Boss Moved Me With Him But Made Me Miserable

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a difficult boss/assistant connection:

I was an assistant to a top executive. A job I did not strive for and, as a matter of fact stated clearly at the time of hire from temp to perm that I was not looking for promotions of any type, that I was happy in the department I was in.I made one exception and that was a lateral move. Problem was, I am very good at what I do and learn anything new very quickly. I was always willing to go above and beyond for the position I was in and I restate The Position I Was In.

During my time with the company I had the same direct supervisor. Unfortunately for me, he was ambitious and moved up rapidly to executive status, which meant 4 promotions in 5 years.The problem occurred when he posted my job as empty and hired my replacement (transfer within the company) without even discussing with me, because he wanted me to move up with him and knew that I would decline.

It was the beginning of a very rocky future. As I stated, he was ambitious and volunteered our office for every type of project he could. The only problem with this was his extreme disorganized working manner and inability to make even the smallest decision without holding a meeting or several meetings of his managers. I use here the example of my asking him to instruct employees that food items purchased for meetings, (in this case bottled water)were just that and to please refrain from using the assistant’s meeting supplies. (I purchased two large refrigerators so employees could bring in anything they wanted and store in the break room) He held a manager’s meeting to discuss ‘bottled water’, but then at the meeting made it sound like I was the one who wanted it discussed by the managers. I was made to look and sound totally childish and was humiliated.

This was just one in a long string of incidents that spanned 4 years. After just two of the 4 years, the emotional weight of dealing with him, and dealing with an ever-increasing workload (he never gave up anything so a lot of our work carried over from any previous position he had)my health began to fail, physically and mentally.The woman nicknamed ‘super secretary’ couldn’t think her way across the street, couldn’t focus on the slightest task and definitely could not deal with him or some of the other employees.I took time off, but got calls at home because he insisted I keep my cell on 24/7 and even take it with me to the bathroom at work.I contracted several physical ailments, two leading to the operating room.Some said, just leave, quit, tell him where to stick it. Well personal issues do exist, I was a single mother with no child support, my child was having to have some major oral surgery done, I was by this time having major medical issues and the weight of this and my job wore me out emotionally.

I began crying at work. I would jump when he walked into the office. It all culminated one day with a line of people in my office, a frustrating IT person on the phone that I couldn’t get rid of and every other line I had ringing off the hook. I broke. I hung up on the IT person, picked up the next line and it was the HR manager. All I can remember telling her is “I can’t do this anymore” Before you ask…I had gone to HR..that was a fiasco that I paid for dearly via my illustrious supervisor. And, before you ask…I was going to counseling (when I could actually get out of the office, which usually was only if he was there and something “important” hadn’t arisen,) to deal with the stress.

I followed all the rules as I was told to to deal with this executive and I lost. I resigned 3 months after the anxiety attack at work. So I ask you, from the manager’s side of the equation, what should I have done? His last words to me were…I hope we can be friends.

Signed, Finally Got Free

Dear Finally Got Free:

I changed the title of your question–which you had originally titled “I was an emotional employee.” I did that because it seems to me you weren’t the problem–the work situation and your boss were the problem!If you went to HR, sought counseling and otherwise tried to deal with the situation effectively, it seems you finally did what you had to do–quit.

Looking back on it, perhaps you should have taken a more forceful stand when your boss first pulled his power play and advertised your position, while moving you without asking you. You could have said: “Look, here are the two options: Either I stay in my current work or I quit.” Maybe that would have made it clear that you couldn’t be yanked around.Maybe if you had said, months earlier, “I’m going to quit if this continues” that would have gotten his attention. Or, maybe you could have applied for another job in the company and told your boss why you felt the need to get away from your current work. Nevertheless, you’re gone now. That seems to me to be the best decision of all. And, as you likely have noticed–and so has your former boss–the company still continues and business goes forward.No one is so indispensable that they are a requirement to keep things going.

Thus, I’m inclined to think your boss felt an emotional or friendship connection with you–almost like a lucky charm–and wanted to keep you working around him, in contact with him and tied to him. I’ve seen that happen over and over, where someone moves up in an organization and moves everyone from his or her former office–as though that will ensure success in the new position. Rarely is it a good idea. Your boss’s last words before you left, “I hope we can be friends” would indicate he needs something in his life that he thinks you provide–that’s nearly always why we choose our friends.

I don’t think you can be friends, because you weren’t ever friends. Friends don’t treat other friends with the disregard he had for you.It sounds as though you have moved on in the job market. Now you will need to clear that bad experience out of your mind, heart and life. A job is much like a personal relationship. Even when a break-up is necessary and welcomed, there are residual sad, questioning and second-guessing feelings. I hope this can be time of renewal in your life and that you will find a life apart from your old job, old friends and your former boss. You gave it your best and now it’s over and you need a mental break!Best wishes in your future. You sound as though you have vitality, intelligence and the focus you need to succeed!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.