my boss reprimanded me for not answering an email … in four minutes

A reader writes:

I’ve been at my new job for just over a month and have very grave doubts about whether it’s going to work out. I’m finding it impossible to make my supervisor, Martha, happy. Her criticism is frequent, harsh, and, in my opinion, often very unreasonable. The incident that has me writing to you happened today, when she reprimanded me in writing for failing to answer an email in four minutes.

To set the scene: Earlier this week, Martha and my other boss (I support two teams but it’s an uneven split; unfortunately my primary boss is the awful one) had a meeting with me in which Martha told me all the things I was doing wrong and what needed to change. I’m trying to understand where she’s coming from, but I’m just not used to a work situation like this. She proudly describes herself as a micromanager (she doesn’t appear to know the word has a negative connotation) and is looking for constant, immediate responsiveness, “overcommunication” (her words), and accountability. I understand she’s the boss and it’s her call, but it’s a hard adjustment. I’m not used to being watched so closely. Every job I’ve had, the boss has been concerned with results, not with knowing exactly where I am every minute, hearing back from me instantly, etc.

All week, I’ve worked so hard to keep her happy and show her that I took the conversation to heart. Then today, I received an email, on which Martha was CCd, from a senior partner asking for contact info for one of our clients. I saw the email come in while I was working on a project for the other boss. I made the apparently grave error of not stopping instantly, but instead finished up the line in the Excel sheet I was working on, then opened the email and began gathering the requested info. Before I had finished, Martha replied to both of us, sending the partner the requested information (the wrong information, for the record, but I’ll get to that later.) I saw her email, which arrived in my inbox a whopping four minutes after the email from the partner, stopped working on my response since it was no longer necessary, and went back to the project I’d been working on. Then I get an email from Martha: “Jane, this would have been a great opportunity to build a relationship with the partner. Why didn’t you dive in and assist?”

Four minutes, Alison. Four minutes. A bathroom break can take four minutes!

I just feel like she’s determined to hate me. I tried so hard all week to do everything exactly the way she likes, and she still found something to criticize. If she wanted me to answer the email, why didn’t she give me a grace period of, you know, maybe five minutes before answering it herself? Also, as I said earlier, she gave him the wrong information. He asked for the email address and she gave the physical address — which, to me seems like she was so eager to answer the email, so that she could blame me for not answering it, that she rushed and sent the wrong info. (By the way, if I sent incorrect information to a partner, she would act like it was the end of the world. But it’s no big deal when she does it.) Also, for the record, I understand some things are very time-sensitive. I still think four minutes is kind of a stretch, for almost any situation, but I also want to make it clear — this was not an urgent request, it could have waited five, maybe even, gasp, 10 minutes!

I’m not asking whether my boss is being reasonable here. I’m very confident that she isn’t. My question to you is: do you think I should start looking for a new job? I just feel like this is such an unreasonable criticism that there’s no way I’m ever going to make this person happy. She either has no idea how to manage people or has developed an instantaneous hatred for me and will continue to find things to criticize no matter how hard I try. I’ve been so stressed out since I started this job, worrying about messing up — which, not surprisingly, is probably leading me to mess up more. Is this salvageable or should I start looking for an escape plan?

Start looking for a new job.

Some years back, I would have recommended you try to address the problem head-on with Martha: give specific examples of projects where you could have worked more effectively if you weren’t on such a short leash, ask if there’s anything you’re doing that makes her feel she can’t trust you and how you can work more autonomously, and suggest experimenting with giving you more autonomy on one specific project to see how it goes.

But I’m increasingly convinced that while that approach may result in small improvements around the edges, you’ll still be left working for a manager who fundamentally doesn’t know how to manage, who doesn’t trust you, and whose instincts are punitive where they should be supportive.

This is someone who proudly describes herself as a micromanager. I just don’t think direct conversation is going to solve it to the extent you need.

Maybe I’m wrong. You could try that conversation and see how it goes! (There’s advice here on doing it. I also did a podcast episode on micromanagers that could help.) But I’m skeptical.

There is potentially another avenue for redress here: the other boss. What’s your dynamic with her, and what’s your impression of her management style? If you sense she doesn’t agree with Martha’s assessment and she looks like someone more reasonable to work for, is it possible to talk discreetly with her about what’s going on and reshuffle the balance of your work so that you’re mostly or exclusively working for her? (In particular, I’m curious about her input during the meeting Martha held with the two of you and whether she agreed with Martha’s criticism.)

Otherwise, though, I’d rather you get out quickly before Martha has affected your confidence and your sense of yourself as a competent, autonomous person, and while this is still a relative blip on your resume.

{ 429 comments… read them below }

  1. Hills to Die on*

    Tell her you were taking the time to read the partner’s email so you could provide the correct information.
    Just kidding – go look for another job.

    1. Office Lobster DJ*

      Oh, the temptation to simply reply all with “Hi Fergus, That email address is actually….. Hope this helps!!!”

      (No, don’t really do this. Martha’s rant would then be about you embarrassing her. It probably wouldn’t end well.)

      1. OhNoYouDidn't*

        I would do it, but I’m in the fortunate position that I could get fired or walk out and be ok. It’s the principle of it, and I would have no problem rubbing her face in it in a very friendly, helpful, and matter of fact way.

      2. Lea*

        I would absolutely say ‘I didn’t see the email
        So I am
        Providing it as well (if snarky would say as requested) and then mosey on

        1. Ellie*

          I would reply to the original email from the partner, with the correct email address, and act like the second email did not exist. If pressed, you can pretend the network was running slowly and the second email landed just after you’d sent the other one.

          Seriously though OP, if you have other options, then take them. This person sounds like a nightmare to work for.

          1. MishiL*

            In this one instance – yes, this is what I would do too! But they need to get out NOW this boss is a nightmare and will not get better.

      3. tamarack and fireweed*

        It would be absolutely 100% acceptable in our (rather sane) office to answer along these lines. I’d probably go “Let me add some information to this: the email address is XYZ” .

      4. Cinn*

        I would’ve been tempted to say “on top of the info already provided they can also be reached at [email], [phone] etc”. But then there’s a reason I’m kept away from customers, no diplomacy.

        1. Orora*

          That seems very diplomatic to me. You’re acknowledging information has been provided and adding to it. The very epitome of helpfulness!

          Of course, I have been called “too aggressive”, so I might not be the best person to ask.

    2. Orange You Glad*

      If it were me, I would have continued my detailed and correct response and hit send. Then if she said anything I could say I was responding and didn’t see her response until after I hit send.

      1. Caliente Papillon*

        I would have and have done this. I had a total moron director who I assisted who would definitely would rush to do things assigned to me – by her boss, because he knew she was a total moron but that’s a story for another day – and would always be wrong. She would leave out trying to get on my case about anything though because, well she couldn’t. I did my job, most of her job so keep it zipped lady!

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Super frustrating for you to be in that position rather than her boss, y’know, un-f***ing the situation.

        2. Avery*

          Oh, that reminds me of one of my old jobs…
          Boss was a micromanager and insisted she read every email I sent before it got sent, but would often take several business days to approve emails. (Yes. Every email had to be approved before sending. At least for some time before she decided only the important/substantial ones would need to get approved, but providing no guidelines on how to figure out whether an email would fall into that category.) Other department’s head had no such restrictions and would often jump in with the wrong information because she didn’t know my projects, and then I’d have to go back to my boss and submit a new email for approval taking into account this wrong information, and that new email would take days to get approved again…
          I left that job and never looked back. So glad to be rid of that place.

      2. Annie*

        yes, and then if she complains about it, you could say “oh, I was in the middle of something else, it was only 5 minutes and I saw you answered it, so I thought it was taken care of.”

        1. Kat*

          I would’ve lied and said I was in the bathroom and just as I got back and opened the email I saw her reply came through before I had a chance to finish reading the first email. Then when she tried to birch me out for that I’d have asked her to clarify when it is allowable for me to take bathroom breaks given that a four minute delay is unacceptable and I’d like to know so I can schedule my bowel movements accordingly. Of course I wouldn’t want the job at that point but it would be fun to keep throwing her excuses in her face just to see how much stupider her complaints could get and how much I could keep pinning her down into dumber and dumber expectations.

      3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        An unreasonable boss will still find a reason to be upset about this. But they’ll find a reason to be upset about anything, so you’re not really any worse off from doing this.

      4. FunkyMunky*

        I’ve often responded to the client directly bypassing any responses sent by the boss (often uncalled for especially if emails are directed at me and her input wasn’t required), or if opportunity knocked – emailed back “please disregard below email, here’s the actual info you need”. Bosses definitely need to be put in their place often enough

      1. Sasha*

        We all want to be Meryl Streep, but most of us want to be her in Mama Mia or the French Lieutenant’s Woman.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Even Miranda actually had some decent points in her work…this just sounds like keeping everyone in crisis for no reason.

    1. tinaturner*

      Yes, the other boss is the key here. But I’d assume I have to leave and only check in w/her to be sure a switch can’t be made.
      The key point is that LW has to work for TWO and one is so unreasonable she prevents LW from doing that. Even working only for the bad one would be hard but it’s obvious w/two she’s in a NO-WIN sitch.

  2. Insert Pun Here*

    I tried to come up with a list of professions in which is sub-4 min response time is a reasonable expectation. Here’s what I came up with:
    Emergency medicine
    Hostage negotiation
    Person who saves the earth from asteroid collision
    Secret service but only the ones who protect the president (not the ones who investigate counterfeit money)

    What else?

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Even in emergency medicine, the surgeon on call is expected to be no more than 30 minutes away from the hospital at any given time, not no more than 4!

      Someone who is responsible for shutting down active hacks into a network?

      1. ferrina*

        I’ve been part of the response team for compromised data (either through a hack or other things). There isn’t an email- it’s a phone call so we have immediate communication.

      2. Moira's Rose's Garden*

        Code Blue / Crash cart team assigned to respond to cardiopulmonary arrests is about all I can think of in a medical setting.

        1. Random Bystander*

          When my daughter had appendicitis, I’d taken her to the ER. I know they sent the surgeon the images from her CT scan, presumably by email, so that he could make the call on what the timeline would be (ended up that she was put on IV antibiotics overnight as we had walked in after 7pm to calm things before he did the surgery).

          1. Hosta*

            Even surgeons with emergent patients are allowed to pee. They even get to wash their hands before and after! This lady is a complete dingbat.

            1. Random Bystander*

              Oh, definitely, but as far as medical things where a quick email response might be expected, that was something that came to mind, mainly because images were involved. In any case, the emergent patient (my daughter, in this case) was still getting some medical care from the general doctor in the ER, but I do remember it was fairly quick after she’d returned from imaging and ER doc said he was sending the images to the surgeon and then being told what the surgeon’s plan was. Even then, clock watching really wasn’t something that was on my radar as something to do, but I would think that ten minutes in this case (appendicitis case in ER) would be a quick response because surgeon has to get the images, look at the images, and make a decision on how to proceed before responding.

              Also the request OP was dealing with is so far down the scale of emergent that it isn’t even on the scale (other than to weight it at zero), so the boss’ expectations were, at minimum, absurd.

      1. Rainy*

        Hm. If you’re undercover, dropping everything to respond to an email from your boss would probably blow your cover, so maybe not that.

      2. Selina Luna*

        I watched a YouTube video with the woman who was basically the retired “Q” for the CIA, and she said that undercover agents generally responded within 2 weeks to physical drops. Email wasn’t used for communication prior to her retirement, but she’s kept in touch with the current goings-on, and… email is still not commonly used. Texting and phone calls are sometimes used and agents nearly all have smartphones, so apps that allow for quick, secret conversations are very common.
        I imagine bomb squads would use radio to communicate amongst themselves.
        I imagine bodyguards in this day and age would use texting like everyone else.
        I cannot imagine any job where email communication within less than an hour is a reasonable expectation. Maybe if you are specifically a diagnostician (the physician who diagnoses cases more complicated than what an ER doc or a GP can handle), they could ask for quick turnaround, but even then…

      3. Birdie*

        Having lived in two different places that required the bomb squad to come out on numerous occasions (yay, buried and unexploded WWI and WWII munitions!), I can say the bomb squad never, ever rushes unless the bomb is about to go off. They are methodical, almost unhurried in their work. Which, when you think about it, is exactly what you want. Panic causes people to think unclearly and make mistakes.

        Addressing recently uncovered mustard gas bombs requires thoroughly assessing the situation, careful planning, and choreographed mission execution that would put the Bolshoi to shame.

    2. Cat Tree*

      Do firefighters have a 4 minute response time? They probably start preparing immediately, just as LW did, but surely it takes several minutes to get all the gear on and drive to the location, even with sirens.

      1. Insert Pun Here*

        The Antarctic fire department has a 2-min requirement (from time of dispatch)! They may be, uh, an outlier in any number of ways.

        1. New Mom (of 1 6/9)*

          Man, this was a cool rabbit hole to jump down. With a high school diploma and 2 years as a 911 dispatcher, you too can take a contract for one of the most unusual jobs out there.

            1. New Mom (of 1 6/9)*

              For sure. I have an emergency medicine physician in my immediate family. Similar mental torture/exposure to the world’s horrors.

            1. The Editor-in-Chief*

              “Then get that ice cream van out there! Get it out there! Kill! All right, everything! Just throw everything at them! Just… that’s not… harder! Orange Frujus! And Zooms!”

            2. Quill*

              I was going to say “what about fire extinguishers” but household fire extinguishers are only rated to 40 F…

              Fighting fire is indeed difficult when water is a solid.

            3. Menace to Sobriety*

              But is it wrong, that I kinda wanna see what fire on a solid block of snow and ice … looks like?

              1. Cmdrshprd*

                I think you can go it at home (note not litteraly inside your home) with a bonfire/firepit and through an ice cube in it.

                I think it just turns to steam right away without turning into water.

              2. Hosta*

                It’s not fire but you can find videos of lava on ice! The lava flash steams the ice. The steam tries to escape through the lava but forms big bubbles of glass, while also sort of lubricating the underside of lava so it flows along the surface instead of just sinking straight in.

            4. Sacred Ground*

              And when outside exposure can kill you in minutes without donning all the right gear, evacuating a burning building gets complicated…

              1. coffee*

                There’s also a small number of buildings in Antarctica, so if your base burns down, you have nowhere to live, which is, for obvious reasons, not ideal.

            5. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Am I right in thinking that Antarctic is a desert? Google tells me its humidity is under 0.1%. That would definitely hinder traditional firefighting methods.

              What a glorious rabbit hole for a Wednesday evening!

              1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                Here’s where I very strongly recommend the podcast Against the Odds season on Ernest Shackleton’s failed Endurance expedition to Antarctica with no other connection than awesome Antarctic rabbit holes :D

      2. Coverage Associate*

        In too many places, you won’t even connect to 911 in 4 minutes.

        In places with very good response times, the fire department will respond to some calls in 4 minutes, depending on how far away the call is and what they were doing at the station, which can include cooking (and sleeping and bathing, I think) Even with training, turning off the stove and oven isn’t instantaneous. (Unless it is. It’s been 25 years since I toured a fire station. Maybe now the cooking appliances automatically turn off when the bell rings. It would be easy technology.)

        1. Cyndi*

          I live in a major city and even when I lived around the corner from a fire station and called because I suspected a gas leak (false alarm, fortunately!) it was over 4 minutes. I want to say 10-15.

          1. Sopranoh*

            I live in a fairly rural area. The fire station is 2 doors down from me. Last time I needed to call emergency services I could see them pull out from my driveway. That took more than 4 minutes I assume the turnaround time from 911 dispatch to them must be a few minutes.

            What I really don’t get is why the fire station is a polling place, but I have to drive 5 miles to the local high school to vote.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              Poorly drawn district maps? For a period of time, what side of my street you lived on determined your polling place.

        2. Lexi Vipond*

          Airport fire fighters have a response time in a small number of minutes, I believe, but that’s quite a specialised setup.

        3. Waltzing Matilda*

          I worked dispatch for an alarm company in a fairly large metro area until about 6 years ago. It was my job to call the location when alarms were received then dispatch if no answer.

          There were times when I would be on hold with police dispatch for 45 minutes. Thankfully, the times were much much better by the time I wasn’t in dispatch anymore, but it could still be 5 minutes sometimes.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        I was a volunteer on a small town fire department back in the late ’80s. We did not do our own dispatch. That was centrally operated by the county. I have no idea how long it took from the initial phone call to the alert to the station. Some times on some days, there would be enough guys hanging out at the station to respond (assuming, of course, that one of them was an engineer). Otherwise, we had beepers. The beeper goes off and you drive to the station. Don’t speed. You still have to obey traffic laws. Total response time was, um…, well over four minutes. You want faster responses? Raise taxes to hire a full time professional department.

        1. 1-800-BrownCow*

          My husband’s a volunteer fire fighter and it takes him about 4 minutes to just get to the station from our house, he has 1 traffic light/busy intersection to go through to get to the station. Add to that, more than half the volunteers are Amish/Mennonite and don’t drive, so they’re coming either horse and buggy, bicycle, or if they’re lucky to get a ride by an “English” person. But they also have to wait for an engineer to respond since none of them drive. Although, funny story, one of the Amish volunteers lives further from the station that we do, but he almost always beats my husband there because he hops on his bike and cuts through farm fields, so he can avoid busy roads and the traffic light intersection.

      4. Chirpy*

        My hometown’s fire department had a top response time of 30 seconds from a call in the horse-drawn days to get the horses harnessed up and the pump engine out the door – but they weren’t using email (they had a fascinating call box alarm system that automatically opened the horses’ stall doors.) Response time to fires was about 3 minutes downtown, but as this was over 100 years ago, there was far less safety equipment to put on, and the horses learned to differentiate the call box signals and could get to them with minimal input from the drivers.

          1. New Mom (of 1 6/9)*

            When he’s gagging I say “aaaaaaa” until he smiles and then yank the food out.

            The 10-month-old, that is. Not the cat. I leave her alone when she’s coughing something up.

          2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Having flashbacks to sprinting across the bathroom to stop my cat from eating dental floss she had fished out of the garbage. Was successful, but barely.

            1. Hosta*

              Mine runs while chewing and swallowing. The noise is something like gnarf gnarf gnarf with a background of me shouting.

              1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                That’s the thing! I had to move fast enough so I could grab her before she could run away.

            1. Straight Laced Sue*

              Oh I had a serious argument with a dog once about her trying to catch (in her mouth) every bee that flew past her into a hive. It was the only time that dog has ever been angry with me! Like, “You are seriously pissing me off. Let me eat the bees.”

        1. Goldenrod*

          “Children and cats want a 4 second response time.”

          I can attest to the cats part of this. Cats are extremely unreasonable.

          But probably cuter than OP’s boss.

        2. 1-800-BrownCow*

          “Children and cats want a 4 second response time.”

          Especially when you finally sneak off to go to the bathroom while the child is thoroughly engage in something else and the cat is napping in their sunny spot. Within 1/2 a second of sitting down on the toilet, their spidey senses go off and they come find you and demand your attention. And if don’t respond within 4 seconds, all hell breaks loose. There’s fingers and cat paws swiping under the door, demanding to know what’s going on as it practically as if you’ve been gone for days.

        3. Princess Sparklepony*

          My response time from hearing the first sounds of a cat hucking up a hairball is about 2 minutes! But I live in a small apartment.

          I do think that the hairball sound should be an option on your phone alarm. That would get you out of bed right quick.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        There’s very little in science that will change that fast. Either it changes within the first 15′, or you’re waiting longer (hours/days).

        1. WeirdChemist*

          I had a set of experiments once where I had to click “go” every 15 seconds for around 20 mins at a time! Happy not to be doing that anymore lol

        2. Beany*

          Hey, some nuclear reactions take place in femtoseconds. Not that the scientists observe this stuff in real time.

        3. ThatOtherClare*

          And if it does they’ll be using strobes and/or lasers, or a high-speed camera. Or all of the above!

        4. JustaTech*

          Science itself, sure. The instrument breaking – yeah, that can be seconds, but it’s also not going to send you an email, it’s just going to eat your sample and pee important fluids all over the floor.
          (Which is why you had to just sit with that instrument, just in case you’d accidentally gotten a bad tube and it would freak out. And that was the *good* instrument.)

          If it requires an near-instantaneous response, the alert is not coming by email, not to 911, not to a nuclear reactor, not to air traffic control, not to anything. The whole point of email is that it is asynchronous.

      2. DramaQ*

        I’ve been working in science for 14 years and to date I have not had a test/procedure that would be destroyed if it sat four minutes. The shortest time I’ve experienced is 30 minutes.

    3. honeygrim*

      Missile silo operator?

      OP, I want to emphasize Alison’s point about getting out before your awful supervisor damages “your confidence and your sense of yourself as a competent, autonomous person.”

      I spent about a year working under a similarly-inept supervisor, after several years of working with a good supervisor. Within that year my self-assurance was so beaten down it took me months to work up the energy to try to job search. I couldn’t figure out how to sell myself positively in a cover letter, so I just didn’t apply to anything.

      I hope you won’t have such a difficult time. But a bad manager, especially a micromanager, can absolutely wreck your self-esteem and confidence.

      1. 2024*

        That is where I am now. Almost two years ago I was hired, the mgr sits me down and tells me what a mistake she made hiring me and it…hasn’t gotten any better. At least she mostly ignores me. But the few interactions we have, she makes me feel incredibly stupid and incompetent. I am so tired, so depressed, I can barely move or function at all now.

        1. Sharpie*

          Brush up.your resume/CV and start looking, you’ve been there plenty long enough not to look like a job-hopper.

        2. ferrina*

          I hear that. That’s so demoralizing and after 2 years of someone systematically eroding your self-esteem, you start to lose the will to, well, anything. Been there. Then because you have no energy, you can’t get out of the toxic situation. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle (depression loooooves self-perpetuating cycles).

          I was able to get out with the help of meds. It wasn’t a silver bullet, but I finally was able to have enough energy to get me through the day (instead of losing the ability to function by 2pm). I used that energy to take the steps needed to get me out of the bad situation.
          I hope you’re able to get out and heal soon. Good luck!

        3. Glitter*

          I feel heartbroken for you because I’ve been there. I was almost as low as it gets thanks to bullying bosses and it was a scary place to be. I took medical leave because I literally had to and counselling to get my brain and nervous system to a point where I could look at jobs. It took a while but my dream job came along and two years later it’s still perfect so it can happen. You can get better and thrive again even if it feels so hopeless right now. I look back and wonder how I ever made it out but boy I’m glad I kept trying.

        4. honeygrim*

          Absolutely, 2024. Honestly, the only reason I got out when I did was that I applied for a government job. The application process, while complicated and time-consuming in the way that only government can be, did not include a request for a cover letter. The invitation to interview led me to think, “Maybe I am a competent person!” And that in turn helped me get through the rest of the process.

        5. ThatOtherClare*

          Two years is long enough to leave. You can go now! Start writing your escape plan. You don’t deserve that. You should have been coached to get you up to standard, not bullied. Even if you’re the stupidest, slowest, least trainable employee on the planet, the ethical thing would have been to fire you rather than keep you on in the role just to be nasty to you every day. Please escape. If not for you, then for all of us who want to hear your update from your new job.

          Issendai’s treatise on ‘sick systems’ seems relevant here:

          1. J.*

            Oh my. That “sick systems” article was quite a read. Sounds precisely like both of my public school teaching jobs.

      2. Middle Aged Lady*

        This. After a 40 year career, just two years at a toxic workplace combined with some marital/family issues affected me so deeply that I had a mental breakdown and never worked again.

        1. Forest*

          I’m sorry this happened.
          I’ve experienced a toxic boss unexpectedly derailing a functioning career too. (10 years after that boss, I’m gradually getting back to where I need to be financially, though not there yet.)
          I send best wishes for your current absolute comfort and thriving, however that looks for you!

    4. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      And I don’t think any of these jobs rely on email to notify these people, because email is not an instant communication medium.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yes, this. There are lots of jobs where you have to be very much on and focused to any new input that comes in through some sort of alert system – live television, air traffic control, a nurse at a hospital floor nursing station, emergency response dispatch, daycare teachers responding to small children, some kinds of call centers. None of those would expect you to switch tasks instantaneously based on an email.

        1. Anonymous Source*

          I work in TV and I do get the occasional absolutely urgent email, but it’s generally during defined periods when I know I need to be looking for them!

      2. Silver Robin*

        Yeah, feels like anything that requires a sub-5 minute response time would simply not be using email but rather calling or some other direct, immediate, live communication

    5. Vanessa*

      If it’s urgent, you shouldn’t send an email. I manage a tech support team, and I have no idea why people email in and expect an immediate response. Probably they were managed by LW’s manager?

    6. Antilles*

      I’m pretty sure even those professions don’t expect a four minute response time to an email though.
      Doctors carry beepers or cell phones. Firefighters have a literal siren telling them when it’s time to move. Hostage negotiators use telephones. The secret service wears encrypted radios with earpieces.
      They don’t just hope that you happen to be checking Outlook at the exact moment that an emergency response comes in.

      1. Nightengale*

        I’m a doctor who gets answering service messages through e-mail after hours. They no longer issue actual pagers at the last two hospitals I have worked. I miss actual pagers.

        But also I am not the kind of doctor where seconds matter. The messages are generally things that can’t wait until morning/Monday, not that can’t wait another few minutes. “If this is a life threatening medical emergency please dial 911” is on SO many doctor office and answering services messages for a reason.

      1. RedinSC*

        Oh bummer, Outlook was glitching and I didn’t get this until we pushed the button.

        Sorry man! My bad.

    7. Bruce*

      Just a nitpick: When it finally becomes feasible preventing asteroid collisions will take years of prep time :-) (Reminds me, I should go watch Don’t Look Up… my wife won’t watch it with me, too depressing)

      1. Insert Pun Here*

        Good point. Though I wouldn’t mind having some rapid reaponse folks on call, just in case we miss one or something. You know, belt and suspenders approach.

        1. David*

          (ignore me if you’re just making a joke)

          The thing is, there’s no realistic rapid response that would prevent an imminent asteroid impact. Anything we can do to an asteroid in a few minutes (e.g. blowing it up Armageddon-style) would, at best, just turn a big asteroid headed for Earth into a bunch of smaller asteroids headed for Earth. The effect would be basically the same.

          Although it would be an amusing story if we had something like a giant tennis racket we could deploy to swat it away.

          1. Mianaai*

            We sort of do have a giant tennis racket, in that the gravity effects from our bonker-enormous moon repel a lot of asteroids! But of course not a tennis racket that we ourselves can use…

          2. EmF*

            If I have learned anything from that wholly-accurate documentary, Red Dwarf, it’s that we should use a snooker cue, not a tennis racket.

      2. Deejay*

        That’s one of the many ways Deep Impact was more realistic than Armageddon. It showed the public announcement of the comet a year before impact, with the initial discovery some time before that.

        Not “there’s an asteroid the size of Texas and we didn’t even spot this monster until it was 18 days out”.

      3. RVA Cat*

        Be sure to watch the post-credits scene in Don’t Look Up – especially if you love to hate Meryl Streep’s character.

    8. Kevin Sours*

      There is no situation in which a four minute response to an email is reasonable. If the situation is sufficiently urgent that you need a minute level response time, email is an inappropriate form of communication.

      1. Insert Pun Here*

        My comment said nothing about email specifically, just response times in general, and I think it’s fairly obvious that many of these jobs are not email-heavy jobs!

      1. Sacred Ground*

        We’re talking about email here.
        “Subject line: There’s someone drowning. Reply soonest”

        1. Festively Dressed Earl*

          Nah, the subject line would be “Blurb blurb choke” and the message text would be a selfie of bubbles in the water.

    9. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      BigLaw and Investment Banking

      You all just don’t realize how important the 87th revision to the sale-leaseback contract for those 38 malls in suburban Atlanta are. Earth-shattering importance*


      * for the profits of the partners…

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Can confirm – in my first year at BigLaw an attorney came out of his office to scream at me because I hadn’t done a thing he had requested in an email four minutes earlier. Never mind that the task would take longer than four minutes even if I had seen the email in that time.

        1. Bast*

          While I am now in a firm that values work/life balance, I wasn’t always, and the “she didn’t reply in 4 minutes so I’m going to follow up with a nasty phone call” response was common enough, although even they would likely give the benefit of about 15 minutes. For the really pushy people, I started responding to multiple emails with, “Thank you for your email. I would ask that you please extend me the professional courtesy of one business day before sending another email.” If it was truly urgent and could not wait one business day, then it needed to be a phone call, and not an email. I extended the same courtesy to others.

    10. Andromeda*

      Air traffic control.
      911 dispatch.
      And yes, my city DOES have a 4-minute response time contract with the ambulance service! But that’s only possible because we’re small and densely populated.

      But…literally zero of the professions where people reach you by email. None. Zilch. Nada.

    11. Ann Onymous*

      We generally know that asteroids will be coming close to Earth years in advance, so I’d argue that one actually doesn’t require this kind of response time.

    12. Ink*

      Someone caring for small children? Even that’s rare, I don’t remember many from my babysitting days because the kids were contained or too close to me to get into that level of emergency trouble.

      1. JustaTech*

        Like, my kiddo’s daycare has sent me the dreaded “you child has throw up too many times, come get them in the next 30 minutes”, but even that is a push notification, not an email!

    13. Sharpie*

      Commercial airline pilot. You want your pilots to have really good reflexes just in case you end up on the next United Flight 1549.

      1. Pimo*

        Re: Nursery teacher–
        Yes to that! If any draggy day I wonder if I’m living up to my purpose, I remember the baby I snatched out of the way mere inches before a 2 year old almost brought a wooden box down onto her head. Seconds more would have been too long, let alone minutes.

    14. Umami*

      Right?! Frankly, if it’s not a text or phone call, it’s not urgent. Email is not the form of communication for this!

    15. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Safety Officer on a construction site

      but, they’re supposed to be always available when site is active and they have a two-way radio.

    16. So I looked, I'm the adult now*

      Only tasks I can think of that require an instant response are ones that start with a loud alarm/siren. Pretty sure my email ding won’t wake me from a dead sleep.

    17. anecdata*

      Mission control for NASA (when you’re on duty)

      Pilot (while flying)

      Uhhh whoever accidentally used the Hawaii Emergency Alert system to tell everyone a nuclear attack is incoming?

    18. Brain the Brian*

      Perhaps stock brokers, who are legally required to act as quickly as possible on client instructions? But anyone expected to buy or sell stocks in such a tight turnaround would generally know to be watching for instructions while the markets are open.

    19. Lydia*

      This made me think none of those would be appropriate for an email, and that made me think of Moss typing out an email, “Help! Fire!” And then I started laughing.

    20. Marshmallows*

      Pretty sure if you need a response in less than 4 min… email shouldn’t be your chosen method of communication. Email is supposed to be for asynchronous communication. Not immediate response like say… phone or running up to the person in a panic…

      It probably took “Martha” the whole 4 min to poorly read and respond to the email… which would mean she never intended for LW to “jump in there” and was just trying to beat the clock so she could yell at LW for nothing.

  3. PrincessFlyingHedgehog*

    Unreasonable people won’t magically become reasonable. If you can’t switch to have your other boss be your primary boss, start looking for a new job. Martha is a nightmare.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      This. You can’t reason with unreasonable people.

      You are looking for magical words that will suddenly make Martha go — oh hey micromanaging is bad. You can’t. She thinks she is right. Nothing you do will be good enough, or will ever convince her that she should not manage the way she does. You can only change your reaction to her. Which is to get away from her.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        All of this. Her expectations are ridiculous. You’re not going to be able to convince her of this, so there’s no sense in trying to do so.

    2. K Smith*

      100% this!! MARTHA WILL NOT CHANGE. She’s made that clear to you. The only thing you can control here is whether you want to keep working under these horrible conditions (and they are horrible – you’re right to find this totally bonkers unreasonable!), or look for another job. Sorry you’re in this situation :(

    3. hbc*

      Yep, if they do change, they learn because of consequences, and someone saying, “Hey, I don’t like that” occasionally is not a real consequence. They change because the twentieth* employee quitting** for the same reason makes them finally realize they might need to change their ways. You just have to get out and hope that you’re employee 21+ for your next boss.

      *Except you don’t know if it’s actually 1 or 10 or 5000 will be the number, if there even is a number.

      **Or partner dumping them, or family member cutting them off, or whatever.

  4. Cowgirl in hiding*

    Run-away – it sounds like she has it out for you and it has been such a short time. Get out of there before this ruins the confidence you have in yourself. I had a similar boss and it was awful. It didn’t matter what I did, I was in the wrong.

    1. Ama*

      I kind of wonder if Reasonable Boss overrode Martha when they chose to hire OP — the only time I’ve ever had a boss treat me like they didn’t trust me and were constantly looking for things I did wrong was when I was restructured into someone’s department and the boss clearly resented that she didn’t get to “choose” me, she was just told I was in her department now. She was also a micromanager.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Or she feels threatened by the OP. Or she just enjoys being like that. Or she’s so self-unaware that she thinks this is the right way to manage.

        I’ve seen all these alone or together in a bad manager.

    2. TheBunny*

      I’m not sure she has it out for LW per se. Bosses like this are insecure and unable to trust the people they have on their team. It’s rarely personal or as simple as dislike.

  5. Goldenrod*

    “You’ll still be left working for a manager who fundamentally doesn’t know how to manage, who doesn’t trust you, and whose instincts are punitive where they should be supportive.”

    Massively agree! I had a boss like this. Exact same behavior. I strongly believe my boss didn’t specifically hate *me*, rather that she needed a scapegoat. Anyone entering the role was going to be that person for her. She sadistically enjoyed having someone to abuse. I was never going to be given the benefit of the doubt, because she was always looking for ways to vent her anger.

    I had deeply misguided co-workers actually coach me on how I could “win her over” but they were all brainwashed into thinking their jobs required them to cater to the ever-changing whims and emotions of a crazy person.

    You’re too good to work for someone like this. Get out as soon as possible and you will never regret it!

    1. Lana Kane*

      “You’re too good to work for someone like this. Get out as soon as possible and you will never regret it!”

      I support this framing.

    2. londonedit*

      Yep, absolutely. I worked for a Martha once – luckily I was freelance, so when it all got too much to bear I just politely told her I wasn’t able to work with her anymore. But I was fortunate to be able to do that. This woman would prowl round the office looking at everyone’s screens and admonishing them if they weren’t working on the exact thing she expected them to be working on. She banned non-essential talking in the office (that’s right, we were supposed to stay silent unless it was a work-related conversation) and banned non-work chat on Slack. She was basically convinced that we were all constantly looking for an excuse not to work, and she believed it was her job to micromanage and police us so that we’d all be nose to the grindstone at all times. She also demanded to be copied in on every single email we sent, and would often then jump into the conversation to ‘clarify’ (obviously mainly doing the complete opposite). We also had to allocate every half-hour of our working day to specific projects, even though we weren’t paid by the hour and didn’t bill external clients for our work. She’d reject my invoice every month because she ‘didn’t believe’ I’d done X hours on this and Y hours on that.

      Her MO was that whoever was newest in the office would be the Great New Hope – they were going to be incredible, they were so wonderful, they came so highly recommended, finally she was going to have someone who would really shine and excel at the job. Then after a couple of months of grinding the new person down with her micromanagement she’d start expressing her disappointment in their work, she’d start nitpicking everything, she’d tell everyone to down tools to work on A and then three days later ask why we’d made no progress on B. And so someone would leave, she’d go on for a week about how terrible their work was and how you couldn’t trust anyone and how she just couldn’t find decent staff, and so the cycle would start again. I stuck it out for about six months before I told her where to go. It was a complete nightmare.

  6. Gigi*

    Minor detail but did the client ever get the correct information? If your boss gave the wrong and you didn’t reply?

    1. TPS Reporter*

      I mean, it would have been a bit fun to reply: here’s what you actually wanted, partner, the email address. maybe do this if you have another job offer.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      I would have responded to the manager’s email with, “Hi Bob, it looks like you wanted the the email address, rather than the mailing address. The email is [EMAIL]. Hope that helps!

    3. Cyndi*

      I don’t think it would have been the worst thing for LW to just not reply, and let that error sit squarely in Martha’s lap.

    4. ferrina*

      It sounds like OP saw the boss respond and didn’t double check the email, because OP was in the middle of something.

      Unfortunately, I’ve had a boss like this and it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t moment. You have to word your response very, very carefully to make it look like you are an eager junior staffer who is just happy to add more info, not like you are trying to correct the bad info your boss sent. If your boss feels like you are correcting them or even implying that they made a mistake, they will see you as a threat. Sometimes it’s better just to not reply so that your boss feels like “well, we both missed this”. But even then I’ve had a boss chew me out for not correcting them on a client email (after chewing me out for correcting info to their boss).
      It’s a game of Boss’s Emotions Roulette, where if you guess the wrong number you will get blamed.

      1. Mighty K*

        I’d reply to the original email with the correct information, as if the email from the boss didn’t exist ( as in “oh, I was dealing with them in chronological order, didn’t see that the boss had replied already” )

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Outlook warns you against this nowadays with a handy little pop-up.

          “You are not replying to the most recent message in this conversation. Send anyway?”

          That feature has saved my bacon a few times so I won’t quibble.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            Mine doesn’t pop up, it just has a teeny line of text at the top. That tiny line of text is always visible to me (as in, I generally notice it), but sometimes I have good reasons for skipping over it, and it being teeny means I’d have a plausible excuse should I need it.

  7. LRL*

    I was once scolded for two things at once- paying too much attention to my phone in meetings and not responding to email fast enough. They were upset because I didn’t respond to an email while I was in a meeting.

    Look for another job.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “I was once scolded for two things at once- paying too much attention to my phone in meetings and not responding to email fast enough”

      I witnessed a co-worker on the receiving end of this kind of thing – when she would knock on her boss’ door to remind her of a meeting, she got an angry response: “Don’t interrupt me!”

      And when she *didn’t* knock on the door, she got an angry response: “Why didn’t you remind me I had a meeting?”

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I had a manager who would give me a different (as in contradictory) response ever time I asked her how to proceed on a piece of a project during a team meeting, (sometimes within the same meeting) then chided me for not moving forward fast enough.

    2. Saraquill*

      In a previous job, BossWife yelled at me for not verifying all my instructions with Boss. She later yelled at me, “You should know better than to verify with Boss!” After putting her own stamp on my assignment, she later undid all my work, complaining within my earshot how I shouldn’t have done the work she and Boss approved.

  8. I should really pick a name*

    Then I get an email from Martha: “Jane, this would have been a great opportunity to build a relationship with the partner. Why didn’t you dive in and assist?”

    I’m curious what the LW’s response to this was (and Martha’s response to their response).

    Martha sounds like a lot, but how she responds to a reasonable explanation could give some insight into whether it’s worth continuing to try or not.

    1. AnonORama*

      Agree. Honestly, that response is irritating after four minutes, and this is clearly just a last straw. Run is still probably the right answer.

      But after working for people whose idea of feedback is sending all-caps red-text emails that start NICE WORK YOU F-ING IDIOT, screaming, and throwing things — I admit I was expecting something more openly abusive.

      1. JustaTech*

        Or if Martha *thinks* that the people above her will freak out, but actually they don’t care at all.
        I’m reminded of the scene in Muppet Treasure Island (great movie!) where Sam the Eagle as First Mate assumes that the Captain (Kermit) is upset about a small bit of missed cleaning and announces the sailor who did the cleaning will face “fifty lashes, and then you walk the plank!”
        Kermit: “I didn’t say that, First Mate.”
        Sam: “I was anticipating your wishes, sir.”

        Martha is all “fifty lashes!” and her bosses are probably like “what?”.

    2. Scaup*

      If I were in OP’s shoes: “You’re right, it would have been a great opportunity. So why did you shut me out?”

    3. Kella*

      If she needs OP to offer an explanation for why she didn’t send an email within the first five minutes of receiving it, then I don’t think how reasonable the explanation is will help. The explanation is “I do not spend every moment staring at my inbox waiting for an email to come in. I am busy working. And our work is not urgent in nature.” The fact that the OP *did* happen to see the email within those first five minutes is irrelevant.

  9. Antilles*

    Also, for the record, I understand some things are very time-sensitive. I still think four minutes is kind of a stretch, for almost any situation,
    Four minutes IS a stretch, for EVERY situation involving email.

    Email is inherently an asynchronous medium with a built-in time lag and no guarantee the person is going to see it immediately. If there’s a situation truly so time-sensitive you can’t spare four minutes, you shouldn’t be using email; you should be picking up the phone.

      1. Salsa Your Face*

        It’s also a very normal thing for people to set up a 5-minute delay before their email client actually sends an email, to give them a chance to address those typos that you only notice the moment you hit send.

      2. Coverage Associate*

        Yes, I think at one job send/receive was automatic every two minutes, which could leave to a perceived difference of 3 minutes, etc.

        My work phone and work laptop are usually off by 30 seconds or so, which means one can show me a minute late while the other shows me on time to an online meeting. This was an issue when it took me around 30 seconds to connect to a meeting, enough time for the client to send an email, copying my boss, asking why I was late. I was late because I wasn’t late?

    1. Saturday*

      At my workplace, people use email for urgent requests all the time (I’m glad because I hate the phone). But they make it clear when a request is actually urgent.

      If someone just says, hey, can you send this person’s contact info, that is not going be be addressed like the place is on fire and only a reply email can put it out!

      1. Quill*

        Also there’s different levels of urgency in every job! You might urgently need the information to make sure a supplier is contacted today, but the correct response time on that is “some time in the next hour or two so it gets done before they close” and you might need to evacuate the building because the HVAC caught fire, which has a correct response time of minutes.

  10. Folklorist*

    Get out quickly. I’m actually almost convinced that you’re working for my former boss and her partner! She was “on” all the time, Facetiming every second of the day, making you wait in the Starbucks line with her (virtually) so that she could know that you were “at work,” even though I had so many projects with short, shifting, nebulous deadlines, and would keep you on hold with inane small talk. She was every terrible “We’re a faaaaaamily!” boss stereotype!

    She would berate me on calls in front of my other colleagues. I would ask if there was anything I was doing right so that I could do more of that, in addition to switching up the things I was doing wrong. She could never come up with anything! If I did something on my own, she would berate me for not consulting her; if I consulted her on anything, she’d berate me for wasting her time and not having enough confidence in my professional skills. There was literally no way to do anything right!

    Turned out that not only was she generally a terrible employer (I found that no employee of hers, except her partner, who she talked massive shit about behind her back, had ever lasted more than two months), she was also going through a divorce from her fifth husband and taking out the stress on me. Five weeks into the job, my mom texted me a light-hearted, teasing criticism, and I broke down crying in the grocery store.

    This does not get better! These people are majorly controlling and you will never be good enough unless you develop psychic powers and 10 years of experience overnight. I started pushing back on her whenever she criticized me in front of my colleagues. Very professionally and matter-of-factly, but definite pushback. “Oh, you wanted me to consult you on that? I’m sorry; yesterday you told me to trust myself and accept all of the changes. Would you please clarify the policy so that I can know for the future?”

    Eventually, after another outrageous meeting where she had publicly set me up to fail in front of major clients, I was about to quit when she fired me (six weeks after I started). This was good because I was able to get unemployment benefits, and I would have been SOL without them!

    Your mental health is worth so much more than this position. RUN!

    1. Goldenrod*

      “I was about to quit when she fired me (six weeks after I started)”

      Thank god you got out of there quickly, at least!!

    2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      You know a job is horrible when being fired is good news!

      Sorry you had to go through that; very glad it’s all behind you.

  11. Goldenrod*

    “She proudly describes herself as a micromanager (she doesn’t appear to know the word has a negative connotation) and is looking for constant, immediate responsiveness, “overcommunication” (her words), and accountability”

    Oh, by the way, “overcommunication” and accountability = mind-reading.

      1. ferrina*


        “Over communication” is code for “psychically knowing what I will need to know and making sure I actually listen to you”

        1. Beka Rosselin-Metadi*

          I had a manager who told me she wanted me to be able to read her mind and know what she needed before she needed it. So, both psychic ability and being able to see the future. And even if I could have done these things (newsflash: I could not) she still wouldn’t have been happy because she was only happy when she was complaining.

        2. Anonymous Source*

          I’ve seen “over communication” used in the opposite way (“we need to be tightly coordinated on this and we know none of us are mind readers, so make sure to err on the side of updating too much, not too little”) but it definitely has the potential to tip over into something unhelpful if the person making the request isn’t willing to accept that it does in fact come with the inescapable side effect of introducing a lot of noise.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      She probably knows the word has a negative connotation, but thinks everyone is wrong.

  12. AmyAnnMaria*

    Don’t walk, run. It’s been my personal experience that these types of managers do not know how to manage and are uninterested in changing themselves. The fact that she is proud of being a micromanager shows how little she understands anything. Truly, very few things need an immediate response via email. If it needs that quick of a response then they would have called. She was jumping ahead of you in responding for a reason and it was to show you that this is what she demands of everyone. Trust me, she’ll continue to find fault. If she expects immediate responses to every minor request, then she will then blame you for not getting your actual job done. If you do your actual job then she will get mad about the minor stuff. Collect your check and look for new work.

    1. starsaphire*

      Agreed. Martha is so full of bees, she is just 1000 bees in a trenchcoat.

      Do start with the other boss, though. Talk to her. Ask for a 1:1 to share some reflection on that bizarre airing of the griev— erhh, I mean, that meeting. Ask her if that’s what it’s like working for Martha, and if there’s a way to move away from her because you are finding it hard to thrive in that sort of environment.

      The other boss’s response will tell you what you need to know. If you just get, ‘Eh, that’s just Martha, we all deal with it,’ then strap on your running shoes and get out as fast as you can.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Your last comment is bang on. There will always be a reason that you are prioritizing things wrong. And it’s especially challenging when you report to two bosses, since Martha won’t know or care what you’re working on for the other boss.

  13. HonorBox*

    I agree that, if your relationship with the other boss is better and you find her more reasonable, it might be worth talking to her before (or while) you start aggressively job searching.

    1. MassMatt*

      I would job search, IMO the whole “reporting to two bosses” thing is a warning sign in and of itself.

      I know lots of people have jobs like this, and it can work when people are reasonable, but it’s often a recipe for getting pulled in two directions at once and each manager demands their tasks be your top priority.

      Really this person should not have anyone reporting to her.

      1. RC*

        I’d say if there’s any chance you could get primarily/exclusively under the other boss (presuming that boss is not awful), and/or if your job search was horrible last time, then *consider maybe* trying to stick around. But Alison is right, it will kill your soul to be working for such a toxic person, before you even realize; get out before it messes you up (ask me how I know).

        1. HonorBox*

          Well said. If that other boss is a decent human being and LW can get to work for them primarily/exclusively, it might make the job search less urgent. But it should not be understated that LW should be looking for other things, because knowing what we know about the terrible boss, it is likely that she’ll still make things awful.

    2. HonorBox*

      Just adding: When you have that conversation, I’d point out that you were working on a spreadsheet FOR the other boss. And ask how you’re supposed to prioritize projects. That might give you some perspective on how things work internally, too.

    3. Lily*

      Given that the LW mentions a meeting with both bosses during which Martha berated her and listed all kinds of things LW needed to change… I wouldn’t be so hopeful that the other boss would or could do anything. I mean, if they let this happen?…
      LW should immediately start searching for another job. Martha will keep on finding faults, even if she created them herself.

      1. Jaybeetee*

        Yeah, I had a situation a little like this years ago (tho not this bad). The second boss was “nicer”, but also somewhat less experienced than the nightmare boss and tended to follow her lead. She wasn’t someone who could be relied upon to intervene when nightmare boss got fired up about something (it’s too bad because, looking back many years later, nice boss and I actually had a lot in common and probably could have had a far more collegial relationship in another context, but nightmare boss, and nice boss’ passivity and occasional complicity, poisoned the well). If LWs “nice boss” sat through that last meeting and didn’t push back, it’s probably a similar case.

  14. Jennifer Strange*

    If I had an urgent question that needs immediate addressing I would call rather than email. The fact that this was an email (presumably one without “IMMEDIATE ANSWER NEEDED” in the subject line) is a pretty clear indicator that the senior partner in question would have been fine to wait longer than the length of a Quibi episode for you to respond.

    Also, as someone who often needs to track down responses after a week or more I appreciate you intending to get back to him within the hour, let alone within the day!

    1. Bruce*

      Yes, if I send an email that is urgent I make it clear in the _subject_ that it is urgent and I name the person who needs to respond. And I’m expecting a response in terms of hours, not 4 minutes. If something is really urgent we have a messaging system and the phone…

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        And if you need an email right away, that’s what Chat is for. (People mistype email addresses all the time! Get it in writing, then it’s copy+paste or an active link, depending on your system.)

      2. 1-800-BrownCow*

        Agreed! Because if they expect an answer in less than 4 minutes from me and even if they mark an email urgent, unless I happen to look at my emails and the message comes through at that exact time, I guarantee I will not see it within 4 minutes of being sent. I maybe look at emails once an hour. If they need something now, either call or come see me. Messaging may get a faster result, but call or in-person is the only guaranteed immediate, IF they find me.

        Also, if a person is anything like my one coworker who marks Every. Single. Email. as urgent/high priority, guess what? I leave those until the end of the day. Because an email marked urgent/high priority asking me something like: “When does Bert get back next week from his vacation? Is it Thursday or Friday? I need to ask him something when he gets back.” and expecting me to drop everything to reply to your question is not going to happen. So when 90% of your urgent/h.p. emails are questions like that, I’m going to assume all your emails are truly not urgent/h.p.

    2. morethantired*

      I have worked with people who unfortunately think all emails are urgent and every subject line was some all-caps question or request. Not saying you do this, but just that it’s important to recognize that even requests labeled “urgent” may still be tied to unreasonable expectations.

  15. Problem!*

    I was in your shoes not too long ago, and it does not get better. Either leave the company or see if you can engineer a way to go to your other boss full time. I worked on two completely separate teams for a few months while I was planning my escape from a micromanaging tyrant and one day my other better boss asked me how my other team was going and I just straight up lost it about how horrible the working conditions were and she sped up my transition plan for me to come to her team full time as a result.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “Either leave the company or see if you can engineer a way to go to your other boss full time.”

      Yes – better yet, work on both at the same time. Conduct a serious, immediate job hunt AND look into shifting to the other boss. All systems go!

  16. Too Many Birds*

    She sounds like my husband’s ex-boss, who was a narcissistic [redacted]. She will never, ever get better. I hope that your other boss can protect you a bit until you can get out.

  17. CommanderBanana*

    Get out. She won’t change, and it’ll likely take your organization years, if at all, to address her behavior.

  18. SansaStark*

    I would bet a good amount of money that there is a long list of people who used to hold this job and were ALL deemed “incompetent.” I worked at a place like this and they definitely didn’t see themselves as part of the problem. It was everyone in position X being stupid….for like 10 years straight.

  19. BlondSpiders*

    Back when I was still cooking, I briefly worked for a caterer. This was for a new kitchen manager role, as the owner and founder was trying to step back and not work every day. She stressed in my interview that she needed someone to “be her.” That should have been a warning sign!

    She literally wanted me to be her. Think exactly like her, speak like her, be her clone. She was furious at me for doing any action differently. She questioned my cooking abilities and suggested I may have exaggerated my work experience because I didn’t know how to make one of her specific recipes.

    After 2 weeks she sat me down and told me I was not ready to run her kitchen, and would I like to be demoted to kitchen prep (at $3 less/hour) until she felt I was ready to manage? I laughed my way out the door.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “She literally wanted me to be her. Think exactly like her, speak like her, be her clone.”

      I worked for someone like this. She literally thought that if she knew something, then you should know it too – even if there was no way for you to have that knowledge.

      Basically, I believe her mind frame was – there is one person (me). I know X. Therefore, the one person (who exists in the universe) (aka everyone) knows X.

      1. WorkplaceSurvivor*

        I both feel horrified and seen that there are more managers out there like my ex-boss. Glad y’all are out too!

    2. DramaQ*

      OMG if I worked in catering I would say that is my boss! It took me awhile to figure out she wants a clone of herself and I do not operate that way and never will. There is a reason I am more liked than she is. I can do no right I am the most incompetent idiot in the world one minute, being taken to task for not “smiling enough” the next. I am never told what I am doing right and when I ask for examples of what I am doing “wrong” so I can improve she doesn’t have any. I’m looking to get out because working under someone who constantly moves the goalposts regarding acceptable performance is exhausting. She will dig and dig and dig and go to personal like not smiling enough to suit her just to have something I need to “improve” on at all times.

    3. Avery*

      Oh yeah, wanting someone to “be” their boss is definitely a red flag. I had a bad boss who did that myself–I left a comment about her that seems to have gotten flagged by the filter, but definitely part of the issue was that upon entering this new workplace and starting to work with new people, I did not magically know that Person X needs to be treated with sensitivity and cushioning, but Person Y wants just the facts with no sugarcoating, and always be positive and take the blame if you have to and and and-
      No, of course bad boss didn’t actually TELL me any of this stuff, or give me a way to learn it on my own, but how dare I communicate in a way that isn’t exactly how SHE would do it with what SHE knew of the situation!!!

  20. Ell*

    I have so many questions for Martha. Is she a new manager? Did she manage someone in this position before, and why did they leave (and how quickly)? Does she really expect that you’ll never go to the bathroom or have a chat with a colleague? And that you’ll drop every project whenever you get an email and still be productive? How is she not possibly aware that even most micromanagers deny they’re micromanagers because it’s such a bad thing to be?

    The answers to these questions certainly don’t change Alison’s advice, which is the only reasonable path here, but I’m very curious.

  21. I'm just here for the cats!*

    It sounds like the OP was with the other boss. I think that the OP needs to talk with the other boss (if they are more reasonable) and see if theres anything they can do. Like maybe the other boss is, you know normal, and will go speak to the other manager.

  22. JustNo*

    I once had a manager jump in and apologise for slow response at 8am when a (very much non urgent) query had arrived at 4pm the previous day, I thought that was bad!

  23. Sloanicota*

    In the case of my boss who was like this, part of the issue was that she was profoundly uninterested in doing her own, higher-level job, which gave her lots of time to meddle in the admin work I was doing for her. Her work had fewer boundaries and was a lot of unstructured tasks (“build up a donor pool”) which I think intimidated her, so I got the impression she found it kind of soothing to nitpick my excel spreadsheets or the precise verbiage of my emails, which she found more black-and-white. Although, as in your example, she was actually not-infrequently wrong about what corrections she wanted made.

    1. Ama*

      My boss is not this bad but she does have some tendencies towards suddenly hyper focusing on unimportant things (we had a snow wfh day the other day and got a passive aggressive message about making sure our Teams status was accurate, which I particularly resented because I’m an hour behind them and it was sent before I even logged on for the day) but I’ve noticed this seems to happen most often when she is feeling overwhelmed with larger projects. She’s currently covering for my coworker who is on maternity leave and trying to train my coworker’s admin who started literally three days before she left on leave so it’s been particularly bad right now.

      1. Mianaai*

        Ughhhhh the Teams status micromanagement. Last fall I had to re- (re-re-re-re-re-) explain to my boss and grandboss that Teams status does not in fact accurately reflect whether someone is actively using their computer…. just whether they’re actively using Teams. And that contrary to popular opinion, I do not use Teams for focused data analysis and scientific review and technical writing work but instead programs that are actually suited for those purposes.

        My bosses are generally pretty reasonable and hands-off but my grandboss freaks out every time there’s an edict from above her about ~concerns~ regarding productivity and butts-in-seats time and lectures us about the importance of replying to emails within 15 minutes or whatever the number is this time. TPTB above her really cannot grasp that us graduate-degree-holding subject-matter-experts who are hired for focused intellectual work might have to… focus to do that intellectual work.

        1. JustaTech*

          I hate that there are a lot of us in this dumb “performative presence over productivity” boat, but it’s nice to know that it’s not just me.

    2. House On The Rock*

      I had a director who thought he was being “helpful” by mucking around in the minutia of my team’s projects (think heavy editing of internal status documents, jumping into email chains to give “context”, asking staff direct questions that derailed their work).

      He reminded me of a kid playing at “work” by fake typing at a computer…except he was much more disruptive.

      Whenever he was asked to do something that was actually at his level (like work with other executives to clear roadblocks or handle challenging partners) he ran the other way and dumped it on middle management to address.

      To be clear, Martha is way worse in that she’s making LW’s life absolutely miserable and has no idea how to actually manage people or projects!

  24. LaurCha*

    Sigh. Tell me you work for lawyers without telling me you work for lawyers. So many are terrible managers.

    1. Statler von Waldorf*

      I had that exact same suspicion. The worst boss I ever had was a lawyer, and for very similar reasons that the LW mentions.

    2. Ellie*

      I’ve worked for a few managers like this in the engineering field. A lot of engineers don’t know how to manage. And quite a few of them really don’t want to give up the details… they really just want to do your job for you, while you get out of their way.

      In fact, my grandboss has pulled a few moves like the email in OPs post quite recently. I’m trying to give him grace because I have worked with him before and he was terrific, and kind, but he’s under an enormous amount of stress right now.

    3. BigLawEx*

      To our credit, law school does not teach skills. If it doesn’t teach the practice of law…then anything else is luck. Also the horrible flat hierarchy and sheer hubris make this hard. I once asked about management training. The laughs lasted all day…

  25. RJ*

    Completely agree with Alison on this response, OP. A few years back, I would have had suggestions for working it out with your boss, but a few years of working with toxic managers in toxic workplaces have changed my point of view. There are people you simply cannot change and are better leaving behind, such as your manager. Make an exit plan and get out as fast as you can. Good luck!

  26. learnedthehardway*

    Not only should you be looking for a new job, but you should contact HR to tell them what is happening. Anyone who is PROUD of being a micromanager needs extensive retraining on what management is. This feels like bullying rather than management, from my perspective.

    And frankly, even if you were screwing up right and left, THIS level of micromanagement is so counter-productive to business operations that it is ridiculous. I mean, seriously – expecting you to divert your focus from one attention-requiring task that is a core part of your job to a non-time-sensitive request for an email address (that the person could probably have found themselves) – that’s just stupid.

    An appropriate amount of micromanagement – for an employee who is not performing well (and I’m not suggesting that you’re that kind of employee) – would be beginning / end of day touch points, expecting daily updates on a set of assigned work tasks, reviewing work done. Not interrupting the person’s work continually and disrupting their attention to their job.

      1. Ellie*

        Agreed. Boss has been there who knows how long, and OP has been there a month. Unless they’ve lost multiple positions from that role before, and its a critical role, then they’re not going to care.

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      I would be extremely careful about going to HR. Nothing this woman is doing will get the company sued, and ime, that’s the extent of HR’s purview. Often, they cannot help. But wow can they mess you up.

    2. Elbe*

      If the company is big enough to have a well-trained HR team, then I think it would make sense for the LW to say something once the new job is lined up. If the LW feels like posting a Glassdoor review, I would support that 100%

  27. Admin Lackey*

    “Jane, this would have been a great opportunity to build a relationship with the partner. Why didn’t you dive in and assist?”

    This is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo condescending!! Any it was about providing someone with an email address?

    You have to get out of there – imagine how she will react if you make a real mistake

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Oh absolutely get out.

      Martha must be an absolute wreck inside, and I feel so sorry for her and for all the people she inflicts her reality upon.

    2. pally*

      Imagine how Martha would have responded if the OP HAD emailed a response within the 4 minutes. Probably would have chastised her for neglecting her work to answer low priority emails.

      There’s no winning here. There’s only escaping.

      1. ferrina*

        It depends on how busy Martha was at the moment. Martha didn’t think about what OP was doing; Martha was thinking about was that since she immediately saw it and responded, clearly OP had the same. Martha doesn’t realize that OP is a separate person who has a separate workload. Martha just thinks that OP needs to do the thing that Martha expects them to do at any given moment.

        If Martha were otherwise a lovely person who just had a blind spot and was receptive to feedback, this might be something to look past. But it sounds like Martha is a royal pain. She is happy with who she is and doesn’t care about or care to notice her impact on others (at least, not OP. I suspect Martha is able to tone down these tendencies with her superiors).

        Get thee gone already.

    3. Lana Kane*

      This line makes me think Boss is building a case to fire OP. (I don’t mean to be alarmist, but it’s so condescending and unreasonable that either she’s unhinged, or she’s actively trying to manufacture reasons, or both.)

  28. A Girl Named Fred*

    Honestly, I’m really happy to see Alison’s advice has changed to immediately leaving rather than suggesting the conversation about trust. I tried that conversation with a previous micromanager and got a flat, “No, I don’t trust you to do your job,” back, which absolutely shattered my confidence even though the only example she could provide of me “not doing my job” was that a certain (completely optional and 95% aesthetic) project had been delayed – WITH HER APPROVAL – multiple times.

    People like this cannot be reasoned with and do not deserve your efforts to make the relationship work. Put your focus on getting out, and best of luck with finding something good to move on to quickly!

    1. Lana Kane*

      These conversations really rely on the basic premise that the other person is, or can be, reasonable. And sometimes it’s hard to understand that some people just aren’t, and can’t be.

      1. RVA Cat*

        You can’t please an abuser out of the abuse, no matter how hard they gaslight you into trying. Martha is the problem here.

    2. House On The Rock*

      Yeah, I’ve tried so many times over the course of my career to be the “adult in the room” and logic things out with deeply unreasonable people. It doesn’t work. At best, if you have some leverage over them you can shut them down by not playing their games/killing with kindness…but if you work for them it’s a no win situation. Sure, sometimes you can raise a clueless person’s self awareness, but someone who “manages” through bullying and berating is a lost cause.

  29. yllis*

    Leave, leave, leave.

    I was there and it was a “boiling frog slowly” situation to the point where he was wandering the hallway calling my name like an errant dog when I neglected to inform him I was going to leave my desk for a few minutes to go to the bathroom.

    It was a slow boil and constant “Am _I_ the irrational one?” until a few people metaphorically slapped me across the face and told me, “NO! He is the irrational one. This is wrong!”

    You have been given the gift of seeing how bad it is right away. Use it and leave

  30. renataricotta*

    Alison is right that you should get a new job ASAP, since this seems just like a single example in a sea of unreasonable behavior; it’s not JUST about the email.

    But for what it’s worth, when working with bananapants senior BigLaw partners who truly seem to feel like four minutes without an enauk acknowledgment is the end of the world, I would often respond instantly with “Will do.” (Sometimes from the bathroom.) Then after it takes 3.5 more minutes to actually gather the information, send a second email with the answer. It is very stupid and not a long term solution to anything, but helped keep those unreasonable people from bursting a blood vessel.

    1. instantaneous communication*

      I started doing this with a coworker who seemed convinced I don’t read my email and would call me on the phone every single time he emailed me to “make sure I’d seen his message.” (Sometimes he’d call before the server even deposited the email in my inbox.) I roll my eyes every time I type “Will do!” but it beats answering my phone all the time.

    2. LaurCha*

      I have to do this in Boutique Law. Otherwise I get another email in 15 minutes asking if I’ve seen the first one. Less annoying than 4 minutes, but still unreasonable in my opinion.

  31. Parenthesis Guy*

    Maybe Martha thought it was sitting longer than four minutes? Either she made a mistake or she’s bonkers.

  32. BackToYou!*

    “What a great opportunity to let a direct report establish a relationship with a client. Can I ask why you dove right in instead of allowing a reasonable amount of time (industry standard is 24 hours for a non-urgent request and in no way did the sender indicate this was urgent) for me to respond?”

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yes, very much this. Martha was completely looking for a reason to chastise OP. If she was so concerned about OP building a relationship, she could have nudged her privately through email indicating this.

      Martha has a wardrobe full of bananapants.

    2. Ama*

      Yeah this is the thing — if Martha truly wanted OP to establish a relationship with a client, she should have …not responded and let the OP handle it. Do my direct reports always handle things in the exact way/timing/priority I would? No, but 90% of the time it doesn’t matter, and the 10% of the time it does I make it clear to them beforehand (or if I don’t realize it beforehand when I point it out to them later I note that I don’t blame them for handling it their way the first time but I want X going forward).

      Martha just wanted to chastise the OP for something.

      1. Dinwar*

        “Do my direct reports always handle things in the exact way/timing/priority I would? No, but 90% of the time it doesn’t matter, and the 10% of the time it does I make it clear to them beforehand…”

        In my career I’d say about 60% of the time it doesn’t matter. 20% of the time it does and I make it clear to them beforehand. 20% of the time they do something I wouldn’t and it works out better for everyone. And that’s a good thing, because that means the newbie is benefitting the team AND taking crap off my plate! My goal is always to grow that 20%, to the point where I can hand them a set of project instructions and know they can run with it without me needing to be in the weeds.

        Anyone who doesn’t see that and isn’t in a discipline that is strictly regulated (like commercial airline pilot) is a bad manager.

  33. Optimus*

    OP, I think you’re 100% correct that the reason Jane rushed to answer that email (getting it wrong in the process) was specifically so she could chastise you. I had a lead once who did that sort of thing – would come in earlier than the standard start time for the day, do a task for someone else, then tell them in an annoyed voice that “She took care of XYZ for you… since you weren’t here yet.” Some people are just instinctively snakey, they have issues, and they can’t be reasoned with, and we can’t work for them without the toxicity affecting our career or our mental health (or both). Time to find the exit. Good luck! I hope you land in a healthy workplace quickly.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      I would literally tell an old roommate “I didn’t have time to do these dishes last night. Please leave them for me, I will do them when I get home today”. Then she would do them that AM, then she would complain that I “never did the dishes”. It was annoying and we were no longer friends or roommates when that lease was up (not the only issue we had, but the one most relevant to this). Same with this boss, LW. She’s jumping in super fast so that she gets to chastise you when it’s not done on her timeline–even if she has to artificially compress that timeline. People like this will never change, and you need to start your exit plan.

      1. Caliente Papillon*

        This is kind of different though- one kinda has to clean up your dishes in the morning in order to get on with their day, don’t they?
        We don’t leave dishes in our sink at anytime and being the main chef I definitely get fussed showing up to a sink full of dishes at any time if the day.
        But about this boss? Agreed

        1. AngryOctopus*

          For the record, she did not *have* to clean my dishes to get on with her day. Yes, I do know, I was there. She just chose to do them, and then get salty about it later.
          As in this and the boss example, people have different standards that have to adapt when you live/work with other human beings. I didn’t leave my dishes more than a day, it’s not a disaster. LW could have sent an email answer in an hour, everyone would have been happy.

        2. Mianaai*

          I mean it depends on one’s comfort level with leaving dishes until later, how many dishes are dirtied, how many dishes are clean, the overall grossness level of the dishes, etc. And dish strife between roommates can range from “all these people are actively being jerks to each other” to “one person is being unreasonable” to “an unintentional clash of expectations and communication styles”. For example, my college roommate and I both had the habit of leaving dishes overnight to wash in the morning… but she got up earlier than me, and thus would angrily wash my little pile of rinsed dishes and then complain. I ended up just caving and washing my dishes at night, not least because she broke a *lot* of my dishes… but she continued to leave hers until the next morning! I would approach that situation a lot differently now, with the benefit of 15 years’ hindsight, but it was a case where we had the same behavior/habits, but different schedules and expectations (me: I will wash my dishes on the agreed schedule regardless of what else is in the sink/on the counter; her: I will wash all dishes in the sink/counter on the agreed schedule, regardless of who dirtied them) and sucked at communication.

        3. Bitte Meddler*

          @Caliente – What? I have a double sink. A roommate could leave a plate, utensils, and a glass in one side of the sink and I could still fully function in the kitchen using the other half of the sink.

          The only way “one has to clean up their dishes in the morning in order for Roommate to get on with their day” is true is if the sink is tiny and therefore unusable if there’s so much as a desert plate sitting in it.

          I’m 57 years old and of all the sinks I have encountered in places I’ve lived and in the places my friends and relatives have lived, maaaaybe one of them was small enough that it had to be completely empty to be used.

          1. Lexi Vipond*

            Also if you’ve got absolutely no worktop space so that there’s nowhere except the sink for the dishes to go. The world will not end because a pan and a plate sit near the sink until I come home.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I wasn’t sure “chastising OP” was the motivation. I think it’s as likely that Martha is the always-on-edge, highly strung type who sees everything as urgent, reacts right away to everything instead of stepping back and responding, so to her an email from a partner needs to be responded to right away and each minute that goes by and OP (reasonably) hasn’t yet responded to it, she’s thinking “Partner needs a reply! Why hasn’t OP replied yet? Why? Why? Why? I’ll have to answer it myself as we can’t let the partner down” and of course in her haste to make this anxious state go away, fumbles it and gives out the wrong info (building address instead of email address). For someone like Martha, only immediate responsiveness will be accepted. I used yo have a co-worker (a peer who was senior to me but not my supervisor) a lot like this. If something went wrong on Friday evening she’d work unnecessarily all the weekend so that the business stakeholders would have it on Monday, even though they would have accepted “we had a glitch and it will be with you by the end of the day” as it really worried her that they wouldn’t have their thing. And then complained that she’d “had” to work the weekend…

  34. Art3mis*

    My former manager once scolded me for not responding to a Teams message while I was on my lunch break. Yes, I was salaried, but it’s not like we were even allowed to install Teams on our cell phones, and I don’t eat at my desk, so I’m not sure how I was supposed to do that. That incident plus leaving at my usual time and not replying to an email after hours becoming a “performance issue” pushed me to look for a new job. A new one with a big pay cut that I don’t particularly like, but it’s a lot less stressful at least.

  35. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    I’ve been at my new job for just over a month….

    …which means that you can omit this job from your resume as you search for the next job. (Or maybe include it now but remove it for future job searches.)

  36. Jellyfish Catcher*

    Get out as soon as you reasonably can. That sort of demeaning treatment day after day, can get to you, so make it a secret game.
    Remain professional, while imaging that there is a wall between Martha’s words and your body.
    Imagine her words bouncing back to splat on her. That helped me with an abusive prof; sometimes my imaginary image included, um….digestive products bouncing back as well, while I kept a poker face.
    You will be fine.

  37. Emily Byrd Starr*

    Four minutes? She wouldn’t have done well in the late 1990’s/ early 2000’s, when most of us checked our email once or twice a day.

  38. New Mom (of 1 6/9)*

    Perhaps she thinks she’s Madonna or Justin Timberlake. They only had 4 minutes to save the world.

    1. Sharpie*

      Even Flash Gordon had longer than four minutes! “Flash! Flash, I love you – but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!”

  39. Gray Rock*

    In addition to all the “get out” comments, I suggest going Gray Rock to survive while you’re looking for other work. You can search Gray Rock on Captain Awkward for strategies to care less and protect your mental health until you can get out of the abusive situation. And this is abuse. Best of luck to you.

    1. Lana Kane*

      This is what I was going to suggest. Compartmentalize it all into an “I will not react because this is stupid” internal bucket. When something like this happens, imagine yourself throwing it in that bucket and practice the blankest face you can pull off (or really, any facial expression that makes sense to you and works to keep you composed). Eventually it’s a pavlovian response between imagining the Stupid Bucket and your face just closing up. This isn’t a mechanism to survice and keep the job, it’s temporary until you can get out. Protect yourself.

  40. Peanut Hamper*

    If you don’t get out soon, OP, you’ll be back to nominate Martha for Worst Manager of the Year later.

    Get out, get out, get out.

  41. Dust Bunny*

    Unless something was literally on fire and she, for some inexplicable reason, used email to ask you to call 911 . . . your boss is a nut. GTFO ASAP.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      (Insert quote from that British TV show, maybe the IT crowd? where he’s emailing to report an office fire, and editing it before hitting Send,)

  42. Sparkles McFadden*

    Get out as soon as you can. This is a manager who desperately wants to find fault with you (and probably everyone else too). Bosses like this will send specific instructions via email and then give you contrary instructions verbally. She’ll ban you from having a cell phone on during working hours and then send you mission critical text messages. Yes, there are ways to cope with such behavior, but that requires you to think like an irrational person in order to anticipate nonsense.

    In the meantime, treat it all like you’re a student who has been assigned to observe the extremely dysfunctional and controlling behavior of a lunatic boss. Best of luck with your job search!

  43. mango chiffon*

    I had a (new) manager like this who treated my new colleagues like this. It got to a very bad point where the manager was berating my new colleague and implied firing her. She was also a terrible manager to me, but did not treat me horribly, perhaps because I had more time in the company. We talked to trusted senior colleagues about our treatment and went to HR, who was receptive to us. Eventually the manager went on “extended leave” after talking with HR and then never returned. We’re still picking up the pieces, but OP if you’re able to confide in your other boss and talk to HR, please do. Alison’s advice about leaving is still also good, but I think it’s worth it to at least leave a paper trail on this manager’s horrible behavior

  44. WriterDrone*

    Finding a new job is the right advice. I had a micromanager of a boss who specifically got demoted for her micromanaging. She was told this is why she was being demoted. She put her head down for a week or two then resumed trying to micromanage people when she no longer had any direct reports, as if she still held her old role. Micromanagers cannot be stopped.

  45. Sara without an H*

    Hi, LW — In my experience, having two bosses rarely works out well. In your case, it’s already turning rancid, so why hang around to get the last possible twitch of agony? Check the AAM archives for advice, and start looking aggressively for another job.

    I’ve gone back and forth in my own mind about whether to ask Reasonable Boss for a reference, or to just leave the whole wretched job off your resume. Given that you’ve only been there a month, you might want to just skip it and use your contacts from earlier jobs for references. (Some of this may depend on your industry.) If you’re asked about it during an interview, just say that the job turned out to be drastically different than described and not a good fit.

    While you’re job searching, try to detach emotionally and mentally as much as possible. Martha is going to be unpleasant because that’s how Martha is. Nothing you can do will change that.

    I have a funny feeling that Martha will turn out to be one of those managers who reacts dramatically when people quit. Good luck, and please send us an update when you land something new.

  46. Ann Jansi*

    First I thought maybe OP could work more (if possible) with the other manager. Then I realised if the other manager sat in the meeting with Miserable Martha without saying anything. That is an equally horrible manager – just in another way. Also, you don’t want to have the miserable terrible awful manager Martha nearby. She will probably do her best to make life miserable for OP – even if “only” hovering nearby.
    I vote like a lot of others here – get out.

  47. merida*

    Oh this one hurts to read – I left a job with a bad dual manager situation recently, complete with lots of micromanaging and false “gotcha!” moments like in the letter, and my replacement started just over a month ago. I feel for the replacement because I know nothing has changed.

    Just want to second all the advice to start your job search now. No job is worth your sanity. And the longer you stay the harder it will be to remind yourself of what normal is (and the more therapy you will need… haha).

  48. gmg22*

    It’s been four years since my micromanaging program director retired and I still ain’t right (though admittedly it doesn’t help that we’re now on our third director since then, all with completely different, though at least less ridiculously micromanaging, work styles). Second sets of emails every time I updated on a project, because he couldn’t be bothered to read the first ones and would anxiously email me asking me series of questions I had just answered. Insistence on reviewing every single solitary word anyone on my team wrote before it could see the light of day, but to make that happen we had to work around his schedule where once per quarter he would vanish in a puff of smoke for 10 days to attend board meetings (of an org he for some reason was allowed to care about more than the one that was paying him). Blithe statements like “so, I know we missed that deadline/failed to provide that deliverable/[insert alleged failing of gmg22 here]” when, reader, I can assure you, we had in fact hit the deadline/provided the deliverable/etc. You get the drift. Reading LW’s letter full-on activated my fight or flight response. Run, LW, run!

    1. Coffee Protein Drink*

      The damage some people can do. I’ve had a boss give me nightmares for months after I left the job.

      1. I Have RBF*

        I lost a job once where I wasn’t smart enough to leave when they started gaslighting me – I kept trying to make my micromanaging, abusive boss happy. It went from a job where I and my manager got along great for over two years to utter hell. Both she and her boss left and were replaced by people that tried to rewrite my personality. I literally cashed out my 401k and didn’t even look for work for six months while I rebuilt my self esteem and work ethic. I still have nightmares about it.

        1. Coffee Protein Drink*

          Yikes! What a horrid situation. I hope those six months did you good and you were able to land someplace better.

          1. I Have RBF*

            I ended up temping as an admin because I knew how to use a computer. This actually did wonders for my self esteem, because I was making more money for what to me was less work. Then I landed at a company where I stayed for about seven years before I got laid off. I recovered, but I still have certain things that get to me sometimes.

  49. MuseumChick*

    I feel your pain! I worked at a job for two years with a boss who basically expected everyone to read his mind and upper management that was just terrible. I agree with everyone say to look for a new job.

  50. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Walk away.
    I assure you.
    She is going to congratulate you/praise you in some way, for some ridiculous thing, like remembering to take your copies off the printer or opening the mail or reading her message.
    And you will be hooked. Because “I can change her mind! I will change her mind! I’m doing better already!”
    And you will be there for five years trying to score that high again.
    Did I just compare her to heroin?
    I did.
    And if you write back in a year and say you tried to stick it out, I will do it again.

    1. Dinwar*

      Unfortunately I’d place really good money that you’re right. It’s a classic way abusers behave. And if this were any other type of relationship this sort of behavior–controlling, manipulative, gaslighting, emotionally abusive–would pretty clearly be considered abusive. And the problem is the longer you’re in an abusive relationship, the more normal it seems.

  51. fka Get Me Out of Here*

    Ugh this sounds a lot like my old boss (who unfortunately was my only one). I had to cc him on EVERYTHING, then months later in mediation he told HR that he had never told me to do that (which was a blatant lie, because he told me to do that after I hadn’t cc’d him on something banal that he thought I should have). I’d do something one way, he’d scold me for it, then next time I’d do it the way he told me to during the scolding, aaaand then he’d ask why I didn’t do it the original way. I quit with nothing else lined up and found a way better job with a way better boss:

    Today, I had emailed a VP with a follow-up request, then had to send him a separate follow-up on something from a couple months ago that my boss had requested, so my boss was cc’d on just that second follow-up, and the VP responded to the second request and said he was working on the first one. My boss replied to just me to ask for a reminder of the first request (which I had told him about on Monday, so he wasn’t totally out of the loop), and when I reminded him, he said something like, “Oh, right, thanks.” I’ve been obsessing about it (in a good way) since receiving that, because my old boss would have demanded to be cc’d on both requests going forward.

    Point being: Better is out there!

    1. Bitte Meddler*

      Isn’t it amazing when you get a good manager who trusts you to do your job, including things like knowing when to rope them in / borrow their power?

      My last manager at my previous job was like that. He only wanted to be cc’d if I needed to make the other person see that a manager was now part of the conversation. If it had to escalate further than that (like, having a Teams meeting with the person to move things forward), he’d ask me to send him the whole email thread and/or a bullet point summary, just to bring him up to speed so he wouldn’t look like an idiot in the meeting.

      My current manager is like that, too. I am the first and only internal auditor in a privately-held company that wants to go public and my boss, the CFO, has left me entirely alone to build up the IA function however I see fit. He trusts that I’ll come to him with any issues or roadblocks that I need removed (which I’ve done a few times). He also trusts that I can communicate timely and professionally with any of the 3000+ employees, at all levels, including the CEO.

  52. thatoneoverthere*

    My BFF had a boss like this it was a nightmare. Her colleagues literally would leave at their break and never come back. My friend would be criticized over everything and anything. She was called and berated on her days off. Her boss had to be cc’d on every email. She would call me crying all the time.

    Run and run fast.

  53. Cookingcutie11*

    Leave, leave, LEAVE. At my first full-time job out of college, I had a manager like this. I had started out there part-time, and then was offered a full-time role which I gladly accepted. I lasted less than a year under her. She nipped everything, was rude, demanding, and generally made all of her staff miserable. I begin having terrible anxiety issues, and muttering in my sleep and nearly had a nervous breakdown.

    No job is worth that.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I pictured her nipping at every word you said, every question, every action, and you moving slowly, speaking calmly, trying to prevent an attack.

    1. Bitte Meddler*

      I had a job from early 2008 through 2010 with one of those can’t-win managers who was energized by finding fault in her direct reports, no matter how tiny or imagined the fault might be.

      I took 3 months of FMLA leave at the end of 2009 into early 2010 to try to get to the bottom of a ton of health issues: night sweats, heart palpitations, migraines, extreme fatigue, constant diarrhea, joint pain, extreme clumsiness (like tripping over nothing and falling), tremors in my arms and hands, and an immune system that was MIA since I no sooner stopped coughing from one cold / flu when another one crept in.

      I saw an endocrinologist, a cardiologist, an orthopedist, a gastroenterologist, and a neurologist. All of them put me through a series of tests, and all of those tests came back with, “She’s fine. There’s no explanation for these symptoms.”

      And then I got caught in a round of layoffs at the end of 2010 (there had been 6 or 7 that year).

      Within one week — ONE WEEK! — of not having to work under that manager most of my symptoms disappeared. I was completely symptom-free by Week 3.

      OP: Please get out before this woman ruins both your mental and physical health. As Cookingcutie1 says, no job is worth that.

  54. StarTrek Nutcase*

    Quit asap, I did. I was working exclusively for an associate dean who was very difficult but I managed to work around her micromanaging for 2 yrs But then there was a reshuffle, she went 1/2 time so I also got assigned another 1/2 time associate dean. Also a difficult boss and both “really” disliked each other. They fought over my time like rabid cats. On day 5, I gave 2 weeks notice (luckily found a job at better pay within that period). I hated leaving the university I’d worked at for 2 decades, but my stress was escalating & mental health declining. Good luck

  55. Snarky McSnarkson*

    See, I understand that this is not for everyone, but I’m old enough to have zero f***s to give here. She asked a question – why didn’t I jump in to help? I would have responded with something about the four minutes. THEN I would have asked her if she noticed that they asked for the email address. ZERO f***s. Do NOT ask me a question if you do not want to know my answer.

    I read Martha as a bully and I have no tolerance for that either.

    1. LaurCha*

      This is easy to say but living with non-stop bullying is intolerable and demoralizing. You may be a tough guy who isn’t bothered by bullying, but I posit that you also would get the fck out of this situation.

      This is basically “ignore the bully” advice, which is TERRIBLE advice.

      1. Mia*

        I dont know if it’s “ignore the bully” but it seems unrealistic. Abusive or not, one of these people has power over the other. LW may not be able to cope with the consequences of calling out Martha’s bullshit.

      2. Goldenrod*

        I agree that this is easier to say than do. I feel exactly the same way – I had zero respect for my former bullying boss – but at the same time, I knew that if I openly expressed contempt, I was just going to make my own daily life worse.

        I would often placate her or pretend to like her, just to get through my day. With a power imbalance like that, being confrontational is only going to make your own situation worse, in the end.

    2. Elbe*

      It’s easier to not care in situations where your livelihood doesn’t depend on it. We don’t know how long the LW will have to stay at this job until they can find another.

      Clear, direct communication can be useful when dealing with difficult people, but it really depends on the situation.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Agreeing. While being self-employed is inherently less stable than working for a company (although not all that much less unstable, sometimes), one of the things I have GREATLY enjoyed is telling people to shove it (in effect, although much more eloquently and politely) when they try bullying me. Having multiple clients (and thus varied sources of income) is very freeing, sometimes.

        One of the best mentors I had was someone who fired a client for trying to pull that kind of behaviour – it really taught me how to stand up for myself.

  56. beth b*

    Leave. As in Now.

    Well, as soon as you can. I had a boss much like yours. She worked in the office adjacent to mine and her desk faced the door so she was constantly watching me. Co-workers couldn’t even stop in passing to say hello to me without her asking what they wanted. Every phone call I answered was followed up by questions from her. Nothing was ever good enough. I lasted 6 months … I finally called it quits. But it was the very best thing I did (for my mental health for one). Good luck. You deserve much better!

    1. Cyndi*

      Oooooh yeah the worst time I ever had with a micromanaging boss was a job where we shared a small office, so there was physically no getting away from her.

  57. McFizzle*

    I agree with job hunt now, but would advocate that you make sure document and hand in all of these unreasonable, unhinged responses / requests before you leave. I bet plenty of people have been run off by her, or more will, so establishing what’s actually going on is important to you and those coming in after you. My general impression is that most people, especially women, tend to quietly bow out. I’ll even go crazy and ask if you think it might be worth it to talk to your (other manager) or another level above (again, once you have secured another position).

    Good luck to you. So sorry you’re having to go through this.

  58. And thanks for the coffee*

    I’m sorry this is going so poorly for you. Four minutes is ridiculous, of course. I agree, if at all possible, escape as soon as you can. Please let AAM know how this turns out,

  59. KeinName*

    I think you should demonstrate to her that you are an experienced professional (which I can tell from your email) by not giving in to her work style where it doesn’t make sense and being confident in your own (reasonable) work style. And by finding another job. But it seems important to me that you should keep your dignity and confidence.

  60. Punkin*

    OP, I’m so sorry you’re going through this, but I’m also glad you wrote in because I’m going through a similar situation (except I’ve been at this job for three months) and have been trying to figure out how to even word my question to Alison without seeming like a cry baby about it. (Even though I do cry in the bathroom at work regularly due to how my boss gives feedback and micromanages…) Here’s to the both of us getting new jobs quickly!

  61. Dawn*

    Martha’s behaviour is so bizarre and out of pocket that I think I do need to ask this question – are you maybe, possibly a visible minority of any sort?

    This feels like it crosses the line straight into vindictive to me and it would not shock me one bit to learn that it was based on a protected characteristic.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      You know what, maybe not even a minorty. It could be that she prefers someone of another sex for this position. Like maybe OP is male (or nonbinary, transmasc etc.) and Martha thinks only women should have this job.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Or Martha, like the boss of the letter about “my boss makes me wear her clothes”, chooses people she can abuse. Younger people, fresh from school, young mothers (yes, I’m thinking she targets, err umm, selects women) others with limited experience and options. Because she is insecure and selfish.
        She should be helping her employee grow, not grinding her down.

    2. Part time lab tech*

      You’re trying to find a reason for unreasonable behaviour. For some the chief reason is the endorphin rush they get from berating. With the added benefit of making sure noone dares blame them and drawing attention to someone else. I had someone actually tell me that they felt better afterwards. Everything else is an excuse.

      1. Dawn*

        I’m not trying to make excuses at all; I’d like to know if any of this rises to the level of legally actionable above and beyond being really shitty.

        If your boss is treating you like crap and trying to push you out, that really sucks. If your boss is treating you like crap and trying to push you out because you’re Black, that’s a whole other issue.

  62. Have you had enough water today?*

    My old GM worked at all hours. In my first month I got to work on Monday morning to find an email from him that he sent at some point over the weekend. I was early for work so I answered the email before my actual start time…he came back with “thank you, but I needed the information when I requested it, not 30 hours later”. Thankfully he was moved on from the business not long after for a variety of reasons so I did not have to deal with him for long, but that was a fun little reply to get first thing on a Monday morning.

    1. Mr. Mousebender*

      “Dear GM, as per my employment contract, my hours of work are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.

      Therefore, any communications/tasks assigned to me outside of those hours will be dealt with DURING those hours”.

    2. Dawn*

      “If you needed this when you requested it, perhaps you should have sent it to someone who was actually present at the time. Kind regards.”

  63. WillowSunstar*

    Martha sounds like my mother. If she is, she’s one of those people who can never, ever be made happy, no matter what you do. Get out before dealing with her gives you long-term anxiety and depression.

    1. Salty Caramel*

      I’m sorry you had to live with a mother like that. You’re absolutely right that LW needs to get away.

  64. TG*

    This manage sounds like a demon. You’ll never satisfy her completely unreasonable demands and the fact it’s been allowed – since she’s a manager – is ridiculous. I’d either say you want to work only for the other manager if they’re reasonable or you’ll need to look for another position. I’d document every instance where she is like this to at least have examples of why you quit if and when you do!

  65. Someone Else's Boss*

    LW – It is one thing to be a micromanager. Asking for constant information and wanting to tweak the way someone does something is very annoying. You work for a micromanager who has unrealistic expectations. Could you have responded more quickly if you hadn’t had excel open? Yes, maybe. But 4 minutes is longer than it would take me to look someone up in our system and do the basic fact checking that tells me if the information is new enough to be considered accurate. You cannot teach someone to be reasonable. Find a new job and remove this one from your resume.

    P.S. I bet she brags to her friends about how her standards are so high that no one can meet them. Run.

  66. Magenta Sky*

    Reminds me of a lawyer friend who got a call from a client asking for an in depth legal opinion on documents he’s just sent – while his email client was still downloading the attachment.

    (Sadly, that barely registered on his “weird client behavior” scale.)

    “Instant gratification isn’t fast enough.”

  67. Jaybeetee*

    Yeah, if she’s nitpicking four minutes to reply to an email, you’re not gonna be able to fix her. Any attempt to negotiate with her will be deck chairs on the Titanic, and your self-esteem and professional norms will both get screwed up the longer you’re there.

    I had a boss something like this, early in my career (as well as a “second boss”, who was nicer in general, but inexperienced and went along with nightmare boss too often). In my case, nightmare boss had had a retail career beforehand (and shockingly, wasn’t actually qualified to manage staff in an office environment, albeit one that provided service to the public). She basically treated us all like kindergarteners. Micromanaged things like break times and dress codes. It got worse when I became a supervisor under her, and would get upbraided regularly for some perceived issue or another that frankly – I’ll say even after years of experience – were pretty inconsequential. She just seemed to think we were all looking for excuses to slack off or take shortcuts in our work, so would flip out at well, basically everything.

    Anyway, she actually got fired eventually lol. Because it turned out she barely did any actual work, funnily enough. I outlasted her (though that job was still dysfunctional as hell in other ways). But especially when it’s your first or one of your first jobs, a boss like that can long-term screw with your sense of workplace norms. I recommend getting out while the getting’s good.

  68. Essentially Cheesy*

    I have had bosses do this to me and when they (unreasonably) said “where were you” or “why didn’t you get this thing done already” I always responded in a surprised/sad/shocked way .. “well gosh, I was doing this totally legitimate thing that you already asked me/expected me to do immediately .. I’m so sorry I missed you” and they feel bad. I loved seeing the look on their face when I responded in such a sad way. I can play that game too.

    They retired before I burnt out too much, although even a little bit is too much.

  69. el l*

    Remember, OP, she may tell herself that she expects overcommunication, absurd levels of accountability, and ridiculous levels of responsiveness.

    But I somehow doubt that she would do that for you.

    I also doubt that she’s known as a high-quality operator, if she does actually constantly interrupt herself that quickly for a routine email.

    Finally, remember, folks – if it truly needs notice right this second…call. Don’t email, don’t message, call.

    Time to go!

  70. Coffee Protein Drink*

    The worst boss I ever came out to my desk when I didn’t respond to an email quickly enough and threw a fit when I told her I answered emails in the order they were received (after ensuring I was responding to the latest in a thread).

    Please, LW, get out now.

    When I say threw a fit, I mean she yelled loud enough for the whole department to hear and threw her hands in the air like a true dramallama. There may have been a door slamming as well after she left my desk, but I probably blocked that from my memory.

  71. Pyjamas*

    OP, on your way out, it might be reassuring to see if there’s anything else going on here. Are you friendly with anyone who is the same rank as you in the office’s hierarchy? My guess is that boss wanted to hire someone else and is trying to get you to resign or be fired

  72. Ohyeahthishappenedtomeagain*

    Oh god. The flashbacks I’m having right now… I’ve shared this anecdote in a comment in response to another letter once before, but I’ll repeat it here for OP’s benefit. I used to work for a micromanager. It got to the point during the pandemic (when I think he just lost all sense of perspective because he could no longer SEE his employees) where I could be typing a response to his newly arrived email, and, while I was writing, a text to my personal cell phone *and* a Microsoft Teams message would arrive. Ping! Ping! Sometimes, multiple texts and Microsoft Teams messages would come flooding in. I would have to pause replying to the email to reply to the texts and Teams messages to say (wait for it) that I was replying to the email. It was psychotic. While my responsiveness made my micromanager somewhat happy, I noticed he was never totally satisfied. I lasted about two years before leaving for a job with better pay and more autonomy. I also want to note that the person before me in the role lasted six months. The person after me lasted about 18 months (I think?). Lord help the person in the role currently. OP, start applying for jobs now.

  73. Illogical Spock*

    Medicine – get yourself to a GP and get some anti-depressants.
    It will make you feel so much better while you look for a new job and have to deal with this glass bowl.
    I had the nice boss/terrible boss in a small firm and the nice boss just ignored the bad one’s behavior as we would churn thru employees and lose clients. Makes me think that you shouldn’t speak to the other boss.

    1. Broadway Duchess*

      Anti-depressants are not a thing you get “to feel better” and they don’t work for people who aren’t clinically depressed. OP is suffering from am unreasonable manager and her reaction is perfectly appropriate to the boss’s unhinged behavior. She, as far as we know, doesn’t have a chemical imbalance or history of depressive episodes where anti-depressants could be helpful.

  74. Avery*

    This reminds me of an old job of mine all too much.
    Boss was a micromanager, and wanted me to send her every email I was going to send before I sent it.
    Yes. Every email I sent had to be approved beforehand. In a very email-heavy position.
    Did I mention that it often took my boss several business days to approve these emails? That she would go on trips frequently (sometimes business, sometimes not) and not approve any of my emails in the meantime? That her peer in another department would often take advantage of the delayed communication to chime in with her own response–that was often wrong, sometimes significantly so, because she worked in another department and didn’t know my projects that well in the first place? That I couldn’t outright mention this forced email delay from my boss in my communications with others, letting them think it was my fault email responses were so slow?
    Eventually, after I asked for her approval on a quick “Thank you” email, she relented and said that only important/substantial emails needed to be approved… without saying how I could tell if an email fit into that category. And while implying that this had been the policy all along and I was an idiot to think otherwise.
    My depression and anxiety got a lot better after I left that job, and I have not looked back.

    1. The Grinchess*

      I have a manager like this. They told me never to send anything without their approval (not including emails, thank goodness) but it takes forever for them to respond and worst of all? They don’t appear to actually read most of what I give them. But I turn in every everything for review. And I stamp it so they have to initial and date it. So if something goes wrong down the line and I get blamed for it, I have a very thick folder I can pull that stamped copy from to say: but… you approved it.

  75. morethantired*

    I’ve worked for people like Martha and I wish I’d gotten Alison’s advice back then. Even if you manage to please her for a while, there is just no way you can ever keep up with that kind of unreasonable expectation. You’ll just burn out or end up with warped ideas about professional norms.

  76. Part time lab tech*

    I hope you are joking.
    Anti depressants are not a magic pill. Even a short course can have severe withdrawal effects and need to be tapered. She does not have a chemical imbalance or having poor self esteem for no reason. She is having a normal response to an abusive boss.
    She needs to get out and find a healthy job.

  77. Addison DeWitt*

    Go get a new job, and when she asks why you’re leaving after having just started, tell her she taught you to respond quickly to emails from higher-ups.

    1. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

      Don’t even give her a chance to ask. Just send her an e-mail (with copies to the other boss and higher ups) at 5:00PM on a Friday, “By the way, today is my last day.”

      1. Evan Þ*

        Send her an email saying you’re planning to leave unless she gives you a suitable counteroffer; then four minutes later reply-all saying you’re leaving since she didn’t make the counteroffer fast enough.


  78. BellyButton*

    In no context is being a micromanager a good thing. I don’t want to be one, I don’t want manage anyone who needs me to be one.

  79. Shelly*


    Just going to scream for you, go and get any other job…the cognitive dissonance isn’t worth it.

  80. Trek*

    She’s a cop not a coach. She doesn’t want you to be better or excel she wants to catch you breaking her law. Get out now but if there is HR or any higher up you can give feed back to when you leave please try.

  81. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

    The four minute rule applies mostly to avocados: Is it ripe? Is it ripe? Is it ripe? (Four minutes passes) Aargh! It’s overripe!

  82. Brain the Brian*

    The poor person who sits next to me is in a similar boat right now. I’m very glad to be a few layers removed from the unreasonable among her two managers.

  83. CSRoadWarrior*

    Please leave ASAP. In no way is this good for your health. Find another job, and leave as soon as you can. And don’t delay.

    At this point, I wouldn’t even give two weeks’ notice. Plus, you have only been at this job for over a month. Leave it off your resume and your LinkedIn if you are able to leave shortly after this. Like Alison, it will only be a blip on your resume. No reasonable prospective employer will question you why on details like this. If so, then just say you took a break. I have done this before, and always managed to find another job in a reasonable amount of time. Trust me on this, because I know firsthand.

  84. The Grinchess*


    Even if you talk to the other manager, here’s the thing… this company knows what this woman is and is doing. There’s no way they don’t know. But they keep her and, I’m betting, lose all the people who came before you. It won’t change. They’ll make promises that never materialize and when the chips are down? They won’t lift a finger to stop her.

    Find another job and get out now before you wind up with destroyed confidence and health and in a therapist’s office trying to figure out how you got there.

  85. WhenIsRetirement*

    run run run. I might have to medicate myself after reading all of this. I, too, am convinced you are working for my former boss in what was supposed to be my dream job, but it turned out to be a nightmare with physical and mental pain. Two surgeries for RSI, partially caused by having improper equipment. Picture her berating me and mocking me on phone calls with other coworkers, telling me I could not ask other coworkers for information (and this was a remote gig preCOVID), nitpicking, personal slams, running a private group chat about me with said coworkers. I was eventually laid off along with a few other people she did not like, and an attorney encouraged me to sue but I did not have the energy and a second opinion said I did not have a strong enough case. The PTSD has followed me through to two other positions where I am at a higher level and working for much better managers, but I constantly have to remind myself that that period of my life is OVER! That kind of anxiety can trip you up if you let it mess with your head. This woman is now running another org. Sometimes I wonder how those people are surviving. run run run!

  86. Future*

    I worked for a micro-manager who could never be pleased and had unreasonable expectations and my self-esteem is still recovering. I’ll never let myself be in that position again, if I can help it. Run.

  87. Matt*

    Since some postings here stress that time-sensitive things should be a phone call, not an email: that might be correct, but irrelevant – it’s also unreasonable to expect all phone calls to be picked up immediately or returned in four minutes. Just the word “bathroom break” should explain it. If it’s life or death, like on 911, the phone line must be staffed by at least more than one person to fulfil that requirement.

  88. Kella*

    OP- The problem isn’t just that your boss wants you to read her mind and be perfect in executing her expectations– both of which are already impossible expectations. This is the kind of person who, even if you do exactly as she says at the moment that she says it, she will *move the goal posts* so that what you did was retroactively wrong. You cannot satisfy her if it is her goal to be dissatisfied and have reasons to criticize and bully you. I see no reason to put up with that longer than you have to.

  89. Panda Bandit*

    I had a manager very similar to Martha. What is it with people being proud to be micromanagers?? I held on for years because I thought it was my only job option. I felt awful the whole time and I had every physical sign of stress. It was great once I left. Later on I found out my replacements didn’t stay for very long and they had to shut down a bunch of projects because I was the only one who could handle them. Ex-manager no longer has employees and treats her vendors badly, which made her lose a really important one. I hope you can get out of there soon, LW. It’s not worth it to put up with people like this.

  90. Bookworm*

    Run. I was not quite in this situation but did have a manager who would call at the very end of the day (5:59 PM, literally, I checked my phone in utter disbelief), after hours, send emails on the weekends or absurdly early in the mornings (ie, when people are sleeping in our time zone and no one worked outside of the US so time difference wasn’t it!).

    I absolutely agree with Alison is that this is a case where the manager simply does not know how to manage. Not that I disagree that your manager wants to find ways to hate you (because 4 minutes is ridiculous) but fundamentally it does sound like this manager is someone who is not up for the job.

    Good luck.

  91. Gozer (she/her)*

    There’s a British word for your boss – ‘tosser’.

    I had a boss who would note down every time any of the women in the office went to the toilet, how long they were gone for and how many times that day it was. Then lecture us about ‘going to the bathroom to chat on company time’. Did not end well for him (IT found the spreadsheet he was keeping this info on and turned it over to HR. I *may* have been the one who randomly searched his hard drive…).

    Or the boss who insisted on reading my screen over my shoulder every time I was on a call. Shrinking my text size down to ‘tiny’ sorted that one.

    But when you can’t fight back – either due to capital or means – you really do have to look at an escape plan. Once, I didn’t, and in my first managerial job I made the mistake of being way too micromanaging myself! Bad experiences can lead to bad habits.

    (I recovered quickly)

  92. MAC*

    I once had a manager who replied 3 separate times to the same email (which was to me and she was on the CC line) with 3 different answers that essentially canceled each other out (think yes/no/maybe), and which were still, somehow, ALL inaccurate. Also within an extremely short time frame. When I brought it up, she didn’t understand what the problem was. This was among the least of the issues with her — she constantly inserted herself between me and my internal customer despite understanding exactly zero about his work, and messed up a relationship I had spent 3+ years building. (He was widely known as the most difficult researcher in our organization.) I eventually took a lateral transfer and she was, shockingly, asked to resign or be let go not long after. (Shocking because as a federal contractor, it was VERY hard to get rid of anyone unless it was for watching p*rn at work or embezzlement. She was a known problem child who had been moved around for years prior, with one division flat out lying about her time with them in order to foist her off on another department.)

    All that to say … get out as soon as possible. There’s no upside to working for people like this.

  93. Owlet 101*

    I was always taught that if it is that important and time sensitive it does not need to be sent over email. It needs to be a phone call. MAYBE a phone call followed up by an email. Because most people are not plugged into their inbox all day and only check it at certain times. So yeah, your boss is overreacting.

    There are times where I don’t even see an email in 4 minutes, and I work almost exclusively out of my my email inbox since I am administrative support staff.

    1. Matt*

      Yes, but even the phone has got to have a four (!) minute allowance. That’s at least a very acceptable bathroom / water / coffee break. If boss wants to have a life-or-death phone line staffed every second, they need at least two persons per “shift” to cover it.

      I don’t pick up the phone whenever it rings. If it’s really urgent (by means of IT, I don’t save lives in my job) I want at least a short IM with at least one sentence what it’s about and why it’s that urgent that I have to drop my current focus. Even with dedicated on-call staff in IT, there’s usually a defined service level agreement of let’s say 15, 20 or 30 minutes response time.

  94. borealis*

    If your boss had been reasonable, it would have been worth pointing out to her that it is often much better time management not to react immediately to incoming emails – it breaks the flow of work. (Obviously this depends on the context, the kind of work, etc.)

    If she had been reasonable.

  95. Michelle Smith*

    Please send us an update in a few weeks or months and let us know how you’re doing. And do not let this woman steal your health or your joy in the meantime. You are not in the wrong and you will find a better place to land.

  96. HalJordan*

    I had a rapid response circumstance yesterday! But: lead time was 45 minutes, overall; there were 3 phone calls and one pop-in-in-person within those 45 minutes to establish context and to prep; and nobody just left things in email, an inherently asynchronous medium.

    What you’re describing isn’t a sustainable relationship and Martha’s never going to be pleased with what you do. If you sense that the people above her would take issue with how she manages and simply aren’t aware, then an appeal to them might work. But someone being so proud of micromanaging (!) makes me doubt that they don’t know. Best of luck getting somewhere better.

  97. Veryanon*

    I had a manager like this at my last job and I knew within a month that it wasn’t going to work out. She even tracked the amount of time I was away from my desk to go to the bathroom! (I wish I were kidding. I am not.) For the record, I was a manager and she was a director, so both of us were salaried. If I went to the lunchroom to eat my lunch so as to get away from my desk for a few minutes, she would track me down in the lunchroom for non-urgent things. I spent the majority of my time there looking for another job, which was very depressing as it had taken me a long time to find that one. If I had had the financial wherewithal to quit without another job, I would have done so, because every second I worked for her was torture. One positive I took away from that experience was that when your gut is telling you something isn’t right during the interview, listen to your gut. Don’t try to convince yourself it will be okay.
    OP, it will not get better. Get out get out get out. Get out now.

  98. 1-800-BrownCow*

    LW, your boss is never going to change or get better. You already put in the effort to “improve and meet her standards” yet she still found something whack-a-doodle to chastise you about. Her “issue” with you is absolutely ridiculous and is only and “issue” she created in her own mind. Everything you try to correct, she’s going to find something else. Or you do something exactly the way she asks the next time and I guarantee she’ll change her mind. It’s just going to create stress on yourself. I saw a few people mention Meryl Streep’s character, Miranda, in The Devil Wears Prada, and yes, I definitely agree with this reference!

    There’s a micromanager at my job. Not as bad as your manager, but his department has the biggest turnover in our company, by A LOT, which I keep wondering what upper management is going to do about it. Point being, it’s not worth the stress to keep working for that person, most people in your situation recognize the problem and move on.

  99. TheBunny*

    LW I literally fell your pain.

    I work for someone similar and I could hear the “this was your opportunity…” response in my current boss’s voice as I read this.

    I’m in the same boat you are trying to decide if I stick it out or run (just yesterday my boss chastised me for not sending her a polished final document when she asked me to send her a copy of the draft I was working on AND I told her it was a draft and was missing a certain piece of info that I was aware was needed before it was done) so please update us on what happens!

  100. Justin D*

    My first manager at my current job (mega bank) was like this. I would be thinking about how to respond and she’d be on my case about it. She was like this with a lot of things. I just rolled with it and eventually they moved managers around and I reported to someone else. Then she left the company. I still sort of hate her.

  101. Megan*

    I had a boss just like this. Unfortunately it only got worse, not better. He checked every box on the DSM for narcissistic personality disorder. Whether he actually had that disorder or not really doesn’t matter, because he was a controlling terrible and abusive boss regardless. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely this person will change or improve in anyway. Your best bet is gtfo of there asap before this gets worse. In the mean time, I found a helpful group on reddit after the fact called r/managedbynarcissists. It might help bring you some support in the mean time.

  102. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    My first engineering job out of college was for a company that had a very hands-off approach to management. I would get a task and have to investigate how to find the resources to get the answers needed. Not in a bad way though, they just didn’t want to give you the answer they wanted to teach you how to find the answer in the future, or what criteria were needed to make the decision yourself. It was scary at first, but probably the best training.

    My second job was for an industry that is incredibly micromanaging as an industry. I wasn’t really expecting it. I had been there a couple of months when the first major issue came up on a weekend that I was covering. I did what job 1 would have me do, placed a pause in a couple key parts of the system, investigated the problem, figured out that the scope was significant and started at some point between Machine M and Machine P on the line, placed a section of the manufacturing line on hold so that nothing more could process where the defect was occurring, and then called my boss.

    The whole process took me maybe an hour. My boss freaked out that I hadn’t called him the second the first defect was found. Having no social awareness literally laughed out loud and said “Why on earth would I call you before I knew the impact? What would you have done?” And the answer was that they literally would have brought in 4 layers of managers to hover while I did exactly what I did. He blinked. Laughed, and never tried to micromanage me again. It was just not the culture he was used to but he rolled with it.

    1. RagingADHD*

      You shut down a manufacturing line without telling management?

      That’s not a “culture” issue. It could be less costly to let the line run with some defects than to have the line down for even an hour. Depending on the type of manufacturing, that could cost millions of dollars per minute.

      I think you and your boss lucked out, but I’m really surprised that nobody explained the reason why high-cost decisions need to be made at a level of authority commensurate with the financial impact of the decision.

  103. Karma is My Boyfriend and so is Travis Kelce*

    Oddly, I got reprimanded in my last job for replying to emails TOO quickly…

    Employees can never win.

  104. Overit*

    Run away as fast as you can.
    That lesson is one I wish I had learned early in life. I stayed in toxic workplaces too long. in the short term, I was miserable, had health problems (high blood pressure), and had self esteem issues and self doubt.
    I also learned that sadly, I could not count on those around me to validate me or my feelings. Way too many people are successfully gaslit themselves and blame you, just as they blame themselves. Other people who have not lived thru such toxicity do not believe you or think you should toughen up…which deepens the self doubt. So be very careful IRL when talking to others.

    1. Overit*

      (Hit submit too soon)
      In the long term, the costs of working for too long in that sort of toxic environment are considerable. The coping and survival strategies from working in that environment have a detrimental imoact on all relationships. I still have to work to overcome self doubt and feelings of worthlessness. I tend to assume anyone in authority over me is out to get me/hates me. I do not trust peers to have my back. I often feel isolated. And finally, although I only had high blood pressure for 18 months and it left almost immediately after quitting that last job 2.5 years ago, I cannot find affordable life insurance due to a “history” of high blood pressure.

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