Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bosses from Hell (Part II)

When I left the home health care agency job, it was to take my first job in fundraising. I was a secretary. As one of only two secretaries with a college degree in our department, I had a different job description than some of the others - or, at least, this was how it was explained to me.

What this meant was that one of the other secretaries got to read the paper every day - from cover to cover - at her desk. Another did her classwork at her desk. But M. and I were given Very Important Projects (VIPs) to work on, including VIPs that would normally be handled by our bosses.

In retrospect, this could have been a good thing. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that M. and I were being groomed to move up from our secretarial positions to the lofty ranks of Associate Assistant Directors, or whatever the heck it was. Only - M. and I did not want to be Associate Assistant Directors. We wanted to be secretaries.

The two of us worked for five people (two each, and then the head boss, to whom we both reported). Our head boss was Horse (she had a large mouth and always looked, to me, like a horse). She was a strange mix of extreme poise and professionalism with the occasional *really* inappropriate moment. (For example, in a staff meeting, she once made reference to giving her husband a blow job.)

Spoiled and Snobby worked for Horse. Spoiled was disliked by all of those who had worked for her, including M., who was so fed up with Spoiled that she had asked Horse for reassignment (which is how I came to work for Spoiled in the first place). Spoiled would talk on and on about her upcoming wedding, and once she even made me help her with some wedding plans. (I complained to Horse, as this was not part of my job description. I was then reprimanded by Spoiled, who told me that I should have told her myself if I was "not comfortable" helping with her wedding. Maybe so. But it wasn't exactly professional for her to put me in that position in the first place. And did I mention that I was only a year out of college?) A typical Spoiled moment: I was typing in my cubicle and my phone rang. It was Spoiled. She told me that she had some documents that needed to be three-hole-punched and asked me to come down the hall into her cubicle to get them. When I got there, she waved about 10 pages airily at me while chatting on the phone to a friend (about her wedding, natch). A three-ring binder lay open on the desk in front of her. And next to it sat the three-hole punch.

Snobby was, in general, a much easier person to work for than was Spoiled. We didn't have too much to say to each other, but she was less demanding and bitchy (always a good thing). But she was wealthy, she had gone to business school, she was married, and we came from totally different worlds.

I had also worked for Princess, who was in a class by herself, in every possible sense of the phrase. Princess was Upper Crust. Her life's ambition was to get married and be on the board of something - like her mother. (When she told me that, I had no clue as to what she meant by "on the board." That gives you a sense of how far apart we were in terms of socio-economic status.) She was around my age, and I occasionally made friendly overtures toward her, but she always seemed very freaked out when I did. I think the reason was that she didn't want to "hang out" with someone who worked for her, but it also could have been that 1) I wasn't wealthy and cultured enough, or 2) she just didn't want to hang out with me. But what was puzzling about Princess was that, while she would look at me with an expression that was half confused and half fearful and, as I remember it, say nothing when I would invite her to go out for a drink (why, I ask myself now, did I even ask a second time?!), she also asked me to come with her to look at apartments, she told me how lonely she was and how much she missed her friends, and she cried a bit on my shoulder when she broke up with her fiance.

None of these women were good bosses - at least not in my case. What they eventually did was so devastating to me on a personal level that even now I can only write about it in very general terms.

When an Associate Assistant Director position opened up, I was encouraged to apply for it. I considered it, but decided not to. Horse asked me why I had not applied for the AAD position, and I replied truthfully that I didn't want to travel as much as that job required and that I was interested in moving into a different area within the institution. Despite the weird bosses, I had enjoyed my job there very much and felt safe sharing this information with Horse. I figured I was helping her out - I wanted to be a team player, and I didn't want to cause my bosses undue stress by leaving after giving only a two-week notice.

At that point, Horse's demeanor toward me changed completely and she became cold and unfriendly. Suddenly, despite my prior, glowing evaluation, my bosses began to find fault with my work. When M. gave her own notice and went on vacation, things intensified. I was told that I was expected to know how to do all of the projects that M. had done - even though we had each been working on separate projects for the entire past YEAR. (Even M. thought that was ridiculous.) It was a horrible, vicious cycle - my bosses would watch me like a hawk for mistakes. They apparently told the other two, whom M. had worked for, to watch me as well, because one of these lit into me when I accidentally missed a page of her hand-scrawled, messy, half-scratched out and highlighted, sometimes double-sided, sometimes not, to-do list and returned it to her without having completed the items on one side of one page. (I tried to explain that it was a simple mistake, but she would not listen. It was only slight consolation that this woman quit shortly thereafter because she couldn’t handle the stress of her job.) This made me nervous and depressed, and it made it very difficult for me to concentrate on my work, so I then made other mistakes.

One such "mistake" was so important to Spoiled that she listed it on my evaluation as a representative example of my difficulty "paying attention and keeping track of projects," though it was the only such example given and it was a unique case. Here’s what happened. M. and I regularly spent hours folding letters and stuffing envelopes for mailings. We also regularly asked for help, but our bosses often did not arrange for us to have the extra staff that we needed to complete the job. For one particularly large mailing, however, Spoiled had arranged for me to have help from other workers. She was very proud of herself for having thought to do this, but I committed the cardinal sin of momentarily forgetting that she had done so. That morning, I mentioned at our staff meeting that I would need help to finish the mailing. Spoiled was not just angry, but furious, and this lapse in my memory became, in her tiny mind, a personal slight against her. This example was used against me in my evaluation, as I’ve said, and was repeatedly brought up to me. (In my final meeting, it appeared on a list of "things Plainsfeminist needs to immediately address.")

It became clear that they were looking for an excuse to get rid of me, and I had no job prospects. They wrote me a horrible evaluation that said that if I didn't change drastically, I would be fired. My emotional state got so bad that my mother came to stay with me - from another state - for a week.

During my horrible evaluation meeting, at which I remember slowly sipping a glass of ice water and willing myself not to cry (it worked, somehow), I was told that I was not completing my work in a timely manner. When I pointed out that they were expecting too much, that I routinely stayed late to finish the projects that they were piling on me ('cause of that damn college degree), Snobby responded with, "You know what they say at MIT: If you can't finish your work by the end of the day, you're not doing your job."

I wrote a long, careful response to the evaluation and requested a meeting with Horse. When Horse, Snobby, Spoiled and I sat down together, I was hopeful that Horse would simply reassign me to the other bosses. But Horse ignored my response entirely and told me, as if she were speaking to a high school student on probation, what I would need to do in order to continue working there. It was clear to me that there was nothing I could do, since the things that I was being redressed for were one-time, honest mistakes or misunderstandings written up as consistent problems with my performance. Missing the page from the to-do list and "having difficulty paying attention and keeping track of projects" were thus evidence of incompetency on my part.

So I quit (in tears, unfortunately). It was a relief to get out, though it also meant packing up and leaving my apartment and my adopted city and state and moving back home to live with my parents for several months (which is a topic for a whole 'nother blog). It also meant that my confidence and self-esteem were very badly damaged. It took some time before I began to see myself as a competent employee again, and the fact that I did was largely due to the efforts of one truly GOOD boss.

To be continued.

No comments: