|A fictional take on corporate life that is pure comedy genius|
This week I rented Horrible Bosses and it's pure comedy genius with real-life situations despite the extreme storyline. It set me thinking about my 19 years + career spanning charity work, market research, merchant banking, book publishing, journalism and digital marketing. I worked for huge UK companies, many were multi-nationals and staffed with people from all over the world. I was mostly a contractor - I'm not a professional commitment-phobe, I soon realised I could earn more money as a freelancer/short-term contract person than as an employee, plus I enjoyed the variety and got an in-depth perspective of the industry as a whole. But let's not go off a tangent. Back to Horrible Bosses, yes, it's a bit over the top but it is based on elements of reality because, let's face it, there are people in senior positions who are a bit like that.
There are bosses who will make your working life hell, bosses who have no genuine interest in the welfare of the company and push personal agendas, and bosses who harass employees in a number of ways (including sexual harassment).
They xxxx you up, your mum and dad (Larkin)
This film also made me think about the way I am, how despite being Italian I have had a British stiff upper lip from a young age. I have met inspirational people but also some party poopers (or shall I say career poopers) who thought they were doing me a favour by taking me down a peg or two.
My parents complained I read too many books. I love my parents and understand they were worried about me getting 'dangerous' ideas in my head and ruin my eyesight. They were right on both counts. I did get ambitious ideas, a wanderlust and my eyesight, after many years of reading in poorly-lit rooms, is not great.
I didn't have the 'demotivating teacher' experience, but many have: you know, a teacher who said you were never going to amount to much... I had a bit of that with my dad who was a very contradictory person, one moment I was going to conquer the world, the next I would never achieve anything in life. Then I had an Italian boyfriend who wanted me to have a low-key career or stay at home. This explains why I like British men a lot more. Last but not least the publishing professional who told me I would never make it in journalism because my first language is not English. I'm glad I didn't listen to this person's advice.
Bosses who make work life hell
Right, let's get into the juicy bit now! In 19 years, I met some 'problem' bosses but also had narrow escapes - in one case a superior was really nice and supportive to me but I was shocked to find out that this person was harassing a team member. This employee complained and was promoted to a post in another department - shock horror, a positive outcome here!
Personally, I don't like conflict and I have always avoided kicking a fuss. I have met unsavoury people but being on a short-term contract means you have a choice: you can grit your teeth + bear it or walk. If somebody really upset me (and it happened often in a pressurised environment like the media industry) I would ask myself, is it worth my while sticking around? If the answer was no, I would never work for them again. When they called again I'd say I was booked up.
However, there is one instance (not bad for 19 years +) I keep thinking of and fuming about. Situation: I start a job with a very nice boss, the nice boss leaves in a matter of days, the deputy gets promoted and starts shouting at people to get the work done, but I stay as my new boss's bark is worse than the bite. This person resigns after a matter of weeks and they bring in a junior from another department who goes power crazy and starts hassling me. I am thinking of getting a mortgage so I take the crap and try to please this person. This boss is as nice as pie in front of the team but horrible in private meetings. My previous boss failed to file a performance assessment and this person uses the process to make my life hell. I am told off for using too many commas - my role there is to edit copy, commission writers, write an industry column, scan artwork, design pages in a software I had to teach myself on the job as it's not industry standard... Commas? This person even buys me a ponctuation book. Really!
My boss tells me about a dream where I looked really great in an orange suit (weird), keeps hinting at the fact I'm slimmer, then wants to put me on performance review. Now I wish I knew what I know now - when your boss dislikes you for any reason, they can only get rid of you legally if you misbehave (misconduct) or if you don't perform. Assessment can be challenged as a personality clash can invalidate a performance assessment if the assessor is not presenting a balanced view (like not mentioning any good things about you). I have found an article to back this up here. We have lawyers in my partner's family and they reckon that to claim constructive dismissal you need deep pockets, though!
As I'm punctual like a Swiss clock, tidy and respectful, plus I haven't pilfered anything - at one company an employee was caught red-handed selling a company's laptop to a pawnshop, so it happens - there is only incapability. So out comes the red pen - unfortunately for this boss I am an experienced journalist, not a first-job graduate who can be easily crushed. To be exact I'm more experienced than my boss whom I suspect by now has insecurity issues. So basically I cannot take this hassle and I resign. My boss is livid to find out I'm going to work at the BBC or IPC (forgot which) the very next day my notice expires. Basically I go back to my old clients and life goes on. I pay a price because I have to postpone my mortgage application till I get another long-term contract but I get there eventually and buy my first house. I'm no stalker but I discreetly follow this person's career to see if there is any poetic justice in this world and there is, eventually.
Horrible bosses don't care that when employees leave, they take knowledge away
I have edited abstracts about knowledge management, which is about retaining staff. On a practical level, even if zero training is offered, an employee would have experience of processes, know how to get past the unhelpful 'I can't help you with that' attitude a colleague might put up and hear interesting things on the grapevine. For instance, if you hear that a colleague has a great lead but no time to follow it, you offer to do so and the company might get a new client, valuable exposure or get wind of something a competitor is doing. In the media industry there are several 'secret projects' going on relating to new magazine launches, and if an employee hears from a colleague that his/her mate is on a new secret project about XYZ, this is valuable competitor insight.
Employees and contractors who work on confidential projects sign confidentiality clauses but somebody is obviously blabbing because things leak out. I'm no blabber, I have kept strict confidentiality agreements when working for clients. My hunch is that it's usually a disgruntled employee. A contractor wouldn't do that, if found out, they would never work again.
Racism in the workplace
Last but not least a word on racism. This is still happening despite laws and regulations - it can be subtle, like giving a nickname behind somebody's back or even asking insulting questions at interviews. A typical one for a foreigner is: "Do you dream in English or in your original language?"
I have experienced some of that. I'm an easy target, after all I'm a 'foreigner stealing British jobs'. I think the worst experience I have ever had is when working for a charity. I set up an office, volunteered for months and when a paid job turned up, they offered it to an external applicant who was British. I raised a considerable amount of money for this charity. The person chosen was lovely and we got on well, but I felt robbed. I have seen dodgy behaviour in other charities I have volunteered for (ie an ethnic minority volunteer being ridiculed in front of everybody by a manager), this hasn't put me off serving a good cause but it's shameful considering that this is the voluntary sector. It's hard to be harassed when you are paid, but when you work for free it's adding insult to injury.