Help me deal with my evil boss.
June 11, 2007 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: HELP! My boss is wrecking my well being and my chance of moving on. (quasi-long post)

Asking for a friend...

"A few months ago I started my job working as an Aide for a State Legislator. Contrary to my initial impressions, the job is going nowhere fast and my boss turned out to be verbally and mentally abusive as well as extremely controlling – eg. All questions I ask are “stupid and so am I for asking them”, everyone finds out about my mistakes except for me, and how dare I try to take lunch while my boss is in the office?! My boss has a history of aides quitting very soon after starting, but since I’ve been able to work with difficult people before this I thought I could handle the challenge. This was a mistake.

A few weeks ago I set up a meeting with my boss to discuss our expectations of one another, how things were going, and how I could improve upon the job. Up until the meeting I had been under the impression that I was doing really well there. My boss went on a rant about how since I started “everything has been one big f*** up after another” and when I asked how I could do better all my boss could tell me was that I was to blame for everything. The meeting with my boss confirmed two things: trying to discuss the concept of being a “team” would not work and I needed to high-tail it out of there – AND soon. I have never had a boss tell me I was a “poor employee” or question my work ethic before, and I have since felt worthless and like I am a bad person. I sometimes feel that maybe I am a bad worker since it’s been so hard for me to stay focused and motivated.

I have decided that it is no longer in my best psychological interest to stay working for my boss, but have found that in applying for other positions within the Legislature that the possibility of my boss’ wrath at someone else “stealing” his/her (have to maintain anonymity here) slave is a very real deterrent toward my being hired by another Legislator (this has been openly acknowledged during at least one interview that I have had there for a position I did not get). Politics as usual, it seems. It may be a possibility that I will not be able to continue working for other Legislators because of my working for my boss. This is disappointing because I like the job itself, but because of the awful experience I have had there, I don’t think I’ll be too sad to leave.

The longer I stay, the more I’m terrified that my boss will find out I’m applying elsewhere within – even though I’ve taken every precaution to keep things secret, the walls will always have ears. I want to leave now but I know from experience that it is harder to find a job when unemployed. Prior to this job I had one year of administrative experience (I left because I relocated) and four months of admin temp-work after relocating. Before that I was working full time to put myself through college full time for two years.

And so, me-fi peoples, I ask for your assistance in a situation that is unlike any other I’ve found myself in yet. Thank you!"
posted by o0dano0o to Work & Money (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Get out while the gettin's good. And by that, I mean find a new job while you still have the old job, and fast.

If you have to leave the legislature, that's ok -- you cannot stay where you are anyway. If you want to stay in politics, find a political job that's not working for a legislator. Go work for a lobbying firm or an association. You'll be paid more anyway. Or move from wherever you live now to DC and get a job on the Hill, if you're super into politics. Your state legislature experience will be a big plus, and you likely have more connections there than you realize. Nobody in DC would question why you want to leave whatever you're currently doing to go work there -- people on the Hill almost uniformly think that the whole world envies their position and access to our society's ugliest celebrities. Take advantage of that.

At any rate, sticking around will not lead anywhere, and your days there are probably numbered. Get out while the gettin's good. The grass is greener on the other side, because it's burnt down on your side.
posted by The World Famous at 7:52 PM on June 11, 2007

I bet it's A LOT harder to find a job after getting fired than it is to find a job after quitting b/c your boss is awful. leave. Once you're clear, you won't be "off limits" anymore.
posted by Eringatang at 8:14 PM on June 11, 2007

Wow, that sounds really tough. Obviously your boss is abusive, and obviously you need to leave.

Here's what I think you should do.

1) Make a list of your skills that aren't necessarily tied to your specific field. Are you good at managing people? Amazingly organized? This isn't a resume so much as a list of skills that can transcend any job, and might help you broaden your horizons a little when looking for work. Also, make sure your resume is current, and get a cover letter ready to roll - here's a cool guide to a more novel style that might get you more bites.

2) Chat with a friend at work about acting as your reference a week or so before you go. They'll be able to corroborate your stories, and a future employer won't have to talk to your evil boss.

3) Since you're in the state capital presumably and are still interested in politics, I'd apply for jobs in the political sphere, but not directly working for a politician. I know you can't probably can't put your state up here, but even if the place is smaller, like Juneau or Montpelier, you should be able to find something - political parties, non-profits, law schools, lobbying firms, and local governments all need admin people, and I think they'd be thrilled to have someone who's been "inside" the statehouse.

And here are some things to remember:

1) You are more than your job. Regardless of what the Honorable Representative from Hell thinks, you obviously were skilled enough to get a position with this person in the first place, and you'll get better jobs in the future. This is a speed bump, not a stop sign.

2) You've recognized that this abusive person doesn't deserve your time or talent - that's really, really good, and will pay you dividends later when you need to cross the I-don't-have-to-take-your-bullshit-anymore threshold like you are now.

3) You need not limit yourself to the statehouse here; perhaps your state capital is not the biggest city in the state, and other cities are larger and have more opportunities for political work that isn't necessarily tied to the state or federal governments.

Finally, if things get any more hairy, go on Action News 8 or something with an exposé on his/her ridiculous, insulting, abusive behavior and try to ruin his career. You probably aren't the only person in the office the boss has messed with before, and you probably won't be the last.
posted by mdonley at 8:15 PM on June 11, 2007

Don't do an expose' on how much your boss sucks. Jessica Cutler hasn't exactly benefitted from it, has she? We remember political scandals, but the little people who expose the scandals rarely, if ever, benefit in any way from them. They usually come out looking bad and being associated only with the scandal. Don't make yourself a political footnote to a b-list scandal (you already know that, though).

Do not say anything negative to your boss about anyone. Anyone who knows your boss at all already knows how much it sucks to work there, and need not be told. Anyone who doesn't already know won't believe you anyway. You can gain nothing by telling your story to anyone.
posted by The World Famous at 8:26 PM on June 11, 2007

When you get a job outside the sector, make sure to write letters to every news outlet win your boss's area on what a piece of shit he is.

Meanwhile, get a job outside the government sector. Or grow thicker skin. Since the latter is impossible, work on the former.
posted by notsnot at 8:29 PM on June 11, 2007

The World Famous: I only suggested going public if things got out of hand - say the boss starts to throw furniture around or something, or if the OP was hurt or threatened - OP mentions they're "terrified". The boss sounds like he/she could, in fact, become physically abusive, and I think the OP should know that there are avenues to redress this should it occur - maybe not an exposé, but at least consulting with a lawyer.
posted by mdonley at 8:35 PM on June 11, 2007

Best answer: If you can leave the legislative field temporarily, even for a few months, you could then apply to work in another legislator's office. That way no one would be "stealing" you from your current boss.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 8:46 PM on June 11, 2007

Best answer: this has been openly acknowledged during at least one interview that I have had there for a position I did not get

So... this person you mention here is far enough along in his/her career to be interviewing you, and respects you enough to take the risk of levelling with you about your boss. This is a person you should be talking to-- either asking for a recommendation or advice.

Also, chances are you are doing GREAT at your job. At least that was the case with the one person I knew who worked for a horrendously abusive boss. He was in the same situation as you- being berated and belittled on an hourly basis for months. After he left the job, he heard later on that his ex-boss had spoken of him to a third person as one of the best employees she ever had.

Anyway, the evidence of your worth is that 1) you have lasted longer than many others, 2) your boss would be angry if you were poached, and 3) he has voluntarily continued to pay your salary for these past few months. You can be damn sure that he would not think twice about cutting you loose if he weren't getting his money's worth.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 8:48 PM on June 11, 2007

I vote for "quit, now."

Finally, if things get any more hairy, go on Action News 8 or something with an exposé on his/her ridiculous, insulting, abusive behavior and try to ruin his career.

Dumb idea.
posted by jayder at 9:19 PM on June 11, 2007

Do not try to "expose" your boss's behavior in the press unless you are confident that you never want to work in politics again. Chances are that the story won't go anywhere and the media won't care, plus you run a very good risk of being blackballed from even more jobs than you currently are. You're in a really difficult situation, but any of the "revenge" scenarios outlined above will only serve to make things more difficult for you by making it seem to outsiders like you're part of the problem in your office rather than the innocent victim of an abusive boss.

Keep your hands clean, mouth shut, and get out any way you can. Once you're out of the legislature, it will be harder for your boss to blackball you from other jobs, including other jobs in the legislature, and you'll probably be able to get a job in another office in a few months, a year tops. It sucks, but that seems to be your best bet for getting where you want to be without making your life miserable in the process.
posted by decathecting at 9:23 PM on June 11, 2007

If you cannot deal with abusive assholes then you should not be working in politics. Especially in state legislatures, those guys tend to have such an overinflated sense of self worth it is ridiculous. Either try to move up the food chain to a different section of the state legislature (I am assuming it is bicameral) or move to DC and try to get a job as a hill rat. Or suck it up and try to please the asshole, if none of those seem like good ideas then just get a job outside of politics, and volunteer for whoever is running against this guy when he is up for reelection.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:32 PM on June 11, 2007

Best answer: My boss has a history of aides quitting very soon after starting…

i'm willing to bet that your boss's reputation with regard to how he treats his aides is well-known, and therefore your reasons for leaving—at least within that same arena probably won't be any sort of reflection against your capabilities or a strike against you.

if you can financially afford to do so, i would suggest that you leave—the mental and emotional toll your boss (not to mention the hiding of the present job search) is taking on you isn't really worth it. you don't want to be stressed out and feeling vindictive when you are interviewing and have to talk about the job/the boss.

always focus on the positive and how you can spin things your way. make sure you can present concrete evidence of your accomplishments. if you are asked why you left this job, i'd suggest something like you knew your superior could be challenging when you took the job, felt your skills were more capable to handle the work itself (and provide evidence of your capabilities), but that, despite your best and continual efforts to work things through with him, a fundamental personality conflict prevented you from executing your job properly. people who do a lot of interviewing are usually savvy about reading between the lines and would know the code for "my boss is an insufferable asshole." you want to make sure that you make it clear that you left because of the boss (while avoiding saying anything negative about him personally), not because you were not executing your job (in what sounds like) in an exemplary fashion.

regardless of whether your new job is within or outside of the same arena, notnot's advice to "make sure to write letters to every news outlet win your boss's area on what a piece of shit he is…" and other suggestions to do an exposé is both completely unwise and immature. your boss is an asshole to his aides, but that's not technically breaking the law or worse. unless there is some overwhelmingly compelling reason, generally speaking, you do not want to burn your bridges in any profession—unless you want nothing to do with that profession and anything remotely related ever again. we might not like it, but our world is small, and our individual professions can be even smaller. like i said before, if your boss is an asshole, its's probably not a secret. calling out your boss publicly for being one is unlikely to achieve anything positive for you but is likely to backfire and reflect poorly on you. that may suck and may not be fair, but so do a lot of things in life.

good luck with your job search and hopefully your next boss will be wonderful.
posted by violetk at 9:46 PM on June 11, 2007

Write a message documenting who your boss is, and each and every abusive thing s/he has ever said to you. Post it on every major political blog you can think of!

(OK, maybe don't actually do this, but it would be great if you did..)
posted by citron at 9:59 PM on June 11, 2007

Seriously - if you already know your boss's typical response, can you try and laugh at it? (Not outwardly I mean.) It's pretty ridiculous. Just try and let it go by. Watch The Devil Wears Prada. And can you find anyone else to ask most of your questions - fellow staff, peers in other legislative offices, maybe?

Also, this is going to sound harsh but.. you guys are not a "team," actually - s/he's your boss. It's not about your expectations of each other, this is a person who's made a career in this and you're new and an aide, s/he doesn't have time to (or need to) concern him/herself with your expectations. What would you think if you were, say, editor of a major newspaper and an intern showed up one day and said "let's talk about how we can be a team"? It'd come off as a little bit presumptuous..
posted by citron at 10:10 PM on June 11, 2007

citron—be that as it may, still. there is no reason for anyone to be that much of an asshole, particularly when those under you are just trying to do a good job. no, your boss does not have to be your best friend, but at the very least, i don't think it's asking too much to be treated civilly (in the work place or anywhere else) at the very least.
posted by violetk at 10:46 PM on June 11, 2007

Best answer: I had a boss like that, and after a particularly bad episode, I started calling friends who had jobs elsewhere to see if anyone had any work. One, who was temping at a company, knew of a low-grade opening, and I jumped at it just so I could get out that day. I took the job knowing it was temporarily and underpaid, but told 'em why I wanted it and why I was willing to do the gig while I looked for a new job.

The job barely paid rent, and it was only good for a month, but in that month I kicked serious ass, and when I told 'em I was leaving, they offered me a lucrative position in order to keep me around -- even though the position didn't technically exist yet, and I had no experience doing it.

That month -- from quitting in a day, taking a low-paying temporary gig to getting that job offer -- turned my employment life around, and I'm now firmly settled in my new career and doing great.

My point is this: the longer you stay in that miserable job, the worse off you'll feel, and the worse off you'll be. Leave of absence, temporary job elsewhere out of your field, whatever -- get out, so that you can remember how valuable you and your skills are, and be out from under the thumb of that idiot boss of yours.

Good luck.
posted by davejay at 11:06 PM on June 11, 2007

Violetk is right; most people know that your boss is hard to deal with. I get the sense that you feel you are alone in this. You are on your own right now, but people have noticed you in a positive way. Some of those people are in a position where they can help you. You need to find them. The person that can help you may be the another legislator, a clerk, the majority/minority leader, or someone that most people respect.

Are you the same party as your boss? The people able to help you will be more willing if they can think of it as an investment into your career and goodwill, yet help out the party at the same time.

Your party will likely ask for you to stick it out for a while- you will have to wait for your replacement to be hired and trained. Also, your boss may get worse since you were able to "go over his head" and get his party to let you move.

In the meantime, whether you quit or not, is there a way you can change your perception of his behavior? Instead of him being terrifying, can you view him as ridiculous? You asking a question about something you have no way of knowing isn't dumb; his thinking it is dumb is the real dumb thing. If he is yelling at you, can you notice how his vein pops out when he does so. Etc.

Good luck.
posted by Monday at 4:29 AM on June 12, 2007

Tell the lady to run. Your friend isn't being payed to take her bosses shit. She should start looking for work elsewhere now.
posted by chunking express at 7:44 AM on June 12, 2007

davejay is right. Go somewhere, anywhere. Take a temp job answering phones or filing paperwork. Just get out before it affects your health or your career. The confidence boost you'll get from being free will serve you well in job interviews.
posted by happyturtle at 12:52 PM on June 12, 2007

Bullies often respond to bullying. Fight back, hard, with documentation of excellence and not taking any crap. Politicians often respond to flattery, masses of it, fulsome steaming piles of sucking-up. Dear Boss, I need your Big, Strong, Smart, Brilliant, Generous Help to get this fabulous silly, trivial other job in Some Other Department, where I will be an asset to your work on the Bullying Jackass Committee.

Learning to deal with difficult people is a useful life skill.
posted by theora55 at 4:19 PM on June 12, 2007

You can always write Wonkette.

Also, can you take a recorder in to work so you have audio? At Radio Shack, they have digital voice recorders for $30. Tape this person and then if there is an HR person or anybody, perhaps you can have that person listen to what your boss is saying.

And get out of there. (Is it possible to file a complaint against your boss for unprofessional behavior?)
posted by onepapertiger at 10:03 PM on June 12, 2007

Also, definitely consult with a lawyer. Find one that will work with you on a contingency fee basis.
posted by onepapertiger at 10:05 PM on June 12, 2007

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