When Bad Bosses Happen to Good People

A bad boss.If you’ve never had a bad boss, you must have spent your career…self-employed! Unfortunately, managers who are incompetent or otherwise awful are a fact of working life. Indeed, a whopping 568 of you responded to our call for bad boss stories and the lessons you learned from the experience. Read these cringe-worthy tales—and commiserate.

“He would leave the voicemail message, ‘Call me, see me, do me,’ or if you asked how to deliver a letter to a client, he’d say, ‘I want a hand job.’ And he was an attorney at a labor and employment law practice!” My takeaway: “Just because someone knows better doesn’t mean he does the right thing. Also, you don’t have to be beholden to a job where you are treated badly—move on!”—Lisa B., senior director, legal

“If you weren’t at your desk when she needed you, she would loudly ask the room at large where you were. She would ask for your opinion, but never really wanted to hear it. She created Excel sheets to track our time down to the minute. We spent so much time documenting our time and meeting about what we accomplished in that time, that we never hit our marks.” My takeaway: “I have a set of questions I ask when I am interviewing for a job to assess the kind of manager the person is.”—Lisa, auditor

“We were all ‘stupid’ and not permitted to speak at any meetings with clients. One day, I violated the rule and immediately felt a hard, swift kick to my leg under the table. This is in addition to the countless times the egomaniacal bully would shove his hand in my face to stop me from asking a question. He would also summon you to his office, only to make you sit there while he ignored you and continued to work. My takeaway: “When someone has a bad reputation in the professional community, there is a good reason for it. Stay clear.”—Anonymous

“She would interrupt conference calls I was on to yell at me.”  My takeway: “I learned how not to lead, that women don’t always support each other and that we, as women, should not repeat what our male peers have done for years but bring our special skills to the workplace to improve it.” —Cynthia C., management analyst

“I was expecting my first child, and at about eight months along, I got really ill at work. I asked if I could leave early, and she replied, ‘Sure, but people may think you’re using your pregnancy as an excuse to get out of work.’ I was mortified, particularly since I had not taken one sick day the entire pregnancy. My takeaway: “Being an effective leader means being empathetic and making every effort to understand each individual’s situation.”—Katherine B., marketing

“I worked on Central Time and he was on Pacific Time. Almost every day, he would call me at 4 pm his time, which was 6 pm my time, and drill me about what I’d done that day. I was a single mother of three, and there were many times I would be stuck on the phone with him while my kids were waiting for me to pick them up from school.” My takeaway: “I let the fear of losing my job interfere with being a mom. I will never again compromise my values for anyone.”—Anonymous

“My boss played favorites. The rest of us got dirty looks, criticism and extra work. After a month though, the pet would fall out of favor in a very public way, and someone else would be anointed. And so our mistreatment continued.” My takeaway: “Treat all employees equally and with respect.”—Critias S., manager, finance

“She demanded that we give her our first-class upgrades on flights! She would also speak down to our vendor partners and leave us to clean up the mess, and order us around at conferences to the point that we would be fetching Diet Cokes for her. Total nightmare.” My takeaway: “Check your ego, always. I never want to be viewed the way we viewed her.”—Anonymous

“My former boss would snap his fingers at me and point his index finger in my face when talking to me. He would also make me use a sound machine on my desk so I could not hear his conversations in his office next door.  The day I was out because my uncle had died, this boss called me to find a file that was right under his nose.” My takeaway: “How you treat someone is extremely important. I quit during the worst part of the recession, but being unemployed for six months was better than working in such an uncomfortable environment where safety and wellbeing meant nothing.”—Andrea M., vice president, human resources and administrative services

▶ Read more from the June 2016 newsletter.