What is the most professional way of dealing with a manager whose management style is arbitrary?

My management ( is/appears to be ) motivated by personal moods, daily attitude, or whatever whim or fancy strikes them at a moments notice and it makes it hard to stay motivated. As an employee that strives to perform at, or above, expectations it makes it difficult when a management style doesn't recognize actual accomplishments but rather momentary personal discomforts or moods.

During performance reviews I have received less than middle-ground ratings. When I ask for what can be done to improve in these areas I am told to work harder. I ask for clarification, because as an hourly employee I am not allowed to work more than 40 hours. I already work up to the minute I have to clock out. I take breaks only when nature calls or I need to clear my head and try to see the problem away from the keyboard. No clear answer is ever given. No process or workflow presented to offer me a direction to try. Just "Work Harder."

Management had previously been the only person doing work in this discipline organization-wide (pretty much) and had very little actual experience doing that work. Having held a sales position in this discipline selling software rather than being even an actual user before being hired in to my organization. Now, the work previously produced by their position has gone through several advancements. The tools used to even create the files and working solutions are no longer in use. A lot of the technology needed to recreate their work is newer, HTML5-based, and has required reworking completely in every aspect of the work.

However, once hired I was put to work using the outdated technology to maintain the applications I was supposed to replace. Which was fine, no problem. I did the work. However, I had never been trained in the software used to create these applications yet I was constantly criticized for each process I worked through. There were no manuals, no tutorials, no guides for doing the customized work needed with these outdated tools yet I was required to balance between doing this maintenance while preparing for the massive overhaul.

Meanwhile, my only co-worker (in this discipline) is promoted to supervisor role (much deserved) and he is ready to push towards a drop of the old and bring on the new. Which appears to amp up the stress and anxiety of management as their old applications come closer to retirement. I begin setting up newer systems, working with my co-worker (who isn't a programmer, but rather a specialist in the data-type of this discipline). So between him and I we begin rebuilding the foundation that these applications are built on. We start updating the older systems with our newer foundation. The data is cleaner, better organized, and things are looking good.

Management however becomes highly irritable with me. When I ask for what I am doing that needs correction there isn't an answer. I can't get the responses I need. My performance review isn't bad, but it's (almost) the worse I've received in the decade+ I've worked with this organization. All attempts at clarification are rebuffed. All jobs are now being assigned by my supervisor co-worker but management is still showing up, micromanaging at points, trying to apply concepts from the old technology built on faulty foundation, to a new system that requires custom coding in many instances.

Supervisor manages to redirect much of the problems but prefers working with the data and pushing the disciplines agenda organization wide in order to get a broader base of end-users (which he succeeds at).

Meanwhile, I'm still dealing with spot-check-style management. If a problem is discovered on their old systems (which are being phased out piecemeal and expected to start to fail), makes a point to bring it up in un-related meetings, personal chidings about points that are technically wrong or uninformed. And to refer back to the performance reviews technically management doesn't even have the experience to evaluate a large portion of what I do anymore. Yet I am left to believe it's at a poor level.

I have had multiple instances where it was made known that management was certain I would fail at extra-curricular activities, presentations at several regional conferences, presentations at a local self-hosted conference, and more. Meanwhile, afterwards it's made clear by all involved that I not only didn't fail, but instead have now been asked to present more regularly.

The work I do is quality. The effort I expend is quality. I am treated as sub-par excepting AFTER events where organizationally I am recognized for my endeavors. If he is in front of co-workers then suddenly everything changes and I get beaming audible praise.

I could leave this position. Agreed. However, the discipline I have now gained considerable knowledge, skill and competence in is fun. I enjoy the technical aspects, I am thrilled to develop the solutions I've had an opportunity to work on, and my co-workers (as this discipline has grown enough that our organization went from a single employee doing this to multiple co-workers) are a treat to work with. But the arbitrary degradation, the knowledge that I won't get a consistent management moment, means that I am less than thrilled. I keep this position for more than enjoyment of the work, I also have major health issues in my direct family and need the benefits that this organization provides.

I don't know the mind of my manager. I can only assume that he is doing things for the reasons I personally think they are done for. I believe that there is a jealousy of his old position. He has commented several times that he wishes he would go back to doing this work (now that the foundation has been properly set and the technology upgrade has begun). As most of the work I do has (literally) zero organization guidelines (as we are the ones who create that as we go along) I have a hard time knowing the the work I do is based on the skills I have, and have gained, yet I am being evaluated by someone who is misinformed, unskilled, and personally invested in wanting to both see our group do great yet to get what he views as 'his limelight' back from an usurpers grasp.

What would the professional interaction / direction be on my part (as the employee) if I wanted to keep this job and try to find happiness in this position? I've received several amazing responses detailing documentation, which I am doing, that I plan on following their suggestions.

I have been told (repeatedly) by several commenters that my OP needed to follow the concept that "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better."

I was under the impression that I had done just that. From a hypothetical stance. Hopefully this appeases the requirements of this board.

closed as off-topic by IDrinkandIKnowThings, gnat, JB King, paparazzo, mcknz Nov 16 '15 at 22:44

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better. For more information, click here." – IDrinkandIKnowThings, gnat, JB King, paparazzo, mcknz
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.


Generally, there is no prescribed professional response to unprofessional behavior.

That said, the only thing to do is to behave as if the boss is behaving professionally. Always try to keep your cool. Always try to understand the motivation. Always try to use feedback (however presented) as a way of trying to understand how you can better yourself. Always be timely, respectful and responsive to situations as they arise. In other words, just because someone else is being unprofessional it does not mean that you should also.

The boss in this case has behavioral patterns. It is based on quantities and events that you cannot predict or easily measure. However, that does not mean that how you respond or how you feel is out of your control.

A professional will always behave as a professional. If the boss behaves inappropriately, a professional will do their best to minimize the appearance of the inappropriate behavior and respond as if the boss were appropriate, if at all possible and to the greatest extent of their abilities. If the instructions for a given task or assignment are not clear, then asking for clarification may be acceptable. If the boss is in a bad mood, then maybe you just press forward and do the best you can despite your lack of information and despite an expectation that the result will not be satisfactory. A professional will always do their best to meet or exceed expectations under all circumstances. Top performers are the ones able to get the best results even without ideal circumstances (or even while under duress or under very challenging circumstances).

A professional does this because to be a professional means that you have the skill, experience and confidence to know what you are doing is appropriate. You take each task and devote yourself to success in performing it. You recognize that you will not always succeed, and that it is your responsibility to always do your best to minimize failure. These attributes come from within someone, and others around you can try to suppress them, but they cannot control you.

Last, any person including a professional, over time, will cease developing as a professional in this type of setting/environment. You can gain valuable experience handling a difficult situation, but there is a limit to what you will gain. Seeing the value in this should help improve motivation and job satisfaction for a while. But like a good physical workout or intellectual challenges that help us to grow as individuals and professionals, these are not a good gauge of whether to stay or leave your job. Finding ways to develop and progress in this job can provide lifetime benefits, so search each day for ways to improve yourself and the company despite the arbitrary behavior of the boss.

If you handle yourself well, then others in the company will see and respect you, and this is the best form of job interview you can perform in an effort to find a better boss/manager/mentor. Besides making efforts to be valued internally, you should begin making preparations for finding a workplace where you feel more comfortable and can be more productive. Things may change where you are, but never plan for things to change, just monitor to determine whether or not they are changing, and respond accordingly. The old adage, "hope for the best, plan for the worst" may illustrate how to handle this.


Let's skip the moodiness of your manager. You may think it sucks that your manager is moody sometimes but I have had quite a few managers who were stuck in a bad mood.

On the other stuff you have an issue and maybe it is due to your boss or it isn't. You have a boss who was promoted. This boss is leaving you to do the things that he used to do. Of course he will be ultra-critical of these things because he knows how to do them, he knows how long it takes to do them, he knows why they need to be done, and most importantly he knows what the expectations are for them.

You need to do the following if you haven't already:

  • Meet with boss and get an outline of all of the MUST tasks that need to be done and when
  • Make sure the boss tells you why each of these tasks must be done. It is good for you to know some of the background. Especially if you are even thinking about evolving these tasks.
  • Know the stakeholders for each task. Who sees that these things were done, are these things reported on, do they go to upper-management, do other groups get held up if they aren't done.
  • Confirm with boss on the tasks that you can get done on the "correct" timeline (the timeline the boss used to meet). On the other tasks have a short-term plan on who will handle them (boss?) and when you can pick these up.
  • Confirm that there are tasks that you no longer need to do or new tasks that you need to pick up.

See I have been in your boss's shoes. You get a new bright employee who is supposed to take over their old stuff. Except this new employee wants to reinvent the world. Well guess what it might take 1-2 years to reinvent the world and as the new employee is reinventing the world, the boss is doing their new job plus a big portion of their old job. If you truly have taken 100% of the work from your boss's old job off his table I am pretty sure he would be in a good mood every day. Until you hit that 100% mark stop trying to do new things or change things. This can be very frustrating to listen to when work isn't getting done.


The best way to deal with a manager who is "arbitrary", is to relay tasks that have been assigned back to the manager, in writing, and clearly documented, prior to getting started. The documentation needs to show that although the manager wants Y at the end of the project, at the beginning the manager asked for X, the employee understood X, and the manager confirmed that X was expected.

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