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I work at a fairly large private school in both the IT and library departments. Myself and four other people make up the IT help desk, providing computer and audio-visual help for those that need it (usually walk-in). Our duties also include supervision of students at recess & lunch when they come in to read or play games

The five of us are managed by a person who is essentially Jen from The IT Crowd -- she knows nothing about computers, but manages the library, and, by extension, us. She's also a part time teacher. She is very inconsistent with the rules, usually ignoring them or overriding them when the mood strikes

For example, if students don't have a laptop (because it's getting repaired by a third party), they bring in proof of repair and we give them a laptop to use until theirs is fixed. The rules are very straightforward and are actually documented in a place accessible by parents -- no proof, no laptop. EDIT: They have to sign a piece of paper to say they took the laptop, but some kids try and use our machines in place of being organised and getting their own laptop fixed ("if school has one to loan, why fix my own?")

However the boss frequently bends the rules, giving out laptops with no proof of repair, but telling us off if we attempt to do the same thing for the same student she did it for, or walking up and telling a kid (in front of us) not to worry about a receipt just yet, and getting us to loan a laptop out anyway.

She'll also tell us off if we're not paying 100% attention to the kids at recess, but the very next recess, she'll sit at the front desk and do work, only keeping a quarter of an eye on the kids. Other times, she'll encourage us to finish our coffee in the back work area and watch the kids through the glass window at the back -- hardly 100% attention.

All in all, there's a few times a week where this happens (sometimes once or twice a day)

The rules seem to change based on the present situation, who is dealing with the situation and what kind of a mood she is in. If the employee has done nothing to piss her off, they'll get off lightly. Make a mistake, and she'll tell them off in front of other employees, and sometimes the students too. If you're a female employee, you're more likely to get off (she openly admitted to only interviewing one person on our team because she thought he was a female, based on his name)

If we mention these to her, she shrugs off the hypocrisy as her being the boss and being able to bend the rules. Documenting such instances is hard to do, because most of the rules she's changing aren't formal (such as supervising the students. Our contracts state that we're to supervise, but doesn't forbid us from standing at the desk for two minutes, checking an email and keeping half an eye on the two dozen kids in the library)

TL;DR: My boss temporarily changes the rules all the time, even if those changes go against written policy. She'll then tell us off for doing what she does, and then brush us off if we try and bring her up on it. How do I deal with her inconsistency on the rules?

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    Change your work behavior seemingly at random? – Socrates Jun 10 '16 at 23:22
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    Her leadership style is authoritarian. With authoritarian leaders you have two choices: (1) follow her rules or (2) work elsewhere. Confrontation with an authoritarian is a bad idea. There is not much you can do about the stress of working under an authoritarian leader except to learn coping skills. One coping skill is to write down her rules so your precious brain juice is not wasted on remembering them. – LongThrow Jun 10 '16 at 23:54
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    "If you're a female employee, you're more likely to get off (she openly admitted to only interviewing one person on our team because she thought he was a female, based on his name)" This is gender discrimination and a crime in many countries, you should consider report this to her superior. – Frozendragon Jun 11 '16 at 0:20
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    "giving out laptops with no proof of repair, but telling us off ..." So when a kid complains that she got a laptop from the boss yesterday and you won't give her one today, the simple answer is "Well, the boss can break the rules whenever she wants to, but we aren't allowed to do that." If that response means the kids get into the habit of searching for the boss rather than bothering you, then you win - and if the boss then tells you to start breaking the rules, you also win. – alephzero Jun 11 '16 at 1:16
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Your examples don't tell me that she changes the rules. They tell me that she believes she is authorized to break the rules and you are not. Your solution to this is to follow the rules yourself, and try to not get worked up when you see her breaking them. She may actually know enough to know when exceptions are needed, or she may be a selfish bad person who is getting away with something. Since you don't have to manage her or run the library, don't worry about that.

Don't lend laptops to students without receipts. Pay 100% attention to the kids at recess. Don't try to do what she does. Stop trying to figure out what it would take for you to be able to do what she does. You'll be instantly happier. You may also find she is nicer to you, but that's not why I'm suggesting this course of action to you. You're just taking on a burden you don't need -- why can she break the rules and under what circumstances is it safe for me to break them -- and your life will be easier if you stop doing that.

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    +1 Part of being a boss is knowing when to bend or break rules, and actually being authorized to do it. – Doyle Lewis Jun 10 '16 at 16:29
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    +1 for "You're just taking on a burden you don't need". Regardless of whether she's applying different rules because she has more experience/visibility on things/authority, or simply because she's selfish, you will be much happier if you just do your job. You are not paid to keep an eye on her, and worrying about it will only make things worse. Unless her actions have a direct consequence on your day-to-day job, live and let live. – Marco Leogrande Jun 10 '16 at 23:42
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    We can (and do) follow the rules, but part of the frustration is when she barks at us no matter what. We could be watching 100% of the time, but still get quizzed about the email that just came through. I just feel like we can't win. Also, we have to deal with the aftermath of her rule changes. If you have 10 laptops on loan but 9 receipts, was one loan Jen's doing, or did we loose the receipt? Or did something else happen? Running a helpdesk that spans 1000 students on three campuses is hard enough as it is. – Johnny Jun 11 '16 at 2:26
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    I also just edited the question to show examples of HOW she changes the rules for us. A week ago, we got told off for standing out the back drinking coffee (watching through the window in case a student came in for help), then yesterday we got told to go out the back and finish our coffee and to come out if a kid walks in. Very confusing. – Johnny Jun 11 '16 at 2:35
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    @Johnny: " Also, we have to deal with the aftermath of her rule changes. If you have 10 laptops on loan but 9 receipts, was one loan Jen's doing, or did we loose the receipt? Or did something else happen?" - this is a crucial point, because it means she can break the rules and blame the results on you, even if you always follow the rules. No receipt can mean there is no proof whatsoever that you didn't just take the laptop home. – O. R. Mapper Jun 11 '16 at 12:32
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You can't "fix" your boss, or her very broken code of ethics.

You're also a relative nobody compared to her, so you can't get her fired or otherwise disciplined by rocking the boat - although you could lose your job.

My advice is to either start playing office politics and make sure to get on her good side (in which case stop being bothered by her bending the rules), or find a new job working for a better class of manager.

Fair warning though: this sort of crap is very common (because it's human nature). You'll run into more people who abuse the system than people who enforce the rules even to their detriment.

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