The Worst Boss I Ever Had

28 April 2017 -


Bad bosses are a big deal. They make it almost impossible for you to actually enjoy your job, and are plain incompetent. From the borderline inappropriate work scenarios to the woefully offensive moments, Insights shares some of the wackiest tales of horrible bosses

Jermaine Haughton

At some point in our careers, most of us run into a less-than-ideal boss. For June Wilcox, a finance employee for an accountancy practice, her unfortunate encounter came with a classic overbearing manager in 2009.

Wilcox recalled: “In one of my previous finance positions at a local company, I had a terrible manager who watched every single thing I did. He would stand behind me and watch me type, he’d listen in on conversations I was having on the phone and would constantly pester me to complete tasks I had already completed hours before!”

While great managers typically get the most out of their teams by delegating appropriately and providing the structure, resources and support to allow each team member to excel in their role, bad managers often micromanage and try to dictate everything their staff do – leading to a drain in motivation, morale and confidence.

“I am a fairly confident person but to be constantly watched made me nervous and uncomfortable, which led to minor mistakes and made the situation even worse,” Wilcox added. “It’s weird. He seemed like a really nice guy outside of work, but after a couple of weeks of his behaviour, I had had enough of his undermining and quit.”

Read more: How to manage a horrible boss

Stories like this are not uncommon, and reflect the fact that not every person who has excelled in individual technical roles has the necessary managerial skills needed to direct a team of people.

Just as being a great salesman or engineer or chef requires a unique set of qualities for individuals to nurture and develop to succeed, so does management.

Recent surveys show that one of the main reasons employees give for quitting a company is that they do not like their boss.

For operations assistant Jason, he had to endure a dictatorial manager, who was a stickler for time and treated adult employees as if they were infants.

“I am not sure if my ex manager was a schoolteacher previously, but she treated us like naughty schoolkids. I was 29,” he said. “She used to make employees ask before they could use the toilet. To make things worse, she had this rule that we shouldn’t be spending more than 4 or 5 minutes in there. She’d time us and if we were gone longer than five minutes, and she would add the time up at the end of the day or week.”

Unsurprisingly, Jason and his colleagues disapproved of their boss’ approach.

“It was so demoralising going into work each morning, and having to restrict yourself from doing normal things,” he said. “One of my colleagues came down with food poisoning and took two sick days leave. When he came back, our manager treated him as if he was lying about the whole thing.

“Once I found another job, I left.”

Read more: The sorry tale of the accidental manager

As the old adage goes, power can corrupt. Alicia, a then 22-year-old fashion fanatic for as long as she could remember, thought she’d landed her dream role when she became an intern at a large fashion retailer. But she was soon appalled by the treatment she received from her manager.

“I’d obviously known interns would have to make tea and do clerical duties, but I was pretty much my manager’s personal assistant,” she said. “She used to send me to buy flowers for her friends, book dinner reservations, put out the bins, and mop the floors. I even proofread and annotated her son’s GCSE History coursework!

“And every so often she’d also make really inappropriate remarks about my body suggesting I should lose some weight.”

One major benefit of these experiences, however, is that it teaches us what NOT to do when we become the person in charge.

Here are four lessons that can be learnt from having a horrible boss:

Take Responsibility

Support your team’s learning and development, and help them overcome mistakes and weaknesses. Bad bosses who tend to cover their own backs and throw their people under the bus will quickly find themselves with no loyalty or support.

This “knife-in-the-back” mentality creates a toxic and nervous atmosphere around the office, with employees scared to make mistakes.

Respect People's Time

Give staff the license to tackle key work tasks in the way that they are most comfortable with. We have all likely experienced managers who literally spend more time trying to explain the work and how they wanted it done than it would have taken to just do the work themselves.

Over-delegating can stifle staff creativity and enthusiasm.

Separate Thoughts From Feelings

Liz Ryan, CEO and founder of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap, advised that being able make key business decisions not based on emotions was essential to being a manager.

She said: “I learned to have my feelings -- I wasn't going to deny them -- but not to let them rule me. I knew that with every minute that passed following my boss's descent into Jerk Mode, the clouds would part a little more. Eventually I could tell that I would feel much better by the next day, and so I learned not to freak out and get emotional when my boss was being horrible.”

Encourage Feedback

Gaining honest feedback and criticism from your team is a fantastic way to understand the areas that you need to improve as a manager, and identifying any issues in the office.

However, bad bosses often have limited or no feedback sessions with staff, leaving themselves isolated and failing to hold themselves accountable to their teams.

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