Don't send me passive aggressive emails during a hurricane please. It is the last straw.
October 30, 2012 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Requesting assistance with how to explain in interviews why I am leaving, how/who to ask for references, and maybe just a gauge on whether it really is toxic or not.

Background (you can probably skim/skip unless you like toxic workplace stories):
The job I am currently in, while fantastic, has a huge problem with an owner who is verbally/in writing abusive and aggressive and demoralizing. He is also the main sales guy and deals with clients all the time. I’ve been here 10 months and at least once a month, I get to hear him yell at someone who works for us, in full hearing of everyone else who works here. He has yelled at my direct supervisor as if he were a naughty child in front of a HUGE client. He has yelled at my direct supervisor IN FRONT OF ME in such a way that I could not leave the room because the was blocking the only way out.

Most recently, he had a stern discussion with me (he didn’t actually yell at me) about how “some people are doomed to customer service and retail work” because they don’t see “the vision” etc. I took a half day on Weds to go the doctor in the morning and the owner apparently never asked my supervisor where I was, owner just assumed I was sauntering in late because I felt like it. Then waited two days to have the above conversation with me. (He was going on and on about the sacrifices people make to work here.) When he was done, I just said ok, i have work to do and went back to work. He didn’t ask me why I wasn’t there on Weds at all. I figured out half way through the conversation that’s what he meant and said “I was the doctor in OtherTown on Weds. I let Supervisor know.” I am not in the habit of taking off half days or full days to go the doctor or vacation or whatever. When I’m sick, I work from home.

This is a small office, 5 including the owner. I’ve talked to the guy who’s been here the longest about ways I can be more effective in communicating with the owner many time. His advice always involves walking on egg shells around the owner. He has said to me many times he doesn’t understand why the owner manhandles the people the business needs the most, my supervisor and me.

In the past few months, on top of overbooking us for projects like he has done since before I started (promising deadlines that are based on my supervisor and I each working 40 hours per week on a single project which NEVER happens because of customer support and well, double/triple booking projects), he has decided we needed a huge internal documentation project to use as a training guide for new customers.

All of us have tried very hard, but it’s hard to add yet another project to a list of projects that we already behind on. After a belligerent email to ALL of us (where he asked if he needed to follow us around like children or if we needed to come in on saturdays, when most of us spend a few hours each weekend working anyway) in which he was upset we weren’t working enough on this project, I asked for some guidance (in writing, cc’d my supervisor) on how much time I should be spending on client work vs this documentation project. He told me that it was my job to get it all done and to figure it out. My supervisor hasn’t been much help because he wants me to get client work done. Rock/hard place.

My supervisor and I have tried to have planning meetings about things but we are sooooo busy that we honestly don’t have time. My boss works 10-12 hours days all the time. I just can’t. I get burned out. I’ve done it at times to get a project out the door, but repeatedly - I just can’t. I do get my work email on my phone and on evenings and weekends, I promptly respond to any customer problems, even if it’s just an email to say I’ll look into as I soon as I get back to my computer that evening. (which i do because i care about my work and my clients.)

My supervisor has said several times since I started that he wants to spend more time with me to plan and go over projects, get me trained more, but he never has the time because HE is so behind. The owner forced us to stop working on client projects for a week while we worked on the documentation thing so then we were even further behind on the client work. (the owner didn't relay to this customers during his check-in calls with them, he just acted like everything was a-ok apparently.)

Yesterday the owner sent an email to my supervisor and me that he didn’t like the one thing I was doing on the documentation project and “But beyond that, this is a job requirement. If you aren't able to complete it, then I need to know that immediately and definitively so that I can make other arrangements.” I realize that sounds kinds sane, but trust me, it's not. (oh and i’m on the east coast so this was during a HURRICANE, thanks dude.) My supervisor hasn't been doing much on this documentation project either.

I don’t know what other arrangements means because we don’t have anyone else working here and can’t get anyone to work here because we have no benefits, no paid vacation days, no paid sick leave. You can take off when you need to, but it’s kind of understood you’ll just make it up. 40 hours a week is not considered the norm. More is.

So I took that as a veiled threat of being fired. My supervisor feels badly and says “i know we need to do something different, because this isn't working smoothly, and it isn't your fault. “ And again said he wants to spend more time with me to plan etc which is never going to happen. Because that is just another project he does not have time for. My supervisor and the other guy who's been here the longest says I am the first person to do what I do (and what my supervisor) does that didn't completely fuck it up all the time (other than my supervisor, obviously). So I don't need total hand-holding but I do need help on many complex things I have not encountered previously and that means more than 15 minutes here and there at random ass times between phone calls and client meetings.

This is has been the company culture since before I started working here. My supervisor and the other guy who’s been here for years say that’s why it’s hard to keep anyone. No one wants to put up with the owner’s bullshit. I spent a long time thinking it was me and have tried very hard to be a good employee. But I’m starting to think this is ridiculous in such a way that I want to leave.

I have a found a job I want to apply for that I would be a great fit for.


Q0 - I know there's always another side to the story, but I hope I'm not overreacting here. Also, our former sales left to work elsewhere and says he keeps being asked by people in our industry in the town here "so...what's it like working with Owner?". and not in a good way.

Q1 - So, how do I address this in job interviews? I was laid off from my first real professional job so I don't know how this works. Gleaning form other questions on askme, I still have these questions...

- It wasn’t a fit for me as I am looking for room to grow. (How do I say that there just aren’t other positions? I mean my supervisor does EVERYTHING, meeting with clients, project work, billing, and support. I do all but billing but I’m learning that too.)
- I am looking for a company to stay with for a while. (My first job out of college was in 2008,I was laid off in 2010, went back to school for a year, and then got this job. It’s not a great history, but I’m not a job hopper.)
- I really like the business analyst aspect of my job and working for your company will give the me opportunity to focus on that, which is an area I’ve found I excel in. $OLDJOB gave me a lot of experience in meeting with a diverse group of clients and understanding and extracting their business needs. I don’t exactly have requirements documents or anything like that because that’s not part of how we work. So I don’t know what I could do except explain verbally what I’ve done. Which leads to...

Q2 - References - Can I ask a couple customers to be a reference for me? They would be able to say that I had helped them with nailing down their business needs and requirements and effectively communicating that into an application and how awesome I am etc. My direct supervisor knows I’ve been looking, he has too. He wouldn’t tell the owner I was looking on pain of death, he hates the owner. So my supervisor will give me a reference as will the former sales guy who was offered a job by one of our almost-clients.

BONUS: I am salaried. I get paid 1st and 15th thru direct deposit. If I get another job, how do I let this job know I do? When sales guy gave his two weeks, Owner threw a fit, told him not to come back and changed the password on his work email in like 5 seconds. I do not know how to prepare for this. I've been forwarding the emails I need and not keeping personal things on the computer. After this posting, I will be removing all the personal stuff from the chrome browser and using it in Incognito mode exclusively. I would like to finish up the two current projects I am working on, but it will definitely be at least two months til they are both complete. I just want to make sure I get paid.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Q0: The owner already has a reputation. If you want to be diplomatic when someone asks, you can say, "He pushes his employees very hard, but you can't deny the results!" Leave it at that. They can infer the results, which may or may not include your new line of work.

Q1: You say, "Start-up culture isn't for me, and even though Company X has been around for ten years, the founders are still there and the culture hasn't changed. I wasn't expecting that." You can explain that everyone wore so many hats that it was impossible to specialize. You can also talk about how the frenetic pace didn't supply you with the tools you needed to do the job as best you could. Talk about what you learned.

Q2: Use your supervisor as your reference, and mention to him that he's welcome to get an interviewer in touch with a client to hear a reference from the other side of the table. If you use LinkedIn, you can ask clients to give you references there.

Bonus: If you expect to be fired when you give your notice, be ready to leave when you give your notice. Don't give more than two weeks, and try to give it on a Monday at the end of a day so that if you're exempt (most salaried workers are exempt) you will get at least the week's worth of pay. Start slowly taking your things home once you get an offer. Be sure to have a copy of your vacation time accrued so that if you don't get paid out for it you can back up your claim of nonpayment. (Why is it that most companies with awful leadership don't follow the laws for paying out former employees for vacation days?)
posted by juniperesque at 9:19 AM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Q1: I'm all for being honest. "I'm in a very small shop right now, and there just aren't that many opportunities for upward advancement. Additionally, I want an opportunity to really focus on Business Analysis.

Q2: Don't worry too much about references. I haven't been asked for them for decades. Absolutely ask your customers if they would be references for you. Getting laid off isn't anything to be ashamed of, it happens. Use that employer as a reference. You have your immediate supervisor and a the former sales guy.

As for giving notice. Screw that. If they won't pay you, then don't give notice. Also, screw the current projects. Your boss will out of there like a shot, dumping it all on you when he gets an offer. You two should go out for drinks and make a pact: "I'm not giving notice." You can keep each other in the loop, but it's madness to do otherwise given the circumstances.

As for getting yelled at, no, you are not required to take that kind of shit from the owner. I suspect most people know he's an asshole, and they won't grill you too hard about why you want to leave.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:20 AM on October 30, 2012

Ugh. I've been there myself, as has my husband. For all that we love small businesses in this country, they can be hellish dictatorships.

"What's it like working with Owner?"
To very close friends: Tell the truth.
To everyone else: Find something diplomatic to say and stick with it. "He has a strong vision for the company and expects the most out of everyone." If everyone knows he's an asshole, you have a little more freedom. "He has a strong vision for the company and expects the most out of everyone, but it can be a challenge for other independent-minded people to work under him because there's no room for deviation and he's definitely the boss."

Why are you looking to leave? You've pretty much got it figured out.
"I enjoy many aspects of my job, but Company is small with limited opportunities for advancement and personal development. I feel I'm nearing the end of my growth potential and I would like to find a new position where I can broaden my experience and work (pick something relevant: on a wider range of projects/with a bigger team/with new clients/etc.)

References: YES! Definitely ask customers who you trust to be references for you. When you fill out applications, make it clear: OK to talk to immediate supervisor, do NOT talk to Owner as it can jeopardize my current position.

Protecting yourself when it's time to go: Bring a USB dongle to work THIS WEEK and copy/bring home every digital file that you may want on hand, including a back up of emails. If there are papers you want and other physical objects, begin bringing home those that you have a right to and finding ways to copy those files.

Don't count on being able to finish the projects you're attached to. It may happen. But in the mean time, make sure you're documenting your progress and communicating with your colleagues about where things stand so that if somebody else has to take over the transition goes smoothly.

Good luck, and get out as soon as you can.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:21 AM on October 30, 2012

Q1: No no no no no. As someone who has made several hires, dwelling on the problems at your old company is a no-win situation. The correct answer to this question, ALWAYS, is "when I saw the posting for [this position], I was so excited because I thought it would be an excellent opportunity for me to leverage my skills in X and grow into Y". ALWAYS.

Imagine if someone asked you on a date, and you said, 'so, what made you ask me out?' Would you like it if they launched into a detailed description of how crappy their previous relationship was - how they really are a loyal person who would normally never leave, but their previous girlfriend was just so horrible........ No, no you would not like it.

What the interviewer wants to hear is that you are applying because you are excited and attracted by THIS JOB, not that you're just desperate to leave your old position and will jump at anything.
posted by Ausamor at 9:40 AM on October 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you all. This is very helpful. The suggestions are exactly the wording I was looking for.

Just a note...

I don't have vacation days or sick days or PTO. I have no idea what the laws are for that, but there's nothing to pay out. I doubt I would get paid for unworked time. I was thinking I should quit on a payday for that reason.

Ausamor - Are you disagreeing with the other answers people gave or just what I had written in my question? Either is fine of course, just want to make sure I understand.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:56 AM on October 30, 2012

Some states have minimum vacation laws. Certainly not giving you your accrued pay is illegal, so if you quit on the 7th you should get one week's pay. The details here will depend on where you work, and you can always go to the appropriate government agency to get back pay or vacation pay if appropriate.
posted by jeather at 10:14 AM on October 30, 2012

And absolutely don't say anything bad about your boss. Even if everyone knows how terrible your boss is, you say only positive things in a job interview. You don't even hint at how he is an asshole, whether or not the interviewer already knows this or is trying to get you to say it.
posted by jeather at 10:16 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Find another job, and get OUT of there! Don't say anything to prospective employers about the owner being abusive or making you work such ridiculous hours: the first sounds like sour grapes, the second like you must be lazy & unwilling to work. Ask your supervisor (not the owner) for any references, and make sure you get his personal contact info (phone & email) so that even if HE leaves, he can still give you that reference.

When/if you resign, don't go into detail about what a horror show this job is; merely tell people something bland like "it was time to move on" or "I'm looking for more opportunities".

Honestly, at this point I'd be worrying less about the documentation project than customer-related work: sounds like the owner is more worried about replacing any employees who are fired or who quit (recoginize yourself there?) than actually getting the current jobs done.
posted by easily confused at 3:48 PM on October 30, 2012

Hi Jessamyn -

Sorry, I'm not a very precise person - my 'no no no' was in response to the question itself. As in, you shouldn't be thinking about how to justify leaving a job... EVERY OTHER QUALIFIED PERSON WHO APPLIED ALSO PLANS TO LEAVE THEIR CURRENT JOB - if willingness to leave were a disqualification, no-one would be able to hire anyone. So, even if this question is asked, the best answer is to focus on what made you apply for THIS job, not what makes you want to leave the old one.
posted by Ausamor at 10:00 AM on October 31, 2012

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