WORKING DISORDER
Horrible Bosses
Karen Ann Monsy
Friday, April 20, 2012

With several unhappy employees unafraid to talk about the different ‘faces of terror’ that dominate their workspace, it may shock you out of your cubicle to know what goes on in some offices around town

Sundays were always “difficult days” for Dave*. He was almost consistently late by 10-15 minutes every week — not because he was being cavalier, but because he just couldn’t motivate himself to return to the grind again. Who could if they had to wake up each work day desperately wishing they could bribe Time into racing through that leg from nine to five? Or had to agonise over whether today would be the day the boss finally bust a vein from screaming himself hoarse at you… in front of all your colleagues…

The boss. That person of authority you’d ideally expect to make life at the workplace run smoothly. Instead, the very thought of him/her makes you want to break out into a sweat.

Well, if it comes as any relief, you should know: you are not alone.

According to a study released last year, 46 per cent of employees said they had worked for an unreasonable manager. That’s almost half the respondents polled. Alarming? Local stats are even more telling. Last week, wknd. asked 422 people whether they thought they had an unreasonable boss. A whopping 72 per cent answered, yes.

But while it may be argued that not all bosses are in the running for the title of modern day Cruella Di Vil and ‘delusional’ employees who prefer blaming line managers for their own ineptitude abound, it was a mark of how many unhappy staffers in the city there are that we found people almost tripping to talk to us about why life on the work front wasn’t working out as well as they’d thought.

We soon discovered that there were different kinds of horrible bosses too: the saboteur (who takes credit for work that is not his own), the politician (who plays both sides), the workaholic (who loves his overtime), the sleazebag (who’s constantly making passes at the women in office)... Here, we focus on the three that beat their counterparts to the top — and go beyond the customary gripes and rants as well. The accounts are anonymous (for obvious reasons), but their stories are unapologetically true.

The Abusive Boss

For more than two long decades, Dave had spent his life working his way up in a major trading company in Dubai. He describes his former boss as having skills few others had. “My boss was a very intelligent person with a good heart and a high vision for implementation and achievement. But his strong weakness was an inability to manage his people,” says the executive, a team leader himself.

Despite the fact that Dave had proved his mettle at work on several occasions before, his boss chose to employ constant policing techniques, something he felt seriously damaged the team building process. Every day, the man would take to publicly insulting and humiliating his subordinates on various counts — including Dave, who said he’d do so “even in front of my juniors — people who came up in the company under my training.” Once or twice, it’s forgivable, he continues. “But every day if you pile on someone and then apologise the next day, it won’t work.”

The experience was a rude shock for Dave, whose first boss had been a very “people-oriented person” — one who insisted the team travel out of the city together once a month for a break — even if they failed to meet targets every now and then. “All the deficits would be made up the following month though,” he recalls. “That’s how motivated we were. If there were no commissions that year, we understood. But his flexibility and transparency allowed us to grow in the team and develop great respect for him as well. When he left the company, the whole team travelled a long way to see him off.”

The verbal harassment from his successor, however, went on for several years, with Dave convincing several colleagues to stick it out and not quit. Meanwhile, senior management members also took to advising his boss on many occasions to change his unprofessional conduct towards staff. The boss’s failure to comply finally resulted in his being shown the door recently. And Dave can’t help but admit: peace now reigns.

He wishes his former boss no ill and is sure he’ll find a job again easily enough. “Many organisations want numbers and don’t care about people so he’d be in demand anywhere,” he says, thankful his company is not one of those. “He had excellent merits — but it was his people management skills that dug his grave.”

The Control-Freak Boss

Asked to describe his boss in a word, Bhaskar’s* reply of “Hitler” couldn’t have been more instant if you’d pushed a button on one of those coffee machines. Perhaps he would like to reconsider? “Nope,” he insists. “That’s exactly what she is — a female dictator.” The view, we confirm, is not a personal grudge — but one held by “almost everyone in the company”. Even clients interact with her just once and conclude she should’ve been a man, Bhaskar adds, dispassionately.

The Dubai-based executive, who has had a background in HR and sales over the last seven years and currently works in the service industry, doesn’t believe his boss’s position demands such harsh tactics. “She thinks she can get her work done through dominance and arrogance,” he explains. “People do the job, but out of fear — not respect.”

Of all the kinds of bosses there are, which category does his fall into? “A mix of all the ‘horribles’,” he states. “She doesn’t trust her own staff and is very particular that nobody enters her room (even to collect important documents) in her absence. She’ll purposely withhold approval on employee documents at times and then berate us for not getting it done. She gets her team to prepare certain reports for senior management — and if it’s a good one, she’ll let them think she put it together. She won’t leave any instructions on how she wants things done but has made us rectify a single letter up to seven times once, effectively holding up pretty much a whole day’s work for the approval of a single document.”

Things weren’t always so bad, he clarifies. “My previous boss was extremely understanding and supportive. He also had a very caring side: visiting me once when I was sick and gifting me with a microwave oven when I moved house. The gifts were unnecessary but he was a good man, and you wanted to go out of the way for him — even if it meant working odd hours at times.”

To give his current supervisor her due, Bhaskar says she is definitely a hard worker and dedicated to the company. “But unfortunately, her communication skills are very poor. She doesn’t think before she talks. If there is a problem, she’ll first blast and then make enquiries.” But even — post-blast — once she finds out that the person was not at fault, she doesn’t bother apologising, he says. “Is it any wonder she’s not popular?”

So how does he deal with the situation? “Everything depends on her mood,” he says, simply. “I avoid taking anything to her on Sundays because they’re her worst days. She’s happiest on Thursdays so anything I take to her for approval gets done almost immediately.” Bhaskar says he’s entertained thoughts of quitting several times — and even come very close to doing so. “For now though, I’m not sure I want to take such a step without getting another job in hand first. I’m just taking each day as it comes.”

The Racist Boss

Marie* had heard plenty of horror stories about her new boss before the lady was even introduced to the small team of three. The introduction didn’t change much of the initial impression though as the new boss proceeded to lay down a laundry list of ground rules before sweeping off to her quarters upstairs. Her first major gripe was directed at Marie’s colleague (an Indian), who she informed was not to wear salwars or bindis anymore, despite the lack of company-instituted dress code. That was pretty much where it all began.

[Over the course of research for this report, we’ve come across patterns too consistent to ignore that suggest nationality may have a part to play in whether bosses turn out good or bad — but that’s a story for another time. For now, suffice it to say, Marie’s allegedly racist boss was not from India.]

Marie’s colleague, who had proved herself as their former boss’s right hand, continued as before but was increasingly becoming the target of their new boss’s ire. About four months later, the colleague was dismissed by the boss who found her “inefficient”. Marie, the only Indian travel writer at the leading Dubai-based publishing company at the time, was soon summoned and asked to file five stories in two days.

“I told her that was an unreasonable deadline,” she recounts, “but she banged her fist on the table and said she’d call the shots around there. The woman started a new pattern of coming downstairs just to yell at me.” Marie, in the meanwhile, was finding a quiet confidence to stand up to her boss building up.

Once, on the Indian Independence Day, when all the ladies were in traditional attire, Marie’s boss demanded of her: “Why are you wearing that outrageous outfit?” To which she replied, “It is not an outrageous outfit; it’s called a salwar kameez. It’s part of my culture so I’ll wear it if I please.” The retort didn’t go down very well with her boss.

The last straw came when not long after, her boss tried to demote her to a position that would involve no more writing or travelling, as her former position required her to. “I later learnt I was being replaced by her sister,” says Marie. “I had three days to accept the offer and had made up my mind to quit but first I took copies of all my work over the last year as well as of her abusive emails and demanded a meeting with the company owner.”

Though Marie’s boss got wind of it and threatened she’d never work again if she took it up with the Big Boss, she did manage an audience with the owner who heard her out, including her grievances of the racist boss. “I heard she was fired the very next week,” she says. “The owner, a fantastic gentleman, had told me he’d tolerate anything in that firm — but not racism.”

In her experience, has she found the theory that female bosses make for worse managers than their male counterparts true? “That has been my general experience, yes — but you have the exception to the rule. Like the boss at my next workplace. When I saw my next HOD was a woman again, I literally thought: Oh no. But she turned out to be more of a friend than a boss. Work was never a stressful place because of her and she made all the difference in the world. They say you don’t get to choose your relatives but I like to think you don’t get to choose your boss either.”

Careful, Now

In the 15 years since she started working in human resources and for employee welfare, Nuria Gonzalez-Martin has found the candidates who approach her company for help with placements are almost always looking for the same thing in a boss: a good communicator and someone who can guide them on what their expectations are.

The HR director of RealHR Consulting, a firm that outsources human resource services, she does not believe a horrible boss is indicative of a horrible person. “You could have a horrible boss who’s actually a very nice person so it’s not indicative of that at all,” she feels. “It’s indicative of the work environment, the requirements and the internal infrastructure. Some companies are just better at dealing with stress — which, incidentally, is what causes individuals to become negative individuals in a workplace in the first place.”

Sundays may be feet-dragging days for most people trying to get over the weekend blues but there’s a lot to say for the boss who can still inspire his/her team to want to report for duty.

Like Dave — who now has a cool new boss. Dave’s wife caught him just as he was leaving the house on a recent Thursday morning.

“Where are you off to so early?” she asked, curiously.

“To work, of course,” he said with a happy grin, before heading out the door.

Horrible Bosses in Pop Culture

Working Girl — Melanie Griffith plays a young secretary trying to make it in the big, bad corporate world. When her boss (Sigourney Weaver) steals her idea and passes it off as her own, she takes matters into her own hands by pretending to be her boss. Watch out for the inevitable showdown in the end, though Harrison Ford — who plays Griffith’s love interest — proves some men look far more dashing with age.

The Devil Wears Prada — Meryl Streep deserves every bit of acclaim for her superior portrayal of Miranda Priestly, an insufferable fashion editor believed to have been ‘inspired’ by Anna Wintour. Anne Hathaway stars as the naïve underling tasked with nothing less than the impossible (arrange a copter in the middle of a hurricane, anyone?) but in whom Streep eventually meets her match. Emily Blunt scores full marks in the snooty department.

The Simpsons — Voiced by Harry Shearer, Mr Burns is Homer Simpson’s villainous boss, who’ll go through any means — often with his sycophantic aide, Smithers — to achieve his ends. Read on.

Burns: “Is it wrong to cheat to win a million dollar bet?”

Smithers: “Yes, sir.”

Burns: “Let me rephrase that. Is it wrong if I cheat to win a million dollar bet?”

Smithers: “No, sir. Who should I kill?”

Need we say more?

Swimming with Sharks — Kevin Spacey turns out to be the boss from hell who subjects his new assistant (Frank Whaley) to extreme emotional trauma. Frank finally snaps and kidnaps his boss to exact his own revenge — only to find sides to his boss, and himself, he’d never known before. A disturbing exploration of the dark side of the human psyche.

Horrible Bosses — What do you do when you can’t stand your boss? Murder them, of course. At least, that’s the logic according to these three employees when they can’t bear their respective bosses (Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell and Kevin Spacey [him again!]) anymore. We wouldn’t recommend following in their footsteps, but watching the movie may provide some form of therapeutic relief.

All names changed. (Have you had an unreasonable boss? Tell us your experiences at karen@khaleejtimes.com.)

 

 

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