#934: “How do I keep myself together in order to leave a toxic work situation?”

Hi Captain –

I have a question about keeping yourself sane while trying to get out of a bad situation.

I’m trying to leave my job. Everyone I work with is too. I’m at a very small startup, and the main person in charge is both incredibly demanding and extremely volatile, which makes it virtually impossible to succeed. For a variety of reasons,* I can’t just quit, but I am actively looking and trying as hard as I can to get out.

The problem is that, for me at least, job searching is stressful too, and I’m much better at it when I’m in a good place mentally. Unfortunately, our head honcho makes this really difficult. It’s not just a matter of ignoring or deflecting manipulative or unkind comments; it’s that they’re in touch constantly, with all of us, making it hard to even get the time or space for reflection. They don’t have a lot of family and have devoted the last few years to making the company work, which means that they constantly want engagement and validation (even if they’re berating us), and they won’t stop trying to engage until we cave and give them the answer they’re looking for.

For example: they’ll ask, on a weekend, if a previously-undiscussed deliverable can be done by Monday. If I say it can’t, they’ll ask why we’re not working on the weekend when everyone else is working “like mad.” They’ll then keep messaging me asking what it is that they haven’t explained properly about the opportunities before me, and what they can do differently so that I understand it, and then ask if I’m receiving the messages. If I don’t answer, I’ll receive a talk on Monday asking what it is that can be done to make sure a situation like that, in which we’re unreachable, doesn’t happen in the future. (This is often followed by “I’m tired of arguing with you and want to make this work, but I don’t know what else I can do.”)

So my options boil down to either a) completely acquiesce to all requests, regardless of their merit or any other factors, or b) have a pointless, hour-long conversation that consists mostly of being reprimanded. I should also note that they also want to hang out socially with all of us a lot, and pout if we won’t, which, as you can imagine, also affects the workplace dynamic.

I will be much, much better off if I can stay in this position until I find another one or am in a better financial position to leave. In the meantime, though, I’m so stressed and busy that it’s hard for me to do anything, including look for other jobs. Do you have suggestions for scripts I can use on *myself* here in order to keep myself going? My therapist says just to remind myself constantly that I won’t be here forever and that I am leaving as soon as I can, but the more frustrated I am, the less likely that seems. And I feel like this is a situation that a lot of people get into – cutting toxic people out of your life is necessary, but it’s so complicated.


Working on Freedom (she/her)

*You can include these reasons if you want, but I left them out for brevity. I’m including them here to indicate that I really have thought about leaving, and really have decided that the best option for the moment is to stay until I get another job. Those reasons are:

– I have < 1 month of rent in my savings account, and am reluctant to borrow from my parents
– My job history has quite a few short stints, mostly due to coincidence and/or bad luck (yearlong grant programs, getting laid off, leaving a part-time job in order to take this one, and, yes, one where I was a bad fit)
– I’m in a weird specialized field where the work I’m doing is actually hugely beneficial to my ability to get a job in the future

Dear Working on Freedom,

I like a project management challenge.

Let’s trust your reasons that you need to stay in this job at least a little while longer. Let’s say that in an ideal world you’d like to leave this job for another job and not just to get away.

Step 1: In my experience, things don’t become real until you attach dates to them. Buy a cheap, fun calendar that you keep at home and designate only for job finding stuff.* Pick a date in the future and circle it. That is your quitting date, and every week you will do something to work toward leaving this job by that date. It will help with your therapist’s task of reminding yourself that this is only temporary.

Step 2: Keep going to therapy.

Step 3: It’s January 9 today. Pick a weekend in January and mentally clear your calendar. Don’t make any arduous social commitments, stock your fridge with food you like, and mentally block out the time for yourself. Write it in your special calendar: “Career Planning Weekend.”

Step 4: Consider signing up for a Google Voice or Skype other alternate phone number, or even picking up a cheap burner phone to use as your work phone. Work gets ONE way to contact you, your friends & family & others get your real number, and it’s easier for you to log out or block or turn off Work’s method when you need time to think.

Step 5: On that Friday, after you’ve left work for the day, go home, eat a food, take a shower, change into comfy clothes, and then send a version of the following email to your bosses & the rest of your team, using a friendly, upbeat tone:

Hey team, I’m going to be unplugged and out of reach this weekend, so don’t panic if you don’t hear back from me. Looking forward to digging back into [specific work problem] with y’all on Monday.

As soon as you hit “send,” log out of that email account, log out of work chat programs, slack channels, log out of all your social media stuff and messenger apps that anyone you work with (even the cool people) could *possibly* see, and turn off your cell phone and put it in a drawer. Become unreachable by any of them until Monday morning when you are back at work. 

Full Disclosure:

  • You will have very anxious feelings about this. This is because your bosses have trained you to expect constant contact & pressure from them as normal.
  • Your bosses will have a lot feelings about not being able to reach you.
  • They may deputize your cool coworkers to try to find you (which is why you have to cut EVERYONE off).
  • They will probably manufacture a situation where you are the sole person who could possibly answer a question and everyone was held up in their work “because of you.”
  • They will probably reprimand you or panic at you in some way on Monday.
  • They will use guilt (“Everyone else is working around the clock to make this happen, are you not part of the team?“)
  • You may not feel that it is “worth it” to court the consequences of their feelings on Monday – why rock the boat when it’s only temporary?
  • You may be tempted to try to give advance notice or ask permission to be off the clock over the weekend. Resist this – asking or negotiating in advance not get you what you need
  • You may check your phone over the weekend and find 100s of messages & texts built up from work. Do not answer any of them. Ever. You told them you were going to be unreachable, you are unreachable. The proper answer to “Can this be done by Monday?” on Saturday is silence because you didn’t read it until Monday.
  • When they reprimand you, don’t argue. Let them talk it out, say, “Ok!” or whatever the most noncommittal thing you can say and go back to work. The predictable reprimands are the price of freedom, so, decide you’ll pay the price when necessary and move on from worrying about it.

You didn’t say that you worked for an organ donation flight & surgical team, so, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say there are probably no actual life-or-death emergencies in what you do. 

You need space to think and to plan your next move. They will never give it to you. Your bosses are vampires who will suck you dry and tell you it’s your fault for not having more blood when you die on them. I honestly do not think they will fire you over this. This is my theory: Most reasonable people respect other reasonable people and tend to think that if we go along and work hard and do our best to accommodate others, we will get the same treatment and respect in return. Unreasonable people do not respect people who always say yes to them – the opposite is true. When I had toxic employers in management consulting who expected me to always say yes and I finally said no after much worry and anxiety on my part and much pushback on theirs, not only did they not fire me, they promoted me! It is okay to set limits with toxic and intrusive people and stick to them. In fact, setting hard limits is the only thing that those people actually understand or respect.

Bottom line: You’ve got to get some space from the constant contact from your bosses in order to hear yourself think. These people are terrible managers, full stop, and since they reprimand you already no matter what you do you might as well take care of yourself! Like case of the lawyer from a few weeks ago, if their whole business grinds to a halt because you personally are unreachable for 2 (weekend!) days, a) they have a shit business b) that they manage badly and also c) you are extremely valuable to their business and they can’t afford to fire you right now! The first time you pull away will be the hardest time. You’ve already survived all the bullshit they’ve thrown at you to date, you can survive a little more.

Step 6: Over the First But Not Last Weekend of Freedom, take out that calendar, take out a journal, and start to imagine the life you want.

Step 6A: First order of business: Schedule four sacred hours/week for Future
Career Stuff and four sacred hours/week for Fun. You can break those hours up into little daily things or big chunks of things, but you need that time. It’s not optional.

Step 6B: Working backward from your “Quit Date”, fill in that calendar with weekly tasks for yourself. I’m spitballing some tasks I think that could be relevant – you adapt this list so it fits your field and your aspirations. For starters:

  • Research job openings & companies that would be a good fit and get you closer to where you actually want to be. Keep up with what they are doing in the world, recent news items, personnel changes.
  • Update your resume & LinkedIn with recent achievements & responsibilities from your current job – make sure you’re always looking good on paper.
  • Make a list of former mentors & peers in your field who might be good sources of job leads and encouragement.
  • Schedule time to send people on this list a note or meet socially over the coming year. For example, have a monthly catchup coffee or breakfast with somebody on that list. Keep track of their professional achievements & life events and get in the habit of sending nice notes to them.
  • Research people who have the career you want 10 years from now. What steps did they take, what professional certifications do they have, what organizations do they belong to? Do they attend conferences or do speaking engagements where you live? Do they have a social media or online presence you could follow and/or start to interact?
  • Join professional organizations & MeetUp groups related to your field, go to one event each month.
  • Work on skills or continuing education related to your chosen field. How are your public speaking and presentation skills? How’s your wardrobe & professional “polish” level? Do you need to brush up on corporate communications or PR or a foreign language or government regulations? This is the kind of stuff you might be able to carve out during your workday, since your current position is in your chosen field.
  • Apply for at least one job every month. Ramp that total up as you get closer to your quit date.
  • Break everything down to the smallest possible pieces.

Step 6C: Review your self-care routines and schedule time for that, too.

  • Do you get enough sleep?
  • Do you move your body a little every day in a way that makes you feel good?
  • Do you eat food that makes you feel good?
  • Do you have your shots/Do you go to the doctor when you are sick/Have you had a physical recently?
  • What’s your morning routine like, do you have rituals that let you be in your head and in your body in a way that feel good?
  • Do you see friends & family enough?
  • Do you get to do hobbies and fun things you like? Do you get to read a book for fun sometimes, or go to the movies?
  • One way to reduce your stress is to schedule fun rewards that match up to the time you spend working on career stuff.

The fun stuff is important. You’re not an employee or a worker, you are a person. If your projected quit date is several months or even a year in the future, it’s tempting to say “I can hold off on all that good stuff – I just have to get through until I can quit this job!” but [Dear Sugar] Sweet pea, your life is happening right now. [/Dear Sugar]

Step 6D: Cross things off and give yourself gold stars as you go. Whether you can leave by your chosen quit date or not, creating a visible record of “The Year I Tried My Best To Advance In My Career And Be Happier” is motivating and potentially psychologically healing, yes?

Step 7: Plug in more intentionally, and unplug more regularly. 

The culture of your company is that people work on the weekends, so it’s easy for me to say “stop working any weekends, ever!” (even though that is my recommendation) and much harder for you to do it. I don’t expect you to singlehandedly change corporate culture or your jerk bosses’ jerk expectations in one go and I don’t want it to be a sticking point in doing the rest of the stuff..

I think a few practices can make things start to work slightly better for you:

7a. If you are expected to be in contact over the weekends, schedule that time in your calendar. Log in from 2 pm to 4 pm Saturday and then log the fuck back out. No “just one more email” and no being perpetually on-call! If there is forced/expected socializing, block that out as work, too.

7b. Get out of the habit of checking work email or phone messages when you first wake up. Do whatever you can to prolong that until later in the day.

7c. Start keeping a log of all the time that you actually work. Checking emails on the weekends is work. Being expected to have mandatory work fun with your bosses is work. Every text message or needy contact from them is work. Watching your hourly rate plummet when you divide your salary by all the time you are expected to put in will be highly motivating in your leaving.

7d. Figure out the absolute minimum of work social stuff you want to attend and commit to doing it. When you go, hang with your coworkers, do your best to have actual fun and a positive attitude. The rest of the time, have “other plans” that you do not justify or explain. “Can’t tonight, other plans! Have fun, see you tomorrow.

7e. Create a Weekend of Complete Freedom From Your Thirsty Corporate Overlords once every month. Grab it you grabbed that first January weekend: Treat it as  a normal thing to want a weekend of no work and present it as a fait accompli that you do not have to ask for or apologize for. Turn your phone & other ways of contacting you entirely off. When you come back from that weekend, be in the office early, dressed impeccably, and looking eager, rested, and ready. When the inevitable pushback comes, here are your scripts:

  • I don’t know about you, but I work better when I am mentally refreshed.” or “If I don’t unplug once in a while it really slows me down.” or “I need to get out into nature every once in a while or I can’t hear myself think.” or “Scheduling real breaks from thinking about work helps me be more focused.”  [+ subject change back to solving a work problem] Say it enthusiastically and in a friendly tone (rehearse with therapist if necessary), like you expect them to be psyched that you are so focused and renewed.

Reasoning: There is this gross FastCompany-ish capitalist gospel that literally everything you do in your life should benefit your career, so, if you enjoy running or meditation or making sock puppets or some other non-moneymaking activity, you can justify it by how it eventually improves your value to your corporation or personal brand or whatever. It’s extremely likely that your bosses buy into this, so, use it! “I read that top performers need periodic vision quests and I want to be a top performer, hence, I climbed a mountain this weekend to meditate about improving our bottom line.

  • “Had family thing!” or “Had friends I never get to see in town.” (Your cat/the characters in books/your own sweet self can count as “family” or “friends you never get to see” for their purposes btw. I do not enjoy lying,  but the socially acceptable friction-free excuse has its place, and bosses who try to crawl up your butthole every waking moment have more than earned it).
  • Forced teaming is a manipulation tool that your bosses use against you – “We’re all in this together working day and night!” Try adding “You know how it is” to use it back at them, like, “I had a family thing, you know how it is. I’m gonna jump into [WORK PROBLEM] this morning – anything I should know before I dive back in?” “Sometimes I just gotta go for a long hike and leave my phone behind, you know how it is! I thought of a solution for [WORK PROBLEM], can I run it by you?

You’ll get the most friction the first couple times. View it as an extinction burst that will recede over time, if you are consistent and boring about enforcing the boundary. Your bosses & coworkers will catch on to the fact that you aren’t on call every once in a while and that the world doesn’t end when you do.


Step 8: Go get a new job and get the hell out!


  • Two weeks’ notice when you have a signed offer in hand is probably sufficient when you quit, and you don’t have to tell them you’re searching for a new job.
  • They will try to make you feel guilty for leaving and they will probably succeed, but you’ll only feel guilty for 2 weeks and then you won’t work there anymore.
  • Job applications often have a “Can we contact your current employer?” box to check and it’s okay to say “No” or ask them to “wait until the offer stage.” A potential employer who gets super-weird about this is communicating a red flag!


Good luck getting out! This is not the only company that will ever hire you! You can do it!

Who else is in the “I Must Get A New Job This Year” club? Maybe the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com are a good place to track progress and check in and commiserate?

*Commander Logic made me do this for my wedding and she was right to.



141 thoughts on “#934: “How do I keep myself together in order to leave a toxic work situation?”

  1. I want to second the idea that there are no life or death emergencies in work unless you actually work in an industry like one the Captain mentioned.

    I was working as an admin assistant at a deck cleaning/staining company and my only in-office coworker stressed this to me very early in my time there. “There is no such thing as a deck emergency” was our mantra when things got hectic and overwhelming. It helped me when I was crying on my way home from work every day and it’s helped me in my new job to be able to step away from work stress.

    1. To add to that: if you work in a life or death industry where someone’s life and/or death depends on you being contactable 24/7, your working culture is fucked and people are going to die, and there is nothing you can do to change that. You cannot be contactable 24/7 any more than you can have three hands, and if your organisational culture is predicated on “people will die unless you grow a third hand!”, you just have to accept that people are gonna die.

      (I spent three years as a trainer and careers consultant working with doctors, many of whom lived with the responsibility for people’s lives. They all worked way more than their contracted hours and felt under pressure to do more, but fundamentally they all also knew that when they were being asked to do things that were bad for them, it was also bad for the service and very, very bad for patients. The requirements that your boss’s are making here are not reasonable even if it IS a life-or-death situation.)

      1. This. My brother-in-law is a doctor who worked on a heart transplant team. He spent alternating months on call, which meant that he had to be reachable 24 hours a day and no more than 30 minutes away from the hospital when on call. On the months he was not on call, he could be unreachable so long as he had no patients in hospital. In practice, this meant that he was on (a lower level of) call when he wasn’t officially on call because if his team did a transplant on the last day of the 30 days on call, the patient was usually still in the hospital for 2 to 3 weeks afterwards.

        He did this for over 15 years. And then he started feeling burned out. And then more burned out. And then so burned out he was surprised no one could smell the char on him. What kept him going for awhile was the knowledge that he really was saving people’s lives. One day, though, he looked around and realised he was the person with the most seniority on his cardiac transplant team because everyone who had been on the team when he started had left (some switched to other types of medical practice, some retired, some got out of medicine completely).

        He finally decided it was his time to find a less stressful area of medicine. He just couldn’t take the stress any longer. When he turned in his resignation letter (a full year before his resignation date, to give the facility the maximum chance for recruiting a replacement), the department head’s only comment was “I’m a little surprised it took you this long.”

        1. There has got to be a better way to handle this. Forcing people to burn out like that can’t possibly be the best way.

          1. There is: we hire more total people to work fewer hours per person. That is also, not coincidentally, the way to cope with increasing degrees of automation, especially as we automate intellectual labor in addition to physical labor. If we had public sector health care (or even insurance), employers wouldn’t need to offer coverage, reducing cost differences between additional hours worked by fewer people and additional employees. A basic income system would eliminate the need for unemployment insurance and Social Security (which it would replace by universalizing coverage), further equalizing labor costs and making it more feasible for waged workers to take time off. More weekly time off itself would reduce need for additional vacation time, and a larger pool of people doing a given job would make covering longer absences easier, from vacations to family and medical leave.

            We don’t do it because worker well-being is not the primary concern of capitalist firms, profit is, and squeezing the most labor out of employees is the way to do that under the system we have.

          2. The trade off between continuity of care and managable work hours is an ongoing thing in medicine…

          3. @johann7 – That is a very concise explanation of how things should be and why (unfortunately) we’re not headed in that direction. *sigh*

    2. Thirded! I used to work in publishing and – as you might imagine in an industry that involves multiple teams working in loose coordination to deliver on interlocking deadlines in order to turn out a finished product that could make or break someone’s career – sometimes the stakes really did feel like life-or-death. In those moments when one or more of us were on the verge of a nervous breakdown, we’d turn to each other and say, “It’s just books. No one is going to die. It’s just books.”

      I mean, it’s sort of sad that things would get to that stage with such alarming regularity, but at least our mantra helped to keep things in perspective!

      1. Reminds me of a friend who switched from high-stress veterinary to call center work—for her, it’s relatively easy to keep the stressful call center stuff in perspective because Nothing Is Going To Die. Her new coworkers find her remarkably calm.

        1. Yes, one of my coworkers used to be an EMT and I think he deals with the stress of our workplace much better than most of us, because he knows what it’s REALLY like to have your job be life-or-death. I think about him a lot and remind myself that no one is going to die if a press release doesn’t go out on time.

          1. Yeah… I had a director who used to be an army medic in the middle east.

            Multi-million problem before lunch? No stress. In his words “I’m not being shot at, no one is bleeding out, and we’ll all live to see morning. So.” *shrugs*

      2. Jedi fist bump of publishing solidarity!

        My boss has a habit of wandering the building saying that if we don’t make deadlines, she’s probably going to have to let some people go. I think she believes that she’s motivating us, and she is, but not in the way she thinks: it’s motivating a lot of us to think about GTFO. The worst part is how it’s never your own job that hinges on your work; it’s always “I may have to let some other people go if we don’t hit these dates.”

        The scariest thing is how this is NOT the most toxic part of this office.

      3. My therapist once told me about when he was contracted to go help a work team out at a large brewery plant near the town. This group was all constantly stressed to the point where it was interfering with work (bad management, toxic work environment, that kind of issue causing it), and he told me every single one of them in the individual sessions he had with them would say at least once “I don’t know why I’m so stressed! I’m only making beer!”

        So that became a code, something he’d say when I was focusing too intently on work stress. I’m a junior-level employee on my team, the only one who’s hourly, etc. – so my therapist would remind me, “You’re only making beer, remember? If they want more than that, they can promote you and pay you to do more than that, but for now, you’re only making beer. It’s not that critical.”

    3. When we’re out of the office, we leave an “urgent situation” alternative number, because, as my snarky co-worker says, “If you have an emergency, call 911.”

      1. Ha ha, I had a similar realization when I switched from a receptionist job in a field where there could be emergencies (property management, so things like flooding, icy sidewalks, etc had to be handled ASAP) to a job without emergencies. I also chose “urgent”.

    4. Yes! One of the greatest bosses had would tell me whenever I got stressed, “No one dies in accounting.”

    5. I love that! I work at a library, and I knew I was in the right place when my supervisor told me, “Hardly anyone ever dies because of something we do at the library.” A little perspective is nice, especially when compared to companies I’d worked at before that lacked any.

  2. Great timing. I also need a new job. Luckily its only because my job is really boring

    Specific to this LW’s situation is to be prepared to use these scripts on co-workers as well. In my experience of a toxic work place, the team developed resentment towards other team members who showed boundaries.

    Sick (infectious) people who showed up to work resented the people who stayed home
    People who worked more hours (60+) resented those who insisted on working less (40+)
    People who had only known toxic dynamics resented those who hadn’t for not being “tough enough”

    The dynamics of victim blaming holds strong in all toxic relationships, even “professional” ones

    1. Yes!

      Keep track of who is cool and who is not cool when you do take a second to unplug. The cool people are your allies, and you can provide coverage for each other and help each other make the workplace less toxic. The not cool people go on your Untrustworthy! list, where, you can be “work nice” to them but never tell them a single thing about your real life or thoughts.

    2. In reference to coming in sick: a while ago my department was in a crisis mode, and my supervisor was working while sick. They kept complaining and staring off. Finally I said “don’t come in tomorrow: you’re useless to me sick!”
      It worked. They took the day off, and returned well.
      The moral is: martyrdom is counterproductive.

      1. Sometimes, it’s nice to work for a germophobe. Our employee handbook goes a bit overboard on the subject of NOT coming in when you’re sick or maybe sick or thinking about perhaps being sick.

      2. Is your supervisor a man or a woman? Why don’t you use the correct pronoun and say “He kept complaining” and “He called in sick? It’s incorrect grammar to refer to a single person as “they.”

        1. Dear Mary:

          1) The singular “they” is grammatically correct and in fact has a long tradition in English. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/grammar/using-they-and-them-in-the-singular

          2) We have readers from all over the world. “Correcting” or otherwise commenting on grammar or spelling of another poster or a Letter Writer is against the Site Policies. https://captainawkward.com/site-policies-and-faqs/

          No need to reply to this (the point is not actually up for argument) just keep it in mind if you want to keep commenting here. Thank you!

    3. Yes, I think this is so true.

      In my experience of emotionally dysfunctional environments (jobs, families, social groups), group members sometimes cope by subconsciously or consciously forming the belief that the dysfunctional is either unavoidable or is acceptable, i.e. ‘it’s not that bad’.

      A group member who won’t tolerate the dysfunctional behaviours or takes steps to protect themselves from the behaviour, it highlights that the dysfunction isn’t acceptable and doesn’t need to be tolerated. You would think that the other victims would be delighted and would band together to change the overall dynamic, but in reality what often happens is that they preserve the status quo by displaying resentment and hostility toward the person who asserts their boundaries.

      It’s strange, and more than a little sad.

      1. What you describe in your second paragraph was pretty much what happened to me at Toxic Job last year.

        Looking back on it, so many things at Toxic Job were just so beyond belief that I still have trouble wrapping my head around it. Even trying to rationalise it to myself now I can’t believe that people could lack such self awareness. Like, they didn’t see how their weekly meeting time or their treating staff like drudges or how their lack of communication or their stranglehold on control was the problem. They made my on the spot resignation (a few days after I handed in my notice) about my inability to cope without seeing even slightly how their attitudes contributed to the situation.

      2. “A group member who won’t tolerate the dysfunctional behaviours or takes steps to protect themselves from the behaviour, it highlights that the dysfunction isn’t acceptable and doesn’t need to be tolerated.” I think that we collectively gaslight ourselves in part as protection: because there is the subconscious fear that things CAN’T/WON’T change, and if you are fully aware of it all the time and how Actually Terrible it is, you won’t ever be able to feel okay but you will ALWAYS be unhappy (similar to the James Baldwin quote “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”). So we often work to convince ourselves that it’s okay to [terrible thing here] because otherwise, tears and rage nonstop. :/

      3. This is exactly why one of the things I prize about one of the guys who works for me is that he goes home promptly, and he provides pressure about whether we’re done, can he leave, can we all leave, etc. It’s a useful counterpressure. I’ve actually mentioned it to him in his review.

      4. some of it is probably a rationalization; if this situation is actually optional in some way then why have I been allowing it to continue? clearly it’s not optional, this person must be wrong or bad in some way

      5. Throw in that sometimes, you can’t change it immediately, and complaining or mentally fighting against it is really painful.

        That happens to me at my job sometimes (which runs incredibly late but isn’t toxic at all–just bad deadline management by the top person)–dwelling on or complaining about the parts that truly won’t change (in the job) just makes everything MORE stressful. Working WITH the dysfunction makes it tolerable.

        So a very valid coping mechanism can go too far.

    4. Tip: if you really have to throw a sickie, say you have Norovirus. It’s crazy infectious, horribly messy, and NOBODY who’s ever had it will want to be within fifty feet of you. It’ll give you about three days of pariah-hood.

  3. Love your advice Captain. Also, if you’re looking for a new job, have general work questions, etc – check out AskAManager.org. You can do it!

    1. Askamanager.org is amazing, and they have lots of posts about questions similar to yours. There’s also a book about applying for jobs!

  4. LW I sympathise so hard. I enjoyed my job for a few years but a new manager showed me that I’m 100% done here. It’s been very tough dealing with a style of authority and management that I’m completely uncomfortable with BUT after a lot of crying in the morning before work, ranty phone calls to my parents and friends telling me that I’m not my usual self, I did some souls searching and have realised that my heart lies somewhere completely different. I still work with crappy manager, but the knowledge that I’m taking steps to secure my escape and could be out in eight weeks makes the smiling and nodding and ignoring the internal screaming SO much easier to bear. The knowledge that you’re working your way out is like a powerful little secret you can hold behind your back like a talisman when your bosses are being the worst, and helps you endure anything they can throw at you, because soon you’ll be gone and doing something that makes you happy. All the luck in the world LW ☺️

  5. Hoo boy, I am totally in this club.

    I am/was part of a 3-person team in Huge Multinational Company and the job went from being “late nights 1-2 days a quarter” to “pointed looks and poor reviews if I leave on time and don’t log on every weekend”. I say “am/was” because three years ago, (a) my boss being over-promoted and changing from a genuine friend to Satan’s Sister, and (b) Mum dying of cancer tipped me into a full-on breakdown & suicide attempt, and I’m still on long-term sick leave (in the UK, I’m still under a contract of employment & – luckily – have income protection insurance so I can afford to eat, feed the cats & go to weekly therapy).

    I’m almost well enough to consider going back to work. But not That Job. Thing is, I have a 3-month notice period, and anything I’ll be capable of at first will pay waaaaay less than That Job (the insurance stops as soon as I leave That Company. They tried *very very hard* to get rid of me for the first 6 months, but failed because hey, you can’t (yet) sack someone for being ill).

    I am absolutely not part of a life or death team. I’m a chartered accountant; specifically international corporate tax. (No, it really doesn’t help that doing my job well means that the half dozen billionaires who financed the buyout of the company a few years ago end up a whole lot richer, while the company pays a whole lot less tax into the Treasury budget. My ethics: they are not aligned terribly well with corporate greed.)

    Not sure where I was going with this, other than to express solidarity and empathy. *Fistbump*

    1. I am so sorry for your loss jla1974. We’re in the same boat with the other things you describe. I’m constantly on my doctor to release me to return to work, which he hasn’t agreed to as my insurance instantly ends, so I need to be employed. Yet I can’t be employed while insured… Dunno. But I am glad he’s looking out for me. If he had let me go back any time I’ve asked him, it would have been too soon, and I’d be fired and homeless. So I hope you have someone who can be objective regarding your strength as it returns. Jedi hugs if you want them!

  6. Brilliant advice.

    I agree that unplugging from the toxic expectations of the workplace are very difficult while you are still there. But that is the main challenge.

    The lists and deadlines and the calendar are a great idea. And taking time to think and rediscover your real goals is a great idea too.

    I love that idea from another commenter: There are no deck emergencies. Hilarious. I’m keeping that one.

  7. Everything here is GOLDEN. CA, you are a project-management genius.

    And LW, in case you’re reading this, feel free to get in touch if I can offer any help with your application materials (contact info in my WordPress profile). Your current job sounds brutal and I wish you all the luck in the world for a speedy escape.

  8. Just one more little piece of advice, LW: while you do the other things, save as much money as possible! It’s ok if it’s not a lot. But the more money you have saved the more freedom you have.

    1. I agree. Save as much as you can, so you can feel a little more safe in quitting, even if you aren’t able to secure a new job before leaving this one.

      I quit my job in august because it was breaking me down both physically and mentally. It was a cleaning job, where I had to be on call all the time but sometimes didn’t get any work for whole weeks, but when I did work there were no lunch breaks and hardly enough time to get between the houses I was cleaning. So I was constantly stressed and there wasn’t much money at all and I never knew exactly how much I’d get. Anyway, when my hands were cramping up extra badly and my back was aching, I finally had enough and decided I would have to quit. So what I did was make a budget for all the absolutely necessary expenses. Rent, subway card and the least expensive food I could possibly make(lots and lots of lentils and potato), and a little bit for unforeseen expenses. Then I started putting anything I made outside of that budget into a savings account, and when I had enough to get by for three months I gave the company a months notice and finally got out of there.
      Fortunately I got two part time jobs sort of related to my field and an unpaid internship in my dream job pretty much right away so I didn’t need to use the money I’d saved and quitting was probably the best choice I ever made. But if I hadn’t saved that money I don’t think I would have been able to quit that first job and I’m scared to think what would have happened if I had stayed.

  9. Do you know other people in the industry at different companies, who are familiar with your work? Can you let them know, discreetly, that you are looking for a new position? You will have people asking around for you if this is the case. Many more people get jobs this way than from applying to ads on job sites.

    1. Absolutely this. Also you will be surprised where the opportunities come from… But word of mouth is important.

  10. Unreasonable people do not respect people who always say yes to them – the opposite is true.

    This is very important! I spent ~10 years as a public librarian, which is one of those jobs where the number of Unreasonable People you have to deal with absolutely with destroy you if you let it, and I had so much angst around not being able to acquiesce to every single unreasonable request. So for a long time the ONLY time I was able to set boundaries or push back on that unreasonableness was when I lost my temper, which is Not Optimal, but 8 times out of 10, it changed our relationship for the better when I made it clear that I wasn’t going to keep trying and trying to make myself a better doormat.

  11. Me. I need a new job pronto because I physically cannot make enough money at my current one. (Cap on hours + cap on hourly wage = monthly $200 shortfall!) Not only that, my job was literally killing me last semester because we didn’t have enough staff and I’m a bleeding heart. I enforce a “no working Sundays” rule, and I’m trying to not even enter the store if I’m not working or buying something.

    Anyway. Calendar idea is brilliant, and I second the “turn off your $@!&? phone” idea. I’ve been leaving my phone in my apartment and just not checking it or having to listen to it beep at me sometimes and boy is it freeing. And setting good limits on work-social time is necessary. I have a clingy co-worker I’m trying to disengage from somewhat, and “Sure you can come visit; please have some dinner with us / Thank you so much for coming; it was so nice to hang out. Partner is Skyping a friend in 20 and I have to start some laundry. Can I walk you home?” is how I’m handling it right now. I suggest going to events, hanging for 30-45 minutes, and then excusing yourself for similar reasons and wishing everyone a good night, if you absolutely have to participate in work-social events. “It was nice to catch up! Now I have [ADULTING THING] to attend to tonight. Have fun everyone, tell me tomorrow if anything crazy happens!”

    1. Agree with most of what you’re saying, but I don’t think LW necessarily has to offer excuses for cutting out of the party early. As Cap says, reasons are for reasonable people. Just a quick, “Sorry to leave so early, but I have to get going! See you at work tomorrow/Monday/fucking NEVER!” (That last one is something to strive for, LW…)

      The phone thing is trickier because the job clearly expects immediate contact. LW, another possibility is “Oh, jeepers, I was so fried Friday I forgot to plug it in and I didn’t notice it was dead until this morning; I just figured it was a quiet weekend.” If you have a portable battery pack, leave the phone plugged into it on your desk to sell this one.

      1. The issue with the dead phone idea is that it will only work once, maybe twice if you space it out over a long time. More than that and you either look flaky or like a liar.

  12. I feel for you, LW, as my best friend is in this industry and is a veteran of the long hours wars. She’s a contractor and her solace is that she gets paid for every single minute and also can leave the contract if she wants without it affecting her career. Without those things, you are so right to want to get out because it just eats up your life. Our plan for a weekend away last year, for example, was completely scuppered because she was called in at the last moment on most weekends, often to work all day and overnight, and rare free weekends had no guarantee they would stay that way. Although I love the idea of the Captain’s advice, for my friend sadly those excellent things would not work because the culture of expectation is too strong to push back against without more hassle than the original problem causes. (Large critical government project rather than start-up culture, but the expectation is the same,) If that’s you too, my advice for handling it while you have to is to take time for your job search, whether thinking about it or working on it, every single day. Your therapist’s reminder that the situation is finite is true, but breaking that eventual goal into much smaller, manageable chunks and moving forward on them is a daily reminder, progress bar and lifeline. I know you’re flat out and your day is jammed, but even ten minutes in a day towards getting out will not only help you progress towards that goal but also give you more of a sense of control over your life. Best of luck.

  13. I was a Team Lead over some specialists, and we were readying a product for market. It had media buys and shelf space already assigned in stores, and we had not cleared a working prototype through QA, who we also had to train first. We all knew the beginning stages were going to suck, but we wanted to be the experts and bask in our success. However, I kept saying yes to the company VP. Before long, we were working six days a week and a 10-hr day was like a half day. It was exacting work and we were exhausted. One of my guys says to me, “You don’t ask us to do anything that you wouldn’t do yourself.” And then he said, “And that’s why you suck.”
    I was fired from that job for standing up to the VP in a board room meeting. He’d just called my guys assholes and I jumped up, yelling. I’d of gotten away with it, except I didn’t sit down after I’d won. I was enjoying myself too much, everyone saw it and it was that, that I was punished for. I left my team without someone who’d defend them. I should have pushed to hire a second shift instead.
    Still, I was so hooked on my work identity that for years, I was proud of what my team guy had said to me, until I finally collapsed in another job. Recovery has taken years from my life and permanently disabled me physically, as in card-carrying… I do not recommend any part of my path. Not recognizing my or my team’s physical limitations was me being bad at being human.

    1. “You don’t ask us to do anything that you wouldn’t do yourself.” And then he said, “And that’s why you suck.””

      This was pretty powerful. I’m not sure if he meant it the way I heard it, though, since you were proud of it.

      But I’ve learned something about this, recently. I’ve always been the boss who won’t ask more of my team than I’d do myself (had a similar comment: “you were right there with us” when I was “the boss” on a college publication).

      However, as an adult, I’ve realized (though comments and pushback from someone I supervise) that I’m a little too quick to sign up or volunteer MY TEAM for things that shouldn’t quite be our duty, or our heavy load. Not bad, fortunately–and I’ve also always tried to shield my team, and not ask more of them than of myself (which meant the impact on them was lesser). But sometimes even asking them to do 1/2 of what I’m doing is 100% too much.

      It’s important to learn where the boundaries ought to be.

      1. Oh, it was meant as a Truth Bomb. Shows how misguided I was. I think now, it’s one of the best things that’s been said to me. I get to be a better boss now, as I start my own company and the stakes are personally higher. I’m v grateful to him to set me straight.

  14. Re: borrowing from parents- here’s something to consider. As far as I know, this only works at a credit union, b/c of low fees. Parents loan you 1k, which you deposit at the CU. You use that money as collateral to get a loan of 1k.* Your original borrowed 1k is transferred by the bank into an inaccessible escrow account.
    Every month, you pay on the loan. This makes the matching balance in the escrow account become available. Once the loan’s repaid, you have the borrowed 1k back.
    It cost me about fifty bucks in fees last time I did this, is far cheaper than a credit card, and raised my credit score.

    * You don’t have to spend all of this-put it in an interest-bearing savings account.

  15. Thank you for this brilliant project management template, Captain! Going to 100% be using this to sort out my career this year.

    Step 6A really hammered home for me the importance of scheduling the time to do the things that will lead to place I want to be. I (and probably a lot of people?) tend to skip this crucial first step. I’m good at boiling grand plans down into smaller goals and breaking those down in manageable steps, but I don’t portion out the time I’m going to spend on those steps (or if I do, it’s an afterthought and completely unrealistic). So then even the manageable steps start to slip away from me and the shame spiral starts and I feel like a useless failure and the goal seems further away than ever.

    Time is our most precious resource. It makes sense that portioning it out in realistic chunks should be the first step of any project. It seems obvious when I type it out, but I don’t think I understood it at a gut-level until I read this post. Thank you again for the insight!

  16. I was in a similar situation at the end of 2015. I was desperately trying to find a new job whilst desperately trying to do the work of four people and not lot the customers down. It got to the point where I woke up and couldn’t stop crying. That’s when I went to the doctor and got help taking care of my mental health.

    What helped for me was that I stopped caring so much. I did the best I could within my paid hours and that was it. It was hard to feel like I was failing my job but the truth was that I was doing more than my job. It was the company that was failing me. I couldn’t see it at the time but I see it now. Caring less didn’t solve everything but it helped me survive until I finally found a new job.

    If I were you then I would take the hour-long pointless reprimands (provided they are within working hours). If they want to waste your paid hours with lectures then that’s their problem. Let them do it (it’s hard, I know. I was verbally reprimanded in front of everyone and it hurt so bad). Reject their social invitations and let them pout. They are not your puppy, their neediness is not your concern. Try to stop feeling guilt because your colleagues are working hard out of hours. That is their choice, not yours. Do the work that you signed up for to the best of your abilities and try to disconnect from their tanties.

    Take care of yourself.

    1. Praise in public; correct in private” Isn’t it a great time-saver when bosses show everyone how they’re counter-productive and put the company at risks for lawsuits?

  17. One thing to add based on my own experience with these sorts of people: the first time you do the no-contact weekend, you may want to do it somewhere other than your house, because your bosses might show up at your door. Like stay with a friend/family member or check into a hotel under an assumed name, because your bosses might call around places to try and find you. Depending on how long you have to stay at this job, if your no-contact weekends end up having to be away from your house because they show up there looking for you, also watch out for them trying to follow you to figure out where you go. Paranoid? Yes. But I’ve dealt with someone like this who both literally tried to have someone break down my door because I wasn’t in contact with them and also attempted to follow me places so that they knew where I was at all times and could always track me down. I hope you can escape this kon ASAP, LW. Good luck.

      1. I once started work for an organisation with the intention of moving house to be closer to the office – then reconsidered those plans when two of the organisation’s directors got into the habit of ringing me at inappropriate times. Because, like H. Regalis, I think people who will ring at inappropriate times will also turn up uninvited at inappropriate times unless you live far enough away from them for that to be a pain in the backside. Seconding or thirding the suggestion to be Not There during your first no-contact weekend.

    1. Holy shit. Your boss’s behaviour is scary and totally fucked up, I’m glad you’re out of there!

  18. LW, you may find it useful, when challenged as to how dare you be offline, to describe your weekend by saying you were on a retreat. Calling it a meditation retreat or silent retreat would not be untruthful, considering the personal focus of the time. It is no one’s business where you went on your retreat, who you went with, what you did, or anything else: a smiling, “It’s personal and private and I prefer not to talk about that. I see that someone checked in changes to my code over the weekend” redirecting may work.

    The kind of bosses you have are all about the no boundaries. Having a private life one doesn’t discuss at work can be very helpful, though it’s not fashionable these days.

    1. Seconded! When I was struggling to enforce boundaries at a toxic job, I coped with the stress by taking up camping and hiking. Those activities gave me a pretty ironclad excuse for being offline during the weekends, since I was usually in spots without cell reception. Eventually, I sort of trained my coworkers to lay off the repeated calls/texts/emails—if they couldn’t reach me the first time, they assumed I was off the grid somewhere. It might be a useful excuse here too—and nobody has to know that you’re actually “camping” out on your couch.

  19. Superb advice, Captain! It’s going to come in handy for me come May 🙂
    LW, I’m sending you strenght and patience and I hope that you don’t have to endure much more of this. I agree that it really helps to have an end in sight, even if that end is a date on a cute calendar 6 months from now.
    And if that date arrives and you still haven’t found another offer? Consider quitting anyway and dedicating all your unharassed energies to the job search. You’ll feel so much better when you are out of there!

  20. It might be worth checking in with Ask A Manager (http://www.askamanager.org/ – really good folk, there), but your job history may not be the negative you might think it is. Most competent HR folk will see a clearly-noted grant position and assume the grant expired. Likewise, most HR will see a short-stay PT job that you left for a job in your field as positive career motion.

    1. I agree. My work history has a series of short terms on it. I put (term) next to those entries on my resume, and I don’t feel that it’s had any negative impact on my career or ability to get jobs. Granted, I work in a field where funding means that most positions are term positions, even if they get renewed with each funding cycle. But I think it helps to indicate that I stayed at a job for 9 months because the job lasted 9 months, and not because I was let go or bailed early on a permanent position.

  21. I’d like to offer a little extra bit of advice based on my experiences after escaping from what I like to call my Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Job a few years ago: just keep reminding yourself that the way your bosses treat you is not normal!

    I was so conditioned by THNGVB Boss to expect at least an hour-long reprimand for any perceived mistake that, when I finally started at Pretty Good Job, any time something went at all less smoothly than planned, I’d spend unproductive hours dreading the moment when the angry e-mails would come pouring in, or the yelling would start. I finally realized, when the anger never materialized, that my expectations were based on the job I’d already quit, not the one I had at the time. Saved a lot of stress and fretting and made me more productive!

    1. Reasonable bosses know that stuff doesn’t always go smoothly and are way more interested in how you’re working to fix setbacks than in complaining that they happened in the first place. If everything was puppies and rainbows all the time, they wouldn’t call it “work.”

      That’s pretty much my benchmark for a good boss: if I bring my boss a problem, I expect her to focus more on “how do we solve this?” than “how did this happen?” Look forward, not back. Now, if I have a recurrent problem, THAT is something to address, but for one-off issues? Let’s fix it and more on.

  22. As someone who learned the hard way to get paranoid,
    –DOCUMENT. Save those emails, texts, etc. Anything that will give you proof in writing that your boss is acting unreasonably. You may not ever need to bring it out, but it’s good to have just in case it ever comes down to your word against theirs.
    –Find a couple good people outside of work that you trust with good heads on their shoulders who can help give you an outside frame of reference. If you’ve been listening to the same stuff for however long, sometimes it gets hard to recognize which way is up, even if you’re the most sensible person in the world.
    –In relation to the first point: take a really good look at the messages you’ve been getting and the talks you’ve been on the receiving end of. Do they line up? Are they saying one thing in person and another thing in print? Do you get the sense that maybe they’ve got an end game in mind?
    –If your parents are decent people and you end up taking help from them? It’s not fun, but it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes you just get put in a corner where you need to walk away, and if you end up needing help to do that, it’s okay. And sometime in the future you’ll be there for them, too. (Again, assuming decent people that you want in your life, here. If that’s not the case, that’s not the case.)

  23. Before I read the comments, I just want to tell LW not to worry about short stints on your resume, because all their short jobs sound like they were MEANT to be so (part time jobs and contracts with clear end dates). That is not job hopping and no reasonable employer will hold that sort of job history against you, especially early career, which it sounds like LW is.

    1. As long as you indicate it clearly! If you just have 6-7 positions on your resume, it looks like job hopping. If you have listed Position 1: May 2011-April 2012 (contract), followed by April 2012-August 2012 (contract), then no reasonable person sees that as job-hopping. Presentation of facts becomes REALLY important here.

  24. My husband left a job recently that he’d worked at for several years. He got along really with his supervisors, some of whom suggested he go into management. When he had a new job with a start date lined up he gave two weeks notice, which he was in no way required to do but wanted to make things easy on everyone.

    They told him they considered that a resignation effective immediately, and he was no longer employed. Which meant our household was out 2 weeks worth of pay. I encouraged him to file for unemployment but he demurred (which I found, and still find, very frustrating.) He was entitled to it.

    This is technically illegal, at least in our state. If you’re going to put in 2 weeks or however much notice, consider first investigating what your legal rights are. I may be overly paranoid but I do wonder if your boss/supervisor will react the same way when they find out you’re leaving, so it’s good to get all your legal ducks in a row. If your vacation time/PTO rolls over, if you have any left, consider banking that as well as much as you can.

    Good luck and I hope you find a better job!

    When I was in a toxic job situation I just cried a lot, had constant anxiety dreams, and ultimately got fired. I can guarantee you’ll handle this better than I did.

    1. I have to wonder what the point of that even is. Two weeks is not a very long time in the scheme of things, but when it comes to transitioning someone out of their job, every little bit helps. Instead they’ve now got no one to do your husband’s work, AND word gets around that people are going to quit on the day of. Is it just pettiness?

  25. This isn’t really advice – I just have an idea that LW works in the field that I hope to when I graduate. Weirdly specialised, start-ups, a culture where you’re expected to be working all the time, and everything was due yesterday, like everyone is still a grad student? People around who are either gunning hard or didn’t make the cut into medical school? DINGDINGDINGDINGDING

    I have a supervisor who needs a personality transplant. He expects I answer emails in minutes, gets irrationally angry if I mess up Word documents, not to mention very small, fairly irrelevant form-related things in the actual job… This is why I’m looking for the more “normal” path for someone with my qualifications.

  26. I’m so very sorry about your situation, LW. My very first advice is to take care of yourself first! Somehow, you should make time to destress frequently and just be without all this hanging over you. The captain’s idea for a weekend is great – I’d add to make sure as much as possible to do some sort of relax, only for you activity when you get home from work, or before you go to bed. I had two very good friends working in a situation very similar, with the overbearing, unreasonably demanding bosses who are always in ridiculous amounts of contact, including through the weekend and through the entirety of the night – I don’t think this boss ever sleeps. He was also extremely unethical, to boot. One of them ended up in the ER for bleeding stomach ulcers, and a nasty celiac flare that just wouldn’t calm down. The other developed severe insomnia and stopped getting her period until several months after leaving. Make time for yourself, and be especially kind to yourself, and particularly vigilant at caring for yourself. I don’t mention this to scare you – I mention it to reinforce that you are not at unreasonable at setting strong boundaries around your ‘you’ time, no matter the amount of haranguing and guiltiing your boss throws at you (which sounds very much like you know this, but sometimes when trying to follow through on stuff like this it helps to have the validation of an army behind you to give you some more resolve). ❤ You can do this, you will make it through this, you are worth far more than the terrible treatment your boss is giving you.

  27. I need a new job. I am so stressed. The work environment is toxic, and my boss (while smart and dedicated) tends to make things worse by overpromising and always (seriously, I’m not sure if I can stand hearing him say it even one more time) saying “I don’t want to create more work for our team, but we could [insert some suggestion that may be easy but may also be very hard]” in meetings with other departments.
    I kind of rolled into this job thanks to my job, and I am just too young and inexperienced and fragile for it. I want a less stressful job. I appreciate the money, I sort of appreciate that I’ve been given this opportunity to grow, but it’s in a direction I don’t want to grow in (“corporate bullshitting”). I just want a job that doesn’t have me working late and crying so much.

    But I’m pregnant so I really want to stick it out until maternity leave. I am not going to walk away from 6 weeks of pay for no work. 3 more months. And then I’ll be applying for jobs while snuggling a newborn.

      1. Bubbles that sounds very stressful! I hope you have a great support team behind you! Hang on in there and absolutely follow your gut, it is talking a lot of sense (omg maybe it’s the baby talking to you omg)

        1. Thanks! I wanted to stick with this job longer to build more job history but it’s not worth it.

    1. The good news is that maternity leave is a GREAT time to make a clean break. “Sorry, I realized that I really need to focus more on my new family right now, so [TWO WEEKS HENCE] will be my last day. Thanks for everything you’ve taught me [like not to work for unreasonable demanding people ever again]!”

      “Focus on my family” can absolutely include “get a new job that lets me be a sane, healthy mom,” of course.

      1. Check benefits, etc., before you do this. In some places, if you quit instead of coming back from maternity leave, you have to reimburse them all your insurance premiums, etc.

        Of course, any remote coincidence of dates is a good story for the next boss, when that ask.

  28. Just wanted to add that it may be helpful to sit do and figure out some of the issues and ways to get around then creatively. Can’t take weekends off? In some fields (retail) those are busier and harder to unplug. So make your weekend be Tuesday and Wednesday. Worried about future career path? Find out ways to volunteer/get more education/whatever if you have to take an unrelated job for awhile just to pay bills. Not enough money saved for a period of no income? Get a roommate or two and then have a few months where you take all money saved from bills and sock it away to give you a cushion so you DO have the option of not working for a month or two.

    Now, it’s possible that none of my suggestions may work for you, which is totally fine. But my idea is that if you can make a list of specific issues to be resolved so you can quit and look at each issue in turn to come up so you can think of ways to solve it, you may come up with ideas that help you figure out some of the bigger issues so quitting will be easier.

  29. This post = Great. I am taking all of this advice and applying to me myself my life my terrible-at-management-employers. Especially the funky calendar bit of advice: I LOVE STATIONARY! April 15 will be the day I quit, so I have much work to do oh friend ones.

  30. Yes! All of the Captain’s advice!
    I’d also like to suggest another part of the Getting Out project if I can:
    Start budgeting an amount you can afford (no matter how small) from each pay check towards a Fuck Off Fund. I think that it could be psychologically helpful to know you’re also working towards having more than a month’s rent in your savings so that if the situation just became completely unbearable, you would be able to quit if you wanted to. Definitely don’t cut out money for fun things and self care rituals though!

    I was in a similar situation last year. I felt utterly miserable in a job I hated, and had very little energy left over from that draining job to search for a new one. At the time I actually did have enough of a Fuck Off Fund saved that I *could* have just quit, but I didn’t for a variety of societal pressure and guilt reasons. I worried that a gap on my resume would look bad, and parents convinced me that if I quit I would just laze around the house and not actually do more work on job hunting, and made me feel guilty about using the money.

    I really kind of wish I had left earlier though. I jumped into a short term contract job out of desperation to leave, which has luckily turned into a permanent role in the end, but I think I would have had more mental space to do a proper job hunt for a great job if I had quit.

    1. Yes, this is what I wanted to say. Without stressing yourself out further, can you find a bit of extra money to save? Given the circumstances this is the time to say, not throw extra money at debt or at your 401K or whatever (if you have those things, of course). If saving money when it could be doing other things bugs you, maybe thinking of it as a short term emergency situation will help?

      And then, even if you get another job before you quit this one, you can afford to take a week off between them and really relax for a while. I did this last job and I highly recommend it!

  31. Do you intend to use someone at your current employer as a reference, and if so, do you know who that person or those people are?

    The reason that I ask is that, if your referee is NOT your toxic head honcho, what really matters for your future is not what the honcho thinks of you but rather what the referee thinks of you. If your referee has a more reasonable approach to boundaries and work life balance, it might be easier to assert boundaries with the honcho in the knowledge that ultimately their crazy thinking won’t affect your reference.

    You could carve out a bit more regular space for yourself that way – a weekend day every two weeks where you don’t respond to them, or where you say ‘nope, sorry, I have out of town visitors!’ or ‘nope, sorry, visiting a sick friend!’ when they ask you to work.

    Of course, exercise your judgement: don’t get fired, or if your honcho is the kind to trash talk you to potential employers, be careful.

    Some people will think this is unethical, but I’d be tempted to take some sick leave so that I had a day or two at home to work on applications for positions I was really keen on. Yeah, it’s a little dishonest, but frankly this person and their expectations are so messed up that I think it’s a reasonable thing to do.

    1. I wish we had a culture where it was health leave rather than sick leave, because then a “mental health day” would be a totally normal thing at which no one would bat an eye. (Except the people who don’t value mental health, but they’re wrong and fuck them.)

      Casting this at least in your own mind as “taking a mental health day that I will also use for job search” seems completely reasonable to me.

  32. I really feel for the LW; I think many of us have been in similar situations. I think the first step in achieving any life goal is to imagine what it would be like if … Really picture it in your mind and think how it would feel. Once you connect with that good feeling you can use it to help you to take the first steps.

    My garden fence fell down a couple of years ago, and I knew I couldn’t mend it and had no money to pay anyone else. I tried asking around, but there was nobody on Team Me who would do more than make sympathetic noises, walk around the fallen fence, tell me they were too old to help put fence panels up and then disappear forever and never mention it again. I have PTSD & DID and was distressed because I felt very unsafe. Months later I was sitting in my house looking at the fence and I imagined it mended again. Then bit by bit I could see how I could do it; take away the old panels, fit smaller ones, move the fence posts; all of it. I went through it again; yes, I could do all of that. Very slowly, but I could do it.

    I went the next day to order the panels (credit card; worth it!!), got them delivered and made a start. I fitted one panel the first week, then two the second. Then I needed a sledgehammer because of some concrete in the ground, but I wasn’t going to stop; I borrowed a sledgehammer from my dad’s shed and spent a whole day making just enough space for a new fence post. Sorry; too much detail, I know, but that fence is now standing at the end of my garden, and I DID IT!!! I didn’t need anyone else, I just needed to see it and make a small start; that small start helped me do the next bit, and the next. The old fence got broken up into bits and put into my general rubbish collection. It took 6 months to disappear.

    Many years ago I worked in a high tech PR company, where I was one of the lowest paid, highest feeing and therefore most profitable members of staff. I had my own office and my own car, and all was well, until another person started there, and I was told to move out of my office and into the open plan area, so that she could have it. I accepted with good grace (because there was no choice); ‘Of course; no problem. Fine.’ sent an application for another job paying very much more. I handed in my notice the week after helping to win a new £250K client; very satisfying, that. Very. When I left the MD said, ‘You should have talked to me about this, C!’ Nothing to talk about; I was gone.

    Eventually working in PR became too much, so I switched to being Editor at a training company. Then life fell apart and I have not been able to work for many years, but I have always painted, and given away far too many pictures. And now here I am.

    I have set a goal for this year; I plan to have at least one exhibition by aiming for three; some might happen next year instead of this. I went self employed over a year but first my dad was dying, then he died. Now my mum is in the same place. I don’t have much energy, so by the time I have been to see her and made sure she is still alive & has all that she needs that is me pretty much done for the day. If I take a day off it is to recover, rather than to focus on me, because I am still very depleted from last year. But just yesterday I ordered more canvasses; that is the first stop to knowing that I can do this; I can achieve an exhibition. I have to reconnect with that PR Consultant of many years ago; she was afraid of nothing. I am afraid of everything.

    1. I am in love with the image of you with that sledgehammer. Your story is just one victory after another.
      I’m so sorry for your losses. My hope is you can take a time out to see a doc and get a checkup; when I did this it included a blood panel. A condition I thought was “just me” turned out to be a basic imbalance, made worse by stress. Subsequent blood tests have let him peek into me and increase the dosage and several months later, I don’t feel like I’m looking at the world from underwater.

      1. Thank you. You are really kind. And I am glad you we were properly looked after; that is good.

        The doctor thing would probably be sensible, but I don’t trust doctors any more. I have waited almost 20 years (since December 1997 to be exact) for proper treatment. Latest attempt from last February resulted in a hospital agreeing to treat me, but funding being denied. A local group which does NOT treat either PTSD or DID agreed to give me counselling, and put me on a 4 – 5 month waiting list. That was about 7 months ago. I don’t have much faith in anything ever happening to help me.

        That 20 year battle for treatment would fill several volumes all by itself. Short version; nobody gives a tinker’s cuss.

    2. (I ought to say the PR consultancy was toxic for months before I left. I didn’t leave just because I lost my office; I am not that precious. I left because I was very seriously overworked for months and not treated as if I mattered.)

  33. You sound like a total badass! I hope you can come back and post with the dates of your first (but not last!) exhibition.

    I’m very sorry about your ailing mum and the loss of your dad.

    1. I rather like being regarded as a total badass. I may get a badge made. 🙂

      Thanks for your kind words about my dad. It has not been an easy year; a dear friend of mine said that what I am dealing with is grim, and he was not wrong.

  34. One word of warning for the LW – in following the Captain’s EXTREMELY SENSIBLE advice to protect yourself and get out, you should prepare yourself that your cool colleagues will suddenly become less cool. I used to work in a very similar-sounding environment, for a highly toxic boss in a company which turned over in its entirety twice, except for me, before I left. I was staying for reasons similar to yours. After a few years there I took a full week of vacation for the first time. Cool colleagues were falling all over themselves to make sure I could get a decent break.

    When I came back, they never spoke to me in friendship again, and joined in the toxic behaviors coming from above. My absence meant that my presence as a buffer from toxic boss’s neediness, tantrums, destruction of stuff in the office, manipulation, stalking and other fun stuff wasn’t there, and a mere five days of that was enough for them to crack and become toxic themselves, in an attempt to spare themselves from the boss’ behavior. It merely deflected it, of course.

    You have to put on your own oxygen mask first. I wasn’t prepared for something like that to happen and it stung almost worse than toxic boss’ behavior, because I had thought they were cool. Coolness is relative and real friends would not have behaved that way. It was an unpleasant lesson to learn and one that I hope you don’t have to.


    1. My own horrific toxic ex-boss has earned the name ‘Dark Lord’, for she was so truly abusive and terrible that we removed the power of saying her name, which had instilled those of us left over with a knee-jerk NO reaction.

      I went through this very thing – many coworkers were fine until I took a break, during which they didn’t have me and my previous experience with abusive people to shield them. These coworkers didn’t react well – I didn’t blame them at the time, and now I am sympathetic but expect better.

      Near the end of the Dark Lord’s reign, I had the team that would finally be her undoing – exceptionally kind, talented, perceptive people who slowly figured out what was happening rather than knee-jerk and run. We all worked extremely hard to look after one another; when one of us went on leave, we would even go so far as to talk to the others about what kind of behaviours they might expect from our absence and how we thought was best to deal with them.

      The coworkers who came before, who didn’t do this, were not necessarily less kind or talented or perceptive, but they didn’t seem to have the kind of emotional intelligence that kind of teamwork takes – and it took me and one other person, who had already experienced that kind of abuse, to really see through it and pass the message on to the others. Lacking both, our teams dissolved and couldn’t make it through.

      LW, have a break and come back with your shields set to MAXIMUM – you will find out in short order who is really an ally there and who is not. Britta was very right to warn you.

  35. Totally just got fired from a similarly toxic place! It was not the end of the world. There are other options, and your mental health is more important than this shitty business and its shitty demands.

  36. i had a job like this. i made a new year’s resolution to look for a new job, but also found it too much, emotionally, and time-wise to do it while still working there. so instead, i made a budget to save as much as possible/figure out when i could quit and for how long, and also looked at the project schedule at work and decided what items i would finish before i quit. having an end date was *really* motivating. i actually worked *more* for a little while, so i could tie up all the loose ends and feel like i was leaving on a good note. it was so nice to feel like “if i just finish this one project, i will be free”.

    i did quit without another job, i needed the break, and luckily i had just gotten a raise so i was able to save up several months worth of expenses. i ended up getting a job in a different field, because i couldn’t face going back to a similar position (although not all companies i could have worked for would have been as bad, some of the badness was pretty common).

    i absolutely agree with the Captain about defending your right to be offline in your personal time. i love the suggestion of “family, you know how it is” or “i needed that time to help me be more focused on this project”. drawing lines really helped me, rather than a constant state of should-i-check-my-work-email or can-i-go-do-something-fun, give yourself permission to turn off and do things for yourself rather than for work. i also stopped asking for permission from work and would just send “offline for these days” emails. my boss didn’t like it, of course, but he also seemed to realize that he was asking for too much of us. mostly he was passive aggressive and since i was leaving, i didn’t need his good opinion in this respect anyway (he still respected my actual work, and a lot of other things i did for the team). i decided it’s fine to be a smart, capable, team-player employee who isn’t always online on the weekends.

    good luck!!! i promise you once you are out you will feel so much better!!

    1. I like the idea of setting out specific projects to complete before you leave. Leaving stuff undone is hard and can make leaving trickier even though you know it’s the right time to go. The one danger I find for myself is wanting to take on new projects… and then others… and then…. But if you can manage not to do that then this can help you get a sense of the exact date to leave. (Take the Captain’s idea and pick a specific date such as April 1, or whatever works, but then based on projects you might adjust it to a FEW days earlier or later so you can leave on what feels to you like a good note.)

      1. If you should get in the situation of unintentionally taking on new projects, you still have the option to be really on top of your documentation. Of course it’s easier for anyone following in your footsteps if they have a orderly hand-over etc, but if that’s not feasible, an up-to-date documentation and a regular status left where your superior will see it, helps a lot.

      2. It’s not just “projects not completed.” Sometimes it’s a legacy. I wrote a complex piece of software in the 80s, over the course of about 6 years (as employee then contractor). I started planning my departure. But even though I was leaving reams of documentation, I knew I wasn’t leaving it in competent hands. The company tended to hire English majors to write code (claiming they could be trained and then offering zero training) — my depth of training and experience was an anomaly there. (In retrospect, I shouldn’t have developed such complex code, even though it solved a real problem.)

        It was really hard to leave my creation in a situation where it would continue to be used for years and gradually degrade in quality. I had to give myself a firm talking-to about the alternative: did I really want to spend the next decade(s) at that company?

  37. One of the things that I bear in mind when work wants to intrude into non-work time is a line from a comedy bit I once saw: “That would cut into my Sitting-Around Time.” Sometimes I say it out loud to the would-be intruders — one has to be careful about delivering the sentence with the right amount of mischief in tone, and be careful about the recipient of it, but if deployed correctly, it reframes the request to work as too silly to be considered by any right-thinking person. (Such as a person who understands there is no such a thing as a Deck Emergency, as above)

    Sometimes it’s enough to say that to myself as a reminder that sitting-around time is An Important Part of My Day and I can say something more innocuous or busy-sounding to the intruder. You know, ‘family obligation (of sitting around)’, ‘doing a marathon (of the latest netflix offerings)’ and so on.

  38. I’ve been in the need-a-new-job club for a few years now, because what I do is really niche, and employers don’t seem to be reading my beautifully-crafted cover letters explaining transferable skills, blah blah blah….

    Follow all of the Captain’s advice, of course. A lot of commenters have also made good suggestions that essentially boil down to “stop caring so much.” Which is really hard, right, because you want to do a good job, and not have to deal with coworkers who become toxic at you.

    Right now, my job is a clusterfuck of a boss who Can’t Boss plus coworkers who insist on ignoring their families for fifteen hours a day to stay at the office, fretting that they can’t make it eighteen hours a day, because commitment. It helps to keep reminding yourself that that isn’t normal. Regular people at all sorts of jobs are allowed to balance work and a personal life.

    One problem I ran into, though, is that when you keep reminding yourself of that, you’re also reminding yourself how unhappy you are. So, amid doing all of the great stuff that the Captain recommends, I also gave myself permission to cry my eyes out once in a while. You’re a human being; it’s just not possible to keep stiff-upper-lipping it 24/7. One of these weekends when you’ve put the phone away, it’s totally okay to bury yourself under the covers and just be sad, until you’re sick of it.

    If you’re up to it, you can also try to think through The Worst: what if you do get fired? Financially, that would suck, yes. It’s frightening. But sometimes it helps to really strategize for the worst. Finding out exactly how one goes about filing for unemployment and shoring up ideas for quick temp jobs, or something, might give you a good foundation to keep standing on — you’ve thought about it, you have ideas, you’re prepared. It’s not likely to happen, but you can face it if it does.

    Jedi hugs. You will really, truly, get through this.

    1. “If you’re up to it, you can also try to think through The Worst: what if you do get fired?”

      You may even find that, when you think about it, the thing you thought was The Worst isn’t actually. Last year I was stuck in a job that wasn’t toxic, per se (although it definitely had it’s problems) but it was really, soul eatingly terrible *for me*. I’d been interviewing for a year and getting nowhere. From discussing with my partner, it became apparent that what I had originally thought was The Worst – quitting and returning to school full time for 2 semesters, so no income – was actually the second worst to the nice little alcohol dependence I had been nurturing to cope with the bad-for-me job. So I quit with two months notice and a plan to enroll in school full time in the fall.

      Related, once I had given my notice, my entire attitude towards that job and prospective jobs changed. As I said, I’d interviewed for a year and gotten nothing. Coincidentally after I’d given notice I was put up for another job which I interviewed for. But I felt totally different – not as wild-eyed and desperate, I guess. I felt more comfortable having a frank conversation about who I was and what I could offer. And I got the job. I firmly believe that if I hadn’t already quit, something about my attitude before deciding to leave would have seeped through and I’d still be at that terrible place.

  39. Hey, dear Captain and Crew,

    Many congrats and hugs, from someone who exited work with a toxic boss.

    Badass Breakthrough Realization: I can use much of the Captain and Crew’s ideas/program in exiting from non-work situations. In my case, it’s 2 clingy complainer friends. New Strategies and Boundaries will be my life jacket, in navigating the Sea of Drama and coming home to Port o’ Peace!
    Thanks, everyone!!

  40. I just want to massively, loudly, enthusiastically promote this idea, for everyone, whether you plan on leaving a job or not:

    If you are guilt-tripped or hassled when you do even small self-care things, screw it, go ahead and do large self-care things. Tkae your FULL vacation time. Leave on time. See the doctor. Get your car maintenance done.

    If you’re going to be mistreated no matter how small the amount of self-care you do, then the BEST thing you can do is take full care of yourself. You’ll get the same mistreatment — or possibly less! — but you’ll feel better and have more internal resources for dealing with it.

    This saved my ass in my previous job. I only wish my disintegrating co-worker had been able to try it.

  41. Three years ago I was working 60+ a week at a super toxic company. In one of my last conferences calls I was being harangued with “have you done X? have you done Y? Have you done Z? WHY NOT?!?!?!” and my answer every time was “because I did ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP! And there are only 24 hours in a day!” I started crying in this meeting and my manager said “fine, I’ll wait until you finish crying so we can finish this conversation.”

    I still didn’t quit.

    Two weeks later I showed up to work to find an anonymous printed note on my desk telling me that the tea I am drinking stinks (it was ginger tea) and that I need to stop drinking it along with the company “food hygiene” policy attached.

    I quit.

    And on my last day at 4:00, my manager came to my desk screeching about some new corporate policy that had rolled out two days prior and I now needed to complete 48 more forms (I am not kidding) before I left. When I said no, she said “you aren’t permitted to leave the building without an escort and I will not escort you until you do this!” I laughed and said “well it’s illegal to keep me here against my will so either you conform to corporate policy and escort me without those forms completed or I leave on my own. But me NOT LEAVING is not an option.” I left. And it was GLORIOUS.

    I had some savings, I got roommates, I lived on beans and ramen. For the first few months I didn’t even look for jobs, I just slept and read and cooked and enjoyed not being treated like garbage. Then I started looking for jobs and in 2 weeks found my dream job.

    LW and everyone else in a toxic workplace, take care of yourself as best as you can until you can get out.

  42. Also. Be sure to ask about work culture in future interviews. I work for a place that requires me to work crazy hours part of the year, and to be on call sometimes, too. I get a ton of comp time in exchange. Working like that isn’t for everyone, and if it’s not for you then you need to find jobs that are weekdays 9-5. For me, it’s nice because I’m young and in how many jobs do you get over a month of paid vacation early in your career? I have family all over the country and places I want to visit, so I’m happy to trade insane hours for time to do that.

  43. When I was nearing the end of my rope in my last job, which was miserable and soul sucking and such a relief to get out of a few months ago, I was in a similar boat. One unhelpful thing I was doing was justifying spending money as self care. Too tired to grocery shop, rose take out. Too stressed to do laundry, order new underwear online. But when I got serious about leaving, I started buckling down on money and building up my emergency savings. It made me feel better to know I was saving for the day I could just up and leave without a new gig lined up. The righteousness I felt in building that fuck you fund was way better than the time and energy I was saving by spending that money. I wound up finding a new job before I had enough saved to leave, but the thought that I was sticking it to my terrible boss by building that cushion was highly rewarding.

    This, of course, depends on your financial situation – if saving means cutting your food budget to an unreasonable level, it’s probably not worth it. But if you’ve got some luxuries you can do with out (eating three healthy, tasty meals a day is not a luxury!), try starting a “take this job and shove it” fund.

  44. Something I haven’t seen mentioned yet: one way to survive the toxic workplace environment and emotionally disengage from the bullshit is to gamify.

    From http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety-types/work-anxiety:
    Make Your Stresses a Game
    One strategy that many people find enjoyable is to take the things that stress you at work and turn them into a game. For example, making a bingo card out of all of the issues that come up that cause you stress – like a criticism by the boss, a reward to a slacking off coworker, a rude customer, and so on. Try to come up with as many specific issues as possible, and then turn them into a bingo card. If you get a bingo, treat yourself to something nice. This will cause you to actually hope that certain things happen to you so that you can treat yourself to the reward, and possibly change your mindset about what it is that’s occurring.

    In terms of the boss rants, look for the repetitions, the logical fallacies, the emotional manipulation tactics and give yourself points for each one. Reward yourself with a prize for getting a grand slam or whatever.

    Also, echoing some of the other commenters, really, consider the possibility of quitting sooner rather than later, even if it leaves you financially strapped. Save what you can. Borrow from reliable friends or family or look into getting a small personal loan from your credit union. Remember to ask for and accept help. The people who love you (in good supportive ways) want you to succeed and be healthy, and are willing to be there for you if they can manage it. It’s not just sandwiches that mean love. Or even look into the possibility of a medical leave rather than outright quitting if that is an option for you. Anything that gives you a break to recover.

    Good luck,

    1. first time posting here to say – that is genius! We were just told at my work that a former universally detested (disrespectful dishonest incompetent mean just all around grating and unwelcome) manager is being brought back in 3x/week starting Monday, as a “consultant”, meaning she’s going to be paid to criticize everyone and fuck things up. Given that she has also taken advantage of the business owners a few times in the past, we cannot comprehend why they continue to trust and like her. But anyway, I think a weekly bingo game might be what we need to survive…

      1. I’m sorry that’s going to be happening to you and your colleagues. Just wanted to say: for the love of god don’t discuss this bingo game on email or any other work systems – this game stays IN YOUR HEADS, ya hear me?

  45. I’m quoting what the Captain said, for emphasis:
    If their whole business grinds to a halt because you personally are unreachable for 2 (weekend!) days, a) they have a shit business b) that they manage badly and also c) you are extremely valuable to their business and they can’t afford to fire you right now!
    It’s your boss’s startup, and part of running a startup is throwing as much time as necessary into it to get it off the ground.
    It’s not YOUR startup, and it’s not fair to expect you (and your coworkers) to burn yourselves out making it work.

    As for moving on to a new position, have you considered trying to find a recruiter? I realize that they can vary greatly in quality, but a good recruiter is worth their weight in gold. I work in a niche programming language, and for my last two positions I’ve worked with a recruiter who specializes in that language. They were helpful, because after talking with them and getting my resume to them, the recruiter did a lot of the heavy lifting – finding potential positions that matched my niche (not all of which were listed on job sites), running them past me to see if I’d be interested, and highlighting the bits of my resume that matched what the positions were looking for.

    If you trust your manager (from the grant programs you worked on) to be discreet, maybe shoot them an email, and ask if there are any recruiters (that specialize in your field) that they’d recommend.

  46. Oddly enough, this came to my attention again a few days ago. It may prove amusing/helpful/useful/reassuring. http://issendai.livejournal.com/572510.html

    I’m in the “need a new job” club because the one I have is showing red flags. My direct coworkers are mostly awesome, but our corporate overlords… yeesh.

    Good luck to all the job-seekers, and good escaping to those who need one!

  47. This is why I hate toxic environments- there is no logic whatsoever. It’s like junior high with the cool crowd and the boss’s pets. They’re allowed to get away with murder. If you’re the “un-cool” kid, you get bullied, ostracized and basically set up for failure. (aka: fired or they make your life utter and complete h*ll until you quit.) It’s all about their ego and basically arse kissing and if you don’t comply or dare to be an individual whose opinion doesn’t follow theirs, you’re blacklisted. The people are notoriously two-faced, competitive bullies who are deeply flawed and insecure, yet they rule the roost. Your role is not only the role they give you, but you also have to be therapist, parent, manager, plus your original position.

    Yet you have to act like you’re so appreciate and grateful just to be there. A real “yes-man”. What? You mean you don’t like being screamed at and abused? What’s wrong with you? They actually act shocked and surprised when you give your notice. Really?

    They lack self-awareness and are so brainwashed that they think that this is normal and you’re the weird one for saying it isn’t.

    It isn’t! I would rather be anywhere else than be in an environment like that. Lesson learned. Never again.

    Again, I hate toxic environments.

  48. I’m not in the LW’s situation at all, but I really appreciate your list of concrete steps/goals for career progress, Captain. I’ve worked part time in retail my entire adult life and I’m currently in school to change career paths, and this kind of thing is really helpful to me.

  49. The Captain’s advice is super solid! Especially the part about scheduling self care. Do not skip that part. (For me this often looks like a nature hike, but I’m sure you have your own thing. Yoga, dancing, drinks with friends, whatever. It should have no relevance to your job at all.)

    I spent the first part of last year working for a super toxic startup and the middle part working for a super toxic small-thinks-it’s-really-cool company and got laid off from that, which was a blessing in disguise because it led me to the current job with a reasonable company doing work I like and care about. So I get the “putting up with it to get experience for the next thing”–and I know it feels so great on the other side.

    One thing I would say is that if possible, take on stuff at work with an eye towards resume building (don’t be obvious about it). Find out how much money (or how many person-hours * salary) your project saved. If you can join a professional organization, attend a conference, or learn a new software without increasing your work or stress level, do so. (But don’t worry if you can’t.)

    Good luck OP! I’m rooting for you.

  50. Apologies if this is a repeat of earlier comments. I’m on my phone, and that makes it hard to follow the threads.

    I love all of the Captain’s advice, and I have a couple of suggested tweaks:

    – on LinkedIn, disable update notifications before you start making significant changes to your profile. A ton of updates all at once telegraphs your job hunt to your coworkers.
    – on “Unplugged” weekends after the first one, don’t announce them in advance. Your boss will manufacture a crisis to prevent you from doing it. Avoid promising to schedule or otherwise ask permission for them when your boss explodes.
    – when you are ready to quit, prepare for a meltdown from your boss. Make sure that you have everything personal cleared out of your desk & computer and thst you have saved a copy of whatever work samples or “appropriate to keep” work records you want before giving notice. Make sure that if your boss refuses your notice that missing the last 2 weeks of pay won’t throw you in a tailspin. Make sure that your work timekeeping (for payroll) is up to date right before you give notice, and, if possible, keep a copy of it. (In other words, prepare for your boss to have you escorted from the premesis after you give notice.)

    Good luck!

  51. Bondries…..strong boundaries on when work is allowed into your personal time is very important here. Stick to them. Never yield. I have worked at these places, and the only way to het peace is to strongly inforce your boundries.

    Best of luck on the job hunt. You can do this and be great at it.

  52. Hi Captaintariat! LW/OP here. I just wanted to leave a comment to thank you all for your support, as well as providing some replies/context.

    First of all: I cannot tell you how much I appreciate both the Captain’s advice and your overwhelmingly positive response. (Seriously, my partner’s immediate reactions on seeing this were: “Wow, I can’t believe how nice all of these comments are” and “So when are you scheduling that weekend?” :P) I was having a particularly rough day when this was published, and it means the world to me to see this kind of empathy as well as all of these great ideas.

    A few notes that might clarify parts of the letter:

    – Technically, my work itself isn’t life or death. However, some of our clients actually do operate in that arena, which is part of what makes disengaging so tricky. If I do need to unplug, I will set up some sort of filtering mechanism (like asking my partner to check replies instead and only alert me if they meet certain criteria).

    – I’m actually on the border of early/mid-career – I worked for a couple of years, went back to grad school, and have been out for about five years. The jobs that I’ve done all relate to each other, but not as clearly as one might hope (there’s a lot of skills transfer going on). A friend recently suggested going back to my school’s career center, which I plan to do as part of the plan outlined above. TL;DR the multiple jobs thing might or might not hurt – I’ve gotten feedback both ways.

    – I LOVE AAM and read it religiously. 🙂

    – Two things I’d like to shout out for being particularly helpful: the project management structure and the point (made by both the Captain and several commenters) that not all co-workers are cool. The PM stuff is great because I have a bad habit of letting practical life stuff get derailed when I’m in a rough place, and it inevitably ends poorly. (Per my mother: “YOU CANNOT JUST GIVE UP.”) The coworker stuff is useful because, when this was published, I had literally just exited a very unproductive discussion with a colleague about work.

    – I do have a referee at my work, fortunately. I also have a really great reference from my last job, and a few others I can rely on as well.

    – I probably do not work in the field you’re thinking of, whatever that field is, so I’d caution against generalizing based on that. BUT I have heard that these problems are common to startups more generally, and, of course, vampires know no job field distinctions.

    – Last of all, I really appreciate the emphasis on self-care as well. I feel sometimes like I need to be devoting Every Waking Moment to figuring this out, but the truth is that that doesn’t work for me, and I don’t do a good job when that’s my approach.

    Thanks again guys – I hope to be able to leave an end-of-year update that’s in a much better place. And who knows, I might even check out the forum. 🙂 ❤

    1. Thanks for checking in! Sounds like you have a great Team You! You got this. Looking forward to the update down the road.

    2. Here’s hoping that the next time we hear from you it’ll be to say ‘Whee, new and better job!’ – and that that’ll be soon. You take good care of yourself till then, hon. Xxx

    3. >>Technically, my work itself isn’t life or death. However, some of our clients actually do operate in that arena, which is part of what makes disengaging so tricky.

      As I said above, if your work is that important, it’s even MORE important that the people doing it are well-rested, well-cared-for and well-supported. Your organisation isn’t doing the people whose lives are at stake any favours by allowing incompetent managers to wreck the health and wellbeing of its own staff. :-/ Keep that in mind: you aren’t shirking on a moral imperative to your clients’ clients by making sure your oxygen mask is securely fastening and functioning properly before attending to theirs.

      Best of luck!

  53. This reminds me – you can put your management on a PIP too, they don’t have to go one way from Management to Employee.

    At a job I had in college, I had a one on one with my manager and spelled out three major issues I was having with the culture at the company (very similar to LW – they’d page me for trivial things like printer problems on the days I was scheduled to be in class, or announce on a Friday afternoon that some random thing they’d known about for weeks but not told me was now due on Monday) and that I wouldn’t be able to tolerate that for much longer, then he promised to get the engineers to clean up their act.

    No one reading this will be surprised that 60 days later, nothing had changed. He was shocked when I gave my notice. Tried to tell me I _had_ to give him more than 2 weeks, and I explained that his choices were 2 weeks, or today is my last day.

  54. I think there’s an interesting post on this that might be of use to your situation about “sick systems”. If you’re ever feeling burnt out or like you “owe” your employers to stay, it might remind you why you want to leave, and that you’re sailing for greener pastures.


    The author has some other writings on sick systems I think are relevant, and they really pin down the definition of a sick system and how it affects you psychologically. One of the things that pinged for me is how LW is constantly expected to keep their wheels spinning, and that’s something the post I linked focused on.

  55. OP: If you are anywhere near Pittsburgh, PA, I have several positions at my job available for people working with youth. I’m going to make the website address in this post link to my company’s website.

  56. Ugh! Toxic jobs… I am so sorry you are dealing with this. It is a horrible thing to go through. One thing that helped me was to get up a little early (trust me I am NOT a morning person so this was counter intuitive) just to have a cup of coffee and do nothing else. It gave me a little time to center myself before the terribleness of the day began. Oh and then I would belt out “Bring on the Rain” over and over again all the way there. There is some great advice above but I’d like to offer specific advice for this part of your letter: “They’ll then keep messaging me asking what it is that they haven’t explained properly about the opportunities before me, and what they can do differently so that I understand it, and then ask if I’m receiving the messages. If I don’t answer, I’ll receive a talk on Monday asking what it is that can be done to make sure a situation like that, in which we’re unreachable, doesn’t happen in the future.” Here is the thing: it is inevitable that there will be times when you are unreachable whether you are sick or need surgery or need to attend someone’s funeral. Those are all life events that cannot be changed where you would absolutely be unreachable. (obviously you should be able to be unreachable for other reasons) The problem is not that you are unreachable but there are not systems in place to ensure continuity of business when someone is out of reach. That is a failing on their part as business owners/managers and not yours as an employee. I saw upthread where you said what you specifically do isn’t life or death, but that there are clients that operate in that arena. I’d like to offer a strategy between answer every message and request from Boss and no-contact. The way I would answer the messages about “opportunities” (which sound like last minute needing to work through the weekend “opportunities” to me) is to explain that the specific opportunity does not work for me at this time. Offer a reason or don’t, whatever you feel most comfortable with, and whichever way you think may best be received. Just beware that Boss might think that Reasons can be argued with and do not feel the need to defend your reason. If that happens, ignore, don’t defend. When they ask if you understand, you just say yes + repeat that unfortunately the opportunity doesn’t work for you this time. Say you will be happy to discuss on Monday. When they ask if you are receiving message, you say you are receiving them, but as discussed you are unable to work on Opportunity at this time. You will discuss on Monday. Then ignore all other messages related to this specific opportunity regardless of how it escalates. You could even say, this matter is closed until Monday and I will not be responding to further messages regarding this subject until then. If other messages arise, for example something comes up that does impact a life/death client and you are truly the only one who can deal with it, you can still answer that message. This will be exhausting and stressful, but honestly, you will probably only have to do it a few times before it changes when they realize the constant needling and messaging does not work. There is no reason in the world that you can’t be unreachable for a few hours at a time. On Monday morning, it will be exhausting. When you meet, I would use forced teaming with them as well. Ask, what are we going to do about the times where I, or anyone else in this office, is unreachable? What can we do? It is inevitable that there will be times that this happens–how can we ensure that the business is able to still meet work/projects/life/death clients expectations? Are there systems that can be put in place, a call center we can use, can teams take turns being placed on call or working weekends, can an intern do more admin type duties or work weekends freeing the rest of you do more of the other work? You said you might set parameters for partner to check your messages–this sounds like something that should be happening at the company! Ultimately this is their problem, and the more you can frame it that way and put it back on them, the better. I would be detached, not react to specific personal attacks and professional in your response. I would not get derailed with the many different arguments that arise but keep bringing it back to the main point of how do we solve this problem. These Monday morning meetings sound very much like they are trying to intimidate and guilt you into always being reachable. Turn that around so that instead of them intimidating you, you are actively working with them to offer alternative solutions. Solving the problem of not having enough employees or systems to efficiently get all the work done that needs to be addressed by insuring everyone is reachable all the time is not sustainable. When you are no longer intimidated by their faulty logic, they will need to change tactics.

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