my boss won’t talk to me and gave me a document of anonymous criticism

A reader writes:

Recently I went to a coworker for advice on an issue I was having with my boss. He doesn’t do one-on-ones with me and doesn’t really talk to me outside of team meetings, though I’ve tried to ask for advice/direction and am usually met with “figure it out.” We’re both new to the org and it’s been hard to understand what my role is, expectations, goals, etc.

It’s been a few weeks since that lunch conversation and today my boss gave me a three-page, single-spaced document of “feedback” for me that he had collected from my colleagues. All of it was anonymous and all of it was negative or in the “things to work on” variety. Some of it I can pinpoint to specific people, some of whom I’ve never even worked directly with, and some of it I just can’t tell. So I’m now worried about every interaction I have in the office, every email I send, and how it will all be construed and get back to my boss as fodder for me failing at my job. I don’t really know where to go from here. Is any of this situation salvageable? At this point it’s probably pertinent to mention the coworker I initially had that “casual” conversation with works in HR.

Yeah, it’s highly relevant that the coworker you talked to was in HR because there aren’t really “casual” conversations with HR about substantive work issues. As a general rule, HR works for the company and you should assume they’re going to pass on to your boss anything they think is relevant for him to hear. So the situation is probably not that you’re working somewhere where everyone will report everything you say to your boss. It’s that you had this conversation with HR specifically.

More to the point: This doesn’t sound good. Your boss ignores you and responds to requests for guidance with “figure it out” and then when he hears you want more, he hands you a multi-page document of anonymous criticism from your colleagues. That’s his idea of managing you!

And apparently HR was involved to some extent, but for some reason didn’t bother to give him more guidance than that. (To be fair, they may have had no idea he responded this way. But your conversation with them should have prompted them to do more digging.)

Anyway, it’s bad. Is it salvageable? It might depend on what you want from this job. If you want a boss who gives you useful guidance and assesses your work fairly, that almost certainly isn’t going to happen at this job. If you’re willing to keep your head down, expect nothing more from your boss than what you’ve seen so far, and be braced for periodic anonymous criticism that your boss thinks substitutes for real feedback … well, maybe. But I wouldn’t plan on staying in the situation long-term.

To be clear, there are management problems that can be solved by a direct conversation with your boss. Lots of them! I’m not saying that if your boss sucks, you should always just accept that and never try to improve things. My advice here is specific to your situation, where your boss’s approach to managing you is astonishingly deficient in ways that indicate you’re unlikely to see significant change. He should be working on a team of one in a basement somewhere, not managing people.

{ 191 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth West*

    I don’t know what to make of this. Clearly the boss sucks. HR sucks; why didn’t they encourage him to talk to OP? Or maybe they did, and he didn’t listen. Alison is right; he should be managing the dust bunnies under his furniture, not actual people.

    I am also just like, what? with the colleagues who participated, who don’t even work with the OP. Unless OP is actively, seriously messing up and left that out of their letter, but that does not sound like the case. They should have nothing negative to say, or at most, “I haven’t worked with Jupiter, so I don’t really have any input.”

    Of course, the boss may have framed it to so the coworkers didn’t really get what he was doing, or they made stuff up just to make him go away. But seriously, this place sounds like a toilet.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I don’t think the colleagues thing is that weird; lots of places do peer feedback/review/whatever. The bigger weirdness is what the boss chose to do with that information and how he chose to present it to LW. It should inform a discussion you have with someone, not turn into an exercise in single-spaced negative comments to read through.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Why was it all negative though? No one had a single positive, or neutral, thing to say? I’ve seen some peer feedback, but this is so strange.

        1. irene adler*

          It makes me wonder how the boss phrased his request for feedback re: the LW.

          OR, he stripped the positive comments and left only the negative.

          1. New Mom*

            Yeah, I got the sense that he may have phrased it in a way that he was specifically soliciting negative feedback. Like, “Fergus, my direct report OP has been having performance issues with X, have you had any issues with them?”
            I’m sure the fact that this is during a pandemic and the OP is likely working remotely and can’t really get a sense of company culture or other people at the office makes this harder to read. Hugs, OP!

          2. Sparrow*

            Yeah, the question could easily have been something like, “Now that OP has started settling in to the role, do you have any feedback on what OP can work on/focus on improving moving forward?” Even if the newbie was doing amazingly, I would probably see this as a question to help the boss plan OP’s training and answer it in good faith. (I would also throw in, “they’re doing great and well beyond what I expected at this stage!” but something tells me the boss wouldn’t include that part.)

          3. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

            HR to manager: OP has concerns that s/he is not getting feedback from you.
            Manager:
            HR: it might help you get an over view by asking peers to share their opinions. You can send a brief message asking them if they had issues working with OP, as well as…
            Manager: fine
            Sends email, collects answers, pulls the negatives, because “that’s what feedback is” and forwards the electronic slam book to OP.

          4. Katrianah (UK)*

            Ding Ding Ding

            Sister had a manager that did this. Weirdly, it was only her feedback that was stripped of the positives. Grandboss gave him hell for it.

        2. singularity*

          There’s always the chance that the manager only put the negative feedback on the page given to LW, and excluded the neutral or positive things. It’s clear that the manager has no clue what constructive feedback looks like.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, there are managers who genuinely think feedback means “criticism.”

            “Oh, Jane wants more guidance? OK, here are all the things she could do better.”

            1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

              My favorite quote from a long-gone and fortunately not my manager, “I’m not here to tell you what you did right”

              1. Batgirl*

                That goes up on the idiot wall with “I’m not paying people to sit down” (from the recent discussion on how managers think retail staff must always stand)

                1. Calamity Jane*

                  Alison – you should collect favorite boss quotes – good and bad. Some of these are priceless.

              2. Gen*

                One of my university lecturers called the compliment sandwich method of giving feedback “a truth wrapped in two lies to stop people complaining about ‘negativity’.”

          2. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Yep. I know several managers who think ‘developing’ and ‘providing feedback’ means only talking about areas that need improvement.

            One of my generally supportive managers only talked about my need for improvement during a review – and I mean NOTHING BUT. I asked, ‘Don’t you think I do anything well?’ He said, ‘You wouldn’t work here if you didn’t!’ and pointed out some of my strengths and wins…and went back on task. He truly didn’t think he needed to talk about the good things I should keep doing, only what I needed to fix.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              At my previous company I literally only ever heard from my manager when something went wrong and there was half a chance they could pin it on me. That didn’t happen often, so usually he lumped my annual review at the same time.

        3. Caramel & Cheddar*

          We don’t know that the feedback itself was all negative; all we know is that the feedback Bad Manager gave to LW as all negative, i.e. this boss sucks, I wouldn’t be surprised to pick and choose the feedback, especially if they’re the type of boss who only thinks growth only comes from knowing what you’re doing wrong, and not what you’re doing right.

        4. Everyone's a Critic*

          Hi, I’m LW. There was some neutral feedback in the list like “LW could maybe do X, Y, Z and see success,” but a lot of it was “LW was late to a meeting” or “LW didn’t answer the phone when co-worker called.” These were actually two of the instances I could tie to specific people because in the first, I texted my colleague that I would be a few minutes late, and in the second I had gone to the bathroom but called my co-worker back a few minutes later. It was clear neither of my colleagues knew these situations were used in this way. They were actually two of the people I worked most closely with and we otherwise got along really well!

          1. Artemesia*

            If someone solicited feedback about a colleague from me, I would NEVER report they were late for a meeting or I had trouble reaching them on the phone if it were a one off and not a continuing issue. This makes me assume that you work in a nest of bees and should be hustling to get out of there.

            1. Myrin*

              I mean, I wouldn’t say “a nest of bees” if OP says she got along really well with these people, but I concur that I wouldn’t ever provide examples like these when asked to give feedback about a coworker, so I’m left wondering either a) what in the heck came over them to give an answer like this or b) what in the heck they were asked to do which made them feel like these would be the best answers they could give (like “Name something completely irrelevant about OP, ha ha!”).

              1. Rainbow Brite*

                Maybe it went something like:

                Boss: What could OP improve on?
                Coworker: Nothing, they’re doing pretty well.
                Boss: So they’re perfect, huh? Never done anything wrong, ever? Somehow I doubt that.
                Coworker: I mean, one time I called them and they’d stepped away for a moment but then called me right back.
                Boss: Got it! *scribbles “doesn’t answer the phone.”*

                1. kt*

                  Yeah, this is what I see too — “Hey, have you had any problems with OP?” “No.” “They’re never late? never make mistakes?” “Once OP said she needed to use the restroom before a meeting, but that’s fine.” “Aha! Late again!”

                2. SheLooksFamiliar*

                  A high maintenance hiring manager complained to my boss that I sometimes didn’t answer my phone when she called. She thought she deserved white-glove treatment at her level. My boss called her to discuss and filled me in later:

                  My boss: SheLooksFamiliar doesn’t call you back?! That’s not like her.
                  HM: Oh, she does.
                  My boss: I see. Does she avoid you for a few days? Is that the problem?
                  HM: No, she always calls back in 5 or 10 minutes.
                  My boss: She doesn’t have the answer you need? Is that it?
                  HM: No…
                  My boss: Is she rude to you when she calls back?
                  HM: No, that’s not the issue…
                  My boss: Then I’m not sure what the issue is. She’s probably interviewing people or in meetings, and I don’t mind when my team goes to the bathroom or gets coffee once in a while. But if you want me to chain her to her desk, I’ll bring it up in our next 360 review.

                  Yeah, I really loved my boss.

                3. John Smith*

                  I have a boss who is exactly like that, sadly. A colleague hadn’t noticed that a lightbulb in a corridor had gone out and so didn’t report it. Some senior manager passed by and mentioned it in passing to my boss. My colleague ended up on a disciplinary for endangerment of the lives, health and safety of others in the building. One lightbulb out of about 50.

                4. I'm Not Phyllis*

                  Yah I once had an HR person complain to my manager that I didn’t answer the phone. She would call me way after hours (in a 9-5 job, she would call me at 7 or 8 at night) to discuss things that were non-emergencies, just regular course of business stuff – like, that she wanted to connect with my boss later that week and could I help her set up a meeting?

                  I would always call her back first thing the next day, but that wasn’t good enough. I think my boss responded with something like, “yah, so?”

            2. BethRA*

              Or OP’s boss had heard about the late start of the missed call, and stashed the info away for later use; or boss was digging for negative feedback and eventually got someone to say “well she was late to a meeting once, but that’s it.” And three pages of single-spaced criticism suggests that Boss if very much the kind of person who would do that.

            3. Cat Tree*

              Yes, I routinely give peer feedback and I wouldn’t even think to mention one-offs like this. If someone is consistently late to meetings or unresponsive to email requests, then I might mention it. But even then I’d try to frame it as something actionable they could do.

            4. Wintermute*

              Exactly! Now part of this is the nature of an operations center, and recovering from a highly toxic job (the one that lead me to write in to AAM in the first place!) But I presume that anything I say can and will be used against them.

              You keep it in the shift, if it’s a minor thing you just handle it, a slightly bigger but understandable deal is taken to the shift lead who handles it. The only time you involve management is when it’s so big it’s going to splatter on you if you don’t blow the whistle. This works because shift leads and shift engineers are the ones that handle development and learning so you’re still getting useful information to the people that can do something about it in terms of growth and development, when that’s not the case you might need to be a little more open about faults, but I still do my best not to throw anyone under the bus.

              What goes around comes around, if you want forgiveness for minor mistakes you’d best show the same, too much attention paid to petty transgressions turns a workplace into a viper’s nest.

          2. Elbe*

            “LW didn’t answer the phone when co-worker called.”
            How is this even feedback? Is the expectation that you’re glued to your desk with no restroom breaks? that you’re never already on a call when someone reaches out? This is a very odd this for a person to note unless it’s a repeated occurrence.

            1. Cat Tree*

              This makes me think the boss framed the question specifically to get negative feedback and the coworkers were really reaching to find anything.

            2. Charlotte Lucas*

              Yes. I had a co-worker whose phone calls I never answered, & I told my manager why. But that was a very specific situation, & I was always willing to take part in conference calls, as long as another person was there.

              The LW’s manager sounds like a different manager I had. She totally did the in-group/out-group thing, & I could see her purposefully soliciting & giving only negative feedback. After she was removed from her position, we found out that she kept mysterious “files” on each of us. Nobody (including our new manager) ever saw them, but we were all morbidly curious & certain they were full of lies, half truths, & crazy nonsense.

              I recommend the LW look for a new position in the company or a new job altogether.

            3. EvilQueenRegina*

              I honestly doubt I’d even remember that and certainly wouldn’t give it as feedback – in the moment I’d just assume it was either bathroom, getting a coffee or on another call. I’d only think anything of it if it really was a pattern – even if it was a genuine emergency I don’t see myself making an issue of it where the person called back quickly anyway.

            4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Forward all calls to your cell, answer them while on the toilet. /s, don’t actually do that, OP. Well maybe when Boss calls. And when you already have the next job lined up!

            5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Reminds me of a job where I was working for company A but at company B. The boss demanded so much detail in our reports, we would joke amongst colleagues that they would need to specify how many times they went for a pee.

          3. NYC Taxi*

            You’re both new to the org? I bet your boss has someone in mind from former job/friend etc. who he wants to put in your job and is doing the passive push out to get you to either leave or get fired.

          4. Not the LW - but in the same situation.*

            Thanks for commenting! For a minute I thought I had written this letter! My boss does the exact same thing – except with anonymous customer comments. HR wasn’t involved, but I felt it was bullying behavior and went to HR with this. It hasn’t changed, but Allison’s response made me feel so SEEN! Thank you!!! I can’t leave until August at the earliest, and to avoid having to pay back significant funds due to education reimbursement, I have to stick it out for 3.5 more years. Hugs!

        5. pleaset cheap rolls*

          How do you know that all the feedback was negative?

          It’s possible there was a mix, and the boss only included the negative.

      2. EPLawyer*

        But you do peer review/feedback with people you work with, are on your team, have contact with. According to the LW these are people she has nothing to do with. So why they were commenting on someone they don’t have interaction with, I have no idea.

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          LW may not be aware of the interaction, especially after only a few weeks in the job. I can think of a lot of scenarios where one person’s work may impact someone in another department without them even knowing it.

      3. Momma Bear*

        But do you get pages of anonymous feedback? If I ask for a peer review on a file, I don’t get third-hand out of context comments back. I get comments directly from that person on the file in question and we talk about it where we disagree.

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          No, that’s why I said the weird part is how the boss chose to use the info, not the info itself. Good bosses aren’t going to say “Here are three pages of comments about how bad you are at your job.” They’re going to take that info, distill it into useful talking points and actionable things for the employee to improve on. That didn’t happen here (understatement!).

      4. Self Employed*

        Typically if a company has a peer feedback system, it’s for everyone. OP would be familiar with being asked to give feedback about their colleagues.

        My impression is that HR told the boss that OP needs feedback about their performance and assumed the boss would know what to do–have a talk with OP and let them know what areas are OK or above as well as what things they need to improve. Instead, boss thought it meant “ask everyone what they don’t like about OP.”

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          I’ve worked places where the peer feedback system was only implemented in certain contexts (simply because of how much work it is), so I’m not sure that’s as universal as suggested.

      5. Lizzo*

        But peer review is usually done within the context of organized, regular performance reviews. Or, if there is a specific issue that arises, it’s addressed as * that specific issue*–not alongside pages and pages of complaints from a variety of sources.

        Everything about the way this was done is alarming, both in terms of the boss’s complete lack of management skills, and their potential motivations for providing this kind of feedback in this way. The last time this was done to me, it was because my boss was trying to get rid of me so she could promote her favorite employee into my role.

      6. MCMonkeybean*

        I agree–with just the information given it’s clear that the boss has handled all this poorly but I don’t think it can be said for sure whether HR or the other coworkers acted okay.

        It’s very easy for me to imagine a scenario where the HR guy went to the boss and had a perfectly reasonable talk about how the boss should try to provide more coaching/guidance and the boss ran with that in a weird direction. And it’s always been part of my annual reviews that my bosses reach out to other people in the company to ask for feedback, and they don’t usually specify who said what (though sometimes it’s obvious from the context)–the fact that it was *all* negative is definitely unusual but it’s possible the boss phrased his request in a weird way saying he only wanted notes on things that could be improved on or even filtered out positive comments thinking that somehow only negative feedback was helpful or something.

      7. Massmatt*

        No, it IS weird because 1)It included people the OP has not really worked with and 2)was 100% negative.

        Put this in the context of the boss telling the OP “figure it out” when asked for direction on the job and the most likely explanation is the boss sent an email blast asking for feedback to more or less everyone and did no work to make it digestible or actionable.

        I’ve seen 360 reviews, they require the person coordinating them to do some work figuring out who to solicit them from and put them together in a workable format. This boss did neither.

    2. Karo*

      It reads to me like HR did encourage him to talk to OP, but the boss interpreted it miserably. Like the HR person said “Hey, OP is asking for more guidance, please provide that,” and the boss interpreted that as “please compile a list of everything wrong with OP and provide to her; this is a good management tactic.”

      1. Everyone's a Critic*

        Hi, LW here. So this was the first time I’ve ever experienced the “HR is not your friend” thing even though, in this instance it seemed like just a friendly lunch with someone I liked working with who happened to be HR (lesson learned there for sure).

        But to your point, to me it seemed more like my boss interpreted the guidance *maliciously* not just miserably. Or at least that’s the way it felt. I wrote in because I didn’t want to assume it was malicious and maybe there was an explanation that was more gracious than I was interpreting.

        1. Karo*

          I know I used the word “miserably,” and while I think there is a small chance they misunderstood, malicious intent seems much more viable here. It may have been more along the lines of “malicious compliance” than being upset with you, but either way maliciousness was at the root and that’s not someone you should have to work for. (Though, to be fair, I think I’d want to work with someone who misunderstood that directive even less.)

          1. Batgirl*

            I agree with the malicious compliance idea a lot. Like a lot of people who cant do (thing), they categorise (thing) as a ridiculous request.

          2. Jackalope*

            One of the more useful quotes in my life (from Captain Awkward, I think?) is that extreme incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. That really freed me in a difficult situation, realizing that it didn’t matter which it was, it was still hurting me and I could take action either way.

            1. Everyone's a Critic*

              I really love this because it helps to know that you shouldn’t take things personally if that person’s incompetence is adversely affecting you.

        2. Carol*

          I would consider going back to the person in HR that you initially talked with and discuss it with them. They may be quite surprised to see how your boss handled this situation.
          But I would seriously looking for a new job. Good luck to you.

          1. Cat Tree*

            Good idea. Since OP is already friends enough to have casual lunch conversations with HR, it’s easier to bring this up.

          2. beanie gee*

            HR might be interested to know how he handled it, but I also wouldn’t trust HR not to take that back to the manager also.

          3. PersephoneUnderground*

            Agreed- I mean, it can’t get particularly worse, and so far HR hasn’t done much actually *wrong* that we know of. They heard about a problem and tried to remedy it. Whether they had anything to do with exactly *how* the boss approached it is unknown.

        3. Batgirl*

          I think that is a hard one to figure out because a boss who has no idea what they want from you is such an egregious problem that it *feels* malicious. Most things that harm us significantly, do feel like they are being done at us. However you do know he’s not haplessly benevolent. That boss would shrug and say: “You’re fine!” No
          He’s rude, dismissive and brusque at the very least. If he’s pushed to do a job he can’t do, he may get more malicious but dismissive is bad enough anyway.

          1. Batgirl*

            Well, I was wrong. Targeting only the young female employees, and only being inept when it comes their development, never happens accidentally.

        4. Not So NewReader*

          The most gracious explanation I can think if is that your boss has NO clue on how to manage people and has NO plan on learning.
          There are reasons why we don’t put 5 year olds in charge.

        5. Mohna*

          I’d be very tempted to glue the feedback report to a nice sheet of colored paper and pin it up in my cubicle, perhaps titled “Things to Work On”. I feel like your coworkers would be horrified to know what your boss did with their information, and not hiding it would give everyone a heads up about how things are going to be under this boss.

          1. Craving Lemon Meringue Pie*

            THIS!!!!!

            I love the idea of LW demonstrating she/he/they has/have the ballsiness & matter-of-fact-ness to publicly display it.

            So often when we’re in toxic work situations, we get paranoid. We can feel as tho’ everyone’s discussing us & what a crummy job we’re doing –it’s all so very secretive! And reinforces our paranoia.

            Shining one’s own light on the “feedback”
            changes that dynamic.

    3. Everyone's a Critic*

      Hi, LW here. Thank you for your response! I wrote in because I have been having such a hard time at this place, this was the last straw, and I really wanted to know if I was crazy thinking this was not an ok thing to do to an employee. Like any job there have been a few mistakes on my end – misreading a situation and not asking for help when I needed it in another. But those I resolved with my colleagues and everything otherwise seemed fine. I haven’t been the best at letting everyone in the office know what I’m doing or working on and accomplishing, so I do understand some feedback that was about not knowing what I do. But mostly it’s been nice to have a little vindication in my thinking that this scenario was over the top and not something a good manager should do.

      1. Sheldon Cooper Does Not Represent Me*

        I am so sorry this happened to you. Something very similar happened to me–my manager held a meeting with everybody so they could tell him all the ways I suck. As you might guess from my user name, I’m on the spectrum, so a lot of people think I suck. And my manager knew this.

        I am completely paranoid, I don’t trust anyone I work with or any of the managers anymore, I’m constantly second guessing things I say, and I’m a nervous wreck. It’s impacted both my mental and my physical health. Have all the vindication you want.

    4. OhBehave*

      I wonder if the boss is the same with the other reports. It sounds like manager either didn’t get mgmt training or did and ignored everything that was taught!

      1. John Smith*

        I have a colleague who gets both barrels from my boss who won’t otherwise say boo to a goose or anyone else. Whether or not they have been trained, they’re ultimately just bullies.

  2. AndersonDarling*

    I’ve experienced similar situations. When a teammate had an issue, the manager’s response was “Let’s work through it.” When I had an issue, the response was “Figure it out.”
    They got one-on-ones, I didn’t.
    Their training was a systematic calendar of meetings and meet-n-greets. My training was “If there is something you don’t know, find someone to help you.”
    My manager did not like me. The more I tried to initiate a regular work environment, the more he retaliated.
    OP, it’s better to move into another job where you can have a manager that respects you.

    1. Momma Bear*

      I once asked a difficult manager for a one-on-one to clear the air. I even traveled to the home office for it (I was at satellite location). What I got was an airing of grievances and an understanding that “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change”. I doubled down on my job hunt and was out of there ASAP. I am glad I did.

    2. sacados*

      Yeah, that is my first question and might change how OP could approach the situation.
      Is the boss like this with EVERYONE? Or do others on OP’s team get 1-on-1s, goals, feedback, etc. Either way it is probably going to be shades of “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.”
      But if OP is being singled out for some reason, there might be more scope to go back to HR for a followup. “My boss is clearly treating me differently/doesn’t like me/or something” which maybe depending on the org, could help OP get transferred to a different team or manager? Whereas if the boss is like this with everyone, then OP would have to go into a “the way my boss manages is wrong” type conversation. And that can be hard if not impossible to do when you’re new and more junior.

      1. Krabby*

        Totally agree. It really matters whether the boss is like this with everyone, or just with OP. I’d be job hunting asap if OP is being singled out, but if the boss is just like that…? Well, I’d still probably job hunt, but at least I wouldn’t feel like my job was in immediate danger.

    3. Everyone's a Critic*

      Hi, LW here. This is EXACTLY my experience! And I’m sorry you went through it as I’m learning it’s really not fun and is ruining my physical and mental health with the stress. But, yeah, my colleagues all have experience ranging from great to meh, and when they ask for help or guidance are met with a manager who is willing to coach them and work with them one-on-one. The only other person I’ve heard he gives a hard time to is the other young (younger than me) woman who works in our department. I don’t work in the same location day-to-day, but officemates have said he’s been known to scream at her and berate her. I’m the only other young woman who works for him but am more experienced so I guess he expects I should know what he wants or shouldn’t need coaching.

      1. Observer*

        Uh, please go back to HR – perhaps to whoever manages the person you spoke to. Explain what happened. And then point out that the only two people who are having trouble getting useful feedback and development are the ONLY TWO WOMEN who work for him. And, sure, you are CERTAIN that he’s not being *deliberately* discriminatory, but this is effectively what is happening?

        1. Nanani*

          Even if it’s not deliberate, the effect is discrimination. It doesn’t matter if he’s never had a sexist thought in his life – holding women back professionally by refusing to give them the necessary minimum to do their jobs is discriminatory and needs to stop.

          And maybe if Boss can’t manage everyone, he shouldn’t be in management!

          1. Observer*

            Of course. And I do not believe for one moment that it is not deliberate. But the OP is much more likely to be successful if she doesn’t claim that he is a discriminatory person but rather points out with grave concern for the company that his BEHAVIOR really, truly seems to be discriminatory, and certainly is discriminatory in effect.

            If nothing else is sidesteps the whole “Oh, he doesn’t mean anything he’s just blah, bloo and bleep.” Yes, we get that. But the ACTIONS are still discriminatory and need to stop. That is MUCH harder to argue about.

            1. Everyone's a Critic*

              This is a really good point, thank you (LW here)! There’s no direct evidence that it’s discrimination based on a protected class as far as I can tell. As a follow-up to this letter, I paid for a consultation with an employment lawyer that specializes in our industry and she said there’s an argument because, like you said, the actions still result in discrimination in effect. Unfortunately this workplace is a very prominent organization and if I or anyone else were to every bring a suit for this or anything else it would become all that we’d professionally be known for. I’m glad I pad $125 for the 30 minute consult with the lawyer, because it’s not worth that notoriety. But it helped me make the decision to leave.

              1. AndersonDarling*

                I didn’t mention it when I posted, but my experience was definitely because I was a woman on a team of men. AND…I did get a lawyer after being forced out of my job. It is really a tough decision if you want to go that route, and hopefully you can just find a better job with a great team where you are valued and can grow! But, if you do go the lawyer route, your company and all the people involved are not allowed to talk about the situation, so your reputation is secure. You would probably receive a settlement, and maybe the manager would be reprimanded. In my case, the crummy manager was not allowed to ever have a female direct report…not great for female advancement, but it saved women from his abuse.
                But really, the best scenario is to leave before things get worse. You don’t want this to bring you down and damage your self-worth. You are better than any jerk! There will be a much better, fantastic job where you will be allowed to have a voice and you will rock it!

                1. AndersonDarling*

                  I’m re-reading your previous comments. If you have any level of a competent HR Dept, they will probably shut this down since he is new and they haven’t invested that much into him. In my case, my manager was a high ranking Executive that had been with the company for decades, so I had no leverage, and it was 15 years ago when the world was different. And my HR was wildly incompetent.
                  A formal complaint will likely get HR moving in the right direction. Document everything!

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  Whaaaat? So the manager hated women and was abusive toward them. And the solution was to keep women away from that manager? What happened to firing the dude.

                3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  Hum the manager was horrible to women so the solution was to only let him manage men? I’d have said that a manager who’s horrible to anyone shouldn’t manage anyone. Because even in a team of dashing young white privileged cishet males with a SAH wife and two young children and a degree from Harvard, he’s gonna promote favourites rather than those who merit.

              2. PersephoneUnderground*

                Glad you consulted a lawyer, but did you address it with HR? You don’t have to sue to get redress unless HR does nothing. I agree you should leave, but I *hate* that that means you’re giving this *expletive deleted* what he wants. At the very least please anonymously leak this rank sexism on Glassdoor or other media. This company deserves a bad reputation if they don’t shut this guy down *hard*.

                1. PersephoneUnderground*

                  Oh, read further down that you’ve left, so the HR thing no longer applies, but I really hope you’re in a position to let people know what this company is like, even if only talking to other women in the field. Maybe a future prospect saying “oh, I’m not interested, your firm has a reputation for sexism and I don’t want to be associated with that” will come back to bite them someday.

      2. Knope Knope Knope*

        Maybe Alison could weigh in on whether this makes sense, but it sounds like his discriminating against you based on age and sex, which would be protected classes and could mean you might be in talk to a lawyer territory.

        1. lemon*

          Age is only a protected class over 40.

          But I agree that it sounds like gender discrimination is definitely at play here.

      3. Batgirl*

        Good gravy. I’m starting to understand how come HR are taking people to lunch for the backstory.

  3. Troutwaxer*

    The problem here is that since you boss is new, (and is also obviously a jerk) he doesn’t understand what you do; the only way he can understand your role is by asking your colleagues who have been there long enough to understand your role. So in a very stupid and useless sense, your boss is right and he did the right thing, he just phrased his feedback to you horribly. You do have to “figure it out.”

    Note that your boss is nonetheless a jerk, but what you have to parse with this is that he’s an ignorant jerk, and the ignorance is not his fault – he’s also new here – but the jerkiness is. (Sometimes it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.) The first thing your boss should have said to you is “I’m new, I don’t know your role very well, let’s have a meeting and ask your co-workers and figure out what you should do and how to measure your performance.” What your boss did is the jerk’s version of what he should have done.

    So I’d suggest that you talk to your co-workers directly and ask what the previous person who worked in your role did, (or what they should have done) and how often they did it, (or should have done it) and how those things fed into the work-flows of your coworkers, and so forth, and don’t worry too much about what your boss thinks. Take notes and make yourself a little manual. If you have a chance, and there’s not a “going over the boss’s head” vibe over this, maybe you can talk to your boss’s boss. And of course if the person in your role before you is available, maybe you can talk to them. If nothing else, ask them if they left an “I got hit by a bus document” somewhere.

    If your role is a new one for the company, you’re badly biffed and I’d start putting out resumes. Obviously there are a lot of reasons why what I wrote might not be good advice or not apply to you. Unfortunately, I lack a lot of details and I don’t know enough about your situation to get it right.

    1. Everyone's a Critic*

      H, I’m LW and thank you for your advice! Sadly, my role is brand new to the org and I started my job 1 week before my boss started his. So, in a way, we were both flying blind and I understand how stressful that can be for a manager to have to figure out the org, a new department, AND have to give subordinates direction for what you don’t know yet. I’ve tried a lot of different things to help mitigate this as I’m generally a very good self-starter and have experience being the first in a new role. Unfortunately, for several months before I had this conversation with HR, I tried to do that self-starting thing and would always be told I’m doing the wrong thing but never having direction as to what the right thing was. So I kept trying a lot of different things to the same result. Frustrating for sure, but I am definitely looking for an exit strategy as the situation seems unredeemable.

      1. sv*

        I am really sorry to hear you’re going through this! I was in a similar situation just over a year ago and I quit when I realized how untenable it was for me. That ended up being the right decision because the longer I stayed in that dysfunctional workplace, the more the dysfunction started to feel normal. Keep in mind too that if you are experiencing serious stress at work because of your awful boss, it will take some time in a normal workplace before you begin to return to your own “normal” at work. Good luck and I hope you’re able to get out soon!

      2. Not So NewReader*

        FWIW, it seems like your boss is lazy. In my limited amount of time supervising people, if I did not understand what they were talking about, I either got up to speed or found someone for them who was up to speed.
        Who created your role? That is an interesting question. I think that person would be very interested to know how you were set to fail here. Or that person’s boss would be very interested to know.
        Did anyone bother to write a job description for your role? Is the person you are reporting to a logical person for your work? (Ex: Tea Pot Painter should not be reporting to the Manager In Charge of Wiring Coffee Pots.)

        Eh, to me you have nothing left to lose. I’d give that feedback list to the HR person. If you can find dates where you asked to meet with your boss and the boss blew you off- that would also be good info for the HR person.

    2. Elbe*

      It’s hard to tell from the way the letter is written, but it was my understanding that the HR colleague the LW confided in is new (which is why she talked to him about this topic), rather than the manager being new.

      Either way, I’d argue that the manager’s ignorance is his fault. Understanding what your employees do is one of the main jobs a manager has. He should be figuring this information out, because having that knowledge is part of HIS job. A manager defines an employees role, it’s not up to a new employee to define the basic outline of their own role.

      I completely agree, though, that this guy doesn’t have a clue. I think HR asked him to give feedback and he couldn’t. If he thinks that people the LW hasn’t even worked directly with are a better source of feedback than he is… he’s a terrible manager who is not doing his job.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        If the new manager is ignorant of his employees’ roles, it may very well be that his boss is “too busy” to train him and is telling him to “figure it out.”

        In any event, LW has my sympathy.

  4. jm*

    i can’t get over that he gave op a slambook. absurd. i’m so sorry that you’re working under a mean middle-schooler.

    1. Everyone's a Critic*

      Hi, I’m LW, and OMG I kinda…*like* this situation now? At least for the story? Thank you, at least, for the laugh. I wrote in to Ask a Manager awhile ago and forgot about it. The update since is that I have found a new job and left this situation. It was too difficult to continue feeling like I was always having to look over my shoulder or couch my interactions and emails, I didn’t know who I could trust, and I still didn’t receive any clarification from my boss as to what his expectations or goals for me were. I can report that my mental (and even physical) health has greatly improved.

      1. juliebulie*

        It is quite a story. Usually the manager leads with some constructive criticism before (or instead of) just dumping a bunch of anonymous gripes on you! Congrats for finding a better situation.

      2. dogmom*

        Congratulations on the new job, OP! I have a somewhat similar story — at my last job, at which the GM was the most stunningly incompetent manager I’ve ever worked for and as a result the entire workplace was fraught with dysfunction and chaos, my colleague reacted badly when I told her I’d likely be leaving in the near future and stopped talking to me. The last six weeks I was there, she refused to have any interaction with me whatsoever and only responded to a couple important emails with the most minimal amount of writing she could. When I left, she and the GM both sent out emails (one to all our clients and at least one to an individual client) trashing me. Like I said, organization-wide dysfunction and chaos! You’re better off without having to deal with that stress.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Not quite to the same degree, but I once was on the phone with a vendor and they trashed their predecessor to me. It was someone I had worked with for a while and I thought was ok, but not great, so wasn’t surprised when that person left that job (they didn’t seem to enjoy it). But hearing the person who took over my account trash the previous person made me feel like they were SO unprofessional. I ended up buying products from another company after that.

          So, hopefully it’s satisfying to hear that someone who trash talks will probably feel repercussions later.

      3. RC Rascal*

        Glad you found another job.

        Your boss wanted rid of you. That was why he wouldn’t speak with you and provided a “Slam” book instead of actual feedback.

      4. Batgirl*

        Congrats! Good move hon. One time when I was dealing with a crazy making situation my dad told me: “Don’t figure out the fire when you can run.”

      5. jm*

        congrats on your new position and better work environment. and improved health! i’ve been in toxic work environments and i know very well the bone deep relief of coming out the other side. best of luck!

  5. Librarian of SHIELD*

    At this point, should OP go back to their HR coworker and show them this document? If HR did intervene with the manager, should they now be told how wholly deficient the manager’s response was?

    1. Monty and Millie's Mom*

      This was also my first reaction! It kinda seems like maybe the HR person attempted to address it and was told by the manager that it was handled, but there wasn’t clear guidance or follow up. I mean, maybe nothing will come of it, but that probably be my next move, framing it to HR as “we talked about me not getting feedback, and now I have this – but I’m not finding it to be helpful, please help”.

      1. Everyone's a Critic*

        Hi, LW here. At first this is what I thought too, “maybe wires got crossed,” but I found out that the anonymous feedback thing was HR’s idea! Because I did go back and try to prod and see how it came about using almost the exact words you wrote. I pointed out that it’s hard to fix problems if I don’t know what specific situation or project they referred to and the anonymity was more of an obstacle to learning how to do better.

        Someone below commented that this all ends in one of three ways – my boss gets pushed out, I get pushed out, or a miracle happens and we all somehow work through this. It’s been awhile since I wrote in and I can update that I’m the one who got pushed out.

        1. Morticia*

          I’m so sorry that happened to you. I hope you’ve found a better position with proper management.

        2. Maybe not*

          I’m so sorry. This is awful. It sounds like HR and your boss have serious problems understanding how to facilitate a healthy, productive workplace.

        3. RC Rascal*

          I’ve seen this kind of situation before. No feedback, then weird anonymous feedback that is vague and not actionable. This feedback has been gathered with the goal of getting rid of you, not helping you improve.

        4. Monty & Millie's Mom*

          I’m sorry to hear that you’re the one that got pushed out. That really sucks. I am sending you best wishes that your next/current job is NOT populated with weird people who can’t do their jobs, and that you experience a healthy, even happy, workplace!

    2. Lisa*

      Was wondering the same. It feels like tattle-taling but I can’t for the life of me figure out what to do here. The manager seems fully incapable of having a constructive conversation.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      This was also my first thought, but presented as a clarification question. “After I talked to you, this happened and I wanted to circle back and see if that’s normally how we hand feedback in the organization.” If it is (?!) then that’s information you can use (to run very, very far away!) and if it’s not, that’s information HR can use (to punt this manager into the sun).

    4. Troutwaxer*

      I guess the question is how much the LW trusts HR, and where things broke down. Maybe the way to approach it is to as the HR person “Did you ever talk to anyone about that issue we discussed on how the boss isn’t giving me advice/direction?” That way it sounds like the LW is simply following up and the LW doesn’t have to “tell on their boss.” They just have to ask some leading questions and keep their mouth shut about what happened, unless they decide the HR is firmly on their side.

      1. PT*

        I mean, it’s entirely possible that the initial conversation was a genuine casual conversation with HR, like they were both heating up something in the microwave at the same time and casually chatting. “Oh how are you liking the job?” “Oh it’s ok, I’m having a hard time figuring out what I’m supposed to be doing!” (HR goes to boss and demands he give her feedback.)

    5. Smithy*

      Should the OP do that, I think they are setting themselves up for an incredibly antagonistic relationship with their current manager.

      How that antagonism plays out could go a number of different ways – manager getting pushed out, OP getting pushed out, HR becoming heavily involved in their relationship/onboarding, etc. But I think a case where HR unties the knot of a few communication mishaps and then everything moves forward smoothly is the least likely. A situation where the OP has other options they could explore sooner rather than later, maybe it’s worth gambling by bringing this back up with HR. But if this is a case where the OP is fairly junior and really needs this job…..I’m not sure I’d be willing to take that risk.

  6. voyager1*

    I am sorry but the manager isn’t a manager. I have no idea why someone would just hand a paper to some like that , but dang.

    I would be looking for a exit strategy. And I would go cold to everyone at the job except for necessary interactions.

    But in short your boss is a outlier and weirdo for doing that.

  7. IrishEm*

    This is Not Constructive Advice but damn I’d like to yeet the boss into the cold depths of space somewhere out beyond Pluto. That manager either has no idea how to manage or does not want to manage you, LW. That sucks and I am so sorry. I would not count on them being a reference other than LW worked here from Date to Date type.

  8. Mr Jingles*

    Oh my what a gross thing to do. I’m sorry for you OP!
    One advice: do not assume that ‘feedback’ was given freely or even knowing it would be used in this way! It is far more likely this is less feedback than rather overheared communications, rants and chats your pathetic excuse of a boss collected to discourage you ever to ask for feedback again and your colleagues might be horrified if they learned of this and how it was used!
    If there is something you recognize from a person you have had a good connection with, you might want to put some feelers out and talk directly to them to get more useful feedback.
    If you do so carefully and without accusations it might help to develop some connections with your coworkers to make your time more bearable. Nothing helps better to survive toxic jobs than good allies. Just becareful how you zaök to them. Be noncommittal and vague at first and ask sensible questions whenever the situation allowes. Preferably after doing them a favour. Or ask them for honest feedback on you as a favour. People like doing favours and they like giving their opinion in general as long as the request is honest and comes at a good time. It shows them that you value their point of view. It’s even a common sales-strategy to use that tendencies for sales! I can’t tell you how many salesreps I’ve coached who upped their numbers just by asking the customers if they could present them an offer instead of just presenting an offer!
    Your boss is a really abnormal person! I had many bad bosses I wooed by asking for their feedback/opinion on stuff and got them off my back that way! This is new. That boss is really one nasty lazy daisy!

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      It’s also weird that there are only negative or “needs improvement” comments in the document. I’d really like to believe that OP’s colleagues also said some good things about them, but the boss didn’t think it was worth including them in the document.

      OP, I think this document says MUCH more about your manager than it does about you or your colleagues. I understand why you’d feel wary about interacting with the rest of your team, and I believe it’s important for you to be as careful around them as you feel you need to be, but also try to observe them and think about your other interactions. I’d be really surprised if they all feel only negative things about you.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        I see it as a perfect example of why this manager sucks. It’s possible that the coworkers were asked some version of “What can you tell me about OP’s work and where they need to improve” and regardless of how balanced a review the coworkers gave, the manager figured hey, OP only needs to hear about the stuff they should improve. And presto, a document of criticisms with none of the nuance or balancing positive sentiments from coworkers. Because that manager probably has zero understanding of why anyone would want *positive* feedback.

        Your coworkers are likely to be mortified if they knew only the negative stuff was presented to you. The manager is also disrespectful to them for giving you such a one-sided impression of what they said, “anonymous” or not.

        1. Everyone's a Critic*

          Thank you so much for saying this! I’m LW and this thread is really helpful to reframe the feeling that I was surrounded by colleagues who would take part in a professional roast. For a long time it felt like there was no one on my side and everyone hated me because of just this document. I did reach out to a few trusted folks who I could recognize from the feedback and they were horrified it was used in this way. In fact, some of the things like, “she didn’t answer her phone” (I was in the bathroom and called my coworker back when I got to my desk) my colleagues never viewed as a big deal but must’ve mentioned it to my boss at some point in passing. It’s helpful to think of the rest of the document in that light and imagine maybe not everyone knew it was for something like this.

          1. Mr Jingles*

            Oh that’s good to hear! I’m glad you’re not surrounded by morons! Thank you for this additional information.
            Hopefully you can survive that boss! Good luck!

        2. oranges & lemons*

          I’m guessing it was either this, or the job environment is so toxic that everyone is used to casually turning on each other for the sake of self-preservation. Hopefully the former.

      2. Mr Jingles*

        I wonder if the boss went to the coworkers and asked nicely to give their opinion on the specific topic of improovement and then cut the ‘how to improove’ part and left just the comments and examples.

    2. Jackalope*

      This brought back memories of a toxic job I worked at previously where during a meeting (otherwise unrelated; don’t even know anymore what it was about), the owners asked me very specific questions about my team lead, and insisted that I give them some way in which she needed to improve. Keep in mind that this team lead had often acted as a shield against some of the toxicity, and we were friends as well. I felt absolutely horrible and finally picked something that I figured they already knew about and said it in the nicest way possible, but…. I felt like a jerk about criticizing her to them for ages, even though I was mid-20s and they refused to let me go without it, and I didn’t realize at the time that I could just refuse and leave. I have no idea if something like this happened, but maybe the co-workers had their arms twisted?

    3. Sylvan*

      This is good advice! I want to add one thing, which is that the anonymous feedback might not have come from your coworkers.

      Your boss might have written it and claimed it was anonymous to avoid responsibility. If some of the feedback points to specific work or conversations your coworkers knew much more about than your manager, then maybe that piece of feedback is from a coworker. But if it doesn’t point to your coworkers’ knowledge and it all reads as if it comes from the same perspective, I think it could be from your manager.

  9. Cee Cee Dee*

    This boss is incredibly passive aggressive and has no business mentoring people. I would start looking to move away from that boss or to a new organization all together.

  10. GiantPanda*

    I think it would be important to know if this is how your boss treats you or if this is how he treats his team.

    If it is the first then LW needs to get out of there. Being bullied by one’s boss who is supported by the team will not end well otherwise.
    If it is the second this is the general “management style” then OP may (or may not) get used to it and adapt to the job. Still dysfunctional and not great but much less of a problem.

  11. Exhausted Trope*

    Yes, to all of the above. Holy management dumpster fire, Batman!
    (And he did not even bother to double space the document?)
    OP, I’m so sorry. I have no advice other than to get out asap. Your boss is an ass.

  12. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    I had a boss very similar to this, and apparently she was convinced I came in to take over her job eventually. I was so young and too afraid to bring up this hear-say so all I did was continually mention how “I really could NEVER do what you do! I would HATE it!”. That round-about nonsense not only didn’t help on my part, I think it convinced her I didn’t want to grow within the company. So, schedule a sit down appointment with your boss and ask where he would like you to be in one year or five years and how he would like you to work with that document he gave you. Get the conversation going!

  13. WellRed*

    Once you get out (this isn’t salvagable, sorry), hand him a document telling him “I quit.” Or better yet, spell it out in tilapia.

    1. Everyone's a Critic*

      Hi, LW here. I wrote this awhile ago and forgot I had submitted it. So I can update that I did leave. There were several times I just wanted to walk out the door never to be seen again and let everyone wonder what happened to me, but I lined up a new job and gave my two weeks’ notice at Christmas…the day before I went on a two-week break. So I came back in the New Year for a day to turn in my equipment and debrief and pack up. I used my remaining time before Christmas when I knew I was leaving to document in the company archives all of the work I did and accomplishments I had while there and then handed off a boatload of things I had in the hopper to my colleague.

      1. Mr Jingles*

        Good for you! You just turned this day into good-news-monday! Who would have thought such good ends could come on a monday!

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        Thanks for the update! I was reading this post and getting very upset for you. I am so glad you are out of that situation.

      3. HR Exec Popping In*

        I am so glad to hear this. Your boss was horrible and leaving was a good decision. Congrats on jumping boats and on the new job. Hopefully your new manager is much better.

  14. jael11*

    LW, I am so sorry. You need to get out of there as soon as possible. This shouldn’t be your job!

    This happened to my federal contracting group many years ago. Our jerk manager decided to send out a “customer survey”. Was it a survey of our actual federal contracting customers? No, it was a survey of our technical co-workers. The survey results were published (to all) and they were a mix of great comments combined with some very specifically targeted named negative comments, all unattributed (of course). Although we were never allowed to find out who made the comments, most of us had been there long enough that we knew who said what.

    Really it was just a way for a group of men to harass a group of women. Nothing was gained except to make people feel bad.

    1. No Name #1*

      this actually happened in a course I took when I was in social work school. We filled out a survey on how the course was going halfway through the semester with no indication that the professor was going to publicize all of the comments completely unfiltered. While this was an evaluation of the course itself, since it was discussion based, a lot of the context did pertain to students in the class and some of them were very hurtful. Regardless, we thought that the only person who’d see the evaluations was the professor, though fortunately when I emailed the professor about the fact that this was handled poorly, he was very receptive.

    2. Everyone's a Critic*

      Oh no! That sounds awful.

      LW here. Yeah, this org is also not known for doing its surveys well. I’ve heard from colleagues that the anonymous HR survey that’s done once a quarter sometimes ends up with folks getting named and yelled at by their department directors if they’ve given negative reviews or suggested improvements for the org.

  15. Khatul Madame*

    Meet the non-responsive boss (NRB) – a not-so-rare species.
    Working for a NRB is soul- and often career-destroying. It would be great if AAM could run a NRB 101 post where the commentariat could share advice on how to recognize, handle, mitigate and avoid this beast.

    1. Former Usher*

      Agreed. I left a job that I otherwise loved because my manager started avoiding me. We only spoke once in the 6 months before I resigned.

    2. Smithy*

      I feel this. I had a job that when I started had two bosses. Boss #1 had regular 1 on 1’s, discussed my work and goals, etc. Boss #2 was an entire NRB and when I asked for setting up 1 on 1’s/on boarding meetings in my first week – his response was that we’d meet as needed and figure it out.

      This dynamic was incredibly dysfunctional for me because it gave the delusion for a while that I was being managed, until Boss #1 ultimately left. When it was just Boss #2, the degree to which I was left adrift and how problematic it was for my career became far more apparent.

    3. AnonyWorker*

      Wonderful idea!! Don’t want to give too many personal specifics but I think I’m working for one of these, and don’t know if it’s my place to set goals for myself and/or reach out to other people in my department for growth opportunities.

      1. Smithy*

        As someone who semi-survived on these, and the advice I would have given to the OP before going to HR is that it’s really important to contextualize your NRB in the context of the workplace.

        Personally, my situation was a mix of an overall problematic work environment combined with a manager who had a lot of inexperience in the role and legitimate fear of being caught out. The overall workplace was not a supportive place, so broadly speaking goal setting was an ongoing exercise in moving goalposts and casting blame on other parties. My boss would get assigned goals without his input on whether or not they were achievable and spent most of the year praying a miracle would achieve them and blaming others why it wasn’t possible.

        Because that was his situation, any goals assigned to me were a risk of him looking bad. If I met my goals, and he failed his – that would make him look bad and not allow him to find ways to potentially blame me for missing the goals. Not necessarily that I was doing a bad job, but rather that our team was too small or I was too junior. Whether or not he felt those things was immaterial, but it was how he was approaching his own professional survival.

        With that information in mind, it was really helpful to understand why he was doing it – and what avenues I could use to adjust. In many cases it was more about cultivating relationships so that I’d have other references, and making sure I had clear tangible achievements to speak to in my resume. It also helped clarify that where I worked had major systemic problems – so my actions were hyper focused on personally surviving rather than trying to advocate for any broader systems change.

        All of this to say – take time cautiously networking internally with your peers and those in other teams.

    4. Cat Tree*

      I’ve had many NRBs. I didn’t even know what good management looked like until 7 years into my career. At my very first job out of college, my boss actually told me that he was afraid to talk to me, like it was my fault for being quiet and a bit shy (understandable at my very first job). I later found out that he never wanted to hire a new grad and resented me because his boss made him hire me.

      At a later job, I worked there long enough to get two annual reviews. That boss rarely talked to me but by then I was used to it. The first year I got a rating of “needs improvement” with no follow-up. The second year I got a rating of “exceeds expectations”. I still have no idea what I did so differently between those reviews to get such drastically different ratings. I certainly didn’t make any intentional changes to my work.

      I would love to have an open thread just for NRBs so we can hear all the horror stories.

      1. irene adler*

        I would as well.
        I’d like to delve into techniques folks have tried to work with NRB bosses. What worked, what didn’t.
        Also, how do NRBs come about? What causes them to be the way they are? I’m thinking that they are the result of promoting to manager the person with the best tech skills. But no assessment was made re: their people skills.

  16. Hamish*

    Is there something missing from this letter? OP refers to “that casual conversation” and “that lunch conversation” but I don’t see those mentioned anywhere else. Kind of confused.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Very first line. “Recently I went to a coworker…”

      I had to go back and re-read the letter, too, because the lunch thing threw me.

  17. Elbe*

    I think it’s incredibly telling that when the LW wanted feedback from her boss, his response was to give her feedback from her colleagues.

    My guess here is that this guy doesn’t know what is going on. He’s refusing to give her feedback because he just doesn’t know. When HR prompted him for feedback, he had to source it from elsewhere. A lot of people default to criticism of their employees as a way of covering up their own shortcomings.

    I think Alison’s advice was spot on. This may be an okay job to keep during a pandemic and recession, but it’s not likely going to be one that builds the LW’s skillset or furthers the LW’s career. As soon as the LW is able, they should make the move to something that is more of what they want.

    1. Everyone's a Critic*

      Hi, LW here. You are incredibly spot on. He doesn’t know enough about me or what I do day-to-day to provide the feedback, and as other commenters above have mentioned it’s entirely possible (and I hope true) that my colleagues didn’t really know what their feedback would be used for. An update since I wrote is that I was able to find a new job and leave. It wasn’t a place where I would’ve been able to grow new skills or even do what I was already good at.

      1. Lana Kane*

        Congrats on finding a new job! I hope it’s a better situation for you. How did Sucky Boss take your resignation?

  18. Genevieve Targaryen*

    First, run. But in the mean time, since we are in an economic collapse due to the pandemic, until you can run, go to HR and share your concerns and be very specific. Hand them this document and say that you need open conversations with managers in order to be able to work. Explain that passive aggressive emails like this without clear, specific directions does not help you know how to work. And if HR can’t understand that, then, um, run faster?

  19. Sympathetic Reader*

    wow i uh..had a boss who did this to me. then he fired me. then he left that place of work and now i’m worried that this OP is working for the…same boss. get out of there!!

    1. Everyone's a Critic*

      Hi, LW here. I’m torn between asking if your boss worked for X or Y company that I know was in his past experience or not asking because if there’s any chance someone from my job sees this I’m worried about making more waves. Let’s just say he used to work for two very well known companies on the West Coast in a certain valley.

  20. Ana Maus*

    GTFO. This is an abusive situation, in my opinion. A list like that is not constructive and it’s designed to undermine confidence and self-esteem.

    Like Allison said, HR works for the company but I think you should at least approach them with this list as well as replies to any emails you’ve had asking for guidance.

  21. BunBun*

    Oh look it’s my old boss! He did exactly this to me. Refused to mentor or help when I asked for it…even after I had gone to his boss when she requested feedback on him. Constantly said “I think it’s best for you to just figure it out”. Rarely spoke to me. And he also had a one-on-one with me where he said nothing except slid a piece of paper across to me filled with negative feedback from others and said “this is what people think of you”, with ZERO follow up. Just left me with the paper. I tried for over a year to try and improve the relationship, went to others for help, strived so hard to achieve the constantly moving goalposts that were never clear in the first place.

    Eventually my mental health gave out and I was having constant panic attacks on the way to work and at work because I didn’t know what was next. I left on disability for my mental health and quit with nothing lined up when that was over.

    Your boss (and probably org) sucks and isn’t going to change. If you are already experiencing physical and mental stresses, I’d try and leave ASAP.

    1. Everyone's a Critic*

      Gosh, this definitely summarizes my experience. Maybe we’re the same person???

      It’s really sad to think there are so many managers like this.

  22. Magenta Sky*

    One of the hazards of anonymous peer review is that it can easily turn a performance review into a popularity context. Especially in an office with more than a handful of employees.

    Only people who were popular in high school believe that’s a good idea.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      There can be worse things. The anonymity , however, is something that NO ONE should have to deal with.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        Without anonymity, it becomes very challenging to get honest negative feedback. With it, it’s a popularity contest. The only sane answer is to avoid peer reviews, which hides important information from management.

        Perhaps the real answer is to train management personnel in actual management skills, starting with the CEO, and hire employees who know how to function as adults. (Which is about as easy as finding pixie dust to sprinkle on them so they can fly, I’ll admit.)

    2. RC Rascal*

      This is a good point.

      I once interviewed for a role where the incumbent had suddenly departed. Through interviewing, I learned the incumbent had been sent into an under-performing business unit as a change agent. He changed a lot of things. He was direct. He asked people to do work. The business unit managers didn’t like him. They gave him a bunch of negative feedback on a 360 review. The very same upper managers who hired the change agent and sent him into the situation, now backed the complaining business unit managers.

      I ran far away from that situation. Holding people accountable for doing their jobs is sometimes all it takes to become unpopular.

  23. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    I once had a manager and a director – and the director had decided that he was going to replace me. So he and the manager sat down and wrote up a complete hatchet job on me, that said “he’s a good worker but man, his attitude sucks and he’s no good.”

    Well the reason my attitude sucked was because one Sunday night, my daughter underwent an emergency appendectomy and nearly died, and I called the director and told him that my Monday reports that I delivered would be late.

    And Monday morning when I called my manager and told him, he threatened me. So I called the director, going over his head…. I was doing them a favor, because mrs Anon-2 advised – get your pager, and she brought out a bubble wrap back and a hammer.

    A month later I get thrown under the bus. I refused to sign the review because it was a paste-up job, etc. and was told “YOU HAFTA!” No, I don’t hafta.

    I said – “well, I guess I have the right to reply to this, right? I don’t want to. If I do it won’t do the three of us any good, at least as far as this place is concerned.” TRANSLATION – without saying – “if I am forced to sign this, I will also file a response. You can fire me, but I’m taking you down the drain with me….”

    I was giving them a chance to back away from this. My manager was too dumb to figure that out, but the director, who had executive suite aspirations – got the message. There was a meeting with HR, we worked it out.

    Thankfully – BUT – I was/am a technician in my IS/IT specialty – if I were fired I wouldn’t have any difficulty landing a new situation.

  24. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Posting this – it’s similar – it’s called a paste-up review …. designed not to improve one’s performance but to get rid of someone.

    OP, bail out when you can.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Or for those familiar with baseball terms = “a purpose pitch”. Roger Clemens, 103 MPH, high and inside.

    1. Happy It Isn't Monday*

      “Establishing a paper trail” of poor performance.

      When your boss tells you that you have to “regain the respect” of your colleagues, it isn’t an achievable goal.

  25. Betsy S*

    Glad you got out! Someone who won’t TALK to you about roles, goals and expectations, could be impossible to work for. Agree with the folks who said your boss sucks and isn’t going to change. Also had a couple of thoughts that might (or might not) be helpful to someone in the future:

    1) did you have peers in the same role, or anyone in the company who USED to be in the role, who might have had some insight into the role ?

    2) Might it have been possible to have a step meeting with the boss’s boss, not to complain , but to find out about their vision for the department and the roles the team members? Were they the person who helped you onboard – if not, whoever did that might be another resource.

    3) Your boss was clearly terrible, but I also wonder if there might have been a gap in expectations about being a self-starter? I do NOT know whether this is the case in your field; In mine, in a technical role, senior people are expected to come in with a strong sense of how to get up to speed. I’ve seen a mismatch when people come from different sorts of orgs, like startup vs established bureaucracy. And, I remember hearing ‘figure it out’ during my brief time at a senior job that I wasn’t ready for (and a boss who was very new to management). This could be completely off base, and either way there is no question that your boss was a horrible communicator and a jerk.

  26. anonanna*

    I’m in a similar dynamic at my job. My grand boss had to do my performance review in the fall because my previous supervisor had left and he brought up a mistake I had made MONTHS earlier working for a different college that apparently caused issues but no one told me about. The colleague that apparently was upset never told me, my past supervisor (who was awesome) never told me, and I found out about it as a surprise in a performance review. It’s definitely made me feel on edge working with that department now/just in general- I’m afraid of making mistakes/what they’re apparently all saying to each other but not to me.

  27. Keener*

    I am so sorry OP you’re going though this. What a tough spot to be in. One thing I really appreciate about my company is that when you discuss feedback or areas for development there is a strong recognition that sometimes the best course is to really lean-into/focus on your areas of strength. For example, if you’re not great at details but excel at the big picture a lot of discussion will be about how to really develop those big picture skills and make them even more valued. That doesn’t mean that areas of weakness are completely ignored; it is still important to be aware of your weaknesses and address them/develop coping mechanisms if they are critical to your role.

  28. Watch your back*

    You’re a threat to your boss and he is trying hard to get rid of you. Document, document, document and BCC your personal email. BTDT.

  29. Argh!*

    I’m dealing with this kind of thing at the moment, and I feel completely helpless and hopeless. I have been applying for jobs for a few years, and they either go to internal candidates or wind up being eliminated during restructuring or belt-tightening.

    It’s been like this for about 4-5 years, and the stress has really taken a toll on my health. I’d decided to keep my head down and not give my boss anything to complain about. And then she set me up by accusing me of something I didn’t do, then after I took the bait (I asked for instructions in writing, and she agreed to it — then lied and said I was insubordinate) … she got HR on her side and they ganged up on me with a final warning.

    It will be a relief when the shoe falls, but I’ve been documenting every little thing with the assumption they’ll try to say they’re letting me go with cause and leave me without unemployment benefits. There’s no way I’m letting them get away with that!

    I’d much rather have an actual paycheck in a non-toxic environment, but considering how things have been going, I’m preparing for battle.

  30. Astrid*

    This reminds me of a job I had where I had worked about a year without having a single one on one with my boss. I had asked on and off for one as I saw less skilled co-workers being mentored and growing with help of other managers, and I wanted some direction.

    I walk in one day to my boss telling me we’re going to “finally have the one on one you’ve asked for.”

    They fired me.

    I can’t say I felt bad, as it was a company that paints themselves as supporting numerous causes, and fighting things like modern day slavery, only to pay 20% less than any other company in the field.

    Bad bosses are hard enough, but bad bosses who don’t value people are unsustainable.

  31. Jessica Fletcher*

    LW, don’t be so quick to assume that your coworkers genuinely had nothing good to say about you! Your crappy boss may have specifically asked them to give him “stuff to work on” instead of simply any thoughts about you. Maybe he even pressured them to find a criticism. The only thing you know for sure is that he’s a bad manager.

    Since he’s new, they might have had no idea this is what he was going to do with it. They might have assumed, as a normal person would, that he would use this as a guide to train you, instead of throwing it at you unfiltered.

    Is there another person who can train you and help you understand the requirements of your job and the expectations of the team, in absence of good management from your boss? Like a non-HR coworker who does the same or similar work? If so, develop a good relationship with them and learn your job from that person. Don’t complain about your boss, but ask if they can show you the ropes, since you’re still new.

  32. Temi*

    Your boss is an idiot – he’d rather talk to everyone else except you and call it feedback. I would look for another job in another company right away. The fact that there wasn’t a single positive on that list means he’s looking for issues (where there probably is none) and is not here to support you.

  33. juicyfruit*

    LW, I’ve been in nearly this exact situation with a boss that had this attitude. Let me tell you now: RUN. There is no salvaging this. By some combination of incompetence from HR, your boss, and to some extent, your team, you have un-luckily found yourself in this impossible situation. It’s (probably) not your fault. Focus your efforts on finding something else.

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