They say that you should not burn bridges professionally. However I recently read this article, and it really resonated with me. Plus, being two jobs removed from the situation, I feel safe enough to admit that I worked under a toxic boss…at least here, on my personal blog.
Or maybe I am just feeling empowered right now. After all, I did just emerge from a very toxic romantic relationship. And I just turned 40. So I am all about turning over a new leaf and telling it like it is. So here is my story; I hope that someone out there will read it one day, and get some encouragement from it!
Bad Bosses Are Not Always Bad People
I remember very distinctly the day that I first interviewed with my former, toxic boss. She was actually a breath of fresh air compared to the staunch, generally unfriendly, team supervisor that I was working under currently. At the time she was forthcoming that although I would not be her direct report (my manager at the time was based in another state; when she resigned, I then began to report to her…but that took a month or so to materialize); but she felt I would be a good fit. In retrospect, her casualness and cursory handling of the interview process was just a preview of her overall unprofessionalism. But you tend to overlook and forgive a lot when you are asking others to hire you.
In the beginning she showed early on that she was personable and wanted to be easy to get along with. She admitted that she had a long commute and could understand travel delays, so she would not be eyeballing a clock to see when we come and when we go. There was frequent talk about her family and she loved to do water cooler gossip. She also was a person who had false starts and breaks in her career…so we related on that aspect for sure.
However, being a nice and likeable person, does not make you a good manager!
Bad Bosses Skirt Responsibilities
Early on, even before she became my direct manager, some red flags began to emerge about my boss. I was hired along with another employee…and the two of us reported to another manager in another office. When my colleague was not around, she would casually ask me about what he was working on and his comings and goings (while she admitted early on that she was not a ‘clock watcher’, he did smoke, and took breaks accordingly…and she did not seem to like that). She then suggested that I bring up my productivity vs. his in discussions with my manager. In my opinion, this was out of line. If she had issues with his performance (and if she had any rights to remark on it), then she should be the one to mention that to her manager peer…not me.
A month or so later, our manager resigned and we began to report directly to her locally. A constant frustration was her ability to recognize issues and operational problems; but if they involved anyone else outside of our department, she would not address it. This was especially frustrating with clients…because she would never, ever tell them no. If anything, she would say, “Oh we’ll take care of that.”…knowing fully well that we could not or would not. Then weeks later the client would inquire about it…and she would ask us to deal with it.
Toxic Bosses Allow Their Feelings to Cloud Their (Professional) Judgement
During my tenure at the company, I went through two maternity leaves (my older son and my twins are almost exactly a year apart). I did not plan for that to happen…but it did. My first maternity leave almost came off without a hitch. The pregnancy was celebrated…we had a little office party and they brought some baby items for me (including a diaper bag and a rock-n-play) and then I went on leave. 3 days after I returned, my Grandfather passed away. I immediately put in for my company’s allotted 4 bereavement days plus 2 personal days to be home with my family. My Grandfather raised me, and I was a wreck emotionally. So I was thrown a complete curve ball when my manager called me into her office prior to approving the bereavement leave. In short, the discussion went as follows:
“So I see that you put in for 4 bereavement days + 2 PTO days.”
“Yes, I really need to have the full week off. The funeral date isn’t set yet and I really want to take the time to be with my family.”
“Ok, well you just came back off of maternity leave. You don’t have any PTO left, and that’s going to put you into the negative.” (I’m not even sure why she mentioned this because the company does allow you to go into the negative for PTO if need be).
“I realize that.”
“Also you may want to check the employee handbook. I don’t know if you can take the full bereavement time for a Grandparent”
(Not even sure what I said after that because that statement just infuriated me; oh, and the employee handbook clearly listed Grandparents as a relative that you could take bereavement time for…with no mention that different leave times were given for the various family members!)
In this instance was obvious she only cared about me getting back into the office and into the groove again…and did not care at all about what was going on with me personally.
This put me needlessly on edge when it was time to reveal that I was pregnant again, and would be going on another maternity leave. While there was no criticism at the time, the issue came to a head when I was promoted (which was given on the recommendation of a panel of managers…thankfully)…and then a new opportunity opened up that a peer encouraged me to go for. It would have been a senior-level role, and I had all of the requirements.
However the conference call to discuss the role was a disaster. The call included myself and her in her office, and another off site manager and the VP of the division on the call. They began to present the opportunity to me, the role and expectations, and so on and so forth.
Then they opened it up to questions from me. I simply asked “What will this new role offer me in terms of salary or change in title?”
Then like some sort of tantruming teenager, my manager blurted out “Um, I never suggested anything in regards to an increase in your pay. You were just promoted not even 6 months ago. And then you got your annual increase as well. I would say you are doing pretty good especially since you haven’t worked for a full year even since you started.“
And on that note….I was done. I put in my two weeks notice 2 days later (thankfully I already had a job offer….I just needed to get the official letter in my hands). For me, I felt like I do not need to be embarrassed just to collect a paycheck. After leaving, I truly realized how terrible it was to come into work everyday and to work under someone who just looked down their nose at you. It does not matter if they do not say it outright; in fact, that probably makes it worse.
Learning and Moving On
After that, I fortunately moved on to work for a fantastic company that had a corporate culture and management that was supportive, collaborative and inclusive. They demonstrated that you could be both personable and professional. The notion that boss = bad was squashed pretty quickly.
But I also understand that not everyone is so fortunate. Many of us are stuck working under toxic bosses for many years. I will be the first to say that job hunting is no fun…and if you can avoid it, certainly do. However you also need to put yourself first and foremost. Do not allow yourself to be abused and unappreciated just for a paycheck. Life is too short; and if you are dealing with a toxic boss on a daily basis, you are fully justified in any efforts to seek out greener pastures.