Pursue a job with a toxic boss?
March 18, 2009 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Should I apply for a job working for a toxic boss? Or stick with my current job?

I'm a librarian in a small public services department in an academic library. I've been here two years (this is not my first job). My boss, the head of our small department, has given notice (family is leaving the area), and the job is now posted. I meet the qualifications and think I'd be a decent candidate.

But the boss I'd work for, the head of public services, is a difficult person. She's passive aggressive on the best of days. She's quite willing to say bad things about the library and her staff to people outside the library, even when she's been agreeable about whatever the issue is internally. (Indeed, she still speaks critically of some people who left a few years ago. She has a hard time leaving the past behind.)

No one likes working for her. The best they say about her is that she's easily influenced and generally agreeable to new initiatives. She says the right things, but she is a rotten advocate for her staff--despite her talk. There are other problems--she lacks vision--that many other librarians have as well. But it's the passive aggressive stuff that can drive many of us crazy. People in the library just don't really like her. No surprise--she's been here a million years.

This would be a great job on my resume because it'd help me get other jobs like it in other libraries down the road. I would enjoy a lot of the work, and I'm interested in taking on more responsibility. It would include a small (not a large) raise.

I really like having a buffer between me and the director. If I don't apply, I could end up with a lousy boss anyway, but it seems unlikely that we could find someone as bad as she is. Also, if I get the job, I will feel some obligation to stay at least two years.

Part of me is inclined to apply because I'm at all interested. And part of me thinks I'll keep my sanity intact by staying away from this possible promotion--I don't want to go home angry or frustrated every day, which seems to happen when she's a significant part of it.

Thanks for any insight you can offer.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The absolute soul sucking misery of working for a shitty passive aggressive boss would not be worth it for me, especially if I knew I was in for it for at least 2 years. I have trouble leaving the mental abuse of a shitty job at work and it can color my whole outlook on life. Perhaps you are better at compartmentalizing these things?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:36 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't want to go home angry or frustrated every day, which seems to happen when she's a significant part of it.

No, you should not apply for it.
posted by jdfan at 11:42 AM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yeah, it honestly depends on how much of what goes on at work comes home with you. I have had jobs where my Evil Overlord-type bosses would call me at all hours of the night, but if you as a librarian have the freedom to leave work behind you at the end of the day, then go for it. But to stay healthy/sane, I'd recommend taking up some sort of hobby that you could immerse yourself in for those two years, something not work-related.

Just one more thing: hopefully working for someone you hate won't sour you on the prospects ahead. Or stop you from getting better positions, if she's the person you'll be asking for a reference.

Good luck.
posted by brina at 11:45 AM on March 18, 2009

Never. I did it, and I would never do it again. While it's true that you might end up with a lousy boss anyway, in this case the lousy boss is a known fact. You WILL go home angry and frustrated every day.

Remove all the what-ifs and look at what you know about her: She lacks vision. She's entrenched. She's passive-aggressive. People who work for her don't like her. She holds grudges. She hangs her own staff out to dry. The best thing that can be said is that she's easy to influence.

Don't. Of course, maybe you really do have to have gone through it to believe it can be that bad. But honestly, don't.
posted by ersatzkat at 11:48 AM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nothing really ruins your life like a bad boss. Nthing the "Christ, no, never" suggestions.
posted by Skot at 12:09 PM on March 18, 2009

Money is nice. Resume fodder is good. Sanity beats both by a mile.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:18 PM on March 18, 2009 [8 favorites]

Money is nice. Resume fodder is good. Sanity beats both by a mile.

This should be emblazoned in letters of fire a mile high. Having once made a career working for toxic (but prolific) bosses, I can tell you that it takes *a lot* of money to make it feel worthwhile and eventually you won't just want out of your job, you will want to abandon your life.
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:32 PM on March 18, 2009

Is there a chance Toxic Boss may be retiring in the near future since she has worked there forever? If so, it might be worth enduring 6 months/a year of her. If she isn't retiring, however, I agree with the majority of posters so far.
posted by hecho de la basura at 12:45 PM on March 18, 2009

"People don't quit jobs, they quit bosses."

I have no idea who that quote is attributed to, but it's totally true.

I've worked shitty jobs for good bosses, and I didn't mind the jobs so much...

I've worked jobs that should've been fun and interesting, but involved mean and/or stupid bosses -- I was utterly miserable to the point it affected my day to day health (I didn't notice this 'til I left those jobs... but then it became apparent... wow.. life is BETTER than this!)...
posted by twiggy at 12:49 PM on March 18, 2009

I did read the "more inside," but I could have answered without it: no, do not go to work for the toxic boss. It will be horrible, it will affect your whole life, it will lead to job hunting sooner or later anyway.

We've just been through something like this at our house, though when my partner took a certain job he didn't know how much it would suck. He was there for about six months, and all of us were less happy. He was coming home exhausted, hated going to work, couldn't be as available for me or the kids because he just wanted to veg out and decompress in the evenings...

posted by not that girl at 1:14 PM on March 18, 2009

I had one particular toxic boss in the past who is probably only still living because the conference table we were on opposite sides of for my review was just a bit too wide for me to leap across and strangle him to death in one smooth motion, and I feared he might be able to get away before I could get a good grip. Actually, I kid, but not by very much. The man was a horrible boss, and the epitome of incompetence in his supervisory role. Was also a firm believer in "just trying harder" to overcome deficits in other areas, like equipment not designed for the problem at hand, lack of equipment, etc.

Before he became my boss at that job, I had been at the company for years, and was planning to be there for years to come. Once he was in that position, I stopped liking working there and left within 6 months.

If you like where you work and the job you do now, you should not work for this person directly. Toxic bosses suck like you wouldn't believe. Even 10 years on, thinking of the person I mention above still fills me with odious disgust for their very existence.
posted by barc0001 at 1:19 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Few things are worse than the sick feeling in your gut that begins about 6:00 p.m. on Sunday evenings, in dreadful anticipation of the hell-week to come. "What am I going to be reamed out for TODAY?"
I lived this way for five years. Please, don't do it; don't take the job.
I work for myself now, as a dog walker. I wish death upon ALL bosses.
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:36 PM on March 18, 2009

I'm agreeing with the avoid-toxic-boss crowd, but I understand that you might want to get ahead a little so if you do want to go for it, the best way to deal with TB is to develop a zen-like state of cheerful capability plus total professionalism. Don't resist her, don't engage, just do your thing without guile and you'll manage. I actually grew a lot through working for a TB - it was bloody awful at the time but I'm definately wiser for it! And, like others have said, if it's not long term and you can leave her nonsense at the door, you'll be ok.

However, you could actually be in a better position if you wait for the new incumbant. You will be able to support your brand new boss really well - because you understand the environment and the dynamic s/he will be coming into. You may even be able to take on some new responsibilities as part of your current role, becoming indispensable to new boss whilst searching out opportunities elsewhere at the higher level. If you are qualified for that post now, you'll be equally qualified for similar level posts at other organisations.

There are opportunities both ways. Option 1 could be tougher but at least you'd be going in with your eyes open. You seem pretty clued into the situation so I'm sure either outcome will be ok. Good luck with the decision!
posted by freya_lamb at 1:47 PM on March 18, 2009

Have you considered that even if you don't take the position your new boss will take the toxicity of their boss (the original toxic boss) and become just a toxic, if not more?

You could look into "managing your manager" techniques and probably/possibly quell a fair amount of the toxicity of your boss.

I'd say give it a shot. If you don't like the situation you could always start looking elsewhere - and knowing it's temporary could provide the necessary mental relief you'd need to get through it.
posted by torquemaniac at 2:24 PM on March 18, 2009

I would talk to your former boss to really get insight to what working directly under her was like, before I made a decision, it may be that it wasn't much worse than the interactions you have with her already.

I would say no except for the possibility that the new person will be just as awful, and that you might be limiting your future prospects.

I understand your wanting to stay a full two years, but if you cannot take it and leave early, maybe the even-higher-ups will take note that she is toxic, get rid of her, and you will have done everyone a favor.
posted by Vaike at 2:42 PM on March 18, 2009

Sweet jesus, no. Do not do it. No matter how great the career rewards seem. And the operative word is *seem*. I've done something similar - stayed in a job with a toxic boss for career advancement - and I regretted it deeply. In hindsight, I could've and should've ditched after six months. I would have been able to advance my career elsewhere without the trauma of turning up to see my colleagues in tears as my nutter of a manager screamed at them for literally hours, daily. Whatever I gained by having that job on my resume for two years, I lost in i) sanity and ii) potential accomplishments. Because it's pretty tough to get things done with a psycho boss. It just wasn't worth it. Turn back now! There will be other opportunities to better yourself that do not involve working for what sounds like pure evil.
posted by t0astie at 3:39 PM on March 18, 2009

Maybe this is professional suicide where you work (it wouldn't be where I do), but would it hurt to apply and not take the job?

I would apply and talk to her directly. I'd approach it as neutrally as I could and just get a feel for her, like I would any potential boss. Then I'd go home, compare it to what I knew about her before, and make a decision. The decision would probably be no, it's not worth it, you already know she's nuts. But maybe you need just a little time to consider it in reality.
posted by juliplease at 3:44 PM on March 18, 2009

But she's already your boss, sort of, right? Not your direct superior, but she's your boss's boss. So it's not like your options are a) have her ruin every working day, and b) having her out of your life completely. Not unless you're going to quit your EXISTING job.

I say: talk to your former boss, a la Vaike, and then think about what torquemaniac said.

Hard choice, though.
posted by kestrel251 at 4:49 PM on March 18, 2009

No. No. A thousand times no! A crazy boss will ruin your life more than you can imagine if you haven't had one. I can promise you no library will ever pay enough to make up for the stress you'll get. I have had a few toxic bosses, and it affects every aspect of your life, and depending on the kind of toxicity, it doesn't necessarily go away after you leave. I know people who practically have PTSD from bad bosses. If you find her angry and frustrating now, it will only multiply a thousandfold when you have to work with her every day, and it just builds and builds and things that would roll off your back now will send you home in a screaming rage. Passive aggressive and a rotten advocate for her staff is one of the worst combinations in a boss, too.

Will you have any say in the hiring process if you don't apply? You could work to get someone you can work with easily hired for the job, perhaps someone with skills you'd like to learn, and possibly gain more responsibility or experience under them, and still have a layer between you and crazy boss.
posted by min at 8:37 PM on March 18, 2009

« Older Is Twitter's search function just erratic?   |   I need help cleaning some dirty data Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.