my boss’s venting is stressing me out

A reader writes:

When lockdown began, my department initiated a daily online catch-up, usually lasting about half an hour, to see how everyone’s doing and for important work updates. Originally it was a nice way to check in, and though I don’t think a daily meeting is necessary, I really appreciate the effort to keep everyone connected.

The issue is that my manager, “Ron,” is not enjoying lockdown and is letting everyone know it. Our daily check-ins regularly feel like mini therapy sessions for him. He goes on at length about the lockdown situation, our government’s handling of the pandemic, our company’s response, the stress he’s under at work, how his two kids are struggling, the public’s inability to socially isolate, the bad weather, his wider political grumblings, his general bad mood and mental health, and so on. It’s incredibly draining and can leave me in a rut for the rest of the day. Often the rest of us will be having a fairly upbeat chat until Ron starts his piece, and you can literally see the life draining out of people’s faces.

These vents go on for some time, and while other people join the conversation, it’s very much Ron’s show. What’s even more frustrating is that he regularly apologizes (in a “ha ha, oh well” manner) for venting but makes no effort to change, and at the end will emphasize how lucky we are to still have jobs or urge people to share one positive thing at the meeting so we can “end on a high note.” Of course, by this point no one’s in the mood to feel lucky and can’t think of anything happy to save their lives!

I really, really feel for him and totally sympathize with his frustrations, but I’m beginning to feel like an outlet for free therapy. I don’t feel like it helps to get regular buckets of negativity dunked on us like this, and I really don’t feel it’s appropriate for managers to vent so much to subordinates who can’t get out of listening to him. (Particularly about the stress from an increased workload as a manager – isn’t that part of being in management, and one of the reasons for an increased salary?) Surely it’s more appropriate for managers to vent to their peers or their own bosses than to pile on downwards, to what is essentially a captive audience?

Am I just being heartless? I know these are difficult circumstances, but it feels like a flawed way to handle the situation, and the unspoken power dynamics of the whole thing make me uncomfortable. He’s an otherwise great and supportive boss, and the department is a close one with fewer lines drawn between senior and junior members of the team, so I understand how he might feel like he’s expressing his feelings to his friends – but still. I’m also unsure of how to handle this – while people are technically allowed to leave the check-ins early, consistently leaving early when everyone else is sticking around and while Ron is in mid-vent probably wouldn’t look too good – any advice?

You’re not being heartless.

Ron is clearly getting some relief by venting to your team, but in the process, he’s transferring his distress to the rest of you.

It’s stressful to listen to someone else vent, and that increases the more the person harps on the same topic. It wears you down and uses up emotional bandwidth that you need for other things. That’s even more true when the thing the person is venting about is something that you’re anxious about too. For a lot of people, exerting some control over when and how they think about a stressful topic is a key part of how they manage that stress. Having that control removed and being forced to dwell on the Very Bad Things we’re facing right now, especially if you’re not in the right mindset for it, is bad for your own mental health and ability to cope with the situation.

So Ron is asking for emotional labor from you that he doesn’t have the right to expect. And it’s made worse because he’s your boss, which — as you point out — means you’re a captive audience and probably don’t feel as comfortable asking him to cut it out as you would with a peer. As a manager, it’s his responsibility to be aware of that and not use his employees as an emotional dumping ground.

But what Ron should do and what he is doing are, of course, two different things. So what can you do?

One option is to try to change the ground rules of these meetings. You could say something at the start of the next one like, “I’m finding I’m burned out on talking about how bad things are right now! Would people be up for keeping today’s meeting pandemic-talk-free?” If that works, then at the next meeting after that one you could say, “I found it so helpful for my mental health that we didn’t get into the stress of current events at our last meeting! Would other people be up for keeping that as our default for a while?” (You could even check with co-workers ahead of time to see if they’d like to enthusiastically support this suggestion.)

Alternately, toward the end of one of the meetings, you could say, “We often end up spending these meetings talking about how bad things are in the world, and I find it pretty stressful! It’s easier for me to manage the stress of it all when I don’t focus on it at work, and I wondered if others would be up for staying more focused on work if we can.” In fact, when Ron asks people to share something positive to “end on a high note,” you could use that as your opening to explain why the meetings make that tough to do and note, “We spend so much time talking about how hard things are that I usually feel very down by the end of these meetings.”

Another option is to talk with Ron one-on-one and make these same points. He might be responsive to you explaining the impact it’s having on your mental health – and if he’s not, you could ask, “Would you mind if I duck out of the calls once the conversation goes in that direction?” You say he’s otherwise a great and supportive boss, so there’s a good chance he’ll be receptive to hearing how this is impacting you and either rein himself in or give you his blessing to bow out when you want to.

You could also consider whether it would make sense to suggest killing the daily meetings altogether! Daily is a lot, and it sounds like they’re not especially work-focused. You could point out that now that you’ve all been working from home for a while and are in more of a remote-work groove, they might not be necessary.

But none of this is heartless to raise. In fact, you’d be doing your similarly emotionally besieged co-workers a favor by being the person who speaks up and says, “This is too much.”

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 78 comments… read them below }

  1. Jennifer Juniper*

    Ugh! Sounds like that would be too much!

    If the boss is not supportive of the OP’s suggestion, would a Count Your Blessings Slack channel help?

  2. Moving forward*

    Your computer and speakers have volume controls for a reason! Turn him down just enough to tune him out, catch up on news or social media while he drones on, then rejoin the meeting when he’s done. Your coworkers are likely already doing this.

    1. Aglaia761*

      Yup I was just coming to say this. Mut

      Another thing I have done to make a point is to put into the chat, “Sorry, I can’t handle this right now. I’ll be back in a few.” And then come back about 10 min later. That’s only worked in smaller meetings where people can see me leave. In larger meetings, it doesn’t really work.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Seconded. A meeting at which no actual work is done is a social event with poorly designed rules of etiquette. Take advantage of those you have available to you. Tune out, giving it just enough attention so that you will notice if it turns back into a work meeting.

    3. Old Admin*

      I agree. My boss rants a lot in meetings (Covid is a lie, immigrants are bad etc.), so I tune them out mentally.
      Ever since lockdown, I turn down the volume and do some real work on the side. :-)

      1. Derjungerludendorff*

        Your boss sounds like a real charmer. I hope he doesn’t drag the job down too much!

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, that’s awful. I’m so sorry. I’m guessing your team isn’t very diverse? I can’t imagine how awful it would be for someone with an immigrant background to hear that sort of talk.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          I am quite sure that Awful Boss has an immigrant background. It is just enough generations back that he can discreetly forget about it.

    4. allathian*

      Yeah, I second this suggestion. There’s really no need for you to do the emotional labor he’s asking you to do. Although if you have a decent relationship with your boss, it might be worth using some of the scripts Alison suggested first, and only resorting to tuning out if nothing else works.

    5. arjumand*

      Was coming to say this! I’m the non-confrontational type, so I’d be turning down my volume until he’s just background noise and turn it back up once the meeting gets back on track.

      I mean, OP could try with an initial “Let’s keep the meeting COVID-free today!” but somehow I doubt it’ll work.

      Just use your tech to tune him out.

  3. Checkert*

    DAILY RANTS?! No. No no no. In what world is that adding any positive impact? Is the option of utilizing something like Microsoft Teams an option where you can actively collaborate without being held captive in a meeting? It’s an effective way to have conversations and give updates to a group while allowing everyone to keep working. Also, limited ability for any one person to take it over with a rant.

    1. Important Moi*

      It not about adding anything positive. Ron is in charge.Ron controls the meeting. No one can tell him to stop.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Thing is, I don’t think it actually makes him feel better. There’s some research around constant venting being not helpful–it just ingrains the anger or frustration even further. I’ve heard it called ‘rehearsing your anger’.

          1. JSPA*

            And there’s the “in.”

            Pull up [a study / a self-help book / a philosophy / a medical plan for dealing with negative emotions]–whatever fits the way you want to be perceived at work–that [shows statistically / promises / is predicated on the belief that people make their own happiness / lists concrete steps people can take to reduce their risk of entering a downward emotional spiral].

            You’re [committed to doing the experiment / engaging in self-improvement / seeking a spiritual breakthrough / dealing with your own emotional challenges].

            The process is very simple: it involves avoiding negativity, where reasonably possible, while focusing on [retraining your limbic system / becoming a functionally more positive person / manifesting the hidden goodness of the universe / avoiding triggering emotions and phrases from others and from yourself].

            You of course are not going to [bore people with the details of the process / try to sell anyone else on the system / proselytize / ask other people to serve as your therapist]! However, unless there are items that require your practical input, you’re letting everyone know that you will be stepping away or muting people whenever the conversation gets too negative in tone or content, especially in ways that are not “action items” that you can help solve. You are asking them to not take it personally, as it’s not personal.

            “Let me know, personally and individually, if there are action items I can help with, though” is a great sign-off (assuming it’s true).

            Ron might get the message that this is pointed at him; fine. Ron, without getting the message that it’s pointed at him, might still get the inspiration to do something similar. Others may feel empowered to say that this is something they’re also trying to do.

            Note: it’s possible that some people do find it helpful to hear that the boss understands and feels all the negative emotions, and is willing to delve in–don’t discount the possibility that Ron’s doing a service for people who’d be ready to flip out, if he were being a regular Pollyanna. Some people respond to “truth-telling” and catharsis by shutting down, some tolerate it really well, and others thrive on the stuff. (Telenovellas have a huge audience.) But letting people know you’re going to “peace out” occasionally, to make the situation work better for you, is likely fine.

  4. juliebulie*

    Ron is abusing his privilege of being center of attention. If he were almost anyone but OP’s boss, it would be fine to quietly leave the meeting. Or just skip it.

    But Ron is the boss. I wonder if Ron would notice if OP and others sort of tuned him out during the rants and did some work. If he did notice, maybe he would take the hint that this isn’t good time management.

    I know you can’t always rely on people to take the hint, but it would be nice to give him the chance to do that because he might be the kind of person to feel bad about it when he realizes what he’s doing.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      This is what I was thinking — keep your video on if you have to do that, but have another window open.

      That is, assuming OP doesn’t trust Ron not to hold it against her for speaking up. “Supportive” doesn’t always mean “able to take criticism well.”

    2. Sparrow*

      I did this to my boss earlier during the lockdown. Her rant was tangentially related to work, but it was a rant I’ve heard multiple times and she was directing it primarily at a coworker. So I just…started working on other things. I didn’t necessarily mean it as a passive aggressive hint, I just had more pressing things to do and was tired of waiting on her to end the meeting, but it worked. She saw and got back on topic. But she’s also self-aware enough to realize she’s ranting and that it’s not a good use of time. It might be different during a block of time OP’s boss apparently thinks is set aside specifically for this kind of thing.

      I would definitely say something to him, but I’d make it about the meetings as a whole rather than him, specifically. Makes it easier to broach the topic and allows him to save face (assuming he realizes he’s the main cause of the issue).

  5. Bridget*

    Any chance you could get away with just muting him as he’s going on at length about how miserable he is? I think Allison’s advice is definitely best to try first (especially the part about trying to do away with the !daily! meetings) but if that doesn’t put a stop to his negativity dumps, you could probably get away with turning the sound off on your computer and tuning out while his mouth moves. If he ends up stopping and looking like he’s waiting for a response, you can tune back in and say something like, “Sorry Ron, internet problems/dog barking/loud lawn mower outside, I didn’t catch that last part!” But just as a last case resort bc this leaves your co-workers still tuned in, having his negativity dumped all over them.

    1. NeonFireworks*

      This is how I’ve been dealing with my one very loud and negative colleague. They never say anything that actually bears on what I’m doing, so I just mute them. It feels a little bit petty, but it’s made meetings much better for me.

  6. Lifelong student*

    Removed — per an earlier discussion, I’m no longer hosting discussions here about other sites’ paywalls. Paywalls are how some publications pay their writers, including me. There’s lots of other free content here to read. I’ve made this reply to you in the past; please stop complaining about it each time. – Alison

    1. Tip Top*

      Can’t read the reply, but if I was you OP, I’d start having lots of internet connection problems when he starts this up. Or hit mute and just tune him out, and don’t reply or engage with his complaining at all.

    2. Sabine the Very Mean*

      My god even in these responses I learn from Alison; what a great way to respond to frequent complaints of the same nature.

  7. Just Stop, Please!!!*

    You would be doing everyone a favor to tell him that the overwhelming negativity of the meetings is really making you struggle and ask that he keep the meeting work-focused and positive. That said, that’s a super hard thing to say to a boss, and could be impossible depending on the kind of boss he is. I do agree that just turning the volume down and checking in periodically to see if he’s moved on is probably the best answer.

  8. Daisy*

    I relate to this letter a lot. While we don’t have daily check-ins, my boss and I chat weekly and it always starts out with how much she worked over the weekend, how this is her nth weekend straight without a break, how terrible the economy is, the clients we’ve lost, how the recovery will take years, etc. We’re also taking on a lot of work that’s not really in our area of expertise and expected to just figure it out. She complains about that and then says, “at least it’s work. Right?”

    She’s not just my manager, she’s the owner of our company. I get that she’s stressed but it seems like a huge power imbalance to have her go on about all this. Not only because of the reasons Alison and OP mention (emotional labor/therapy sessions) but because it’s not like I can vent back. I can’t say, “yes, I hate these new projects we’re taking on, too.” All I can do is nod and smile sympathetically. I know it’s a terrible situation all around and that I should be grateful to have a job, but the more she does it, the more desensitized I feel.

    1. Mazzy*

      At least yours are work related and seem fact based, so even though they are vents, I think you can get some information out of them. The OP’s boss is expressing opinions on outside manners, but I want to stress the opinions part.

      Personally I counter rants like this with news and facts. With what’s going on now, for example, I find that alot of people are not up to date on what’s going on, they’re ranting about stuff that was legitimate to say in March or citing numbers from March, so I just counter with “so and so states have already been doing that since April” or “so and so town has had a mask order since May and apparently has high compliance” or “you want the federal government to do so and so, but the state governments are already doing it.” Or sometimes I have to resort to some version of “do you have any realistic plan for that thing, or do you just want to complain about so and so politician?” That one needs to be re-worked to be work friendly.

      The huge caveat with this though is that you need to read alot and watch alot of videos to get current with everything. However, if I wasn’t, I’m wondering if a “I don’t follow that enough to really talk about it” would do. Or maybe a “I’m not sure that’s the case based on what’ve I’ve read.”

      1. Mazzy*

        Edit/addition – I guess to sum it up, I find that if you start debating what someone rants about as a series of facts, and not impressions or opinions, they will argue the first time, but then be more hesitant to raise the issues again unless they have facts to back it up and have really thought about the thing. And then you know that if they keep bringing something up, they may actually have a valid point. But chances are, the second or third time won’t happen.

        1. Thankful for AAM*

          Mazzy, I am honestly shocked that facts work for you. I find people just interpret my facts as opinion, call me a sheep, or are immediately so bored they give up.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      You don’t need to vent back, but are you saying anything at all? Unless she’s highly unreasonable and prone to rage firing, the fact that she’s the owner of the company shouldn’t stop you from speaking up.

    3. Koala dreams*

      Oh, that’s interesting. I feel odd to not join in when my boss vents. For example if my boss says that she slept bad, and I say that I slept well, I’ll feel that somehow my comment was rude.

      1. allathian*

        In your case, maybe “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that” might work? You’re not ignoring her completely but you’re also not participating in her venting directly or agreeing with her. Saying you slept well when she complains she slept badly might come across as bragging, even if you’re just stating a fact. Some bosses might be fine with that and others might not. But when someone’s complaining they slept badly, in my experience they’re usually looking for sympathy, YMMV. That said, does your boss actually vent about how badly she’s sleeping? Or is she just saying it in a normal voice and without repeating herself?

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        My partner does that and I have to suppress the urge to throttle him. Yes I know you slept well, your snoring was part of the problem!
        Basically if someone rants and your answer is all about you, you have provided zero support or help.

  9. Aurion*

    Venting to a forcibly captive audience is really unfair. I’m all for the *occasional* rant session to friends/family, but the caveat is that it’s reciprocal and both/all parties get to engage and disengage as needed. If I need to vent non-stop to a forcibly captive audience, I go rant to a pillow or a stuffed animal!

    Is Ron good-natured enough to accept a gentle redirect? “Hey, Ron, I don’t think the government/WHO/etc has changed much between yesterday and today, can we talk about the TPS report/the teapot deadline/insert other business topic?” Or failing that, cite similar reasons (there really isn’t that much to necessitate daily updates) and see if you can get the frequency of these meetings to change to weekly or every other week.

    1. Mockingjay*

      I like this idea of redirecting. The guy has to pause for breath at some point…

      But the best bet is to reduce the number of meetings. Ron won’t ever stop ranting, so OP should strive to minimize how often she has to listen to him.

  10. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    Hmm, my boss does this, so I can attest to how draining it is. At least for me it is maybe weekly at most. I can’t see how I’d get any work done if it happened daily.

    Very best of luck to LW for addressing it. I’ll watch comments with interest in case anyone else has also had to deal with similar.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Mine only did it occasionally, but on those occasions I had to message my colleagues to explain why I was missing my deadline. He would also collar people at the annual meeting and drone on about how lonely it was being the boss.

  11. LiveAndLearn*

    Ugh. I did an unpaid internship where my supervisor spent the first hour of every day I was at the organization venting to me about her personal problems. Was super stressful because I felt bad and I was starting out with one less hour to do the work I needed to do each day. Wish I had known that wasn’t normal/okay at the time.

  12. Not For Academics*

    “Hey everybody, sounds like we’re done with business of the day. See you tomorrow!”
    Log off.

  13. Give it a rest!*

    Boy do I sympathize with OP. I have a coworker who rants for a long time about one thing or another every day. And it’s not just a rant, it’s a loud and annoying voice too. The rants can be about anything- the pandemic, the mail, how she has too little or too much work, whatever. Her favorite topic lately has been our supervisor and I’m surprised the two haven’t verbally gone at it yet.

    As someone with depression and anxiety, this is exhausting and highly stressful. Our supervisor refuses to address it, and I could, but I don’t want to set off a coworker who possibly not stable at the moment.

    1. allathian*

      I’m so sorry. It’s hard to work with someone when you’re walking on eggshells all the time and afraid of saying the wrong thing.
      At least, maybe your coworker has a point if she’s ranting about your supervisor and they refuse to address it.
      I’ve dealt with the same issues myself at a time when I was both depressed and anxious. I needed more support in my job than my then-coworker was willing to give. I apparently was very good on paper and aced the translation test they gave me and I was hired on my coworker’s recommendation. Adjusting to full-time work in an office was really hard for me and I was lucky not to be let go at during or at the end of my probation, so understandably my then-coworker was disappointed. It didn’t help that she avoided me whenever she could and made it obvious that she considered me a burden. My then-boss was very task driven and had absolutely zero empathy. She was also a micromanager, and I do understand that poor performers often need that, but she didn’t micromanage in a way that would have improved my performance, it just made me feel even worse. I couldn’t quit, because that would have meant the end of the career I really wanted. Even as my performance slowly improved, neither my coworker nor my then-boss ever gave me any credit. For months, my coworker and I sat in the same two-person office and only communicated by e-mail (no IM in my org yet). In the end, she left for another job and everyone, including me, was surprised how much my performance improved as soon as she wasn’t there to create an unpleasant working environment. No doubt I contributed by being a poor(ish) performer, but after a few weeks of my greetings going unanswered I stopped even trying to talk to her…

  14. Lady Heather*

    This sounds like ‘the toilet function of friendship’ – people who dump their shit on you and then walk off, relieved.
    (Of course, this isn’t a friendship – but I learned about this in the context of friendship.)

    This sounds hard. I’ve found it helpful to, when someone is ranting at me, listen for questions.
    “The government is making things better/worse…”
    – is he asking me something, either a question I need to answer or an action I need to follow up on? no? Okay, I don’t need to respond, this does not concern me.
    “The public isn’t taking social distance measures …”
    – is something being asked of me? no? okay, I don’t need to respond, this does not concern me.

    Interperse with noncommittal uhuh’s and similar responses.

    It can take a few tries, but after that it starts becoming easier and easier to not let you or your feelings get involved. I use this a lot whenever diet talk comes up either at work or with family/socially and it really helps me get through these conversations.

    Take care.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      I get why you’d need to do this, but does this not seriously harm your rapport with these people? It would feel very strange and alienating to have a conversation with someone who only participates when asked a question. Maybe ranters don’t notice when they’re not being engaged with?

      1. Caliente*

        They do not. I have intentionally just stopped joining in certain negative talk because I’m tired of it and it’s bad and a downer and not useful, etc. So for higher ups at work- if it happens I just listen and if there’s a question in it I address that but I legit just keep it zipped til they’re done. I don’t even uh-huh. My coworkers are really good about this, I’m realizing it doesn’t happen often.
        For friends I provide a listening ear and some uh-huhs and they do the same for me. We always start with “I need to vent” tho and we really don’t do it frequently- basically if one of us is ranting about something it’s for a REASON (not just that someone was annoying or something) and the rest of us definitely want to hear the ridiculousness that happened lol.

        1. Caliente*

          I’ll say that when someone has been ranting and I don’t engage with the rant and just zip it and listen (under duress) they actually seem to notice that the energy/attention I was giving them is gone or has changed. Sometimes it takes a few minutes and they’ll just slowly wind down like they’re deflating.

      2. allathian*

        Ranters aren’t having a conversation, they just want an audience. I don’t worry about harming my rapport with them by not engaging, they’re doing the same or worse to me by ranting. It’s taken me years to learn this lesson, though. I have a fairly short fuse and someone ranting at me would just lead to me ranting at them back and starting an argument. Usually it’s just not worth it.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I once spent a night at a friends, and she was ranting as we went to bed. The next day she told friends that we’d talked until past 4 am. We’d gone to bed at about 2 am and I fell asleep straight away so that means she’d been talking for two hours without so much as an “uh-huh” from me.

      4. Lady Heather*

        Sorry, I didn’t think to check to see whether I had responses to this.

        It doesn’t damage my rapport because, as said by others, ranters rarely notice. Besides that, I used to shut down people who wanted to talk to me about dieting etc, which damaged my rapport more than just ‘uhuh’ing’ it.

        I actually had a situation last week where someone was talking diet to me, I was uhuh’ing as I’ve done to that person (who diet talks to me at least three times a week) for the last six months and this was the first time she noticed. “I was talking to you, Lady H!” “Oh, I didn’t realize – you were talking about your diet, and I’ve asked you before not to talk to me about that, so I assumed you were talking to somebody else and didn’t really listen.”
        (There was a huff.. but no diet talk in the days since. I wonder how long my reprieve will last this time.)

        And, of course, about normal topics I do have normal conversations – but about topics I have good reasons not to talk about (and I’ve either made that clear once or a few times already, or they are self-obvious like this boss’ venting) I uhuh

  15. Persephone Mulberry*

    My team of 6 has a daily check-in call, and the duration went from 20-25 minutes a day to about four and a half minutes when we changed the format from “give us a rundown on what you’re working on” to “is there anything actionable that you need help or input on from the team.”

    I wonder if suggesting a small change like that, framed as being about keeping the team productive, might help curtail the daily rant?

    1. Lurking Manager*

      Second this! Once the agenda changed from “open-ended check-in, say whatever you are working on” to “what actionable items do you need help/input from a team member on this call”, the meetings became so much shorter, effective and actually useful vs. painful.

  16. George*

    I also think muting him… Or conveniently having network issues a few minutes into the meeting would be sanity savers.

    Alternately, perhaps there’s the option of stealing the meeting. At the outset of one meeting say something like, “Before we start, I have been thinking about all the struggles in life right now and I think it would be really helpful if we all agreed to make this meeting a positive space and only share things that lighten load” or similar. Better yet if you can talk to your coworkers beforehand so they all go “yeah! That’s a great idea!” As soon as you finish.

    Probably, that would only work in my head, but I figure it’s worth tossing out there.

    1. Paulina*

      I like the idea of trying to redirect the meeting (and getting the others to agree), especially since it sounds like the OP and coworkers have had positive results from the meeting, before Ron vomits his stress all over them. Any chance it could be structured so it’s less of an apparent free-for-all (which really means free for Ron, since he’s manager)? My team has a weekly check-in that’s an explicit round-robin, everyone has their turn. If Ron is dominating then likely others aren’t getting the chance to talk much, and since it’s personal venting then it’s not work any more.

  17. Mama Bear*

    Maybe enlighten him about scrums and the concept of keeping it short, quick and direct?

  18. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I’m a complainer by nature. Most times I don’t want anyone to “fix” anything, I just want to vent. And when I’m around other negative people, I become more negative myself (I had to distance myself from a work friend because she never had anything positive to offer and she was dragging me down with her). At my last job I was very unhappy. I complained A LOT about EVERYTHING and outside of trying to find a new job, there wasn’t much I could do about it. My manager brought it up that newer members of the team had asked her why I was still there if I was so unhappy. I had no idea it had gotten that bad and it made me take a step back and make some positive changes.

    Your manager acknowledges his venting, but maybe he isn’t fully aware of how bad it is and how it’s affecting you. I would schedule a meeting with him, bring it up and explain how it makes you feel. Everyone is struggling right now, and it’s not cool that he unloads on you all every single day. Maybe it works, and maybe it doesn’t, but I think it’s critical that you talk to him about it – I’m sure you’re not the only one his negativity is affecting.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, negativity is definitely catching. That’s why I try to surround myself with mainly positive people (not Pollyannas, though), because positivity is also catching.

  19. Indy Dem*

    There are a couple issues with regards to the situation I’d like to address. First, I want to state that I’m a therapist, but currently do not work in the therapy field. I still like to contribute to my co-workers mental health. I work in a department of 50, with two other departments that work closely with mine bringing us up to over 100.

    When we were all moving to fully WFH, I started having small scale zooms with co-workers with whom I would usually chat/have lunch/etc on a irregular basis. I also sent an email to the department with the same suggestion. I reached out to specific staff on the three groups to see if they would start hosting some calls. These are supportive, people can opt out if it’s not what they want/need.

    At the same time, I suggested to my manager that perhaps the managers could do something similar – keeping it within the peer group. That is my first suggestion, OP – talk with the manager to see if he could have a support call with his other managers – people who are at the same or near level with him (this of course depends on the company’s size).

    If he isn’t willing or doesn’t have enough people at his level to form a group, I wonder if he would reach out to the company’s EAP. I would phrase this as gently as possible. “You may not realize, but our constantly talking about negative items might start hurting our morale. Have you thought about using our EAP to discuss these venting sessions, and how you can change them to make them more helpful? Because, it sounds to me like you do find them helpful. Who knows, maybe the EAP can give you better feedback than our group can.”

    What I would suggest for you, OP, is to set up your own support calls, outside of this, so you do have some support (if you haven’t already). And like others have said, try to disengage from the negative talk during these daily calls. I would suggest asking, since I’m assuming that it’s been months since these calls started, ask if they can be lessened in frequency now, since all of you are getting more used to the new ways of working.

    1. US expat temporarily not in Asia*

      If he isn’t willing or doesn’t have enough people at his level to form a group, I wonder if he would reach out to the company’s EAP.

      ^You do realize that not all people work at huge Fortune 500 companies that have EAPs, and that they aren’t necessarily a thing outside the US?

        1. Kiwi with laser beams*

          This. I don’t know whether it’s a valid point or whether it’s “not everyone can have sandwiches” territory, but either way there was no need to be that combative to someone who posted a lot of constructive advice.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        The last few places I worked had between 50 and 250 employees and they had EAPs. Donno where you’re getting that as a “huge Fortune 500 companies” thing.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Yup, this, also EAP programs exist in Canada. Even the place I worked for that usually had <10 employees had access to one through some sort of plan they shared with a bunch of other small businesses.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            UK firms of any decent size commonly have referrals for help of that nature. One firm I worked at would have HR send you details of various services, another would just give you NHS help but it was still something.

      2. allathian*

        They may not be called EAPs, but similar things exist in many places. Probably not in some parts of the world where they still think that mental illness is so shameful that suicide is considered a less shameful “solution” than therapy.

  20. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    while people are technically allowed to leave the check-ins early, consistently leaving early when everyone else is sticking around and while Ron is in mid-vent probably wouldn’t look too good

    If you can agree with your co-workers (do you talk ‘offline’ with any of them about Ron’s behavior?) to leave the check ins early citing a similar excuse e.g. variants of “ah, I’d love to bellyache about lockdown but it seems we’ve run our course so I’m gonna have to leave you as I need to get on with the XYZ project, is there anything else you need from me?”.

    If you’re “on your own” I think you could still leave these meetings early citing something like the above. What does it mean that it wouldn’t “look too good”? Whoever it would get back to as a bad look — if they then address it with you, you can bring up Ron’s behaviour.

    Do you get the sense that Ron is truly just venting, or whether it’s a passive-aggressive thing like where “additional burdens on managers in these times” is something he’s expecting you guys to interpret as “you ought to pull your weight more”? I’m totally not assuming one way or the other, just asking about the possibility. As that is something I’ve come across before when people have done the “so many additional burdens as a manager” thing.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Sorry, I implied but didn’t finish the first “if”… it should have been “if you can agree with your co-workers” etc and then a suggestion that several of you, once Ron goes in to ‘unproductive rant’ mode at what ought to be the end of the meeting, each in turn cite something like the XYZ project as a reason for moving on.

  21. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Sometimes AAM reminds me of how fortunate I am. Most of my bosses were great leaders; if I wanted to hear them vent I had to work at it, usually off-site at lunch or dinner. Even then, they kept a lot to themselves. The few bosses who vented usually did so because of a serious workplace issue. The new ATS installation was behind schedule or some such. But even my worst bosses weren’t as bad as OP’s.

    If my colleagues were doing this I’d ask them to scale back the relentless venting. With a boss? Probably not much to do except what others have suggested – mute or lower the volume, and keep half an eye on the convo.

    Still, deep in my diplomat’s heart, I hope the OP can find a way to say something to Ron when he isn’t venting. Maybe mention a recent article about venting and how it hurts more than helps. Make it sound and feel like a non sequitur, just idle work chat, and see if he gets the message.

    1. OwlEditor*

      Agreed. When we were sent to work from home, my manager set up twice weekly meetings to chill out. Also attendance is totally optional. The number one rule was “No talk about current events.” We take quizzes or play a quick game. It’s just such a nice break especially from other meetings where the first 15 minutes are about how each of them are dealing with quarantine, though that has lessened as the restrictions have and you can now buy toilet paper. :)
      These twice weekly meetings have been such a nice break for me.
      OP, what I would suggest is band together, if you don’t feel you can do it on your own, and maybe start out the next meeting by mentioning your concerns knowing that your coworkers will back you up! Or get together via text or another chat and appoint someone else, but support each other. That should change the dynamic.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        The number one rule was “No talk about current events.”
        Sounds great. A Covid-free space to talk about other stuff, we all need it!

  22. JustMyImagination*

    This depends on your standing with Ron and your team. What if when he starts in on the rant you put into the chat “Busy day today! Since we’re done with the work updates, I’m going to step out to get work done. See you all at tomorrow’s meeting!” Hopefully it will make Ron realize he’s wasting time.

  23. New manager, here to learn it right!*

    Vent/complain up, praise down.

    No one wants to hear their boss venting to them about anything, they are supposed to be the one leading the way.

  24. Anonymouse*

    Similar situation here, except my boss spends every weekly check-in anxiety planning for the fall (I’m in academia and we’ve gotten very little information about what’s actually happening) and occasionally springing surprise work on us. We successfully got the meeting moved from the morning to the afternoon and the surprise tasks seem to have maybe slowed down. But it’s still 30+ minutes every week of a pointless stress, and since it’s officially work related, the best strategy I’ve found is vent-texting with a coworker and blocking out time to hug the dog afterwards. Reading along in case anyone else has a similar situation and has found any other strategies

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      blocking out time to hug the dog sounds like one of the best strategies ever so thank you for that!

  25. Little Bobby Tables*

    This sounds rather like my own workplace. I typically put on a poker face and open another window to get some work done when this happens, and wait for conversation to come back to more work related matters.

  26. Luna*

    When he gets to venting again, loudly run him over, “Yeah, Ron, the whole situation really sucks. Now, about [project]…” Just keep bean-dipping, maybe even a bit more insistent if he keeps doing it, because your meetings are mostly for work. They are not therapy sessions, they are not water-cooler discussions, etc.

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