update: my boss is a jerk — how do I deal with her?

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

Remember the letter-writer whose boss was a horrible jerk and would regularly belittle her? Here’s the update.

I am happy to report that within the last year I have accepted and begun a job at a new company. It’s been a huge transition, complicated by COVID and with some of its own hiccups, but overall I think it was a good move. Despite the insecurities and anxieties that I’ve carried with me since working for Ann, I have actually done really well so far. I’ve already received both a merit-based bonus and a raise and have significantly improved in a lot of the skills that are of value to my industry. And my manager is very present and invested in my success.

So here’s what happened at the old job:

After receiving the feedback from Alison and the commenters (thank you all!), I actively tried to reframe my idea of success in the job. I started working a little more independently and developed stronger relationships with other department contacts, many of whom were having some of their own issues with Ann. To my surprise, Ann was largely happy with my growth and gave me even more projects and responsibilities. I never really got much recognition for this new work but Ann gradually started paying less attention to me. Ann also hired a new employee who reminded me a lot of myself when I first started the role. I took on a lot of her training and shared some of the insights from AAM that helped me survive in this role. So all of your guidance not only helped me but has hopefully helped her as well.

Alison and many of the commenters also asked about my teammates – particularly my coworker, Gary, who stood up to Ann during our team meeting. (In case you’re curious, his feedback led to a bickering match between the two of them that was super awkward to witness and then it never came up again.) Turns out, pushback from Gary was not an uncommon occurrence. A couple months before I left, our group was invited to attend a very important meeting led by HR and new members of our executive team. To begin, HR suggested that we go around the room to introduce ourselves and share our favorite thing about our work. When it got to Gary, he outright refused to name anything he liked about the job even when provided prompts by HR (like “well I’m sure you like your colleagues?” or “of course, it’s nice to get that paycheck, right?”). He instead went on a tirade about all the better uses of his time if not spent on work or at this particular meeting (“I could be a musician.. or maybe a dancer…”). Clearly embarrassed, Ann jumped in and tried to prompt him even further (“Come on, Gary, say something”) and they ended up in a bickering match in front of executives. Everyone was uncomfortable. After that meeting, Gary doubled-down, telling me that Ann should know better than to put him on the spot like that, and Ann seemed to let it go. Gary has worked for Ann for about 10 years and their dysfunctional relationship seems to have hardened over time.

In the months leading up to my departure, I was interviewing with other departments at our organization, hoping to translate some of the goodwill I built up into a transfer. While the interviews went well and I got great feedback, I lost out on a couple of the opportunities because I lacked some technical experience that others had. Ultimately, I applied to my current job because they promised (and have so far delivered) on training in nearly all of these areas.

After I negotiated and accepted the offer, I sat down with Ann to give my notice. While she took it well and let me know that I was very much valued/would be missed, she also included the following feedback:
– She asked what my new salary would be because she could possibly match it. I declined to specify a number and explained that a higher salary wasn’t my only motivation for leaving.
– She said that she had received plenty of high-paying offers from similar companies throughout the years but always turned them down.
– She advised me that in the future I should always let my employer know when I’m interviewing elsewhere so they can prepare a counter-offer (nope).
– She said that she had been working on promoting me to a brand new role on our team. We had discussed my long-term career goals in previous meetings but I had never heard her mention that she had a promotion in the works for me already. True or not, it hurt to have it dangled in front of me now.
– Finally, she asked if I’d be willing to stay on in part-time or consulting capacity. While this money would have been good, I declined for several reasons.

I stayed on for two weeks. There was no exit interview or formal goodbye with the team and the kindest well-wishes I received came from other departments I had worked with (I saved all these messages because they really meant a lot to me).

By the time I left, I still managed to be quite proud of my work in that office. And to my knowledge, I didn’t burn any bridges in leaving. I’m really grateful to Alison and the AAM community for their insight and guidance. I do hope to return to that organization or one like it in the future. But I won’t work for that manager again.

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    That’s about the best outcome anyone could hope for in your situation, OP. Congrats on handing it with grace and moving on! And FYI, that “I had a secret promotion in the works” is BS. It’s on the first page of Manipulation For Beginners.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        And if it helps, I’ve had THREE different bosses use that on me, even in situations where it didn’t make any sense, like when I had already given notice that I was moving out of country. “I had hoped that you’d change your plans and be my x-dept manager” or “All those programs you designed two years ago and were so excited about that I decided not to do? Well, I was thinking we could do them all, but they’ll only work if you stay”. The third time I was leaving to get married and live in Germany with my husband, where we could afford healthcare and rent, so no, I wasn’t gonna change my plans.

    1. Lance*

      On that last point: absolutely. I vaguely recall at least one letter with such a counter-offer, where the ‘promotion’ came with a ton of nonsense strings attached to it and ultimately wasn’t really a promotion at all.

    2. Minnie Mouse*

      Yep. I had a boss/small business owner who was doing illegal and immoral things tell me that he thought he would be passing the business down to me one day soon. I didn’t believe it for a second. He hated me and hated when clients complimented my work. Hard core narcissist. It’s just a last dig to trip you up on your way out.

  2. Dust Bunny*

    I think you can feel assured there was no promotion in the works and that Ann said this to either bait you into staying or sour the acceptance of your new job.

    1. Sara without an H*

      +1. OP, if you’d accepted that “counteroffer,” I think that promotion would have evaporated quickly.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Definitely! Never believe them when they say this. It’s usually just manipulation and control.

  3. It's Elementary My Dear*

    I worked for a demeaning boss once. I wish I would have had Allison to help me. I cried daily until I could quit. It was a massive relief to not have to go to work anymore and I still have emotional scars from it and it’s been 20 years. Good for you for getting out and getting ahead!

  4. My cat is the employee of the month*

    Never fall for that “I’m working on promoting you” line. I’ve heard that myself three times, and from friends too many times to count. They’re just playing mind games. Congratulations on your new job!

    1. Might be Spam*

      My boss pulled that on me, too. A couple of months later I asked her about it and she told me that she changed her mind and wanted to keep me where I was. She had no intention of telling me, until I asked about it.

    2. KateM*

      Never fall for any “I was about to do this for you but now because you did that, I won’t” line, period.

      1. OP*

        Chiming in to say that there were some genuinely funny moments with Gary but he could also be just as stress-inducing as Ann. And nothing like my beloved Chandler Bing! ;)

  5. 2 Cents*

    OP, congratulations on the new job. Her offering a raise, a secret promotion, and all those other carrots were to manipulate you into staying. Rest assured that you made the correct decision!

    1. 2 Cents*

      Also, when I quit a job that had become toxic for me, the first thing they asked was what kind of money I’d be making, since the company had frozen salaries two years before. I, too, said it was more than just the money and it was. Fortunately, my old boss was relieved to not have to counter offer to try to make me stay.

  6. The Promotion Is a Lie*

    Ahh, the old “I forgot to tell you but I have been working on a promotion for you and please stay this promotion is real I swear I didn’t think of it just now.”

    Years ago one of our best individual contributors left for another agency. The deputy department head at the time asked what she would be making. It was $7,000 more. Bewilderingly he offered her a $4,000 raise…if she would wait 6 months (it was the middle of the fiscal year and at the time the agency only did raises at the beginning of the FY. She laughed in his face.

  7. Elenna*

    – She said that she had received plenty of high-paying offers from similar companies throughout the years but always turned them down.

    …and her point is? It’s not like OP is contractually obligated to stay just because she did???

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      It’s the “guilt trip” card in the Manipulation Card Game. Start with “but money?”, continue with “but promotion?”, finish with “guilt trip” in whatever variety comes to mind first, whether it’s “the team will break without you”, “the company will fold without you”, “*I* never would consider this”, and/or “but I was doing alllll this work just to keep you”.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Or, “You should do as I do because clearly I am vastly superior to you.”
        I’d wanna ask why she did not want to earn more money.

  8. CupcakeCounter*

    Smart move not taking the counter offer. I worked for an “Ann” and one of my coworkers did end up accepting a matching counter offer (benefit and commute reasons). He still ended up leaving about a year later because Ann made his life hell – throwing tons more work at him and threatening PIPs for dumb reasons. She was SHOCKED!!!! when he resigned again. He told everyone how much he regretted staying on and if the reason isn’t 100% monetary, don’t do it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This thing where the boss is shocked gets me. Where would my mind have to be to not understand this. It’s actually concerning that the boss does not seem to grasp this basic concept. Mental confusion to this degree can go into quality of life issues later on.

  9. Exhausted Trope*

    I am 99.999% sure that whatever promotion or raise your horrible boss offered to get you to stay would never have materialized.
    So happy you made it out of that hell hole!

  10. CatCat*

    That super secret promotion sounds about as real as the “plenty of high-paying offers” over the years.


    Glad you’re away from this manipulative boss.

  11. 9to5*

    When I read resignation stories like these I sometimes wonder, and maybe Alison count address this, if there are organizations that consider it a sign of bad management when good staffers leave certain bosses with less-than-stellar reputations? If you have a high performer who is well-liked and has a good future, wouldn’t it look bad for the manager to lose such a person?

    I think if you have a great rapport with a boss you can communicate with and you like the organization, you could probably negotiate with them in some cases, no? I left a horrible boss a few months ago. It wasn’t the job, it was the boss and how they treated staffers. In hindsight, if I had reported to a better, more communicative supervisor who didn’t have a malicious streak like mine did, I would have been happy to talk it out with him or her because it really wasn’t about the money. It was about the boss.

    1. Mongrel*

      I think the problem is that organizations mostly only see the good employers through the distorted lens of the bad managers.

    2. Totes Ma Goats*

      I’m one of those unfortunate managers who had a rash of resignations within a few months of becoming those people’s manager and I am positive my leadership had a side-eye on me for a while. All the reasons were ones that clearly made sense for the staff (moving out of state) or had been in the works for longer than I had been their manager (think getting someone for a week who had been interviewing under their previous manager).

      Currently I have a decent relationship with my immediate manager; but my concerns are more my manager’s managers. They’ve been around for 15+ years, they aren’t going to change their ways now.

  12. MissDisplaced*

    I’m glad you found something else!
    Sometimes, leaving really is the only thing that can fix certain situations.

    But wow, the Anne/Gary bickering match in front of executives is a doozy. Ouch!

Comments are closed.