New job issues - should I stay and work things out or cut and run?
February 15, 2014 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I started a new job last year and it's becoming clear that things are not going as planned. I'm dealing with a micro managing boss and I am at my wits end. Please help me decide if I should stay and work things out, or start job hunting for something better - wall of text inside.

After grad school I got a job that I ended up staying at for a long time - almost six years. While it was a good place to start my career it wasn't the best place to grow. I'm in my mid thirties now and I wanted to take the next step up. Things got stagnant and the money just wasn't there, so I found another job back in October last year. There is a lot more money at this new job, but it seems like there are more problems too.

So now I'm at this new job only a short while and I feel like things are slowly falling apart. This place has lots of new rules and specific ways of operating, so for the first few months I was working hard to acclimate myself. In my mind I thought things were going fine - I brought some ideas and experience with me and was ready for the challenge. My goal was that I wanted to grow more as an employee, to start managing projects and taking on more responsibility. Yet I've hit some roadblocks since starting - I had a 3 month performance review a few weeks ago which didn't go so well. Minor mistakes were highlighted extensively and I got the feeling that the necessary boss/employee trust just isn't there. When they asked for my input I wanted to bring up how I feel micromanaged but I didn't know how to phrase it without coming off negatively, so nothing was said there on my end which I regret now. (I need to learn to communicate things that aren't working for me in a positive way.) Part of the review that I found contradictory was when they told me "take initiative to step up and manage projects" which I find difficult to do given my every movement is so controlled. They also told me a past employee over billed a project by "going off the rails" in her own direction of what she thought the project needed, which is their reason for why they are so restrictive about what we can and cannot work on. They said of course they recognize that I am not this person, but hearing that it all suddenly made sense. At the end of the performance review I was given an extension of sorts with another 3 month review coming up in April but I was told I was hired with intent to have me managing projects, not being support staff. If I can't step up I will be let go. This is hardly where I imagined myself after leaving the comfort of my old job :(

The major difference from my old job and this new place is at the old job I was salaried and projects were billed on a percentage of project cost. At this new job we are paid hourly and they only bill projects on an hourly basis - so every half hour and movement is tracked like a hawk. I'm literally being watched from behind here, it's an open office layout and our computer monitors are visible to all and people can and do listen in on your phone conversations. There is no surfing the internet except at lunch, no spending time designing something beyond what we are explicitly told to do. (I work in a creative field so this is especially hard.) I get scolded on a regular basis by one overly controlling boss while the other boss is only in the office once or twice a week, so he doesn't know what's going on and really isn't involved in the day to day running of things. This monitoring and nitpicking is slowly wearing me down to the point that I was almost crying at my desk today. I don't mind any of the other employees here - I actually quite like them and work well with them, including the absentee other boss. It's a small company with less than 10 people, and no HR department.

A lot of the issues that come up with this controlling boss have to do with how I do things one way and he wants it done another. Sometimes I acquiesce to his way because it's his company and his projects and there can be good things to learn from his experience. However other times it boils down to such minute things like which keyboard commands I use in my work flow, or questioning and testing my listening/memory recall abilities, and his constant requirement to have me report every little tiny tiny thing that I'm doing so he can adjust and readjust and remind and criticize how I am handling things. There's always something wrong to be found. It's this god awful micromanaging and I just want to tear my hair out. However, there was an instance when he snapped at me and I politely made him aware that was out of line, so the next day he sat me down in the conference room, apologized, and asked me "How can we communicate better with each other?" So he's open to discussion and he's working on learning how to manage people better... I just don't really know how to tell him to back off and make things feel less claustrophobic. Sometimes I find confrontation difficult and usually avoid it in the workplace if possible, so this is something I need to work on myself.

At my old job I could just go to work and manage my own time and projects and didn't have to check in constantly. I had a natural feeling for when to check in and I knew when to ask questions, and I knew which projects had priority so I was able to balance my workload accordingly. However at this new place they are so concerned about "time wasted" that it's oppressive in numerous ways and I don't have the freedom to do things on my own. I've been thinking for a while about making this askme post and I did some searches on how to deal with micro-managers, and one suggestion I found was to over communicate - inundate him with so much information that he just lets go and realizes I know what I'm doing. That trick really didn't work as it takes up SO MUCH time and nothing gets done because he finds fault in so many things, and then I'm just dealing with the stress of even more unnecessary criticism. So lately the way I've been dealing with working with him has been checking in as required but trying to get work done under his radar - anytime I have to talk to him I bristle and just know that it's going to be bad. I'm usually good at being professional and detached but lately my blood just boils and I find myself very defensive.

I don't know what to do. I am really frustrated, and on top of that I feel like I could be fired any day now, or maybe just let go once the next three month period is up at my next review. I do not have a lot of savings or someone else to lean on financially if that happens so I need to be prepared. Some might say maybe this just isn't a good fit? I could start job hunting now (I'm kind of freaked out already that I may just spend my entire weekend doing just that) but how do I explain on an interview why I want to leave this current job after only being there for such a short period of time? What if the problem really is me and I just don't know how to communicate effectively and stand up to him? Is there a way to manage a micro-manager? Or what if it really is that I'm just not perfect enough and that is why he hounds me so much? I just don't know how to get it through to him that he needs to trust me, let me breathe, and be more of a mentor and less a puppeteer trying to pull my strings. Anyone have any suggestions, ideas? Tricks to calm down and work through this? Should I just cut and run and hope there's something better out there?

If you have read this whole thing I'm amazed. I really appreciate any feedback you might have, personal anecdotes or strategies to try. A throwaway email you can use to contact me would be sylvenya [at] hotmail (dot) com. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would look for new work. This one isn't a good fit and you don't feel secure. I think you have tried a few strategies with your manager but you two aren't able to gel. The constant criticism is going to get you down and make it harder for you to appear confident in interviews.
posted by saucysault at 8:24 AM on February 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

It isn't a good fit. Start job hunting now.
Your personality seems to enjoy the control and responsibility a project brings, this has been taken from you. You are then given contradictory messages of using initiative and accepting micromanagement. I'm not surprised you are spooked by it.

Is there a way to manage a micro-manager?
Don't fight it. Your boss wants to take responsibility of everything. So let him. Punch your card exactly as you have been told, and no more than that, while you are in the process of racking up some interviews for positions elsewhere.
posted by 0 answers at 8:27 AM on February 15, 2014

Dude, just start applying for other jobs. When asked why you've applied for the job, don't say anything about why you don't like your current job, just tell them how excited you are about the job you're applying for.

"I took my present job to move forward and to manage more projects. I really enjoy the responsibility and this position sounds like a great way to expand on that experience."

You can't salvage the situation where you are and it's AWESOME that you didn't say anything in your review. Reviews suck and they do NOTHING insofar as actually being a participatory process. They say what they say, you smile and say, "thank you sir, may I have another."

Just do whatever they want, and if you want to dick around with them (and why wouldn't you?) ask to have a specific plan for improvement. Extract things from your review and get specific instructions for how to handle it in the future.

Act as though you want to conform and be a model employee. Look for a new gig like a fiend!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:29 AM on February 15, 2014

Definitely look for a new job. I agree with saucysault, the criticism is going to mess with your head. The stress will mess with your health. There is no shame in bailing and a potential new job will understand that your current deal is just not a good fit.

I thing I do have to warn against is quitting before you have something lined up, if you can help it. For some reason there is a stigma against the unemployed and it is truly very difficult to find work unless you have something now.

I wish you all the luck in the world. I know personally that a situation like yours is very very difficult. It's like getting married after one date and can really be a gamble.
posted by Snackpants at 8:34 AM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would be tempted to do something like set up a meeting with both bosses and politely point to the accomplishments (and their impact on your previous company's bottom line) that led them to hire you in the first place, and tell them that in order for you to give them the same value, you need to be freer to make autonomous decisions, and that you as a creative professional need to be trusted. I can see nickel and diming it for operations related work, but can't think of a creative function that wouldn't suffer for lack of some up-front investment, some risk. I'm sure there's a more precise business argument.

But definitely look for other work, actively.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:56 AM on February 15, 2014

(But questioning your listening and recall abilities borders on abusive. I wouldn't expect a conversation like above to actually accomplish change. Standing up for yourself might help you, though.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:00 AM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Look for a new job, starting now. Yesterday was my last day at a job I started 7 months ago. I knew it was a bad fit almost from the start but there was a lot I liked about it. It became increasingly clear that I was never going to enjoy the work or feel aligned with the mission of the organization, plus I too had a micromanaging boss who made my life miserable, so I started looking for something else and was very lucky to find something much better. The feeling I had when I walked out of there for the last time was just great. I swear I heard the angels singing.

As far as explaining why you're looking, use Ruthless Bunny's line. I just said, "I love my job and the work but when I saw this opportunity I felt I had to pursue it because ..." and then say how what they need is a great fit for your skill set.

It can take awhile to find something so start looking now. Good luck.
posted by Kangaroo at 9:10 AM on February 15, 2014

DEFINITELY start job searching: because you don't want to work in this environment AND because there is a very real chance they're going to let you go. Ugh, I hate bosses like this and I'm sorry you have to put up with all these little games and tests of your competence from people who seem to have no interest in your actual skills or strengths. It's no wonder it's difficult for you to find a way to communicate your needs or give feedback in a positive way, because it sounds like you're talking to a brick wall (which may SAY it wants your feedback) but in fact has already decided they don't like the way you work and that the problem is yours to fix, not theirs. I think this is more prevalent on small teams: there is more pressure for the new hire to be the PERFECT fit and fill a very predetermined role. They don't realize they are actually making it impossible for you to take any initiative and "step up".

I don't think you should put too much energy into making things work, but if you want to try some things to make the next few months more productive/less stressful:

Are there employees with similar responsibilities to you who are more successful in navigating this type of highly supervised/prescribed relationship between management and creative? Can you make notes of how they handle the bosses or even ask them for some advice? You don't want to be seen as a gossip, but is there someone you could feel comfortable confiding in: "Hey, I'm still getting the hang of things here and since you've been here X years, I was wondering if I could buy you a coffee/lunch and ask you a few questions?"
posted by dahliachewswell at 9:58 AM on February 15, 2014

so the next day he sat me down in the conference room, apologized, and asked me "How can we communicate better with each other?"

Given an opportunity like that, I'd be tempted to say something like, "Well, maybe you can shed a little light for me, because I am having a hard time reconciling a couple of ideas that seem to conflict. On one hand you've asked me to step up and take charge of projects, which is something I absolutely want to do. But on the other hand you seem to have extremely specific ways that you want almost everything to be done, to the extent that I don't know what kinds of independent decision-making you'd support. I realize this is at least partly in response to a bad experience with a former employee, and that makes all kinds of sense. How you protect the company against having something go horribly wrong is obviously up to you. But, I'd find it really helpful if you would clarify what kinds of decisions you want me to take charge of. "

Unfortunately the most I'd hope to get out of such a conversation is maybe a brief respite. It might buy you some time and make the job, temporarily, marginally more sane, but chances are it will revert to what it is now or worse. No matter what the boss man said at this point, I'd be looking for other work.
posted by jon1270 at 10:03 AM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

A lot of the issues that come up with this controlling boss have to do with how I do things one way and he wants it done another. Sometimes I acquiesce to his way because it's his company and his projects and there can be good things to learn from his experience. However other times it boils down to such minute things like which keyboard commands I use in my work flow...

The dude sounds nuts. This really is over the top micro-managing and you really should start looking for a new job post haste. Good luck to you.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 10:06 AM on February 15, 2014

Your current job is madness. You can't hope to fix your boss's problems - you'd need an ally in upper management at least for that, and the kind of track record you rightly aren't willing to stick around to establish. But, don't quit. Look for something else. If they let you go, you want to be able to collect unemployment and companies prefer to hire someone who is currently employed.

When you interview for other jobs, focus on why you want to work there and not why you're looking to leave Insane Company. However tempting, this type of venting reflects terribly on you, as I'm sure you know. If pressed, say you're looking for a better fit for your skills and experience. Insane Company certainly isn't letting you work to your full potential by micromanaging and demeaning you.
posted by xiaolongbao at 10:09 AM on February 15, 2014

Don't cut and run, but do look actively. And as best you can, try not to second-guess yourself, or to let your INSANE boss's denigrations turn into an internal monologue in your head. You haven't done anything wrong; this is just not a good fit, and it's not your fault.

Be gentle with yourself emotionally, and call on your confidence and optimism as you search for a new job. There's one out there.
posted by scody at 10:39 AM on February 15, 2014

I would ordinarily agree with the advice of seeking a new job. One or two things stand out to me though, before defaulting to GTFO. One is what jon1270 pointed out - you have a huge opportunity here to gain the respect you might need to succeed in this position by further addressing this with your boss in a respectful but confident way. It's apparent that as poor of a manager he might be, he's at least shown you the willingness to listen and take you seriously.

"I'd like to elaborate more on what we discussed in my review. I've been trying to do X and Y as suggested, but when I do, you're sending me mixed messages of Q and Z, and I'm having a difficult time reconciling the two. Let's discuss the differences and agree on how to move forward." Come prepared with specific examples of how you plan to take more leadership and responsibility, and get clear feedback on those ideas. I would still be prepared to look for new work, but it's possible an additional show of confidence here would be beneficial and at least get you through the next 3 months while you look.

Another item that might fall into the simple 'not a good fit' category is the salary vs. hourly structure. If your hourly rate and performance is directly tied to what a client is billed, then I'm not surprised that they want to track your work closely. I would too, if I was trying to get the most value and lower cost for my clients. If I'm trying to remain competitive, I want you to get the most work done in the least amount of time. It's apparent that this boss isn't the greatest in terms of getting that point across without being too overbearing. What about the others in your office? Are they at the same level / position as you? How do they feel about boss and the environment? Can they share helpful tips on dealing with either?
posted by SquidLips at 11:12 AM on February 15, 2014

Well, the solution is to change something because this clearly can't go on.

I think you should immediately begin looking for a new job because it is a process that definitely takes quite a bit of time. Update your resume, apply to places and network like hell. Let all your friends in the field know you're looking to move on.

In the meantime, I would see if there is a way to improve things with your current manager. It does sound like maybe your boss wants to be a good boss, and doesn't realize that he is suffocating you and is also having some trust issues with his employees. Maybe you can express a genuine desire to take on more responsibility and prove your value and prove your trustworthiness. Try to set up a more structured way of communicating. Instead of him micromanaging you constantly, can you schedule daily check-ins so then you can both be on the same page for the day? Not saying anything, especially when asked your opinion, is part of the problem here. Speak up and earn some respect.

I will add though, you do need to do things your company and boss wants things done. You don't really have a choice. Unless your way is indisputably and measurably better, you need to let go of the idea that you know better or you should be left alone. Keep working your way up until you're a boss, and then you'll get to decide these things. Until then, you need to be able to adapt to the needs of the company or your supervisor. So in that regard, I think you need to suck it up and do what they want until you can find a job that's a better fit.

One more thing, I know people who have left jobs after less than a year. Several, actually. It's not a big deal. Sometimes things aren't good fits, sometimes there are better opportunities for growth or money. Whatever the reason, it happens.

Next time, interview at the office, get a tour, ask to interview with or meet the team you'll be working with and go with your gut. I've held many jobs and I always knew within the first day whether it was going to be a good fit or not. My gut feeling never substantially changed after that. You should aim to get that gut feeling sense on the day you interview.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:57 PM on February 15, 2014

Just adding to the "look for a new job immediately" chorus. I had a micro-managing and just general POS boss, and the office was even smaller than yours (there were 3 of us. Seriously. One time, he yelled at my co-worker for writing a personal reminder down on a piece of paper while he was waiting to leave with my boss for a meeting, and that's one of the more benevolent stories I have). I had to stay for two excruciating years, and I will say that my co-worker and I started being really.... mutinous.

That is definitely not a course of action that I would recommend to anyone. But I have not a single regret about leaving, so I would recommend leaving. There's nothing you can do to really "manage" a boss like that, they're like that because it makes them feel good to put you/your work down, and there's no incentive for them to stop. It's already affecting you, and that's just going to get worse the longer you stay, so look for a job where you will be valued and treated like an adult.

The perfect job is out there for you, good luck!
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 1:20 PM on February 15, 2014

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