Should I stay or should I go?
October 3, 2007 5:36 AM   Subscribe

CareerFilter: Should I stay or should I go?

A few weeks ago my boss and I had a major blowout that ended in him shouting that he owned me (in so many words). He has a very long history of blowing up at people in the company, people of all levels. Everyone knows this and avoids him like the plague. I was determined to resign then, however, his boss asked me to stay for the sake of the company. I am one of the key management team members in my department. I committed to staying through the end of the year.

However, the situation has been unbearable for me because I’ve basically lost all personal and professional respect for my boss. We have not had a conversation since the incident three weeks ago. He gave me a vague apology for the way he communicated with me. He’s also been piling the work on my plate without consideration for any other work I have going on and has been micromanaging me. The situation was intolerable for me so I resigned on Monday with no other employment lined up.

Yesterday he came in my office and asked me to stay. I was very frank about why I was leaving (the loss of respect for him) and didn’t think there was anything he could do to get that back. He began telling me that he finally realized that he couldn’t continue to treat people this way and was committed to changing. He said he feels I would be a good gauge as to whether he was making progress. I told him I’d think about it and we’d talk today.

So, now what do I do? I am not convinced that he is capable of changing. I’m convinced he has narcissistic personality disorder. I love my job though and the people I work with and would be willing to stay for those reasons alone. I think I need to be strategic about this and set clearly defined boundaries of what I will and will not tolerate. How do I do that without appearing to be making a power play? I really just want to work there and do my job.
posted by mamaquita to Work & Money (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Why don't you go to HIS supervisor and discuss it? Tell him you'd like to stay, but you can't deal with the way things were going. That your boss as approached you for help in developing some interpersonal skills, and since you'd like everyone to be a happy family you're willing to do this for the trial period.

Honestly, it's part of your boss's supervisor's job to manage your boss... not yours. If your boss's supervisor cared about how your boss treated people and the consequences of your boss's actions, your boss would likely get fired. But your boss's supervisor already stuck his neck out and asked you to stay -- so tell him you will keep your word to him ... but to make it worth it for you. You either want a huge bonus, or a month's paid vacation, or SOMETHING to make up for it at the end of the period... and pose the question to your boss's manager: if your boss doesn't change his behaviour, what happens to him?

The point: You're dealing with a sticky, messy, smelly, rather explosive issue. The company had better make it worth it for you, or you will not be staying past the point you previously committed to .
posted by SpecialK at 6:06 AM on October 3, 2007


Keep your cool, but walk.

I had the same thing happen (the guy literally said the words "I own you") and this only ends in tears. Even if you could change your boss you can't change the power dynamic. Walk and go somewhere you are appreciated.

You want to do your job, but there is a strategically placed SOB preventing you from doing this. You can't wish the SOB away, so unless you've got dirt on the SOB that will disappear him, walk.
posted by foobario at 6:15 AM on October 3, 2007

Can people change? Yes. Do they? Very rarely.

I'm with the "walk" team. Work takes up too much of your life for you not to enjoy it, and to wake up every morning facing the thought of someone having a go at you simply isn't worth it. This guy can change, but I doubt he will. Anyone arrogant enough to say to someone "I own you" and mean it probably isn't going to be humble enough to think that they were in the wrong. So walk.

I wonder, just as an aside, what it was that prompted him to come and ask you to stay.....
posted by Solomon at 6:23 AM on October 3, 2007

Also, responding to your question, have a meeting with yourself, your boss, his boss, and preferably someone from as high up in the company as is possible.

Make a list of what you find unacceptable - the raised voice, the dirty looks, the words he uses when he speaks to you, etc. Preferably include examples of all the situations you found unacceptable, and what about them it was that you found unacceptable. Make another list of what you are prepared to offer/do for the company (ie, your job) in exchange for a complete change in your bosses attitudes (and a pay rise?). Make it clear that if you don't get these things, you will leave the company at the soonest available opportunity.

They asked you to stay. They want you there. Use that to your advantage.
posted by Solomon at 6:28 AM on October 3, 2007

Stay. You made the mistake of quitting before you had work lined up. So, first off, at go find some other work while you get a paycheck.

At least for the moment, you own this guy now. Really. Go talk to him, and say you're willing to stay on a couple of conditions:

a) You have a say in how much work can be done. At some point (likely, where you're at...) you're overloaded. In fact, give him several projects back and say 'you don't have the time/resources to do it"
b) No more tirades, yelling or behaving like a 5 year old. If he wouldn't talk to his grandmother or a client that way, he shouldn't talk to you that way.
c) Enough with the micromanaging. You'll give him an overview of your progress, not a bullet point by bullet point detailed discussion. If he GAVE the work to you, he ought to trust you to complete it in a professional manner. IF he doesn't trust you to do it right, he shouldn't have GIVEN you the work in the first place
d) You absolutely ought to broach with him, the idea that he's going to likely fall back on old habits. You should ask him how he's going to handle such; tell him much of how he answers this will be the key factor if you decide to stay.
e) Since you already have a relationship, talk with his boss (and later with both of them) to get him in as little of a supervisory role as possible. Ask his boss, what he's going to do to minimize or remove the SOB's supervisory role (either with you specifically or in general).

That last one you should do, even if you decide on a job somewhere else.
posted by filmgeek at 6:32 AM on October 3, 2007

Solomon's got a good idea, but I'd include HR in that meeting too.
posted by SpecialK at 6:32 AM on October 3, 2007

I think you should stick it out to the end of the agreed upon period, but take the personality conflict issue up with your boss's boss. That way you're good to your word, but still get to address the issue with someone who can do something about it.

Also, your boss sounds like a nutcase. Kudos to you for telling him why you're leaving, and for not allowing him to steam-roll you.

2nding SpecialK: don't allow your boss to make his fucked-up personality your cross to bear. That's what his boss should be doing.
posted by Pecinpah at 6:36 AM on October 3, 2007

Wait...he wants you to stay, AND also be his pseudo-sponsor for rage management? Just because he apologized?

I'd make like a drum and leave.
posted by softlord at 6:41 AM on October 3, 2007

I'm the head of HR for a pretty big company. I'd go with a combo of SpecialK, filmgeek, and Solomon's responses. Have the meeting, include the manager's manager and HR, and be clear about the behaviors that must stop. Use the phrases "intolerable work environment" and "verbal assault" - they really get a LOT of attention. Start looking, but by having this meeting, you've bought yourself at least a few months. *When* he blows up again, take yourself straight over to HR, do not talk to the wuss manager's manager, and tell them that you are going to go to the EEOC next. They need to fix it, NOT YOU. In the meantime, do start looking, and get really serious about it. The manager won't change.
posted by pomegranate at 7:41 AM on October 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

Stay, because you don't have another job. Start working on that obstacle immediately.

When you meet with HR and your boss's boss, you should specify that the abusive boss can no longer be your direct manager. You can work with him, but he cannot supervise you.

Just so he can't guilt you, keep reminding yourself of this - your boss doesn't give a hoot about the "good of the company." Managers who care about the company don't repeatedly open the company to lawsuits.
posted by 26.2 at 8:09 AM on October 3, 2007

Another vote for stay.... at least until you have another job lined up. You now know that you are so invaluable to the company that your boss has basically come grovelling to you - he has admitted fault (very useful in disputes with employers/managers).
You have an immense amount of power in this situation. Lay down the law - if you are to stay you need x,y,z.

While you're waiting for him to go nuts again, get something else lined up - in case he really can't change and bear in mind that they can also be getting someone lined up for your job in the meantime.
posted by missmagenta at 8:32 AM on October 3, 2007

I was determined to resign then, however, his boss asked me to stay for the sake of the company.

Never let "the sake of the company" guide your actions.

Be selfish. These people would ruin your career, kick you out on the streets in a heartbeat if they thought that doing so would make them money. Do what works best for you and yours. Pay lip service to "the sake of the company" but always put your own interests first.

He began telling me that he finally realized that he couldn’t continue to treat people this way and was committed to changing. He said he feels I would be a good gauge as to whether he was making progress.

He wants you to be his shrink on company time? Fuck that shit.

I’m convinced he has narcissistic personality disorder.

You're probably right. And you know something else? Most therapists believe that narcissistic personality disorder is not curable. You might be able to ameliorate it somewhat. But the self-centeredness, the lack of consideration for other human beings will always be at the core of his personality. Which is to say, the professional consensus is that he won't change. It's not really his fault that he's so fucked up. But then, it's not your fault either. And if it isn't your fault, why should it be your problem?
posted by jason's_planet at 8:43 AM on October 3, 2007

To answer your question: you should probably stick around until you find something better and then bolt.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:44 AM on October 3, 2007

You can't stay here now. Your boss' bad behavior towards you has attracted the attention of his own supervisor. That's a serious black mark on his career. To him, you're the person who put a serious black mark on his career.

So here's a guy with authority over you, with anger management and narcissism problems, who probably believes that you torpedoed his career.

Do you really want to give him a chance to return the favor? Get the hell out while you still have a chance at getting some good references from others in the company.

I'm assuming there's no chance of your boss being fired or transferred so you're no longer his direct report, but honestly I don't think I'd stay even in that situation. Life's too short to deal with this type of crap.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:31 AM on October 3, 2007

Offer to stay until they can find & train a replacement. Use that time to find a new job.

Best of both worlds.
posted by MaxK at 10:17 AM on October 3, 2007

MaxK has the right idea. Stay as long as it benefits you and any of the people to whom you feel loyalty, irrespective of your crazy boss. Then leave, quietly, and without blame. You don't know what options the company might have in the future, and banking a little karma with them can only be beneficial.
posted by mr. remy at 10:38 AM on October 3, 2007

Thirding MaxK, with the additional possiblity of going to boss' boss and saying that you'll stay if you can have a different boss from now on.
posted by rhizome at 11:00 AM on October 3, 2007

Which I see has also already been suggested.
posted by rhizome at 11:03 AM on October 3, 2007

Am I the only one who feels like going to HR never helps with these issues?

You're probably right about the narcissistic personality disorder. Even the way he asked you to say indicates he's got major problems: he wants you to be a gauge. As in, his tool.

Ask him why it's in your interest to keep working for a blowhard. If he can't give you a good answer, take a walk.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:46 PM on October 3, 2007

I wrote this piece about bosses who are corporate psychopaths (aka antisocial personality disorder with narcissistic sub type) quite recently. It sounds like your organisation might have sufficient size and oversight that this issue could be containable, especially considering that your description suggests to me that he's not the worst kind of toxic boss.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you inform his superiors and HR that there's a problem with his approach which is not in the best interests of your organisation.
posted by singingfish at 7:45 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Most of you have told me what I already know is the right thing to do.

I told him yesterday that I was leaving at the end of the month.
posted by mamaquita at 6:30 AM on October 4, 2007

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