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‘I Hate My Boss, But I Love My Job!’

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Dear Boss,

My actual boss is brilliant at most parts of her job. She’s climbed the ladder in a very male-dominated industry and is a strategic thinker. However, I’ve been in my job for a year-and-a-half, and her aggressive attitude is taking a toll on me.

Often she shouts at me (and I do mean shouts) in earshot of other people. Most recently she shouted at me for not sharing something on my personal LinkedIn. I had been busy that day and hadn’t wanted to share the event, to be honest.

When I have any issues at work, she is not a helpful mentor. For instance, I needed something from a co-worker who was ignoring my pleas, in person, by email, and on the phone. I’d hoped that if I spoke to my boss, she could help me deal with it, but instead she barked out an email to me and ordered me to send it to the person. She literally hollered in my ear, “DO IT, SEND IT NOW AND CC ME IN,” while she watched me type it out her dictation of vile, aggressive language.

I’ve had to apologize to many people, including the managing director, for sending emails that I didn’t actually write because they were dictated by my boss.

I struggle to stand up for myself with her. On the few occasions I have, she has either shouted back to me and asked me if I am “not up to the stress” of my job or been extra aggressive back and ignored me for several days.

I never know what side of her I am going to see and sometimes it’s multiple sides in one day. There are times when she’ll shout at me for something that wasn’t done exactly how she wanted it, and then she’ll bring me a cupcake after lunch. It’s exhausting.

I have gone to HR and spoken to her manager, but they have told me to file a formal grievance, which I am just not able to do. We are a team of two, and practically speaking, if I file a grievance, I will have to leave.

My commute is great. My salary is good. I am a mother and I don’t have to work late often. Everyone else at work is so nice and I get on well with them. I don’t want to be the new person anywhere again, but I am in desperate need of guidance on how to deal with her. People often call her a bully behind her back and ask me how I cope, but I am concerned I am at the stage of not coping.

My husband says I have to see out another year so that I don’t look like a job hopper. I don’t want to leave but I am nearing the point where I don’t know what else to do.

There are other jobs, and you should give yourself permission to go out and find one of them.

A great commute, reasonable hours, and nice co-workers are lovely things, but they don’t make up for being routinely shouted at by your boss. Or at least, they don’t make up for it to most people. There are some people who have thick enough skins that they can work in that kind of environment, but they are decidedly in the minority, and there’s nothing wrong with you for not tolerating it well. Most people don’t do well being yelled at day after day. It’s very, very normal that you’re having trouble coping with this, because it’s not acceptable.

Yelling is abusive. Having power over you doesn’t give your boss standing to yell at you. In fact, her power over you makes this kind of abusive treatment even worse, because she’s taking advantage of the fact that your options to push back are limited.

Making this even more troubling, your boss’s own manager and HR know about the situation and aren’t intervening. They have the power to step in and insist she stop this, and they don’t need you to jump through bureaucratic hoops (“file a formal grievance”) before they’re able to do that. That means that the best avenue you had for addressing this — alerting someone over her head about what’s going on — has been cut off, because you’ve tried and they’ve essentially thrown up their hands.

If that’s not reason enough for you to leave (and it should be!), there’s also the fact that this job is surely doing you no professional favors. Working around this kind of hostility makes most people worse at their jobs — because they become fearful, which inhibits initiative, creativity, focus, and other things that help people do well at work. It also sounds unlikely that you’re getting the kind of feedback and mentoring that would help you develop professionally, or that your boss is championing your work and helping to build your reputation. So not only are you getting yelled at on the reg, but you’re also being thwarted, or perhaps outright harmed, professionally.

Your husband is right that in general it’s smart to put in at least a few years at a job so that you don’t look like a job-hopper — but that assumes that the situation is tolerable and you aren’t being abused.
Plus, you’ve already been there a year-and-a-half, and it’s very likely that if you start job searching now, you’ll have been there closer to two years by the time you have an offer and are able to leave. That’s a reasonable amount of time to put in. (That said, I want to be clear that even if you’d only been there a few months, I’d still be telling you to leave. Having one short-term stay on your résumé isn’t a disaster; it’s a pattern of short-term stays that would be an issue. And sure, if you already have a spotty work history, that would change the calculations a bit — but not enough to stay in an abusive situation.)

So please, start actively working on leaving. This is not a situation that you can salvage, and you’re not a failure for not finding a way to make it work.

Meanwhile, for as long as you’re stuck there, keep in mind that this isn’t about you. It’s about your boss. People who know how to manage effectively don’t yell at employees, so she’s a dreadful manager — not to mention an unkind person. Don’t let her get into your head if you can help it — and definitely don’t let her stay in your head once you move on. You deserve to leave her behind for good.

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Order Alison Green’s book, Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, here. Got a question for her? Email askaboss@nymag.com. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.

‘I Hate My Boss, But I Love My Job!’