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Is my boss a jerk / being overboard?
November 22, 2011 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Is my boss a jerk / being overboard? I've noticed certain behaviors about my boss that bother me, and I need some validation and outside opinion on whether my boss is being overboard. Everyone else at work seems to just shut up and accept such behavior. To what extent are these things acceptable in a work environment?

- About a year ago, we were informed that the company is starting a monthly "fruit day" and "lunch day" initiative. Everyone got divided into teams and were expected to put in effort to personally prepare food for the whole company during their turn. This means preparing fruits (e.g. fruit cups, smoothies) and lunches for everyone. Ordering catering is frowned upon by the boss for not putting enough effort. He expects nice, tasty, handmade food, but also complains if you take too much time from work preparing it. We're an IT company, not a F&B establishment. Nobody seems to object to this. I tried to gently tell HR that this seems to be out of our job scopes, but was told that it's been decided and not negotiable, and everyone MUST take part.

- Our working hours as stated in the employment contract are 40 hours a week. Boss complains that we are "only" working 40 hours, saying that we're not working hard enough and we should be putting in more hours. Few people actually leave immediately on the dot, we usually do put in some extra time (about 30mins a day on average) after work to finish things up, even though we are not paid for overtime.

- Expecting everyone to show up and participate in monthly workplace social activities outside of work hours. He takes it personally if you don't show up for every activity, a sign of "disloyalty".

- Complaining about other employees behind their backs. Eg. complaining that they're too slow, not working hard enough, taking sick leave or vacation leave. (Not talking about excessive absenteeism, but just regular sick leave/vacation that everyone is entitled to).

- Holding grudges for minor mistakes made long ago, including grudges for ex-employees who have left long ago.

- Expecting some staff members to run errands or do favors for his wife - such as helping to buy things.

- Seems to think yelling at staff is a perfectly OK mode of communication. "Didn't you hear me yelling at him?" I've witnessed him losing it and yelling at people just to get his point across in a discussion.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow. I'm with you, this is highly unprofessional and inappropriate.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 1:29 PM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Your boss is a dick. In your situation I'm pretty sure I'd start looking for a new job.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:29 PM on November 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


Your boss *is* being a jerk. Probably many others feel this way, but shut up and accept the behavior because they feel complaining isn't a two-way street and don't want to risk their jobs for something that's not likely to yield change.

Note: this is not unprecedented, and may be more difficult to escape in today's economy.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:29 PM on November 22, 2011


Yes, he is a jerk. You should probably look for another job. In my experience they don't get fired even when it's PAINFULLY OBVIOUS that they should be. :(
posted by kiwi-epitome at 1:32 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would chalk the social activities and running errands up as "sucky, but not outrageous." Same to with the "yelling"; some bosses are just difficult. Upon preview, finding another job may be the best approach -- it's not "HR Punishable," but you shouldn't have to put up with it.

The whole "provide lunch, but you have to make it yourself" thing, though - that's just weird. Consider -- what if one person's contribution is just slightly "off" and a couple people get food poisoning? Who would be liable -- the employee, for serving the food in question, or the company, for forcing them to make from scratch rather than cater?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:32 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a question for the Financial Times' Ask Lucy column.

Social thing is just standard corporate BS. Could be worse. Could be a lot worse....

Other things - yeah, over the line. Curious how large the company is and how far up the food chain he is. On that depends how much you can expect to do about it. Start keeping a journal, btw. Never know when it might come in handy.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:34 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


yeah, sounds like he's being a dick. if you're exempt, then you may be expected to work more than 40 hours. but complaining about people using their vacation? fuck you. running errands for his wife? also, fuck you. workplace social activities? maybe the occasional event, but if you miss one you're considered disloyal? uh, yeah, that seems excessive.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:34 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


My concern is requiring employees to pay for lunch/food for other employees. That I think is not appropriate nor enforceable.

Otherwise, your boss is a crappy boss. They exist everywhere. Grass isn't always greener on that one.
posted by rich at 1:48 PM on November 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Nothing here is illegal from an HR perspective, though definitely weird and jerky. Here are a few coping mechanisms:

1) Who says you catered if you have the catered food delivered to someone's home and decanted into a tupperware bin? I think, though, that if you are required to purchase food for work, you need to be sure to keep your receipts so you can write the purchases off on your taxes. Be sure to ask HR for this policy in writing so that you can properly document your purchases for tax reasons.

2) If you are salaried, you should expect to work until your work is done. 40 hours a week is an estimate but most salaried folks work more. If you actually have a contract - a legally binding contract, not just an offer letter or job description - that says you work 40 hours per week, then yes, ignore your boss. If not, just keep working until your work is done.

3) Unless he's paying you for these, you are not obligated to go, so if he complains, just tell him that you have other obligations outside of work hours. Him taking it personally isn't your problem. You can actually say, "Don't take it personally - I enjoy the company of the team, but I had family stuff to take care of."

4) Ignoring this is the best route. If he complains to you, specifically, by saying that John in accounting is out, again, on vacation, you can reply with a smile and say, "Yes, I miss him too! But soon he'll be back refreshed."

5) If he retaliates against you for whistleblowing, contact a lawyer. If not, and he's just complaining and holding a grudge with no retaliation and not against someone as a protected class, just ignore.

6) This could be in the job description of an executive assistant, but even if it's not, almost everyone's job includes "other duties as assigned" in the description. If it's you that he's asking, make sure he completely understands what he's asking you to do by saying, "To confirm, you'd like me to take my car to Costco and buy your wife some flowers instead of working on this TPS report?" Then file for a mileage reimbursement. If he says he wants you to do both, let him know that you have enough hours in the day to finish your work as planned, or do him this favor and bump something to tomorrow. If he continues to push and actually retaliates against you in any way, talk to a lawyer. If it's not you he's asking to run errands, stay out of it.

7) If you cannot abide yelling directed at you, it is okay to say, "It's not necessary to yell to get your point across to me. Please stop yelling so I can understand you." If he just yells at other people, try your best to ignore.
posted by juniperesque at 1:54 PM on November 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


To be honest, the only one of your complaints that strikes me as outrageous is the providing food thing. Maybe it's because over the three decades that I've been in the Working World I've had bosses who expected you to drive their wives to their doctor appointments, or who scream and rage at an employee when upset, or who complain when you take your allotted vacation time, or who issue strict policies about not working more than 40 hours without written permission for their hourly employees but who also expect such an employee to stay and work unpaid overtime when a truck arrives as she's walking out the door because is the only one left in the office who knows how to prepare a bill of lading and process the whole darned transaction so that the company doesn't incur all sorts of unnecessary expense..... Most of that has been "business as usual" at every company I've worked ever for. You either suck it up, go with the flow, or you look for employment elsewhere. But requiring employees to spend their own money to provide food for a collective meal (as opposed to a voluntary pot-luck) seems completely out of line.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:04 PM on November 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sounds like standard shit-throwing insecure boss to me. My commiserations, but there are millions of them out there.

It would also seem that yelling at your team is the new okay. In a recent corporate ethics test that we have to take annually, the right answer to a "Which of the following is acceptable office behaviour?" question was "Yelling at your team". It was justified in the notes by saying "it's okay to let off steam now and again". Bollocks.
posted by scruss at 2:06 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and on the fruit day thing: develop a liking for durians. While they taste delightful (very sweet, light fruity taste) they smell like cowshit. Fruit day would end in seconds.
posted by scruss at 2:09 PM on November 22, 2011 [18 favorites]


Be subversive.
Take people out to lunch. Chat them up. If you hate these behaviors perhaps others do as well. Maybe a lot of people? Find out who . Be their friend.

Be smart.
Document everything. Everything. Dates and times. How much does it coast you to make those lunches? Does the boss take a turn making and paying for lunches as well. How much time does it take you to do the activities. Document it. Lock anything up that can be used against you when you are not around. Take it with you when you go home. Don't talk about these things at work when someone else can be listening.

Be Proactive.
If you can document enough time and money wasted at these activities and you can get several or more others with you then present a united front with a jointly signed written complaint to HR. All those "social" overtime hours that are in effect mandatory may possible be eligible for back pay. Just a thought.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 2:19 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Most of that has been "business as usual" at every company I've worked ever for.

... None of those behaviors has been considered normal at any company I've ever worked for. This kind of thing hasn't even come UP at any of my jobs - it's the stuff of "horror boss" stories. The closest thing is that, at my current job, hourly workers are not given permission for overtime in normal circumstances, but workloads have increased so that most people have more than 40 hours' worth of work in a week. Basically, we sneak around trying to work more than they're paying us for. argh!

I couldn't and wouldn't work for someone who yelled at me, full stop.
posted by Occula at 2:24 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Be smart.
Document everything. Everything. Dates and times. How much does it coast you to make those lunches? Does the boss take a turn making and paying for lunches as well. How much time does it take you to do the activities. Document it. Lock anything up that can be used against you when you are not around. Take it with you when you go home. Don't talk about these things at work when someone else can be listening.

Be Proactive.
If you can document enough time and money wasted at these activities and you can get several or more others with you then present a united front with a jointly signed written complaint to HR. All those "social" overtime hours that are in effect mandatory may possible be eligible for back pay. Just a thought.


Shorter version: be Dwight. Seriously, I would reserve this for behaviors that you genuinely think are illegal, or that you think you can convert into getting your boss replaced in the very short term.

Remember that when you strike at a king, you must kill him.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:33 PM on November 22, 2011


I'm pretty sure you work for my old boss who was a psychopath. Run! Run as far away as you can!
posted by dawkins_7 at 2:33 PM on November 22, 2011


Nthing the "run, do not walk". Waste of time, waste of energy. Find a people-positive place to be employed, i.e., "normal".
posted by labberdasher at 2:38 PM on November 22, 2011


Sounds a lot like someone I used to work for. There are a lot of people who also used to work for him.
posted by AthenaPolias at 2:43 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not only is the boss a jerk, but the company itself sucks, too. You don't have to work like this.
posted by rhizome at 2:52 PM on November 22, 2011


Yeah, all of that is, collectively, bullshit. I'd get out of there if you have other options. If you don't have other options . . . screw with him in the most deceitful, disarming, devious and evil way(s) imaginable.
posted by eggman at 2:56 PM on November 22, 2011


For everyone saying "quit now," that's great insofar as it expresses sympathy. But it's really cheap talk, and fails to take into account the need most people have to work and the difficulty many of us have in gliding into new jobs. It's like the labor market version of DTMFA, but living alone may be more feasible than living without this job -- hard to know without knowing the poster's circumstances.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:10 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


How big is this company?

If this is a relatively small company and your boss is the owner or very close to the top, then this is not a huge shock. Bigger companies, in general, wouldn't permit/encourage this behavior over the longer term. But this kind of personality thrives in a small/their own company. They can't survive in corporations with HR departments and more peer pressure but usually gets weeded out of larger places.

If it is a smaller company and/or he's the owner, there's little chance you can change things. In that case I would look for something elsewhere, at a bigger organization or somewhere where you're confident you would like the corporate culture.

One exception--the asking for more than 40 hours a week thing could happen anywhere.
posted by lockedroomguy at 3:47 PM on November 22, 2011


In my workplaces, I've seen some variant of everything except the fruit and lunch day nonsense. That sort of taints the rest of it in my mind, like the way the captain in The Caine Mutiny seemed in the ballpark of normal until he started counting those strawberries.

I would find the lunch demand hugely onerous and would consider approaching him with something like, "We've been doing the fruit and lunch day for [however long] now and I was wondering if we might switch it up so that once a month one person brings muffins," or something else less time-consuming than everyone cooking a meal each month. You could present it as, you value the idea of a bonding routine but maybe some variety would be nice. Unless he is a complete idiot, he'll see that you also want to do less, but at least you won't be coming to him and saying, "We all hate your lunch routine and it needs to stop." His response to this suggestion might also give you more of a reading on him.

Or just bring durian. I really like that idea.
posted by BibiRose at 4:17 PM on November 22, 2011


I have worked at two Fortune 100 companies over my 30 or so years, and have seen all of what you mentioned except the fruit day/lunch day initiative.

Working more than 40 hours a week, if you are salaried, is a standard expectation in the US. If you are hourly, you should be getting overtime for those extra hours.

In many workplaces, you are expected to attend off hours social functions with your co-workers.

Yelling, holding grudges, and complaining behind people's backs is primate social behavior. Whoever is higher on the pecking order gets to do it. See The No Asshole Rule for lots of examples.

I've seen administrative assistants getting stuck with running their boss's errands in several workplaces. I've seen admins asked to take pets to the groomers, make travel arrangements for spouses and children, fetch coffee, etc...

Keep in mind that unless you are a manager or otherwise have a lot of reason to work with HR, your HR organization is far more used to working with your manager than working with you. If your manager has been there for a long time, chances are your HR org knows what they are doing or doesn't care and your manager will have more credibility with them than you will. Sorry to be harsh, but that is my experience.
posted by elmay at 4:22 PM on November 22, 2011


Yes, your boss is a jerk and goes overboard, at least in some things.

I think it's not uncommon to be expected to work longer hours than you're paid for, and such is the case in many places I've worked. Apart from that one I think everything else is pretty jerky. You shouldn't have to do favours for his wife (what is this, 1965?) You shouldn't have to put time into making lunches for the whole workplace, and you shouldn't be obliged to turn up to social functions with your co-workers - you already spend enough time with them. That's just bullshit fake bonding, and it never works - bonding happens naturally or not at all. How can people with families and voluntary roles and other obligations be expected to spend their time on this kind of crap? The rest of it is just general bad behaviour, full stop.

Alas, though, there probably isn't much you can do about it beyond recognise this person for the jerk they are and moving on if you can. I worked for a place with many of these characteristics in the past, and in fact saw people sacked (or rather "contracts not renewed") for minor things like not turning up to all the work social outings. They had a 65% employee turnover in the year I was there and were always wondering why everybody kept leaving.
posted by andraste at 5:36 PM on November 22, 2011


If this is a relatively small company and your boss is the owner or very close to the top, then this is not a huge shock.

Yes, the common case is that if he's the owner, he basically doesn't see any difference between doing work for him and doing work for the company. So errands for his wife are just fine, since what's the difference between hiring an assistant for that or using the people he's already hired. Similar for the food stuff.
posted by smackfu at 6:13 AM on November 23, 2011


Regarding the fruit day/lunch part: at my company, we've had recent pushes for helping employees make healthier choices. So the boss (the owner of the company) goes to our local public market and buys several crates of fruit each weekend, and brings them in for us on Monday. I have no idea if the company's paying for it or if he is, but it's not coming out of my pocket. So, yeah, that's pretty jerk-ish.
posted by SeedStitch at 6:59 AM on November 23, 2011


So, you have can't cater this stupid obligation but you also can't take very much work time to produce this homemade meal your boss has decided everybody has to do? Sounds like a catch-22. I didn't realize that the ability to be a fast cook was a skill an IT person needed. I think it's horseshit.
posted by Foam Pants at 3:55 PM on November 23, 2011


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