Coping with toxicity and finding a happy place?
February 11, 2021 6:23 PM   Subscribe

I am working on finding a new job, but in the meantime I have to learn how to cope with the one I have. The specific challenge is that my boss is terrible.

There are a few reasons I feel stuck in my particular position: covid being number one. I can't just not have income; if it were safe to up and quit and work in retail or food service I totally would. Soon, maybe, I will (my household has been vaccinated with the first dose. I'm not entirely confident the second dose will be easy for me to obtain. But, anyway...). Another consideration is that I don't have a great reference from my most-recent employer and I don't want to have a resume where my references are all professional contacts who were not my supervisor. So, I'll give 2 weeks' notice at some point and each day feels like hell.

I've been at this job since last summer. It has been a soul-sucking nightmare the entire time. At first, I thought I was completely to blame, and that I'd gotten off on the wrong foot. Soon I came to realize my boss actually yells at just about everyone. Yells. And, at me, this is a daily occurrence.

To describe typical occurrences, she will blindside me with a concern she has, for example a staffing issue that I couldn't possibly have known about, and she will ask me for "the game plan" in addressing it. Anything I suggest makes her defensive, whether I offer some possible solutions or interventions, or if I try to gently couch a response with, "I'm not sure, but perhaps..." or, "In my humble opinion..." she acts as if I've said, "What are you, fucking stupid?!!" Honestly. If I ask what her thoughts are, or if I suggest that I don't know how to respond, or if I say I would like to think it over-- She yells at me. She's always yelling.

There's more. The environment is terribly disorganized, expectations are not at all clear or consistent. Staff (including me) are subjected to punishment based on biased interpretation; i.e., documentation is inconsistent, so whoever happens to walk in front of the dart board, so to speak, gets nailed for something arbitrary, and sometimes it's a big deal. These punishments or consequences often impact our income, and meaningfully impact the customers/clients we serve in heartbreaking ways.

It's terribly toxic. I want to say it's gotten worse. The only way it hasn't gotten worse is that I've now gained a great deal of experience in my wack-ass position so I have some job security. For the first few months I was on the verge of getting fired all the time so I was a nervous wreck. Now-- I could totally still be fired. My boss (the owner) obviously makes decisions that are not in the best interest of herself or her business (and I say that with complete humility and confidence)-- I am not quite so anxious about losing my job, but I am also feeling complicit, guilty, and terrible for being part of a terrible organization. In that respect, things are much worse. I feel party to hurting people: wrongfully denying service to good clients; making unreasonable demands on staff (I'm in management).

I would leave in a heartbeat if it weren't for the whole covid/aforementioned stuff.

My friends advise me not to take my boss's behavior personally, and I do practice self-care pretty well (advice is welcome!) and it's not like it hurts my feelings or threatens my self-esteem to be treated so poorly. However, I am always on my toes and talked to, multiple times a day, as if I'm an idiot. Can I mention, the bonkers part is that she identified me as the best employee she's ever hired? Yeah. Like, thanks. I certainly try hard and work conscientiously, but yikes. I don't know if this post reads like I'm a major catch, haha, but I am definitely underpaid in my role, and I'm fine with that. My colleagues show very positive regard for me. They seem terrified of the boss also (and should be), and I don't know why they've stayed, nor do I care. I can't even waste mental energy on that enigma.

How do I cope?? By 5pm, I feel like someone's hit my brain with a bat from several directions. I'm next-to-tears when I have to make shitty phone calls that disappoint/hurt/negatively impact people in particular because they deserve so much better. No one deserves the treatment that is doled out by my boss, and by me on her behalf.

One last example: Yesterday we discovered I didn't have the appropriate privilege to access information I needed in a new software program. She reamed me out as if it were my fault. All I could do was apologize profusely as she tinkered with access levels from the administrator role. Finally she fixed it, and I was meant to pretend it was my personal failing, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry..." It was a hot mess.

This is DGAF territory, right? I might want to just shut off my brain and spend 8:30-5 in my happy place while everyone unravels around me. But I'm finding it impossible to do so.

New job is hopefully around the corner. What can I do until then? Note: it's gotta be about a coping strategy, not a come to Jesus conversation with the boss. Picture dead, rat eyes and no soul. Thanks.
posted by shocks connery to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What do you do? You get as much evidence as you can that this is an abusive, hostile workplace so that if you ever wanted to sue for having a mental breakdown, you would win, no doubt about it. If it’s legal to record her abusive rants, do that. Get paper trails of everything she’s said and done, compile every last bit. Doesn’t matter if you ever use it (though I’d love to think that you would) the fact that you have enough to easily take her down might warm the cockles of your heart and give you enough grit to make it through til the end.

Visit a doctor and complain of mental stress from your workplace and get that in record. Heck, visit a lawyer with it all and see what they say.

This behaviour of hers has always been completely unacceptable but never more so than in this day and age. I’m shocked that there are still bosses who think that they can get away with it. Hang in there.
posted by Jubey at 7:41 PM on February 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Seconding Jubey’s advice. If you’re in the US, research your FMLA options.

One of the things it’s meant to protect workers from is the stress and negative mental health effects bad bosses inflict on their coworkers.
posted by FallibleHuman at 9:49 PM on February 11, 2021

IMHO, the first thing you need to do is "Stop apologizing for things that you have no control over." That's a "customer service" attitude, that you're always sorry. Just stop saying that and you'll probably feel better.

You have to keep in mind that some people cover up their OWN failures by attacking other people both to distract / camouflage their own failures and by shifting the blame.

Another way this plays out is powerplay of a bully, which is just bad for a boss, who is already in a state of authority. Bully often push BECAUSE they can (as cliche "power's gone to their head) who just want to see you react. You keep apologizing may be actually encouraging that behavior.

WIthout knowing the security privileges in the app in your situation, I'd say it's the boss's fault NOT giving you the proper rights in the first place. She bought the software, she configured the software. If she gave you responsibilities WITHOUT the attendant software permissions, that's on her, not you.

And so on and so forth. Sounds like this boss is the "preemptive attack" type of personality... ALWAYS blame someone else for his or her own failures and/or intentions. Much like Hitler blamed Churchill and Roosevelt for conspiring to take over the world when he's the one invading other countries. Joseph McCarthy accused various people of being un-American, yet treading on other people's freedom is un-American.

You deal with this sort of personality by ignoring the attack. Stop taking it personally. To quote Bruce Lee, "empty your mind, and be formless like water" (or something like that). Let the insults and recriminations pass by. It's not your fault (when it really isn't) so you're not taking the blame for it. Boss is just ranting. When there's no reaction, the boss will likely go harass someone else as the boss is not getting the response s/he wanted (meek apology) out of you. Of course, it's also possible s/he may double down and harass you ever harder, but generally, ignoring the harassment will often cause it to abate.

I'm not an expert in anything (except IT) so all of this is actually pure "armchair psychology" to me, so my advice should probably not be taken seriously.
posted by kschang at 3:24 AM on February 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

That sounds awful. It's possible that you may be able to find a remote job- someone I know used to work remotely for Stripe doing customer service (her boss was great) and it looks like Stripe has a long list of remote jobs, most technical, but also a few other things. I think Amazon hires remote customer service people (not saying that would be a great job, but possibly better). If you're working in person with your current boss, I'd be worried about their yelling spreading germs.

My first job out of college was with a boss who yelled at everyone daily. It seemed to help to react with a poker face. Don't try to placate—don't apologize when you haven't done anything wrong— just listen and let her wear herself out. Depending on the person, your cold reaction might make her begin to see how ridiculously she's acting. If she's asking you to fix something, say cooly that you'll take care of it, and walk away, if possible.
posted by pinochiette at 5:17 AM on February 12, 2021

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