Suggestions for developing/maintaining emotional boundaries with a toxic boss, after being "too nice" early on?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total)
Length, apologies, and so forth.
I'm in my mid-20s, and started a job as an admin. assistant (union employee) at a university almost a year ago--essentially, my first full-time job after making the decision to leave a fledgling creative career (and other 1/2-time admin. jobs). I support two people; my boss, A, and her boss, B. They are both difficult bosses in different ways. B rarely speaks to me, but makes immediate, impacting judgments on my performance (as described below). A has extremely limited professional boundaries, thinking nothing of telling me about her PMS/cycles/other bodily functions, exes, other personal drama, and generally treating me as an audience member/sounding board, getting visibly cranky when I appear busy. She's a gossip and very nosy, routinely complaining about and judging both employees and faculty members here (including the person who was last in my position), and in addition is a seemingly compulsive corrector/criticizer. She also has a borderline sycophantic/doting relationship with boss B.
I have a habit of historically being way too accepting with people (particularly people who I work for, since I feel that much more pressure to stay "neutral"), and weak personal boundaries (which I've been working on building up over the past year). So, it's taken me some time to really understand A's behavior and the dangers of having a "friendly" boss. The first six months of my employment were without incident, and I received solid feedback on my performance. I was very friendly to A, not delving into personal matters, but not completely holding back, either. In March, things changed for the worse, as I screwed up a project deadline (bad communication with boss B). Though I haven't repeated that mistake, I've since received wildly varied feedback on my performance, called into A's office probably about once a month for an impromptu private meeting where I'm alternately praised or (more often) given surprise negative feedback on how I'm doing (for example, our last meeting just a few days ago was regarding comments made offhand to B during a lunch by a faculty member with whom I worked about 4 months ago, saying that I did not respond quickly enough to emails for this person's liking). Just a couple of months earlier, I was given a solid 3/4 (out of a rarely-given 5) annual performance review.
Aside from the impromptu meetings with A, I'm never given immediate feedback on my performance, so I basically don't know what to expect half the time. This leaves me feeling like my job's in jeopardy, and totally unconfident in my ability to succeed (A will now be copied on all emails with the person who complained about me, for instance). Worse, A still comes over to my desk to chat with/complain to me, but obviously it's clear that this relationship (and work environment) is dysfunctional, and that I need to be as professionally detached as possible (barring quitting outright).
I know I need to leave this job. It's affecting my physical and mental health at this point, and I do believe that life's too short for this. Personal politics aside, I really miss being creative, too, and feel extremely professionally compromised on a daily basis. However, I'm afraid to quit, especially with a relatively short job history, and the job search process may take a while. Although to note, I did just start applying for other jobs, which is helping. But I've struggled with anxiety, depression, and generally low self-esteem for a long time, and I'm especially particularly emotionally susceptible to people like A, who I think can smell vulnerability. But I've learned a lot about myself this past year (including coming to terms with my identity as a queer person) and I feel like I have newfound strength and steadily lower patience for bullshit. My gut is telling me, "Leave now! NOW!" but I know I can't just walk out.
So with that long backstory, I appeal to you for tips/tricks on practicing professional detachment with toxic bosses (particularly A, possibly without arousing her suspicions--she's remarked in the past that I've seemed "aloof"). I desperately need coping tools while I continue applying to other jobs. What would you advise?