update: my boss has violent tantrums and punches holes in walls

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

Remember the letter-writer whose boss had violent tantrums and punched holes in walls? Here’s the update.

It was amazing to read by your answer and the comments that I wasn’t the crazy one after all, as my coworkers response then seemed to imply. I started looking for another job pretty much immediately, but with COVID-19 beginning to make its rounds, it seemed hopeless at first.

Ironically, it was actually the pandemic that opened a new door for me. A company that had been my second choice in my job search called me since their chosen candidate had backed out of the job to move closer to his family during the quarantine period. They informed me I had been closely considered at the time and, though they had previously rejected me, they were ready to extend me an offer if I was still interested.

After some negotiation, and a guarantee that it would be all remote training and work for the foreseeable future, I went to work for them, and at a better salary than I had! I have already started and I’m pretty happy with both my manager and the team. They seem lovely people, and are actively trying to welcome and train me during this time.

In the time I stayed with the original company, between getting the offer, negotiating, and serving my notice, I witnessed several outbreaks from that manager. There were no other broken keyboards, but there was random screaming, agressive pacing around people, and a general air of violence. Maybe that’s just my perception though, as nobody else seemed to be too bothered. Or maybe they just normalized it too much. Either way, I’m very happy to be out of there!

{ 93 comments… read them below }

    1. NerdyKris*

      It’s so easy to become accustomed to that sort of behavior. If you’re around abuse long enough you just start accepting it as normal, because you’re too scared to leave or you aren’t able to, so you just have to cope.

      1. Artemesia*

        I once worked for a boss like that and was able to steer clear of situations with him where it would happen. I had already moved my husband and family to that city uprooting his career — I just could not see doing that again (he had a non mobile career so had to start over to follow me). I knew this guy would not be my boss forever but he really had it in for me (I had been acting manager before he was hired and I had voted for another candidate and apparently someone let him know that). His threats and outbursts were deeply frightening. After a bizzare outburst in a meeting where I made a suggest that he excoriated as ‘stupid and ignorant’ (and which he adopted pretty much as per my suggestion two weeks later) one of my senior colleagues came by my office and said ‘you must remind of him of ex wife or something — that was weird’. Sometimes you don’t have a lot of options and have to live through it.

          1. allathian*

            Indeed! Awful, that’s what it is.
            It’s really unfortunate that management seems to attract such lowlifes.

            1. Sue*

              Because then they can live out their dictator fantasies on the employees under them. What companies don’t seem to understand is how many good employees they lose because of that.

          2. random*

            I read that as just a low-stakes/veiled way of saying “hey, I thought what Mark did in there was uncool” without explicitly criticizing Mark.

    2. Letter Writer*

      Thank you!

      As for my former coworkers, I guess they don’t want to rock the boat too hard, since that company, and that guy’s department specifically, have a lot of potential for big and quick carreer growth. Either way, I truly hope the end up being ok, wether it’s there or someplace else.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        Given his reputation for being a route to rapid career growth, is there a community of people who’ve worked under him, then moved on elsewhere? I’d be very curious to know what they have to say about him.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Except this time it sounds like the missing stair is also the rainmaker.

          1. The Original K.*

            Yeah, a lot of my friends who have worked in BigLaw have had colleagues with volatile tempers who were also rainmakers.

    3. Not All*

      Everyone has different things that they will/won’t tolerate.

      Screaming rage fits where they break things but aren’t threatening people? Meh. I’ve worked under a couple bosses like that, they don’t phase me & I’m damn good at handling them generally. Since I’m not phased by them & they know it, I usually end up getting all sorts of interesting special projects with them which in turn leads to lots of career opportunities.

      Incompetent micromanagers on the other hand…I have zero ability to cope with them. Managers who I’m never quite sure where I stand also stress me out to no end. I will be looking for a new job at exactly my 1 yr mark (or sooner) under them.

      Not that I’m saying tantrums are a positive in any way…just that the coworkers may have personalities that make the situation far less stressful than it was for LW.

    4. OpsAmanda*

      I hope when OP left that they mentioned the reason was the violent outbursts. This company needs to be reminded that this behavior is not acceptable, and that they are going to lose great employees because of it.

      1. selena81*

        It’s a relieve to hear you got out.
        The irony is some outsiders will see your move and think ‘look at that, CrazyBoss launched another career’

  1. EPLawyer*

    YAAAAY. What a FANTASTIC outcome to an absolutely bat guano insane situation. You got out of there before it completely warped your sense of normalcy.

    Remember King George and Queen Elizabeth were second choice and look how well they worked out over the original.

    1. Phoenix from the ashes*

      Also Ernest Rutherford was second (out of 2 candidates!) for the scholarship that took him to the UK and basically made possible everything he achieved in his career. For various reasons I’m a huge Ernest fan, and he had a bit of a pattern of second attempts and being second choice – it’s hugely reassuring!

  2. MicroManagered*

    YAY! What a great update! You’re right Alison, we need updates like this right now! :)

    1. Ferret*

      Yes, I am so glad to here that OP is out of there. Although I have to admit the update I most desperately want is from cheap-ass-rolls dude

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        Same here.

        And I was amazed at how many people did not know what Hawaiian rolls were!

      2. Massmatt*

        As I recall, Alison’s comment was basically “you are angry and bitter and will not last long at this job” so I imagine any follow up would have to come from someone else in the office. But who knows, maybe she’s lurking here now.

  3. WellRed*

    So happy for this update. I was appalled at the original. I also notice you are still questioning, to an extent, whether you are overreacting. You are not. Your former coworkers alas, have normalized the behavior.

    1. PrincessFlyingHedgehog*

      Agree! That there were NO repercussions for breaking a keyboard and screaming means that the office did indeed have “a general air of violence.” Breaking anything (on purpose) and screaming are never acceptable!

      1. JSPA*

        The world has not a few rock-band wanna-be’s, who are accepting of “trashing the hotel room” norms.

        I don’t completely want to tell them they can’t do that, if they’re indeed intentionally buying into that atmosphere (if, indeed, it’s done without violating any of the explicit inviolables). A rock band is a type of business / business partnership too, if it comes to that.

        But you can’t present yourself as a normal business in any way, including hiring people through normal channels, if that’s who you want to recruit, and how the lot of you want to operate.

        1. Observer*

          I’m not sure what you are getting at. But if a band peddles this type of performance, they are peddling violence. Performative and only on stage, one hopes, but violence nevertheless.

          1. allathian*

            I’m old enough to remember rock bands trashing hotel rooms being a thing. Most of them seem to be either too old to bother doing that these days, or else it was a fashion for the time when playing hard rock/punk/metal was a rebellious thing to do.

            1. MayLou*

              Sure, it was a thing, but so were lots of other things that shouldn’t be accepted as normal. Trashing a hotel room is selfish and generates a lot of extra work for people who are typically paid low wages and work very long hours even without the extra work involved in putting a trashed room back together. Just because you can afford to buy your way out of a problem doesn’t mean you should cause the problem in the first place.

              1. Eirene*

                I worked as a hotel maid one summer in college, and the nastiest room I ever had to clean had been inhabited for all of one night by an original SNL cast member. I still resent him for that, 15 years later. It makes watching the first few seasons a lot less funny.

                And he had the room FOR FREE.

        2. Massmatt*

          I dunno, it seems as though the bigwig in the letter has risen to the top of his profession despite his temper tantrums, and pretty much everyone around him except the LW accepted it as normal. To the extent that someone WAS recruited through normal channels without having heard anything about his being a rage-aholic.

          1. Tarantella*

            I imagine that a video leaked online would change his reputation in a heartbeat. There’s something about seeing someone so out of control that short-circuits excuses.

            1. Massmatt*

              I thought the same thing, but refrained from posting lest the thread go off into the tedious warnings and arguments about the legalities of recordings in the infinite different jurisdictions, ugh.

    2. Letter Writer*

      That’s probably true, on both counts. It’s just really disconcerting to be in a place where everyone else is working as normal, even chatting together, while there’s a Big Shot Boss screaming at the walls in a corner. It’s just such a crazy behavior that sometimes I genuinely thought I was hallucinating everything and needed to get back to therapy!

      1. Fikly*

        It’s common not to realize how bad things are until you are out of a situation.

        It wasn’t until a new job, and eventually I stopped flinching every time someone senior to me asked a perfectly innocent question, that I realized how bad previous jobs had been.

      2. JSPA*

        I guess they could be in the know about boss having medical needs of his own.

        We have a “meltdown protocol” for someone on the spectrum who has very rare, very brief, but verbally extreme meltdowns. It adds up to “clear out if possible, be silent if you can’t clear out, and give her brief space and time to gather herself.” On her side, that’s balanced by “identify the trigger, and plan how to recognize and avert a similar response, going forward.”

        Which is nothing like, “bust stuff and threaten people and scream frequently.” That’s not an accommodation, it’s a sh*t-show.

        But luckily, it’s not on you, anymore, to worry about how this could be handled better.

        1. Observer*

          I’m not sure if it really is appropriate to have this “protocol”, but I can see it. However, this ONLY works if everyone affected by it (ie everyone subjected to the meltdow directly or indirectly) is warned about the behavior and the reason for the accommodation. I get the need for privacy but it is NOT reasonable to expect people to work in an environment where they have no idea of when this kind of thing is going to happen, but they know that it will happen.

      3. Vanilla Nice*

        Like others have said, it’s really easy to miss how dysfunctional situation is until you’re no longer in it, especially if the toxicity develops gradually. It’s the “frog in boiling water” analogy. I’m so glad you’re in a better situation now!

  4. Regina Phalange*

    Congrats on making an escape! I’m curious to know if you let HR/your boss/anyone know that this person’s behavior was a major factor in your leaving!

    1. Letter Writer*

      I did! The head of HR mostly brushed it off with “it’s just his way”, so that went nowhere. But I did notice the utterly horrified expression of the other HR person in the room, who had also been part of my hiring interviews. So I guess those outbursts didn’t get to HR often enough for many people to know about it.

      1. Choggy*

        This would have been the reason for me leaving, not that the guy was a whack-a-doo but that NO one would do anything about it. It is NEVER okay for anyone to make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and it’s HR’s JOB to make sure no one feels that way. Shame on the head of HR, unfortunately, I’ve seen the same behavior where I work, all cow-towing to the leaders of the organization due to their status. It’s just completely disgusting and gross all around.

        Congrats on your new job, I hope it works out well for you.

      2. Massmatt*

        That’s terrible but not surprising. Whenever I see awful behavior excused with this “that’s just the way he is” I am immediately tempted to engage in the same behavior. Break a keyboard, punch a hole in the wall. “What!? That’s JUST THE WAY I AM!” I’m just fitting into the culture! Ugh.

  5. Zombeyonce*

    I wonder if, when people return to the toxic office from quarantine, the boss’ behavior will finally seem wrong to them. After being away from his violence (he may yell at them in virtual meetings, but he can’t physically menace them or inanimate objects around them), the first time he does it again in person, it will likely be incredibly jarring. I’m holding out hope that there’s still a chance for the rest of OP’s former coworkers to recognize that this is not normal behavior and get out, too.

    1. LKW*

      I’m picturing everyone just lowering or muting the manager on every call until he’s barely audible. It would definitely be horrifying and amusing to see someone fly off the handle but also be on mute. Returning to the office and not being able to mute the nonsense will definitely be jarring.

    2. joey*

      I’m picturing a garage full of replacement keyboards for when his tantrums strike at home

        1. Zombeyonce*

          Yeah, abusers like this boss are very good at turning it off and on when it’s useful to them. It’s exactly why you so rarely see domestic abuse happen in public and why bruises are often in places covered by clothes even though the abusers often claim they “couldn’t help it” or the abused person “made them do it”. It’s all about control and they have plenty of it. This guy probably treats his own stuff well but trashes everyone else’s.

          1. Deejay*

            One response I’ve heard to the classic “The red mist came down. I couldn’t control myself” was to say “Really? Has the red mist ever come down when you’re dealing with your boss, a police officer, someone twice your size, or any other situation where it could have severe negative consequences for you? If not, then I suspect you can control yourself just fine”.

  6. OrigCassandra*

    Phew, OP, so glad you’re out!

    I don’t recall how long your other coworkers had been there… but in abusive situations (families as well as workplaces) there can be intense peer pressure to Make The Situation Look Okay. I wonder if that might be in play at that place.

    1. caps22*

      This is an interesting perspective. I come from a very unstable family where me had to walk around on eggshells all the time wondering if the next extreme outburst was going to be aimed at me. Reading the original letter, while I agree that it’s awful and I’m delighted that OP got out to a better place, I could very well have been one of those blasé coworkers, not unsympathetic to OP but not especially concerned about Big Boss, either. If I had not learned to ignore that kind of behaviour early, I’d never have survived childhood. And not coincidentally, I had not quite this bad but almost bosses like this in Big Law, including one who would throw files at me, angrily, yet I got along fine with him.

      1. Spero*

        caps22, this is something I’ve recently come to realize – there have been several professional and personal relationships in my life that only ‘worked’ because of the coping skills from my childhood. It’s become a personal goal to change my goalposts from ‘does not directly abuse me’ to ‘that+does not require the use of abuser coping skills.’ Even though I 100% CAN do it, I realized it puts me on a level of hyperalertness/low key stress that simply isn’t good long term.

        1. caps22*

          Spero, you’re 100% spot on, and I’m slowly trying to do the same thing. I wish you much luck in your journey because you absolutely deserve to thrive, not just survive!

      2. Blueberry*

        Yeah, but File-flinging boss wasn’t getting along with you! By which I mean, I also had such a childhood, and when I realized in therapy what I’d learned to accept as ‘normal’ treatment I was furious that I had been made to endure it. None of us should ever have been treated that way!

        Such treatment is regrettably common, but it’s never normal. That we learned to endure it is an accomplishment on our parts, not at all an excuse or an amelioration of theirs.

        (If I sound angry it’s with the people who made and/or permitted your childhood to be like that.)

        1. caps22*

          Anger is a healthy response! It helps you realise that this is NOT ok, and for me at least, it gives me the energy to change. I’m sorry you had to endure that as well.

  7. Roxie Hart*

    OP, so happy for you!! As for your former co-workers, good riddance to them! They sound like fearful sycophants who sucked up to your boss.

    Enjoy the upcoming peace of mind that eventually comes after starting a new job (with nice, normal people) after working at a toxic office.

    1. Aquawoman*

      That’s kind of harsh toward the co-workers. People find ways to deal with bad behavior for all sorts of reasons. They may think it’s normal because of a parent with anger problems, not be able to find another job, or be especially hard to perturb. But let’s keep the blame on the boss.

      1. JSPA*

        OP told us, originally, that people are there because they want to be. Prestige. Cachet. They actively buy into (and excuse) the golden-bad-boy drama. They could leave’; they WANT to be with the Rain Maker.

        Roxie isn’t saying that the coworkers are evil / morally bankrupt (which would be a judgement on their humanity and value). Roxie’s naming their behavior–sycophantic.

        Definition: “behaving or done in an obsequious way in order to gain advantage.”

        You can be sycophantic because you’re in a hard place, economically, or because the mob will otherwise break your fingers, or because you want power, or because you grew up with power plays, and it’s easy for you to play along, so why not do it.

        Doesn’t much change what it’s like, to be around you, when you’re doing it.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m so thrilled you’re out of that hellhole!

    I’m gonna keep drilling it to you about the fact that the others accept it because they’ve internalized it. Just like a domestic abuse victim, they know it’s not right but they accept the behavior because of psychological reasons. while everyone else on the outside is screaming like you are that this isn’t right or acceptable! xox

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      This. Exactly this. Sometimes the parallels between these toxic work situations and child/domestic abuse really give me the willies.

      So glad OP is out of there and on to a better place.

  9. LKW*

    Congrats at the new job.

    There is nothing normal about such aggression in the workplace. Glad you’re out of there.

  10. KimberlyR*

    So glad you’re out of there! Not your circus, not your monkeys. It would be great if your leaving was the wake-up call they need, but I’m sure it won’t be, unfortunately.

  11. AJ*

    OP- there was some question about what to mention, and how definitively, about your situation and the violent atmosphere when you looked for a new job. Just wondering if you touched on this in the interview for your new position and how it went? Congrats!

    1. Letter Writer*

      Actually, I didn’t have another interview with this job. I’d already completed the whole hiring process, and they rejected me about 2 weeks into my previous job and went with another candidate. Since they were my own second choice, and I’d already been hired at my first, it wasn’t a big deal at the time.

      Now, since they lost their previous hire, they reached out to me directly with an offer, after just ascertaining I was still interested. After that, it was just negotiating salary and working conditions, and a lot was done with just HR, so it didn’t really come up *why* I was still interested.

      After I started though, I have reached out to my new manager and just told them it was a really bad fit for me, and while my team and direct supervisors were great, I could not be happy with parts of that company’s culture.

      1. Sara without an H*

        That’s very tactful and professional. Good job!

        I’ve been in situations where I’ve replaced a “colorful” manager and, while everybody is very professional and discreet at first, eventually, more details come out. After a while, you may find there are a few people you’re willing to share this with. Like many awful situations, it may eventually make a good story over drinks.

        But if anyone tells you that they’re thinking of applying to your old employer, please be candid.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      From the update it sounded like there wasn’t a new interview, more a get back in touch with OP after their candidate backed out. So the “why are you leaving so quick” question may not have come up at all.

  12. hayling*

    Congrats on getting out! I hope you’re able to leave a GlassDoor review to warn other applicants.

  13. Third or Nothing!*

    Oh I’m so glad you got out so quickly!!! I remember your letter, even though I didn’t comment. I just can’t imagine being in an environment where violent outbursts were the norm and no one even batted an eye…it was bad enough getting yelled at by my dad before I finally set some boundaries and told him to cut that crap out. And of course since your old boss was some sort of Industry Genius you wouldn’t have had even that option…UGH. Good riddance!

  14. Person from the Resume*

    Hey, LW, is the division superintendent who is known industry-wise to be a genius the violent big boss. Or was the violent guy between you and the industry genius.

    Just wondering if its the genius rep that is allowing someone a pass for violent outbursts.

  15. Mimmy*

    I went back and read your original post; I would’ve been job searching the minute I was told that “he usually breaks a keyboard or two per month…”! I’ve been around family members with that kind of temper, and I would not want to be in that kind of environment in any shape or form.

    So, so glad you are out of there!

  16. BeesKneeReplacement*

    Who knows why your former coworkers didn’t give visible reactions, but I’m so glad you got out! Thanks for the update, OP!

  17. Observer*

    Maybe that’s just my perception though, as nobody else seemed to be too bothered. Or maybe they just normalized it too much

    Be sure that it’s the latter. Considering that everyone else thought that things like punching holes in walls and breaking keyboards is normal, you KNOW that their perceptions are seriously out of kilter.

  18. Jedi Squirrel*

    OP, that was definitely not a normal place, and I’m really glad you’re out of there and on to something better.

    Alison, thanks for these updates!

  19. Elizabeth West*

    They informed me I had been closely considered at the time and, though they had previously rejected me, they were ready to extend me an offer if I was still interested.

    Congrats, OP! Also jelly; I had been hoping this would happen to me, lol. I’m really glad you’re away from Horrible Boss at Massively Dysfunctional Workplace.

  20. mousie who forgot her previous name*

    > “though they had previously rejected me, they were ready to extend me an offer if I was still interested.”

    This is such a beautiful example of the principle of not taking job rejections personally.
    Clearly the second company liked the OP quite a lot–enough to hire them, in fact–but had another candidate who was better and they weren’t in a position to hire both simultaneously.

    Congrats on escaping that other workplace and good luck at your new position!

    1. Bostonian*

      Yeah, that’s actually my favorite part of the story! I mean, obviously escaping a workplace with a violent authority figure is great, but the fact that the stars aligned for second-place candidate and second-place job to join forces has a bit of poetry in it.

  21. Krabby*

    I’m so happy to hear this! Thank you letter writer for this amazing, mid-week pick me up :)

  22. Sue*

    I wish the employee who was offered his job at half the pay had included the name of the company. During the recession and now, I keep a list in my head of trashy companies like that and refuse to do business with them. Hair Cuttery didn’t pay the last week’s wages, and now that someone bought them out and issued the final checks, the checks were short. A local beach restaurant pulled the same with his employees. It’s all over our local Facebook rants and raves page. They won’t get a lot of business here any more.

  23. Gallery Mouse*

    I am so happy for you OP!
    I dont know how I missed your original post but I swear that sounds like a former NYC gallery co-worker of mine who is known for breaking keyboards and many other things. That behavior is NOT okay ever and screw him and good luck to everyone that continues to work around people like that. Yikes and a half!!!

Comments are closed.