Because hiding under the bedcovers is not a paying job.
January 13, 2016 9:09 AM   Subscribe

My job of over a decade went sour thanks to a newer supervisor whom I can't shake. I am being micromanaged within an inch of my life, and it makes me shut down and do even less. New jobs are scarce, and I can't quit for financial reasons. What do I do?

My supervisor arrived from out of state a year ago. She is now sitting in every meeting I make with people from other offices and insisting on being cced when I email other people. She once sat next to me, literally looking over my shoulder, while I composed some copy; when I told her it made me uncomfortable, she said, "Your behavior made me do it," which is pretty much an abuser line.

Yes, I suck at some things, and I take responsibility for them, but she's a shitty manager. I've been to Employee Assistance and my department head already. Can't escape it.

I would rather get a tooth pulled than sit in yet another daily check-in meeting. I am so far beyond seeing a way out of it that I spend my check-ins just nodding and hoping I'll be allowed to leave. I don't get anything done because I just want a damn break from being picked at and poked, and of course that makes me get picked at and poked even more.

Now I've gotten my first notes in my personnel file for missing deadlines (arbitrary ones that she reset after agreeing on later ones). I'm civil service, so I can't be fired outright, but she is clearly trying to put a case together that I am not meeting the requirements of my job, so i figure I have until my contract comes up for renewal at the end of the summer.

I can't even complain about the pressure she is putting on me because I usually thrive under pressure -- even demand it, because I am not great with long deadlines (I have ADD, and have taken steps to address it) -- but this is too much.

So clearly nobody wants me here in this office, including me. I am looking for jobs, but I can't find any that seem like workable possibilities, and they'd take months to get to anyway.

Complicating the matters are a kid who needs daycare and a house we bought less than a year ago. I would not be a great SAHM, and even if it magically worked, I don't think we could afford the house payments on my husband's good but not huge salary.

How do I survive on a day to day basis?

How do I look for a new job when my confidence is in the toilet, my credibility is shot and I don't even know what I want to do anymore? Plus my references are not super timely.

I would like to refocus into a slightly different area (editing instead of writing), but I don't exactly have the portfolio. I've thought about retraining to do something completely different, but I don't have the money to step back.

Please help.
posted by sheena is a sock puppet to Work & Money (23 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You have to look for other jobs. Even if they take months to get. What's the alternative?

I'm a passive-aggressive asshole, so I'd make her life miserable with so many questions and email confirmations, etc. Basically, if she wants to be all up in my work, she's be in the Bunny-Business 24/7.

I would have a daily check list of everything I plan to do. I would update it in the evenings and email it to her last thing before I leave. I'd give her a noon update. It would be ridiculous. It would make me laugh. Plus, it just looks like you're accommodating her requests.

As for an evaluation and ask for SMART goals. Then, check in with her frequently to assure that you're on track with them.

You're catastrophising, and it's not helpful. Instead you have a two-pronged plan.

1. Look for a new job.

2. Be the most documenting employee in Christendom.

As for confidence, this is ONE person, ONE person you don't respect. Who cares what she thinks? I'm sure you're just dandy at your work, and you'll find another job.

The other thing is, yours can't be the only ass she's chapping. Perhaps there are others who are just as unhappy with her. Wait. It might sort itself out without any help on your part. Has it occurred to you that she's giving you such shit because someone is giving her shit? Don't be her scapegoat. Step aside and let her freefall.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:22 AM on January 13, 2016 [69 favorites]

If what you are reporting is accurate I agree with your assessment that your boss is attempting to pressure you into quitting. They do not have to pay unemployment that way.

You asked two questions:

1. "How do you survive on a day to day basis? "

I suggest that you stop caring so much. Find meaning outside your life in something else. A hobby. Volunteer work. A partner. Stop focusing on your job as the be all and end all of your life.

Also: stop being the "good guy" and start being the "bad guy". Refocus your role. Start giving as much (or more) grief as you are getting - but do it smartly ! Is your boss breaking a rule somewhere? Write an email of concern about it - cc her boss as well. Start asking for anything that can be asked for in writing. See a doctor for stress. Get doctors letters for days off - lots of days off. GEt a prescription for stress relieving medications - you don't really need to use them - just get the script. Write an email to your boss stating the overly stressful and hostile work environment you are experiencing and see if there is anything you can do about it - cc her boss. Are you GLBT? A religious minority? Older? Anything at all that comes under a protected status? Make sure you express "(written) concern" that such status may be affecting your treatment. Did I mention cc her boss ?

In short - if you start making your bosses life a living hell of paperwork - (but be smart and legal about it!) she may well be inclined to stop making yours hellish as well. Be the bad guy - embrace the role.

2. "How do I look for a new job when my confidence is in the toilet, my credibility is shot.... ?"

When you stop caring about something that doesn't care about you much of your confidence will return. I agree with your assessment - your contract will not likely be renewed. You have half a year. Use that time to get another job . Use that time to network with your fellow employees to get internal positive references. Try to remember this is not about you or your capabilities - it is about you being bullied by your boss. Talking to a therapist might help - this situation is not unlike someone being harassed by a spouse and what you are feeling (inadequacy) is all to common a feeling. But you are wrong - it's not you . You are not inadequate. You are being bullied. Get mad. Be Bad. (and see a therapist because it helps)

So the job is a wash - it happens. You have 6 months. You can do this. You can find something better. You will survive this.

Now go out there and help your boss have a really bad day today.
posted by AGameOfMoans at 9:35 AM on January 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

I had a boss like that. She made me BCC her on every email I wrote, and would email me (directly, not reply all) snarky comments on my grammar. She told me there had been "complaints" about my "behavior" but wouldn't tell me who complained or what about.

This is abusive bullying, no question about it, and you are responding like any abuse victim, and getting ground down. It is not you. She has undermined your self-confidence, but you still have all your capabilities, and if you can practice empowering yourself you can get them back.

I did what Ruthless Bunny suggests and took relentless notes, made my boss confirm everything in writing, made her write things out step by step, and BCC'ed my union rep every time she did something icky. You may not have a union rep but you can make a paper trail too, and take petty revenge in it. That is empowering in it's own way.

At the same time, I looked for a new job. Also empowering! I dressed up and went over my resume and practiced my polish, and went on two interviews and the second one landed me a job where people thank me almost daily for being good at my work.

So, back to you:

1. Be the most documenting employee ever. Pester her with confirmations and clarifications and cc's--she's the one that has to read them all. It makes extra work for her, and makes you look good. Develop stock phrases like "Just to clarify, the deadline on this is ------, correct?" and "I just want to confirm the details on..." and use them liberally.

2. Reach out to your former references--"hey, it's been a long time, but I was thinking of you/last job, and I was hoping to catch up. Let's have lunch/chat on the phone/etc" or the appropriate equivalent in your field. It's okay if it's been a long time, they remember you and are probably willing to talk. Look up one of these people tomorrow and send a message to them.

3. Make sure you are sleeping enough and eating well. I cannot emphasize this enough. Your health is physical, social, emotional, and mental, and she may be working down your emotional and mental health, but you can shore yourself up with the others too.

4. Keep up with your relationships and activities that help you remember who you are. Do you have friends, family, a religious community, book club, etc? Don't let those things drop, because you need them to give you perspective. You are not who she says you are, you are yourself.

Good luck, you can get out of this. I did.
posted by epanalepsis at 9:36 AM on January 13, 2016 [14 favorites]

Also, you say you are in civil service, so do you have a union? If so, contact them.

and they'd take months to get to anyway.

That's fine! It's like saying, well, it would take me eight months to train for a 5K, so I might as well not work out. No, you spend those eight months practicing your running. It might take months to get the new job, but you are spending those months sharpening yourself up. And once you have it, those future months are ones you don't have to spend with her. I spent 8 months working for my old boss, and I've been at my new job for 22 months. If I had not looked, it would have been 30 months that I worked for her, and I would still be there. See?
posted by epanalepsis at 9:44 AM on January 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

You survive this by realizing your credibility isn't shot. This has nothing to do with you, who ever had your job right now would be getting this treatment. It's a government job it's pretty much the only way they can lay off people, they are making reasons for a paperwork trail. None of this is about you. You could be the best damn worker they ever had working for them (hell maybe you are) but if the boss wanted you gone or to get rid of a position you would be going through the same thing.

Get all responses from her in writing. All agreements to deadline changes etc.
CC her in everything. EVERYTHING. Follow all her rules, how ever arbitrary & stupid by the letter & make them work to get rid of you.

Then you show them up by getting another job with people that want you to come in everyday & are happy to see you. You are lucky you are in a position many people wish they had, you have time to find a new job before the shit hits the fan and instead you are hiding away. You need to realize how lucky you are & use that to your advantage. She is giving you the opportunity to know what is coming & to prepare for it. Do you really want to waste it in denial, because if you do it won't be her messing up your families life it will be you.

Going the hard love route because I think you need it to shake you out of your self pity spiral. I understand how scary this is, but it could be a hell of a lot more scary & will be if you don't do something now.
posted by wwax at 9:59 AM on January 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Please follow Ruthless Bunny's advice to a T.
posted by raisingsand at 10:04 AM on January 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am you but in the tech industry with a similarly micro-managing, abusive, gas-lighting boss. Management and HR did not care and told me I should leave. I'm actively looking for my escape route.

-- How do I survive on a day to day basis?
- I practice techniques my therapist gave me. When I start feeling upset about something she's said or done, I take deep breaths in and other and tell myself "let it go, let it go, let it go." I've also slowly but surely been letting go of "trying to win her over" or caring about what she thinks of me. I just smile and nod while she's going off on me.
- I document everything and CC others
- Since I know I won't be here for the next review cycle, I've stopped stressing about all the shit she's going to write on my performance review. I already know from the recent performance review she gave me that she's going to write crazy stuff that isn't true.

-- How do I look for a new job when my confidence is in the toilet, my credibility is shot and I don't even know what I want to do anymore? Plus my references are not super timely.
- Just keep trucking. Apply to everything and anything that looks interesting. I had a mini-panic attack yesterday because it looks like an internal transfer isn't working out, my lease on my incredibly expensive apartment is up at the end of Feb and I'd like to know what I'm doing next before I renew it (or move somewhere else), and I had that moment of "no one else will ever hire me and if I quit my job I'll run out of savings". I've calmed down since then and reached out to multiple recruiters I had spoken to in the past as well as friends and am just going to devote the energy I used to spend on trying to win my boss over to finding a new job.
posted by raw sugar at 10:27 AM on January 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Manager's perspective here. Sometimes employees *do* need more supervision than they've been getting, and sometimes they get unhappy about it. It doesn't sound like your manager is providing that supervision in a useful way, but it also doesn't seem like she's totally insane to think that supervision would be valuable. If you want to burn every bridge at the company, the passive-aggressive approaches mentioned above will work, I guess. I would suggest trying to use this as a growth opportunity to learn to work with people who are difficult.

I would suggest telling her something like, "I appreciate that you feel the need to keep tabs on my work because of (reason), but when you sit in on meetings that I'm in, or watch me over my shoulder as I work, it makes me feel uncomfortable, and I feel I don't perform as well as a result. I'm also sure it's time-consuming for you. Can we brainstorm alternative ways for you to provide the necessary supervision?"

It's not guaranteed to work, but hey, it's unlikely to hurt.
posted by phoenixy at 10:44 AM on January 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: phoenixy, I agree with you. I asked for more structure in the beginning, and I told her how uncomfortable her actions made me, and that's how I got the "your behavior makes me do this" response. The Employee Assistance Office agreed with me that she gave up on me a long time ago. Finding another job is the only option, period.

My wonderful husband and I have already been in survival mode for a good year or so trying to raise our toddler with very little outside support, and the situation doesn't look like it'll get better any time soon. I am not eating or sleeping particularly well, no. (My boss knows that this has impacted my performance, and she chose to start ramping things up the week everyone had strep while moving into our new house. Then she called me emotional. Woman on woman sexism is the best.)

I seriously have no fight in me.
posted by sheena is a sock puppet at 11:14 AM on January 13, 2016

Would going to your doctor and asking for a letter to go on FMLA be a valid choice? You could get some number of weeks off work in order to sleep, breathe, and find something else.
posted by heathrowga at 11:54 AM on January 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'm also a manager and if one of my reports told me my actions made them uncomfortable, I would apologize on the spot. Then I would ask them if they had a few minutes to speak privately, and then ask them what sort of structure they need, in what form, at what times, for which subjects. I would listen, compare with that position's needs, discuss it with the person and find the best solution possible.

If your boss has not explained any of this (it sure sounds like she hasn't), then yeah, I seriously doubt she has your best interests at heart.

And also as a manager? Absolutely do what Ruthless Bunny recommends. Because you know what it boils down to? It boils down to:
- responsible time management
- doing your tasks
- informing your manager
- making sure you have buy-in.

I have had reports do just that to me, and yes, while I am fully aware it can be and often is a passive-aggressive tactic, I also knew they had their reasons for doing it, and were showing initiative and implication in their jobs. The backstory came out later: I hadn't realized at the time that a higher-up was going behind my back with them. They were protecting themselves from the other manager. Good thing I took it professionally, eh. So yeah, absolutely feel free to have no compunctions about being visibly professional. Good managers will know how to handle it. Bad managers will find themselves in difficulty. And that's their responsibility.
posted by fraula at 12:04 PM on January 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

Document everything with the goal of having the most awesome leaving interview evah!

"And now we come to section 5, Inappropriate Comments"
posted by fullerine at 1:04 PM on January 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I seriously have no fight in me.

I spent two and a half years fighting the new boss I got after 11 years on the job - trying to prove to him that I was valuable, that I was in the right - and all it got me was fired and fat. During that time I was an inconsistent, emotionally volatile employee, a distracted mother and a terrible partner. And a champion feeling-eater.

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't give it six months. But I was like you - so worn out and worn down, afraid that I'd make a terrible impression in interviews. And you definitely will have to figure out a way to fake it for a while. What helped me was finding a therapist who also had a background in career counseling. She helped me process my emotions while also putting together a concrete job-search plan. You may need two different people to help you with that, but I found it a worthwhile investment.

In the meantime - and this is so much easier said than done - the most important thing you can do is to try to take the emotion out of it. Don't waste another minute thinking about how it used to be our how it ought to be. It's not going to change; unfortunately it sounds like she's never going to like you or give you the credit or autonomy you deserve.

As some of the others have said, with distance I can see what that terrible boss was trying to accomplish in how he was managing me at the time, ham-handed as it was. Our situation was complicated by some previous baggage, and major incompatibilities in communication styles. We never could have come to a detente and I'm so sorry that I wasted that time, both professionally and personally. I hope you can learn from my story.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:44 PM on January 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Agreed with documenting this, with emailing Mgr after every meeting to document what was discussed and decided, etc.

I went through something similar and horrible. It made me so ill I had to be out on sick leave. It ended up costing my employer for a ton of sick leave and disability time, and more. That's how they have to learn.

Use sick time. Take care of yourself. Do not let them eat your soul You are a person who deserves respect and decency. I'm so sorry you're going through this. Sending you as much hug and support as I have bandwidth.
posted by theora55 at 3:08 PM on January 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I hope you've been documenting all this for harassment. If not, better start now.
posted by lizbunny at 3:17 PM on January 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

One thing that helped me when I was stuck briefly in a hellish job was to a. stop caring what the boss thought and b. act like I already had something better. I took all my personal stuff home and made my workspace generic. (except I did keep a tiny good luck charm tucked behind my phone). I got a haircut and some new jewelry. I dressed as though I were going to interviews. I smiled at people and acted perky. I took all my lunch hours, as much vacation and sick time as possible, and never volunteered for anything whatsoever.

I did job searches and sent out resumes on company time and yes did interviews during "dentist visits." For some of my fellow employees/higher ups it was the first they realized that something was up, and they were not happy about it, which put pressure on my hateful boss.

I didn't do this for very long, don't think I could for six whole months, but some of it might help you. Update your wardrobe and hair because it will help you feel better and also help you in an interview. Take all your time off that you can.
posted by emjaybee at 3:57 PM on January 13, 2016 [12 favorites]

Nthing the great advice from Ruthless Bunny and others above. Including going to your doctor and getting a note demanding that you be given paid time off for illness/stress/damage from the new boss. Are you in the US? Are you feeling bullied? Because being bullied in the workplace is a real thing and it's not just peers, bosses do it too. From the website:

WBI research findings from our year 2000 study and conversations with thousands of targets have confirmed that targets appear to be the veteran and most skilled person in the workgroup.

Targets are independent. They refuse to be subservient. Bullies seek to enslave targets. When targets take steps to preserve their dignity, their right to be treated with respect, bullies escalate their campaigns of hatred and intimidation to wrest control of the target's work from the target.

Targets are more technically skilled than their bullies. They are the "go-to" veteran workers to whom new employees turn for guidance. Insecure bosses and co-workers can't stand to share credit for the recognition of talent. Bully bosses steal credit from skilled targets.

Targets are better liked, they have more social skills, and quite likely possess greater emotional intelligence. They have empathy (even for their bullies). Colleagues, customers, and management (with exception to the bullies and their sponsors) appreciate the warmth that the targets bring to the workplace.

You feel shitty for a reason, and this is not your fault. Find as many allies as you can, in the office if possible and out of it as well. Take time off to get better, gather your strength and then come back to work determined to give zero fucks about your boss as you navigate your way to a better position.

I also have ADD, and I know that means you are creative and resourceful and energetic. No one is perfect; that's not a sin, that's normal. You've done well until now but for whatever reason the manager of doom had decided to torment you. Don't give her the satisfaction. Make her sorry she decided to pick on you. Because you are going to document the hell out of everything and you are going to network and you are going to waltz out of that hell into a better job.

If they don't already know, consider telling your boss, EA and department head about your ADD and asking for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (as a way to buy time and/or reduce stress). There are pros and cons to this strategy and, I'm sure, tons of stuff on it if you search.

Finally, consider consulting an attorney. Seriously. You shouldn't stay at that job given the lack of support. Even so, a well-timed letter from an attorney might shift things enough to buy you additional time and get the immediate pressure off.

I'm sorry you are facing this, especially with the kids and new house. Having a shitty, micromanaging, bullying boss sucks. You are not the employee the boss sees. Remember that. You are made of good stuff even if she can't see it. So go get some medical leave, plot your strategy and then act on it. Because a better work environment waits for you.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:11 PM on January 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

Others have great advice but I wanted to mention the book The No Asshole Rule.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:24 PM on January 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think that there are probably two sides to this, and we are only hearing one of them. Sometimes managers are forced to closely manage employees because it's their ass on the line every time the employee fails at something or HR is forcing them to do it.

If you are already doing all these things then I'm on your side and your manager does suck: showing up on time and not leaving early, reading all your email and noting down any deadlines, informing your manager if you cannot meet any of the deadlines, acting appropriately in meetings (no crying or shouting or weird accusations, no derailing the agenda repeatedly to talk about your pet peeve), treating your coworkers normally (no ignoring or stalking or silent treatment of people trying to work with you, no reporting them for minor things like looking glum or taking one personal call), and working on your assigned work (not some pet project that isn't important that you have been told again and again to drop) and making some regular progress on your work.

There are other creative ways to get yourself micromanaged but chances are that if an employee is doing all these things then most managers are really happy and leave them alone to get on with it.
posted by meepmeow at 7:51 PM on January 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I seriously have no fight in me.

One shitty manager came into your job and decided to abuse you, and one other shitty manager decided to reply to you in order to explain why you deserve the abuse.

Both of them are wrong. Please don't take the opinion of the one person who came into your thread to justify treating you badly over all the people who agreed that you didn't deserve to be treated that way.
posted by mister pointy at 8:49 PM on January 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Regarding how to apply for jobs while you're feeling stressed and insecure, I suggest applying for some jobs that don't seem like workable possibilities, but which you are tangentially qualified for. That way you can practice your cover-writing skills and develop a rhythm for knocking them out quickly. (Check out Ask a Manager for advice on writing good cover letters.) Then it won't feel so hard to whip up a proper application for a job you actually want.

Then, if you get called back to interview for those not-quite-right jobs, go ahead and interview. Best-case scenario, one of the jobs sounds like a better fit in person than it did in writing, and you get offered the position. Worst-case scenario, you've had a practice interview to warm up for a role you actually want. And you'll go into your next interview with that much more poise and confidence.

If it is possible for you to stop caring what your boss thinks while still performing the basic responsibilities of your job, I suggest you do your best to stop caring until you find a new job.
posted by Owlcat at 8:54 PM on January 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you don't have any fight left in you maybe it's time to stop fighting. Give yourself at least two months off. Get paid leave if you can wrangle it. If not, then actively commit to phoning it in. Focus on taking care of yourself, do what you feel like at work (that doesn't leave a digital trail). If she says your behaviour is causing problems, just nod and don't reply. Go somewhere else in your head. If she demands a response, nod and say you're thinking about it. Then sit and think about whatever you want to think about. Never argue or disagree. Don't agree either. "I'll have to give that some thought". "Thanks for sharing that observation/experience/feedback with me." "Mmmhmmm." "Huh."

Exploit the fact that she can't fire you now and your certainty that she will for you later. Spend your work time reading self help books or romance novels or manga or whatever feels relaxing. Take your leave and go to the therapist, the shrink, the dentist, the hairdresser, the museum. After two months of not giving a damn plus self care, you might be surprised by what will feel easy. And if not, you still have four months to try other tactics.

Sometimes you get so tired, something's got to give. This is a fight you can give yourself a break from for a while. Parenting isn't, so much. Stop fighting the boss and stop fighting the part of you that is tired of fighting. The worst that can happen is likely to happen anyway. It's ok to lose some battles, especially dumb unwinnable ones. You may as well lose on your own terms.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:48 PM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hopefully by the time you're reading this you're already taking steps, but just in case it helps.

Management is difficult, and a surprisingly high percentage of managers just aren't good at it. The first step is to know that, for you to have confidence in yourself and remove self-doubt, and then you can then act accordingly.

Just to reiterate what has been said really:

* Find that fight - whatever it takes ( i.e. for me Shia Labeouf's much derided "do it!" videos are surprisingly convincing ); this is a limited confrontation which you're going to play out to a conclusion, so you don't need infinite fight, just enough fight. If it definitely, definitely isn't there - there's some good advice above.

* "Game on" - document everything that has been said, keep excellent records or ensure everything is in email, back up any face to face or phone conversations with an immediate follow up email summarising the conversation, and specifically stating deadlines, and so on.

* Make their lives harder in excusable ways, those meetings of yours they want to be in - coincendentally schedule meetings with other offices on their days off, or when they're in other meetings, or when they like to take their lunch. If they want to be cc'ed in all emails then write your emails as drafts, then finish and send them all at once.

* As much as you can, keep records of their activities offsite so you've still access to them if something happens at your current employer.

* Have informal help to hand - are there any other staff being treated the same way? Will their similar experiences help you see that the problem is not with you. Don't look for a group to collude with, just someone who will smile appropriately when you look at them and say "it's not me is it?".

* Have formal help to hand - should things suddenly escalate know that you have an employment's lawyers details available.

Apart from that I can only wish you the best of luck. My career has mostly been unplanned, and a couple of times I've been at the "this'll do, it's not like you're meant to enjoy work anyway" stage, and a poor manager and forced me to make real and permanent changes, which has resulted in the two greatest and most beneficial leaps for me, this might just be the same for you.
posted by DancingYear at 7:16 AM on January 16, 2016

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