The Passive-Aggressive Ways Bosses Get Employees to Quit

Senior Communications Consultant

Can you tell when your boss is giving you passive-aggressive, or covert signs it is time to quit? What are they? What can you do?

To find answers, I asked one of the world’s leading executive coaches and managerial consultants, Dr. Kenneth N. Siegel. He is President of The Impact Group, Inc. a group of psychologists who consult to top management across the globe.

The truth is it’s rare that bosses have a “heart-to-heart” and level with you. Most do not sit down with you to say it’s time to move on. The few bosses that do, really do care, and will work with you and help you find the next thing.

But what about the boss, who starts saying nothing, or changes the way he or she communicates with you. It’s like the classic song sung by Billie Holiday, “You’ve Changed.” Suddenly the sparkle in your boss’s eye has gone (or he may be avoiding eye contact). And certainly, it will seem to you that the boss’s smile is just a careless yawn.

So, here are the subtle (or not so subtle) hints that it is time for you to take action before your boss does. These are Nine Passive Aggressive Hints. They come in the form of covert, not overt communication.

This is the boss who says we’re going to have a global meeting – I want you to make sure everyone has the right UBER billing number, and schedule their transportation to and from the airport.

According to Dr. Siegel, “This is basically a way to be demeaning while keeping the appearance that you are part of the team.”

Finding that you have been left off of email strings, and occasional meeting invites that you used to be part of on a regular basis.

You become aware of an emotional gap that you and your boss now have. This is manifested in the boss who no longer stops in to see how you are doing, or what you did this weekend. The occasional lunch becomes a distant memory.

For example, weekly reports and preparing upper management used to be your responsibility. Suddenly, someone else is doing the assignments. In a stealth mode, the boss has changed your responsibilities.

You train a new worker, and then he’s all but taken over your job. Your training became your train wreck – you never saw it coming.

She’s promised a raise and a new title forever – forever never comes. When you ask, she’s always waiting for something new. Or, she rationalizes, “I just can’t give that promotion yet – what would others think?”

The boss will divert the conversation and does not give a straight answer to your straight question — steering the conversation onto another topic.

There is never enough time. The boss is always too busy to talk to you about the work you are doing. As Dr. Siegel said, “You will find this even on projects and matters you thought were very important. The project may be important, but the signs are that you are not.”

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You don’t find out through the boss, you find out through others including peers, and even worse subordinates. You’ve been undermined.

He suggests that you go in prepared with examples of messages you are receiving. You can specifically ask if the boss is trying to tell you something – or is she really too busy?

Dr. Siegel suggests, “The minute you leave the office you document everything. For example, write: ‘Dear Joe, glad we cleared up the following points. ”

Document the conversation factually, without editorial comment. It will give you a record of the conversation as you and your boss move forward.

2. The Indirect Approach : A second route Dr. Siegel noted is for people who work in larger companies. Then you can take an indirect tact. If you are interested in staying with the company, you can look for jobs in other departments. If you find other departments will not have you – you will determine that you have been “organizationally punished.” Or, you may find a new position and or provide your boss with a ready-made transition.

3. Going to Human Resources Won’t Work : A third option, to take your case to human resources, but Dr. Siegel does not recommend it. He says that in most cases, “human resources are company representatives to protect management and the company line.” In addition, you have a complaint with very little hard evidence. Plus, if a boss no longer wants you, it is his or her prerogative, and HR will not be able to take action.

NOTE: See the Huffington Post story and video based on my story with a webcam interview with Dr. Ken Siegel.

Final note: This post was prompted by the popular post last week by Sallie Krawcheck. Her post was on her personal signs that it was time to quit. You can read her post by going to this link.