Do I give up on bosses too easily?
January 14, 2013 3:03 PM   Subscribe

I feel like I have become completely unwilling to work for people if I don't think highly of them, and I can't decide whether I have justifiably high standards or am being unreasonable.

Over 20 or so years of working full-time, I spent 15 of those years in just two jobs, and I've always thought of myself as someone who holds jobs for a long time. I've been good at what I do, and have always left jobs voluntarily, with glowing recommendations. However, in the last few years, I've become increasingly unable/unwilling to tolerate managers with certain characteristics, mostly revolving around how they treat staff and how they communicate, and I have left several jobs specifically for that reason, probably burning some bridges as I go. I haven't regretted leaving, so I have told myself that it was the right decision each time, but the pattern sometimes worries me.

Some of this change might just be me getting older and more clear about what's important to me, and some of it may be that I (very luckily) have a supportive partner who cares more about me being happy than whether I'm working. We have a young child, and they are my priority. But it is bothering me. I have very little drama in my personal life - stable relationship, deep and supportive friendships, good communication - but those are relationships I have chosen. It worries me that I've somehow become unable to cope with non-chosen work relationships that don't meet my ideals. I know my patience is worn somewhat thin from dealing with my child, and that definitely lowers my tolerance for dealing with other annoying people. I'm just having a hard time judging where that line is between justifiable high standards and unreasonableness on my part.

Eventually this may be something I take to therapy, but meanwhile I'm just interested in other perspectives. I'm wondering if other people have noticed this same change in themselves, and if so, what if anything they have done about it?
posted by eseuss to Human Relations (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I agree that people generally become more clear about what they can and cannot accept, and are and are not willing to tolerate, as they get older. So in my opinion there's not necessarily anything wrong with what you are feeling and doing. And since you apparently can afford (in a general sense) the luxury of walking away from such situations you don't like, it doesn't seem there's an actual problem. But maybe there is a different problem here. You implied that you find your child annoying and that affects how you interact with other people. Maybe that's something to examine further.
posted by Dansaman at 3:11 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was lucky enough to have a run of good bosses and then a sprinkling of terrible ones before landing some good ones again. I think it may help you to analyse (and it may be helpful to post) what specifically bothers you. If it's a different thing with each boss, that may be a problem. For example, I can't stand bosses who refuse to take responsibility for their mistakes, ask more of their employees than they are willing to give, or treat employees like they're less important. I will, however, put us with being snapped at or "yelled" at (raised voices, anyway) if I know the boss is letting off steam. Some people apparently find that totally unacceptable, but would put up with the pomposity that for me is a deal breaker.

Point being, if you have some things you cannot accept in a boss and have had a few bosses in a row with these characteristics, I wouldn't worry--it's just a run of bad luck. On the other hand, if you're finding something to hate about each boss, there may be other issues at play.
posted by sarahkeebs at 4:15 PM on January 14, 2013

From what I've seen, it's better to take no flak than to take lots of it. I've allowed way too many people to stomp me, in the name of making a buck or two; it's ridiculous. It almost amazes me when others have someone even *begin* to treat them poorly and they'll look 'em dead in the eye and say "Um, hey, I'm going to walk out that fucking door unless this stops right now." and damned if it doesn't stop, pronto. It looks like magic, to me, but it isn't magic; it's only people taking care of themselves, and not tolerating any baloney when they ought not.

It's very difficult for me to do, esp in work, I've gotten stronger in personal and love relationships but work is a real weakness of mine. But it sounds like it isn't difficult for you. I say keep on keeping on. You don't sound like a psycho, just someone unwilling to take bs in the course of making a living, and it sounds like you've structured your life with lots of supports to back you -- use these supports you've built, lean into them if/when you question your judgment.

Run this question past your spouse and your two most honest, least foolish friends, see what response you get. I bet they'll tell you to keep doing what you're doing, esp since you're not unhappy about it. Given the information you've given us, I'm sure that's what I'd tell you.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:24 PM on January 14, 2013 [14 favorites]

I'm sure you've thought of this, and of course it's a difficult thing to do, but could you possibly become better at discovering the essential (to you) nature of your bosses during the interview process? Maybe do the filtering before you start a job? Of course management changes, and it's not easy to discover things like this in an interview -- but maybe you've seen enough and learned enough that you can detect symptoms or side-effects of both unacceptable behavior and of cultures where you'd be truly happy. The good ones often aren't that showy, so some detection cleverness might be worthwhile.
posted by amtho at 4:33 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me as if your work experience has given you a strong idea of what you will or will not tolerate, but possibly you haven't acquired communication skills in direct proportion. High standards walking hand-in-hand with professional level communications skills will get you where you want to be. Quitting these unsatisfactory situations and burning bridges while doing so sounds a little immature and unprofessional. There is a way to get what you want. Scorched earth policies are not the way to do it, even (or especially) when leaving a bad situation. Clear communication from the very beginning and an understanding of how to get what you want or be treated the way you expect is the best skill you can acquire to go with your years of work experience.
posted by raisingsand at 4:38 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have this issue. My current boss is a dickhead, and I think its exacerbated by the fact that I can work away and either get a new full time job or a contract position. I keep that in the back of my mind, and enjoy his foibles. I don't put up with him and I call him out on it when he's crossed the line. He is getting betters. He can fire me, but it's not a threat.
posted by mattoxic at 5:35 PM on January 14, 2013

I have had a mix of bosses and clients. It is important to have both good and bad to give yourself some perspective. (in hindsight even my poor clients and bosses haven't been too bad - after reading posts from other people)

The one thing I have learnt is that it is useful to give any unpleasant/difficult situation 6 months to settle rather than immediately jumping ship.

In that time I have learnt

Sometimes you think they are di##heads and they prove it conclusively by whatever measure you use - time to move on!
Sometimes you think they are di##heads and it turns out they know what they're talking about, but you failed to recognise it at the time. Time to realise your emotional intelligence needs work.
Sometimes you think they are di##heads and it turns out they know what they're talking about, but express themselves poorly to you. Time for you to learn how to communicate with different styles.
Sometimes you think they are di##heads and it seems like you are the only one who thinks so. Time for some intense navel gazing.
Sometimes you think they are di##heads and six months later, they still are, but you know what? It could be a whole lot worse and you can live with it! At least you have a good life with a have a supportive partner who cares about you

The other thing I do everytime I meet someone/ get to know someone over a period of time is consider: would I want this person as my boss? I have found thinking of everyone in this manner really helps put things into perspective, and clarifies what I am looking for in a manager.
posted by insomniax at 5:41 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify, when I say "burning bridges," I don't mean that I'm leaving in a fit of shouting and insults - just that I reach a point where I feel like I can't work with the person any more, having tried to articulate what would make the situation better for me and realizing after some period of time that nothing is changing, and finally I quit and never have contact with them again. I feel like I have a reservoir of good will that gets exhausted, and then I'm just done. And yet other people seem able to stick it out, even knowing that their boss is very unlikely to change. I don't quite know how to do that (or whether I should aspire to) without feeling miserable and helpless.
posted by eseuss at 6:22 PM on January 14, 2013

What are you missing in the interview process that has you continuing to work for bosses you can't respect? I would seriously ask that question. You can't tell everything from an interview, but it seems like you're missing something to keep working for people you can't respect/tolerate.

There is definitely a point at which the problem is more likely you than your bosses. It's really hard to tell if you have reached this point or not. I've been on the boss side of employees that wouldn't hear the feedback that they weren't living up to some part of their job and that was why things were not perfect for them. It's frustrating having employees who seem entitled and from your question you sound like you could possibly be falling into this. Is "how they treat staff" code for "yelling and abuse" or is it code for "I was asked to do something I don't really like doing and they weren't particularly sympathetic when I tried to explain why I don't like doing this"?

I've also been in situations where I had to decide if I was going to let something between me and my boss become an intolerable situation or an opportunity for us to learn how to work better together. I fought tooth and nail the idea that I had to apologize and see their side of the situation but lucky for me I was working with a career coach at the time that pushed me to do so. It was a learning experience for me, I had to be willing to share my role in the communication breakdown, but it made our relationship far stronger in the long run.

Here's the thing: You are not going to be able to bounce jobs forever. I work in technology, and there are plenty of jobs for people like me, but word does get around. At some point people ask "why did she leave the past 3 jobs after less than a year?" and they call up their buddy who says "oh yeah she just got fed up one day and quit." And then maybe you can still find jobs, but the companies you're getting to work for are less than ideal, the roles are less senior, your peers are not that impressive. You fall off a tier by burning bridges even if that just means "I quit and don't talk to people anymore". So I would definitely work hard to avoid that in the future. Maybe it means interviewing the companies you're looking at far more carefully, doing better background checks yourself, or maybe it means changing your own style. Or maybe you just need to work for yourself.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:42 PM on January 14, 2013

This trend isn't necessarily problematic.

When I look back at the jobs I had as a teenager, I am shocked at how poorly I was treated. People think they can get away with treating younger people that way. People who are older tend not to put up with it.

This is also extremely dependent on the kind of work you're doing and the expectations in that particular field. So you may have better luck moving either up or down.
posted by gentian at 8:23 PM on January 14, 2013

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