update: my boss is doing 27 events next month … the average is 4

Remember the letter-writer whose new boss was planning 27 events for the next month when the average was four (#2 at the link)? Here’s the update.

It has been about a year since my letter to you, and I will start by saying I am still in the same job with the same team. Your advice was really helpful … but somehow, I missed that my answer was posted!  I’m kicking myself because you were very correct in the path forward.

Thankfully, I took the approach you suggested in our next 1 on 1 and focused on how overloading events ripple-affects my workload. Unfortunately, I wish I had had your scripts, because my boss’s takeaway from the meeting was still that I need less on my plate. Over the next three months, I was taken off more and more projects, and felt iced out of the department. I took it as a sign to start job hunting, as I wouldn’t have any ongoing events to wrap up. However, being in a niche competitive field, I didn’t get any offers.

My boss was so busy we didn’t have a 1 on 1 until October, where I broke down in tears over how I had nothing to do and had no communication on what the team was doing. The response I got was, “Well, I gave you what you wanted, why are you upset?” I communicated that my workload was drastically changed with no follow-up or check-in, and that something in our work relationship needed to change. We established biweekly 1 on 1s to communicate better. This helped, but I found that the meetings would become her telling me how she was upset over something I said or did that had happened days or weeks before that I had no awareness of, and most of them were misunderstandings that would have been cleared up immediately if she had time to talk to me in the moment.

In March, in one of our meetings, she opened up about being hurt because of something she overheard. My partner attended one of our events and told our friends how much I had worked on it and my boss took it as she did not do enough to help me. This was brought up in our 1 on 1 almost a month later. In response, I made a very unprofessional move that I regret, and I asked if she had considered therapy. She took it well in the meeting, but that was the wake-up call to me that this dynamic was unsustainable. I went to my grandboss and requested that the three of us meet.

The meeting went way better than I expected it to. I came in with serious self-reflection and admitted the places I went wrong, and she did the same. There’s a serious lack of trust between us, and we both would assume the worst in the other’s intention. She would think everything I said was a backhanded jab at her, and I would see her not sharing information as spite when it was just falling through the cracks because, again, her workload is triple everyone else’s. I established things I need to know for the job versus what I want to know out of curiosity. The three of us agreed that if something upsets her, she can and should send me a Slack message about it so I could either correct the misunderstanding immediately or self-reflect on it until we meet.

I feel positive about this going forward. Either (1) the miscommunications will stop, (2) I can point to the agreement from the meeting and ask her to follow that, or (3) if there’s anything truly inappropriate, I will have it in writing. Our grandboss seems to be more aware that the root issue is workload, as she had asked in the meeting for my boss to prioritize office time for drop-in conversations. I’ve learned my lesson of staying in my own lane and only bringing up things that affect me. Overall, things have been good since then, and the three of us will meet quarterly to make sure communication is still going well. I’m in a position where I can keep an eye out for openings to move up and can continue working here until then. Issues aren’t fixed overnight, but I have the structure and support to thrive in this position regardless.

{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    Your boss isn’t going to change. She is going to continue to overwork and then be so hurt that everyone doesn’t praise her overwork. She is also so burned out from overwork that she is making mountains out of molehills, that you then have to deal with.

    Anyone who takes, hey this is more events than we normally have to mean take away all my work is not going to suddenly see the light and become more reasonable in dealing with others. How does she treat the rest of the team? If everything got taken from you, who picked up the slack?

    1. Boof*

      I don’t think that’s entirely fair as the boss has already changed per the letter; BUT I’ll agree with you “old habits die hard” and they are extremely likely to backslide without ongoing reminders not to.

      1. jasmine*

        It does seem like the boss has changed, but it’s also strange… It sounds like this problem started with OP’s boss and it doesn’t seem like boss realizes this. OP maybe have been assuming the worst of her boss’ intentions but that was a result of boss’ bad management. Unless this update is missing something substantial, it’s unclear why her manager assumed the worst of her. I can’t think of any reasonable motivation for that.

        Even if OP’s manager improves and stops making OP’s work life actively worse, she’s still a bad manager. She’s treating management as a side job.

        1. ferrina*

          I’m very confused as well. The manager really doesn’t seem to be listening well and only hears what she’s expecting to hear. OP tries to say that she needs manager more present in other work; manager hears that OP is overworked. OP’s boyfriend compliments OP’s work ethic; manager hears a slight against her. There’s some serious disconnect there.

        2. yadah*

          ” it’s unclear why her manager assumed the worst of her. ”

          OP literally told the manager if she considered therapy when the manager mentioned she was hurt by comments made at an event. It’s not a stretch to consider that this probably wasn’t the first time OP was hostile to the manager so those kinds of interactions are likely why the manager assumed everything OP said was a backhanded jab.

          1. Scout*

            The comment made wasn’t about the boss at all though. It was the letter writer’s partner mentioning how hard LW worked on the event, and the boss took it as a slight. That’s bizarre behavior. The LW overstepped by suggesting therapy, but if this is the kind of comment that their boss takes so personally that every 1:1 meeting involves the LW having to clarify innocuous comments so the boss’s feelings aren’t hurt, I think its natural for LW to be defensive.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah I’m not actually hopeful this is someone who is going to turn into a good manager; I really hope the grand boss can keep an eye on this one.

    3. B*

      It’s a surprisingly positive update but it’s in the category of “hopefully this makes things tolerable until LW finds a new job,” not “everything will be fine now!”

      1. CarlottaHere*

        Completely agree with this! Tolerable not fixed. I’m with Pastor Petty Labelle … LW’s boss is not going to change. More than likely, they made a positive change to smooth things over with their boss, not because they wanted to make things better for their employee. Hope LW finds a new job soon.

      2. Hroethvitnir*

        Precisely! Good for OP, but if they can keep looking in the background, a change of scene would probably be amazing for their mental health.

    4. WellRed*

      I’m not loving this update though I’m happy for OP. But I wouldn’t be surprised to get another update in a year where the OP realized the boss hadn’t changed and that the dysfunction was still there.

  2. Festively Dressed Earl*

    The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. I’m sorry you went through that, OP, but I hope your relationship with your boss keeps improving and that you thrive going forward.

    1. Audogs*

      Whole heartedly agree. Way too much drama on both sides for this chick. Exit stage right.

    2. Specks*

      Exactly. I read that and thought that that sounded a lot more dramatic than some of the couples’ counseling with my husband. Who would want that much petty drama at work?

  3. HannahS*

    Bosses who center their feelings over their jobs are the bane of my existence. OP, good for you for navigating this, and I’m sorry this happened.

    My boss, after threatening a colleague’s career (“I mean, it’s not like I can RUIN YOUR CAREER or anything…”) was then incredibly hurt when they raised it with HR (“I am SO HURT that you think that I would ever threaten you.”) I don’t think they realize how manipulative that behaviour is. I’m glad you’re getting things in writing.

    1. KT*

      Classic narcissist behavior. Hurting you and then acting hurt because you don’t take it the way they wanted you to.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        I dunno, I’ve seen the impulse to behave like this in enough non-narcissists (including myself, hopefully kept in check most of the time) that I’m not comfortable with the impulse to diagnose someone on that alone.

        1. Bananapantsfeelings*

          Narcissists isn’t a diagnosis.

          Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a diagnosis.

          But “narcissist” is a pop psychology term, used casually by non-professionals.

          1. sparkle emoji*

            Still think its reasonable to push back on this type of usage since it so frequently is used in the NPD sense. Someone can be behaving rudely, or egocentrically, or etc., without being narcissistic in either sense.

          2. Nah*

            It still spreads negative stigma against those with personality disorders and mental health conflicts in general. Just because it’s popular to do on the internet doesn’t mean it’s a thing we should be automatically okay with (if not actively speaking out against!), and it seems pretty disingenuous to say otherwise.

        1. HannahS*

          It’s not diagnosing someone with narcissistic personality disorder to use the word “narcissist” to describe someone, anymore than saying, “Your manager sounds overly anxious” is arm-chair diagnosing them with generalize anxiety disorder.

          1. jasmine*

            KT didn’t say “manager is narcissistic”, their words were more akin to “this is typical behavior of narcissists”. I’ve yet to see this type of phrasing from someone who’s not trying to bucket people into a certain group, even if they hadn’t meant to refer to NPD specifically.

          2. Hroethvitnir*

            Given the uptick of deciding everyone who acts like an arsehole is *a* narcissist (NPD heavily implied), it’s pretty intellectually dishonest to act like a take like that is just saying they’re a self-absorbed person.

            Everyone who ever acts like a jerk either being labelled with having a personality disorder, or just all the stigma and stereotypes of one, is really unhelpful and unhealthy.

          3. Kella*

            Even if they weren’t referring to NPD, “a narcissist” is characterizing a person as being defined by a single trait, and it’s a big leap to make such a widespread claim about someone based on a single toxic incident. The *behavior* was narcissistic, which doesn’t tell us anything about their behavior on a larger scale.

        2. ThatOtherClare*

          It’s not armchair diagnosis to say ‘narcissist behaviour’ any more than it is to say “Your messy desk is a classic ADHD problem, have you tried looking at some ADHD resources to help you find a solution?”. KT didn’t even go as far as the second half of my statement did.

          Identifying a neurotype that exhibits a behaviour that you’re trying to deal with isn’t armchair diagnosis, it’s pointing a person to a place where there will be a higher density of resources discussing the behaviour. A person exhibiting one narcissist behaviour in isolation isn’t a narcissist any more than a person with a messy desk is a person with ADHD, but there are some great neurodiversity-focused resources, tips, and tools out there to help deal with both issues.

          I do appreciate that you’re trying to help cut down on what is undeniably a massive problem of internet armchair diagnosis, but I would like to simultaneously caution against throwing out the baby (pointers to groups with similar behaviours) with the bathwater (diagnosis). Oh internet pendulums, how we all love/hate thee.

          1. jasmine*

            I think you’re ascribing way too much good faith to KT’s comment. “Classic narcissist behavior” was definitely a jab and not a comment meant to convey concern or insight with manager’s well-being in mind, like your ADHD example.

    1. Michigander*

      Yep. OP, I hope you’re still job hunting, because it sounds like your boss probably won’t let this peace last for long before she finds something new to upset her.

  4. Liz the Snackbrarian*

    OP, I applaud your self-awareness in this situation. Your boss sounds like a difficult person to deal with. I hope you’re able to move on quickly, because dealing with the workload and her emotions sounds like a handful.

  5. Ashley Armbruster*

    Oh my, the “The response I got was, “Well, I gave you what you wanted, why are you upset?”” is sending me into a rage.

    1. Hannah Lee*


      And LW didn’t even get to meet with the boss where this “gem” came up until months after the previous discussion. Like, this boss didn’t think to check-in with an employee *for months! * after making a major change in work assignments? Who does that? (awful managers, that’s who!)

      This boss is way too caught in their own little swirl, driven by their own emotional responses, sometimes to things they’ve overheard or supposed based on very little information. They withhold feedback in the moment (when it could be helpful) and instead collect it, amplify it in their own head and hold it against their employees. And they are erratic, plowing forward on multiple projects, changing corrections after one comment without thinking things through, and checking how things are going, and then going off in another direction when the wind changes.

      LW, I’m sorry to say I don’t think this is a good situation for you to stay in. Your boss is … not good. And your grandboss might seem more reasonable when a crisis is brought to them, but it doesn’t seem like they are managing your boss at all, and like your boss, are trying to improve things by focusing on interpersonal interactions instead of management, balancing workloads, establishing goals, guidelines, etc. Incremental changes in any particular area ie words around “communicate better” are unlikely to give you a stable work environment where you can succeed.

      While you reflecting how your work approach may have contributed to the situation can be worthwhile, it’s just as important for you to keep looking for another job, so you can get away from this entire workplace.

      1. coffee*

        I’m very wary of bosses who are so busy doing things that they can’t enable their staff to do things. If that persists beyond the short term then something needs to change.

    2. Womanaroundtown*

      This happened to a coworker of mine recently. After years of butting heads with management (I am biased, but I believe rightly so, since most of the ‘butting heads’ was correcting managers on facts – proven, written facts that they were consistently getting wrong and that she had the most institutional knowledge and experience with), they demoted her. Same pay, different title. And they didn’t even tell her – they also demoted her boss and basically gave her boss her job and left that person to tell her that this had happened. And so finally when my coworker confronted the management about not even doing her the courtesy of demoting her to her face, the CEO’s response was ‘well isn’t this what you wanted? you always complain we get things wrongs in meetings, and now you don’t have to go to these meetings anymore.’ WILD response. Anyway, she quit soon after and they were SHOCKED. Especially because it turns out that when you lose the person with the most institutional knowledge, you are losing quite a lot of important information.

  6. Richard Hershberger*

    “I am far too busy to communicate clearly” combined with being over-sensitive verging upon paranoia: a lovely combination.

    1. Lacey*

      The worst. I never understand how so many of these people end up in management positions.

    2. Nah*

      LW’s partner (their *PARTNER!!*) complimented an event they worked on and the manager somehow twisted it into an insult against herself. I’m wishing you luck after flagging it with grandboss, but I’d definitely recommend keeping up that job search, LW. (Yikes!)

  7. Beth*

    A boss that needs this much emotional management sounds exhausting. She took overhearing your partner tell a friend about the work you did on an event as a personal insult to her? She’s upset by her misinterpretations of things you say often enough that your grandboss needed to establish a process for handling it? And that’s not even getting into the crazy workload or cutting you out of projects or failure to share info.

    OP, I’m glad you’re feeling positive about this outcome, and I hope it plays out the way you hope. But I think you should keep a close eye out for backsliding and continued problems. This doesn’t sound like something that’s going to be resolved by one meeting. And especially when you’re someone who addresses conflicts by self-reflecting and adjusting your own behavior (usually a healthy approach!), being stuck in a crazy work situation can really skew your sense of norms.

    1. CheesePlease*

      yeah I’m surprised grandboss put in all this effort to manage boss’ emotional reactions to stuff. Clearly if you are always clarifying yourself, then boss should recognize “oh, OP doesn’t hate me”. This is all extra work for everyone.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      While it’s horrifyingly inappropriate in a work context, OP did hit the nail on the head with the “Have you considered therapy?” comment

      This is a woman who in the first letter says she works all hours of the day and the night because she doesn’t want to be “left alone with her thoughts.” She also refuses to communicate with her reports, blames those reports for a lack of communication, takes any praise of those reports as a personal slight, and doesn’t bring up issues for a month? I don’t think it’s possible to have a healthy work relationship with her.

      I’m sorry, OP, but I don’t think you are going to be able to grow and thrive under this manager. I’m not sure how you’re able to breathe.

      1. Fives*

        “While it’s horrifyingly inappropriate in a work context, OP did hit the nail on the head with the “Have you considered therapy?” comment”

        This. I agree with the question but the fact that the LW asked it made me gasp.

        When I was young and naïve in my first job after college, I was open about having generalized anxiety disorder. I learned pretty quick not to when I was frustrated one day (not yelling or anything, just quietly frustrated with a new software system) and my boss said “You really need to be on your meds.” It was eye-opening (and hurt a lot too). I learned then that some folks will only see the mental health issue.

  8. Falling Diphthong*

    It’s nice to have an update where the solution was to better communicate, but it took a few tries to actually get there. I think there can be an instinct to say “Welp, we communicated but it isn’t fixed, guess I’ll give up and enjoy knowing it’s the other person’s fault.” (Which it might be! But sometimes you need a few tries to get a pattern that works.)

  9. mcm*

    very glad to see at the end of this update that OP is still looking for opportunities to move on! While it sounds like this might be a somewhat workable interim solution, I would definitely assume this boss is not interested in fundamentally changing how they approach work.

  10. WorkplaceSurvivor*

    I don’t mean this to sound doom-filled, but I’d watch your back OP. And get out of that job before she messes with your self-perception. You’re doing way too much emotional labor for her.

  11. Trout 'Waver*

    Oof. OP, this isn’t normal. You’re having to do a ton of work just to get to a reasonable baseline. Let alone the work to do the actual job. Certainly don’t pass up any opportunities to stay in this place.

  12. oooooooooh*

    Oh boy. I think you’re taking too much of the responsibility for this, OP. If you CAN, I’d quit and volunteer somewhere you like while you’re job-hunting, just to give yourself a break and re-set your boundaries and understanding of normal work behavior. If you can’t, please stop hand-holding this boss, communicate largely via Slack or email so you have written copies, and just concentrate on finding a new job. This is not a good way to live.

  13. Helewise*

    OP, I hope you’re still looking for another job. This sounds hopeful in the sense of making this doable in for the next few months, but unless the boss is doing some serious work on herself of the grandboss is overseeing this very, very closely, chances are she’ll revert to the mean and in six months or a year you’ll be back where you started.

  14. Marion the Librarian*

    LW, I know in my bones you are a librarian because of this kind of toxic work environment and terrible job market. I feel for you big time. Fingers crossed you can eventually leave. I’m personally leaving public librarianship for school librarianship, but I know the field’s hard to leave.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      My Oma was Marion the Librarian and I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to think of her today. The world is a little dimmer without her brightness. “Every person should hear 1000 stories before their first birthday” – Oma, Marion the Librarian

  15. RCB*

    “Have you considered therapy” is a chef’s kiss, because honestly that would fix so much that’s wrong with managers, it’s absolutely a good place to start.

  16. megaboo*

    I wonder if this is at a library. We have some very overzealous programmers that don’t really take in the size of the library, etc.

  17. Beka Rosselin-Metadi*

    OP, I was both in a relationship with someone like this and worked for someone like this and all I can say is getting distance is the only thing that helped. The keeping track and coming to you a month later with something you did that could have been fixed in the moment? Check and check. The taking a compliment to you as an insult to them? Check and check. The getting upset because you didn’t respond exactly the way they wanted you to? Check and check. Getting away from them was the only thing that worked-I tried more/better communicating, I tried to help them see how great they were at their respective jobs (they really were) and I tried to communicate that how I felt was me and not them (in retrospect, a mistake. It was all them). I give you kudos for suggesting therapy but as someone who has dealt with this personally and professionally, you should either get out or stop trying because no matter how good it looks now, your boss won’t change without a lot of help. I’ll say this though-I stopped caring and that helped me. It took a while to get to that point and I’m not sure I can recommend it.

    1. Boof*

      yeah, if OP is stuck I’d start introducing some kind of politique pushback on OP having to manage their bosses’s emotions about harmless comments. Like next time they come up with “hey, a month ago someone said good job, and I was hurt when you said “thank you!” instead of “oh it was all [boss]!”” say, in the moment; “I really don’t think it’s reasonable for me to have to watch what I say to this degree, I think both were appropriate and positive statements” and if it happens again “I’m happy to clear the air once and a great while, but is there a path to moving past you critiquing my very normal interactions so heavily?” or IDK, something where you actually start to make it clear where what you are saying/doing is normal and if boss isn’t seeing it that way it’s not on you to manage their feelings.
      … there are certainly some ways of saying this that are better than others and I’m probably not the most adept at navigating all that.

      1. coffee*

        It’s even more ridiculous – Boss heard the LW’s partner talking to some friends about the amount of effort LW had put into the event, and was mad at LW because of it. LW wasn’t even in the conversation!

        1. Beka Rosselin-Metadi*

          Oh that sounded familiar to me and not in a good way! My old boss in particular felt that way anytime someone said something nice about someone else and despite the fact that her boss thought she walked on water, she was insecure enough to think it meant she should be better-she told me this a couple of times. She was the sort who didn’t want to hire someone smarter than her because she thought it made her look worse instead of better but she was stuck with me.

  18. Olive*

    Although I hate to hear that the LW wasn’t able to find another job, I think this is a very helpful type of update. It’s good to hear when a LW leaves a toxic job and gets a promotion and a $20k raise, but it’s also a reality that a lot of people writing in will have to figure out ways to use the advice to make their current situation more tolerable for an indefinite amount of time, because they can’t up and quit until they have another job lined up.

  19. Anna*

    This feels like a library, but whether it is or not, I feel like the LW should google Fobazi Ettarh’s blog post (or research paper, if so inclined) about “vocational awe”. (Meredith Farkas has a good blog post on it as well.) That’s this toxic thing that happens with librarians sometimes where they feel their work is a “noble” “call to service” and so they feel must sacrifice themselves for the job. The job becomes the employee’s identity. So whether they ask you to work for no pay, or increase your workload from 4 events/month to 27, it’s fine because it’s “for the community”. To be a “team player” they implicitly require everyone around them to do the same.

    It’s a sick attitude, and some librarians (especially POC) are now working to eradicate it, and replace it with one oriented toward caring for self before caring for others. It is literally just a job, but some librarians need support in learning how to relax and behave in a less toxic manner.

  20. TheBunny*


    I realize it wasn’t the best move, but I think most of us have wanted to ask someone at work if they have considered therapy. So while you are, understandably, looking back on that as an oops… just know many of us have had actual dreams about making that same oops.

    I hope this job continues to be manageable for you and gets to a point where you can successfully work together.

  21. Unemployed in Greenland.*

    This reminds me of how I joke-not-joke to my sibling about being my manager’s emotional support animal. Every.Thing. can be misinterpreted, any positive remark about me represents competition with them, annnnnd after any such development, it’s time for me to soothe their sense of injury/insult about it. I think the record for one of those meetings was 90 minutes. Fun times.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      This is a VERY relevant question (and I’ll bet the answer is no).

  22. Purely Allegorical*

    This update was hard to read. OP has a cheery attitude about the ‘fixes’ with her boss, but to an outsider it still reads like nothing was really solved and the problem got papered over with a process to further manage Boss’s emotions. The core issues still remain: the boss is toxic, prone to paranoia, and will take even the most mild of remarks as intense personal criticism. Boss cannot manage their workload effectively, and blames OP for it. OP is still responsible for managing Boss’s emotions, only now the dynamic involves Grandboss as well.

    I understand needing to do ANYTHING to make the work environment even just a little bit better, but OP’s core focus needs to be on finding a different job rather than making the current job (which primarily seems to be guessing at Boss’s feelings and then compensating for it) improve. The current job is exhausting and will continue to warp your sense of business norms — the fact that OP is so cheery about this update shows that her norms have already been warped.

  23. TheLoaf*

    OP, I had a meeting exactly like this with my boss, grandboss, and great-grandboss. Nothing changed, my boss became even worse in every aspect and eventually we were not allowed to speak to each other. She ended up being fired (for many reasons), but my mental health took a hit that still hasn’t recovered almost 5 years later. Please find a new company, you will be so much happier and more at peace.

  24. Lilith*

    When OP asked if the boss had considered therapy, I don’t think this is what they meant!

    “I came in with serious self-reflection and admitted the places I went wrong, and she did the same. There’s a serious lack of trust between us, and we both would assume the worst in the other’s intention. She would think everything I said was a backhanded jab at her, and I would see her not sharing information as spite when it was just falling through the cracks…”

    That sounds more like therapy than a meeting with a grand boss =/

    And then this: “The three of us agreed that if something upsets her, she can and should send me a Slack message about it so I could either correct the misunderstanding immediately or self-reflect on it until we meet.” If the pattern is (and it really sounds like it is), OP says something innocuous, boss hears whatever insult she wants to hear, comes to OP, OP clears it up… that’s not on the OP to have to clear up anymore… that’s on the boss to resolve within herself, not through couples counseling with the grand boss. Hang in there, OP.

    1. Nah*

      It did honestly read as some sort of couples counseling versus a meeting with their grandboss, but I was afraid to say it if no one else brought it up. Glad I’m not the only one to think it, at least! :’)

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