should I tell my boss about my anxieties from past dysfunctional jobs?

A reader writes:

I worked for a professional services firm for 10+ years, finally leaving a couple years ago. I’ll spare you the nuances, but there were relatively frequent terminations. For perspective, my department that generally had 5-8 people had 11 terminations in a 7-year span.

For those of us who were generally well performing, it took an emotional toll. Aside from constantly dealing with change, there was always anxiety that I was one bad quarter away from losing my job myself. I became aware of signs that people were about to be terminated (there were always signs), and would worry whenever one of those things would happen to me. For example, the people would be left out of certain meetings in advance of their terminations. If I was left off a meeting invite inadvertently, I’d wonder whether I was next (it was never that in my case). That instability is what finally caused me to leave.

Fast forward a couple years, I still carry some of those anxieties with me, even though I’m in a healthier environment. For instance, my boss will periodically leave me out of meetings related to things I’m normally involved in because he knows that I’m busy and figures that he can fill me in after the fact. Even though he’s doing it out of concern for me, it still makes me anxious since that type of concern wasn’t normal in my past.

I know that this is my issue to deal with, that it’s okay that I’m left out of stuff, and that it’s not my manager’s responsibility to manage my anxiety. At the same time though, I’d want to know if I was doing things that were causing my employee to feel unstable (I’m a manager/he’s a manager of managers). Using my same example, I’d probably add the person as an optional invitee and let them decide whether to come or not. (Also, to be clear, this is just one example of several where my anxieties are being triggered.)

All of that’s to ask… Should I explain the backstory to him? Is there a downside to it?

Eh, it’s probably too close to asking him to manage your emotions for you.

Using your example of the meeting invitations — which I realize is just one example, not the whole problem — if you could point to a work reason for being included on the invitations (like “even if i can’t attend, I’d like to know they’re happening because of X” or “sometimes I have ways to make the time to attend that you might not realize”), then sure, it would be perfectly reasonable to ask him to include you. But if it’s just “it makes me nervous not to see my name on the invite” … well, it’s asking him to think about your anxieties more than is good for either of you.

Because the thing is, there are downsides to your boss thinking that much about your anxieties! You want him to see you as capable and confident, and not to end up second-guessing your feelings in a way he wouldn’t do for others. If you open the door that wide to him managing your feelings, he may sometimes guess wrong about the best way to do it (in annoying or problematic ways), and he may start dancing around giving you important feedback or not give it at all, or he may just see you as Sensitive in a way that doesn’t help you professionally.

Or not! Maybe none of that would happen. But the odds of it are higher than the odds that he’ll perfectly calibrate himself to the precise degree of sensitivity and empathy that you want. And in general, the more “handling” your boss thinks you need, the later or less often you’ll get told useful things.

That’s not to say that you can never ask for quick, easy things that will make your work life easier. For example, a lot of people get nervous when their managers ask them to meet without sharing the meeting topic in advance. It’s generally fine to say, “Any chance you can include a bit of context about the meeting topic when you invite me to one? I have a tendency to worry otherwise.” (Although even then, your manager might not provide enough context for your liking every time, and that’s just how this goes. There’s a point where you just have to accept that or you’ll cross over into asking for too much reassurance.)

This also changes depending on how senior your position is. When I’m managing more junior people, I’m very open to “I’m struggling with X, so Y would be really helpful for me.” Once people are more senior, there’s more expectation that they’ll be more … self-sufficient around this stuff. That doesn’t mean senior people can never ask for this kind of thing — they can — but in general they’re more expected to work through it on their own. (And maybe that’s a bad thing! I could argue it’s a bad thing. But it’s the reality in most workplaces.)

So what this all means for you is … I think you could maybe pick one or two (maximum of two) specific things you want to ask him for, and you could give a very general and brief outline of why (dysfunctional past workplaces, firings that came out of nowhere, etc.). But I think you’re better off tackling it on your end of things instead! It’s soooo normal to have miscalibrated responses when you come out of a dysfunctional work environment, but it benefits you hugely to work on recalibrating those responses correctly.

To do that, you have to recognize your fear responses as a specific reaction tailored to a situation you’re no longer in … reflect on what evidence you have about your new manager (how does he operate? how does he prepare you for and share bad news? how does he talk about problems and give feedback in general?) … make a conscious effort to refer back to this evidence when you’re having a fear reaction … and follow the other suggestions in this post on overcoming workplace PTSD.

That’s much harder work, but it’s ultimately going to serve you better and longer-term.

{ 110 comments… read them below }

  1. high school teacher*

    My first job out of college was similar – a lot of turnover, people would get fired in the middle of the school year, sometimes you didn’t know where you stood, etc. When I started my new job, I quickly realized it is much more stable and predictable. While I do keep my emotions private, my department head has a tendency to send short emails that can sound a little blunt. If she emailed me asking to meet with no other details, I would start to freak out. I asked if she could include a really short description of what we need to talk about, and she was more than happy to oblige. Now if she needs to talk to me, she’ll email something along the lines of “Can you come by my office to talk about the unit 6 assessments later today?” instead of “Can you come by my office to talk?” Makes a world of difference. I really like my department head so I felt comfortable asking for this, but YMMV.

    1. Mid*

      Also I feel like that’s good practice anyway, so the person can be prepared to talk about Unit 6 assessments instead of scrambling in the meeting to remember all the details about 6 and not mix up part of 5 or 7 with it.

      1. Zephy*

        Right? I’ve outsourced so much of my brain to my files – if you randomly ask me about such-and-such file, there’s a chance I’ll know the answer off the top of my head, but more likely I’ll say “let me check” and go pull that information. If you say “let’s get together at 2:30 to discuss the A, B, and C files,” then I can pull those, review them before the meeting to re-familiarize myself with them, and we can actually have a productive conversation.

      2. charo*

        Asking “How did the meeting go; anything I need to know?” right away after a meeting you weren’t in looks “proactive” to me. It give boss a chance to give feedback and well as info, if they want to confide.

        Talking about your fears or anxieties does seem like a bad idea.

      1. Blaise*

        This is shockingly common at charter schools. They only exist to make a profit, so they just do whatever they need to do- move teachers around, hire a random person to be a long-term sub, or most likely just divide up the kids from that class and put them in other classes.

        1. Knitter*

          I experienced this tactic in a very high income suburban district. One parent complaint and teacher got the ax.

      2. high school teacher*

        It was always a pain and like I said, SO dysfunctional. That is like the LAST thing a good school wants to do. They’d usually fire someone and have someone lined up on the backburner. I cannot imagine that happening at my current school, unless the teacher was a direct threat or danger (which I also can’t imagine happening because my new school has a strong hiring process!)

  2. NervousNelly*

    I have had a lot of toxic jobs since I graduated college. I finally found a place and a boss that is pretty great. It took me a long time and a lot of therapy to get over it. OP I highly recommend therapy to help you out with this. My therapist really helped me talk through what was bothering me, and how to cope. I lived in constant fear I would be fired. She helped move through my emotions and anxieties surrounding my job. Good Luck!

    1. pandora366*

      I second therapy as well! I had a toxic part-time job and was fired out of the blue and developed anxiety out of that. Therapy helped me identified how to cope and what I could do to continue. It took a long time, but definitely worth it!

  3. Celeste*

    This kind of story just validates what AAM always says about not staying on in a place that doesn’t work. It hurts you. OP, let the new workplace heal you. Focus on how trusted you are now and reflect on how good it feels to be secure now. You don’t want to recreate that old job here at the new one. I’m so happy you found your way out and to someplace so much better!

    1. Smithy*

      First, I totally agree that staying at bad places too long really can take root in your brain and your routines in ways that do not help in the long run professionally. It dulls our brains to identifying when something is wrong, but also leaves us with the work of needing to “unlearn”.

      Not to overly nitpick, but I would just flag that OP needs to heal themselves, and truly not rely on the new workplace to heal them. There are good or average workplaces where people still may need to flag problems or identify that it’s time to seek a new job based on personal ambitions or life changes.

      I worked in a bad environment for a while that was clearly so corrosive that at one point my boss told me there was no point in leaving because “all nonprofits were like that”. I left to a place that initially did feel like a place that could/would heal me – but really the work ahead of me was to shake off that experience.

  4. nep*

    I would think it would be helpful for everyone involved to know the topic of a meeting, just for the sake of mental or other preparation.

  5. Dust Bunny*

    I worked a job for several years where it was normal to work 50 to 55 hour weeks in four days. Lunch breaks were staggered between 12:00 and 1:00, so you went *hours* without eating. I didn’t develop a full-blown disorder but I did become pretty anxious about food access and being able to take breaks.

    I’d never mention that to a new job, though. It’s neither their problem nor their business.

    1. Generic Name*

      Oof, that sounds really awful. I’d probably develop anxieties around access to food as well. I imagine that I’d keep a granola bar in my purse to help with that, which honestly, I think is a pretty normal thing to do. Or at least, isn’t wildly out of the norm. But if someone remarks, one can say, “Oh, I never know when I’ll get hungry!”.

      I think that advice can apply to other “quirks” one has as a result of a toxic workplace. Like knowing what a meeting is about beforehand. I think it would be just fine to ask the organizer, “So I can be best prepared, what are we planning to discuss?”. I don’t think one needs to go into a rationalization of having anxiety that stems from a previous awful job. I mean, for example, knowing the topic of a meeting when it’s scheduled and having ready access to food are all normal and understandable needs that I don’t think requires further explanation.

  6. ExcelJedi*

    Alison didn’t mention this, but therapy is definitely useful in situations like this. A good therapist with a relevant background can help with workplace anxieties just as well as other anxieties.

    1. charo*

      I wish I’d have started job counseling while still at a toxic job. The one I found after was actually convenient to my job. Just felt drained every day and didn’t look for one.

      A counselor and job listings before I left would have been helpful.
      More so than regular counseling, for me.

    2. lemon*

      Good advice, but finding a good therapist is a job in itself. I tried to see a therapist after my last job left me with work-PTSD, but she was really ineffective and I gave up after a couple of months, which left me feeling even more frustrated.

      How to find a good workplace therapist would be a good Friday open thread question (I’m making a mental note for myself on this.)

  7. Lolo*

    Telling my boss about my work-related PTSD has helped our relationship immensely. In the last 10 years I’ve been laid off 7 times — two of those companies closed and I was laid off just a few months before they closed, four were contract roles that were eliminated immediately when the work was finished (even though all said they wanted to bring me on full-time),and in one my entire department was eliminated — and then I resigned from a job because of a verbally abusive manager. (I was her third direct report to quit in a year.)

    In my current (wonderful!) role, our division has gone through some Covid layoffs, and both my manager and director have kept me in the loop and made sure I feel secure in my position with the org. I feel like that transparency early on in our working relationship helped my manager communicate with me better, giving more information when appropriate so I could control my anxiety better whenever org changes are discussed.

    To be clear — I don’t think it’s my manager’s responsibility to handle my PTSD and anxiety disorder. But he’s a sympathetic person, and recognizes I perform better and feel better when I don’t have unnecessary stress.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      In my case, when my bad boss Umbridge eventually resigned after sick leave, it did help that my replacement manager was an internal candidate who had been managed by Umbridge herself previously and knew enough of the backstory to understand why sometimes I might panic in the moment, and knowing that she gets that does help me to calm down and, say, look at something properly and realise it’s actually a misdirected query that should have gone to another department (Umbridge in that situation would have gone straight into telling me off for the alleged mistake before anyone had had chance to look and realise it was the other department’s error).

  8. Saberise*

    In my prior job from H we never were given negative feed back except for our annual reviews. Like if they didn’t like the way we did something they would save it up. You would go in there thinking you had done a good job all year and than get totally blindsided. To this day I get stressed out for my annual review, even though I know all my bosses since than do not save it all up. If there is an issue they address it right away, you know the way it should be done.

  9. 789a*

    Allison’s answers on mental health always confuse me. So much.
    If it’s sexism, awkwardness, not wanting to go to a retreat because you don’t like AirBNBs, it’s “As a manager, I would always want to know. You should communicate this with confidence!”
    When it’s mental health (which is supposed to be an ADA protected disability in this country) without fail, it’s “Eh, they will judge you negatively for this, best keep it to yourself.”
    Why is this?

    1. cg1254*

      Because very few managers are able to efficiently address mental health w/o it negatively derailing your career. It is not right, it is not how it should be — but it is practicality.

      1. miro*

        Absolutely agree.

        As for the ADA, the LW should be able to go through a reasonable accommodations process without giving their boss details, if their anxiety does indeed rise to that level. That is to say, it’s not a binary case of keep totally silent or tell the boss–depending on the HR situation, there should be an in-between ground to get help but hopefully minimize fallout/stigma

        1. miro*

          Though also, as other commenters have noted (and I’m not sue if I was clear enough about), this is a big IF in terms of whether that rises to the level of ADA protection

      2. Smithy*

        In addition to that, I think it’s also in the matter of what exactly is being asked of the manager. If the mental health issue in question has a concrete request, i.e. “can I sit with my back facing a wall as opposed to open space” or “I have a medical appointment every Thursday, can I leave the office early” – those are well within a manager’s broader purview and concrete tasks.

        However, if the request gets into asking for your boss to manage your feelings, it’s not a great dynamic with your boss. For example, if the request is for all feedback meetings to be set in the morning, otherwise an employee is likely to feel anxious and unable to work until after the meeting – that’s asking your boss to very engaged around your feelings.

        1. MK*

          In this case, it sounds as if the OP has several such requests. I don’t know it sounds a bit much to ask your boss to keep a list of things that bother you and avoid them.

          1. Smithy*

            Right – I will also say, that in addition to the unfortunate and extensive stigma mental health has, the point of caution from AAM is that it risks making the OP look look needy or fragile.

        2. Annony*

          I agree. If there is an easy and reasonable accommodation, it should be asked for. In this case, asking to be invited to every meeting and telling your boss you feel like your job is in jeopardy if you are not invited could become exhausting. Asking to be invited to a meeting and giving a valid business reason is better.

          I have had friends who get upset if they aren’t invited to things even when I know that they cannot come and it gets exhausting. I know it is different because that is social while this is work, but the same principle applies. Having to manage someones anxiety about being left out is too much and creates pressure to rearrange the meeting to make it possible for them to attend.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            I work for a very small company (the owner and 2 employees) and I’m pretty much my boss’s right hand man. I’m not his assistant, but I’m included in 90% of meetings so I can be aware of things going on and be able to do my job well. Sometimes he won’t include me in a meeting, but he’ll let me know it’s happening and let me know exactly why he’s attending solo.

            There’s been a couple of times I’ve spoken up and given him a valid business reason why I should be included. Typically, he agrees. So he’ll start meetings like that solo, then call me in halfway through after they’ve taken care of the items that he felt needed to be handled without an extra audience.

            It’s all a balancing act, and none of it is personal. But through it all he’s always been courteous to me, even when he’s excluding me. I think that makes a big difference in how it’s perceived on my end.

          2. Uranus Wars*

            Also, with the meeting example, it sounds like the boss is keeping her out because she needs to know what is going on but has other, more pressing, work he’d like her to stay focused on.

            OP, maybe you can reframe to think he isn’t listing you as optional when you have other things on your plate because he really does want you focusing on your other work for that time frame, no “come if you want, don’t if you don’t”

      3. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Especially if you have a boss who just doesn’t understand mental health issues at all. Like, no empathy, no comprehension, “just work thru” it kind of attitude because he had no such experience or anyone in his life who experienced it.

        Which meant my old coworker, a person waiting to explode due to her desperately trying to manger her mental health, had no support when she needed help. She flagged she was having issues staying committed to the job and felt she was dragging down the team and needed support (either constructive criticism and a plan or reassurance; she didn’t ask for that often, believe me). He had no time for this and ignored her. She quit (but I have no idea how she’s surviving financially now as she has not returned to work since).

        He didn’t care: one less problem to manage, never mind that she actually did do good work.

        It would have been very easy to work something out with her.

        1. Tough love*

          “He didn’t care: one less problem to manage, never mind that she actually did do good work.”

          If the time and cost of the manager he had to spend “managing” her problems outweighed the good work, she did not, in fact, do good work. I’m all for tea and sympathy — occasionally. But a manager’s job is not to provide therapy services on an ongoing basis.

      4. charo*

        YES! In fact, I truly believe there are mental health issues that sometimes HELP the CEOs, etc., get ahead in business. So of course the average manager might not be adept at dealing w/mental health issues, given what’s tolerated.

        The higher they rise, the more people can be a sociopath or even psychopath, who lie, cheat, and have no conscience. Not all, but some.
        Remember “Chainsaw Al”?

        A good manager needs good boundaries and a healthy balance, but some big execs get ahead because they can ax a lot of employees in a business deal. Some companies KNOW they’re polluting the planet and conspire to do so; some get arrested for it. Let’s be honest about this.

    2. Nela*

      Not every fear or personal preference or interpersonal quirk someone has is “mental health.”

      And of course whether or not you SHOULD be able to be open about those is different from whether or not you usually CAN be open about them.

    3. MK*

      Eh, because sexism is illegal and not wanting to go to a retreat because you don’t like AirBNBs is a reasonable stance to take, while asking you boss to adjust his perfectly workplace-appropriate behaviour not so much. Especially since the OP simply mentions “feeling unstable”, which may or may not rise to an ADA protected mental health issue.

      ( I don’t understand what you mean about awkwardness, but I don’t think Alison ever advised anyone to confidently communicate that they are awkward and expect their manager to work around that)

    4. Aquawoman*

      While I agree with Alison that I’d like it if people could be more open about how they’re feeling and what they’re struggling with, you also need to not conflate mental health in the sense of emotional management or mental hygiene with a diagnosed mental illness. Only the latter is ADA-protected. I sympathize with anyone who feels a sense of anxiety from being left out of a meeting like the LW describes but that is not the same as having GAD or OCD or other anxiety-related mental illness. Also, accommodations need to be definable and reasonable, not “never do anything that will trigger your employee’s sense of anxiety.” Never leaving someone out of a meeting would not likely be a reasonable accommodation.

    5. Jean*

      Your mental health is not your manager’s responsibility, it’s your own. It’s also not their business, for legal reasons, unless it meets the threshold for ADA protection, which OP’s issue doesn’t. If OP wants to have a conversation with their manager, it needs to be framed as a request for more clarity of communication or something else like that that’s within the manager’s purview. Any other assistance OP needs with dealing with their emotions needs to be done outside of work, with a therapist or whatever other things OP finds helpful.

    6. Carbondale*

      It sounds like OP has some run-of-the-mill anxiety, not an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is an emotion that everyone has and yes, people will judge you negatively for letting your emotions interfere with your work.

    7. Allonge*

      I would say because sexism, work travel accommodation etc. are definitely for the manager to address. And yes, accomodations for mental illnesses, too.

      But there is a limit to what a boss can do under mental health, as it’s at least partially a responsibility of the employee to manage that, and ‘get invited to all meetings and waste time’ is not necessarily a reasonable accomodation for ‘my previous boss sucked and so I cannot help but think secretly you may suck too’.

    8. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Other people have made most of the points I would make here, but yeah, it’s that not all adaptive behaviors from old jobs really rise to the level of true mental health issues, and it’s also that I’m giving advice for the way the world actually works, not the way we might want it to, and I’m not going to recommend something that I think has a high chance of backfiring professionally. That’s not just about mental health stigma; it’s about what I talked about in the post re: your boss thinking you need a high degree of handling and reassurance (and frankly, asking your boss to do emotional labor on your behalf).

      1. For Allison - Longtime reader, new commenter*

        Hey Allison,

        I’m so grateful for all the information you provide on your site. The specific advice, but most of all your even-handed and thoughtful approach have taught me a lot about approaching work and life.

        I’m wondering if you could explain your choice to use the term PTSD to describe a general work anxiety caused by (definitely sh*tty!) work problems.

        Context (and warning: sexual violence alert): I live with PTSD. I was held hostage by a guy who tried to rape and kill me with a machete. My husband lives with PTSD, too. He was shot during a terrorist attack. It’s a terrible thing to live with : constant nightmares, lack of sleep, fear, panic attacks, etc.

        Medically, as you probably know, PTSD refers to the constant activation of the sympathetic nervous system, making relaxation physically impossible. It increases cortisol levels and inflammation in the body, which can cause intense physical pain and can lead to auto-immune diseases like lupus.

        I’m wondering if this, and the article you loop back to, really fall under the above definition? Because the thing about using PTSD when not discussing actual, medical PTSD, is, I fear, it dilutes the meaning. I cannot tell you how much harder my and my husband’s recoveries have been because people don’t understand how totally life-changing and all-consuming PTSD is.

        So just wondering if you’d reconsider using this terminology or explain your thinking on why it’s appropriate to do so for situations that seem from my perspective to be really tough, no doubt, but not the 24-7 fear and panic that is PTSD. Thanks Allison :)

        1. OwlEditor*

          I would say it’s the same difference between people with anxiety disorder and people who are anxious. I don’t like it when people say they’re having “panic attacks” because most of the time, they are not. But that doesn’t invalidate my experiences. You read some of the horror stories on here and I think you could develop PTSD. Especially if you have other trauma.
          I have anxiety and depression. At my former job, I came to dread 1:1s, as it was becoming obvious the person I supported wanted me out. They were meetings where I was scolded and berated. I was on ADA and struggling and felt like every 1:1 was a “how come you’re not over this” meeting too. I came to dread them. I think I have PTSD related to that job. Not just because of the job, but because of my mental health at the time. I filed a complaint with HR about the ADA thing and the day they told me that they found no support for my complaint, but there would be no retaliation, I was fired.
          I will have been at current job for four years in a couple months and I STILL dread 1:1s with my current manager. She is great. We’ve never had a bad 1:1. She’s always been understand and supportive. It’s finally getting to the point that I don’t have anxiety the day of the 1:1, but it took a while! Jobs can be traumatic and I think we need to try and understand each other’s experiences.

          1. The “For Allison” commenter from above*

            Hey, I’m so sorry you went through that! Sounds terrible. And I can definitely understand that being traumatic and causing a lot of anxiety. But I still have to pushback on whether PTSD is the right term here. Did you feel a constant fight or flight response as a result? Were your cortisol levels elevated? Did you find it impossible to physically relax EVER afterwards, meaning that your body was in pain from the constant tension? (Rhetorical questions, not actually asking you to dive into your intimate details here :)) I ask those rhetorical questions because the symptoms I listed are some of the defining symptoms of PTSD. Actual PTSD is so, so intense. It is debilitating. And I think throwing around the word when people aren’t actually suffering PTSD makes it harder for those of us who do to communicate the severity of our experiences.

            I am not trying to diminish your or the poster’s experience, which are hard, traumatic, and anxiety-producing. But I wonder if it really amounts to PTSD, even if the workplace was traumatic, since doctors estimate that only 10% of trauma survivors experience PTSD. Things to consider. Thanks for engaging :)

            1. Same as above*

              And just to clarify, totally agree – as per doctors’ and therapists’ much more informed explanations! – that ptsd can result from lots of things. Does not need to be a direct attack and other conditions/experiences have so much to do with it. But based on the symptoms /reactions described by the OP, I’d love to understand why Allison would use the word PTSD. Thanks to you and Allison !

            2. Carbondale*

              I totally agree with your original comment and this one and I’m sorry that you received a reply that diminishes a very serious condition.

              If Alison doesn’t respond to your comment, you should email it to her. It’s a very reasonable request and she has been responsive to these types of requests in the past, but she doesn’t see every comment.

            3. Bee*

              Allison’s use of “PTSD” has also always rubbed me the wrong way, and I really don’t love OwlEditor equating what For Allison describes with dreading 1:1s. I understand that people want a vocabulary to frame up what they’ve been through in the work place (and toxic workplaces and bosses are no doubt terrible experiences that leave long lasting impressions on their employees!) , but PTSD is a formal medical condition with symptoms and parameters.

              For Allison, you are 100% right and I’m happy someone is articulating this better than I ever could. I hope AAM Allison sees your comment and reconsiders her usage of that word going forward.

            4. blaise zamboni*

              Echoing Carbondale. Workplace tensions can be really difficult and cause long-term stress, but, yeah…PTSD is not just “long-term stress” or even “learned maladaptive coping strategies to deal with long-term stress.” My PTSD made it impossible for me to engage with my community or go outside of a few safe spaces for more than 10-15 minutes at a time for YEARS. My PTSD is the most likely trigger for an autoimmune condition that has debilitated my life. My PTSD has complicated all of my relationships, personal and business, and will almost certainly do so for the rest of my life. That’s with well-managed PTSD, for the record – I’m doing fine now, generally speaking, but the impacts of my trauma are inextricable from the rest of my life. I will never not have those reactions to some degree, even if I’ve learned how to manage them and function “normally” in life.

              I understand and sympathize that work is a huge part of life, that people are often subjected to really crappy behaviors and have to navigate difficult work situations, and that some of the letters we see here probably do rise to some level of trauma because those workplaces blur boundaries so badly. But that’s not most workplace situations, and as you say, most trauma *in general* doesn’t result in PTSD.

              Maybe I’m being overly precious about this, but I spent most of my teen-young adult life trying to advocate for myself in a world that only recognized PTSD in veterans and dismissed my problems entirely. Now I’m in a world where PTSD is just thrown around for common situations that aren’t actually debilitating and which still, generally, dismisses my problems entirely. I’m not at all denying that some people may experience PTSD from their work, but that’s something that needs to be diagnosed and treated professionally, not just used as a shortcut for “difficult experience from which you learned bad habits.”

              Also agreeing that Alison gives fabulous advice, and I have no doubt that she doesn’t intend to minimize PTSD when she uses the term! But if it’s possible to wipe the casual usage from our vocabulary, I strongly believe we should do so, both to give the askers better and more salient advice and to recognize that PTSD is a valid mental illness.

              1. Mayati*

                Generally agreed. I just want to highlight that 1) someone can get PTSD from anything traumatic to them, even if most people wouldn’t consider it “that bad,” and that doesn’t diminish the experiences of people who get PTSD from something anyone would recognize as classically traumatic; 2) someone can have a trauma-related disorder that isn’t PTSD — we’re learning more and more about the diversity of trauma disorders and trauma responses; and 3) just because you don’t have PTSD or any other particular diagnosis doesn’t mean you didn’t undergo trauma, and that should be taken seriously.

                I support Alison changing her terminology from “workplace PTSD” to something like “aftereffects of workplace trauma.” But I’m not a fan of gatekeeping PTSD based on the severity of the trauma as assessed by non-professionals.

              2. Alanna of Trebond*

                I’m grateful to everyone in this thread for sharing their perspective and experiences. I’ve definitely used PTSD generically in the past and I won’t do that anymore, and I’d endorse Allison changing her style on this as well. I have ADHD and the way that people throw ADD/ADHD around coloquially when they just mean “distractable” really grates; I should have made this connection before, but I’m glad to have heard your perspectives so I can be better going forward.

            5. Black Horse Dancing*

              I think of my anxiety sometimes as PTSD because I have become physically ill when told by a boss “We need to talk”–as in rush to a bathroom and vomit/release bowels, felt light headed, go pale and tremble. Even now, I feel my heart speed up and my stomach knots. I tremble and often feel the sudden need to urinate. Stress nightmares? I could write a book. All this is mine to handle.

              1. JSPA*

                At the very least, it’s yours to take to a professional, and ask them if accommodations would be appropriate, and if so, what. It’s 100% not on you and your boss to dicker over it in a vacuum.

          2. JSPA*

            I believe it’s correct (along the lines of Anxiety vs Anxiety Disorder) to use post traumatic stress (PTS) as opposed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

            However, either way, when the post-traumatic stress occurs following repeated sub-acute incidents, it’s probably more correct to throw in the term “complex.”

            That said, huge swathes of the public are walking around with elevated cortisol levels.

            For any condition, there’s a range of presentations. If someone has less severe, yet diagnosed PTSD, that does not somehow invalidate another person’s more severe PTSD. There are milder and worst sprains, more and less aggressive cancers, too.

        2. Ellen N.*

          Thank you very much for making this point. PTSD is a specific disorder. It’s not PTSD any time a situation makes one feel uncomfortable because it reminds one of prior situations.

    9. JSPA*

      ADA applies to conditions that are at the level of a diagnosis that in turn requires accommodation.

      OP didn’t frame it as a “get a diagnosis from a doctor” level of anxiety / PTSD.

      Also, if there were a diagnosis, OP might get input, but the doctor would first broadly specify the type and level of accommodation that’d be necessary.

      Given the longstanding rule about not “diagnosing people on the internet” on this site, it should be of ZERO surprise to ANYONE that Alison didn’t round up “anxieties” to “anxiety disorder” or “bad reactions based on past experience” to “PTSD.”

      In the same way that you’d look for accommodations for partial deafness, but not for “I have ear wax buildup that’s making things sound muffled” and for macular degeneration but not “I need to update my glasses prescription, I’m straining to see my screen,” you don’t look to accommodations for everything that’s temporarily sub-optimal between one’s ears and in one’s limbic system.

      If OP has a “see a professional” level set of issues, AND if that professional suggests that accommodations might be in order? Fine! But it’s not for Alison, or for any of us, to say that it’s probably necessary and appropriate.

  10. Quill*

    OP, I would be very strategic about what you disclose and base it on things that can easily be accomodated. For example “could you please mention the subject of a meeting when you send a request?” can absolutely be framed as an efficiency thing (you need to bring the right documents, review the project parameters, know how likely the meeting is to go over, etc.) rather than an anxiety thing, and I’d err on the side of explaining it via efficiency. This may free you up for asking more clearly anxiety related things, like “I need to not work with my back to the opening of my cube, I have a THING about people sneaking up behind me,” without feeling like you’ve used up all the available accomodations or goodwill.

  11. Mockingjay*

    “…without sharing the meeting topic in advance. It’s generally fine to say, “Any chance you can include a bit of context about the meeting topic when you invite me to one? I have a tendency to worry otherwise.”

    I would change the last sentence in Alison’s suggestion to: “That will allow me to prep for it, thanks!”

    OP, this might alleviate your anxiety without involving the boss in emotions. I’d look at reframing most of your interactions the same way. Rephrasing can get you the reassurance or validation you need, while your requests appear to the boss as simple, thoughtful ways to get work done efficiently. But I second Alison’s and the readership’s advice to look at addressing this within yourself, whether with counseling or other means. Wish you all the best!

    1. Delta Delta*

      I might even open with saying you want to be prepared for the meeting, so you’d like context about the meeting topic so that the meeting can be as productive as possible. I had a boss who was famous for saying, “hey, let’s catch up” but never about what, and then it would range from work load to salary negotiation to shooting the breeze about the weekend. You never knew what it was which made it hard to have a decent conversation.

    2. Quinalla*

      Agreed on the “That will allow me to prep for it, thanks!” as it is accurate and something your manager actually cares about. If it has the side-effect of lowering anxiety too, so much the better, but you don’t need to include that in your request. As an introvert, I HATE not being able to prep for meetings. Extroverts don’t mind as much in my experience which is why our overly extroverted leadership often makes this error where they are like – let’s just get together and we’ll talk in the meeting and then are confused when the highly introverted staff has nothing to say but then they get long follow up emails a day or two later from people with lots of thoughtful ideas. Anyway, long winded way to say this is something I ask for regularly from people that send me meeting invites with no topic and it for me isn’t because of anxiety.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s worth noting, though, that not all meetings can be prepped for. Sometimes it’s “I want to get your thoughts on an idea I’ve been kicking around, and it’ll take me too long to explain it before we meet” or “I have a concern about Jane that I want to run by you and it’s too sensitive to put in writing” or “I’m leaving the company and want to tell you in person” or so forth.

      That doesn’t negate that it can be useful to ask, but it does mean you’re still going to get meeting requests with no topic attached.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Your examples also read as a great list of reasons a meeting subject or description might not be included in the invite!

      2. JSPA*

        “So I can come in with the right mindset or information” then. “Feeling ready to kick ideas around” can also require preparation.

  12. gbca*

    I wonder if it would make sense to have a bigger picture conversation about the root concern rather than focusing on the small symptoms from your old workplace. For instance, telling your boss that your last company fired people pretty often, and it has made you always wonder if you’re next, and so can he tell you more about how performance is managed at this company and what happens if someone’s job is at risk? Hopefully that conversation could give you some assurance. For instance, in a well-managed company, people are put on performance plans before being fired (unless it’s something truly egregious like stealing).

    1. blaise zamboni*

      I think this would make sense if OP hadn’t been at her company for several years now. Going into a new role (or getting a new boss) is a perfect opening to ask about how performance is managed, communication styles, etc. But once you’re established? I think that would come off oddly, because presumably you’ve been able to form your opinions about how the company works by watching for several years.

      I do agree that OP is free to ask her boss 1-2 questions/requests to help ease her anxiety, but at this point she should have some knowledge of how performance reviews work, how firings work, etc and focus on re-calibrating her expectations internally with that knowledge. It’s hard! But ultimately, I think if OP disclosed the full scope of this to her boss, she’d be momentarily reassured but then fall into deeper anxiety about if her boss is using kid gloves because of what she said, if she was unprofessional, etc. (Speaking as another person with these kinds of anxieties.) Even if OP’s boss is completely understanding, I’m not sure that this strategy will help OP feel more secure in her role. This call is coming from inside the house and needs to be managed there.

  13. Knitter*

    My current workplace has the best management I’ve had in my entire career. My previous workplaces, not so much. I had everything from the toxic “we’re a family” place (where I ended up driving myself to the hospital after I collapsed from a panic attack minutes after arriving at work) to the place that had slang for different types of firings.

    At my current job, my boss scheduled our weekly check-in during the time my previous job would always fire people. When the meeting invite popped into my inbox for the first check-in, I spent the day literally on the edge of tears and hyperventilating.

    I decided I didn’t want to feel like that again and I didn’t want to have to go on anxiety meds again purely for a job. So I did a couple of things:

    1. Asked my boss at the end of every check in some sort of feedback question. “Is there something you think I need to be doing more of or not thinking about?” If I was praised for something, I’d ask him to be specific about the parts that went well so I could continue doing that.
    2. Learned what type of boss my boss was. In my case, he’s super hands off and trusts everyone to do their job well because he thinks they can. He’ll also sneak in feedback, so I had to listen for it. (I wish he was more direct, but this style was great for me as I transitioned to a more functional workplace) if I needed something, he was always available.
    3. Watch my coworkers

    All of the above were things when anxiety brain got/gets the better of me, I can pull from to reassure myself that I’m doing what I need to do.

    My grand boss has become a bit of a mentor and I’ve shared with him some of problems in past work places (the “we are a family” job is well known in my field for its burn out of staff) because he’s pushing me to return to a leadership position and I don’t want to. I’ve talked about past workplace issues in general discussions with my boss (ie-why I think a certain policy isn’t great). But I’ve never done it in a way to have them change their way of managing me. I think it would make me second guess all my interactions with them.

    Best wishes in your healing process. I hope you find strategies that work for you.

    1. I edit everything*

      This is great advice. “Mindfulness” is a bit of a buzzword right now, but this kind of awareness of what’s going on in your head and effective, healthy ways to stop the spiraling are priceless. That moment of stopping, thinking, recognizing the trigger, and being able to say, “OK, this is because of [X]. The world is not ending, and I can change my reaction by doing [Y]” can be hard practice sometimes, but is a remarkably effective way of controlling anxiety.

  14. Spicy Tuna*

    I once had a boss that was very business-like. Not that there is anything wrong with that; however, all of my previous managers had always been warm and friendly, and this woman was all business.

    My cubicle was right outside of her office, and every time she closed her office door, I was convinced I was going to be fired. Spoiler alert – I never was!

    Years later, after I had left that job, I connected with her on Facebook. Out of the office, she is a totally different person! She told me that she would close her office door if she needed to pay bills or yell at her kids. Mystery solved!

    1. I edit everything*

      It’s only when they tell you to close the door when you’re going into their office that you should worry! (Kidding. Sort of.)

  15. Captain*

    Honestly I realize that feels like a lot of terminations, but boy have I seen worse.

    Totally feel for OP on this one

  16. MissDisplaced*

    I feel for you OP. It’s really pretty discouraging when you think of all the things a horribly dysfunctional work environment can do you you long term and how you’ll tend to view the workplace negatively because of it. I have many from several dysfunctional jobs and probably more examples of bad managers than good managers. But when you really do get a great manager you notice!

    I agree that you should most likely firmly keep this door shut with your current employer and manager.
    Instead focus on things that work for both of your work styles, such as checking in on each step versus at the end of a task, being included on the meeting invite as “optional” even if you cannot attend, and so forth.

    I have mentioned to one manager that I was coming from a very dysfunctional place.
    It did lead to a really good conversation and coaching discussion. IDK, but this may be helpful to bring up if the issue is more around you once being micromanaged to the extreme and then switching to a manager who expects more independence. I think in that case, some context might help the new manager understand if you’re hesitating to move forward on things due to being excessively micromanaged.

  17. Betty (the other betty)*

    I’d change the script on asking for context about upcoming meetings to take out the emotion. I think most people would like to have an idea about the topic of upcoming meetings, especially with their boss!

    Instead of: “Any chance you can include a bit of context about the meeting topic when you invite me to one? I have a tendency to worry otherwise.”

    I’d use this: “Can you please include a bit of context about the meeting topic when you invite me to one? I want to be sure I’m prepared.”

  18. MK*

    “At the same time though, I’d want to know if I was doing things that were causing my employee to feel unstable.”

    OP, are you offering this as an argument that your manager should want and be prepared to do the same? Because to me it’s another facet of the dysfunction you are carrying over from your previous job.

    Story time: I had a colleague, a brilliant legal mind, but who wasn’t able to handle his emotions in the workplace as well as he should (I have idea if this was a mental health issue, but it wasn’t because of a previous job, his position in our organization was his very first one). His first two managers were, like yourself, survivors of horrible, toxic “the best way to learn how to swim is to get thrown overboard” supervisors and determined to be different themselves, so they did everything they could to make things easier for him, and asked the rest of the employees to do the same, putting an undue burden on us (Ask yourself, would you expect your other employees to avoid causing one person to feel unstable? How much trouble and extra work and emotional labor should colleagues be expected to subjected to for a person who feels unstable by normal workplace situations). Anyway, the third manager got briefed by the departing ones and continued the practice of “Tom must be treated gently”, plus she was a caring person by nature. And then Tom got transferred to a bigger department, and he had now been in the role for eight years, when he got a manager who expected everyone to manage their own emotions, more so Tom who was the next senior person on the team. About a year into an absense of coddling, Tom collapsed.

    Look, maybe I am being unfeeling and harsh here, but it worries me that you wonder whether giving your boss a laundry list of requests to adjust normal workplace behaviour to easy your anxiety is ok (I note that you say your example about not being notified about meetings is one of more issues) and say that this is what you would do in his place. Maybe you should wonder if it is good that you would do so.

    1. Granger*

      “requests to adjust normal workplace behaviour to ease your anxiety”
      “Maybe you should wonder if it is good that you would do so.”

      This is tough, but appropriate and very helpful feedback! WOW.

    2. Allonge*

      Honestly, this was what I was thinking, too. LW, I am trying to put this gently, but can you try and use the time you get with Normal!Boss to heal and settle the anxieties you unfortunately gained in your previous job? Instead of expecting Normal!Boss to conform to your anxieties and confirming these as your ‘normal’? What will happen when you leave for your next job, and one after that?

      1. Paulina*

        Yes! LW needs to use this much better workplace to reset their sense of normal, not try to reshape it simply to remove parts that remind them of their abnormal past workplaces.

        That being said, it’s good for everyone to get heads-up about meeting topics, when possible, and can lead to more effective meetings. If some changes would be overall improvements, that’s different.

  19. Granger*

    Alison wrote, “And in general, the more “handling” your boss thinks you need, the later or less often you’ll get told useful things.”

    OOF. I had NOT put that together before; that is so true. I didn’t realize that have been doing this with needy staff (I’m not saying OP is needy, but some of my staff are in many ways). WOW.

    Oh my gosh!! I think this dynamic is why those staff members sometimes are concerned that they’re not feeling “as involved”. Just another gem from AAM!

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

      I didn’t quite understand this in Alison’s answer.. or in your response — can you elaborate any further as I think it could be helpful (certainly for me as I am prone to anxiety responses at times, and maybe others)?

      Why do you think it is the case (i.e. what’s the line of thinking that leads to this)? Is it due to the nature of the ‘useful’ things that may be perceived as anxiety-inducing, that the needy people ‘don’t need to know that’ so you dont want to burden them with it for example?

      1. Allonge*

        I’m not Granger (or Alison) but this rang a bell with me too: if managers have a real choice on whether/when to share information about something, they will share it with their reliable reports and not the ones who are going to be 1. re-sharing it without thinking 2. immediately taking it as an attack on them 3. wanting to discuss how they think it is Unfair and Should Not Happen 4. freaking out about how they were not consulted but would not have time to answer anyway because they are Too Busy etc.

        Lower-maintenance people can get more insight into what is happening or expected to happen, because they can be trusted not to make it into a Thing.

        Mind you, from what I have seen, this is not information people need to do their jobs, it’s more the corporate watercooler talk: who is going where, what project is risky, mostly not-yet-public news.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s about how easy you make it to talk to you. It’s the same with feedback — if you’re defensive or emotional or react badly when you get feedback, it’s human nature that a lot of managers are going to give you less of it (which is bad for both of you). This is similar; if you need a lot of handling around your emotions, over time your boss is more likely to avoid conversations with you that might require a lot of that handling because it’s much more emotional labor for them (and it becomes easier to find ways to justify putting it off), which means you won’t hear some things as soon as you would otherwise (or at all).

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          I really appreciate this explanation, and it’s one I agree with even though its consequences aren’t particularly good for “higher-maintenance” people. There are people who’d read that as though it gives managers an excuse to treat their direct reports differently in a bad way, when the reality is that managers sometimes need to do what’s necessary to maintain a harmonious relationship with their team.

  20. Cambridge Cate*

    I can beat that record! 10 people — out of 11 — have turned over in two years, in my (former) department.

  21. DarnTheMan*

    OP, I’m sure you may have already considered this (or may already be doing it) and I in no way want to play armchair psychologist but as someone who has been where you are (carrying anxieties from a highly stressful, dysfunctional job over into a much more balanced workplace), I would highly recommend looking into therapy.

    When I first started my current job, I was already in therapy but even my boss asking for a ‘quick chat’ could send me into an anxiety spiral (mostly because at my previous job a ‘quick chat’ had nearly always turned into me getting screamed at). Working with my therapist was a huge help because I was able to develop and practice methods of self-talk and other coping mechanisms, that allowed me to get a handle on my anxiety spiral and stop it before it started, rather than feeling like I had to confess all to my boss why I sometimes was the way I was.

    I know there’s sometimes a stigma around therapy – that was something I really believed too before I started – but I’ve found that having someone else to talk through my anxiety triggers with, who can present a much more removed opinion (in comparison to a boss or someone else you work with) has been so, so helpful to my overall success. All to say I’ve been where you are, OP and I’m rooting for you!

  22. Granger*

    “a lot of people get nervous when their managers ask them to meet without sharing the meeting topic in advance”

    I’d argue it’s basically everyone, not just a lot of people! A long time ago I spontaneously started telling staff “everything’s fine / good” when I ask them to meet and now they treat it with an eyeroll and like it’s a joke, but they actually really appreciate it! The caveat: you have to make absolutely sure you say it every single time (unless things aren’t fine obviously) otherwise they panic even more! Adding this “everything’s good” to the meeting invite has basically eliminated the feeling / response of “being hauled in the office” and replaced it with everything’s fine – it’s a routine check in.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I … honestly wouldn’t do this! First, you’re sort of normalizing the idea that meeting with your boss should be a big, scary thing, rather than a routine thing. (This especially matters if you manage young people, which it sounds like you do, because they’ll carry that with them to their next job.) Second, there will be times when everything won’t be good, and your leaving it out then will be conspicuous and freak people out! I think you’re better off just naming the topic of the meeting, and working to ensure that people see conversations with their boss as a normal, routine thing.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Boredom, I’ve found, is a great anodyne to fear. If I approach all meetings as having a routine structure then I don’t get as anxious.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        And even then…I once got an email from my supervisor while I was out at a client site that basically said “Hey, can you stop by my office when you get back? All is well, I just want to check in with you about something.” And I was a little distracted for the rest of the day until it was time to go back, because I was wondering what she wanted to talk to me about! Even the assurance that it’s nothing bad wouldn’t get rid of that problem. :)

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

      I’ve found this happens “upwards” as well, in that if I ask to meet out of the blue with a boss (this has happened several times, with different bosses at different companies so I think it’s a pattern rather than just a one-off strange thing) without any context, the boss is likely to be thinking the worst e.g. “I’m giving my 2 weeks notice during our busy season” or whatever. So I’ve taken to giving the context when I ask to meet with the boss as well, e.g. “do you have some time to talk about the specs of the deliverable for the X project?” or “can I get some time in the next day or so to discuss a private issue, but it’s nothing sinister!”

  23. Tomalak*

    Just to say Alison has commented before about how bad working environments can screw up people’s sense of workplace norms – and this letter proves her point.

  24. DarnTheMan*

    Typed out a whole comment and somehow it got eaten so trying again…

    Op, as someone who has been where you are (brought a lot of anxieties from a terrible, dysfunctional workplace into a much more balanced workplace), and without wanting to armchair diagnose at all, I would highly recommend looking into therapy (and if you already are, congrats!)

    Having a neutral third party to talk through my anxieties – particularly what triggered them and why – and develop coping mechanisms for them (for me it’s a lot of self-talk and breathing exercises but different things work for different people) so that if I do feel overwhelmed at work, especially by something that’s an otherwise innocuous request, I have a way to handle it.

    I won’t lie, it’s something that takes a lot of work and I’m still practicing even though I haven’t been in therapy for close to a year now but it really can go a long way towards helping you, especially for things that might otherwise be difficult to explain to people.

    Wishing you all the best, OP!

  25. Keymaster of Gozer*

    It sucks. In 20+ years in office work I’ve encountered some stuff that has messed me up. Badly, in some cases. Some I won’t talk about to this day.

    It makes me, like you, terrified if management or HR ask that I attend a meeting. I’m scared to get into a car with a male employee and nobody else. Add to that the multiple mental illnesses I have anyway…stir and cook to generate anxiety and paranoia out the wazoo.

    Here’s the thing though: I don’t admit it, unless it’s to people I know very well, or on an anonymous forum (this place HELPS so much, thank you Alison). I built up walls, things to shield myself with.

    I remind myself that yes, the past sucked, but it wasn’t normal. I’m not going to get fired every time HR wants a word with me. Just like I’m not going to be cut out of my car every time I drive on the motorway. Saying that, PTSD is a very real thing and I’m still in treatment for that which has given me a lot of advice on how to cope when the ‘oh god this is gonna suck’ moments start racing round my brain lik a horde of hamsters on crack.

    You’ve got my full sympathy, and support.

  26. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

    OP, I had a boss who would call me in to her office unexpectedly to give me a formal warning for something I had no idea I’d done wrong, or yell at me for a mistake – it was my first job, and it was a really unhealthy place.

    I don’t know how I mentioned it, but I offhand told a past boss once that I got nervous when people called me in to offices without telling me whether it was for good or bad news – that I’d expect to be getting in trouble for something unexpected, etc. He started giving me a heads up as to the reason for pop-in meetings afterwards, and it really helped me start to overcome that. I’m on the side of mentioning these triggers, if you have a good boss who would understand!

  27. I've Been There*

    I’ve had the same issues stemming not only from toxic work places but personal issues as well. Because of the personal things (PTSD related), I thought disclosing would help my managers to understand me a bit better. At one job, I had built what I thought was a good rapport with my managers only to later have these things used against me in the form of gaslighting that led to me being fired. It’s definitely scared me out of sharing. I know I have things I need to work on as an employee when it comes to my emotions and not immediately jumping the ladder of inference but it does help to hear I’m not alone and that others struggle with this as well.

  28. Humble Schoolmarm*

    OP, I’ve been nervous about performance reviews since I was blindsided and had my ‘career’ as a camp councillor derailed by unexpected negative feedback in my teens. In my first few jobs I would mention it casually to my supervisor before the review in the hopes of getting her to say “Not to worry, Humble, you’re doing great and if you weren’t I would tell you.” It worked great until a slightly more clueless supervisor tacked on a “You’re doing great, well except for (previously unmentioned) issue x”. Me: groan.

    In the end, what worked best was hanging in there and focusing on all of my successful reviews when the nerves pop up.

  29. Curmudgeon in California*

    I am 30 plus tears out of one toxic job, 20 years out of a short second one and seven years out of the third. I essentially have chronic workplace PTSD.

    I *still* twitch when my boss “wants to talk” or asks me to call him, meet with him, etc. He seldom gives me context, which often leaves me flat footed and having to switch gears. Plus, my current workplace has a penchant for people going whining to HR for every little perceived disagreement, which is really demoralizing IMO. ( Oh, noes, Suzie didn’t agree with bully Joe on the proper shape for teapots! Joe goes to HR to complain about Suzie disagreeing, because disagreement isn’t “professional”. Yes, this actually happens, and the gender based double standard is there. But this is a less toxic workplace than others I’ve worked for – they just have a pathological “go along to get along” mindset that gives license to certain forms of bullying.)

    Generally, my boss doesn’t get that he cranks up my anxiety with his no context requests. I will probably try Alison’s scripts to try to get him to add context.

  30. Bob*

    The only secrets are the secrets that keep themselves.
    George Bernard Shaw

    You know your boss better then any of us. While i agree with Alison that you should be generally self sufficient we all have a past and bad experiences. One or two things is not a lot to ask, especially when it will make a big difference. Many things is asking a lot.
    If your boss seems like the understanding type you can say, I wanted to tell you a bit about my last job, it was very dysfunctional but one of the things that got to me was being left out of meetings since they usually meant being fired a short while later. Even though its irrational its stayed with me, even though its a normal everyday thing anywhere else. Can i ask you adjust your policy of not inviting me to meetings when you would have otherwise, and if i am busy or it doesn’t really need me i can bow out?
    A reasonable boss would understand, especially if you gave some context (skip the blow by blow since your not looking for a counseling session).

    In a decent workplace asking for an abstract favour here or there because humans have unique quirks is not a big deal.

  31. Altair*

    LW, I also wouldn’t advise you to tell your boss now, and Alison and several commenters already spoke about reasons why. But I did hopefully want to give you something to look forward to.

    In a few years, when you’re doing better on all of these, during one of those conversations about life and stuff one occasionally has with one’s boss, you will be able to say, “for my first few years here I was pretty anxious because of my past terrible work experiences. But after several years working in a place with a much better atmostphere, and for a much better manager, I’m doing much better.” Not only will you be able to compliment your boss on how well he does his job but you’ll also tell him that you’ve been working on growing and developing during your tenure in your shared workplace, and that’ll reinforce what he’s noticed of your development. That’ll make you look strong and resilient, not fragile, and you’ll have earned that appearance by living it.

    I’m cheering you on!

  32. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I’m torn on this one.

    On one hand, I definitely have scars from previous positions, and they manifest in very specific ways. A lot of stuff that might otherwise seem inexplicable might actually make a lot of sense if I volunteered the details. Some of it might even result in changes that mean a coworker doesn’t have to ever go through what I did.

    On the other hand, supervisors are people, and even on my tight team of 5, I wouldn’t expect any sane supervisor to remember the underlying details of all of our quirks and habits. At the end of the day, what matters is the work at hand and if it’s getting done right or not–if a supervisor wants something changed, there’s a (good) argument to be made that *that* is the time to have that conversation.

  33. lazy intellectual*

    Oof..I feel the LW so hard on this one. I transitioned into my current role after leaving a dysfunctional workplace a few months ago. So far, things have been going well and my manager and I are getting along, but I still have fear responses to random things. I would never tell my manager about them, though, because that would make me seem insecure and I would rather they see me as competent.

  34. TexasRose*

    Hmm – if I was on a project, and caught wind of a meeting that I needed to get information from, I would be either anxious, confused, or assume that I had been inadvertently left off the mailing list.

    I would request that my boss copy me on the meeting invitation with a note that she is covering this meeting for me so I can concentrate on X, Y, or Z, so if I hear about the meeting I know it’s covered and it’s not on my plate. If I’m not told NOT to go, I would assume I needed to be there. Simple request, a valid business reason; with a tad more communication, the problem is solved.

  35. Sacrificial Pharmacy Tech*

    You know, I didn’t realize until reading this website that 4 out of the 6 jobs I’ve had, my current included, were toxic environments. I also didn’t realize how many bad thought patterns I’ve carried from place to place, like always assuming I’m going to be fired and feeling like I have to work twice as hard as everyone else constantly to prove my worth or that every conversation with my managers means I’m in trouble.

    How long does it take to unlearn toxic environments? Combined, I have 11 years in those workplaces with 3 years of non-toxic.

Comments are closed.