I'll try to be fair and explain the entire situation, if I am at fault please tell me.

Till a few weeks ago everything with work was fine, until I started taking too long to finish a task and my boss (The company's COO) became very aggressive with me, blaming me for the entire sprint being held back and explaining the consequences of me not delivering this task and even gave me a warning letter with that written in it.

I explained that the task requirements keep changing and that the tech isn't spec'd out and i had to redo it three times but he dismissed what I said as not "owning" my work.

I spent the next week doing 10-12 hour days to speed things up and my boss sat down with me again and reminded me of the same consequences that happened before, and this time i was more prepared so I stood my ground and explained that if the task has some accepted criteria we can then judge if the task is complete or not, but if it's up to interpretation then I can say it is finished and he would disagree. I explained that I am doing my best but the planning and figuring out how to do this task technically shouldn't happen AFTER it has been estimated. He dismissed all what I said and told me all I'm hearing is that you're not owning your work.

On my PR he made a lot of comments, some made sense and some were an entire different task, I felt he was setting me up to fail and intentionally being difficult with me.

When I brought up that his comments in the PR is another task and needs to be in its own branch he disagreed and reminded me that I am not owning my work.

The following week (this week) I continued working on his comments and as my new PR went up he made new comments about different issues he didn't mention the first time, and some of his comments were really snobby. enter image description here

What really ticked me off is that he went to someone else on that same day, who's spending less time in the office than me, and wrote in their PR "change x,y,z but overall good job"

Is it wrong of me to feel like I'm being singled out and bullied and being set up to fail? I feel defeated and completely depressed from the way I'm being treated and this is the first time something like that has ever happened to me, how can I keep the right mentality and how should I be thinking right now?

Update: I left the company, no exit interview and my boss asked me to pack up my things and leave in 30 minutes, the recruiter that got me in there called me and I told them what happened. 6 weeks later I got a job in a bigger company with 20% higher salary, got an email from the previous company offering me an exit interview so I would stop "bad mouthing" them in the tech community, they ended the letter asking me to be professional and dignified.

Thanks for your answers and support, I'm very glad that this chapter which has been the most stressful 6 weeks of my career is now over and I believe I learned from it.

Update 2: For those interested, I just wanted to share that I got a raise at the new company for "taking more ownership and going beyond my role". Interesting how in a single year I managed to get fired from one job and get a raise in the other for the same reason

  • 4
    Something you don't need to worry about if you're from Australia. Mar 28, 2019 at 5:05
  • 5
    If this task was really so crucial and you were really so useless then why is it still assigned to you? Answer: at least one of those things isn't true. Mar 28, 2019 at 9:41
  • 1
    Have you asked him for a specific, tangible definition of "owning your work?" In his defense, working really hard and putting in extra hours may not make a difference, if you're not doing the specific things he's looking for. It's on him to explain that, of course, but you have the opportunity to prompt him for that explanation.
    – dwizum
    Mar 28, 2019 at 12:37
  • 1
    You could try finishing your work and then making no further changes unless it is labelled as a brand new job. There is an outside chance your boss is stupid enough to accept this repackaging. Mar 29, 2019 at 2:51
  • 1
    FWIW, if you are writing software that is to be integrated with somebody else's software; then you have no business even beginning to write the software until you have worked with that somebody else and come to an agreement on what the interface between the 2 pieces of software should be. Document that agreement and get concurrence. I'll bet doing that one step would have saved practically all those extra hours you worked.
    – Dunk
    Apr 1, 2019 at 19:54

8 Answers 8


You cannot maintain a healthy mental state when you tolerate abuse, period.

What you need to do is update your resume, send it out, and be ready to move on.

Then, you need to put a stop to the abuse or move on if you can't.

You are, in fact being set up to fail and are being bullied.

Understand that confronting the COO may mean that your job there is over. From the looks of it, that is his goal anyway, so you have nothing to lose.

  • Drop your time down to 8 hours, plus five minutes either way to be above repoach, so, if your hours are 8 to 5, be at your desk no later than 7:55, and stay until 5:05.
  • Do your work well, but nothing extra
  • Document everything you do, so you can defend yourself.
  • Document the COO's actions.
  • When specs change, submit a new timeline IMMEDIATELY

Then make sure you go on interviews because it looks like COO wants you gone, and he will get his way one way or the other. Good news is that it's an employee's market right now, so it's a good time to move on.

Go on interviews, get some offers, then decide if it's worth it to you to either negotiate from a position of strength to your company, or to move on.

  • 12
    Definitely stop doing the additional hours. You tried appeasement, which was generous of you, and they didn't respond positively. Mar 28, 2019 at 9:41

Well, first of all, stop working for free. Their bullying is clearly effective, and taking a 25 - 50% reduction in pay is probably not a good start for you.

"Owning your work" is good, but it is also used as a bit of a "gaslighting" term in order to manipulate or abuse employees. I don't know the situation you're experiencing in particular, so I dont' know if it applies.

After that, keep being curious and ask questions. If comments are for different tasks, why not ask if they would like to create a new ticket for that particular item. If comments or requirements are unclear, ask what they want you to do with regards to them. Ask the how they want you to handle requirements changes when they come in as the original estimate is invalid.

As for issues on PR's, I tend to only do 10 - 15 comments at a time. If they're running in to those numbers, the submitter probably needs to do a full checkover the code, and things are going to get missed.

As for other people's PR's, I'd suggest not contrasting them. "Comparison is the thief of joy".

this really only holds true for some situations, but features and PRs vary. If you're experiencing a massive pay discrepancy, then comparison is 100% a good thing

  • 2
    "Gaslighting depends on “first convincing the victim that his thinking is distorted and secondly persuading him that the victimizer's ideas are the correct and true ones." " That actually sounds familiar
    – Nickolozo
    Mar 28, 2019 at 5:08

So I need to tell you that I find you to be a very sympathetic narrator and I have been where you have been and it really, really sucks. I am sorry that you find yourself in this place and you are probably a really talented developer with a bright future ahead of you.

That also makes it very easy for anyone who reads your question to just say “yes, I agree, you are being abused, move on!” but that might not be 100% the right advice here.

If you re-read the exchanges you posted, wouldn't you agree that your response was to blame external circumstances and external factors for the problem? Now that does have some merit, often in software really our external factors stop us from achieving our goals. But also, blame makes for clumsy communication: no one likes the person who comes late to lunch blaming you for not giving them the exact address or calling to remind them or whatever. In that respect, your bosses have a point: I don’t know how much you are convicting yourself in your head, but certainly in your communication you are not taking full responsibility for the failure, and that is somewhat clumsy.

The truth is that if you practice radical responsibility then these problems are, well, maybe not your fault but certainly things you can improve upon in the future. If you're not familiar with the idea, radical responsibility is the idea that someone in a relationship with some abuser might say, “Yes, he is wrong for abusing me. But he is not the only person who can work on this problem. I have to ask myself why I was attracted to that sort of person who was likely to have almost no empathy towards me.” Or, a homeowner whose roof is leaking might say “Yes, clearly Acme did a bad job fixing my roof last summer. It is leaking and it should not be. But I also have to ask myself why I expected otherwise—why did I allow someone who does shoddy roofwork to fix my roof?” So it is the idea that even if there is a direct cause for the badness that you can point at and blame for all of the bad, often there may be indirect causes that enabled that cause to take place.

Similarly in software. Your site gets DDoSed, whose fault is that? Well, if you are being very strict and literal it is the fault of whoever ran the DDoS attack on you. But if you want to take radical responsibility for this, you would say “it was partly our fault, we should have been working with one of those companies that offers DDoS protection services.” They are still the bad people, but there is something you can do to fix the situation.

So yes: these folks did not give you what you needed. But why did you let them not give you what you needed? And isn't that something you can work on, getting stakeholders together to answer your questions about how this is supposed to work so that they can iron out their disagreements?

If you are asking those questions then you have a path forwards. Your boss is piling on hefty review comments as extra payload onto your feature—you can ask him whether he thinks it better to hold up the current feature to fix those problems or whether he would rather push out the current feature that is holding up the sprint and then attack those problems next sprint. So if you want to solve this problem and be a “model employee” (and I am not saying you do, there might be very valid reasons to start polishing your résumé) then the path is basically:

  1. Understand your COO’s needs. Why is the scope creeping on this feature? What do they really need addressed? What in the sprint is being held up right now? What might we be able to do to make sure that those things can still move forward even while this is stuck?

  2. Share what you need to accomplish those needs. For one example, “I hear that you want us to be delivering features at a faster cadence. I think my biggest struggle is that in our current codebase when I change one thing in one place I need to hunt it down and change it in a bunch of other places, and if I miss any of those changes there is a big bug, so I need to do a lot of manual testing. Once this feature is delivered is there any way you can get the rest of the business to sign off on pausing that constant feature push for a week of refactoring and cleaning this thing up and writing automated tests and such?”

You are running into difficult conversations where it is very easy to feel insulted and blamed—these other people are not being very nice to you, that is for sure! Those conversations are always hard. But you can, if you wish, choose to give the other person grace. You can always respond with those two magic answers, “you're right, ...(recap where you agree)” and “If I am understanding you correctly, are you saying that... (recap what you think they are saying in your own words).” The key to their magic is that if you do it right, the other person says “Exactly!” and you have built rapport in a tense moment without compromising yourself. Similarly with these responses you are avoiding getting tangled in some Identity. And that is important because Identity is both very useful and very dangerous. So, imagine, perhaps after some disagreement someone will maybe say “you are so dishonest!” and if your response is “how dare you call me that!” because you are attached to some Identity of ‘I am an honest soul!’—like, that reaction is not wrong, it is a fair reaction, but you are not going to have a pleasant conversation. Because your response was to fire back, to escalate, to invalidate. You can compare that to, “hey I can see that I did something which frustrated you, can we talk about it?”, viewing the relationship as more important than the accusation or label.

So I mean that is my advice. If you are going to leave, I sympathize and find that very acceptable. But if your goal is to stay and have a more harmonious relationship with everyone, then my advice is to take the backwards path: to say “you’re right, ...” when by all rights you should be saying “no, you’re wrong!” and to take radical responsibility for things that are “not your fault” by saying “okay given that these other people are going to slack on their commitments or not give me good acceptance criteria or whatever: how can I take responsibility for more of this product, and automate more of those tasks for them, and sit down the people who need to agree on a deliverable myself and get a notion for that deliverable, and create my own acceptance criteria as a model for my COO to use in communicating such things to me, and so forth?”

  • you're right, i should have rejected the task until it had the right requirements but i guess i was trying to get by, i'm still new and i don't want to say no to anyone when they ask me to do something. But yeah there's some I can take out of that and learn how to improve and avoid that situation in the future.
    – Nickolozo
    Mar 28, 2019 at 22:26
  • I didn't get what you meant about being a sympathetic narrator, do i have sympathy towards myself or the employer?
    – Nickolozo
    Mar 28, 2019 at 22:27
  • 1
    @Nickolozo sorry, a sympathetic narrator is when the narrator of a book (or whatever else has a narrator) is also a character in that book who we sympathize with, someone who we like and admire and want to see succeed.
    – CR Drost
    Mar 30, 2019 at 19:36

There is a bit of error in your question. As Richard U said, you cannot maintain a healthy mental state if you're constantly getting bullied. You should consider looking for another job, as a backup plan incase things go south.

I am going to assume you're not under probation, because if you were, he could fire you at any stage. If you are under probation, I'd work hard until you organise yourself another job.

Regarding your warning, from the Fairwork website:

If a business does use warnings they need to make sure:

  • they are clear about the reason for the warning
  • they write down all the details
  • that the warning is fair and reasonable in the circumstances
  • they set clear expectations about what needs to be done differently

It is very reasonable to seek clarity about what is meant in the warning. If language such as "not owning your work" is used, it's fair to ask what is meant.

It is also reasonable to ask for additional training.

If you get fired, you can ask Fairwork to take a look. That's why it's important you document everything. Gives dates and times of discussions with your boss.

If he refuses you additional training, or clear points on how to improve, these are all things that can count against them.

But what will count against you is if you don't show a commitment to take on board feedback and improve. (You've already demonstrated that you want to get better by working long hours).

Good luck.

  • Taking on feedback can be hard. Thank you for this insight, it has helped me. Apr 6, 2019 at 1:52

Before making conclusions about what actions you should take as your next step, I think it's important to step back, take a deep breath, evaluate the situation, and make sure you're seeing and understanding the whole picture. This way, you can understand if there are any lessons to be learned, and even if you do decide to move on, you'll end up in a better place with a better understanding of the dynamics that lead to this situation. You seem to be upset that your working lots of overtime hasn't made this problem go away - I agree, that's upsetting. But it's also pretty clear that doing what you were doing before, but doing it for many more hours, wasn't what he was looking for.

Having an aggressive boss sucks. It makes things emotional, and it's hard to work when you're emotional. Having a boss that uses generic terms like "you need to own your work" also sucks - it's not very clear what that means, and without clarity, it's hard or impossible to take an action that will result in him being satisfied.

So - the first step is to clarify, in actionable terms, what "owning your work" means. If he's open to discussing, that's probably the best route. You can suggest,

I want to make sure I'm owning my work, can you help me understand some specifics of what that means?

If a discussion doesn't help, or he's not open to discussing, you have the opportunity to suggest and then see what his feedback is. Such as,

In order to demonstrate that I'm owning my work, I'm planning on doing X, Y, and Z this week - let me know if that meets your expectations.

If he corrects your plan, then you're getting the feedback you need, and you have an action plan. If he doesn't correct it, or continues to be vague, well - you tried your best, and you gave him the opportunity to lead, which he failed at.

Assuming you reach the point of having made an effort to clarify expectations, and you've continued to make no progress, then it may in fact be time to move on. But even if that's the case, the effort you invested wasn't lost, for two reasons: You can now leave with a clean conscience, knowing that you've taken reasonable measures to understand and fulfill your boss's expectations. And perhaps more practically, you've learned some valuable lessons:

  • It's important to get clarity on expectations when they're not clear
  • You now have a good understanding of a management style you're not compatible with.

As you interview for your next position, those lessons will be important. Consider the style of management and the type of boss you know you will (or will not) be compatible with, and look for that in the hiring manager at the companies you're interviewing with. When they prompt you to ask questions of them during the interview, take the time to ask questions about leadership style, How work is managed, and other aspects that you've determined are important to you.

In short: Rather than running at the first sign of trouble, take the time to understand the trouble and make sure you're applying yourself correctly. And if that fails, and you do decide to run, you can consider this as a learning experience that can help you grow, rather than just as a bad memory to forget about.


Congratulations to your new job. What you (and others) can learn from it:

Never let your boss stress you. If you think you're doing a good job, and your boss is picking on you, keep on doing your good job. Don't give a **** about what the boss is saying to you. Keep working your normal time, without rushing, because everyone except your stupid boss knows that by working your normal time, without rushing, without caring what stress the stupid boss tries to put on you, makes you most productive.

If your boss is like that, remember you owe him absolutely nothing. He tries to damage your life, you shouldn't have any problem damaging his. So spending time looking for a new and better job (and delivering less in your current job) is absolutely appropriate in this situation. He's supposed to manage you. If you are less productive because he is a shitty manager and/or a shitty human being overall, that's his problem, not yours.

Finally: If you are in a sprint, and you finish a task, and the requirements change, then you have done your task, and a new task is created for the new requirements, with new points.


Haha this sounds a lot like an issue I had at a previous company I worked for which may or may not be an international e-commerce giant named after a rainforest in South America. I wonder if it's the same company ;-)

Sounds like your boss is an ass. Unfortunately, your boss is also your boss. Time to find a new boss. Update your resume and send it out now, before the situation gets worse. You should also probably start documenting interactions between you and your boss just in case you have a case after they inevitably fire you (and they will inevitably fire you, they're just setting it up now).


Getting bullied at work is probably one of the most frustrating situations you can face. Especially when the bully is in such a high level position.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • You need to stop working late. You're not doing yourself or the company any good.
  • Talk to your coworkers. Is this happening only to you or others too? Are you being singled out? Are you doing your job badly or is it personal?
  • Get support. Seek assistance from coworkers or other higher ups. Since your bully is the COO, you have little choice but to go to the CEO directly. If they're accessible and you can arrange a meeting, do it.
  • Speak to HR. Use this as a last resort. HR will listen to you but, they might overlook his bullying.
  • Look for a new job. If your COO is truly setting you up to fail, better find a job now while you're employed.

Maintaining a good mental health is paramount. Act fast and get rid of this person from your life, one way or the other.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .