I work for a small tech company (~10 people) as a software developer. I have been here for 2 years now and I am slowly realizing how manipulative my boss is (unfortunately he is also the owner).

One of his acts is to message me as soon as I leave my desk. I am at my desk 90-95% of the time, but somehow ~25% of his messages come when I am away from my desk, and amazingly enough they often come within minutes (or sometimes seconds!) of me leaving for lunch. My boss can't see me at my desk from his private office in the back, but his mom is our secretary who sits in the front and can see everyone enter/leave. I am pretty sure she must be messaging him as soon as I leave and then he messages me. When my boss messages me for real it is usually with an assignment that he would like me to focus on today/tomorrow/this week. The messages he sends as soon as I take a lunch break contain some bs question I know he doesn't care about (he would never ask for my opinion otherwise/doesn't care what I think) and he is just fishing for an answer. I'd say he is trying to keep track of my lunch break (i.e. the time I respond when I get back from lunch - the time he initially messaged me which is right after I left for lunch), or intimidate me into not taking my lunch break, or both.

In the past when he has attempted this, I have simply ignored his messages (the greatest feeling I have ever had at work sadly) until he has seen me in the office. At which point I will respond, so he can't get mad at me for ignoring him, but his plan doesn't work since I didn't message him back right away he has no idea how long I took for lunch. This caused him to back off for a while, but he started doing it again a couple of weeks ago. When he did it today I confronted him about it, asking him to stop and to treat me with more respect. He claimed it was a coincidence that he messaged me the exact same minute I left for lunch (LOL!). He only referred to today, tho we both know it has been happening since I started working 2 years ago. I didn't press him about it and accepted his answer that it was a coincidence (tho he must know from my tone/body language that I don't actually believe him) because I just wanted to get the point across that I was aware of what he was doing, hoping that will stop him.

I am an incredibly shy/quiet person in general which makes me a target for this kind of bullying. My boss also invades my personal space, uses intimidating body language, will respond to me/ignore me as a reward/punishment and does countless other manipulative things I don't have time to list/don't even know about yet.

This is a horrible job that I want out of desperately. The pay is low, can't stand my coworkers, boss obviously sucks, toxic environment in general and I'm not gaining very good technical skills. I know people will ask why I am still in this job after 2 years and believe me, getting out is all I think about (that is a separate story). The sick part is my boss knows that I am miserable/want to get the f out, but since I haven't yet it's because I can't. So he can continue to low ball me/treat me like crap and I will continue to work out of fear of getting fired and worsening my already sh*tty situation.

I feel like I am in a very desperate situation. I am fighting like hell to get out, but in the meantime what can I do about my boss? I hate the way he treats me and I want to stand up for myself, but at the same time can't risk getting fired. Please help!

Edit: This should not be on hold. There is a very clear question here: How should I handle a manipulative boss? Do I have to play his games? Should I be passive aggressive (i.e. ignore him when he's being manipulative)? Confront him (if I do this again I will basically be calling my boss, who is also the owner, a liar)? This is my first real world job and I have no experience dealing with a boss like this. Everything else provided is just background. It is not a question of whether or not he is doing what I described above. He is. I am not paranoid, I have worked with him for 2 years now, I know what he is like. The messages he sends when I leave for lunch is one very specific example (and it happened the day I wrote this so it was fresh in my mind), but there are many others (this is his MO)

Edit 2: I have realized unfortunately that no one in this thread is intelligent enough to understand what I am talking about. Most of the replies below are stupid, a few were helpful. Thanks anyways

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    Quoting you : This is a horrible job that I want out of desperately. The pay is low, can't stand my coworkers, boss obviously sucks, toxic environment in general and I'm not gaining very good technical skills. You have already decided to leave. Try to "not care". You will be out quite soon (hopefully), and you know your boss' technique, work on ignoring it. – Thalantas Dec 1 '16 at 10:40
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    A boss who really wanted to know how long your lunch break is would require you to punch out for lunch. What's the problem with him knowing how long your break is? It's his right to know that. – Roland Dec 1 '16 at 12:50
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    Also consider that if he's conspiring with the secretary to find out how long your lunch breaks are, it would be far easier and less "suspicious" to just ask the secretary how long they are. If she knows when you leave, she knows when you get back, too. No need for complicated messaging schemes. – Kokiomot Dec 1 '16 at 14:44
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    When everyone around you is an a-hole, you might actually be the problem. You say that your boss is a bully, that your coworkers are terrible, etc. Is this really the objective truth, or is that you view the world in an overly negative way? I honestly can't tell from a single post, however claiming that literally everyone around you is a problem is a pretty good indication that something may be wrong with your perception of things. – AndreiROM Dec 1 '16 at 15:40
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    Well, if your question is how do I handle a manipulative boss, you should clean a lot of your post, removing everything that is subjective (feelings, ...). Quote some facts as example of his manipulation, ask how to handle this. Point end of the question. Like remove the This is a horrible job that I want out of desperately paragraph, it add no values in order to help you to answer or can be replaced by my environment is toxics to me I don't get along with the other coworkers so I don't think I can rely on them – Walfrat Dec 2 '16 at 15:09

Your whole topic is incredibly petty to me.

  1. He allegedly emails you the minute your lunch break starts. So what? You'll get back to him when you're done with your lunch break. And not one minute before you decide that you're done with your lunch break. If you are on your lunch break, you don't owe him your immediate attention unless your workplace is on fire or he is having a heart attack. And in case you missed it: he DOES have the right to send emails to you and anyone else in creation on your lunch break. Just as you have the right to return the favor and email him on HIS lunch breaks.

  2. His emails include bs questions. So what? Answer the bs questions and be done with those questions. As long as he pays you, he can ask you any bs question he wants. If you're wasting time, it's the time that he is paying you for. Not your problem, and certainly not your headache.

  3. Your boss uses threatening body language. So what? If you ignore his body language, he doesn't have a body language let alone a body language to threaten you with. He can use any threatening body language he wants but the minute he does something physical, he is in criminal court and either he knows it or he should know it.

You're letting bs get to your head and the result I see is that you have plenty of paranoia to share with us. If you don't let the bs get to your head, then you won't have any paranoia to share with us. Come on, worst case scenario: he knows EXACTLY when you're taking your lunch break and he emails you right then. What does his choice of timing get him? If I were the one being emailed, exactly nothing. In fact, I view anyone's attempt to screw with my mind with amusement bordering on hilarity.

Frankly, I suspect that you lack self-confidence - should I interpret your statement that you are "an incredibly shy/reserved person" any other way? - and that your lack of self-confidence colors how you see your surroundings including the world around you and including your boss.

You are the one who are going to have to solve this, and you start by looking at the world differently. Like not as a victim or a potential victim of bullying, for example.

  • +1 Great answer. You have a way with words that allows you to broach a difficult subject with kindness and consideration. – Lumberjack Dec 2 '16 at 14:59
  • @Lumberjack - I have my moments :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 2 '16 at 15:04

From what you are explaining, you are making the assumption he sends emails at lunch time to record the time you spend at lunch.

First, it seems he didn't seems to make criticisms about it. Second, you may be fixating on this as you feel you are in a bad position (low salary, low motivation etc.)

To answer the question at hand, it may well be that your boss is manipulative about those emails, but since he hasn't made pressure about your time lunch, you cannot do anything about it.

Focus on more important issues (that you pointed out in your post) rather than focusing on smaller issues that you might not have notice in an healthy environement.

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