my boss is trying to “quiet fire” me — can I just ignore it?

A reader writes:

I have worked for a tiny company in a managerial position for close to 15 years. Over the past few years, the owner/boss has made a consistent series of stunningly bad business decisions that has led from an environment of “high achieving lunacy” to “wow, quite dysfunctional” to “flaming dumpster fire of the highest order.”

This past year has been particularly difficult. She yells and cries and curses, then begs forgiveness. She will ignore projects that require her input or action for weeks or months, ignore the prompts or questions of others, and then swing wildly in the opposite direction and ride everyone hard to get something pretty pointless done in a stupidly short amount of time. She seems to have abandoned our normal work and is now obsessed with auditing 20-year-old files that she could have gotten rid of a decade ago. The “raise and bonus” that she has promised me every year since Covid keeps getting pushed back. I could go on, and on, and on. I have tried to broach these topics with her, multiple times, most recently just before Thanksgiving.

As anxious as it makes me, I know it’s the best choice for me to leave, and I have just started applying for new positions at companies that are (hopefully) less dysfunctional.

That said, what I am witnessing over the past weeks, since I tried to have a discussion on getting the business back on track with her, can best be described as “quiet firing.” She leaves me out of emails and meetings, ignores my replies or messages, doesn’t answer my questions. She took everyone out for lunch the other day, except for me because I was out for a client appointment.

It all has a real “fuck you” feel to it, that the same actions in other situations don’t usually have. However, I kind of … don’t care. If she wants to pay me my salary to ignore my existence or bury me in easy, pointless busywork as I search for a new job, then … cool?

My question is, is this wrong? It doesn’t seem any more unethical for me to stay in this position not doing much of anything because she is trying to be passive-aggressive than the things she has done and stress she has put me through. If I’m already going to leave anyway, is there something wrong with letting this go on until I find a new position?

It’s not unethical to remain in a job where your boss is upset with you or wants you gone; if she wants you gone badly enough, she can tell you that. That’s her job.

Your job is to cover the responsibilities you’re assigned with a reasonable amount of conscientiousness. If your boss tries to bury you in pointless busywork or doesn’t give you the resources you need to do your job … well, that’s her call. In many situations and especially in a senior enough role, I’d argue that you would have a responsibility to raise it at least once to make sure she’s aware that’s how your time is being used and that you think X would be more effective. But when it’s clearly intended as a way to retaliate against you for delivering a message she didn’t want to hear? And when she has a long-running track record of resisting feedback, not to mention what sounds like stringing you along with false promises about salary? No. If she wants to play that game, you’re not obligated to try to save her from herself, particularly when it could mean causing even more problems for yourself at work or even getting fired.

Of course, that’s a different question than whether it’s in your best interests to stay in this situation. It almost certainly isn’t! If this continues for long enough, it risks affecting you professionally, to say nothing about the daily impact on your quality of life. If your question to me was “can I just ride this out for years?” I’d warn you that it was a bad plan.

But you’re actively working on leaving, and there’s nothing wrong with continuing to get paid where you are until you can make that happen. If she wants to pretend you’re not there until then, that’s on her.

{ 128 comments… read them below }

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    What was the Japanese term from the 80s and 90s, for being given a desk by the window with nothing to do, in the hopes that you’d quit?

    1. Freelance Historian*

      Do you mean madogiwa zoku? Looks as though it translates into “window sitting” or “window seat tribe.”

      1. Abundant Shrimp*

        Wow, I haven’t heard of it, but after 25+ years in corporate America, including 20+ years working in offices, it cracks me up – because at every company I’ve worked, it would’ve taken a lot of kissing up, punching down, and otherwise engaging in careerism to be promoted high enough to have both a window seat and nothing to do.

        1. Ashley*

          Yeah, now it’s more likely to put them somewhere unappealing (welcome to your new office in this supply closet) but still same vibe: be given nothing to do and be shunned from company meetings/events until the person gets tired of feeling useless/like they’re wasting their time coming in and quit.

          What’s really interesting is the flipside of this, with employees paying firms to quit on their behalf because they feel too awkward/embarrassed to tell their boss they are quitting.

          1. Lbam*

            Hold on, hold on, hold on…

            Are you telling me there’s an industry where people pay you to tell their boss the politest “fuck you” you can manage? Where do I sign up, I’d be GREAT at that…

            1. Princess Sparklepony*

              And now I want to know how much flair you are wearing. Brian wears 37 pieces of flair, he’s really making an impression….

          2. Jaydee*

            “And I said, I don’t care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I’m, I’m quitting, I’m going to quit. And, and I told Don too, because they’ve moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were merry, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn’t bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it’s not okay because if they take my stapler then I’ll set the building on fire…”

              1. Jaydee*

                As a pro at misunderstanding song lyrics and TV/movie quotes, my instinct was to believe copying the quote straight from IMDB would be most reliable. But…who am I to call into question the squirrels’ relationship status? The squirrels were married.

    2. Just Another Cog*

      I didn’t know that was an actual thing! Years ago, I worked for a company owner who did that! He wanted to get rid of a couple of long-time employees and instead of being upfront with them about their shortcomings, made it so their duties were reduced to practically nothing. Their workloads were distributed among other employees. The managers of all these people were baffled. The targeted employees never left before retiring on their own several years later. In the meantime, they enjoyed collecting paychecks for doing nothing. Wow.

      1. OrangeCup*

        I feel this never works out the ways the jackass bosses want it to! I had a bully boss once who had one playbook for getting rid of people, and this was one of her tactics (taking away people’s tasks, projects, and direct reports). As one of my senior colleagues said, “if she thinks she can bore me into quitting, she’s wrong. And there’s nothing she can fire me for.” Unfortunately she was able to get rid of him via a layoff.

        1. I Licked Your Salt Lamp*

          This kind of thing is happening to my partner- her boss has taken away almost all of her work and is hoping she’ll quit with nothing to do all day. Instead, she spends most of her works hours job searching, reading books, or playing games on her phone. On days she works from home she watches tv, plays video games, cleans the house, or walks the dog.

          1. Jessen*

            This sounds like the sort of thing that worked better before mobile phones and regularly available internet connections.

            1. Johanna Cabal*

              Yup. I believe the same thing was happening in my prior job. Responsibilities removed and my one-on-ones were superficial at best. Layoffs were also starting to occur and I had a gut feeling my name was on the next list.

              I felt 0 guilt about using work time to schedule the Zoom interviews that got me out of that place. Zero guilt.

              What that company didn’t know was that the same thing happened to me in my first job out of college and I swore I’d never ignore the same signals again.

              Fool me once…

        2. MsSolo (UK)*

          Yes, that’s usually the next step – when it comes to layoffs it’s easy to point to the person and show that they’re not contributing to the business as much as their colleagues, and because they’re just twiddling their thumbs all day while everyone else is carrying their old workload no one is really sad to see them go.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I love the detail that you have to give them a window to stare wistfully out of. Make it too grim and they stop dreaming of getting out and instead just grind it out until retirement.

        1. Taketombo*

          Japanese cube farms used to be set up so that the bosses have the cube on the aisle down the center of the department, often with the biggest boss with the cube, on the aisle, closest to the door.

          He gets to see everyone come and go. When you leave you say お先に失礼します(Osaki ni Shitsurei-shimasu) which is literally apologizing for being rude by leaving before your co-workers.

          It’s a different world (with a backwards cube hierarchy) and when I worked there the lunch tables and tea machine were shoved next to the windows.

          1. MsSolo (UK)*

            Putting the lunch space by the windows feels more egalitarian. Everyone gets to be by the window a little bit!

      3. Shandra*

        I heard of a do-nothing employee who had his job only because he was part of an acquisition. When Dad sold his small company to a big one, he conditioned the sale on Son having a job for life with the big company.

        I think Dad knew what a failure he’d raised.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          This was my father-in-law. He was useless but had no idea. One day he went back after a weekend or a vacation or something and found they’d moved his desk to the hallway. It was a subtle hint that even he could understand.

        2. Just Another Cog*

          OMG! That happened at my old company as well! The other owner had a daughter (kind of a ding-bat) who needed a job. She was hired and when the company later sold, one of the stipulations was that she’d have a job for life AND stock in the new company that wasn’t typically granted to people at her level. The new company has reduced her duties to just about nothing, but she is still there many years later. That place was so dysfunctional.

      4. StarTrek Nutcase*

        Dang, in 40+ years of work, I’ve seen wayyyyyy too many coworkers who would have happily been to accept a paycheck for no or little work. Most of them already were doing the absolute least possible.

        I could never understand how they stood it. A random few hours once a month sure, but nothing for even 2 days and I’d lose my freaking mind. If I dragged my butt up & got to work, I’d better have something to occupy my mind. My weird gets beyond weird with boredom.

        1. Stipes*

          I mean, I’d rather have a job that feels like I’m accomplishing something, but I haven’t been bored since I was a kid. Things to occupy my mind aren’t in short supply, in fact there’s an overwhelming glut of them that I’ll never have nearly enough time for. If someone decided they were going to pay me to sit at a desk for 8 hours a day and do nothing, I’d have all those extra hours to read, write, design.

        2. Abundant Shrimp*

          If a workplace did this to me in the early days of my career, I’d be horrified.

          If it did it to me now, I’d dust off allll the online classes I’ve got lined up that I never have time to take, take them all, do a few open-source projects of my own, otherwise prepare for a job search.

          If someone does this to me 3-5 years before retirement age? instead of doing what I’ve seen many of my old workplaces do to my older colleagues and kicking me out with a few months’ severance and no way to find a new job in an ageist industry? Hell, I’m buying them dinner at the restaurant of their choice as thanks!

        3. Teapot Cleaner*

          I could do it solely if it was also known that I didn’t have to show up and I just get a paycheck. Like an annuity or something. If I have to drag myself to work daily I need a pile of work to keep my occupied and it needs to be interesting work. I’ve left jobs when I still had a ton to do but it was all tasks I could do in my sleep at that point.

    3. Chairman of the Bored*

      As far as I know the NY city school system still has their “Reassignment centers” where they basically warehouse teachers who are bad at their job and/or accused of misconduct.

      They don’t do any work, but just draw a check for years until they retire or their cases are decided.

      The UAW set up something similar called the “Jobs Bank” for redundant auto workers. Same idea; since you can’t be fired you just get paid to show up and sit in an empty room every day.

      1. Tracy*

        It’s not true that union members can’t be fired. What they do get is due process if they’re under consideration for firing, for cause.

        The claim that unionionized workers are unfirable, can just show up to an empty room, do nothing, and collect pay is pure nonsense.

        1. StarTrek Nutcase*

          As a state employee for 30 yrs, I’d hear the same about state employees. But truth was there was an established system of guidelines and protections to ensure an employee was only fired with good cause. Unfortunately, there were managers too lazy to pursue termination of crappy employees. Admittedly, the system was onerous (I fired 2 and it was beyond frustrating and time consuming).

          1. Abundant Shrimp*

            Exactly – we are so used to the “came in one morning and out of the blue, my badge didn’t work” termination process that we see anything else as coddling and paying people to do nothing, smh

        2. Princess Sparklepony*

          They do exist. Union members can be fired but it’s not a quick process. The Rubber Room is a short term holding area for people in the process of either being investigated or fired. They can do whatever they want – read, knit, do puzzles, etc.

          This is from wikipedia, so it may not be 100% accurate but: A reassignment center (also known as a rubber room) is a type of holding facility administered by the New York City Department of Education for teachers accused of misconduct while awaiting resolution of their misconduct cases. As of 2007, the city had thirteen reassignment centers.

          Also (not from wikipedia but the Post – again, source not great) in 2020 there were 8 rubber rooms but the city has pledged to ban them. But NYC govt bans take a long time to happen. But they have pretty much halved the number of these centers. So progress…

      2. Michelle Smith*

        So ridiculous to me. If we just had universal basic income, we could stop the charade and just let people live their lives instead of pretending to work.

      3. Pierrot*

        I’m a union member. I did a basic Google search and your description of the job bank leaves out the fact that the employers (ie the auto companies) supported this idea because they thought it would incentivize productivity. UAW doesn’t have the authority to single handedly guarantee employees’ jobs for life- the companies have to buy in. And there’s a big difference between employees who’ve been made redundant and employees who are “bad at their job” or allegedly engaged in misconduct. Without knowing all of the details about NY DOE, I’m guessing there is some bureaucratic inefficiency that’s keeping employees in limbo for years.

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          It takes a long investigation to get the information to fire someone in NYC BOE. The accused has a version of due process. Which is not a bad thing overall.

          The BOE rooms don’t have much to do with productivity, it’s more to get problematic employees somewhere they can’t do any damage. Although some may eventually come out of it exonerated. You never know.

      4. Mad, mad Me*

        Actually, many of the autoworkers in the job bank at the GM plant in my city actually did real work (landscaping, cleaning, and construction for nonprofits). People love to believe union employees sit around on their butts whenever they have the chance, which is the kind of bias that fosters the “shut up and be grateful you have a job” mentality.

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          That’s kind of cool that they are doing things for non-profits. Charities can usually use some help.

          I’m a fan of unions but I do believe that there are indeed rubber rooms for problematic employees especially in school systems. But glad they have due process and are protected until their investigation is finished.

      5. Princess Sparklepony*

        I was thinking of these. Called Rubber Rooms supposedly. Keeps the miscreants they can’t fire away from kids/decision making.

    4. boof*

      I was under the impression it was less “we hope you quit” and more “we take care of our employees for life, but we don’t actually have any work for you” (either because of incompetence of obsolescence)

      1. MassMatt*

        Especially in Japan, where the stigma against layoffs was very strong. The “window watchers” were not being pushed into quitting, they were simply put out of the way so they couldn’t mess anything up.

        In the US it’s not so unusual for an incompetent person to be kept on but be given less and less work to do because the manager is either too spineless or otherwise unable to fire them. It’s amazing what some managers will do in order to avoid dealing with a problem employee. And what ridiculous obstacles HR can put in place from keeping that from happening. I know of one employee who was on PIPs more or less continuously for two years.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          I am given to understand that back in the day the position of “company historian” was a sinecure for they guy they were unwilling to fire but also unwilling to risk with anything important.

          1. Lasslisa*

            Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance had a bit like this about the guy who writes the instruction manual. Whichever of your engineers and manufacturing techs you can most spare…

          2. Deejay*

            Although when they did it in NCIS the in-story explanation was clearly “Ducky’s getting on a bit and should really hand over the medical examiner to his assistant who’s more than ready. But we love the guy and still want him around so we’ll give him a job which plays to his love of old stories”.
            And the real-world explanation was “It allows David McCallum (RIP) to go part-time and not have to be in every episode”

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              We just gave a member of our group a certificate making him ‘Vice Chair Emeritus’ for his decades of contribution (it’s a fairly small group). He turned 98 last summer…and has decades of fixes and stories he’s willing to share with us. We see him twice a month, and are always happy to see him (he’s way retired and doesn’t get paid but we love him).

        2. Arawn*

          I have often marvelled this US system where you can fire people for almost ANY reason* giving no protection to its workers and nearly all the power to the employees. I mean, this should mean that employees know they need to behave and bad workers get booted swiftly? And yet you hear CONSTANTLY about poor workers just continuing their shenigans whilst many good workers get the boot. What a system.

          * I know this isn’t 100 % so, like there are differences between states + you can’t fire based on certain things. Which is, on its own, something that surprises me when employers operate in an at-will state and could just say “I did not like your face” which would be okay – but they say “well, you’re gay so get out”, which is illegal. Like WHY would you say it. Why. Just fire the person and be quiet. But no, you had to say it and now you will pay. I do not get this.

      2. I forgot my user name againn*

        I’ve read articles about NY. That’s what it is. while you are waiting for your case to be heard you are on paid suspension. so you need to report to the room to get paid. it can the years for your case to come up.

    5. Alternative Person*

      The term I’ve heard is ‘追い出し部屋’ oidashiheya/oidashibeya, ‘Expulsion room’ in English. I’ve heard a few different explanations, from being given pointless, mind numbing tasks to do to being put in a room with a computers and told to find a new job or take some sort of layoff/early retirement.

  2. Antilles*

    Nice of her to pay for you to job search for a better paying role at a company that isn’t actively falling apart. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, actually.

    1. Freelance Historian*

      Do you mean madogiwa zoku? Looks as though it translates into “window sitting” or “window seat tribe.”

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      “I’ll show her! I’ll keep her on payroll during her entire job search! I’M A GENIUS!”

  3. Smithy*

    If you’ve been in a job this dysfunctional for 15 years, are looking to leave now – and now are concerned that it’s unethical to stay during a new version of bad behavior – I just really want to recommend seeking some kind of therapy if you can.

    Staying in this job while you do the basics and look for a new job is truly your best path. Your interview process may take a bit longer than you’d rather, you may interview at places equally dysfunctional to where you are or dysfunctional in completely new ways – and being in a stable place (at least financially) can help you catch those orange/red flags during the interview process.

    It’s not your fault that you’ve been working in a dysfunctional place, but inevitably you are likely to pick up adaptive or survival behaviors that you at least want to be aware of as you leave and when you start at a new place. And blaming yourself for keeping a job while your boss is trying to “quiet fire” you – it’s hard not to see that as a result of being in that type of place for so long. So keeping cashing those checks and doing what you need to. Because getting into your head that you need a new job ASAP is very often how people end up in new places with just as many problems.

    1. MK*

      I think OP makes it clear that it hasn’t been that dysfunctional all these years, but has been gradually getting worse. Also, her attitude seems pretty well-adjusted to me.

      1. Abundant Shrimp*

        Second that I, for one, am impressed with how well OP is handling this re having it affect their mental health.

        And honestly, if it were me and if the boss weren’t the owner, I’d probably experience some pangs of guilt and think that I needed to do “something”(?) to help the company stay afloat. But if she’s running her own company into the ground, it’s a free country, who is OP to stop her? *shrug* keep doing what you’re doing, OP, and best of luck with your search!

        1. Nicosloanica*

          OP’s attitude is exactly what I often recommend to people when I say “you can’t care about the company more than the people in charge do” and “not my circus, not my monkeys.” I am living a less-extreme version; I don’t think the direction my org is going seems good, I don’t think our leadership has a plan, and I often can’t get their attention on the urgent things that come up in my role (which for the record is development, so – pretty darn urgent). I am job searching. I’m also trying to put in what I think is a reasonable day’s amount of of work, and then declining to go nuts beyond that. When they assign me to something I don’t think is a priority, I accept that. Solidarity, OP.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            A lot came into focus for me when I was introduced to the principle of not caring more than your boss does.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          “I mean, personally I don’t make a hobby of setting my life on fire but you do you, boss!”

      2. Smithy*

        I think we can all read into “high achieving lunacy” what we will – but calling out a few years of decisions taking a working environment into a dumpster fire place was what was in the letter that read very much to me like the boiling pot with the frog. Where the dysfunction appears slowly over time, and it’s just not uncommon to develop adaptive behaviors to work around the dysfunction.

        To me, I’ve seen a lot of high functioning – seemingly well adjusted – professionals come out of dysfunction or highly stressful (aka high achieving lunacy) workplaces having normalized a lot of workplace behavior that isn’t normalized in other workplaces. And then find those new workplaces a difficult adjustment because they’re learning on their own and by surprise which behaviors were specific only to the last workplace.

        If not therapy, there are certainly other places to talk through these types of transitions. A spiritual leader, a career coach, etc. But that’s where my thinking came from.

        1. ferrina*

          I agree with this. You can’t be in an outrageous environment and not adapt. It’s kind of necessary, and what our brains are primed to do. Some of the adaptations can be silly, some end up helping in other scenarios, some end up hurting, and some are a mix. I got used to a toxic place where things changed every 5 minutes (fail fast philosophy. Yep, we sure failed). Now I’m known for being able to roll with the punches really well. My boss is always mystified when something hits the fan and my attitude is “yep, that happened, I’ll get the mop and keep working on XYZ”. On the flip side, I am way too used to people being rude to me and I’m way too accommodating to people that I shouldn’t be accommodating.

          Therapy can help you figure out what quirks you’ve adopted, but if you don’t have the energy/resource for it at this time, focus on getting out first. Also seconding that it doesn’t need to be therapy- whatever resource works for you to process this.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Agree with all of this. There’s an older post here on AAM about how working in a dysfunctional company can affect you in ways you might not think they do. I’ll see if I can find it and link it here. OP, if you haven’t already, I’d suggest reading that post too.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            I spent a lot of my time reading the archives here at AAM to get a better handle on what was and wasn’t normal in a workplace. It was eye-opening that other companies didn’t spit their employees against each other in order to keep their jobs.

          3. Aggretsuko*

            You have to live in the reality that’s assigned to you, in my experience. I may think I’m a good employee, but management feels very differently and they set the reality. I can’t change their reality. I have to buy into theirs as long as I live in it.

  4. econobiker*

    Is this company a wealthy person’s “hobby company” supported by an ultra wealthy spouse or trust fund or is it supposed to be an actual revenue generating corporation? If it is the first, then by all means slack back on responsibilities and look for a different position as you can . If it is the second case, amp up your search and get out as soon as you can- RUN AWAY!

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Filed under “Hindsight is absolutely 20/20 and I don’t mean the dumpster fire of a year either”:

      Regardless of whether its a hobby company or not, double or triple your search efforts. Get out, and don’t look back til you’re about 7-9 years in the future. Dealt with the squicky “is he trying to quiet fire me” for approximately 4 months prior to being put on notice that I was being laid off so I needed to find a new job. Folks as a spoiler, things did not magically improve when I walked out the door over there.

      Best of luck to you!

    2. urguncle*

      I remember when Basecamp collapsed a few years ago after the founding team basically said like “oh this was just a passion project!” Cool, did you hire people who think it’s a passion project who don’t rely on this income?

  5. Falling Diphthong*

    I may have witnessed some “I am not speaking to you any more!!!” that landed to the recipient as “Cool. My life is much easier if you don’t speak to me.”

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think Bond villian level crazy boss figured out OP was looking for a new job.
      And in Bond level crazy villian style has found a way to “destroy” OP.
      “I will cut OP out of my inner circle! Try job hunting when you have less work to do and fewer spontaneous interruptions from me during the work day! Yeah, you will be too devastated to search job opportunities when you are being banished from the kingdom.”
      Not to mix my media, but OP changed the Castle Grey Skull into the Office Grey Rock and this is the healthiest effing reaction I’ve ever seen here.

    2. ferrina*

      Silent treatment was my family’s hobby. I’m ADHD and didn’t have the bandwidth to figure out who wasn’t speaking to me this week, especially since it’s equal odds that they are mad at me vs they just forgot about me. I tend to take the same approach at work until it impacts my work. Once someone starts sandbagging my work and undercutting my reputation, that’s when I start taking protective measures.

      OP is smart to get out now.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      Reminds me of the classic Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown comes back from camp, greets Lucy, and she says “have you been away?”

  6. Pizza Rat*


    I’d say the best course of action is to do what you’re assigned, act like everything is normal, and keep on with that job search.

    Best of luck!

  7. MsM*

    OP, do not be surprised if she suddenly pulls a 180 and demands to know why you haven’t been working on the things she hasn’t let you know she expects you to be working on. Or is shocked and appalled when you do hand in your resignation, because somehow that didn’t strike her as an inevitable consequence of freezing you out.

    1. Jellyfish Catcher*

      Yes. I came here to add that you should daily document, document, what she is assigning , what you normal responsibilities used to cover, your previous excellent ratings and what you working on now.
      Also, find alternative recommendation sources: trusted long term coworker, etc

      1. ferrina*

        Agree that this is likely that boss will demand you work on the things she cut you off from, but I don’t know that I’d go the document route. Keep a log for yourself, but never show it to your boss. Boss does not listen to reason. Boss sees reason and evidence as a personal affront. If you show her a document, she will do an outburst on “you’ve undermined my trust by taking notes on what I said!”.

        Honestly, I’ve had better results taking the wide-eyed sycophant route. The “gee boss, I’ll get right on that! Would you the margins to be .5 or .75?” The boss is on a power trip, and sometimes self-preservation means give ’em what they want (i.e., ego boost). Then gtfo.

        1. Ama*

          Yup. Thankfully the colleague I had that would pull this wasn’t my boss (but he was a VIP on our volunteer board I wasn’t allowed to push back on). Whenever he’d pull some temper tantrum about “not being informed” of something he was definitely informed of? “Oh, I’m so sorry, I did double check and you were included on the emails that went out on [dates], you might check with IT and see if they are going into spam.” If he decided he was in a bad mood and sent back a cranky, nitpicky response when asked for feedback on something that everyone else had enthusiastically approved? “Thank you as always for your honest feedback, we’ll keep that in mind.”

          He retired at the end of last year, thank goodness.

    2. Budgie Buddy*

      ^ This. OP, be aware that your boss could be setting you up to fail so there’s a reason to fire-fire you.

      I wouldn’t say that if the boss acts shocked at the resignation that means she’s unaware of the consequences of her actions, though. More that she feels entitled to play both roles. I.E. When she has the power she pushes people around, but she also wants to play the victim when she feels aggrieved.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I had a government boss do the same thing to me once only she literally told other people to do my job *right in front of me*.

    That’s fine. Two can play that game.

    I spent all my time looking for jobs and planning my wedding. When Boss was in the office, I made a point to be gone. No one ever missed me.

    I knew I was leaving a month before I gave my two weeks notice. During the day, I cleaned out my desk, packed up my apartment, and finalized wedding details. The only weird thing my boss did was make sure I was essential personnel during the federal government shut down? She never explained why?

    Then I got married, invited everyone in the office but her because she wasn’t around and I didn’t want her there anyway, swore everyone to secrecy, went on my honeymoon, came back, gave notice, told her I was married, and left. She asked to take me to breakfast on my last day, and I declined because I have self-respect.

    Then she threw me a going away party that I said I didn’t want. Good times!

    Don’t give people like this any respect or flexibility. They don’t deserve it, and you deserve better.

    1. Straight Laced Sue*

      This is a marvelous real-life story. I am enjoying the thought of the whole thing.

      I have questions! Were you tempted to leave earlier once you knew you had a new job offer, or did you need to stay for pay, insurance etc? Was your wedding during the month you had before you gave notice? Did you invite folks short notice to the wedding? How were your coworkers about keeping it a secret? Are they sympathetic? Were you able to relax on your honeymoon, knowing you were still in that aggravating job? How was your mental health during this whole time, in fact? (I’d have been tense. Triumphant but tense, just because it’s not nice being treated badly.) How did it feel to be in a new job?

      Eh, you don’t actually have to answer these questions ;)

      I am so glad you declined her breakfast. Breakfast is too beautiful a thing to sully with a nasty vibe.

  9. bighairnoheart*

    I sympathize immensely OP. My old boss froze me out for over a year because he couldn’t fire me (I’m sure he could in theory, but our organization required a PIP before firing and his main complaint with me was that I wasn’t good at “anticipating his needs” aka “reading his mind” which is a surprisingly hard thing to write a PIP for!). I wish I hadn’t stayed as long as I had, but it took me a while to find the right new position and I couldn’t afford to quit with nothing lined up. When I finally gave him my 2 weeks notice, he was so happy, he actually started talking to me again! It’s a shitty situation OP, but as long as you focus on getting out (therapy really helped me overcome my confidence issues and finally land that new job), you’ll be okay. Good luck with the search!

    1. ferrina*

      I did have a boss who put me on an “unofficial” PIP for not anticipating her needs and “not communicating” (read: I’d tried to give her an update on my project and she refused to hear/read it. I kept logs on the progress, but she refused to look at them. Then she gave the higher-ups a progress report on one of my projects and included out-of-date information. When I told her she gave them the wrong info, she got mad at me because….I guess I should have magically anticipated she’d talk about this project and force her to read her email?)

      HR wasn’t involved in the PIP, but they did hear about it. After That Boss left, I tried to go for a promotion and they refused to consider me because I’d been on an unofficial PIP. Which they’d never seen nor been consulted on. Also disregarding all of the other evidence of my work (fabulous reviews, extremely happy clients, coworkers who would go out of their way to work on projects with me, direct reports who loved me and put out great work).
      It was one of many problems about that place.

  10. Ashley*

    Solid advice. The one thing I’d add is this: be prepared to be let go immediately when you give notice, don’t bank on getting two weeks etc. Between her erratic behavior and apparently wanting you to leave, I wouldn’t be surprised if her response to your notice is to terminate you immediately (either to be petty or just to fast forward your leaving).

    1. She of Many Hats*

      Since this is a long-term job you’re leaving, I’d also figure out how to remove her as an option when you need to provide references – are there others at the same level or above you that you can trust to give a reliable reference if you need to provide one.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Or better yet, others who have already left! Not only are they immune to any blowback from her, they may be able to recommend you to their new employer.

  11. Chairman of the Bored*

    Sounds like a paid vacation while you hunt for another job, this is legit “living the dream” type stuff and nothing to be concerned about.

      1. Banana Pyjamas*

        Yep. And don’t be surprised when things the boss explicitly told you to do make an appearance in your termination letter. Someone who doesn’t like you or doesn’t want you around can’t be counted on to be reasonable.

  12. Marna Nightingale*

    If you work they’re supposed to pay you for it.

    Are you free to spend those hours how you please, or do you have to spend them where your boss tells you to, doing whatever duties you’re assigned or occupying yourself in ways that leave you free to carry out duties at any moment?

    If it’s the second, and it sure sounds like it is, you’re working. If your boss chooses to pay you your regular wage to play a bit part in her personal psychodrama, instead of to do your actual job, that’s “other duties as assigned”.

    Take the money and run, or at least take the money and saunter (to a better job), guilt-free.

  13. Enginerd*

    Alison, could this sort of thing be considered constructive dismissal? That’s usually for when an employer creates a hostile environment rather than ignoring completely like the LW’s situation, but the goal of getting the employee to quit seems similar.

  14. Dust Bunny*

    Honestly, she sounds so off-the-rails that I’m not even sure how you would tell whether she was trying to quiet fire you or this was just her normal level of dysfunction. Maybe it doesn’t matter? I think the answer either way is to ramp up the job search and GTFO.

  15. Not Always Right*

    I worked for a family owned company. In a 2 year period, they little by little they took away my responsibilities. At first, I was puzzled and more than a little hurt, but then, I realized it was a way to get me to quit. I was planning to retire about 3 years after this started anyway, so I decided to just keep working there, doing the minimal amount of work they wanted me to do hoping that it would last until my retirement year. I started setting aside as much money as I could in anticipation of my expected layoff. I got laid off a 2 years earlier than I had hoped, but I had a decent amount saved. That, plus a small $200 a month pension, and unemployment was enough for us to get by without any pain. I found a new job 3 weeks after my lay off. It paid less, but my commute costs and insurance costs were 60% less than what I was paying, so I landed quite well on my feet. I did go on three job interviews just about 4 weeks before the layoff. One of which resulted in a job offer a week the very next day, but I turned it down because it reeked of toxicity. This was cemented when, on my way home from the interview, their HR called me (HR was in a different city) asking me why I never showed up for my interview! Bullet dodged.

  16. Bailan*

    Sounds like Tangping (Lying flat) or Bailan (Let it rot) which are two youth movements in China. Nothing begets nothing…or is that “Last generation”?

    In my organization, we have places you are sent if they want to punish you. The start with taking away any part of your job that you like and then exile you away to a rotating list of supposedly non-critical departments.

    People either stay until they retire if they can stand it or leave for a more reasonable organization. But there are no sanity guarantees in academia.

  17. Young Business*

    I’m sorry you’re going through this, LW. I was in a similar situation in my previous role. My FIFTH(!) manager within a 2-year span simply did not like me. This person was absolutely ruthless and because I did not worship the ground they walked on I was a target for their abuse. There was a ton of dysfunction in the department and company that was also an added burden.

    This manager would ask me to leave certain meetings, information was withheld from me or passed on to me too late to act on. It was humiliating and upsetting. When I gave my notice, my manager avoided me for my remaining weeks and did not show up to our last check-in meetings.

    I can’t emphasize Alison’s wise words enough:
    “If your question to me was ‘can I just ride this out for years?’ I’d warn you that it was a bad plan.”

    I was severely burnt out after this role, and even though I was managing to eke out achievements and add to my CV, the emotional and mental toll it took is not worth it. Even though the entire duration of my tenure was awful, this particular 6-month period of being iced out severely burnt me out and was a horrible time in my career.

  18. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

    I once worked for a small startup that was acquired by another, highly, highly dysfunctional company. The new company couldn’t seem to find work for my team to do. My boss kept asking for work for us to do, and they kept putting him off.

    Being a good boss, he eventually told us, “Please be available in case of emergency, and please continue to attend meetings. Other than that, I’m not going to give you busy work, so go live your lives.” (We were all remote.)

    Most of us were happy to collect the paycheck and use the time to interview, since we didn’t actually want to work at this highly, highly dysfunctional company. Within 6 months, all but one of us (the most dysfunctional one) were gone, and most of us much sooner.

    So no, I don’t consider it unethical. It’s your boss’s job to give you (meaningful-to-the-company) work. This question thus can be reframed as, “Is it unethical of me to work at a company where my boss won’t do their job?” And the answer is nope. Lots of bosses at lots of companies won’t do some part of their job. You still get to collect the paycheck.

    If it makes you feel better, think of it as being paid a retainer to be available in case you’re needed! After all, you’ll do work if they give it to you. I’ve been paid on that basis more than once (see also my boss asking us to be available in case of emergency); it’s different from being paid in return for nothing at all, even if it feels the same day to day.

      1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

        He *was* a good boss, but to be clear, he came from the (functional) startup along with the rest of us, also wasn’t being given work to do by the new company, and gave notice shortly after I did (he was the second person on our team to go, I was the first). He was clearly also using that downtime to job hunt and get away from the new, highly dysfunctional company!

      2. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

        It was also funny because the company I accepted an offer from didn’t want me to start until 4 weeks after the offer. Since I had virtually no work to do at my current company, but was collecting my paycheck and working from home, I was like, “Cool, cool, a paid staycation.” :D

  19. Clare*

    Letter Writer, a word of caution. The human mind thrives on feeling competent and useful, and on success. Your boss has taken away your ability to get this at work, and while the much needed mental rest will feel great to begin with, the novelty of that will wear off after a while. I recommend finding ways that you can be competent and achieve some little successes in your life while you job search – especially because the very nature of job searching adds up to what can feel like a series of little failures before reaching the big success.

    These little successes don’t need to be amazing, dramatic or important. You could be baking something tasty, making a single handmade coaster, drawing your dog, or even doing work-related things like coming up with a great new document colour palette or pivot table to take to your new job while you twiddle your thumbs here. The important thing is to hold on to your ability to say “I did a thing! Go me!”.

    You’ll need a surprising amount of resilience to counter the constant negative subtext from your boss, and having regular successes really helps with that. Good luck with your job hunt!

    1. Citizen August*

      This is really good advice, thank you. I’m in a related situation and these words hit home for me.

  20. Isabel Archer*

    “This past year has been particularly difficult. She yells and cries and curses, then begs forgiveness. She will ignore projects that require her input or action for weeks or months, ignore the prompts or questions of others, and then swing wildly in the opposite direction and ride everyone hard to get something pretty pointless done in a stupidly short amount of time. She seems to have abandoned our normal work and is now obsessed with auditing 20-year-old files that she could have gotten rid of a decade ago.”

    Not to take the side of a bad boss, and clearly OP’s company has always been at least somewhat dysfunctional, but… this description sounds like the onset of mental illness or some kind of cognitive impairment to me.

    1. MamaSarah*

      It’s sadly true. Before my time with my current employer, this was happening with an employee. Turned out they had early onset dementia.

  21. Pierrot*

    This describes the behavior of a previous boss, and I suspect, based on a number of aspects of her behavior, that she she was beginning to experience memory loss. She had an inherently difficult personality which was a separate issue, but she would repeatedly tell us to do something one way and then claim that she told us to do it a different way and get angry that we did it wrong.

    Whether or not memory issues are relevant here is besides the point, and I don’t mean to armchair diagnose, but I’d suggest documenting everything she tells you to do as she tells you to do it. Ultimately having the receipts probably won’t change her belligerence, but I found with my manager that if I said “oh, last Monday when you were telling me about this project, you actually told me NOT to do xyz because of lmno reason, which I made note of because it seemed important when you told me.”
    Reminding the boss of the reason they gave you for their instruction. Ultimately I left my problematic job with nothing lined up because I could not take the boss’ BS any longer, but in the mean time when possible I tried to plan around the fact that she was going to find some reason to get mad at me.

  22. Alternative Person*

    You’re in the clear in my opinion. Boss can employ whatever nonsense she wants and you can take your time finding the right fit.

    I don’t think it’s healthy long term, but I can think of worse things than coasting along for a couple of months while I plan my exit.

  23. MamaSarah*

    LW, this work situation does not sound good at all. If it were me, and I have had painfully light workloads, I would maybe start stretching my lunches out to a somewhat forgivable 75, 80 minutes and use this time every day to actively job search. A long lunch can’t be any worse than what’s going on with your boss and could save your sanity.
    I’d also say quiet quitting goes both ways…there’s no shame in walking out the door at 4:59.

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