my boss mooches off me while I’m living paycheck to paycheck

A reader writes:

I am part of a small team that works with the support staff at a hospital. My supervisor treats me like her personal assistant on most days, and like her servant on other days. On a nearly daily basis, I am putting off my own duties to help her with hers. It’s beyond delegating, it’s more like she procrastinates and fools around and then just has me do her work while she scrolls instagram and takes two-hour lunches.

Worse still, she will ask me to do stuff for her like fetch her things, like drinks or papers off the printer, or pick up something she has dropped. All of these things are not my job, but only moderately irritating.

What really bothers me is when she mooches. She will often ask me to buy her coffee, or she will ask to have part of my lunch. She will go through my lunch bag and start eating my food. She has taken drinks out of my office without asking. She will ask me what I brought and be disappointed if its not to her liking, or ask if I am lying about what I brought because I just don’t want to give it to her.

Have I mentioned that I am an hourly employee, living paycheck to paycheck? I am a mom and my husband is currently out of work. I dye my own hair, I wear Walmart clothes, and I bring my own coffee from home. She spends hundreds on hair treatments, lash extensions, lip injections, etc. She gets coffee from Starbucks at least once a day. She makes twice what I do and her husband has a good job. She is aware of my dangerous financial situation. Yet she still takes advantage of me.

I am afraid to say no to her because we have a friendly working relationship and I don’t want to make things awkward. I am also afraid that upper management has noticed as well. They think I am like her puppy dog and, worse, I am not making my quotas. I cannot defend myself without throwing her under the bus, which would result in her hating me and making my life miserable. I just don’t know how to handle the situation and have just started looking for another job. Is it as hopeless as it feels?

Your boss is a jerk.

If it were just small things like asking you to bring her a drink or pick up something she’d dropped, that would be annoying but not a huge deal. (And stuff like asking you to bring her papers off the printer could be legitimate —for example, if she’s racing to get on a call with a VIP and you’re not working on anything urgent.) That’s mostly just the privilege of hierarchy, although good managers will use it in moderation, if at all.

But it’s not okay that she has you do her work while she wastes hours on Instagram and takes long lunches. That’s an abuse of her position.

But not as much of an abuse as asking you to buy her things or stealing your food.

And accusing you of lying about what you brought for lunch because you don’t want to give it to her — well, if she thinks that, that should clue her in that perhaps she’s asking something of you that she shouldn’t.

This wouldn’t be okay even if you were living in a garden of money, but it’s even more offensive and wrong given your relative financial situations and her awareness of those.

I’d try using responses that will highlight what a jerk she’s being, which you can do by spelling out your situation:

* “I’d share my lunch if I could, but I can’t afford it. This is the only food I’ll have until dinner.”

* “I can grab you coffee, but I’m on such a tight budget that I can’t front the money. Can I get cash from you before I head over there?”

* “I’m on a really tight budget, and when you take things from my lunch, I can’t afford to replace them. So please don’t go through my lunch bag or take my drinks.”

To be clear, you’re entitled to ask her to stop doing this stuff without alluding to your finances at all, but we’re hoping this shames her a bit. And even if she’s impervious to shame (and she might be!), this might be more effective than just telling her to cut it out without any context.

If you can’t bring yourself to do that, another option is to just hold firm: “Sorry, I only brought enough for me” or “I’m planning to eat all of this myself so can’t share.” Say it like of course she won’t push once she hears that. Sometimes when your tone signals that you take it as a given that the other person is kind and reasonable, people have a harder time demonstrating that you’re wrong.

You also need to talk to her about your workload, especially since you’re not making your quotas. Consider saying something like this: “I am very concerned that I haven’t been making my quotas, and I’ve been looking at how to structure my time so I get my numbers where they need to be. I’d like to be able to focus on X and Y, since I know those are the highest priorities for my role, but that means that on many days I won’t be able to do Z (her stuff).” You could add, “If it’s important that I continue doing Z, can we formalize that as part of my role, so that upper management realizes I’m being pulled away from X and Y and doesn’t just see me missing quotas without knowing why?”

But truly, your boss is a jerk — and the fact that you’re scared to push back because you fear she’ll make your life miserable is a very bad sign about working for her. Even if all of the above works beautifully, you’ll still be working for someone who abuses her power and makes you fearful, and that’s likely to come out in other ways, even if she leaves your lunch alone.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 244 comments… read them below }

    1. Mama Bear*

      OP, you don’t have a “friendly working relationship.” This is more akin to the bully leaving you alone because you gave up your lunch money.

      1. valentine*

        This is more akin to the bully leaving you alone because you gave up your lunch money.
        Oh, wow. A protection racket, yes.

      2. EPLawyer*

        this. so much this.

        Friends do NOT make people do their work, friends do NOT STEAL people’s food.
        Of course she is nice to you, you are doing her bidding. That is not friendship, that is master/servant. You need to establish boundaries on all of it ASAP. If she asks you to do something, say “as soon as I finish X” X being whatever you are working on. If she realizes you won’t jump as soon as she calls, she will stop doing it.

        With the food, “I’m sorry I don’t have enough to share” is all you need to say. If she weren’t your boss, I would say be blunter, but she is your boss.
        If you experience retaliation, take it above her head. “I stopped picking up papers off the floor for boss and she stopped giving me work” or whatever happens.

      3. Red Tape Producer*

        I was in a similar situation not too long ago, and at some point your brain gets warped from the dysfunction and you start thinking “if this is what it’s like when we’re on friendly terms, what kind of terrifying hell will it be if we’re NOT friendly?!”. You keep putting up with a bunch of little things that snowball, until one day you find yourself panicking because your manager wasted TWO HOURS of your day, while in the middle of a super rush project she assigned to you that morning, getting your opinion on which all inclusive resort in Cancun she should book a vacation at next Christmas (only a week after denying you time off over the same period).

        1. everybody's sarah nowadays*

          He sounds like my former boss, who unexpectedly took me and another schlub to a two hour lunch, at a golf course, to brag about the troubling logistics of taking his family of four to Bali.

      4. Cork on a Fork*

        Agreed — this is not a good working relationship – in your own words:
        ” I cannot defend myself without throwing her under the bus, which would result in her hating me and making my life miserable… Is it as hopeless as it feels?”

        Your life already sounds miserable and hopeless . You standing firm may make not make you miserable and hopeless in a different way, but at least you will be improving your actual job performance (meeting your job goals) and not spending money on your boss’s lazy entitled mooching ways. Don’t let ANYONE force you to miss your work deadlines or lower your performance. Because then it looks like YOU are the problem employee.

        Start setting boundaries – and if your standing firm on the boundaries of a NORMAL working situation causes her to become hateful and misery causing – go to HR and tell them that you need help with your manager and that you worry about retaliation.

        1. Stormfeather*

          Or in other words, gleefully chuck her under that Greyhound and don’t feel bad about it!

          1. Krabby*

            Definitely! Think about the fact that, from the outside, this probably looks as follows: LW isn’t meeting her quotas and is letting things slip, but she always gives boss some of her lunch. She’s sucking up to get out of her work!

            Obviously we know this isn’t what is happening, but a boss’s perception of an employee is so far from the only one that matters.

        2. Essess*

          Your boss isn’t going to help you when you are the one that gets fired for not meeting performance goals. You need to protect yourself and talk to HR.

    2. MMD*

      Absolutely. This is horrendous. I feel so bad for OP with this demon as a supervisor. Going over her head and calmly explaining the circumstances is the only way to solve this problem imo.

  1. Why isn’t it Friday?*

    I’m surprised Alison didn’t mention HR in this response. This really seems like it needs to be escalated.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This isn’t HR stuff until the OP first tries to address it directly with the manager. So far she says she hasn’t really raised it at all. That’s step one.

      1. [insert witty user name here]*

        What if OP does both simultaneously? As in, she tells HR what has been happening and how she’s planning to push back/address it directly, but wanted to clue them in in case boss doesn’t take it well.

        1. Lance*

          It may still be better to go in after, since then OP would have something more actionable to go to HR about rather than a vague ‘well this is going on, but I’m going to try and do something about it’. Even if boss does go to them, she doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on.

      2. Melody Pond*

        Question, though- given the extent of the bullying/exploitation and power imbalance, isn’t it worth mentioning to HR even if approached as “could you help me with a script to use to discuss this with my manager to ensure it doesn’t sound our working relationship, which I want to keep healthy?” That way HR is is keyed into the very real exploitation before any potential retribution after the conversation?

        1. WellRed*

          Because the letter writer needs to be seen as a capable adult capable of at least trying to work something out for herself. She’s not being harassed in any of the ways that matter legally to an HR depart and there’s no evidence here that the boss is otherwise terrible (I mean, I think she’s an awful human being, but…). Stealing food is uncool, but the boss isn’t screaming obscenties or throwing keyboards.

          1. MMD*

            This is an abusive supervisor who is bullying OP and interfering on a daily basis with her completion of job duties. She clearly dreads going to work so much that she wants to leave. HR or grand boss needs to know what is going on here. Hard disagree about keeping it silent.

    2. hbc*

      It’s kind of weird, because usually, if it’s not explicitly and clearly a violation of the handbook*, HR is usually going to tell you that you need to talk to the person first. But this boss is so far into unreasonable territory that I wouldn’t be surprised if a simple “I’m sorry, I only brought enough lunch for myself” starts some very bad behavior from Boss. Then, when Boss tells *her* boss that she’s going to fire the person they see as an underperforming puppy, Grandboss is going to say, “Good riddance.”

      I would recommend that OP go to HR first, but say something like, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to start pushing back on some of the favors Boss is asking of me, like letting her have some of my lunch or buying her coffee. I’ve never said ‘no’ before, and this might be fixed right away, so I don’t want any intervention or anything at this point. But I wanted to cover my bases in case she takes it badly.” That should provide at least some protection if (when?) Boss flips her lid.

      *I know thievery is a violation of most employee handbooks, but I bet Boss argues that they just have the kind of relationship where they share food, she had no idea there was an objection, why didn’t OP say something, etc..

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I like this idea of telling HR what OP will be doing before she does it.

        Maybe I am picking at words but if the boss is “sharing” food with OP, when is it the boss’ turn to bring in food for OP?
        I guess here, OP, I would be sure to mention if the boss never brings in food for you to share with her.

        Try to remember, OP, that appeasing a bully is just an illusion. We think if we do X, the bully will remain calm and life will go on. Then it becomes we have to do X and Y in order to keep the sky from falling. A while later, we have added Z and the thing just keep snowballing. If she is going to blow up or make you miserable in other ways, she is going to do that no matter how many eggshells you successfully walk on.

        FWIW, if she does not want her job, I hear there are a few million people who would happily take it.

        1. Staying Home*

          Alison, please, correct me if I’m wrong. But isn’t stealing from another employee a fireable offense? Especially if it’s from your subordinate? IMHO, this is beyond telling her no. This is an abuse of authority. This is theft. IMHO, HR needs to step in. And if the supervisor retaliates, she needs to be fired.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The boss is very likely to say, “Oh, Jane and I always share lunches. I’ll stop if she doesn’t want to share anymore.” She’s not going to get fired over it.

            1. Jedi Squirrel*

              Exactly. The power dynamics here are between a boss and a subordinate, not between two peers.

            2. Laney delaney*

              The reason why the letter writer has to draw the line in the sand is so that if the boss goes beyond again, the boss can not longer claim that she didn’t know it was a problem.

              1. Massmatt*

                Drawing a line in the sand is a schoolyard prelude to a fight.

                A fight between OP and her boss is not likely to end well for the OP, especially if the boss’s demands on OP’s time have made it impossible for her to get her own work done, thus damaging her reputation with upper managers.

                1. Laney delaney*

                  Drawing a line in the sand is setting a limit as to what is acceptable.
                  Normally you don’t have conflict if everyone is working within acceptable boundaries.
                  Set the boundaries, so that the boss cannot claim ignorance.

        2. yala*

          “FWIW, if she does not want her job, I hear there are a few million people who would happily take it.”

          …this is a deeply unhelpful and callous statement

    3. Jojo*

      Keep track of the time you spend you spend doing her job. Also what title of that project is. Submit paperwork for pay differential for the time you spend doing her work. That way you can also list these qualifications on your resume. That what i did. I hot a promotion out of it.

  2. Lance*

    For the OP: I’d argue a ‘friendly’ working relationship is not worth this, especially not in times like these. A functional working relationship would be the first step forward, because to be honest, I’m not sure you even have that right now; she’s stealing your food, she’s (effectively) asking for your money, and she’s foisting work off on you that means your own work is suffering.

    Please do speak up about this… and if you have a good relationship with anyone else at/above her level, that should be your next step if nothing happens after you speak to her. Maybe there’ll even be options for less of your work to be directly under her; either way, hopefully something good can change for you.

    1. valentine*

      If this is friendly, I want to know what OP’s afraid of, and why. Is it instinct or has she seen Goldilocks mistreat others?

      OP, she’s already making your life miserable. Having you literally fetch is particularly gross, especially if she’s calling you into the room to do it. You can’t rely on people to be decent. You need to learn how to stand up for yourself. It’s a skill you need in all areas of life.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        If this is friendly, I want to know what OP’s afraid of, and why. Is it instinct or has she seen Goldilocks mistreat others?
        So very much this!
        Based on the benchmarks set out in the letter, it looks like “friendly” just means “less antagonistic”. So, either Goldilocks (thank you!) treats other employees in a *less* friendly manner, or there are other employees who treat OP in a less friendly manner, and at this point, I’m frankly afraid for OP’s mental health if this is the skewed perspective she’s been forced to take.
        OP – please also, in addition to the excellent advice provided, confide in a *real* friend.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, how friendly can it be if it’s based on the OP just doing whatever bosslady asks and giving in to her ridiculous demands?

    3. Jessica Fletcher*

      Yeah, it’s only friendly to her boss, who gets to slack off, get free food and coffee, and seems to enjoy pushing her around.

  3. Princess Deviant*

    Your boss is awful.
    After you’ve spoken to her using the scripts Alison writes here, I’d go to her boss above her if it continues.
    Keep a written record of everything that’s going on.
    And if you can, get out of there.

      1. FrenchCusser*

        Boss is not a jerk, boss is a bully.

        Report her. Report her now.

        You do not have a friendly relationship, you have a bully.

        1. valentine*

          you have a bully
          A bully who’s endangering your job, and therefore life, by not letting you do your work. And is she the reason your pay’s too low?

        2. MMD*

          This. I would go straight to an upper level and inform them what is going on, minus the fetching things. Supervisor has created a situation where OP cannot get her job done proficiently and company needs to know why. I’d make a list of grievances such as having to perform this person’s duties and cite examples; time wasted on social media, the fact that she cannot hit her quota because she is being assigned tasks that are not hers, the continuous stealing of her food, and the pressure being cast on her to pay for Supervisor’s food requests. It has gone beyond dealing with this with a few declarative statements. Company may see OP as underperforming and they need to know why.

      2. Old person*

        I would also look into lockable lunch boxes. They have been discussed here before so it would be easy to do a keyword search for a discussion of posters favorites.

        1. whingedrinking*

          OP is already in a financial bind, it seems unfair to suggest that she lay out more cash to prevent her boss from stealing from her. And a locking lunchbox won’t fix the boss’s entitled dynamic in any case.

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            If she stops buying things for the boss, the money for a lockable lunchbox will be available soon.

            1. JumpyJess*

              In the meantime, there’s potential for the bully to escalate… Just refusing to pay for coffee sounds easy, but people like this “boss” can and often will find other ways to keep or even deepen that power imbalance if they are truly that dysfunctional.

    1. JSPA*

      When your boss asks what’s in your lunch, ask what she’s brought to trade. If she wants to act like you’re all in grade school, then those are the rules!

  4. blackcatlady*

    No not your boss is a jerk. Your boss is a MANIPULATIVE jerk. You say you work on a small team. Are you the youngest? Last hired? Does she do this to any one else on your team? Are you afraid to speak up for yourself in other situations? You said you didn’t want to speak up and damage the working relationship. Every time she speaks up and says give me that sandwich out of your lunch what do you think she is doing? She’s picked the weakest person in the team to dominate. You need an advocate! Do you have someone else on your team that will help? Do you have a partner or good friend that will role play with you outside of work? If you can practice saying no, this is my lunch – and in a calm but firm way – you might have more confidence in real time. Please, please develop the assurance to stand up for yourself.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I am hopeful that if OP pushed back against this bully boss, bully boss will behave like most bullies do when confronted (cowardly) and stop being such a bully. I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful.

      1. CastIrony*

        Ha, ha. No. The last time I did that, they became worse to the point where they weren’t willing to work with me or give me the instructions I needed to do my job. Bullies hate losing power, and will double down while you cower in fear.

        And it’s happened to me *twice*.

    2. Juneybug*

      I agree 100% with blackcatlady. I would also suggest reading “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life” by John Townsend and Henry Cloud.

    3. The One Who Got Away*

      This. Loop in a senior team member or better yet, a manager of a different team. Couch it as a request for advice. Make sure you’ve used at least one of Alison’s scripts though, because you have to show that you’ve made a good-faith effort to address the problem.

      I wrote in to Alison last year about a deeply abusive boss who was fired after HR substantiated my complaint. I’m fairly sure they checked with other managers and senior employees that I’d gone to for advice and help, both to establish that the incidents I reported were communicated to others at the time and that I’d tried (and boy did I) to address the problem. My abusive horrorshow of a boss didn’t steal food, but she did make me perform degrading tasks like fetch drinks and clean stuff, accuse me daily of malfeasances and ineptitudes, and threaten to PIP and fire me. At one low moment, I actually thought that it would be a pretty good deal for my spouse if I happened to fall in front of the train before I was axed, while the company-paid life insurance was still in effect. Then I decided I wasn’t the one who deserved to suffer.

  5. Drew*

    I hate your boss so much, OP.

    In addition to Alison’s reasonable suggestions, I recommend that you start documenting when your Boss gives you tasks that pull you away from what you’re supposed to be doing. Seeing it in black and white may give you confidence that you’re not misunderstanding the situation and may even give you some ammunition if your quotas become an issue. “Boss, I’m sorry that I couldn’t make quota last month, but I spent an average of 10 hours a week on unrelated tasks you assigned me. How do you want me to handle this moving forum so I don’t run into the same situation this month?” (Or “Upper manager, here’s the breakdown of what I did last month. As you can see, Boss is assigned me extra work that’s eating up an average of 10 hours a week. I did the best I could to make quota in light of these extra duties, but of course I want to hit my own goals. How do you want me to handle this moving forward?”)

    As to stealing your food and drink, I supposed it’s not practical to figure out what Boss doesn’t like and only bring that, but it’s the first place my mind went. (Second, actually. The first was super spicy curry, but I definitely don’t recommend that.) I like Alison’s attempted guilt-tripping messages but I fear that a boss who doesn’t mind mooching off a subordinate is likely to be immune to normal, healthy shame reactions. I wish I had a better answer that doesn’t threaten the wording relationship you currently have, but I think this behavior is going to continue until you confront it directly, and you may have an unhappy boss for a while.

    Have you talked to your coworkers to see if Boss does this to all of them or just to you? You may get some insight from them, too.

    Best of luck!

    1. blackcat*

      Yeah, start documenting the f out of this.
      In email: “Per your instructions, I’ll be focusing on [boss’s work]. That means I won’t get to [your work] until [time].”
      Then keep a time log of these tasks.

      Upper management may not care about the coffee/food things, but they will care that boss isn’t doing their own job duties.

      1. Mama Bear*

        Agreed. If she doesn’t task you in writing, you write it down, send it to her and anyone else who needs to be informed about your work, and keep a spare copy.

        1. valentine*

          they will care that boss isn’t doing their own job duties.
          Goldilocks can always say she had no idea OP was overwhelmed. Right now, the onus is on OP to say no, even if it’s “I’ll get to that after Quota.”

    2. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

      As to stealing your food and drink, I supposed it’s not practical to figure out what Boss doesn’t like and only bring that, but it’s the first place my mind went.

      My first thought was to get a locking lunch box so that she can’t actually go through OP’s lunch and just take what she wants. But that might not be practical for OP’s budget. And even if it is, this would almost certainly invite retribution from OP’s supervisor.

      OP, your boss is a bully. Do address it with her in the way Alison recommends and see if that works. But be prepared for it not to work and for your boss to lash out at you. If that happens, go to HR immediately.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        My first thought was to hide things. Maybe in desk drawers or behind files. But that is probably coming from a place where my husband is eating ALL THE SNACKS I BOUGHT FOR US TO LAST TWO WEEKS IN A WEEKEND and I in hide/protect my food mode.

      2. Ama*

        Yeah, I have several lockable compartments at my desk and if someone were regularly stealing my food I’d be packing it away and locking it.

        If that’s not possible, do you have a friendly coworker who she doesn’t do this to who would be willing to let you store your lunch in their desk?

    3. AKchic*

      Absolutely document everything.

      Track all the minutes/hours daily/weekly/monthly being spent on boss’s tasks. Because that ish adds up. Also track all of the other behavior. How often is she taking food? What food is she taking? How much is that food costing you daily/weekly/monthly (yeah, it adds up too)? Same with the coffees/snacks – how often is she asking you to go get this stuff, and are you on the clock or on your own time? Have you ever gotten paid back for any of it? Has she ever gotten you food/drink in return? Document it all.

      Start pushing back. “I’m busy right now, but if you’re going for a coffee soon, I’d like a [insert order here]”.

  6. SEM*

    As others have said, try Allison’s advice, but don’t be afraid to go to the grand boss (provided they are a sane person)

  7. Skadoobdoo*

    Please consider locking your lunch in a drawer so that she can’t get in and start munching. If she asks where it is say, “I only brought enough for me, I can’t share today.” Then change the subject, ask, “Is there something you need?”

    If she asks you to get her a coffee ask for money first. “Sure, that will cost $5.00.” if she pushes back say you don’t have any cash on you. If she pushes back again walk out and don’t get her coffee.

    1. Mumbo*

      If you are not her assistant you probably shouldnt be getting her coffee anyway. Just say sorry, Im not planning to go to the coffee shop today. Saying no is often so much easier than you think its going to be. Just say sorry, no, and move on. She might sputter and complain but just let her. It wont last ling and then you’ll be free.

    2. Senor Montoya*

      RE the food, I might use the shaming scripts Alison suggests IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE. But I’ll bet boss is careful to do this when no one else is around.

    3. It's mce*

      Agree. Also, avoid having any cash on you at work. If she says you can charge it, say your card is maxed out.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Or just “forget” your wallet. Permanently. OP can’t afford to eat out anyway, so she’s unlikely to get caught in that white lie. Any time boss lady asks, “Sorry, left my wallet home today. Darn!”

  8. cmcinnyc*

    Taking a rrreeeeaaaallllyyyyy deep breath….

    I want to say this kindly.

    OP, you’re the office doormat. Every office seems to have a doormat. And the office boundary-free bully finds that doormat. Every time. I once sat next to the office doormat. The crap people pulled on her was astonishing and infuriating. She would get very upset and vent to me privately. Thing is–people didn’t do this to me! We had the same title/seniority. But I am not the office doormat. Some people can just smell it–the person who hates confrontation, the person who is so genuinely nice they will come up with all sorts of excuses for other people’s bad behavior, the person who has been trained to believe that the boss gets to do whatever. Whatever the chink in your armor, the office bully finds it and sticks a can opener in it. GOING THROUGH YOUR LUNCH. GOING. THROUGH. YOUR. LUNCH.

    Chuck nice. Forget forgiveness. Draw some lines. Enforce them professionally. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you. Learn how to do this, or this is your working life boss after boss after boss.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Going through her lunch AND then having the audacity to be all “Oh you only brought things I don’t like, boooooooo.” or accusing you of doing it on purpose. LMAO yeah…wut. That’s something my brother would do when we were kid, call dibs to go to the store with mom so that he could pick out the Kool Aid flavors he knew i didn’t like. Brattiest of brat moves.

      1. PVR*

        I have a super sarcastic sense of humor so my response to “you only brought things I don’t like” would be to laugh and then say some variant of “of course I did hahaha.”

    2. ynotlot*

      I was the office doormat. I was super aware of it and HATED it but wasn’t aware for a long time that it is something I could change.
      People were SO helpless. If they encountered the faintest difficulty in anything in their life, it was on me to figure out how to fix it. One guy said he was told he would receive free housing for working for us (??) and that became my problem to figure out how to find him housing he could afford since he had been confused. People lost their bus passes and I had to replace them and call MTA to transfer their remaining funds from the lost card to the new card. These freaking cards cost $2 and staff would jump turnstiles rather than buy a new one, and then they would tell me “I really need help, I’m going to get in trouble jumping these turnstiles.” I would be given messy databases by other departments that had NOTHING to do with my job and told to figure out how to correct all the data. (I am not a database manager.) I had to figure out polite ways to inform staff that they CANNOT wear a sports bra and leggings to work as an outfit when they work in schools! Staff would present a case to me that they needed xyz technology to do their job, and then when I lobbied for them and got it for them, they would come to me because they couldn’t figure out how to use it. I fixed every printer problem sans IT for like two years. If someone ordered furniture, I built it for them. If someone lost something, I found it for them. I cleaned people’s trash out of the fridge and washed their stupid tupperware. Blah, blah, blah.
      What really helped me was getting a professional certification. I shouldn’t have needed to do that before respecting myself, but hindsight is 20/20. I was brought up to always be accomodating and always say yes to requests, or if you have to say no, to be polite. I’m from New England and moved to the Midatlantic and the culture here is that unless you say “No.” firmly and as a complete sentence, it’s considered an opening to tread on your boundaries and ask for more or change your mind.
      I had to also work hard to practice this in my personal life. I literally cut every friend out of my life because I realized I was such a doormat that I’d surrounded myself by toxic people who craved doormats to take advantage of. (It made me feel safe. IDK.) I also used to feel like if I was invited to something or asked for a favor, I had to say yes or if I declined, an explanation was required. Now I just say the following “No thanks!” “I can’t, but thank you for thinking of me!” “Sorry, I can’t.” “I can’t right now.” Zero explanation. Since I started doing this, NO ONE pushes back. People seem to understand I’m drawing a boundary, and they respect it.
      If you need to, practice saying no to homeless people who ask for money without ignoring them or feeling guilty. This is a big one where I use the “I’m so sorry, but I can’t.” I get very polite responses. Whereas when I used to say “I don’t have cash, sorry” they would offer to go to an ATM with me and I could get cash out for them, or they would go to a restaurant with me and I could buy them food on my card. (I’m using this as an example because it was a huge doormat problem for me, not because there’s anything wrong with giving money to the homeless – I do give them money, cigarettes, food whenever I can and I don’t mind buying a Subway sandwich)

      1. ynotlot*

        One more important point! I also made an official decision to officially give myself a pass from giving people rides. I know myself and I know if I offer one ride, in a week’s time I’ll be the office’s personal schoolbus. So I just very, very politely and sorrowfully say “I’m sorry, I can’t” – every time.

        1. AKchic*

          OMGs. This. So much this. I had a suburban for 11 years. Everyone and their brother’s uncle’s best friend’s former roommate’s grandmother seemed to need either something or someone moved every single weekend (or the occasional weeknight). And I have teenage boys, so hey! built in moving crew! No.

          “I’m unavailable” became a mantra.

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        Apologies for making a tangent from your point and the topic– once I turned down a homeless guy who I thought was asking me for money, but what he wanted was the roll of paper towels I kept in my car! I gave it to him, and it really made me think about what something as taken-for-granted as paper products can add to the quality of life of a homeless person.

        (This was before all the paper products vanished from the stores!)

      3. Karia*

        Solidarity. Cut literally all friends but one due to realising the same thing after a lot of therapy. I’d rather have less of a social life than be used.

      4. Allonge*

        Just to say you should be proud of yourself for making this change, well done! I have two friends to tend to be this way (every problem is for them to solve, saying no is impossible, they offer help in every situation – seriously one of them is _sick_ right now and she was still going on about helping me move, and I never asked etc.) It’s not a good place to be in, and it must have been such hard work to change it to something more sustainable for you.

        OP, you can do this too! People who say no occasionally are still well-liked, respected, have good jobs, friends, family and all that. On the other hand, just by trying to please everyone, you don’t win a prize, it will never be the case that everyone loves you or even leaves you alone. It sucks that you have to, but you can stand up for yourself too.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      This is a bit too close to victim blaming. The OP did not cause this situation, at all.

      1. LP*

        I don’t this this is victim blaming. The truth is that how we react to situations often influences how people react to us or treat us in the future. It’s not fair! But if OP sees that others on her team are not being treated this way it’s fair to ask them if they see a disparity and how to go about rectifying this situation. You are inherently correct that the blame lays solely on the boss, who is absolutely terrible. But the boss didn’t write in, the OP did. And OP can only change their own actions. So taking others advice on how to practice setting boundaries can really help!
        OP- sending you best wishes. I think others have it correct that you sound like a very nice person! You are so accommodating and you are putting your boss before yourself, and it sucks that you are being punished by her for that. I hope you’re able to find your voice in the situation and I hope the boss respects you more for it, not less.

      2. Bananahammock*

        She didn’t cause the situation but she’s also not completely and helplessly at the boss’s mercy, either.

        On the opposite side of the spectrum to victim blaming is telling victims they are powerless. Despite the power dynamics in this situation OP has the ability to push back. If she is not doing that at all then she is in fact a participant in this situation, however unwilling and unfair

      3. GammaGirl1908*

        Agree that the LW did not cause Boss to be a jerk, BUT I also agree that the LW is not helping herself by feeling like she’s not allowed to maintain firm boundaries or push back, which is a big part of doormattery. The point here is that “I can’t ever push back” is a feeling in your own head, not a fact. Boss isn’t going to stop being a jerk, which of course is the ideal solution, but Boss didn’t write in; LW did, so all we can do is let LW know what she can do to push back. Recognizing the doormat mentality and adjusting the behaviors that tend to attract doormat-seekers one of the things LW can do.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        Often times we have to fix situations that we did not cause. Life can really suck this way. Seriously.

        And I would like to point out that there is a difference between blaming someone and showing them how to get out of their situation. I don’t think offering advice about how to get to a better spot is blaming the victim. It’s giving the targeted person tools to work their way to a better spot. If someone is a leach or a mooch that is definitely not our fault, but we do have to handle their constant flow of requests/demands.

      5. Karia*

        Ah, I don’t think so because boss caused this situation. But it’s like with bullies. The only two ways to really handle them is to either stand up for yourself or cut off their access to you. I personally think she’s doing the right thing by looking for another job. I can’t see how standing up to a boss who steals your food and treats you like a personal dogsbody is going to work.

        On the other hand, I do think we need to take into account the pressures on someone who is the sole breadwinner for her family. She cannot afford to get fired and I reckon this is why it’s gotten as bad as it has. There were probably multiple moments where she thought “grin and bear it, this is better than homelessness” (source, been there).

      6. Alice's Rabbit*

        I’m sorry but yes, OP has partially caused this situation, by not setting any boundaries whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong, it’s her boss’s fault for pushing things that any reasonable person would realize are beyond the pale.
        But acknowledging the truth that OP is being a doormat is not victim blaming. Victim blaming is saying a person deserved bad experiences because of something innocent and unrelated. It doesn’t matter what a girl was wearing, she doesn’t deserve to be raped. Saying her short skirt makes sexual assault okay, that’s victim blaming. She can wear what she wants to the club, and it doesn’t give anyone the right to touch her.
        But Boss Lady here is asking OP to do stuff, and OP is saying yes. OP needs to learn to say no. That’s not victim blaming. That’s helping her grow a stronger spine.

      7. MsSolo*

        I think there is a bit of a problem with the narrative around how bullies select victims – especially where someone is victimised repeatedly, it becomes a “but why always you” from onlookers because that seems like an easier problem to fix than the bully’s behaviour.

        However, it’s also true that being victimised can make a person vulnerable to it in the future, because (like leaving a toxic job) it can take a while for their norms to reset themselves. And while they’re working through that process – as *part* of that process – they’ve still go to go to work and interact with people and develop relationships with people. There’s not a pheromone bullies can pick out; they don’t go straight to the person they instinctively know won’t push back. They go to everyone, and keep testing their boundaries, over and over, in tiny, unnoticeable, deniable ways, until they find the right approach for the right person that means their red flags go up more slowly than their peers. Sometimes they don’t flag because they’ve been gaslit and manipulated before into not trusting those flags, sometimes they don’t go up because the person has never encountered behaviour like this before and has no reference point for it. And then they’re in a much harder situation to extract themself from, because they’ve got multiple layers of manipulation to wade through and they start believing that maybe they do just emit a pheromone because no one else seems to have this problem over and over and what’s the point in trying if it’s just going to be more of the same.

      8. Batgirl*

        It’s always the jerks fault, not the accommodating person. However ‘jerks don’t understand the social contract and you can’t accommodate them into being nice’ is a threshold moment of realisation for us all, no?

    4. Quill*

      Please also note that the position of office doormat is EASILY transformed into the office scapegoat. You may think you can get by while lying down in front of the door and letting people wipe their shoes on you, but the first time someone trips, they’ll decide it was your fault.

  9. StaceyIzMe*

    You’re in a precarious position and she’s taking advantage. She really seems more like a sociopath than a garden variety bully. She “gets off” on dominating you and you feel stuck, perhaps, because of your financial situation. So- treat her like the crazy that she is. Feel free to undermine all of her efforts to eat your food, use your cash and so forth that you feel you reasonably can. (Can you eat a quick bit on your coffee break and forgo lunch in order to pursue a hobby or have quiet time? Can you “spike” her coffee with a little too much of her favorite sweetener or creamer? Can you use an unappealing condiment on your sandwich? Can you bring a note in from your doctor that your back isn’t up to bending over just now, if there’s any basis for it at all? (Have you had any muscular or nerve difficulties?) Can you SLOWLY get her the stuff she requests? (Not so slowly as to be obvious, but just a few extra seconds here and there?) Can you “butterfingers” some of her belongings and papers that she asks you to handle on a “here and there” basis? In short, subvert her where you can and where it won’t harm your role or her physical health. And for the love of sanity, look for every possible opportunity to move on, move up or move over so that you don’t have to deal with her too long. The prospect of that may fortify you somewhat. Also, and I’m sorry to suggest it, but there’s Reddit…

    1. Kat M*

      I used to put a few drops of hot sauce or a spicy mustard on my sandwich to keep people from eating it.

  10. NapkinThief*

    Oh my, OP. To borrow (paraphrasing heavily) from Captain Awkward, you are trying to “keep the peace,” but the peace has been broken – YOUR peace has been broken. Time to return the awkward to sender.

    It may help to reframe this in your head:
    “I am afraid to say no to her because we have a friendly working relationship and I don’t want to make things awkward.”

    Is this “friendly”? It may not be openly contentious, but I would not consider a relationship that hinges on you losing time and money to appease someone who considers themselves entitled to your servitude “friendly.”

    “ I am also afraid that upper management has noticed as well. They think I am like her puppy dog”
    I hate to say it, but in a way you are! She has trained you to do her bidding loyally in exchange for scraps.

    “worse, I am not making my quotas. I cannot defend myself without throwing her under the bus, which would result in her hating me and making my life miserable.”

    Wait – so this is her LIKING you?? This is you not miserable? And now you are basically considering sabotaging your own livelihood to protect hers???

    I have to wonder if you have seen her be aggressive or [more] abusive to someone else at your workplace and done so unchecked by management, because otherwise it seems you have little to lose here. She isn’t friendly. She is at minimum completely apathetic towards you. You certainly sound miserable. It may be time to let her bear the consequences of her own actions.

    1. valentine*

      you are basically considering sabotaging your own livelihood to protect hers???
      I don’t think Goldilocks’ livelihood will be in danger even if her skiving comes out, but she’s working her way up to getting OP fired.

  11. LovecraftInDC*

    LW, I would suggest that you don’t really have a friendly working relationship at the moment. You have an abusive one. A friendly working relationship is talking with your boss about about your family, getting condolences and congratulations as appropriate, talking about shared interests, etc. It doesn’t involve belittling and stealing from others.

    I also agree with the comments listed higher up; I presume a hospital is large enough to have an HR department.

    1. Koala dreams*

      I agree. There is nothing friendly about the boss’ behaviour. It’s abusive and bullying.

  12. Count Boochie Flagrante*

    OP, you do not have a friendly working relationship with this boss. That implies a mutual harmony and friendship. You resent her (naturally!) and she takes advantage of you.

    For your own sanity, please reframe this relationship in your head. You are being exploited. Of course your boss seems to like you right now! Self-centered people love it when they can treat someone however they please and get away with it. But that does not mean that she thinks well of you or that she will in any way be good for your career.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Yeah, this isn’t even pet/owner territory. Boss has a HUGE sense of entitlement.

  13. Lady Heather*

    This is not a friendly working relationship. It might be a ‘stable’ working relationship, it might be a ‘this is food insecure but I prefer that to the emotional insecurity of a shouting/insulting boss’ working relationship, it might be a ‘the good parts of this job outweigh the bad so it’s worth it’ working relationship.
    But it’s not a friendly working relationship.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, this. One of the hardest things for me to learn has been to reframe things like this in my head. This is not a friendly working relationship, this is a bullying working relationship which maybe worth staying in for other benefits. But please, OP, if you keep justifying this in your head it will undermine everything else.

  14. AndersonDarling*

    My hospital has a system to report Patient Harm events AND unethical behavior. I believe all hospitals need to have a reporting module like this and it needs to be available to support services as well as clinical departments. You can report unethical behavior anonymously and a manager stealing lunches is the kind of event that should be reported. Major things get reported to corporate compliance or to HR, but fringe unethical behavior (staff being rude, loosing their temper, disregarding procedures) can go into the system. Reporting that you saw a manager stealing would definitely get attention.

    1. Betty*

      If it is anonymous, you can always report it as if you were a random coworker saying “I have seen [manager] doing XYZ to others”

  15. Mumbo*

    Your work life is ALREADY miserable. Throw her under the bus and move on. Bullies often just move on to someone else when their victim starts setting boundaries.

    1. Mama Bear*

      There’s throwing someone under the bus and then there’s calling a spade a spade. If boss gets in trouble, boss shouldn’t have been doing those things in the first place.

  16. agnes*

    I hate your boss. That said, there are bosses who like to push the envelope in this fashion. They get some perverse sense of …..something…… (power? ego?) by seeing how far they can go. Don’t delay in letting your boss know where the boundary is. If that doesn’t work, you definitely need to loop HR in on this.

  17. Cheesehead*

    I know you don’t want to throw your boss under the bus, but frankly, she deserves it. I mean, if you need to defend why you didn’t make your quotas to higher-ups, then you can matter-of-factly say that you’re so sorry, but you were busy doing (something that is obviously boss’ job). You don’t have to say it was boss’ job, but you can certainly say that boss asked you to do it, and if it’s obviously something that you shouldn’t be doing that’s causing you to be unable to do your own job, then heck, they should know that! That’s not throwing the boss under the bus…..that’s giving them information that they need to know. Your boss isn’t looking out for your best interests, so you need to be doing that.

    And be really blunt with your boss when she takes/expects something. Not mean, but blunt. “Oh, you took my can of soda? I’d really counted on drinking that today….it’s my treat. Please don’t do that. Will you be replacing it tomorrow, or do you want to give me some money so I can get one from the vending machine now?” or “When I bring something, I only bring what I intend to eat. I’ve noticed you hinting about me giving you food pretty often, and just to get it out there, I can’t do that. It costs me extra money and I just don’t have the budget to support another person’s daytime meals.” If she asks you to get a coffee for her, ask her for the money. “Sure. Drop the money by my desk and I can pick one up for you when I’m near the coffee shop.” or even “Hey, you’re always asking me what I’m bringing you for lunch. I think it’s your turn. When are YOU going to start buying me some lunches?” You can even say the last one with a joking tone, but sometimes a little bit of jokey pushback is all that’s needed to get the point across in a nice way. And if you keep repeating the same “joke” and don’t give her anything, then perhaps it will get uncomfortable for her where she has to keep justifying why she keeps asking and never returns the favor.

    1. Elitist Semicolon*

      I feel like Boss is the sort of person who would take “I don’t have the budget” as an invitation to give lectures on proper budgeting, finance, or the like – as per the boss a while back who tried to get an employee to bring in their personal budget so they could go through it together. If “I only brought enough for myself” doesn’t prompt Boss to stop, then adding on personal information won’t either – and instead will hand them some more ammunition to use in their bullying.

      1. Elizabeth*

        If you use the phrase “Sorry, that’s not in my budget” and the boss tries to lecture you on proper budgeting, I think the best reply would be a chipper “Yep! I do actually have a proper budget, and sticking to it means I can only bring lunch for myself. Thanks for understanding!”

        Basically, you turn around the boss’s interference in your budget into “support” for sticking with your budget, which means boss can’t steal your food.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Yup. You nod while she’s talking, and then say “I’m actually already doing all of that, and more, to keep my budget down. Thank you so much for understanding how tough things are right now!” Kill them with kindness.

  18. Case of the Mondays*

    OP, She. Is. Stealing. Your. Food. Everyone else: OP has told Abusive Boss about the lunch issues, yet Boss expects OP to feed her. That abuse of power ought to be enough. She needs to be told to stop it. And to let you do your work. Not just by you. But by HER boss (who needs to know OP’s Boss is spending work time on Instagram and shuffling off her duties to an abused underling).

    Personally, I want to see Boss fired as of yesterday. Report her to HR. Let them drive the bus over her.

    1. Pomona Sprout*

      “Let them drive the bus over her.”

      God, yes. And then let them back the bus up and drive it back and forth over her a few more times while they’re at it.

      OP, your boss is a monster. I hope you can find the strength to start pushing back, and wish you the best of luck with this. Please let us know what happens.

  19. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    She takes two-hour lunches and then comes back and steals OP’s food O_O What even?!

    And I also think that the boss dropping things and making OP pick them up is an act of dominance. (Source: was bullied in high school, saw a lot of that behavior.)

    OP, please throw this awful person under the bus, where she belongs. Your team deserves a real manager. You grandboss deserves a subordinate who is not acting like a deranged sociopath. You do not have a friendly working relationship – to paraphrase a quote from GRRM’s A Feast for Crows, this woman is not your friend. She is no one’s friend.

    1. Orphan Brown*

      That picking things up off the floor is NOT normal. I’ve been an assistant before and have never been treated this way. But then again this boss is outrageous for other reasons.

      OP, I just don’t want you to think that’s normal or acceptable. Unless she has a physical issue that prevents her from bending over, decline!!

      1. Amaranth*

        The bending/crawling for items on the floor adds a humiliation vibe to the whole power imbalance. Someone establishing that kind of overt dominance, getting into my food (space), wanting me to bend down or kneel, would make me question what they’d ask for next. This is not a person I’d want to work for if I didn’t feel I could stand up to their next request.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      OP, I hope you aren’t covering for her over those two hour lunches when someone asks where she is……

    3. It's mce w*

      If she drops something on the floor, say you’re not feeling well and can’t bend over. Or hesitate.

    4. Mr. Shark*

      Yes, as reprehensible as everything else is in this situation between the boss and OP, strangely this jumped out at me as being the worst.
      It just seems demeaning and totally making a point that she can make you do anything she wants. It is definitely something that you would see in school as a way to prove dominance by a bully.
      A lot of people have given the OP advice on everything else, and I agree with all of it. The OP needs to establish very serious boundaries. But I think that it goes beyond that already. I think the OP needs to talk to her grandboss and layout what has been happening, and how it’s affected the OP (both personally and professionally with not getting projects complete).
      Ugh, this is just horrible.

  20. ohhello*

    She asks you to PICK UP THINGS THAT SHE DROPPED and that is considered annoying but not a huge deal, and a normal part of a hierarchy?! What?! I’m trying to even imagine a scenario where this is acceptable.

    If a stranger next to me dropped something I’d happily rush to pick it up for them to be kind. But I just can’t imagine– unless my hands were insanely full or something, and doing it very humbly and with a big smile– why I would ever ask another human being to drop something that I have dropped. And this happens routinely to the LW? I am shocked. That is a huge deal to me.

    1. Orphan Brown*

      I agree with you!! That is not acceptable in 95% of office scenarios. (Unless a disability was at play).

    2. valentine*

      Aged 12, while seated at my desk, I dropped something and asked my teacher to get it because that seemed obvious and a lesser violation of hierarchy than asking her to step back so I wouldn’t be putting my head somewhere it shouldn’t be, were I to lean down to get it. Well, she sighed greatly enough before picking it up that the incident has remained a clear memory. I kind of wish she had said something about creaky bones, or literally anything, and stepped back, but no!

    3. Kettricken Farseer*

      It’s definitely a power play and probably something she enjoys watching OP do. I’ve had employees offer to go grab things for me and I’d be mortified to actually take them up on it. The power differential is too great. And that’s exactly what this is about

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, I can only think of very specific scenarios that this is an acceptable ask.

      I have the habit of “flinging” things accidentally and if someone is closer to it, I might ask if they could kick it my direction, lol. I did this with a staple remover months ago, it landed by my door and I didn’t feel like getting up because I was busy. So when someone stopped to chat, I said “Would you mind snatching that staple remover over there, it flew out of my hand and I haven’t gotten a chance to pick it up…”

      Or I threw out my back and I needed more assistance than usual, again different situations and backstory to each one.

      But to do it so readily that it ends up in a list of things of awful behaviors is so extra.

    5. Anon for this*

      I worked with someone like this once. On one occasion, she emptied her hole punch by dumping all the “holes” out onto my desk, I kid you not.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Thank God for past tense…I hope you quit by saving all those hole punches up and dropping them on her head on your way out.

        1. JumpyJess*

          I would never dare do this, but I really love the idea of returning the nuisance. It’s like ready-made celebratory confetti for Anon’s farewell, and tedious clean-up for the bully!

          (Sure, they would probably order someone else to vacuum it up off the floor/desk… but all those little dots in one’s hair, down their collar, sliding down into their undershirt/bra/etc… Ooh, they are gonna be annoyed! Mwahahahaaa!)

    6. Not So NewReader*

      OP, I had a boss who BROKE her SPINE and she would NOT allow me to pick things up for her. She brought in one of those grabber things and used that.
      Yeah, I picked some things up for her because I am sucker for people who go above and beyond in thinking about their employees. ;)

      Likewise, I have never asked anyone to pick up anything I have dropped. And I know how to drop a wide variety of stuff. Just my opinion, but I think it’s a bad habit to ask other people on a regular basis. I call it my plan to keep my body flexible as I age, I pick up my own stuff so I retain some of my flexibility. But I also retain other things, such as the mindset of an independently functioning adult. I think her reliance on you is very concerning, I don’t think it bodes well for her longer term health- again, just my opinion based on watching a lot of people age.

    7. Ohhello*

      Of course an injury, a disability, hands full, etc are totally fine reasons. But none of those have to do with hierarchy. If I threw out my back and dropped something I’d have no problem asking my boss for help, human to human. But someone dropping something and just not feeling like picking it up and, hey I’m the manager, I’ll just tell my employee who’s right next to pick it up? No no no. That’s nowhere near normal.

  21. NobodiesFool*

    I “say” this as kindly as possible OP – please explore with a therapist why you allow a person to treat you in this deplorable manner. This goes beyond simply needing to please a boss and being afraid of termination if she gets mad. Yes, your boss is an ass; you will encounter other assholes like this both in a professional setting and outside. I know you are financially challenged; there are therapists that will see patients on a sliding scale. This is not a criticism of you; this is to help you tell people like your boss to f-off with your respect of yourself.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      This is a really privileged comment. Here’s why:

      We know nothing of OP’s background. We do know that she has at least one child and an out-of-work husband. We don’t know what job prospects are like where she lives. It’s possible she worked really hard to find this job and isn’t willing to just burn it to the ground. If you are the only income earner in a home, you tolerate a lot just to have a job.

      I grew up as the child of a single mother with less than a high school education. Trust me, I have seen this before and it has less to do with having an emotional issue than it does with being desperate to put a roof over your family’s heads and food in their bellies.

      OP is not willing to tolerate this, which is why she wrote to Alison.

      1. Lisa*

        I fail to see the privilege, unless you believe having self-respect is a privilege.

        You seem to imply the only options are complete subservience or unemployment. That’s just not true. Standing up for yourself professionally is not “burning it to the ground”. It would never occur to me to accept this behavior – not because I’m not afraid of losing my job, but because I’d be shocked at the first inappropriate behavior and I would have said something to someone (maybe boss, maybe higher up). I would naturally assume that this behavior would be concerning to higher ups. I might be proven wrong, but I’d find out rather than assuming/acting like I had no power.

        Learning that LW has worth is something she could get from therapy. Seeing that speaking factually about a situation is not “throwing the boss under the bus” is something she could get from therapy. Getting the perspective to see that this is not a “friendly” relationship is something she could get from therapy. Dealing with conflict instead of avoiding it at all costs is also something she could get from therapy. Even if she ended up stuck in this job, therapy could give her coping techniques to make it less bad until she finds another.

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          Again, we know nothing of OP’s background. She is the only breadwinner.

          She knows this is wrong behavior, but she simply cannot risk her family’s ONLY source of income.

          To suggest that this behavior is HER fault because she has something wrong with her. She knows she’s worth something or she wouldn’t be writing in.

          Standing up for yourself professionally is not “burning it to the ground”.

          OP’s boss is such an entitled diva that yes, saying ANYTHING may risk getting fired. OP is looking for another job, but in the meantime she is looking for scripts to deal with this situation.

          The privilege comes from never being in a situation where you are afraid of losing your job because you could end up homeless with your kid in foster care and blaming OP for the situation she is in.

          I would agree that AFTER she has a new job with a much better boss (and hopefully more pay) she may want to seek therapy if she has some ongoing PTSD from this situation.

          1. Pescadero*

            “She knows this is wrong behavior, but she simply cannot risk her family’s ONLY source of income.”

            …but this ongoing set of circumstances is ALREADY risking her family’s ONLY source of income.

            Pushing back has a risk of job loss. Based on her own words, not pushing back has just as large a risk of job loss.

        2. Fikly*

          Being able to risk your only source of income, which is directly tied to your ability to put food in your childrens’ mouths, a roof over their heads, and pay for their basic needs is 100% a privilege.

          That you cannot see that does not mean it is not privilege.

          It would never occur to you to accept this behavior because you have never been in such a precarious position. You have the privilege to prefer finding out. Finding out, for the LW, could very well mean losing the job and income. The LW does not have this privilege. Open your eyes.

        3. Massmatt*

          Therapy, even on a sliding scale, may be too expensive for the OP.

          And the suggestion included “so you can tell people like your boss to F off”, that would be burning the job to the ground.

          I think some of the suggestions here are pathologizing the LW and not taking into account that she is in a precarious financial situation, and the bully in question is her BOSS.

          Comment upthread mentioned the boss sabotaging the LW’s job quotas by having her do the boss’s work and errands is setting the stage for an easy excuse to fire the OP if she fights back. OP needs to document everything, and bring in HR or grandboss ASAP.

          Management at this company sounds terrible. No one notices this supervisor is gone for hours at a time, and plays on the computer all day?

      2. Juneybug*

        I think Nobodiesfool brings up some good points about seeing a therapist without this being entitled and here is why I respectfully say that –
        1. Some corporations/businesses have free Employee Assistance Programs to help with situations like this and it would not damage her job due to EAP confidentially.
        2. Her medical insurance might cover seeing a therapist.
        So for the LW’s mental health, seeking professional assistance would be helpful in moving forward from this horrible situation.

      3. Fikly*


        These are choices people have to make when they are in a situation where they are choosing between being abused (physically, emotionally, etc) and being unable to put food in their children’s mouths.

        NobodiesFool – you are lucky to have never been in this situation. I hope you are never in this situation. But your suggestion of paying for a therapist when financial insecurity is already driving the LW to try to survive an abusive situation is painfully ignorant of reality.

      4. Archaeopteryx*

        It’s not privileged to point out that being a doormat for this kind of thing is something you have the power to work on, in order to help every aspect of your life even if this individual bully problem got solved. Even just reading online advice about how to draw boundaries can be a game-changer if therapy is out of the question.

        1. Fikly*

          But it is privileged to say that you can work on it in x ways, when those ways are not available to everyone, and are very likely unavailable to the LW.

          NobodiesFool did not suggest reading online. They suggested only things that cost money, and things that risked the LW’s job, and thus income.

        2. Kelly L.*

          Online advice like…this post and comment thread? She’s clearly trying to work on it.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I wish everyone would remember that you can’t just seek out a therapist like they’re out there ready to be obtained. Some of us have crippling mental issues and cannot find anyone who’s taking on new patients within our insurance networks.

      And now we’re in a pandemic where you most certainly aren’t finding anyone taking on new patients that they now have to move to meeting via telecommunications.

      1. fposte*

        Recommending a therapist doesn’t mean the recommender is unaware that it takes resources to do so; it’s just that sometimes that’s the tool that’s best suited to the problem, just as going to a lawyer is for a legal problem or a doctor if you have a problem with your arm. It doesn’t make sense to avoid recommending a tool that’s useful and sometimes irreplaceable in the circumstances just because not everybody can have sandwiches.

  22. [insert witty user name here]*

    OP, this sucks. A lot. I’m sorry you’re in this situation. Your boss is horrid.

    One small suggestion to get her to pay for her own freaking coffee, if you’re still willing to fetch it for her, (which…. insert eye roll here), at a minimum, tell her, “oh sure, I can do that. Why don’t you go ahead and order ahead on your Starbucks app so it will be ready for me to pick up and already paid for? That way you’ll get your star points.” Like Alison, I’m all for shaming her a bit, but also if you remind her she’s missing her rewards points, she’ll at least be more likely to pay for it herself.

    1. [insert witty user name here]*

      To clarify – that eye roll is at the crappy boss who would even ask that, not at OP if she’s willing to do it.

  23. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My former Executive Assistant inside of me just growled loudly. This isn’t a functional healthy relationship with your boss, she’s abusing her power as her boss. Every single time a boss has said “Hey can you grab me a coffee/lunch.” it’s with them passing me their card or a wad of cash and including “and get yourself something too for the trouble.”

    This woman is just a petty tyrant and honestly if you can’t bring it to the higher ups without fear of retaliation, that’s another big issue with the company as a whole. You aren’t “throwing her under the bus” by explaining she’s over extending your abilities. You aren’t magic, you aren’t Stretch Armstrong, you are a person with limitations! It’s okay to explain that you are being used in unnecessary areas and therefore not able to keep up with your quotas. They need to manage her better.

    1. Harper the Other One*

      That was exactly my thought! I had one previous (retail) manager who used to ask me to go get him a coffee and a muffin on Sunday mornings when he and I were in doing paperwork before the store opened. It was ALWAYS with the offer of getting myself whatever I wanted as a thank you. And I never expected it, but the fact that he offered was one of those little things that reminds you what a great boss is like.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yes, that’s the just CONSIDERATE thing to do when you’re asking someone to pick you up breaky/lunch/snacks. It goes with the whole “gifts flow down” kind of thing.

        A couple times I just went and got a boss lunch because I knew he’d never stop to do it himself and by the time he did get in for lunch, he’d just be exhausted and hungry. And even those days, he’d be grateful and would tell me that he’d buy me lunch the next day or whatever [I never took him up on THAT offer because I didn’t care to but I knew he meant it sincerely and I could afford it, etc.]

        It’s not even a great boss, it’s just a decent person who knows that even if you are an assistant [which doesn’t even seem like the OP is!] that you are treated properly. Like how has people just buy them stuff…even my mother starts stuffing money in my direction if I buy her something. I’ve been sending her stuff to keep her from venturing out and she’s like “I’ll send you a check, I’m keeping a list.” “Don’t even…” AND SHES MY MOTHER!!!!!!!211132134

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I have a few older friends who slip me a few bucks to pick things up for them when I go out. I think they don’t want to wear out my giving nature. They want me to go the next time also. lol. These are good people, while they are not my parents, I would do this for them anyway regardless of the gas money.

          But people have to retain their dignity. One way older folks can retain some dignity is by compensating us “go-fers”.
          This is a stark difference between these folks and OP’s boss. OP’s boss has NO attitude of gratitude going on anywhere.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I remember a friend of my former boss fondly. He rented a backroom from the boss to house the stuff he sold on the side [he was retired but kept doing it on the side for basically us and a select few “special clients” just to keep him busy-ish].

            My boss didn’t give a rip that I would take deliveries for him and then I’d call him and say “Dude, got a delivery for you from That Vendor, looks like it’s for Jim.” and he’d swing on in and grab it up. While he did this, he’d drop a few dollars on my desk and tell me to buy lunch on him because of all the “help” I was to him. It was basically his way of tipping on my free services [well they were on the bosses dime but I was not stretched thin by any means and it didn’t clog up or bottle neck our phone, etc. Even if it did, again he was close to my boss and they were dude-bro-buddy folk.]

            I tried handing it back at first but hew as the guy who really felt like he needed to give me something so I stopped after the second time knowing it was more graceful to just accept it and thank him. It was the same “You’re not a bother, thank you for lunch though!” [He’d also regularly take my boss out to lunch too or bring him lunch, it was just his thing.]

            Auntie asked me if she could give me gas money when I visited her. And I told her “lol no” and her response was “Why not *scowl*” [She’s of the old school mentality of course and has always paid her own way but is retired and like hell I’m taking gas money when I’m VISITING YOU, AUNTIE.]

            My response was “Mama always told me not to take wooden nickels!” and she glared a moment more before snickering and stuffing her GD money back in her pocketbook.

  24. Workfromhome*

    The coffee thing I definitely agree with. If she want to send you out for coffee and you have no choice but to go when she says can you run to Starbucks and get me a coffee say “yes sure” Then put your hand out for money and DO NOT MOVE. If she asks what you are waiting for say “I just need money for the coffee I don’t have you want your change or do you want me to tip the Starbucks guy?” If she says “ill pay you back” just say sorry I cant go then I don’t have the money for it and walk away. Do that a few times and she will either start giving you $ or stop asking.

    As for the food I like the comment above “the peace has been broken”. Its YOUR food. Its no different than if you came into the office and your boss was reaching into your purse taking out money. Its not rude to been taken aback by such odd behaviour and being your boss does not entitle her to steal from you.
    If you see her taking your food walk over and take the food back and day “excuse me that’s my food please don’t take my things without asking me if its ok”.
    If she does it again make sure you say it loudly enough for everyone to hear ” I’ve asked you to stop taking my things. I need you to stop. Am I clear”. Its very important that others hear.

    If there is a third time say this loudly” We have discussed this twice now. You need to stop STEALING from me”. The word Stealing should put a stop to it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Definitely start telling her you do not have any cash on you.
      If she does catch you spending money, explain that is your emergency money that you need, you know, in case of an emergency.

      There are many ways to say no, OP. This is just one.

      “I will dust your desk [or other asinine request] after I reach my quota for the day. I don’t want the higher ups to fire me for not making quota.” And of course, you just barely manage to hit quota at five minutes before it is time to leave.

      I had a disappearing boss once. When the higher ups asked where she was, I simply said, “She left and did not say where she was going or when she would be back.” And I’d just let that hang there in thin air, kinda like skunk spray. It takes about 20 seconds for the recognition to come over their faces that they understood the FULL meaning of what I just said. But I only said this if it was TRUE. If she said where she was and when she would be back, then I would repeat what she had told me.

      1. Perpal*

        You could always say “I don’t have money for that” – if she “catches” LW spending money, and has the gall to ask, just repeat “Yes, I said I didn’t have money /for that/”.

  25. AnnaB53*

    LW, your boss is a sadistic bully. Write everything down, follow Alison’s advice, and preemptively set up an appointment with HR or with grandboss (if they are sane). I hate to be blunt but this demeaning behavior won’t stop until you stop it. Good luck.

  26. Kettricken Farseer*

    I have seen this kind of behavior (well maybe not this egregious) more than once from people who got promoted when they shouldn’t have, and then they go on a weird power trip with everyone who works for them. They hear “manager” and translate that into “I have underlings now that I can boss around like servants!” One person I know who viewed her job this way had 100% turnover her first year in management. Sadly, she wasn’t fired and has continued to move around our organization, spreading her awfulness.

  27. MissDisplaced*

    Oh my gosh OP, you really need to speak up!
    Why are you letting someone take your lunch? If you continue to let yourself be a doormat, she will continue to treat you like a doormat. I’m sorry to be so blunt.

    Some of these people think the world owes them, or that they’re better than others. Don’t let them.
    Certainly, there is an element of teamwork, but that is within reason, and this is not what that looks like.

  28. Actual Vampire*

    “I am afraid to say no to her because we have a friendly working relationship and I don’t want to make things awkward.”

    You do not have a friendly working relationship! Your boss steals from you and makes you do her work. That is not friendly. You have a “friendly” relationship because you seem determined to be friends with her no matter what.

    It is impossible for you to “make things awkward,” because your boss is stealing from you and that’s as awkward as it gets.

  29. Mannheim Steamroller*

    [I am afraid to say no to her because we have a friendly working relationship and I don’t want to make things awkward.]

    Your working relationship IS NOT “friendly” and things already ARE awkward (and abusive).

    […I am not making my quotas.]

    …because you’re too busy doing HER work and running HER errands.

    [I cannot defend myself without throwing her under the bus…]

    …where she belongs.

    […which would result in her hating me and making my life miserable.]

    She already DOES hate you, which is why she’s making your life miserable.

    [I just don’t know how to handle the situation and have just started looking for another job.]

    Looking for another job IS the best way to handle. Then, once you have a written offer with a start date, use up your PTO, choose an appropriate last date, and resign at the end of that day. (Your boss has forfeited the right to two weeks notice.)

  30. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    I agree she’s a bully and it can be very difficult to stand up to your bully.

    How about
    “Now that (husband) is laid off, money is really tight. I’m so sorry I can’t share food and drinks with you anymore

  31. ynotlot*

    I commented above about my history as a former office doormat, but I just also want to say – what’s with people who eat other people’s food? Completely aside from how antisocial and rude it is, I still have so many other questions. Don’t they wonder what’s in it, worry about the cleanliness of the kitchen it was prepared in, how old it is, etc? Do they also pick up pieces of pizza off the ground and eat them? Who are these people who will literally eat anything they see? There’s just something so icky to me about other people’s food in other people’s tupperware. I don’t think I will ever understand this behavior!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Oh gurl, lots of people don’t question the origins of food they consume. It’s really actually more normal to not care about that kind of thing, evidence is how many pot lucks there are in the world and random stuff is lifted on a daily basis from lunch sacks worldwide.

      There’s a difference between picking something off the actual floor/ground and eating something in someone’s fridge though, let’s not get too extreme here.

      But in general people gross me out and I don’t even want to hug someone, let alone eat something out of their lunch box.

      1. Poppy*

        in general people gross me out and I don’t even want to hug someone

        Same here – in fact I’ve been wondering how all the huggers we see here have been coping with covid-19 and the consequent lack of personal contact “nourishment”.

        /bitter intorvert

        1. Blueberry*

          As a huggy person (though I never push them on people, no, no, no) whose SO isn’t quarantined with me, I have been hugging my pillows a lot. My arms are lonely. :(

        2. Róisín*

          I am a huggy person (though like Blueberry I would never ever push them on people) who is isolating alone and I am SUFFERING from lack of personal contact. My boyfriend comes over once a week to drive me to the grocery (since I don’t have a car) and give me all the hugs I’ve been lacking while I haven’t left my house in three weeks. I have trouble letting go. I also nearly start crying when he shows up just from how overwhelming it is to have someone hold me. It’s been rough.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Right? I feel the same way. I mean, I’m a great cook and my food is amazing, but my coworkers cannot know it, so I would not hold it against them if they don’t want eat whatever I packed for my own lunch. I cannot know the same about them, so really not interested in their leftovers either.

      And now that we’re in a pandemic, you couldn’t pay me to touch other people’s plastic bags, tupperware and whatnot. What is wrong with OP’s boss seriously?

    3. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

      I don’t get this either. I understand eating food in the break room–that’s fair game. But opening up a lunch box or bag? Commenting on their lunch and taking the food? My cats and dogs have better manners!

    4. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

      Yes, it’s weird. I understand eating food left out on the break room table–pizza, etc. that’s clearly for the office. Break room table means fair game. But digging through a lunch box or bag and then criticizing the food? My cats and dogs have better manners.

    5. TechWorker*

      I guess I just don’t understand the kind of office where people would eat other peoples food and expect it to be ok or no-one to notice?

      There’s a running joke at my office after a colleague ate someone else’s lunch by mistake – he only found because he complained to his wife that x vegetable had been included and she was like ‘uh, no it wasn’t’. He apologised & gave the person who’s lunch he ‘stole’ some money to replace the food… which seems the only functional way to deal with it!

    6. Not So NewReader*

      So, clearly, you don’t eat other people’s food or at least steal their food from them. [grinning]
      Other people do not have the hurdles you mention here. They just don’t think or care about that stuff.

      One place I worked it was normal to bake a batch of cookies and share them with the group. (It was all women and everyone took turns.) There was one male boss whose sense of entitlement was as big as all outdoors. He would help himself to what ever cookies were laying around. So they made ex-lax brownies. Jaw-droppingly, this STILL did not stop him. Something was very broken there. But because of other problems, I decided the guy was not worth the space in my head.

    7. Blueberry*

      Heh, as a big food-sharer I always wish I could put a photo of my clean kitchen or some kind of certificate with the food I’m offering people. I have a degree in biology! I understand temperature safety zones! My food is clean, I promise!

      What I don’t get is the sheer effrontery of stealing another person’s food. How could I open someone’s bag and eat what they brought? I can’t imagine thinking so well of myself.

  32. CupcakeCounter*

    Since this blog doesn’t condone violence I shall restrain myself, but I really want to go and kick your boss in the shins. Seems appropriate since she is acting like a school yard bully.

    But for real though… just keep it simple and in the moment. In my experience responding to a direct ask/action in a calm, matter of fact way like Alison suggests will go over better than a sit down discussion.
    “Sorry nothing to share today”
    “I need to get X & Y done for big boss so I won’t be able to help with Z at all this week”

    You can even utilize the current pandemic to help with the food and errands
    “Please don’t touch my belongings – trying to limit outside physical contact”
    “I’m trying to go out as little as possible”
    “No more X – harder and harder to find the ingredients”
    “Very limited food budget right now since Hubs is laid off and UI/stimulus hasn’t come through yet so nothing to share”
    “I don’t feel comfortable going to café/food truck/store at this time”

    I still want to kick her in the shins for you, but these are better ideas. I also agree with several of the others that you should fill in the big bosses. A simple email along the lines of “I know you were concerned about my quotas recently but I have been spending about 50% of my hours assisting boss with Z duties and cannot complete both without working OT hours. Boss won’t approve and my understanding is that Z takes priority.” This step will be extra effective if you have an email or saved IM conversations to back you up.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      I’ll loan you a lead pipe if you don’t mind teaming up with me to do more than just kick shins. ;p

    2. On a pale mouse*

      I wouldn’t mention UI/stimulus like that. That implies OP would be glad to share once that happens, when really OP shouldn’t have to share lunch with boss or buy boss’s coffee ever.

  33. Clorinda*

    Of course, you don’t get coffee for her without her money in your hand. And you find it in your heart to say no when hungry boss comes whimpering around your desk, the way my dog does when I’m eating pizza and she wants the crust.
    But the quota issue is HUGE. Document that every time it happens, which means if she diverts you from your own work to her work, even for a task that won’t take long, send an email to your boss (and CC the grandboss, if that is appropriate in your office culture) confirming that you are now going to be doing [boss’s task] and this is going to take [x time] which will probably put you [this far behind on your quota]. Then download your own copies of those emails onto a folder, and maybe print them to be extra sure.
    And whatever it is that she doesn’t like, eat that for a while.

  34. Observer*

    OP, in addition to the good advice you have been given, please start looking at how you can get out of there. You are not a slave tied to this one boss. So, while it’s rarely as easy as “just get a new job”, it generally is doable, even if it takes time and multiple steps.

    Do NOT discuss this with here, of course. The first the hears of it should be when you give notice.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Yeah, OP has said she’s started looking for a new job. I hope she has a copy of Alison’s book!

  35. Jedi Squirrel*

    Not to nitpick language issues, so I’m only saying this here, instead of responding to all the upthread mentions.

    Can we please not refer to OP as a “doormat”? That is terribly dehumanizing (not to mention sexist, as this term is usually applied to women more than men), and OP doesn’t need more of this. Her boss is already treating her like crap. There is a tendency to assume that people are doormats because of some innate personality trait.

    OP is a victim. This is not her fault.

    Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

    1. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      This is absolutely not the OP’s fault and I don’t think anyone feels that it is. The boss is 100% the asshole here.
      The “doormat” comments are to suggest a reason the boss is targeting the OP with her bullying, like an asshole. Whether or not the OP sets firmer boundaries doesn’t change the fact that the boss is at fault, and an asshole.
      OP I really hate people like your boss. If you decide to have stronger boundaries with this asshole, the more you do it the more comfortable you’ll be. To encourage you if you go this route: 99% of the time, assholes back off if you stay firm in standing up to them.

    2. cmcinnyc*

      I made that comment and I am a recovering doormat. I don’t seem like a doormat because I’m tough. But guess what? People can use toughness–“oh, please, you do it, I’m afraid to talk to her about it!” I get that it is not a nice term. It’s blunt. But it helped me see that being “nice,” or “helpful” or doing something for someone because they mysteriously could not figure it out (despite having a higher educational degree than I do), etc. etc. I was, in fact, playing the doormat. Boy did I not like that and it motivated me to get the hell up off the floor. I didn’t hear “don’t be so helpful.” I didn’t hear “you don’t have to be so nice.” I heard, “you are acting like a doormat.” YMMV

    3. Karia*

      Yep. I feel as well that a lot of people are ignoring the very important context that she’s the sole breadwinner. It’s a situation that really does diminish your agency and power because you *cannot afford* to lose your job, so you tolerate things you never normally would.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Yes, being in a precarious financial situation does temper the situation. Of course. But quite a few of the commentators here have actually BEEN in this situation themselves. I say no more than what I’ve called myself.

        I was a doormat to a bully boss during the recession following two years if unemployment.

        I’m normally not that way, but it’s funny how you can get into these situations. At first, I was scared I would lose my badly-needed job if I said anything or disagreed with the bully. But the more compliant I was, the more things I “took” from this person, the WORSE that person got. It’s bully mentality to do that. A bully will step all over you if you lie there and let them.
        I unfortunately was very scared and I lay there way too long allowing them to keep stepping on me.

        OP has been given a lot of good strategies to speak up so that no sane person would fire them. I cannot stress how being afraid to advocate for yourself because of financial reasons can be damaging to your mental state in the long-term. At some point OP needs to take back her agency, even if it risks a job loss, or they may risk carrying these fear conditioned bully-response behaviors over to other jobs or personal situations.

      2. Allonge*

        Unfortunately Bad Boss is jeopardising OPs job already, as OP cannot meet her targets due to all the extra things she is doing for Boss. I understand the instinct to comply and keep and keep complying, but it will not guarantee keeping the job either! So there is a risk either way, and a lot of damage to OP’s self-worth in the meanwhile.

        I know it can seem like victim-blaming, telling OP to do this or that. The problem is that no matter how unfair all this is, OP is the only person who can change the situation.

    4. ynotlot*

      The term “doormat” refers to a particular type of victimization the letter writer is experiencing. The boss is treating her like a doormat. Yes, it is dehumanizing. That is why it’s helpful that there is a word to describe it and strategies to tackle it.
      “There is a tendency to assume that people are doormats because of some innate personality trait” “Usually applied to women more than men” this is literally the exact problem. The term we call it isn’t what’s offensive. What is offensive is when people treat me like a doormat because I’m soft-spoken and a woman.

    5. Batgirl*

      I agree with you that OP is not a doormat; the way she behaves is absolutely appropriate behaviour with other civil people. Flipping that learned behaviour to deal with a jerk is not an innate skill, especially when it’s your boss.
      The doormat terminology is helpful though to put it in the terms that a jerk considers it. How do you respond to someone who’s uncivil without being uncivil yourself? Often the answer is: Your current baseline reads as ‘doormat’ to them. It’s ok to go this-is-my-line-you-get-mad-if-you-want-to because some people genuinely believe this is how you interact. It’s dog eat dog and you stay under the heel until you learn to say you won’t.

    6. Kiwi with laser beams*

      Thank you for pushing back on this, Jedi Squirrel. It’s befuddling to me that so many commenters think they can’t tell LW to stand up for herself without calling her names when Alison herself managed it just fine.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I did actually picture some cartoon sequences in my mind when I read that, but it was Tom & Jerry!

  36. LinesInTheSand*

    When I’ve had to adopt behavior changes that don’t come naturally (which is what it sounds like you’re gearing up for), I pick a character whose behavior I can mimic. Could be real or fictional, but it’s helpful to be able for me to say “What would the Dowager Countess of Grantham do if someone started going through her lunch?”

    “It’s amazing how you’ve managed to get this far in life without being able to feed yourself. Really encouraging.”

    If you can really, REALLY sound sincere, voice dripping with saccharine pity, you might be able to get away with it.

  37. Youth*

    Getting a lockable lunchbox now may save you money in the long term. Looks like the cheaper ones run $20 to $30.

    The most inexpensive one I see is a $13 “fridge safe box locker” (according to the description). That one’s far from discreet, but if you want to make a statement…

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Is that the one that looks like a kennel crate? If so, I love it, and would happily buy it for OP!

    2. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      I would just hide my lunch in my purse or desk. Cheaper. In my experience, a lot of food (like ham sandwiches and yogurt for example) can go unrefrigerated for a few hours before lunch time.

      1. Essess*

        There are also refreezable ice packs that can be put in a lunch bag to keep things cold outside of the refrigerator.

  38. Choggy*

    I hope we hear back from this OP, I think she’s been given good advice but we aren’t in her shoes and can’t entirely know the situation. I would hope, if OP starts making changes to prevent her from being taken advantage of (especially around items that cost her money!) and her supervisor starts to retaliate, she can go to a higher up for assistance. This is going to be especially critical when you start making changes if her reaction is poor. I wish you all the best OP, it’s bad enough to be stressed about money, worse when someone uses it against you and they are your supervisor. May Karma meet up with her in a dark alley.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Yep, out of all the posts I’ve read so far this year, this is the one I’m hoping the most for a happy update.

  39. Cat Meowmy Admin*

    Bwahaha! This exact thing happened to me, and guess what – I did exactly that! “Chads over the head”!

  40. Jay*

    Let’s call this what it is. An abusive relationship. This individual is using the letter writers vulnerable position to extort food, money, and labor under fear of substantial retaliation. Never forget that, LW.
    That said, you are under no obligation, moral or otherwise, to play fair here.
    When she orders you do to do something that will cause you to fall behind on your own work, you can reply with something like “Well, I have so much on my plate right now, that it is likely to get lost in the shuffle. Could you shoot me an e-mail with what you need me to do as a reminder, so I don’t forget?”.
    Now you have a paper trail. A month or so of these “little reminders, so I don’t forget” and you have something your bosses boss might find interesting. If not enough to take action against her, then at least enough to insulate you from retaliation when you DO start saying “no”.
    We don’t know what city, state, or even country the OP is writing from. We do not know workplace norms there, or what rites employees have, both on paper and in practice. Never forget that there are still places, both in the US and around the world, where living in poverty and having a terrible job are considered a moral failing by the community (baring a few iconic positions, anyway). I know I’ve had jobs where I’ve had to put up with some pretty terrible treatment because the relevant state authorities and the local branches of the relevant Federal authorities nearly always sided, overwhelmingly, with employers. It was they way the states legislature and governor wanted things. It kept costs down for the people who “mattered”. There was nothing you could do but get lucky or leave.

  41. Amethystmoon*

    You can always find something that you like to eat that she hates, and bring that for lunch, or just eat lunch at a different time when you’re not in the office. But yeah, bosses should not be mooching off of employees who make way less.

  42. Rose*

    Part of enjoying working at a job is whether or not I can learn anything from my manager. The answer for you with this boss is obviously NO, you can’t learn anything from this manager because she is 1) abusive 2) clueless 3) rude 4) a hot mess 5) arrogant 6) all of the above combined also shows she isn’t that bright either. So for this reason (you won’t be able to learn anything from her) is the #1 reason to move on/leave this job. Good luck in your job search. You deserve to do better!

  43. Nameless*

    I say this half jokingly—why not try really spicing up your food. Cayenne, wasabi, whatever you have available. Or is there a particular flavor that you know she doesn’t like? Ideally, you would choose something you like but she doesn’t. When she complains, just innocently say “Doesn’t everybody like curry in their egg salad?” A few days of that and she should leave you alone. Of course, you might eat a light lunch a few days yourself, but it would be worth it.

    1. Jay*

      Anyone else thinking of the letter where someone was written up by HR when the company Lunch Thief ate his super spice lunch and had to be rushed to the hospital?

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      Nah, she’ll probably just order OP to start making the foods she likes. “Oh, btw, I made you a list so there’s no confusion.”

  44. Analyst Editor*

    That’s terrible, and definitely don’t bring enough to share with her!
    But if you have to, you can consider bringing in a very small thing, like bag of chips, and say, “this is what I have to share” and nothing else. (Or you can make your food super-spicy, hehe.)

  45. Jennifer Juniper*

    You may be able to tell your boss you’re so sorry, but you can no longer share food with her because you’re worried about the pandemic and wish to keep her safe.

    1. June First*

      Yes. “Oh, I’ve been feeling a little sick lately and don’t want to pass it on to you.” Feeling sick can be so many things, including sick and tired of her shenanigans.

    2. Pennyworth*

      I guess the OP wrote in before the pandemic, because there is no way I would let anyone lay a finger on any of my possessions today in Coronavirusville. Nor would I touch their things, or papers they had dropped, and above all I would not share food. We have even been advised to avoid using cash, or if we can’t, to wash it. COVID-19 might provide the circuit breaker for ending her bosses mooching habits.

  46. Des*

    Buy her coffee, and before giving it to her stand in front of her and have some of it yourself, and say it’s pretty good before handing it to her. If she says anything like ‘oh my god’, look blank. If she says something like ‘that was my coffee’ just blandly say, ‘eh, well i’m still a bit hungry, I didn’t have much lunch earlier’ (the implication being she ate it).

    None of this will help, but it’s amusing to imagine doing it.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Be sure to lick the side of the cup where the coffee dripped down.

      Agreed, this is not going to handle anything short term or long term, but it’s fun to imagine this as a scene from The Office or SNL.

  47. LGC*

    LW – I’ll keep it 100, my first reaction was, “This is not an AAM letter, this is a Captain Awkward letter.”

    (Okay, it is an AAM letter. One that I expect to be discussing in December.)

    So, I’m just going to quote your entire last paragraph back at you:

    I am afraid to say no to her because we have a friendly working relationship and I don’t want to make things awkward. I am also afraid that upper management has noticed as well. They think I am like her puppy dog and, worse, I am not making my quotas. I cannot defend myself without throwing her under the bus, which would result in her hating me and making my life miserable. I just don’t know how to handle the situation and have just started looking for another job. Is it as hopeless as it feels?

    Pulling this apart piece by piece:

    – IMO, you do not have a friendly working relationship. You have a relationship where she routinely takes advantage of you and you’re afraid to speak up because you think (probably correctly) that she’ll retaliate against you for doing so.
    – On that note, it’s not that you’re throwing her under the bus (which implies that you’re blaming her for your own wrongdoing) so much as she keeps trying to pull both of you under the bus wheels and you finally decided to not hold her back this time. Because – again – this is…I hesitate to use the word “abusive,” because that has a specific meaning to a lot of people, but honestly that’s the best word I can think of for the way she’s treating you.
    – It’s not that hopeless – and you’re doing something right in looking for another job! The fact that you’re suffering has no reflection on you and is EVERYTHING on her. But also…
    – …it seems like you’re assuming that upper management will just take her side? From this:

    I am also afraid that upper management has noticed as well. They think I am like her puppy dog and, worse, I am not making my quotas.

    It sounds a bit like you haven’t talked to upper management or HR or the relevant parties about your boss’s behavior or requests, and you think that management will dismiss your claims just because you’re a “poor performer.” That might be the first step you can take – I’ll speak for myself, but there have been MANY times where I’ve assumed one thing because it’s what I can see, and then whoops the employee reveals something that makes things look entirely different. Upper management (ESPECIALLY) is not omniscient – they don’t (and often can’t) see everything. You need to tell them and see if they’ll listen first. They might surprise you. (Although I’m not sure if you have reason to believe they’ll disbelieve you based off of past experience.)

  48. Pennyworth*

    Your boss is stealing your food, ‘borrowing’ coffee money, dumping HER work on you and you are afraid to speak up for fear of retliation.

    I’d head straight to HR and tell them all of the above.’ If you don’t want to throw her under the bus, give her one chance to stop what she is doing and make it clear that if she doesn’t you WILL throw her under the bus.

    Even if she stops being ‘friendly’ cosider how much better your working life will be if you get to keep your lunch, keep your money and she has to do her own work. That would have to be worth a fair bit of frostiness. She sounds like someone best kept at a cool professional distance.

  49. Candace*

    In addition to Alison’s great advice and yes, looking for a different job, I have to admit I also had a sneaky thought of something else you could do, for a bit of satisfaction meanwhile … I’d start bringing stuff for lunch that you cam stomach but she hates…Maybe curried chicken liver with limburger cheese??? Every day??? ;-)

  50. DonnaMartinGraduates!*

    OP – I’m so glad you wrote in for advice bc this sitch is truly horrifying. It’s clearly more than just bullying, it’s abuse and it needs to stop, like, yesterday (to quote Alison lol).

    There’s a lot of great advice here, but I know how hard it is to suddenly enforce boundaries. It seems — beyond your reach, somehow, bc the aggressor is so skillfully abusive.

    So, I think I may have some really practical advice. How about you role-play? Pretend you’re Lady Gaga or Barbra Streisand or even Arnie as The Terminator, or basically someone who you admire for their strength and just try to channel them in the moment. You’re not being browbeaten OP — you have our permission to morph into Wonder Woman and just blurt out your new boundaries. “I’m sorry but no.” then walk away. If bullied, add “No discussion. I am not going to do that.” And get on with your work. You might find it really fun and liberating!

    But def document EVERYTHING. If she corners you, you can say you’re not willing to discuss the matter now and say you need to go back to work.

    Hope this helps!

  51. Lahey*

    Your boss is both a terrible person and terrible at her job. Her behavior should absolutely be reported to those above her.

    I think there are plenty of other comments explaining to you why that is, but there’s another perspective you may want to consider if you’re still feeling guilty about “throwing her under the bus”:

    You are support staff at the hospital during a global pandemic. Her ineptitude could have larger ramifications than just hurting you and your company’s bottom line. Your hospital may soon be facing a crisis. Please give your grandboss(es) a chance to adress this before shit hits the fan.

  52. Knopeknopeknope*

    One of my coworkers was like this. Nobody could stand her, and they all thought that we were best friends because she was always in my office. Hah! I couldn’t get rid of her. The one time I asked her to leave, she accused me of being soooo angry. I ended up making a joke out of the whole thing. Boundary not learned. I apparently have a tendency to try to befriend my bullies in hopes that they’ll leave me alone. No more.

    She will not change in her treatment of you unless you change how you deal with her.

  53. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    A couple of things:
    1) OP thank you for the work you are doing. Healthcare has to be a scary place to work right now. You may not be treating patients, but you might be the person keeping the lights on or ordering life saving supplies.
    2.) No. Is a complete sentence. It’s also the hardest one to say. Start using more elsewhere in your life and it’ll come to you more easily when your boss makes ridiculous requests. Other helpful phrases: (some more helpful than others)
    A breezy “Nope” – works for about 70% of stupid requests. Paired with a brisk walk away in another direction the success rate goes up to 89%
    “Can’t. Shan’t. Won’t”
    “I’m not the right person to be asking about that.”
    “I thought that was something you were handling?”
    “That falls alarmingly outside my job description.”
    “The idea is bad and you must be punished.”
    “This is more important right now”
    “This is more urgent at the moment.”
    “I’m in a focused workmode right now, please do not disturb.”
    “I don’t have the time/energy/f**ks to give.”
    “You’d be better suited for that task.”
    “This deserves my full attention right now.”
    “I already have a list of things to accomplish today/this week. Which ones can you take in place of (insert task she’s asking you to do)?”
    “Is there a reason you keep asking me to pick up coffee/dropped items for you?”
    “What’s wrong with/ what happened to your lunch?”
    “Since these drinks are being consumed by people other than me, can I expense their purchase?”
    “That’s my drink, please put it back right now.”
    “Put my lunch down. That is my food.”
    “What are you doing?! That belongs to me.”
    “My kid/spouse made my lunch today. It’s too bad they’re not feeling so well…” – admittedly probably too subtle for your boss
    “I don’t like sharing my food/drinks.”

  54. Alice's Rabbit*

    First thing I would do is to push back on the work issues, actually. The food stuff is pretty easy to handle, and I’ll get to that in a minute, but getting your quotas met needs to be your top priority. Because while it’s unlikely that she’ll cause enough of a stink to cost you your job if you push back, you want to be in good enough standing as an employee to weather any tantrums she might throw. You want your company to feel like you’re not easily replaced.
    So focus on that first. Start small. When she demands you drop everything to do her work, say “I’m in the middle of this, and can’t lose my train of thought. Be with you shortly!” Then quickly finish what you’re working on.
    The next time, make her wait a bit longer. Wean her off of relying on you jumping when she calls.
    And if your company allows it, wear headphones. They’re a great tool for social interactions like these. “Be with you soon; just let me get X done” pop in your headphones, and tune her out for a bit.
    As for buying her stuff, “forget” your wallet. Forever. As far as she’s concerned, you have no money nor cards with which to purchase anything, at all, ever. “Sorry, I forgot my wallet today! Just a crazy morning, you know? But hey, if you have any cash, I would be happy to go grab you something.” All said with a big smile.
    Lastly, get a lunchbox that locks, and don’t open it around her. If she tries to wheedle food out of you, just ignore the whining like you would for a teenager who knows better. “If you’re really hungry, I hear they have some tasty soup in the cafeteria today. Sorry, but I have to finish all these before I can even consider taking off for lunch!”
    Don’t give her an inch. She’s the sort of bully who doesn’t even realize she’s bullying. So she’s not only gotten into some bad habits, but she will push further and further until she hits a brick wall.
    It’s time to drop the wall right in her path. But nicely. Sweetly. Kill her with kindness, smother her with smiles.

  55. Lexin*

    Is the OP a member of a trade union? If so, I’d take the problem to them and see what they suggest. At least it would create a date and time at which the OP complained to someone and provide backup should the excellent suggestions Allison makes not work.

  56. Jemima Bond*

    Given the (I would say) exigent circumstances, is it still wrong to cast black magic curses at work?

    1. BenAdminGeek*

      Well since the boss is actively slowing down proper healthcare outcomes by distracting the LW from getting her job done, I think it’s justified.

    2. Róisín*

      Curses are always wrong – you don’t want to invite harm to anyone lest harm fall on you instead – but a good banishing spell to get her to leave you alone would be not only justified, but highly encouraged.

  57. Batgirl*

    “Are you lying about what you brought because you just don’t want to give it to me?”
    “Yes! Some people call it polite refusals, but if you want the unvarnished version the truth is that no, I don’t want to share or pay for you to eat lunch any more”.

    OP I don’t know if you’re comfortable with that script, but I include it to show that it’s reasonable to say if you want to. She’s taking polite hints and deflections and instead of being socially appropriate, trying to shame you for bring tactful and allowing her to save some face. If you want to go straight to ‘Why, are your own hands broken?’ when she asks you
    pick up something she has dropped, do that. But if you want to (or accidentally, from habit) keep using polite deflections, do so. Just be prepared to back them up with “Well, actually to be clear, the answers no even though I can see that you understood what I meant”.

    You want her annoyed and losing her temper without you having done anything other than state a clear answer to a clear question; that’s a successful outcome and one you can go to HR with.

    1. Jemima Bond*

      Re “are your own hands broken” – a version of that I like is, “what did your last slave die of?!”
      But LW might have to be a bit brave for that!

  58. Former Employee*

    I agree with a lot of the comments, but I think the most important one is to document, especially when OP won’t meet quota because she is doing the bosses work. OP should start sending emails advising how far behind she is on her own work and asking the boss if she still wants OP to do x, y and z for her. If there is a higher up or HR person OP can tell about the situation, they may suggest that OP start documenting and bcc them on such emails. Regardless, having an email trail and a written log of miscellaneous other things on a daily basis would be helpful.

    As far as lunch is concerned, OP should probably just hide it. As someone else mentioned, there are cold packs that can be used to keep food good for quite awhile, certainly between when the OP comes in and lunch time. If the boss asks, the OP could say they are keeping track of everything that their family uses given the current situation so there is no extra to share. Same thing when it comes to spending any of their own money on boss. Due to current situation, all money has been allocated so no longer any extra available.

    As far a throwing the boss under the bus, OP, as far as I am concerned, she has stepped off the curb all on her own.

  59. Mayflower*

    OP, JOB ONE for you is not to figure out how to deal with your horrible boss but how to stop being a yes person. There are wonderful resources all over the internet on how to give yourself permission to say no and how to set firm boundaries.

    Once you’ve done that, the boss problem will solve itself. I PROMISE.

    If you believe you are not strong enough, or you are not ready just yet… as a former yes person, I am telling you that you are strong and more than ready and that life on the other side is absolutely wonderful.

    I wish you best of luck, and please update us a few months from now!

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