career

'I survived the boss from hell.'

From the minute I walked in the door and was hit with the smell of paper and ink, I knew I wanted in. The job was my toenail in the door of publishing.

We were always told that most publishing positions begin with an entry level job, and mine was definitely entry level.

The job description wanted someone with an interest in publishing (tick) reception and customer service experience (tick) and I was told in my interview that when things got quiet I would be given some editing to do. Tick, tick! I was in.

The interview was very friendly, laidback and my future boss was charming – I instantly liked her.

Job interviews translated. Post continues after video. 

Video by MMC

The first few weeks passed without a hiccup. I felt comfortable except at lunch time; most employees ate their lunch at their desk but those in the kitchen never spoke. I noticed that this also carried into the office. I’m aware you can’t talk all the time when you’re at work, but not at all?

As the weeks wore on, little cracks began to show about the place and my boss. I was informed that there was a ban on talking: you weren’t allowed to talk, and if you did you were reprimanded like a school child.

I laughed and thought that was ridiculous – until it happened to me.

I was talking with an editor, and it had been initially about work but turned into a social chat. I hadn’t spoken to anyone in hours apart from answering the phone and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with a quick chat. Wrong. The editor was told I had work to do and was dismissed back upstairs with a flick of the hand.

I was then warned that my constant talking had been “observed.”

The voice in my head was shrieking now. It was the end of the financial year and the accounts department were laughing at how many group certificates they had for employees that no longer worked at the company. Sure, I had colleagues who had been there for many years, but a lot more had come and gone – in one financial year.

They laughed and remembered the people as they threw their certificates in the mail. Most had been fired or paid out to keep them quiet.

Once some employees had warmed to me, I was told that my job was safe as long I stayed on my boss’s good side. But her moods were controlled by a flick of some invisible switch; one moment she would be civil, the next she was breathing down your neck about the smallest thing.

And the stories were getting worse.

One former employee, upon informing my boss that she had a brain tumour and would need some time off for the operation and recovery, was asked by my boss if she could postpone the operation until after the busiest time of year had passed.

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“It’s been in there this long, surely a little longer won’t be a problem?”

So far I had only heard stories of the “switch.” I had never been on the receiving end. When I asked why she was in such a foul mood one day I was promptly told, “Because it’s Tuesday.”

I had managed to fly under the radar until my job description began to change. After one sales rep retired, her replacement was fired only a month into the job. She was fired in public at a work function and told to finish immediately. When people rang up for her, they were now redirected to me.

Mia Freedman, Jessie Stephens and Holly Wainwright talk about the email that can help you get hired. Post continues after podcast. 

The day I was first yelled at by my boss came out of nowhere. She asked about some books I had sold at an event, then she swore at me and said she had specifically told me that those particular books were for a certain customer. I racked my brain trying to remember her telling me about the books, but I couldn’t recall any such conversation.

She didn’t speak to me for a week, and any messages were passed on through other staff members.

Watching my boss in action was fascinating. She was charming when she needed to be and downright nasty when you did something she didn’t like. She’d leave indecipherable notes on your desk that even she couldn’t read when you asked her. She fired someone because they asked too many questions. If you did ask her a question or told her something that she didn’t agree with, she’d sigh and speak to you as if you were a child.

She had the habit of telling you to do something one day, then demanding to know why you were doing it the next. As employees we had to try and be two steps ahead of her.

After being belittled, made to feel stupid and slow, told the opposite to what I had only been told the day before to do, I couldn’t keep up anymore. I wasn’t enjoying my role. When I wanted to speak to my boss about it I was talked out of it by another employee. They said it was safer for me to keep my mouth shut and suck it up.

Soon, the stress of the job took its toll and I had a few days off work on doctor’s orders.

When I returned I was called into a meeting with my boss. I was told I wasn’t being fired, but I “should look for another job.” My boss then went on to insult my intelligence, my degree, my dedication to the company and informed me that she had been trying to get rid of my job but hadn’t figured out how to do it yet.

I smiled, thanked her for the chat and walked out. I had been marked.

Over the weekend and a few cocktails later, I decided that despite the fact I didn’t have a job to go to, I would leave while I still had my head.

My boss didn’t blink an eye and told me she thought it was for the best. That I ought to “go back to uni and get a proper degree.”

Charming.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock photo.

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