Am I overreacting to my boss's (maybe innocuous) remarks?
December 24, 2013 9:05 AM   Subscribe

I quit my first post-college job a few months ago because I decided to relocate. My company offered to let me do contract work for them, so I’ve been doing projects for them on the side. However, given what I just learned about something my boss said, I don’t know if I want to keep freelancing for them, or if I'm overreacting.

On my last day at work, a new person came onto the team, so we all went to a farewell/welcome lunch, the boss included. I don’t remember why he brought this topic up, but he said, “I don’t know if any of you know what it’s like to grow up without a father…” I raised my hand and said that I did, and the table immediately fell quiet. At the time, I thought I had just made things incredibly awkward by admitting this.

But it turns out it was awkward for another reason altogether. I only learned this today when I caught up with some former coworkers: Apparently, my boss had responded to my chiming in by saying “You don’t count” or “That doesn’t count.” He then went on to talk about how hard his childhood was or something like that.

It’s possible that he meant this in a harmless, albeit tactless way, like “You don’t count, because you know what I’m talking about.” But my coworkers brought this up while recounting outrageous things he had said over the past year, and one of them said they considered this one the worst. Plus, when I told my coworkers that I don’t remember him saying this, they suggested that it was so unpleasant to hear I’d probably blocked it from my memory (I don’t think that’s the case—I think I actually just didn’t hear him, because there were two people seated between him and myself). And another one of my coworkers said she uses this exchange to illustrate what it's like working for this person when she describes him to people who have never met him.

My former boss is infamous for saying things that are insensitive, inappropriately sexual, etc and passing them off as jokes. I was rarely the target for these statements, so until recently I was able to just ignore them. But given how negatively my father’s death affected my family, this time his thoughtlessness has struck a nerve. Since I moved, I’ve been doing contract work for the company, and I don’t even interact with him at all, but I’m now debating whether I want to continue doing any sort of work that would support his business.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t have a steady job in my new city. I do have $8,000 in the bank and five months until my lease is up and I move back home(I'm not digging my new digs). But I recently quit my full-time temp job to do a part-time internship in a field I’m more interested in, and part of me is reluctant to let the extra income go. I plan on getting restaurant/retail work in the meantime to also cover my rent, which is about $600 a month.

But assuming that I didn’t find a part-time job between now and May (which I think is the absolute worst-case scenario), I still think I’d be okay without the contract work…right? Or do you think I am being too sensitive, and should just stick with the contract work? In a sense, I think that quitting would be more of my loss than my former boss’s. After all, employees have come and gone from that company like flies. I’d just be one added to the tally marks for him, whereas for me it would be a loss of supplemental income. I also know that I can’t just quit things over every thing that upsets me. Am I being too emotional over this?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't cut off your nose to spite your face. Just make your money and bide your time.
posted by scratch at 9:11 AM on December 24, 2013 [49 favorites]

His remarks, while insensitive, are not about you. His remarks reveal his own insecurities and issues and have nothing to do with you as a person. Try not to take it personally. Who brings up their sob childhood stories at a work lunch anyway?

Keep working and and keep earning your paycheck. I wouldn't give this guy's remarks a second thought. You were never friends with him and you don't have to be friends with him now.
posted by Fairchild at 9:12 AM on December 24, 2013 [22 favorites]

Assuming he pays you, asshole money spends just like regular money. If this was purely supplemental income you could quickly and easily replace with another gig that didn't involve working for an asshole, sure, it wouldn't be a question. But that's not the case.

It sounds like you don't know for a fact how this income loss affect your finances and you're going to rely on getting restaurant/retail work, which, if you're not experienced in one or the other may be considerably harder to get than you think.

Work out your books, put together an honest-to-goodness budget and then you'll be able to clearly see whether you can ditch the income or not. Right now, it sounds like your finances aren't in shape for you to quit a job on principle alone.

At the very least, wait until you have that retail/restaurant job to quit.
posted by griphus at 9:13 AM on December 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

I wouldn't care one way or another what my boss thought about me personally if we had a successful professional working relationship. You're at work to work, learn, earn, do well, do good, meet goals, accomplish tasks, etc. You're not at work to compare childhoods.

My boss asks me about my son all the time. It's not because he cares about me or my son, it's because my son is a year older than his son and he wants a preview of his son's life. I don't take it personally at all, and every lighthearted exchange adds to our professional relationship, give us things to chat about over lunch or on our way to meetings, etc. Conversations with my boss are like facebook posts -- just the happy highlights & weather/sports/popculture chat.

If you make a personal friend or two at work, that's a bonus, but the goal is professional networking, not personal friendships. That goes quadruple for freelance/consulting work. Step away from the boss-gossip.
posted by headnsouth at 9:16 AM on December 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

He was probably a little dismayed that you upset his narrative flow. People who say "I don't know if you know what it's like [to have my struggles]" usually finish with something like "but it made me who I am," or "but it justifies what may at first (and, in all reality, probably forever after that too) seem unfair/insensitive/selfish/mean/etc." Then he sniped at you a little; probably without giving you any real consideration.

Your coworkers are sowing drama. Hardly the worst sort of drama in a workplace, but, well, don't get spun up about it. Is anyone really doing you a favor by saying "Wow, I just heard some incredibly horrible remarks about you behind your back?"
posted by Sunburnt at 9:16 AM on December 24, 2013 [41 favorites]

It sounds to me like he was making a bad joke about you leaving your job - "you don't count" because you're no longer going to actually be at the office.

Dumb joke, maybe, but hardly a resignation issue.
posted by UncleBoomee at 9:18 AM on December 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

Also, if you haven't, definitely find out if the kind of part-time restaurant/retail work you can get in your area is going to cover $600/mo rent.
posted by griphus at 9:18 AM on December 24, 2013

Why would you step on your boss's little anecdote in the first place? He wasn't holding a classroom discussion--he was trying to tell his story at a company lunch. Your co-workers sound like shit-stirring busybodies. Ignore them, do you job, and cash your paychecks.

Work isn't a place to bond, despite TV sit-coms about offices. Your boss didn't know about your father until that moment you raised your hand, and he didn't stay up all night crafting a story to hurt your feelings.
On preview--what Sunburnt said.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:18 AM on December 24, 2013 [21 favorites]

Don't quit your job over something you don't even remember hearing. Make your money and move on only when you have something else.
posted by inturnaround at 9:22 AM on December 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

asshole money spends just like regular money

This. A thousand times this. You don't have to interact with the guy at all now, so who gives a shit if he made an insensitive remark at a work lunch while he was telling an inappropriate-for-work anecdote anyway? Do the work, earn the money, find another job, then quit if you want to. But find the other job first and make sure you're financially secure before you do so.
posted by bedhead at 9:23 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, I grew up without a dad. When younger and more social, I would often start off some humorous story with a similar setup "At least you have a dad..." or some sort. It worked fine and was appropriately awkward while I was younger and telling stories in a college bar. Most people still had dads. The older you get, the more dads are dying and then the setup is just callous and had to be retired. The joking nature was no longer a joke.

It sounds like he may have been asking a rhetorical question to setup his story and he likely assumed you were playing a part in his story setup (willingly). Though you were being serious.

My opinion, I think you are a sensitive person. He may have just been getting on his way with his story and trying to joke with you.

You quitting doesn't teach him a lesson. It just hurts your bottom line. You "shouldn't let your money get mad."
posted by LeanGreen at 9:23 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would totally take that as "you don't count because I'm talking to the people who still work here." Churlish, but but nothing to hold onto personal hurt about, if you can let it go.
posted by tyllwin at 9:24 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

He was probably caught off guard by your own inappropriate response (a person who begins, "I don't know if anyone here has ever..." is not taking a survey) and responded badly in the moment. That doesn't entirely excuse his comment, but it does mitigate the severity. I'd let it go.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:26 AM on December 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Dear my, NO.

If you were still working directly for the guy, there is maybe something to talk about. But you are not interacting with this guy much or at all!

You are drama-making. This is drama-making of the highest order.

I believe your co-workers, but the fact is, you did not hear this comment. Thus, in essence, you are getting riled up about something from months ago that may or may not have happened as it has been only lately reported to you.

This is so completely unacctionable I can't believe you are thinking of quitting your freelance job over this (you did not witness, it's gossip, I can't think who you could complain to given that it happened months ago and YOU DID NOT WITNESS THE COMMENT.)

You might want to drop the pot-stirring coworker from your roster of friends. The only way it would have been appropriate to repeat this man's words to you would have been in the moment and while calling him out to the group, as in...

" Excuse me, did you New Boss, just say the loss of Scratch's parent doesn't count? That's an insensitive thing to say!!"

Your pot-stirring coworker is a gossipy coward and you should not follow where they are leading you. The end.
posted by jbenben at 9:28 AM on December 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

I get to quote my bible verse again:

Ecclesiastes 7:20-22 "Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others." (NASB)

A thing you may not have heard, that others use as a negative anecdote, which may have been misinterpreted, that he may have meant as a joke, in response to what arguably was an awkward moment you created by literally answering a rhetorical question, is causing you to rethink what is likely a short-term working relationship with a person you don't directly interact with.

It's up to you, but you're setting the bar pretty high for any bosses you ever work for.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:28 AM on December 24, 2013 [15 favorites]

...asshole money spends just like regular money.

Definitely keep taking as much money from this dude/his company as you can!

It's totally valid to feel hurt and upset by his insensitive remarks but you won't gain any moral high ground or affirmation of your hurt by quitting and giving up income which is DEFINITELY going to be nice to have as you make this transition. Be grateful that this is a temporary thing and that while he is stuck being a horrible person for the rest of his life, you get to move on and not be beholden to him at all! Don't spend energy reflecting on the incident or daydreaming about what you would have said or felt if you had heard the comment in the moment: you're only giving him more power and piling up more resentment that YOU have to shoulder.
posted by dahliachewswell at 9:34 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

A couple things to think about. If you are an employee, contractor, or freelancer, it is a business transaction. They have need of a service and in exchange, giving you money. Not friendship.

Conduct your business in an ethical manner, but you are not your boss' or those former coworker's friends.

I’ve been doing contract work for the company, and I don’t even interact with him at all

This is the plus of being a contractor/freelancer. You don't even have to see, hear from, or deal with these people. Why would you quit over someone that you never deal with?

Instead, don't go to lunches with them if it riles you up.

As an idea for additional income, you could spend the time looking for other clients. Are there other companies that do similar work? Email or call them and tell them about your services and keep yourself busy doing the work. Leave the gossiping to the people in the office.
posted by Wolfster at 9:45 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing taking the asshole money. One of the things you learn in this life is that you will frequently have to work with, around and/or for assholes. No better time than the present to learn to let it roll off your back and take the money. I say this because I have some close friends who never learned to make peace with this, and they are constantly quitting, threatening to quit, wishing they could quit, or otherwise steaming at the ears and experiencing real emotional turmoil over remarks and behaviors that most other people have decided to brush off as asshole behavior. This is not to minimize the extent to which bad behavior and personality conflicts can make a job situation genuinely intolerable, but rather to simply point out that it is a matter of degrees and it can be helpful to set your level fairly high.
posted by slkinsey at 9:46 AM on December 24, 2013

Am I being too emotional over this?

Rarely is the answer to this question "yes" but in this case it definitely is. You have to get used to bosses & coworkers saying weird, impolite, drama-tastic stuff and not let it bother you if you want to have any kind of career.
posted by bleep at 9:49 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

This hill, it ain't worth even getting wounded on. Keep working.
posted by sm1tten at 9:50 AM on December 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

What you describe is a reason you don't want to be friends with your boss, not a reason to stop cashing his checks.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:58 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, if everyone quit their jobs over hearsay from dramatic coworkers about a-holes bosses, we'd all be unemployed. Brush it off. You didn't even hear it yourself.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:00 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think he said "you don't count" because he believed you had a quite serviceable father substitute-- namely, him.

And I'd say from the emotion of your question, that you reciprocated his fatherly feelings for you with some filial feelings of your own for him, but that the separation from your boss is enough of a loss, and resonates enough with the loss of your father, that you now need to think he never cared about you in the first place, and isn't a good person anyway, to help you cope with the (renewed) pain.

He may well not be a good person, but I think the facts suggest that he does still care about you, because the kind of contract-work relationship you describe is somewhat unusual for an employee whose alternatives are sales or restaurant work, and probably reflects a desire on his part to continue to help you out-- and continue the relationship, too.
posted by jamjam at 10:11 AM on December 24, 2013

Freelance work means never having to be involved in 'office family' or office politics stuff other than as a disinterested observer.
posted by holgate at 10:16 AM on December 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seriously. Who cares how much of an asshole he is. You don't work in the same office with him, you don't have to deal with him, and money is money.
posted by downing street memo at 10:22 AM on December 24, 2013

It's not your boss' job to validate your feelings, so don't go chasing that. It will come across as needy and challenging.

He started his spiel "Have any of you..." not to ask a question but as a prelude to him blabbering on about his experiences & feelings. It has nothing to do with you. You usurped him by answering, and by acting "as though" you're equal to him. You're not. He's the boss. He's got an ego and he wants deference. He starts on a story about himself and your job is to "oh wow" and "ooh ahh" him. Big shots are like that. So of course he immediately negated your comment - he has to retain his position on top. You challenged him & he smacked you down. That's business.

I made this mistake once too. I learned quickly how to talk to executives. You're new to work and you're used to talking among equals, but the working world is full of ego, so you'd best get used to it now. If you have a desire to climb the corporate ladder, you will have to master that kind of polite deference that still respects your job-related ideas (i.e. Not an ass kisser). These are the subtle dynamics at work that make or break a career.

Or you quit at this place and find some place more free-thinking. But don't quit because of him. Ego is everywhere & you probably have a lot to learn at this job anyway.

This is why people bitch about their co-workers. You tell your friends about your boss and laugh about him behind his back. This is how it's done.

tl;dr - your job is not the place to get your emotional needs met.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:38 AM on December 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

It doesn't sound as if your boss is causing you consistent emotional distress. If you felt harassed, demeaned or abused on a regular basis, then you might be in the situation of weighing your financial security against your mental well-being.

As you've described your relationship, though, it seems that he is rather tactless and not socially adept and that other than this incident his behavior hasn't caused you much distress.

Redirect your "quit" impulse towards working on your long-term career strategy, so that when the time comes you are ready to move to another job in your field that will be a good fit for you.
posted by bunderful at 10:57 AM on December 24, 2013

Eh, it sounds like the problem here is more your insensitive clod co-workers. Seriously, one of them pseudo-analyzed you by suggesting that you blocked hearing your boss because it was too traumatic? Oh, puh-leeze.

If any of your colleagues mentions it again, let them know it's time to drop it, already.

If your boss did in fact say that: why not assume it was a very awkward and sideways attempt to make a quip -- admittedly an unfunny one -- and write it off as Knuckleheads Will Be Knuckleheads, rather than assigning malice aforethought to his words.

I see no reason to walk from this gig until it suits your purposes to do so.
posted by nacho fries at 11:03 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

So..... you're getting upset at Former Boss for something a former coworker says Former Boss said several months ago? Not something you yourself heard Former Boss say, just something passed along third-hand?

Seems to me that the proper person to get annoyed with is Former Coworker, who is apparently trying to stir up trouble..... I wonder why? Did Former Coworker want your old job, but they weren't qualified? Is Former Coworker merely a troublemaker?
posted by easily confused at 11:13 AM on December 24, 2013

People are going to be insensitive buttheads all your life, and if you quit a job every time that happens you're going to be living in a cardboard box.

Strike the guy off your holiday card list, don't cut off your income.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:37 AM on December 24, 2013

Who knew that boss's question was rhetorical?
posted by Cranberry at 11:49 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

How do you know your coworker didn't mishear what was said? That's an equally likely scenario. Seriously. You didn't hear it, it was in a noisy environment and who's to say that your coworkers heard him accurately? You don't have to encounter this guy in person and hardly ever via other channels? Let it go and chalk it up to a misunderstanding. Even if the guy has a reputation of being a jerk, there's no reason to torture yourself with the surety that he was a jerk to you.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:01 PM on December 24, 2013

Agree, your boss sounds a bit self- centred and awkward-- he did not like uou "jumping in" on his story. Bu the real problem, from what I can see, is your crap-stirring co-workers. If you don't remember the remark, don't trust then to do it for you. They could very well have their own agendas.

Keep on trucking if it suits you, but watch your back with your so - calked colleagues.
posted by rpfields at 5:09 PM on December 24, 2013

[This is a followup from the asker.]
Thank you all for your enlightening responses. I will continue freelancing.

For the record, however, I strongly believe my coworkers weren't just pot-stirring.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:42 PM on December 25, 2013

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