‘Help! My boss mysteriously kicked me out of his inner circle and I have no idea why’

Ashley lutz ask the insider

Ask The Insider columnist Ashley Lutz answers all your work-related questions, including the awkward, sensitive, and real-world ones. Have a question? Email [email protected]
Dear Insider,

I have been at my current job for eight years. At this point in my 20-year career I have been in a variety of senior positions, including managing people, projects, and programs. I have always been well respected and a top-performer in any position I have been in.

About 18 months ago I noticed a radical change in the way that my boss was treating me. For the previous 5 years he had considered me one of his “inner circle” and a go-to for challenging projects, etc. Then, he began taking projects away from me, stopped inviting me to planning and strategic meetings, and deeply criticised anything that I was working on. I don’t believe that I have changed my work quality so I asked him point blank what the problem was and shared some of my observations. His response was “Nothing. We’re good.” I’ve followed up several additional times asking questions like “Where would you like to see me improve?” and “Can you give me some specific areas that I can focus on to make your job easier?” Every time I get very vague answers like “I think we all need to collaborate effectively.”

The old adage “People leave managers, they don’t leave jobs” is a very apt description here. I like my job responsibilities and my coworkers. I’ve recently been looking for a new position and have had some very good options. However, I am not vested in my stock and 401k for another 2 years and would hate to leave that money (about $150,000) on the table if I could at all help it.

If I end up with another offer, I feel like I am missing some critical information to help me make a good decision. Do you have any advice?


Confused by my boss


Dear Confused,

I can imagine how stressful this situation must be for you. After nearly two decades of excelling at your job, it must be incredibly disorienting to suddenly find yourself being treated like a problem employee.

It might make more sense if your boss hated you right off the bat and could be written off as a personal vendetta. But his sudden shift in attitude makes the situation all the more confusing.

The main reason bosses start acting aloof is because they are disappointed in an employee’s performance, according to experts. Think back to the last projects you were involved in before the falling out. Were there any missed deadlines? Did your team deliver what your boss wanted? Were there any clashes?

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Regardless of his reasons, your boss’ handling of this situation is egregious. He owes you — at the very least — feedback and an explanation of what went wrong so you have the chance to improve and make amends. The fact that he denied things were different is incredibly confusing and frustrating.

You’re understandably afraid of your boss. But I would have another conversation with him. Instead of point blank asking him what the problem is, ask how you can work toward privileges like being involved in planning meetings or overseeing projects.

It’s possible that if you initiate feedback in a less confrontational way, he will offer you more feedback and clues. If you matter-of-factly say, “I’m very interested in being involved in the planning stages of projects. How can I work toward this?” your boss can’t deny there is a problem. He has to provide some kind of explanation.

You say he has been “deeply critical” of your projects. Are his critiques consistent or confusing? If you find inconsistencies, I would also bring these up and ask for more clarification. For instance, “Dan, I noticed you asked for more data on Project X, and less data on Project Y. What is an example of a presentation that impressed you?”

Before this meeting, resolve to stay calm regardless of his words. Don’t get defensive. Nod and thank him for his feedback. If he asks you to do something different, say something simple like, “Yes, I will,” (a phrase that is proven to help you gain trust at work.)

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I understand how unhappy you must be because of your boss’ behaviour. I agree that it would be foolish to walk away from such a large sum of money you can gain in a short period of time. Unless you can get another company to match that sum, the best decision at the moment may be to stay put.

Business author Dan Pink has some great tips about how to stay sane in a toxic work environment. These include analysing what makes you happy about your job, structuring your schedule around coworkers who bring you joy, and writing down three good things at the end of each day.

Your boss is already abusing his position of power and making you miserable. Don’t let him be the reason you make a decision you might come to regret.


Ashley Lutz is a senior editor at Business Insider answering all your questions about the workplace. Send your queries to [email protected] for publication on Business Insider. Requests for anonymity will be granted, and questions may be edited.

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