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Is It Toxic? My Supportive Boss Did a 180. Now She’s Grilling Me and Nitpicking

By | Benish Shah |

Welcome to “Is It Toxic?” our new advice column for all the most pressing questions you have about toxic work situations but didn’t know who to ask—until now. Here to help is Benish Shah, a startup operator who’s coached executives and managers on navigating toxic workplaces, negotiating exits, and architecting workplace policies to combat toxic cultures. She’s currently working on a book about creating anti-toxic workplaces. Have a question to submit? You can reach her at or @benishshah. And for more advice, visit our “Toxic Aware” hub.

Dear Benish,

I said yes to a job because I was excited to work with the manager on my team. She had great experience and I felt like I could learn so much. And for the first few months, it was great. She was tough but she spent time helping me and listening to me.

Over the last few months, everything changed. She’s become nitpicky, wants to know everything I’m working on, and if something goes wrong she goes into what she calls “cause finding mode” and grills me. She’s being harder on me and my team and I’m tired. While I want to be good at my job, I don’t understand how I went from having a supportive boss to one who micromanages my every move. I feel like I’m suffocating and every time a Slack message pops up from her, I panic that I did something wrong. I feel like I can’t succeed here.


Confused and Exhausted in New York


Dear Confused,

It’s tempting to declare your boss is toxic and call it a day. Believe me, it’s the easier conclusion.

The anxious response to a Slack message, the micromanaging, the feeling of being grilled for mistakes all point toward an environment that lacks psychological safety for you. Research, including an analysis from Google, shows that psychological safety—the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for making mistakes or speaking up at work—is essential when it comes to feeling motivated and collaborating with our teams for the best results in the workplace.

What’s less clear is whether the issue is your boss, full stop, or internal pressures coming from the top down that are leading to her behavior change. My experience leads me to wonder: Is she trying to protect your job, and your team, from a larger issue going on behind the scenes? Is this as unpleasant for her as it is for you?

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