Personal Finance: “Help! I’m trapped and I can’t get out!”

We don’t write often on the topic of money. We leave that to the expert in personal finance, Dave Ramsey (who just happens to require all staff to read the QBQ! book). But, money touches every area of our lives, so sometimes, writing about money just can’t be helped. 

Recently, I held a phone call with Jerry, a 51-year-old seasoned sales executive who is extremely frustrated and unhappy at work. Though our call wasn’t supposed to be about personal finance and money—it was.

The Situation 

Jerry’s CEO recently brought in a VP to be Jerry’s boss. Turns out, this guy could be the poster child for this seminar: How To Work For a Horrible Boss. Some examples of how Horrible Boss behaves:
  • Jerry, who travels extensively, is hounded by Horrible Boss to know where he is. Can you say “micromanagement”?
  • Horrible Boss emails on Sundays demanding answers—now.
  • Phone calls (and emails) with Horrible Boss are laced with sarcasm, criticism, and arrogance.
  • Horrible Boss is always right and never wrong.
  • When Jerry submits written sales plans, Horrible Boss—who has no sales experience—rewrites them, creating confusion for all.
  • Horrible Boss doesn’t ask Jerry his opinion but does tell Jerry how to do his job.
Jerry is in a bad situation and would rather be almost anywhere else.

QBQ! Wisdom 

When it was my turn to “counsel,” I shared tried-and-true QBQ! principles:
  1. Believe or Leave: If you no longer believe in your organization and the people you work with, it’s time to go. Right out of that little QBQ! book.
  2. If you stay, know you’re choosing to stay. No one is making you stay.
  3. We can only change ourselves, so don’t plan on changing this man.
  4. The longer you put up with this, the less dignity you’ll have. #Ouch
  5. Use The Ultimate QBQ: “How can I let go of what I can’t control?”

The Real Problem and How It Relates to Personal Finance

After sharing those principles, all of which Jerry bought into, I made this specific suggestion:

“Jerry, the first action I would take is to draw a boundary by informing your boss you won’t be responding to emails on Sunday because that’s family time.”

With no hesitation, Jerry stated, “He’d fire me.”

So I asked, “Well, can you afford to lose your job today?”

A long pause later: “No. I can’t.”
I’m not a big feelings guy, but my heart went out to Jerry. He feels trapped

No Options, No Financial Freedom

Dave Ramsey teaches us to have an “emergency fund” of three months income for the unexpected, like a job loss, car transmission failure, medical crisis, or for that water heater that dies in January.

I would add another reason to have that money cushion: To have options.

Having No Options …

  • Means feeling trapped.
  • Is a tough way to live.
  • Hurts me and those around me.
  • Causes emotional pain and stress.
  • Equals living with no freedom.
And who’d want to live life like that?!?
Points to Ponder:
If you work for Horrible Boss—or just don’t like what you’re doing—do you have the freedom to walk away or do you feel trapped? If you were Jerry, what would you do? 
Comments welcome!

13 Responses

  1. Hi John,
    I once read about the best way to deal with a micro-managing boss. The article recommended being proactive as much as possible and heading off any areas they might criticize or hover in. In the case you present with Jerry, I would recommend that Jerry provide his boss with updates on his expected itinerary for travel every Monday. If weekend emails are unavoidable, plan for checking and responding to emails twice on Sunday – letting the boss and family know that at (for instance) 10am and 3pm, he will be checking and responding to emails, and then stick to those times. If there are no emails at 10, I would send a short email to the boss at that time, saying, “Just checking in and hope all is going well. I’ll check in again at 3pm – if anything is needed, I’ll respond then. Have a great weekend!” If sales plans are an issue – take them to the boss a few times to get their input and discuss any possible changes before submitting, and soon he will know that you value his input and you will no longer need to do this before submitting or having them re-written. No boss wants to micro-manage; what they want is to ensure that their employees work, which is a reflection on them, is going well. Keeping that boss well-informed at steps along the way ensure that things go smoothly for everyone. 🙂 You probably can’t do much about the sarcasm or arrogance, nor the unsolicited advice on how to do your job. But knowing that those things come from a place of insecurity on your boss’ part might make them a little easier to bear. He is likely looking for affirmation in his new position, and you could provide that through a few comments, such as, “Well, I never thought of it that way.” or “That’s an interesting approach – I might have to give that a try.” even a well placed, “It sounds like you’ve had a lot of experience with this. How would you deal with (insert scenario)?” This gives your boss the sense that you value his experience and skills and that you are working together as a team. I believe it is called “Managing up” in other articles.

  2. I was stuck in a job once due to finances and that is what convinced me to cut up our credit cards and build an emergency fund while learning Dave Ramsey’s plan. Now I stay in a job because I choose to and I don’t worry about being fired for setting a boundary. If I have to leave a job without another one to go to, then I know my family will be ok. Setting boundaries and living the QBQ way can be a risk. Having a safety net (like an emergency fund) makes it easier to take those risks.

  3. Time is finite, I would communicate my passion for the work I do, the understanding that perfection is not attainable, but striving for it daily I will achieve excellence. That I appreciate feedforward constructive criticism and praise for work done well. Determine the expectations and benchmarks required of me to eliminate the incessant need for the perceived micro management, (remember perception is reality therefore there are multiple realities).

    Behavior is a difficult thing to change, hand him a QBQ book as you leave, because this will not change. People don’t leave the work they are passionate about, they leave their Bosses.

    Time is finite don’t spend your most valuable asset, your time in a miserable state. Life rarely goes as planned.

    Best of Luck!!!

  4. SMJ has some good points, but misses one thing – some people really do relish micromanaging. They want all of that control. Managing up is a terrific idea, but a true Horrible Boss likely won’t react well to this type of action and may even come back even worse than before.

    I say this because I have had Wonderful Boss, So-So Boss, and one or two Horrible Bosses. Sometimes people are just mean. The financial freedom to be able to say “I am worth more than this, my health is worth more than this, and I no longer believe in this position or job” – was priceless.

  5. I was in Jerry’s position last year (though in education). My advice would be to start looking for another job right now. The first opportunity may not work out, but the second or third might! I am starting in a new, slightly different position this year at another school and I couldn’t be more excited or energized! It feels wonderful to look forward to growing again.

    Looking for a new position is also a great way to take stock of your skills, what you want to do and what others value about your work. I did a lot of thinking about (and discussing with trusted friends and colleagues) my career goals and areas that I needed to make improvements and I was very gratified to find out how much my colleagues valued my work when I asked for letters of recommendations.

    Also, I agree with CF, about SMJ’s post. One of my former bosses even insisted on micromanaging staff potlucks!!! It seemed like his way to prove he was in charge. While he was great at delegating work, he just couldn’t trust anyone to do the work without telling you what you were doing wrong. It’s a big part of why I found a new opportunity.

  6. Jerry, I feel for you in your position.

    I would consider 2 things:
    1. you are clearly skilled at your job and have the talent and desire to succeed. Do not let anyone take that from you. I personally like the power of daily, positive affirmations, it might seem small (and maybe silly) but it is immensely powerful.
    2. sit down with your manager and have a conversation about expectations: here’s what i expect from you as a manager, here’s what you can expect from me. For example, if Sundays are family time and important to you, tell him – he then has something to react to. Perhaps there’s a reason why he sends those Sunday emails – maybe the intent is good. Maybe he is insecure and needs validation – that’s not your concern, he needs to be responsible for his actions.

    At the end of the day, if you are not happy, as others have said, you have choices. You are smart, motivated and can make good decisions about your future knowing that you have the skills and motivation to be happy and successful (in that order).

    Good luck! I’d love to know how things pan out for you!

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