my boss’s venting is stressing me out

A reader writes:

When lockdown began, my department initiated a daily online catch-up, usually lasting about half an hour, to see how everyone’s doing and for important work updates. Originally it was a nice way to check in, and though I don’t think a daily meeting is necessary, I really appreciate the effort to keep everyone connected.

The issue is that my manager, “Ron,” is not enjoying lockdown and is letting everyone know it. Our daily check-ins regularly feel like mini therapy sessions for him. He goes on at length about the lockdown situation, our government’s handling of the pandemic, our company’s response, the stress he’s under at work, how his two kids are struggling, the public’s inability to socially isolate, the bad weather, his wider political grumblings, his general bad mood and mental health, and so on. It’s incredibly draining and can leave me in a rut for the rest of the day. Often the rest of us will be having a fairly upbeat chat until Ron starts his piece, and you can literally see the life draining out of people’s faces.

These vents go on for some time, and while other people join the conversation, it’s very much Ron’s show. What’s even more frustrating is that he regularly apologizes (in a “ha ha, oh well” manner) for venting but makes no effort to change, and at the end will emphasize how lucky we are to still have jobs or urge people to share one positive thing at the meeting so we can “end on a high note.” Of course, by this point no one’s in the mood to feel lucky and can’t think of anything happy to save their lives!

I really, really feel for him and totally sympathize with his frustrations, but I’m beginning to feel like an outlet for free therapy. I don’t feel like it helps to get regular buckets of negativity dunked on us like this, and I really don’t feel it’s appropriate for managers to vent so much to subordinates who can’t get out of listening to him. (Particularly about the stress from an increased workload as a manager – isn’t that part of being in management, and one of the reasons for an increased salary?) Surely it’s more appropriate for managers to vent to their peers or their own bosses than to pile on downwards, to what is essentially a captive audience?

Am I just being heartless? I know these are difficult circumstances, but it feels like a flawed way to handle the situation, and the unspoken power dynamics of the whole thing make me uncomfortable. He’s an otherwise great and supportive boss, and the department is a close one with fewer lines drawn between senior and junior members of the team, so I understand how he might feel like he’s expressing his feelings to his friends – but still. I’m also unsure of how to handle this – while people are technically allowed to leave the check-ins early, consistently leaving early when everyone else is sticking around and while Ron is in mid-vent probably wouldn’t look too good – any advice?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

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