone’s name, no one really jumped up to help her. She got her own paper towels.

{ 79 comments… read them below }

    1. Mookie*

      Apropos viral investigative news about start-ups this week, this seems to be a really common denominator among young “tech” companies managed by people who take every minor snafu personally and micro-manage staff to the extent that they publicly harry them over intra-office e-mail and messaging under the guise of being a “hands-on” Mama/Papabear boss, while pretending that personal boundary-crossing is a form of positive “disruption.” Given that the LW described her workplace as otherwise “traditional,” it turns out that there is no difference in the dysfunction of prestige office environments versus their overbearing, pseudo-inclusive 21st-century counterparts.

      Yell several dozen times a day, and after a short while, yelling doesn’t trigger the immediate response/attention you are looking for. Strange and more than a little laden with the schaden the management class reveals itself to be so dainty that it can’t cope with direct messaging, much less proverbial spilt milk without summoning an entourage or available handmaid.

  1. revueller*

    “A couple days ago, she spilled a massive jug of water over all the papers on her desk and started yelling “Ah! Help!” But since she never said anyone’s name, no one really jumped up to help her. She got her own paper towels.”

    I feel bad for the amount of glee I get from this detail. Wow, talk about demoralizing your reports.

    1. Jean*


      The “OMG HELP!!!1!” response when the smallest thing goes wrong makes me insane. You spilled water, you’re not drowning, so stop with the drama. Just clean it up.

      1. Eukomos*

        My mother does this, it drives me crazy! She’s actually very good at solving problems or coping with minor disasters, but my dad really likes to help fix things for people and I’m afraid some of it’s rubbed off on me, and she’s developed a habit of getting us to do it. She yelps or complains loudly whenever something goes wrong that she doesn’t feel like handling. Which is many things. The yelping in particular is bad, it sounds like a puppy that got its paw slammed in a door, so you end up leaping up and racing over, convinced she’s direly injured, and it turns out she just stubbed her toe or something. Sigh.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I’ll admit that I make way too much noise when I hurt myself just slightly. It’s become a bit of a joke in our house, since my natural response to injury is to be louder the less serious it is and major injuries usually lead me to gasp and then go quiet in mini shock.

          If I am cursing and yelling after bonking an elbow or something, my husband will ignore the theatrics. But if he hears a short yelp and then utter silence from wherever I am, you’ll never see a person move faster to make sure I’m okay.

    2. Schnookums Von Fancypants, Naughty Basic Horse*

      “A couple days ago, she spilled a massive jug of water over all the papers on her desk and started yelling “Ah! Help!” But since she never said anyone’s name, no one really jumped up to help her. She got her own paper towels.”

      Add in some talking animals and maybe some cheese or grapes and we’ve got a regular Aesop’s fable going on here.

  2. 2 Cents*

    Sounds like the headphones were the external signal Jane needed to know you weren’t kidding about the yelling *eye roll*

  3. a1*

    After having the initial conversations about the yelling, I would have started responding via the chat app/software. It would pop up on her computer and then she’d see it.

    1. Professor Plum*

      Yes! Or perhaps use it at a time when you’re not responding to a yell. “Good morning Jane. This is the chat software that’s available for us to use. This could be helpful when you have a quick message for me. I’d be glad to answer any questions about how it works.” As long as she’s signed in, it should pop up for her to see.

      1. nnn*

        I was just thinking of messaging her with “If you can read this, you have the chat software installed.”

        Yours is far more professional :)

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Group message: “I’m told the IT department pushed the chat software onto all of our PCs… please reply if you see this message.”
          Gives her plausible deniability — AND an example of how fast people will respond to non-yelling requests.

    2. Toby Ziegler*

      I do think there is a difference between yelling out of anger (not a corporate culture I’d want) and yelling to get someone’s attention (the kind of thing that always happened on THE WEST WING, which didn’t seem to be such a bad place) in lieu of using an intercom so you don’t have to get up from your desk. The latter isn’t meant unkindly.

      1. Nancy Pelosi*

        I see your point, but there’s a difference between intention and outcome. Jane may not intend to be unkind, but the outcome of yelling is disruptive to her staff.

        1. valentine*

          Given her desire for an intercom, Jane means to be unkind and disruptive. She wants to summon people loudly (anyone think she wouldn’t yell over the intercom?), for them to hop to it, and for everyone to know about it at all times.

      2. Mia*

        There’s a difference for sure, but I don’t think it really matters. Any kind of yelling is going to be disruptive, especially when it’s happening this often.

      3. Marla Whorisky*


        JOSH [VO]
        [shouting] Donna!
        DONNA [VO]
        Don’t shout.
        JOSH [VO]
        [shouting] Donna! Come here!
        Josh comes out of his office. He walks with Donna.
        Did you hear me say, ‘don’t shout’?
        You know why?
        ‘Cause you weren’t shouting.
        That’s right.
        That’s right.

        Leo’s here?
        [yelling] Leo!
        I’m happy to get him myself, as they do in a civilized world.
        Yeah, yeah. Hey.

        [calls] Josh!
        DONNA MOSS
        Morning, Leo.
        Hey, Donna. Is he in yet?
        [stirring her coffee] Yeah.
        Can you get him?
        [yells] Josh!
        [rolls eyes] Thanks.

        [yelling] Marla, I need the numbers for the meeting.
        [yelling) The earmarks for the conferees.
        [yelling] Can you get that? I’m late here.
        Oh, jeez.
        I don ‘t like to be yelled at.
        I would like to have the earmarks so that I can go and do my job.
        Earmarks. Is that frat boy for pork? Here you go.

      4. tinybutfierce*

        True, but I’d say that Jane deliberately choosing to ignore feedback from multiple employees about how disruptive, etc. her yelling is certainly isn’t kind.

      5. CoveredInBees*

        Even within the West Wing, Donna objected to being summoned with a shout. Furthermore, it works in a setting where there’s only one conversation happening at a time. If you’re Ginger, trying to get research to Sam, that hollering is disruptive. Even if it is not meant unkindly, it is rude in the same way that someone shouting across the room for waitstaff to give them a bill is rude.

        1. pamela voorhees*

          Probably 90% of yelling on the show was Josh yelling for Donna, who *did not like it* and often responded with frustration, and the other 10% of the time was emergencies, which would be a different kettle of fish entirely – once in a while “something is on fire” yells are very different from near constant “every time I want your attention I will yell by default”. Yelling is also hyper-disruptive for anyone around you, too. It’s the equivalent of a fire alarm going off constantly, regardless of how the person means it.

        2. Lizzy May*

          And Mrs. Landingham, even in death, scolded Jed for not using the intercom. Just because people respond to yelling doesn’t mean they like it.

      6. Observer*

        In this case it IS unkindly meant. Jane knows it’s a problem, and knows of at least two solutions and has refused to use them. She may not be sitting and cackling with glee at the problem she’s causing. But she is doing something that she KNOWS is a problem and for which there ARE decent solutions.

        Even an intercom would be a huge improvement. For one thing it would reduce the noise. For another, it would allow people like the OP to ask what is needed so that they can bring the necessary information with them. And if the intercom is linked to their phone system, they can even have the conversation on the spot so the OP can be looking at their files as they speak.

      7. Mookie*

        Oh, lor’, do we really want Sorkin to be our lodestar in these trying times?
        There’s a subtle difference between putting out everyday corporate smoulderings and a politically sensitive and/or internationally volatile dumpster fires.

        Kindness or no, yelling is universally acknowledged as a reflex vocalization or an emotional reaction, unless you’re operating in a noisy environment or one that relies on that kind of heightened communication as a form of risk management. Sure, people occasionally yell at work, to accentuate a point or out of frustration or to signal a warning, but it’s pretty clear from the LW’s two letters and updates that the bulk of the relevant office has adapted to the constant interruptions and taken pains to tune them out for the sake of productivity (versus serving the bosses’s mismanaged priorities).

        Speaking of which, boss has other channels to communicate instantly and directly with the chosen employee. At a certain point, adults are apt to learn that their utterly self-serving and non-constructive preferences can backfire when used in a collaborative, workaday sort of environment, like an office.

        Given the discrepancy of pay, power, and prestige between boss and the LW and her colleagues, I’d wager the boss is more than capable of recognizing that a habit is self-defeating when it comes to managing and communicating with a team that appears to be unduly disrupted by distractions and otherwise operating just fine. Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean that every idiosyncrasy you possess must be catered to at the expense of getting the job done.

        Excusing benign intent sort of becomes untenable when many people start balking, becoming inattentive, or otherwise ignoring your unnecessary demands.

    3. Daffy Duck*

      Yes! Just start using the chat feature, both with your boss and with direct messages to others in the office. This sounds like boss doesn’t know how to use chat and is intimidated/embarrassed/afraid to learn. If you start using it she should catch on quickly (especially if she is automatically logged in), maybe have someone pin it to her desktop.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      Depending on the software and settings, it may not pop up.

      I’d try it, but don’t rely on it.

      1. EEOC Counselor*

        This. We use Skype chat, and it only flashes at the bottom of the screen. I never notice it, even though I’m looking at my screen, because I am engrossed in my work. People end up walking over to my desk. I tell people to just email me in the first place.

        1. Elenna*

          Weird, we use Skype for Business and if you don’t already have a chat window with the person open, it pops up a “Fergus is messaging you” window in the bottom right corner. Still missable, but less so.

    1. Jean*

      LOL!!!! I’ve been in the workforce nearly 20 years now and, aside from a 1 year stint at a retail store, I’ve never worked anywhere that even HAD intercoms. It’s like suggesting a new mimeograph machine or typewriter for the department.

      1. Nancy Pelosi*

        Also, how would intercoms work if they’re in a 700 square foot space? Aren’t intercoms used in large buildings with multiple rooms?

        1. Ralkana*

          We use intercoms all the time since we don’t have a chat program. Both in this single office and interoffice.

          1. Shadowbelle*

            I wonder which is cheaper, intercoms or chat software? Chat often comes bundled with other products, so basically free.

        2. Happy Lurker*

          Every phone system I have used in the last 30 years has a speaker / intercom option. Including the cheap landlines phones with only one line. Jane is a special one.

          1. Observer*

            Exactly. Jane is simply refusing to use the tools at hand.

            The fact that she says she needs to “look into it” means nothing, since she ALSO “needs to look into” the chat software that is already on her computer. In other words it’s baloney.

            1. Quandong*

              Jane obviously has no intention of changing how she operates. It’s working for her, she gets what she wants, and it would be an effort for her to stop yelling and learn to use chat software.

              Unless she’s put on a PIP where ‘stop yelling, use chat software’ is the instruction, nothing will change here.

        3. Leslie Knope*

          I think they’re using this term interchangeably. Our phone system’s “intercom” is really just internal phone calls on an IP phone system. Someone “buzzes” you from their desk and you can either pick up the headset or have it on speakerphone. Everyone’s speaker volume is set to be about the level of someone standing next to you speaking, so it’s really not that disruptive in an open space.

          Our old phone system had an actual intercom which was annoying. The receptionist would buzz me to tell me a call was being transferred, but there was no warning, just all of sudden your phone was blaring at you through the speaker and she was telling you “so-and-so is on the line” and transfer it over, where that person would just come on the line whether you’re in the middle of something or not. She wouldn’t even pause to let you acknowledge her. For all she knew you weren’t even at your desk! I had to go have a talk with her about that.

          1. Adlib*

            Wow. The fact that she did that means she wasn’t a very good receptionist. Maybe it was a learned behavior at a previous job she had, but I have never known a receptionist to do that. Ours takes her role as Gatekeeper extremely seriously (which is great) and would be appalled that someone would transfer a call like that.

    2. Pebbles*

      This was jarring for me as well. Do these employees not have phones at their desks? Use those instead if you absolutely “must”! I would lose it though over the refusal to use the chat window. IM isn’t a replacement for long discussions that are more easily done face-to-face, but it would be a HUGE step in the right direction to ask people to come to your office over chat rather than screaming people’s names. And it definitely works for those little one-off questions: “Are the TPS reports finished?” “Yes.” Done.

    3. tinybutfierce*

      Honestly, that combined with her refusal to use the already-installed chat software makes me wonder if she’s just resistant to “newer” technology in general.

  4. Nancy Pelosi*

    I would have quit long ago if I worked in that office. Not only is the yelling jarring, it seems disrespectful, as if Jane doesn’t respect her staff enough to gather a complete thought, walk over to them, and have a conversation.

    How can anyone get any decent work done with all the constant disruption?

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      One of my parents screamed at me over anything and everything when I was a teenager. If Jane was my boss, I’d be demoralized, depressed — and angry.

        1. boop the first*

          Yes! This happened to me and is the reason I opted to remain unemployed than return to the old job. I had an actual flashback while being forced to witness a screaming fight.

          I don’t buy the “yelling (in this case) is hardly unkind” angle. I get that it’s true, but unkindness isn’t the problem. Yelling immediately causes stress and fear. At my workplace, despite the nasty environment I was able to chill and do work on days where I was left completely alone in the building.. but as soon as boss entered the building, I immediately felt stressed and angry. Not worth it!

    2. Mookie*

      Seriously. I have a tendency, against my better judgment but totally in line with my upbringing, to accommodate the whims of authority figures, but still I am always impressed and heartened by management who respect my time as I do the work they’re meant to support and supervise, not frequently disrupt for trivial and time-insensitive discussions, queries, and feedback. Management should be coming to you more than half the time, and they ought to be reserving non-vital feedback for downtimes and reviews, prioritizing operations over inessential people-sorting. If something’s arisen that needs immediate action by one and only one of my colleagues, stop distracting me with that information and do your fecking job.

  5. Buttons*

    I could feel my whole body tensing at just the thought of someone yelling for me to come to their office. We don’t even do that in the house! If I need my husband and he is in another room I go get him or send him a text.
    I think the only way to handle Jane is exactly what the OP and her coworkers are doing. Just ignore it. If the bad behavior continues to be rewarded with what she wants (them coming when she yells) then there is no motivation to stop doing it.
    Good luck OP!

    1. Campfire Raccoon*

      Yeah, with all the kids in my house I used to have to yell just to be heard. Now I realize the errors of my ways and understand with my oldest I’ve created a monster.

      Jane is creating a whole generation of future yeller managers.

  6. ShwaMan*

    I think I could simply not work for Jane. I’m getting an eye twitch just reading about her.

    Good job, OP. In addition to the headphones, I might recommend every time she yells for you, silently send a chat message “Do you want me to come over?” or similar.

  7. StellaBella*

    OP: Can you ping Jane several times a day on the signed in messaging service just to see what happens?

    1. Mockingjay*

      Oh, yes please! If the chat system allows avatars or nicknames, the OP can do this anonymously.


  8. pamela voorhees*

    I just want to thank the question asker very much for coming back because I was so, so curious to know where this went. Thank you for updating us!

    1. Yvette*

      This, because ” Interestingly, Jane was shown as signed-in as well but perhaps she wasn’t aware of this.)” is probably because in many systems, simply logging on to your company system will automatically log you on to the chat function. So yes, she is logging on, but she may not be aware of that or how to use it.

  9. Daffy Duck*

    Yes! Just start using the chat feature, both with your boss and with direct messages to others in the office. This sounds like boss doesn’t know how to use chat and is intimidated/embarrassed/afraid to learn. If you start using it she should catch on quickly (especially if she is automatically logged in), maybe have someone pin it to her desktop.

    1. Cascadia*

      Yes, I just want to add that when I have new technology for my boss to use, I offer to show him how to use it during a weekly meeting or something. I will install it and teach it right there, and then start using it. If it gets added to the endless to-do list it’s not going to get done, but when I take the lead and show them how, immediately in the moment, I’m usually pretty successful. I do this for all sorts of tech stuff.

  10. Leslie Knope*

    This gives me flashbacks to a sales showroom I used to manage. The main space was a showroom with about 20-ft-tall ceilings. On one end there was a stair case leading up to the loft offices. You could look out from my loft office down onto the showroom, where there were a few desks and a little kitchenette. The kitchenette had a little coffee bar and various drink refreshments for our clients.

    We had a sales associate who did not last very long. He was just….a lot to deal with, to say the least. It’s like he could not stand to have a couple of minutes where someone wasn’t paying attention to him. If he was with a customer he was fine, and for the most part he would be respectful if a coworker was with their client in the showroom. However, if the showroom was empty and quiet he couldn’t STAND IT.

    He would do things like go make another pot of coffee…but the coffee bag was empty so he would yell up to me asking where more coffee was. I couldn’t hear him well upstairs, so he’d yell my name again. So I’d get up thinking he really needed something, go out to the railing and he would be standing below with an empty bag of coffee yelling my name. THE COFFEE IS IN THE CABINET ABOVE THE COFFEE MAKER. If it’s not there then we’re out. No need to yell! No need to ask! Just look for yourself! If it wasn’t the coffee it was something else that needed my attention and he had to yell at me. I learned pretty quickly that there was no emergency, just his need for attention. He got mad at me when I told him under no circumstances was anyone to be yelling, he could walk upstairs and speak to me normally.

    He was there for about 3 months before he asked for a raise. He said if he was going to keep working there he had to make at least $ a year. The owner laughed at him and said he hadn’t proved in those 3 months that he could even bring in enough sales to cover the cost of his current salary, so that wasn’t an option…so the guy quit! Problem solved!

  11. littlelizard*

    This is very interesting. I’m not even a fan of IM summons that are explicitly ‘come here now’ without some form of ‘when you’re ready’ disclaimer. Yelling would be an absolute mess for me. I’m still re-training my mom to not do that whenever I’m home.

  12. Observer*

    OP, could you talk to HR or your GrandBoss? Not “Jane is terrible” but “Jane doesn’t seem to know how to use our chat software or the interoffice features of our phone system and the yelling is quite disruptive. Is there some way to get her the training she needs?”

      1. Observer*

        It’s not intended to be passive aggressive. It’s more that simply complaining about a boss often doesn’t go over so well, and can have negative consequences, even when the complaint is TOTALLY justified. This lays out the problem in a non-accusatory way and without “speculating” on Jane’s motives; presents the reason why the company should care; and presents a potential solution. Whether that is the BEST solution is not the point. The point is that it makes it clear that the staff are being “solution oriented” and just trying to find a reasonable way to deal with the problem. After all, all staff really want is for the yelling to stop.

  13. Jennifer*

    I wonder what would happen if the LW started picking up the phone to call Jane whenever she yells.

    1. Sally*

      Ditto, it seems like the answer would be to “train” Jane by responding in whatever way you deem more appropriate, either phone call or instant message. Honestly so many things are simpler to resolve with a phone conversation, and leave less info as far as legal liability, it seems like the best answer is just to install a couple direct call buttons on Jane’s phone so she can call instead of yelling. And when she does yell just respond immediately via phone so she gets used to it.

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