my boss never praises my work

A reader writes:

I work as an assistant for the development team of a nonprofit. I’ve been in this role five years.

My manager, Jane, who is far and away the most influential person in the organization, never praises me. Ever. She’s very good about addressing my mistakes (articulating what I did incorrectly, giving me concrete ways to make it better) and isn’t punitive in any way. But she never praises anything I do right. And when I do anything on my own initiative, she reacts with surprise and discomfort. The closest I’ve ever had to a compliment is “It wasn’t bad, it was just …”

Her indifference to my effort is sapping my morale. She freely praises other people for their independent initiative, but never me. I did once try to clearly express what I needed: “I worked really hard on [x project] and I need you to tell me I did a good job.” She blinked at me like I’d grown horns and asked, “What, like right now?” She then gave me a laundry list of things that she wanted changed and left. It’s gotten to the point that I hate opening emails or texts from her and jump when she enters my office, knowing that every interaction will be negative or neutral but never positive.

Our annual performance evaluations are more of the same. They generally include a few minor things she’d like me to do better, which I never argue with and do my best to address, and a looking-over of the list of my responsibilities. I carefully point out which new responsibilities I’ve taken on; she agrees that I have indeed taken them on. We finish with a “Well, then.”

About two years ago, I used one of these evaluations to request a raise, citing the new skills, responsibilities, and initiatives I’d undertaken since I started. She took several weeks to get back to me on the question, before explaining that I was already getting paid plenty. Then the next week there was an organization-wide meeting to explain to everyone that merit-based raises are not a thing in our organization and you are paid based on your job title alone; if you want a different pay rate, you must get a different job. I took the hint and dropped the issue. I also, not coincidentally, lost a lot of interest in seeking out new skills and responsibilities.

I get the impression that she thinks I’m an acceptable employee, but not a good one. And I know how she responds to good employees because our other team member is such a one. We have a team meeting every week in which I hear her praise his good work, good ideas, good initiative. It’s an emotional roller coaster because our names start with the same sound, so I get all excited when I hear “You did a great job, J . . . onathan.” And then down it crashes. It’s the same story with folks in other departments; she lights up when they enter a room, tells them what great work they’re doing and how much she appreciates it. While I, her direct report, am sitting right there.

But I do good work. I’ve streamlined and organized processes, brought in tens of thousands of dollars … and that’s not even counting the work I do for the organization on my weekends and PTO because I love the mission and the team and working with our clients makes me happy. I’m valuable to the organization far and away beyond my compensation. I know it — I just don’t know that Jane does.

How can I clearly (and safely) communicate that the marked lack of positive feedback leaves me constantly stressed, nervous, uncertain, unwilling to take initiative, and straight-up angry?

This sounds so frustrating. I’m sorry it’s happening!

From what you described, it does seem like Jane sees your work differently than you do.

If you didn’t see her freely praising other people, I might think she’s just a manager who doesn’t understand the importance of positive feedback in keeping a team motivated and happy. There are lots of those managers, and while they’re no fun to work for, you can at least figure that it’s not personal since they’re like that with everyone. But Jane is praising other people, just not you.

Even if the explanation is that she sees you as an acceptable employee and not a good one, it’s bizarre that she’s literally never found a positive thing to say about your work. Even if she has significant concerns about your performance — even if those concerns are legitimate! — surely in your five years there you’ve done something she could say something positive about. The fact that you’re not getting any positive feedback at all (while others do), and even after explicitly asking for it, alarms me.

I know you’re looking for ways to talk to Jane about this, but I want to be up front: I think you should seriously consider leaving this job. For whatever reason, your boss doesn’t see your work the same way you do, and she’s had five years to change her mind. That’s a very tough situation to be in, and even if you succeed in getting her to toss you some occasional praise, you’ll still be working for someone who just doesn’t like your work very much. That’s terrible for your quality of life, and it’s bad for you professionally, since it means you’re not going to get the kind of development and opportunities that you’d get if she were a champion of your work. (Not to mention it puts you in a highly precarious spot if your team ever needs to cut positions.) Plus, you’ve been there for five years — it’s a natural time to be looking around at other roles anyway.

But if you want to try addressing it with her, I’d approach it less as “I want more praise” and more as “I’m concerned about how you see my work” — because ultimately that’s the issue underlying all of it. Don’t do this in passing; ask for a meeting to talk about how things are going, so it’s clear it’s something you want her to take seriously. When you sit down together, say something like, “I wanted to check in with you about how you think my work is going overall. I think I’m doing well — I’ve done X, Y, Z this year and exceeded the expectations we initially set for A and B. But I wanted to touch base with you because I’ve gotten the impression that you might see my work differently. I’m not sure if you’ve realized that over the time we’ve worked together, I’ve gotten very little positive feedback from you — maybe even none. I’ve tried asking for it a few times, and I’ve seen you be very generous with praise of others, so the fact that you don’t comment positively on my work has me wondering if your assessment of how I’m doing is different than mine.”

If you get another indifferent response — or a list of things you need to improve — then say, “I want to make sure I have the correct takeaway about your overall assessment of my work. Is the reason I don’t hear positive feedback because you have serious concerns about my performance overall?” You could add, “I’m always interested in hearing how I can improve, but it’s also important to me to be told when things are going well. Is there room for you to do more of that with my work, or is your sense that it’s really not warranted?”

The idea here is to either nudge her into realizing how lopsided her feedback to you has been or to draw out that it’s been an accurate reflection of her overall assessment of your work. As painful as the latter would be to hear, it’s incredibly useful for you to know if that’s the case so that you can make good decisions for yourself about whether it makes sense to stay in this job longer-term.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 215 comments… read them below }

  1. Sloan Kittering*

    Oh dear OP, honestly I think you’re letting your boss rent free space in your head. She’s made it clear she’s not going to provide praise, and that you can’t expect any raises at all in this position, so I think your best bet is to accept that this is the situation and work towards getting a new job so you can earn more money. I wouldn’t spend another minute of emotion on the situation; definitely don’t let it make you feel worse. Just put all that energy towards getting out.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Yes! I was expecting “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.” We didn’t quite get that, but Alison did start off with a “time to look for a new job” which I agree with. 5 years is a long time in a position anyway. Chances of the LW moving up seem very slim; although since you do love your organization maybe you can find an internal promotion. It is time to move on; that is quite possibly the only way the boss will realize how much the LW did and how well the LW performed her job.

      1. Some Cajun Queen*

        Five years in a development job is an especially long time, certainly when it’s not benefiting you. The average turnover rate for that career is 2 years. OP, please start looking. Good development professionals are an asset to any organization, and one of the few nonprofit positions I’ve seen continuously advertised, even during the pandemic.

        1. RedinSC*

          Agreed! There are a lot of development jobs right now, fundraising is so important, and I would also look for a new job. You have the skills and track record to make yourself marketable.

          The 5 years there is good. I see people talk about the turnover rate in development, and honestly, to me that just basically highlights that there are often a lot of people who are not suited to that work and can’t make it past the 18 month mark where you really should be making an impact in your organization. Your 5 years is highly marketable. Good luck.

      2. sacados*

        Also, given the policies of the organization, it seems like maybe this means OP hasn’t gotten any kind of a raise in FIVE YEARS?? Which if so, yeah– yikes. Time to move on.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          I worked for a nonprofit that didn’t give raises unless all 27 branch sites met their profit projections for the year. This never happened so no one ever got a raise.

    2. Ashley*

      To be honest, even if my boss *did* give me praise, the fact that this company doesn’t give raises at all would have me polishing off my resume.

  2. awesome*

    Oof, I’m sorry Letter Writer. That’s tough. I hope the script Alison provided works out, let us know how it goes.

    Here is some feedback for you in the meantime: I can tell from just reading your letter you care a lot about your job and doing well.

    1. pamela voorhees*

      Yikes on bikes, OP. I don’t particularly like to be praised but now that I’m thinking about it, if my boss had literally never said good job on anything ever, I’d be out of my mind assuming that I was going to be fired at any second. Alison’s right, you gotta go. This job is never going to be what you need.

  3. Apocalypse How*

    Reading the part about the LW asking for praise directly is making me think of Mad Men.

    Peggy: And you never once said “thank you!”

      1. lou who*

        And of course the underappreciated follow-up from Kim’s Convenience, “THAT’S WHAT THE MOLE IS FOR!”

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I don’t suppose Peggy then responded with “The money isn’t high enough to thank me properly!”

      OP was pretty brave in asking for what they need to feel rewarded, but the lackluster response to the praise request and the raise request and any other successes OP has clearly achieved tell me that the manager will never see them as anything but an okay performer.

      I get being typecast – I have been before (and probably still am) and it has previously limited my career options. Now that I have new management and higher visibility I believe that will change in the near future, but 8 months ago I had a mini-breakdown after having excelled at my job for a year and getting the same old feedback. It definitely fit the “nothing you do can change our minds about you” lazy management profile and if I still worked for them I’d never get anywhere except increasingly unhappy.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        True, sometimes people are just stuck with an initial impression they can’t shake no matter how good the current work. And the advice is exactly what Alison says: find a new job. They may miss you once you’re gone (or not; but it won’t be your problem anymore).

    2. HailRobonia*

      On the flip side, when you are applying for a job you normally have to say how passionate you are about teapot polishing or llama grooming or whatever. You can never just say “I want this job because I need money.”

      1. Anon for this one*

        Heh, I interviewed for (and was offered on the spot) a Sales Assistant job for a major retailer; the manager doing the interview asked me “so why do you want this job?”, pretty standard interview question — I was 16 and hadn’t quite mastered the ‘workplace politics’ type of thing and very into ‘authenticity’ at the time, and answered “because you need someone to do the work and I need the money, and I’ll be by far the best applicant you have” and thus it was!

        The ‘careers advice’ I received in school was a bit iffy in that somehow I’d not internalised the idea of preparing for an interview, or answering with things other than what was in my mind at the time… I expect there could be many stories of “things I did as a teenage job applicant that I am mortified by now” so I’ll leave it there.

        1. Nessun*

          That question always reminds me of the Tiny Toons episode (yes, dating myself somewhat) where Plucky is trying to break into Hollywood and ends up as a waiter at a restaurant, thinking he’s only ACTING as a waiter. He asks the boss what his motivation is for the role and the boss yells “To keep this job!!!” Sometimes I wish that level of simplicity and clarity was available to us all. Other days I’m just glad I don’t work for people who yell at me…or refuse to give positive feedback and praise.

        2. BlondeSpiders*

          My teens and early 20s are so embarrassing, when I think back to my work self. I went through a phase where, when I was asked, “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I’d say, “Hopefully doing your job!” as a way to show my ambition and desire to move up.


    3. another Hero*

      and yet I don’t feel this bc the boss does praise other people? idk I think Alison is right to say that it doesn’t appear it’s just a boss who’s Like This.

  4. Save the Hellbender*

    Another reason you might not want to stay long term is it seems like your compensation is never going to improve! Even if you love the work and mission, NGOs have such small room for internal growth and if there’s a policy for no merit raises, a new job is your only chance for a raise!

    1. The Rural Juror*

      It was a ridiculous for the manager to say the only way you can ever make any more money with that organization is if you get a different job there. No cost of living raise? Ever?! That’s like saying if you can’t afford to work here then don’t look to us because we’ll never take care of you. I second Alison’s advice: Start looking elsewhere!

      1. uncivil servant*

        To be fair, they say that merit-based raises are not a thing. That’s not the same as no cost of living raises. I don’t know how those work when you’re not in a collective bargaining environment, and I’m sure that they don’t really keep pace with inflation, but they must adjust the pay scales from time to time.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          As someone in the public sector but outside of a collective bargaining environment, at least for us the answer is that we don’t get cost of living raises the same way that the bargaining group folks do. They get COLA every year and their pay scales adjust accordingly. We *might* get a market increase from time to time if there’s particularly high demand for our type of job in the local labour market, so it’s not an across-the-board adjustment.

          Because we’ve been in a local recession for over five years, no one outside of a bargaining group has received a COLA increase in that amount of time, and our pay scales are frozen. Everyone in a bargaining group has, though.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        Not at all ridiculous – in fact that’s how the majority of government jobs work.

        There is a set pay scale for each position with a base salary, a maximum salary, and incremental steps between them. Everyone is hired into a position at the base salary with few exceptions (internal transfers, etc). You advance through the steps based on seniority. Your manager doesn’t have the option to give you a raise because you performed well – especially not if it would put you outside the pay scale. At my agency, it’s a rare sign of *outstanding* achievement if someone is increased two steps instead of one at their annual evaluation… that’s happened only once the whole time I’ve worked here. Once you reach the top step of your pay grade, you’re done. No more raises unless you get a different job title.

        The whole pay table will be periodically updated for COL increases or other factors. But that’s not the same as giving an individual merit based raise.

      3. Womanaroundtown*

        I worked for an agency like that too once. You got raises based on job title bumps, which happened based on experience. But once you hit a certain level (usually 5 years experience), you were stuck there for the entire time you stayed with the organization. So I had a coworker making $4000 more than me when I had 3 years experience, but she had 18 (!) years at the job and could just never advance in pay past the occasional COLA.

      4. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        People mentioned government, but this isn’t that uncommon in private sector jobs either? You can have an employee whose work is exceptional in ways that don’t change the company’s bottom line enough to budget for merit increases. Just because you have an entry-level employee getting senior-level results, for instance, doesn’t mean that you can pay them anywhere close to senior-level market rates or that you truly need their senior-level awesomeness. They’ll pay as much as they need to retain or attract the quality of labour that’s necessary to get the job done, and not any more than that.

        Also, not everyone gets COLA. Through bad luck I’ve somehow managed, over a decade and a bit and private/non-profit/public sector jobs, to have never gotten COLA, only merit increases and bonuses (to avoid increasing overhead for COLA, which is legal but terrible). Yes, even in the private sector. Now I get neither merit nor COLA increases, just extra PTO.

    2. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. I stayed for a while in a role with no raises for three years. I knew (because I helped with the proposals) that the company tacked on an increase with every extension of service contract, but that never translated to the team. I once got a nice bonus for my work, but I would rather have had it as a raise. It was one of the reasons I left that job, and subsequently got hired by a company that that has a better review/raise process.

      Also, it *is* soul sucking to have a boss that doesn’t like you. I think Jane doesn’t like OP. There’s a saying that people don’t quit bad jobs, they quit bad bosses. I think that is true here. Insofar as OP is concerned, Jane is a bad boss.

      I think OP would do well to start looking.

    3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Even considering the lack of room for internal growth, a job where you get absolutely no feedback isn’t doing anything for your professional development in a way that would help set you on the path towards the few growth options that might exist.

  5. DrSalty*

    It sounds like you really have done a lot of great work with concrete things to show for it … I think that would probably be very attractive to a lot of hiring managers. Start looking for a new position where you get that raise you deserve and work for people who appreciate you.
    P.S. don’t work while on PTO!!!

    1. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. If you’re not going to get recognized for what you do, don’t extend yourself and give them free hours on your paid time OFF.

  6. Just J.*

    A good therapist will tell you “you can’t change other people, you can only change how you react to them”. OP, you will not be able to change your boss. And if it is getting to the point where you cringe at interacting with her, then I think that you are, consciously or subconsciously, changing in the negative. Not that this is bad! It is very hard to force yourself to like someone if you suspect they don’t like you. Your letter may be your wake up call to yourself that it is indeed time to move on.

    I’m sorry that you are having to deal with this.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*


      She’s told you who she is, believe her.

      But I am very sorry that she can’t manage to praise you for doing good work. I would also find that terribly demoralizing. I’m not an effusive and demonstrative person, but I do think it’s important to tell people when they’ve done well and thank them for their efforts (and to credit them publicly).

  7. Blisskrieg*

    I agree with everything Alison said, but I would also add to consider your title and your gender. You mention you are an assistant, and you also mentioned a coworker who is male receiving praise. Your boss may have some underlying bias that is heavily coloring her ability to give praise. Some people treat certain positions within a company very differently (for example, I have seen individuals or corporations fall all over themselves to please Sales, while being downright nasty to others), and some people act more favorably to one gender or another. None of that would be right–but it could be that some or all of your interaction is due more to her biases. If that could be the case, it might help you evaluate both your situation and your work.

    Either way–unfortunately, I would recommend moving on if you have that ability. Again, I agree with everything Alison said.

    1. merp*

      I was thinking about the job title thing too. Some people seem to think the work an assistant does for a department just magically happens or that it is part of the deal of that type of job and not worthy of extra praise. (Ideas I very much disagree with, to be clear!)

      I hope you are able to find a place where you feel appreciated!

    2. MissGirl*

      I get that vibe too. To her boss, the OP is just an assistant. People on support roles often have a difficult time being promoted in their own company. I hope the OP can find a better job.

    3. Lizzo*

      +1 to this. I would also add that perhaps Boss is someone who derives her self-esteem from being powerful over others. I recall one of my early jobs where I supported two managers but reported to one. I was in a role that was assistant-like, but was intended to be a stepping stone to a management role, and I had been recruited into it from an assistant role in a different department. One of the manager roles had been vacant when I started, and the woman who hired me was amazing and had a good reputation internally, and she was the reason I took the job.

      The woman who was eventually hired for the open manager role (external hire) was…not nice. She treated me very much like her assistant, and had zero interest in supporting my development. It’s clear that it was all about her asserting power over me. I went from loving my job to hating it and being severely depressed. Took me years to get over the trauma from that experience.

      OP, Alison’s advice is solid, but please do seek out some third party support (e.g. therapist) to help you handle this. You’ll need that kind of support in order to muster the energy and confidence to launch a successful job search.

    4. Pink Dahlia*

      Also, frankly, a good assistant is hard to find. I wouldn’t be surprised if this boss is negging OP to keep her exactly where she is.

    5. MK*

      I think the most likely explanation is that the boss simply doesn’t value the OP’s job in itself. I have known many people who believe that an assistant ‘s job is easy, a.k.a. anyone could and would do it just as well. Often these people are in for a rude awakening if a good admin quits and they get an inexperienced or incompetent one, but I have also known cases where they really aren’t bothered by not having good support staff.

      1. Kiki*

        Yeah, I think a lot of people take good assistants and admins for granted, for classist reasons and because a primary portion of those roles involves predicting what people will need and when, which is a lot harder than people think it will be. And sometimes those roles don’t produce anything “wow-worthy” because most people aren’t wowed by administrative tasks, but that work is incredibly important to the functioning of any organization.
        I know right now isn’t a great time for the job market, but I think LW should start looking for a new role. After 5 years, I really doubt this boss is going to radically change it seems like this job would sap the morale out of most people.

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

          Yes! As a female ‘techie’ in a male dominated industry, I’m very much in a minority — there are other women in the company of course, but overwhelmingly in fields such as HR, Admin, Finance, Sales/Customer Support, etc. I don’t know how much any of these people are paid but I suspect it’s significantly less than most of the tech jobs — but I have found that a good HR / Admin / Finance Assistant / etc are worth their weight in gold and I know I couldn’t do what they do!

          I do occasionally get cast into stereotyped ‘female’ roles such as “the coffee machine has run out of milk, do you know how to refill it?” or someone is upset/emotional and it’s assumed that as the ‘local woman’ I will know better what to do and how to be empathetic! (they lose that impression quite quickly. I am just like many of the other engineers I know, of any gender, who on being presented with someone upset about something, will immediately jump to ‘solving the problem’. And a coffee machine is not ‘IT’, lol.).

        2. Shakti*

          Yes!! Those jobs are really hard!! I’ve had them and people assumed I’d be good at them because I was a young woman so I’d be good at predicting needs and I hate it haha I really admire people who can do that!!

      2. Nea*

        I’m wondering if it’s one of those “well, I expect excellent work out of you, so at best you will ever meet expectations” situations.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yes, it sounds like OP is their only direct report? I wonder if it’s possible that the boss is free with praise for other departments but harder on their own direct report. That’s the only thing I can think of to make it not somehow personal. Because otherwise it is hard to imagine anyone going so far out of their way to avoid positive comments!

      3. sss*

        Agreed. Otherwise, as Alison noted, even if she was performing poorly it is odd that there was no praise for anything in 5 years. To me it sounds like a real possibility that the boss simply sees little value in the work the OP does, or she thinks that anyone can do it. Obviously, the boss is wrong in that, and is a terrible motivator.

        It doesn’t sound like the OP is even getting constructive negative criticism. Jane is listing changes she wants done, not helping the OP improve in her job. They’re just changes to the work, not actual feedback. Jane is treating the OP as a machine that spits out work, not as a colleague.

        OP, it may be worth looking at how she treats other administrative staff. You may be her only direct admin report so it may not be entirely possible to get a good comparison, but even looking at how she interacts with others may be helpful to see the pattern.

        In any event, it may be time to simply look for a new position, either within the organization or elsewhere. While you may get a better understanding of why this is happening, it will still remain a demoralizing place to work.

    6. MissDisplaced*

      This thought crossed my mind because I see it at my company. There is one female member of the Exec team who is always praising the younger men, and one in particular.
      And while I can’t deny the fact that he certainly is a nice guy and he does do really good work that deserves praise, it’s like she ALWAYS throws his name around. It’s become so noticeable that I almost think she’s crushing on him a little, which like, ick.

  8. Archaeopteryx*

    If you haven’t gotten a raise in multiple years that your pay is going down every year. This place is seriously dysfunctional if they don’t give raises until you get a different job and you need to get out like yesterday.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      If the meeting clarified they don’t give “merit” raises then I was assuming they do generally get “cost of living” raises, but maybe I’m off base. At my company, everyone gets a small cost of living raise every year, and then their are separate merit raises that vary for everyone (but within a set window) depending on their review.

  9. TCO*

    I’ve worked in a couple of jobs where my bosses just never quite appreciated my talents. I was really good at both jobs, but they didn’t see me as as kind of high performer, just a good-enough one. I rarely got glowing feedback and was often criticized. I had gotten enough positive praise from past jobs and from peers that I knew I was capable of more challenging work than I was being given, and that I deserved growth that these particular workplaces were never going to reward me with.

    In both cases, it was a symptom of a bad fit. When I moved on to a job that was a better fit, the praise from my new boss was like the clouds parting again. It made it clear that I was talented all along, but that for whatever reason (and it’s not worth the investing the energy to figure out why) those past bosses just didn’t see it. It feels really good to be in a role that better suits my skills and where my hard work is recognized, praised, and rewarded with pay increases and advancement.

    OP, I’d think seriously about moving on. I know you love your work, but it takes a real toll to be treated and compensated like a mediocre employee when you know you’re producing great work. If you stay too long you’ll get used to the criticism and lose sight of your own talents, making it harder and harder to leave.

    1. Mel_05*

      Yes! I’ve had similar situations and they can make you feel like you’re crazy. It’s absolutely not worth it.
      The OP should get a new job where they can see how good her work is. It is a wonderful change to make.

    2. Roja*

      Yes, this. I was fired from a toxic job last year and although my bosses since have been very complimentary of my work, it’s really hard to not stress that secretly they’re just waiting for an opportunity to fire me. Every day I wait for the shoe to drop, even though I know rationally that it’s not going to happen. It’s no way to live, and I’m sure gets worse the longer you’re in a job.

      OP, find someone who actually thanks you once in a while. Even if you’re totally off-base in your assessment of your own work (which I doubt), I find it *extremely* difficult to believe that you’ve really done nothing praiseworthy in five years. Really? I think not. Especially combined with your boss’s really weird handling of your prior requests for the occasional “thanks, OP.”

    3. Malika*

      Being placed in a good-enough basket can suck m-balls, especially when you are achieving results. It is, as you say, often a case of bad fit. It can also be the case that management would really rather not have to hire anyone of your skill-set at all and find dealing with your aspect of the business as unbearable tedium.
      I worked at a company that was obsessed with entrepeneurism and innovation. While an admirable goal in and of itself, it created a culture where the loudest ‘ideas’ people where seen as worthy and ‘getting the job done’ and even the sales people were treated as necessary evils. They even fired an, ironically, relatively humble sales executive who brought in a big client with the immortal feedback ‘You think you are better than me because you brought in BigAssClient?’ He is now living his best life elsewhere.

  10. Myrin*

    I gotta say this is the first AAM letter that really tugged on my heartstrings. Above everything else, OP, you seem deeply unhappy, and I think that alone merits putting your feelers out for other opportunities.

  11. AdAgencyChick*

    I have a strong suspicion this boss has expectations — which seem to be unspoken, and could very well be unreasonable — that OP just barely meets, but Jonathan exceeds. So the boss doesn’t take steps to fire OP because, well, OP is doing just enough, but she also isn’t enthusiastic about OP and isn’t going to help her advance her career, push for a raise, or give out praise.

    Again, the expectations could be completely unreasonable and/or arbitrary. But they are a brick wall between OP and success at this job, I’m afraid.

    1. Sunflower*

      At my last job, I received positive feedback but was always told I was just right on the cusp of promotion. I asked for a formal plan of steps and areas I needed to improve to get a promotion- I never received them. For me, I was always given vague feedback and told I need to just firm up and get better at crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s.

      To me, that was a red flag. OP if you’re set on staying at this job, ask for a promotion plan. Make sure you’re receiving clear steps on how to get there. If you aren’t, unfortunately, it’s unlikely to happen.

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

      I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but now that I read your comment I think you are on to something — it does seem to be about a mismatch in expectations, ultimately.

      Not necessarily that OP is “just barely meeting” the expectations if looked at as a spectrum from ‘acceptable’ to ‘good’ to ‘amazing’ performance for example — but perhaps a mismatch in expectations of what the role entails as a whole.

      It sounds like OP is the only Admin and the others are in different roles, and that OP takes initiative to think up new ways of doing things etc which the boss then seems disappointed by — presumably because boss doesn’t see it as part of the role (whether that’s an idea of what an Admin ought to be doing in general, or more specifically what she expects OP to be focused on) and it does seem like boss isn’t very good with the stating anything explicitly at this point.

      Are you expected to have ‘ideas’ and ‘initiative’ (by this boss, I mean, if she were to magically write out a list of her expectations for you) OP? It sounds like probably not. In itself that might be a reason to think about moving on…

      I also just wanted to comment on this in the OP:

      I also, not coincidentally, lost a lot of interest in seeking out new skills and responsibilities.

      I can totally understand the thought process and motivation (or lack of!) here, but I would urge you to reconsider this if there’s any way you can gain skills and responsibilities that, even though clearly they won’t be appreciated by your boss, could be parlayed into a better job at a different company. After all not many companies (in the private sector at least, and I imagine the same in non-profits etc but I don’t know) get to see past evalutions from previous managers at old companies as part of the hiring process…

    3. Cj*

      The OP is most certainly not meeting her boss’s expectations. And I don’t mean to sound unkind to the OP, but it sounds quite possible her work isn’t as good as she thinks it is. When she asked to be told she did a good job on a project, which I think is a kind of bizarre thing to do in the first place, she was instead given a list of of things to change.

      And when she has taken the initiative, it’s been implied if not outright said that she shouldn’t be because it doesn’t turn out well.

      If she really did bring in ten thousand thousands of dollars like she said, that seems worthy of praise, but I’m not entirely sure what an assistant to could do to accomplish that on their own.

      Even if the OP does as good of a job and she think she does, her boss certainly doesn’t see it that way, and she should have been looking for a new job a long time ago.

    4. Karia*

      I have a strong suspicion that boss is playing favourites, and is potentially sexist. We’re talking zero praise in five years. If I had an employee who did *nothing* praiseworthy in the course of a year, I’d be looking to let them go.

      1. AnonNurse*

        Honestly, that was my first thought as well. Once I was in a job with the same basic job position/title as a man but had a SIGNIFICANTLY higher work load and daily assignments. No matter what I did or how I did it, it was never enough. My boss, the department administrator, would fall all over herself to praise the man and the work he did. Eventually the administrator decided it was time for me to go. She accused me of poor work and put me on a PIP. She even called me to a meeting with HR that started “this is not a disciplinary meeting, if this were a disciplinary meeting you would be entitled to have a union representative with you”. The meeting was all about the possibility that I was going to be placed on a PIP and that it could lead to further discipline up to and including termination.

        I was absolutely gobsmacked when I walked out of the meeting. I did consult with the union, who were livid that they had the nerve to say out loud that it wasn’t a disciplinary meeting. They fought for me and revealed to me that there was an open investigation in to the administrator AND the HR in our building for similar behavior with other staff! Oh and the fact that I did twice as much work as my male counterpart also didn’t go unnoticed by HR. Thankfully I sailed through my PIP while applying for other jobs. When it was time to evaluate me coming off the PIP we were able to walk in to the meeting and I was able to stop them short when I placed my notice. They looked like deer in the headlights. Within 6 months both of their positions were eliminated and they were both gone, which didn’t hurt my feelings at all.

        During my notice period MULTIPLE people took me aside and said “I can’t believe you lasted so long, I used to be in that position and she ran me off!” and told me similar stories. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t alone and that other people had been through the same thing. Going through the entire period had really hurt my confidence and made me question myself a LOT. Hearing that I was not alone made me reevaluate everything I was feeling and definitely helped me gain back some of the confidence I lost. It wasn’t easy but it was extremely freeing to leave that environment.

  12. Ashley*

    Something else to consider is to ask someone else in the organization you respect their opinion of your work. Also since this is a nonprofit if you have volunteers try networking with them. You may get the affirmation you boss is not providing and some leads on a job where you might get a boss who appreciates your talents.

    1. irene adler*

      My boss does not offer up much in the way of praise.

      There have been the very occasional complements when I’ve genuinely surprised him with the work I did.

      But, to your point, the other members of management tell me my boss has the highest respect for my work and accomplishments. Who knew?

      1. 'Tis Me*

        Presumably your boss doesn’t also regularly compliment other people’s work, and this is just their manner though? In the OP’s case, the lack of praise seems more personal :-/

  13. Charlotte Lucas*

    I agree – you should start looking for a new job now. But also address it with Jane. I’ve seen this before. Some women feel weirdly threatened by other women (or just plain hate them for no apparent reason). I’ve seen this play out pretty recently, where an extremely talented & intelligent co-worker left her unit (still in the organization, thank goodness) due to a manager who made it abundantly clear that she didn’t respect or value her. Very Mean Girls. Some people never leave high school even after they’re full-grown adults.

    1. oof*

      I’ve been in that situation before, except in reverse. My manager would praise me in front of others, but when it was just the two of us, there were constant critiques of my work. Worst of all, she would deliberately leave me out of projects that I was assigned by grandboss, or just complete my assigned projects without telling me. I never really figured out if she was just pulling a a Mean Girl on me, or if she was just very bad at delegating tasks to her reports/managing her reports.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I think being praised publicly and privately critiqued/coached is the way a boss should operate, in that respect I think they were following best practices, but everything else you mention does sound bad.

    2. KC*

      I’ve worked for women my entire career, and while some were really great about giving other women opportunities, some of the more old-school women were so used to being the only woman in the room (read: the only woman ALLOWED in the room) that they often perceived other women as a threat to their position. It’s a sad leftover from the days of overt sexism and abject exclusion of women in the board room, I suspect.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Mm, while that’s possible, I don’t think we need to jump to gendered assumptions about the boss here. There are plenty of other possibilities including the general low esteem of assistant roles.

  14. Ray Gillette*

    Man, I should have known better than to check the comments on the host site. Any time I read comments on an article about workplace issues outside of this site (I see similar things on Slate as well), people are… weird. Not that nobody here is ever weird, ya weirdos, but readers here have the ability to see the larger issues like “my manager treats me differently than she does everyone else on our team.” That seems to be missing elsewhere.

    1. Pennalynn Lott*

      Every single time I have broken my “Never Read the Comments” rule [for everywhere but AAM] I have instantly regretted it.

      I sincerely appreciate the thoughtfulness of the majority of commenters here.

      1. Jenny Next*

        I love the commenters and the comments here — and kudos to Alison for her hard work in keeping out the trolls.

        1. Stan*

          I feel like I might be slicing through a 4th wall to put a name to it; but I feel this is where Alison is actually demonstrating her own management skills by how she manages the comments. It gives me even more confidence in her advice, since she practices what she preaches. I think the comment section has grown more reliably positive and thoughtful over the years.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes, the comments here are unusually relevant and thoughtful. My love for weird comment sections in general (including terrible ones) was how I knew I was going to be well-suited for Twitter, which is like an endless comments page.

    3. WantonSeedStitch*

      Seriously. I think that it’s true that *in that one instance* (the “I need you to tell me I did a good job” bit) the LW’s approach doesn’t really come across well, but given the pattern of the boss’s behavior and the LW’s obvious frustration and demoralization, it is COMPLETELY understandable.

      It makes me think back to my old job ages ago, working as an admin in a small company with a boss who drove me to anxiety and misery. His executive assistant went on a week’s vacation, and I was filling in for her (terrified all the time that I would screw up). Towards the end of the week, the boss called me in to praise me for my work that week, and to give me a thermos as a gift in recognition (he’d heard me saying that mine was dying). I was so pleased that I was actually getting praise and recognition from him! But then he followed it up with, “but don’t think this means you can slack off now. I have my eye on you.” Boom. Crumbled.

    4. AudreyParker*

      Ugh, I wish I’d taken this approach! Don’t need to be reminded of the number of people with no empathy and lack of imagination out there. Grateful that the AAM comment section has always been a pretty safe place on that front!

  15. BenAdminGeek*

    This made me so sad. LW seems like she is bringing real, tangible value to the organization and is not getting recognized at all. I don’t need constant praise, but I couldn’t go 5 years without some recognition of my efforts.

    1. Mockingjay*

      This letter got to me too – I think it was the completely dismissive attitude of the OP’s boss. I felt like the boss sees OP as merely a support tool. It’s hard to be taken for granted day after day – you feel invisible.

      OP, someone who brings in tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention your dedication to and skills used for a worthy cause, will be welcome with open arms at many organizations. There are many other deserving missions beside this one. Go find your people.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        It really depends on the role. OP said they’re in development, so bringing in tens of thousands of dollars is generally the job. Depending on the size of the org bringing in only tens of thousands of dollars would be barely acceptable.
        It’s entirely possible the boss is too dismissive, or got a first impression that’s not unchangeable, but I’ve had an experience similar to what OP describes, but from the manager side. And the person not getting the praise was doing literally the bare minimum acceptable for their role. And had been told that. Think, their orientation training plan said they’d master X within six weeks. They didn’t. They got coaching. Six months in, they mastered it, and wanted praise for mastering it. The employee framed it as “you said to succeed in the role I had to master X, and I have” and they didn’t understand that finally mastering it after six months when everyone else in that role did so in six weeks was “doing the bare minimum” not “excelling”. It was a very awkward conversation to have about why others got praise, and she did not, but others were going above and beyond, and she was doing juuuust enough to not be on a PIP.
        I’m not saying that’s the case with the OP. But it’s certainly worth the conversation with the boss to get clarity on both what her actual opinion is and what her actual expectations are, because the main difference in my situation and the letters is it sounds like the boss has not stated this plainly.

  16. Elenia25*

    My boss also gives me no praise, nor anyone else on our team. After almost 3 years I’ve come to accept it is the way it is. I try to compensate by praising my peers when I see them do good work, and they do the same, and just accept that my boss sucks and this is the way she works. I don’t look to her for validation, anyway, I look to the volunteers, as I serve volunteers in my role.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah I think this would have been Alison’s suggestion, except that OP says boss is overflowing with praise for other colleagues. Which makes it something about either OP themselves, or about the role OP has at the organization. (Unless there’s only one other person the boss praises, and that’s someone she needs, like the fundraiser).

  17. Agnes*

    I had a boss like this. I finally got another job and it’s been amazing to hear from my current boss and my colleagues how valuable I am to the team and how much they like my work. I was really beat up after the previous experience and it took me a while to get over it. I’m glad I finally left that awful environment. Good luck to you and start looking!

  18. cubone*

    I love Alison’s advice – it’s less of a “praise”/recognition issue and more about getting on the same page about assessment of your work. I’m so sorry and I agree with many commenters that you sound like you are growing in your role and just have a terrible manager…. but I can’t shake the feeling that this is the kind of letter that precedes “I got fired for no reason”, because it definitely does not sound like you are both on the same page. It’s really not fair, but some managers do think the absence of praise is the same as the presence of a critique.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I just find it hard to believe that the LW, who seems to be trying to address any issues the boss has with her work, has done absolutely nothing praiseworthy in 5 years. I just feel like the boss has some sort of problem with her personally.
      That might just be me & my own experiences/observations.

      1. Miss Muffet*

        Totally. I’ve even had employees that drove me nuts and I was trying to manage out, and I could STILL find things that they did well. This manager sounds awful.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          This is true! I had smelly crumbum guy who was a real pain. But there were a few things he did well and was praised for.

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yeah, I can’t believe that the OP hasn’t done anything praiseworthy in 5 years. Years. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile.

        1. une autre Cassandra*

          A few years ago I went through the soul-crushing experience of getting a job I REALLY wanted and ended up being REALLY bad at. My boss was a good boss though so even as it was becoming clear that I just wasn’t going to get to where I needed to be skill-wise she still showed me a certain amount of basic human kindness. I mean geez, it’s sort of humiliating in a different way when the best thing your boss can say in your performance review is that you’re punctual and good about approving your time sheet on time, but at least I knew she was on my side, you know? She wanted me to succeed and looked for opportunities to genuinely encourage me.
          I ended up basically saying “I don’t think I’m going to get better at this; how about we call it off and you can find someone who’s good at this and I can find a job I’m good at elsewhere” and it’s been fine but oh my god, I can’t even imagine how long it would have taken me to recover if she’d NEVER been moved to say anything REMOTELY positive, ugh. I really feel for the letter writer here and I strongly suspect she’s about a thousand times better at her job than I was at mine.
          (I’m doing much better now! But 2017 sucked.)

      3. RC Rascal*

        This. For whatever reason Jane dislikes the OP personally. This is frequently how personal issues appear. Others are treated better. No real actionable feedback. No recognition.

      4. cubone*

        Oh, I absolutely agree – I think it’s the boss’ personal issue with the LW and does not at all seem reasonable/fair/warranted. I meant more that (extremely) unfortunately, many people get fired because of a personal conflict with a boss, not their work quality, and its never reasonable, fair, or warranted. I just feel a little like LW’s boss might be wanting to do the same (and not giving – deserved – positive feedback over time ends up allowing the bad boss to “prove” that it is warranted). LW’s been there for 5 years, I’m not trying to say “panic, you’re getting fired tomorrow”, it’s just that I would be a little more wary that the boss might be thinking the absence of praise is giving LW a clear signal that she’s not performing well enough to stay.

    2. staceyizme*

      It’s hard to tell just from a letter, but the fact that the objection to her proposal for a raise was “we don’t do raises” and not “you’ve got some areas that need work, first” lends credence to the idea that the issue isn’t her work, at all. There are some people that you cannot “get on the same page with” simply because they don’t play with a full deck. Whether the issue is disdain for the role, misogyny, or some other factor, trying (after FIVE stinkin’ years!) to get on the same page with this boss would be throwing away time and energy better spent on an active job search. Maybe this boss is just a bad boss for the LW, and that’s all there is to it.

    3. SomehowIManage*

      I think this hits the nail on the head. They are not on the same page, and that is a very risky position for LW.

      I have been on both sides of this. I was in one role in which I thought I was moving mountains, but my boss 9-box rated me as high performance – low potential. Unfortunately, I did not know because he lied when I asked him, and I turned down an offer in a different department. Luckily, I got a new boss who was honest with me about how I was perceived, and I quickly moved to a different department.

      As a manager, I had an employee whose work I had a hard time praising. I honestly don’t think he put that much effort into it and the quality was mediocre. I was very aware that most of my feedback was about improvement, so on the occasions when he did something well, I made sure to praise him. It was frustrating for him, and he told me that he never felt so demoralized as an employee. However, I really did not know how to praise work that didn’t really hit the mark on quality or effort. I regret that I never really solved that matter.

      1. cubone*

        I was thinking of something similar. As a new manager, myself and a colleague had a standing meeting with our shared manager. It was very, very clear to me my manager was not happy with my colleague – never praised her, but also was a meh manager and struggled to give direct feedback. My colleague was really good at a handful of things in her job she loved, but basically ignored the rest.

        My manager was absolutely in the wrong for not giving more feedback to my colleague but this colleague was stunned when she was eventually fired and to me, it seemed very very clear for a long time it was slowly heading that direction. It’s not at all fair, my manager handled it wrong (I even think I handled it wrong) but this just gave me… similar vibes.

  19. Former Usher*

    It is so hard not to receive any praise. I no longer receive feedback of any kind. Despite promises of being willing to resume 1:1s, I’ve only spoken with my manager once in the last 6 months and even that was only after multiple attempts to contact him. As much as I loved my job, I’m beginning to concede that I may need to move on.

  20. AnonymooseToday*

    Oof OP, I’ve totally been there, but slightly more on the never getting feedback with absolutely no positive feedback. It’s awful, it’s demoralizing, and like you pointed out, gives you no reason to go beyond the basics of the job. I ended up getting dinged on my performance review for my “work ethic”, when that was the first I’d heard about it that entire year. But when your manager won’t even meet with you regularly it’s pretty hard to know where you stand. It also ended up costing me how other people viewed me at my organization. I was looking to leave for a couple years, when my manager ended up leaving first. I got another first time manager, but it made such a difference. I’m so much better at my job, my mental health has gotten better, and I no longer mind being here. Which is nice since the pandemic and all, there’s no way I can change jobs right now (that’s just my personal stance).

    It did teach me a lot though, about what I need from a manager, how to evaluate managers in interviews, and to speak up more for myself. So yes, if you can leave, please leave. If you can’t, I’m so sorry, I’ve been there, it’s really hard to deal with and I wish you luck.

  21. Mel_05*

    OP, please listen to Allison and get a new job.

    I’ve worked for a similar sort of boss before. It’s so demoralizing. I’m surprised you’ve been able to hang on this long.
    Now I work at a place that I initially thought was going to be a bad culture fit, but they love my work so much that I really haven’t minded it at all. It’s so lovely to be recognized for what you do. It makes everything better.

  22. AKchic*

    There is so much unspoken dysfunction here that my heart is breaking for the LW.

    Stop working on your PTO and weekends. I don’t care how much you love the company, the mission, the clients, whatever. You aren’t getting compensated, you aren’t going to get compensated, recognized, thanked, acknowledged, and the only one who will is a person who doesn’t even care to treat you as an equal.

    I know it’s going to be hard, but it’s time to stop seeking validation from someone who can’t even recognize you as a valued member of her team, let alone the organization. She’s happy to praise Jonathan (who, coincidentally, is a guy), but not you (who, I am assuming is not a guy). I don’t know if Jonathan is an assistant like you or not, but it doesn’t really matter. Jane will never give you what you want, and the company itself isn’t going to value you financially. Jane’s lopsided judgement will hinder you professionally and the company’s horrible financial compensation will hurt you in the long run. It is time to move on.

    1. Washi*

      Yes!! I actually thought this would be one of the first things in the comments! As an assistant at a nonprofit I HIGHLY doubt you are getting paid enough to voluntarily work on weekends, let alone on your PTO (!!)

      I am wondering if the OP is early in her career. I know working a lot of overtime is something I did in my first nonprofit job partially due to genuine enthusiasm in addition to a workaholic environment, but I’ve since become very, very protective of my time. Sometimes working a weekend happens, but then I usually take a little time off during the next week! Don’t run yourself ragged trying to prove yourself, it’s not worth it.

  23. Kathlynn (Canada)*

    Honestly, given that Merrit based raises aren’t a thing, I wouldn’t bother trying to get feedback from her and I’d just find a new job.

    1. RC Rascal*

      This. I doubt you will get any useful feedback even if you ask. In order for feedback to be useful you have to have confidence the source is reliable. Jane is demonstrably biased against you personally. There is minimal value in her feedback , IMO.

  24. Sleepytime Tea*

    OP, I once had a boss who just… didn’t like my work. And I was baffled, because I worked hard and every other boss I’d had was always extremely happy with what I did. This particular one though… she just didn’t. She couldn’t really fault anything I did, but she never praised me. As time passed, I eventually got to a point where I was so demoralized, that without realizing it, I started performing at the level she apparently saw me at. Don’t get to that point! I switched teams to a new manager, who was open with both positive as well as constructive criticism, and I snapped right back to my hardworking, and much happier, self. But you’ve already seen that this is sucking the life out of you, and you have a duty to yourself not to let it take one iota more.

    You can still volunteer for this organization, you can be involved, and you can do it while you work elsewhere. It’s not fair, because you are an asset and you shouldn’t have to be the one to leave. But, well, you know the adage. If your boss isn’t going to change, and after 5 years that seems incredibly unlikely, then the only option for change here is you.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      “I started performing at the level she apparently saw me at.” – ooh, this is well said, and puts a name to something I’ve experienced before. Thank you for this!!

      1. Sleepytime Tea*

        People tend to live up to the expectations you set for them. If you expect little, and combine that with no praise for when expectations are exceeded, well, there’s no incentive for hard work any more. There’s a psychological term for it that I can’t recall lol, but I have seen it happen more than once.

    2. starsaphire*

      Similar situation, here. A long time ago I had a boss who just… didn’t like me.

      * He called me in to berate me for turning in a document that was “just riddled with errors.” I calmly asked him to read it through with me and help me find and correct them. He found one error – and one point of style difference. “Riddled with errors,” my foot.

      * He berated me on the phone for “constantly calling in sick, especially on Mondays.” I had called in sick twice in five months. (We were allotted ten days of sick leave per year. ) My alcoholic (male) co-worker was out at least two days in any given month; no one ever heard of him getting disciplined for it, or for constantly falsifying time records.

      * He once called me on the carpet about “excessive phone usage” and I had to walk past an obviously sleeping male co-worker to be admonished for a ten-minute phone call.

      I never got praise. I got grudging acceptance. I am in such a better place now, and it’s really amazing to have a boss say, “Good work on X!” or “I really appreciated Y,” or even just “Thank you, saphire!”

      You don’t notice it so much at the time (cue dubious analogy about frogs and pots of water) but when you look back, you can see how demoralizing it is and how, little by little, it saps away your confidence and your belief in your own abilities and work ethic.

    3. D.*

      This is me now and it’s absolutely getting to me. I sincerely don’t think I’m The Best Ever, but if I’m honest, I’m used to being the superstar in professional settings. I don’t get the sense that my job is in any kind of danger now, but I think I barely register on my boss’s radar and it’s frustrating. Frankly, I feel kind of humiliated because my previous boss called my new one to “congratulate” them for getting me and sang my praises, but I’m starting to feel like my new boss is questioning that and asking themselves what the big deal is. It sucks!

  25. Vic*

    You said you’re an assistant to a development team. I don’t know if assistant is synonymous with Admin. But, my guess is that Jane doesn’t view your role as necessary in the same way she does the developers. I’m guessing she’s worked in the development roles herself and understands the challenges. But, she doesn’t have a similar understanding or view of your role. It’s really crappy if that’s true, because it really wouldn’t take much effort for her to look at all that you do and acknowledge what you have accomplished. If I’m right, you’re not going to change her mind. I’d say it’s time t9 look elsewhere for employment.

    1. Annony*

      I was wondering the same thing. Are any of the people who get praised also in an admin role? Is your role the type where if you do it right no one even notices but if you do something wrong it is super visible? It sounds like maybe she takes you for granted. Doing well means doing as expected. Alison is probably right and it is time to job search.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I was just getting on here to say this: I’m an assistant in my department. I’m a bit less general than many assistants (the department is small) but there are simply limits to the kinds of work I can do and the new skills I can learn *at this job*. There are only so many kinds of work to be done and, while I am capable of learning more, they need me to do a lot of the sub-professional stuff because there is simply nobody else to do it.

      My supervisor is very conscientious about noticing all our work, even that of the least-skilled team members, but it would be very easy to forget about what I and the other assistant do because it’s not very visible and not very “glamorous”.

    3. Sleepytime Tea*

      Ugh, I was wondering the same thing, and I really didn’t want to say it. But this is a very real, and crappy, possibility. I work with developers, and there are people who simply do not see what I do as nearly as important as what they do, no matter how much my contributions actually have an impact.

    4. AudreyParker*

      This was my experience as an admin. We were all treated like “the help,” no development opportunities because that was all we could ever possibly be, and no matter what you did it wouldn’t merit any recognition, as opposed to everyone around you. Eventually I ended up with a manager there who was very into being self-sufficient and I seemed almost an annoyance (unless I stepped away from my desk for any period of time, in which case, where had I been???), made even worse because I saw how they championed other people on their teams and basically didn’t care what happened to me. It really takes it’s toll, I still haven’t recovered (and it’s been 10 years!) and just assume I’m a terrible employee (although have also realized that that role is a poor long-term fit for me). Which is to say, it’s also hard to look elsewhere for employment & market yourself effectively when you’ve been “told” you’re not any good for so long

      1. Vic*

        I completely believe that it takes years to recover from this kind of treatment. It’s like with people who are in long-term abusive relationships. You start feeling like it’s normal and, once you’re out of that situation, it takes a long time to stop expecting that kind of treatment.

    5. GirlfromIpanema*

      FYI- not sure if you realize, but in non-profits Development means fundraising, which makes this letter make a bit more sense. A Development Assistant would be an admin role, usually with a bit more added on but no real fundraising goals as a part of the core responsibility. My guess is this is what’s contributing to the boss’s dismissal of the OP.

    6. Karia*

      Yep. After she bullied me out, my boss’ initial plan was to have her favourite do my job on top of her own tasks (she really thought what I did was that easy). When my colleague demurred she handed my role to the intern. It was being advertised three weeks later, because despite what bully boss thought, what I did was indeed a skilled, full time role.

  26. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    Only in a union would I take seriously the response, you only get paid based on what your title is. We get annual COLA raises (all negotiated) but merit raises? Not in a union. Your employer sucks. That response sucks. Tell me you at least get cost of living raises.

    If you want to get paid what you feel you are worth, you have to go out there and find it. I changed jobs six times between the ages of 20 and 30 because I hit a wall with regards to salary despite being a good performer at two jobs and at another job, I was a very poor fit with the new manager and I was at risk of being fired, despite getting The Job Done. I changed jobs again to a job that was a great fit, with lots of praise, good managers and two merit raises.

    This job is not right for you. You’ve given it five years, that’s a fair enough try. You deserve better. And you deserve a boss that actually likes you.

    Good luck.

    1. triplehiccup*

      Merit raises are possible in a unionized workplace, at least in the US. I work in one, as a bargaining unit member, and we receive both COLAs and merit increases (on a pass-fail system, at a standard percentage negotiated during collective pay bargaining). I don’t mean to nitpick, but I think it’s important for people to have accurate info about unions!

      1. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        You are most fortunate!

        This is not remotely possible at any of the bargaining units in our workplace. Because, believe me, if it happened we would have heard about it.

      2. The New Wanderer*

        Same – my union guarantees a minimum raise percentage (effectively COLA, maybe a bit more) but also allows for raises to reflect merit.

      3. Rachel in NYC*

        I work in a field were we only get merit raises with promotions so my office’s solution was ‘promotions’- Mary gets hired as a llama groomer but can become a senior llama groomer. Senior means more money.

        It solves some of the issue of a number of our employees stay for long periods so it upward movement can be limited.

        Otherwise it’s just COLA, which is much better then nothing and I’m not going to argue with.

  27. KC*

    God, as an assistant myself who rarely hears “please” and “thank you,” this was a really gut-wrenching letter to read. I have been an assistant for several years now in different organizations, and my sneaking and sinking suspicion has led me to believe that people in high positions simply don’t see assistants as human beings with inherent worth. To them, I feel, we’re no more than verbal punching bags and scheduling robots. We’re entirely disposable – but of course, we take a week off and everything falls apart without us!

    OP, I’m doing my best to increase my skills and get out, and I hope you can, too!

    1. NW Mossy*

      I will never for the life of me understand people who don’t offer a genuine please and thank you when we ask for something to be done or are acknowledging its doing/doneness. I’d be hard pressed to think of another example where the cost to the speaker is so low but the potential benefit to the listener is so high.

      Even put into terms that toxicly unappreciative high mucky-mucks can understand, the benefit is clear: please and thank you is cheaper than a raise.

  28. Phil*

    If you think it’s hard not to receive praise from your boss, it’s hard cubed when your boss is a family member or, worse, your father. I finally gave up and got so far away from the family business-metaphorically, actually I was a block away-you couldn’t have seen it with a telescope.

  29. staceyizme*

    For whatever reason, for you, your boss is an empty well. Consider her a dead, dry waste of any hope that you might have. Then- go find yourself some affirmation and motivation elsewhere. Polish up that skillset, work that network and get your accomplishments in order. Your organization sucks. It’s truly cannibalistic! WHO doesn’t merit a raise while working in the same role if their work is good-to-great and if they’re adding value to the company? No. You’ve been here long enough and should take your professional journey in another direction. I’d argue it’s not a good plan to seek out another role within the organization because apparently you’d be behind the eight ball again the next time you suggested that they actually consider paying you what your enhanced skillset and performance might merit. Anecdotally, non-profits and government offices seem especially egregious in the area of compensation and much more intransigent with respect to some dysfunctional aspects of their work culture. (At least, the people in my network who seem most in pain these days suggest that there’s some truth in that assertion!)

  30. Coder von Frankenstein*

    This seems like a classic case of “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.” (Also, no merit raises? Your company sucks too.)

    It does sound like they were honest with you though: The only way to get a raise is to get a new job. I would take them at their word on that.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Yes. OP, you’ve heard the saying, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them”? Well, it applies to companies as well as individuals.

      Check the AAM archives for job search advice, update your resume and LinkedIn profile, and start looking for a job where you’ll be appreciated. It will take longer under Current Circumstances, but it can be done.

  31. Tirv*

    It appears that there is quite a disconnect between the LW and her boss’s view of her work. If the boss regularly praises others for good work, then it’s not a case of a management style where good work isn’t praised. The LW comes across as very needy to me, putting her boss on the spot by continually asking for praise, when it seems the boss just views her work as adequate( giving a laundry list of things that she needed changed when the LW asked to be told she did a good job on a project). Changing the approach to one of looking for any feedback, rather than praise is a better approach. 5 years without a raise also points to the fact that the LW should start a job search.

    1. Manana*

      I don’t think it’s “needy” to work for someone for 5 years and never being told you’re doing a good job at anything, never receiving a raise, and being told to take initiative but never being recognized for doing so. I also think you misread the letter: Boss never told LW they did a good job on a project. Boss provided a laundry list of things to improve, period. There was no praise given at any time.

      1. Scarlet2*

        It’s true, but I have to say I was a bit taken aback when she told her boss “I need you to PRAISE my work”. If she actually said it like this (and she seems to be quoting what she told her boss), I can understand why the boss looked flabbergasted. I can’t imagine point-blank asking someone (especially my boss) to *praisee* me.
        Alison’s suggested wording sounds like an employee asking for a professional assessment, what LW said sounds… odd to me.

        1. miro*

          You’re putting a lot of emphasis on the “praise” wording but… that’s a misquote. In the letter she says “I need you to tell me I did a good job.”

          Maybe you feel like the message is the same, but to me hearing “I need you to praise my work” (specifically the “praise” wording) would hit a bit differently/worse/weirder.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            I had the sense that the boss might have been taken aback by that because she thought the LW had done an adequate or OK job, not a good job, and gave the list of critiques that made it an “ok but not good” job. I agree with the other posters who have already mentioned that this boss and the LW are not a good match for whatever reason and it is time for the LW to move on.

          2. Scarlet2*

            I guess my point is that “I need you to tell me I did a good job” assumes that she did a good job in the first place. Wording is slightly less weird, but it doesn’t make that much difference. I would be interested to know whether she thinks the boss’s complaints about her work are valid or not. It seems that the boss just considers her work ok but not really good.

            However, I agree with most commenters that LW would be better off trying to find another job, because the absence of raise is a pretty big red flag, but I do find the language in the letter to be pretty emotional in general. As a rule, if you’re getting so desperate for a positive comment from your boss that you’re working during your PTO, it’s time to leave.

        2. Beth Jacobs*

          Although it’s not the way I personally would have handled the situation, it doesn’t change the advice given. I’m not needy but receiving no positive feedback for FIVE YEARS would hurt me as well. The question isn’t whether OP should have told her boss to praise her – it’s what she should do considering the entirety of the situation and that’s pretty clearly a job hunt.

      2. Cheesehead*

        And it’s kind of like, “well, if I’m so completely worthless that you can’t find even ONE small positive thing to say about me or the job I’m doing, then why in the world haven’t you fired me?” That type of attitude (the boss’) is just not normal, and it goes against everything you ever hear about management, reviews, feedback, etc. It’s almost like the boss has some personal agenda and is going out of her way to NOT do anything positive at all in relation to the OP. And the laundry list of things to improve…..I have to wonder if they were really valid points, or if they were just things that any other assistant wouldn’t be expected to know or do, but the standard is different for OP because the boss does have that personal agenda, and always puts the bar so high that the OP can never reach it no matter what she does.

    2. staceyizme*

      People can be good partners, bosses, parents and teachers to the majority. AND still target a one lover, employee, child or student. Happens ALL the time. Then there’s a complaint to the police, HR/ other higher ups, CPS or the school board. “But he/ she was so nice! I never had any trouble with them! I’ve never seen them anyone!> That may be true. This boss might be awesome to most of her reports. She only has to be abusive to ONE, however, to tank it. And no raise plus no praise plus the weird “what, like right now” plus the “praises others” points less towards “needy” and more towards “this particular boss sucks in every sense of the word and the value of that degree of suckage could probably be written as “suckage factor in the presence of this employee automatically raises to the power of suckage squared…”

      1. RC Rascal*

        Excellent point. In the 1970s there was a severed case of child abuse where the mother had targeted one child but was fine with the others. His teacher & school nurse believed it and documented extensively. Turned out to be the most severe case of child abuse in CA where the child lived. There was a book written & Oprah reunited the adult with his teacher & nurse on her show. Can’t fit the life of me remember the name of the book. People just wouldn’t believe the mother was evil because the other kids were fine.

        1. JAR*

          I think I read that book, but I can’t remember the name of it either. She had three kids, but for some reason only picked on one for some reason.

            1. 'Tis Me*

              If it was, then after Dave was removed, she turned on one of the other boys… There were five brothers in that family, though, not three.

    3. Dancing Otter*

      It isn’t “very needy” to hope for some acknowledgement or thanks when the LW is working hard (on her own time!) and taking on extra responsibilities.
      Even a project that needs some fixes must have /something/ that isn’t total garbage, or they wouldn’t have kept her around for five years. Surely the manager could say something to the effect of, “Point A is good; point B doesn’t quite work, does it – explain to me what you were thinking there; you’ve got a good start on point C, but it needs {xyz improvement}.” At least, that’s the way I would approach it, when I reviewed someone’s work. (My last company was big on peer-reviewed “second set of eyes” before anything went to a consulting client.)
      I think the manager needs lessons in constructive rather than destructive criticism. But that’s out of LW’s control, so I agree with everyone else: GET OUT ASAP.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Also if OP is actually not great / not meeting expectations, it would probably be a kindness for this boss to have managed her our or helped her transition to a new role by now. Apparently she was good enough to keep on for five years? You really can’t retain people that long while telling them they should be grateful just to be employed because they’re not actually good enough …

    4. Tex*

      OP might have said she needed praise, but it’s really more of a case of the manager providing a balanced view of OP’s work product. As in, “A, B, and C is done well but X, Y, Z could use improvement”. That is very different than a manager’s only repeated feedback of “X, Y, Z needs to be fixed.”

  32. Manana*

    I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this LW. The plus side of assessing your work and achievements is that you’ll be ready to go on creating a stellar resume and finding a better job!

  33. emmelemm*

    Ooof, this letter made me feel sad. When you said, “Hey, I’d really like to hear I did a good job” and she said, ‘What, like right now?” I could feel stomachs everywhere just falling.

    LW, I hope you find a better job where you are appreciated. My boss may not be perfect (oh my, is he not perfect), but he does give out praise, and it makes a difference.

  34. TimeTravlR*

    I am not saying this is the case, but I work with someone why might describe their situation similarly. It isn’t that boss never praises them, I have heard boss give positive feedback but honestly, the employee is not doing a great job and has to be coached and re-coached on things, at their level, they should be getting or figuring out. All I am saying, OP, is take a real hard look at what you’re doing and what your boss is saying. If after all that you reach the same conclusion, then Alison is right and it’s time to move on.

    1. Manana*

      Then they have a bad boss. If you have an underperforming employee for 5 years and never put them on a PIP and never explicitly state “here’s where I need you to be to succeed here” and instead just keep giving them work and a cold shoulder then you are not good at managing people.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I wondered this, too: If the LW isn’t putting a lot of effort into things that her boss doesn’t value or that don’t really need to be done. In which case her boss should tell her that. But I’ve had more than one coworker who could go down a rabbit hole for their pet projects that nobody really needed.

      1. TimeTravlR*

        This is more what i was saying, yes. As to how the boss addresses it, of course, is not my business. Knowing this particular boss, I have no doubt she has been very clear on her expectations though!

  35. Daisy*

    OP, please let us know how the conversation goes.

    This is one of those post where the outcome is going to be so relevant and insightful for people in the same shoes.

    Also, I’m sorry you are dealing with this, it sucks and I do believe is not that uncommon.

  36. Jean*

    The “no merit raises ever” statement alone would be enough to have me actively searching for a new job and leaving that place in the dust once I found one. Good luck OP. I’m sorry this manager has taken such an emotional toll on you.

  37. Coco*

    Sorry to hear this OP

    Is it possible that you do good work but it is work your boss doesn’t really appreciate? I work for an organization that doesn’t seem to care much about documentation. The tech writers here do good work (I am not one but as a consumer of their documents I am grateful for their efforts) but since it is something that isn’t valued as much as other functions, they tend to get overlooked, not recognized, etc. When a tech writer asks questions in a project management meeting, it is often met with an attitude of ‘why do we need to plan for that’. It sucks and it sounds like you need a new boss.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I mentioned above that I’d been typecast by my previous management, and this is exactly why. They absolutely did not value my skills and my career stalled out as a result. Two years later, nothing about my job or work has changed, I’m doing exactly what I always have done, but now that I report to new management it’s like night and day how much more my efforts are respected and appreciated.

  38. Dasein9*

    Why do I have the feeling that OP’s boss will realize OP’s value once OP has left, but not before?

  39. Guacamole Bob*

    Yes, I wondered if a lack of respect for the work of an assistant or admin is at the heart of this. I can easily imagine a boss who pays more attention to the contributions of the others on the team and just totally takes the assistant for granted, assumes the work is easy or doesn’t really understand all that goes into it, etc.

    I was lucky that when I was in admin roles I worked for people who saw the value in the work and gave me positive feedback, but people do kind of slot it into a different space in their minds sometimes. I don’t get it – even if you don’t respect the work, isn’t it basic human politeness to say “Thanks, the logistics for that meeting went really well” occasionally, and to include some positives in a performance review if the person is doing well enough to not be on a PIP?

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Nesting fail due to spotty internet. Meant this to be a reply to one of the folks above talking about the fact that OP is in an assistant role and how that might be playing into things.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      In nonprofits this can happen with any role that “spends money” instead of bringing money in, and especially in admin where it’s likely not even billable. Even programs folks are sometimes given the impression they should be grateful for the job, while fundraisers are treated much better.

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

        This isn’t just in non-profits! I’ve worked in various private sector (for profit) companies where people in “cost centers” (manufacturing, operations, etc) were treated like this while “profit center” people such as sales were always treated much better! You especially see this with roles such as Quality often.

  40. C in the Hood*

    Look, OP. You’ve put in 5 good years. You’ve listed some great resume-worthy accomplishments. Jane is dead inside. It really is time to move on. I bet you’ll find a better-paying, more appreciative job!

  41. Monica*

    As a first step, if I were in your shoes:

    if the organization is not paying your cell phone bill you need to

    1- TURN NOTIFICATIONS OFF for all texts from everyone at work

    2- tell them not to use your personal cell phone for work related communication.

  42. AnonForThisOnly*

    This one really resonated with me, too, and made me sad for the OP. If anyone watches Below Deck, I’ve pictured her boss as Captain Sandy, especially in this part of the letter: “She blinked at me like I’d grown horns and asked, ‘What, like right now?'”

    I’m in a situation where I get praise one-on-one and raises, but actual advancement has been minimal (even in a key operations role, not an assistant role). I think you eventually realize, as the OP has here, you have something you really need that is severely missing and it’s time to do something about it.

    1. Coco*

      I pictured the boss as Sheldon on Big Bang Theory:

      Uh, I have never said that you are not good at what you do. It’s just that what you do is not worth doing.

  43. Bug Huntress*

    Ooof, I really agree with Alison’s advice to look for another job.

    Nonprofits are weird.
    (Unsubstantiated blasphemy about nonprofits to follow.)

    Some nonprofits have figured out how to keep idealists on the hook, to save money: if your employees don’t know how talented or employable they are, they’ll never go elsewhere! This is made possible because the people drawn to nonprofits tend to be liberal arts majors, who are used to poor conditions—unpaid internships, toxic grad schools, high competition for very few positions, insane bureaucracy—and are willing to look past it all because, ironically, they dream of meaningful work. Endlessly competing for crumbs of approval is the norm. Finding a better job elsewhere is seen as “giving up” on the mission.

    For what it’s worth, at my last job, it was common for bosses to do something similar – refuse to praise people, but never communicate what “good enough” looks like, so nobody’s really sure how they’re doing – and it turned out this was a tactic to keep people constantly scrambling to please so that they wouldn’t either (a) ask for more money or (b) leave. This worked for a while, but eventually there was a watershed moment, and the department experienced massive turnover within the space of a year.

    Now everyone has better-paying jobs elsewhere (from what I’ve heard), and the previous toxic nonprofit is in financial trouble so dire the NYT wrote a piece about it this month.

    1. Shiny Shimmer*

      Omg Bug Huntress, you hit the nonprofit toxicity nail on the head–did you climb into my brain? You basically described my last job lol. I’ve been a lurker on AAM for years, but am finally commenting because I was also in development for five years at a large nonprofit before I noped out of the fundraising world due to institutional issues of classism, racism, sexism, exceptionalism, etc.

      OP, I really feel for you!! Allison is right, and I also agree with the commentators here that the boss sounds like she only praises those who she thinks is “on her level or above,” complete with implicit bias. Five years is a long enough, and it’s time you move on to a new job that will actually value you by both recognizing your efforts, and respecting your time (Protect your PTO! Protect your weekends! I know it’s difficult in a nonprofit, but protect it the best you can!). You deserve better.

      For those saying:
      a) it’s off-putting to ask for praise–I have had a lot of issues in the past with people who wanted me to emotionally pander on what they wanted to hear, only to be disappointed because I would be straight up with them and not placate them. But in this case, I respect that OP asked and stood firm on the request. I think the manager’s answer says it all, quite frankly. OP is clearly not asking for praise all the time, but goodness, a little bit of recognition goes a long way.

      b) that maybe OP’s work isn’t quite up to par as s/he thinks it is–if that truly was the case, then the manager should’ve sat down with the OP and explained it, not just give another laundry list for the OP to do. I think the manager…could’ve done a better job managing.

    2. Malika*

      It is not just limited to non-profits. I worked at a tech company and was a regular in management meetings. The CEO flatly stated that he will never give compliments to his employees because that just means they will develop confidence and start asking for raises. Keeping people fearful and on their toes seemed to him a better tactic.

      It’s dinosaur-level of angient management, yet he was in his early thirties.

    3. Non-Profit Lackey*

      I worked at a place where, during an all-day strategic planning session with an outside consultant, with the staff and board all present and working together to create a new direction for the org, the board president said that we couldn’t do and become the things we were talking about with “the staff we have now” and that it would take “a lot of new income and fundraising to be able to attract and retain a higher quality staff”.

      No one should work there.

      Why did I stay so long at that place? I honestly thought I had nowhere else to go, that I deserved to be treated the way they treated me and not meeting the impossible demands put upon me (when people left, instead of hiring, they just reassigned tasks among remaining staff) was my fault. I’m a grown-ass person with almost 10 years of niche experience at this point, only a few months out of the fog of that job and realizing it had a profoundly negative effect on me that I didn’t notice while I was in it.

  44. triplehiccup*

    I supposed she could have significant issues with your work, but then why doesn’t she address them during the annual evaluations instead of picking nits? Everything about this situation is so bizarre, unproductive, and unkind. I’m sorry, OP, and wish you all the best with finding a job that appreciates your work and passion.

  45. RunShaker*

    I’m wondering how is her work relationship with the rest of team & other departments? Does she have or appear to have warm working relationship? Meaning does she engage with the others she praises in different ways? Does she chit chat? Is she personable to them? I’m guessing she doesn’t do any of this with you or bare minimum. I’m wondering if she doesn’t like the person, she will treat them indifferently. It is possible it is your work so has she had difficult conversations with others on her team? I’m not questioning your work or how good or not it is….I believe most of us have an understanding. As someone above pointed out, your boss can be great with most & target 1 person in negative way. I hope you’re able to resolve & hopefully find career with different company.

  46. Alex*

    Some people think that giving positive feedback “spoils” people or somehow shouldn’t be needed because they aren’t there to make people feel good. Your boss may be one of those people, and withholds praise from you specifically BECAUSE you are her direct report, whereas she may feel she can freely praise others who are not her direct reports.

    In talking to her about this, therefore, it is important to come at it from a perspective of “I want to know what I am doing well because that is important information for me to know, in order to succeed at my job,” rather than, “I need this from you to boost my morale.” She may not view it as her job to boost your morale, which might explain her bewilderment/reluctance to praise you even when you explicitly asked, but might view it as her job to give you the information you need.

    Not saying that it ISN’T her job to treat you well and foster good morale at work, but some managers view it that way.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      I actually had an ex like this. Essentially, “if I’m bringing something up, it’s a problem. If I haven’t brought it up, it’s fine.”

      You can guess it wasn’t a great relationship. Turns out, people need validating occasionally.

    2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Except this doesn’t match up with what OP says about the boss praising OP’s colleague on the same team. She is willing to praise him for his work, but not OP. It sounds like it is something the boss only does to OP, and that to me suggests a personality issue between them. Like the boss just does not care for OP personally but lacks the insight that she needs to actively and consciously put that aside in her roll managing OP.

      1. Alex*

        Oh, I read it that OP is this person’s ONLY direct report, and that others on the team had some other manager. Not sure if I was right about that.

  47. Paralegal Part Deux*

    No job is worth this. It’s just not. Your sanity and self-worth are worth everything. I hope you can find a new job where you’re appreciated for what you bring to the table. This situation is Not Normal, and your boss is a jackwagon.

    1. Crooked Bird*

      I’ll be honest, I had a more visceral response to this boss than to any of the wacky horror stories I’ve read here. I’ve never met this lady and I hate her, and my gut believes she just plain hates LW.

  48. Jaybeetee*

    Yeah, I wonder if the boss is a bit two-faced? Schmoozes and praises with people who can make her look good or advance her career, but ignores the admin?

    LW, this totally feels personal to you, as she treats you differently from other people, but… it’s about her, not you. If you stunk at your job, she should have done something about that by now. Even if she’s not effusive in day-to-day life, most bosses will have nice things to say on the performance review. This honestly does sound like she’s just kinds snooty about admins.

  49. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I wonder if the boss thinks of relationships as transactional — If you’re not doing the work she needs, then she has a list of things you need to do better but if you’re already doing the work she needs/wants she won’t give praise, because it won’t net her anything return. If you look closely at who she praises, you might find there’s something in it for her.

  50. ampersand*

    LW needs to find a new job. There are no raises, no praise, and LW is feeling understandably angry and undervalued. That’s when it’s time to find a new job. Once you get to the point where bluntly asking for the thing you need doesn’t produce the desired result, there is very little chance that phrasing the question *just right* is going to get you what you want, either. This holds true for most relationships, work or personal or otherwise. It’s only when you have some space that you can look back and see things weren’t quite right (or were really, really wrong) and it wasn’t just because of something you were doing/not doing.

  51. anon for this*

    Ten years ago, I got a job as a “development coordinator” at a human care nonprofit (basically office manager/database management/cat herder). Over the next 6 years, I was promoted to grant writer, then development director under the VP of development. She was a good boss, but the Executive Director never saw me as anything more than an admin, even though I was bringing in lots of money and managing our 2 admins and 2 grantwriters. It was frustrating and demoralizing. It reached a head one morning when my boss was out of the office, and the ED came into my office, interrupting my grant staff meeting. Keep in mind, she passed the receptionist and the 2 development admins on her way to my office. She said she REALLY needed my help, right away, so I cut the meeting short to help her. In my head, I thought, “This is it–ED finally appreciates me!” Nope. She needed a set of copies for a meeting and she couldn’t get the copy machine to work. That day, I applied for a Chief of Development position at another nonprofit and eventually got that job. During my notice period was the only time that ED had ever given me any respect. Three years later, and I am now the ED of a small nonprofit and loving my job. OP, get out of there with your dignity intact–I just know you are terrific!

  52. 40 Years in the Nonprofit Trenches*

    5 years as a nonprofit development assistant is 3+ years too long. It’s time to move out and move up. Enthusiastic/skilled/versatile/experienced people who actually want to do fundraising in this godawful economy are very valuable and you should be able to trade up. You have learned a lot from your current organization and have demonstrated that you have stability and tenacity; those are things an employer looking to fill a coordinator-level role will be seeking. TBH, you’ve reached the point where if you stay longer at the same organization with the same junior role, it’s going to hurt your professional prospects. If they won’t/can’t promote you, you need to do it yourself.

  53. Kella*

    So, I am curious how OP’s boss/company handles things like performance issues and firings. Do they typically handle them well: plenty of feedback, clear expectations, communication that if things don’t improve they’ll lose their job? Or do they avoid performance plans, just continually keep giving the same feedback no matter how long the person doesn’t improve, and either firing out of the blue OR never firing no matter the performance.

    I’m curious about this because regardless of what OP’s performance level actually is, I find it incredibly strange that Jane cannot think of a SINGLE thing to give positive feedback on. I’ve been in a lot of training and teaching roles and my feedback tends toward critical (not judgemental, not insulting, just practical). I try to actively look for things to praise to combat this tendency but if someone wanted to know what they were doing well, I’d be able to come up with *something*.

    And if I truly couldn’t come up with anything or felt that giving positive feedback would somehow be bad for their work, why am I still working with that person? Why am I okay with them being on my team if I do not like a single thing about their work?

    The weird thing about this to me is OP isn’t hearing that their work has serious problems, that they need to get it together, that they are on the path to losing their job, which is what I would expect if there were truly nothing praise worthy about their work. Which is why I wonder about how their company handles performance problems overall.

    1. Cheesehead*

      That’s what got me too….that the boss couldn’t muster up anything positive even when asked. That sounds to me like it’s an intentional thing on the boss’ part, especially when she’s clearly able to give positive feedback to others. For whatever reason, the boss doesn’t like the OP and that definitely shows through with their interactions.

  54. InHigherEd*

    I might just skip the conversation with your boss and go straight to looking for a new job.

    If you don’t have the conversation, she might give you a great reference because she wants to get rid of you. If you talk to her, she would have that negative talk in her mind when contacted. (Although I would not offer her up as a reference unless you absolutely have to.)

    I’ve been stuck in a job early on in my career and will no longer settle for remaining stagnant for five years even if things are going well. Those years spent not building yourself up in work skills or self confidence take a toll.

  55. Cheesehead*

    Yes, LW, please start looking for another job. Start making a list of your accomplishments….a really detailed list. Just doing that could put you in a better frame of mind, to shore up your spine so you KNOW your worth even if your sucky boss won’t validate that. (And I think your boss IS sucky, because to never give a shred of positive feedback over 5 years, even when specifically asked, says to me that this is rather intentional on her part. It’s hard to think that she’d be actively trying to demoralize you, but it sure looks like that.)

    Did you see that commercial for Indeed or Monster or some type of job-searching site a while back? There was a team meeting where they focused on a woman in a business suit, and they were announcing a promotion. She was hopeful, but she didn’t get it and was visibly disappointed. Then her phone beeped and she had an interview request and she started smiling and clapping for the other guy because she knew that she would soon be out of there. They didn’t appreciate her contributions enough, so she was going to find another company that did.

    BE that woman in the commercial. Embrace that this is a boss flaw, and not something about you. Focus on the future, when you’ll be able to give your notice. Detach. You know you won’t get anything positive out of her, so stop expecting it. Don’t give them free work on your time….use that time to find a new job.

    I had a job once where I was burned out and unappreciated. I went WAY above and beyond, but wasn’t recognized for that. I even asked about it, and they shrugged it off. Well, no more. I took a few days of vacation, and got away. I got some clarity. I came back and did my job, but didn’t put in nearly the effort I did before because it wasn’t appreciated and wouldn’t be recognized. And I started looking for a new job. That was in August. I gave my notice in the middle of October. My boss was shocked. My only regret was that I was young, so I didn’t tell her that the reason I was leaving was that she didn’t recognize the huge amount of effort and work I’d put in, nor given my accomplishments their due (seriously, I did things that were recognized on a national level, but come review time, they just brushed that aside.)

    And what occurred to me….while you’re looking, if you can get to the ‘detached’ mindset, make a game out of it and reward yourself. As I said, you know you won’t get anything positive out of your boss, so accept that and every time she gives you a negative comment, give yourself a point. When you get a certain number of points, treat yourself to something. Then when you’ve reached the 20th negative thing, you can smile and say “Thanks for the feedback!” and know inside that you’ll be getting whatever treat or reward you’ve set for yourself. (And if the boss is irked a bit when you seem happy to get negative feedback, because you’ve detached and she’s not demoralizing you any longer, then….bonus!)

    1. Geralt of HRivia*

      I can totally vouch for the game idea!

      I use it anytime I’m looking (I freelance) for any contracts or new work. I also keep a handwritten list so I can strike-through things as I do them. It makes me feel happy to cross stuff off.

  56. HRAnonAgain*

    OP, while this is a difficult position to be in I agree with many others that there just seems to be a poor fit between your boss’s expectations and your performance. With regard to the additional responsibilities, improvements and streamlining of processes, were these things you were asked to take on? If not, are you sure your boss sees these as adding value to your role? Before you invest the time and energy it may be helpful to make sure that your boss or organizations sees the value in spending your time this way. Otherwise you just end up where you are now, demoralized and unhappy.

    I have seen this from the other side where a direct report truly believed they were doing a fabulous job because they took on new tasks and made improvements to a process. The problem was these items were incidental to the core job role (but more interesting to her than her main functions). She was truly a fair employee, not bad, but never excelling because her areas of interest (and therefore where she spent her time and energy) were not the important parts of her job to the organization. It didn’t matter how direct the feedback was that she needed to spend her time on other things, she could not get past the fact that she took the initiative and should be recognized for it and ultimately she was never happy with the lack of recognition for what she believed were positive contributions.

    Whatever the reason for it, this just doesn’t sound like a good fit is a good one and you would be better off finding a role where you are happy!

  57. Argh!*

    I’ve been in the same position, and I wound up stuck (still here) and extreeeeemely unhappy. In hindsight I realized a few things:

    My boss is a covert bully.

    My boss’s lack of praise is due to her own insecurities.

    My boss’s praise is reserved for people who either excel in an area she’s not attached to, or who are barely competent, and thus no threat to her self-esteem.

    Reviewing my performance evaluation proves that I have addressed everything she pointed out, yet my evaluation score for each category never changed. When I asked her about it, she said “The standards get higher every year.” When I asked what the standard would be next year, she had no answer. In other words, she was moving the goalpost, and I will never, ever, receive any praise or recognition from this *****.

    My only hope is to leave, die, or outlive her. There is no way that I will ever receive another raise again in this organization (our raises are based on evaluation scores, and she never gives me a high enough score to qualify for “merit” or a low enough score to justify firing).

    OP, dust off that resume ASAP. Don’t stay any longer, because 5 years at a dead-end job is the limit (beyond some people’s limits). Your “reason to leave” story will be “I’ve done what I could there, and I want to be in a position where I can grow more.”

    Good luck, OP.

    1. Cheesehead*

      I had one of those times with a couple of old supervisors. I’d made it known that I wanted a promotion to the next level (I’d been there a number of years and seemingly met all of the requirements and had the expertise). I found out that someone with much less experience and tenure in the role, but someone who sucked up and played the game well, had been promoted to a level above me, so I wanted to push the envelope and make them say exactly what I was NOT doing. I asked for check-ins every 3 months so I could make sure I was on track to achieving a promotion. At the first one, they gave me some things to do. I remember one of them was that I needed to really work on the core functions of the job, like basically increasing my output. I asked for clarification and didn’t get a whole lot of concrete examples. But basically, I think one of the items that sticks in my mind was along the lines of don’t work on any side projects or go too far with troubleshooting something without clearing it with them first, so they could determine if my time should be spent on that. So that’s what I did….I ran more stuff by them, which is what they asked. At the next 3 month check in, they started right in on things I wasn’t doing, and lo and behold, it was almost a completely different set of things I needed to work on! I was pretty surprised. They came armed with an example of something someone else had done, on his own, with no direction from them, and this was great! I should do more things like this, and I shouldn’t be constantly asking them for advice; I should work more independently. I replied that I didn’t understand….at the previous review, they’d told me to NOT to do that very thing….to dig deeper and work on my own. When I asked for clarification between the two very different kinds of feedback, and what exactly they were looking for, they got visibly agitated trying to explain the inconsistency in their feedback to me. Then one of the supervisors said “oh, you should just know what I mean!”. So basically, no matter the words that she uses, I have to infer (guess) if she does or doesn’t mean them? I realized at that point that I was never going to get that promotion. The goalposts would constantly be moving, and I would be held to a different standard than everyone else depending on their whims. And I was never going to get that promotion.

  58. Stephanie G*

    Cab you please post your replies here on your website? I’ve reached my “article limit” with New York magazine, so I can’t see your reply. It seems like more and more of your responses are on other websites instead of your own.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I can’t do that because of my agreements with them — they’re buying the pieces from me and I can’t put them up here for free. But the number of outside articles I post here hasn’t increased — for years now, on most days the 12:30 pm ET post has been to a piece on an outside site. (What has changed, though, is that there are more paywalls on those sites, but that’s because of revenue models changing throughout the internet.)

      There are still about 14 posts a week here that are free (a total of ~33 letters a week answered for free).

  59. Tory*

    I relate so much to this post. I currently work in an admin position supporting 8 contractors and 4 supervisors. I’ve remained in the office throughout COVID because the proper precautious are being taken to ensure our safety and not many people have remained in the office. I’m treated so differently than the other teammates who are working remotely. I’ve received zero praise or feedback regarding any of the additional tasks that I’ve taken on. Instead when I’ve logged onto team group zoom meetings I’ve heard “why is she here?”, “what has she been doing in the office?”. My best way of coping with this has been to work hard, further building my skills, and brush off my bosses negativity.

  60. Karia*

    This sounds like Jane a) has a problem with you personally b) is a bad manager.

    Even if she ‘sees your work differently’ I simply refuse to believe you’ve done nothing praiseworthy in five years.

    I had a boss like this. The nadir was when she effusively praised my colleague for a piece of work then blanched when my colleague awkwardly pointed that that I’d done it. She wanted me gone, so she had to pretend I was incompetent, and she reinforced that by simply refusing to acknowledge my accomplishments. Is what’s that going on here?

  61. Jean Kouisgn*

    My boss is this way as well. I’ve worked for her for close to 3 years and I used to say I could count on one hand the number of times she’s praised me. Recently she complimented something I’d done, bringing my total to 6, so I ended up needing that second hand after all.

    I understand the degree of frustration and feeling demoralized. It sucks.

  62. Erin*

    I have one of these managers. It is really hard to see/hear everyone else get praise for similar quality work. It is even harder when their work is of lesser quality.

    I have been at my job for a year, and I have decided to stay the course on my team since the job market is so bad right now. But, I have also decided to start searching for other opportunities. There’s nothing keeping me there besides a paycheck, which I absolutely need and am grateful to have.

  63. Malika*

    This is a very tough and demoralizing situation to be in. She can’t replace you with a robot, but isn’t enthused by you. If you do stellar work it is either going to go unnoticed or the manager will think up nitpicks as to why it wasn’t done well or was not necessary. The ‘right now?’ reaction is rude and disrespectful. Her attitude and sarcasm tell you all you need to know, and is its own form of an honest answer. You ask how to broach it, but you already have. This is a ‘your boss sucks, and isn’t going to change’ thing. If you would ask her what needs to change, she wil probably provide you with a laundry list of details, and will magically forget about them the minute you leave her office.
    An admin friend of mine once got her work in a non-profit dismissed as an ‘unnecessary luxury’. She now works in a corporate environment and has received two raises in one year. I left a toxic boss years ago who gave me PTSS and thought i was the most worthless assistant on the planet. I walked into the next job that gave me regular positive reviews and attendant salary bumps. I am now seeking a new job and have vowed to avoid any workplace that reminds me of the PTSS situation.

    The hazard of our job is that if we do it well, employers will barely notice. We are not sales, who megaphone their wins and bring in the dosh. We are not the product developers, who achieve breakthroughs in quality or usability. If we point out what our achievements are, management can act as if we want a (p)raise because we breathe. Good employers are aware of this tendency and battle against it. Unfortunately, in my experience, non-profits are run by people who barely have rudimentary management skills. They got the top job by being the best specialist/fundraiser/campaign developer etc, not because of their leadership potential that was carefully nurtured by seasoned executives. The result is poor people skills which you have to accept because of the larger mission/it’s everyone’s idea of a dream workplace.

    Finding a new job may not be realistic during pandemic, but you can certainly get your CV in order and to put out feelers as to where you would want to apply to at a later date. While I know it’s tough to develop your skills and add yet more responsibility that will just earn you more huffs, I would urge you to reconsider. Whether she acknowledges them or not, you can put these new skills and projects on your CV. They can be a reminder to yourself as a sign of your self-belief and resilience and will keep your head up in this tough time.

  64. Ellena*

    Could it be that the boss just doesn’t like the OP personally? It would be very frustrating and borderline immature of her to express it in this way but some people, even bosses are like that. If OP has been there for so long and helped the organization and other people, brought in value beyond question and there is no objective reason to not be praised, sometimes the easiest explanation is the only one – the boss is a jerk. I’ve also had such a situation – I had a sort-of manager who would use even the smallest issues to point out and even get loud and escalating about them, but never gave any praise. Turned out eventually that he was basically very insecure towards some colleagues.
    But the end game I think is what Alison says – the OP should look for other opportunities.

  65. Rose Cotton*

    I’m in a similar situation at a mid-sized nonprofit, and feel for OP. I’m recalling something Alison (or a commenter?) advised a month or so ago, if I’m remembering correctly: that praise should be proportional to critique when it comes to performance. If you’re doing 90% of a good job and 10% struggling, that same proportion of time ought to be spent acknowledging good work and addressing issues respectively in check-ins. I have a supervisor who fixates a lot on the 10% and I never hear anything to reinforce the 90%. She’s a young manager, and she’s great at supporting her other report (who needs a lot more guidance and is on a different career path than her current role) with praise and opportunities. I’ve chalked it up to inexperience managing those who are mid-career and looking to excel and rise to leadership, but being good at mentoring those who are just starting out or need a lot of hand-holding. It is very demoralizing, though, and while I’m staying put until COVID is out of the picture, it’s enough to motivate me to look elsewhere. I did just get moved to a new team and will report to a more mature supervisor that makes a point to frequently lift up her current direct report, all of which I’m hoping will help somewhat.

    Incidentally, I was once in the reverse situation: I reported to a supervisor who was incredibly effusive with praise and compliments to her whole team. She said I was “absolutely killing it” just shy of a week before she suddenly–and coldly–let me go, no warning talk, no PIP, no documentation, over being “unprepared to a meeting” and “never working past 6:30 PM.” My kingdom for a happy medium!

  66. mkaibear*

    Oh man, been there, done that #OP. So much sympathy for you right now.

    Had a manager who was responsible for sending cases out the door (legal-adjacent job), and got zero positive feedback for four months. I eventually brought it up with him and said “look, I’m not saying I’m a special snowflake who needs constant praise and attention but… I do need some encouragement!”. He was very surprised and said “well if I didn’t say you did something wrong it was fine”. Got to the point where I was having panic attacks before submitting work to him.

    Went to my grandboss – his direct manager – and explained the situation to her. She listened carefully and then said “well I’m not going to tell him to do anything different. He’s a senior examiner and you’re junior so he’s much more valuable to me than you are”. Not entirely sure how she thinks senior examiners get made – perhaps they just magically spring out of the earth?

    Anyway, long story short, that’s when I decided to get another job, and I am so much happier working for someone who gives me praise when I’m doing well as well as both barrels when I drop the ball!

    Strongly encourage you to move on as many others have said.

  67. LongTimeLurkerInfrequentPoster*

    I’ve heard of some of my friends who work in companies where the attitude is “There is no such thing as a good job. You can do a bad job or the job you’re supposed to do to begin with.”

    Basically speaking, you’re expected to turn excellence and high performance constatly. Meeting 120% of your target? That’s your new target. Exceeding expectations? Now that will be your expectations.

    Madly enough, my friend loves it there for its “no-nonsense attitude”. Me? I’ll stay the hell away from it.

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