A horrible boss

Last June I quit my job where I had worked since July 2009, as an editor at a book publisher, to accept a position as an editor for another type of company. My main motivator was salary (I needed to get paid more, in order to be able to save more for my future goals. It was the second decision I made with that in mind; the first being moving in with my parents and eliminating rent/utilities expenses).

I began my new job in mid-July (I had arranged time off to go to Comic-Con in advance). Things were a little uneven from the start. I had been very aggressive about convincing the people in charge of hiring that I would be a perfect fit for the job, and it really did sound like something I was cut out to do, and when I got there I found another new person who had begun a month before me. I believe she had been hired in place of me originally, and then another person quit so they called back in their second choice–me. However, she didn’t have any editing experience; she had been working as a retail manager though she did have a degree in English. I was a little confused as to why she had been chosen instead of me.

That became clear soon enough: for this job, it’s best not to have any actual editing experience, as you will be trained to within an inch of your life and no prior skills really apply. The one thing you need to have is an ability to memorize every little procedural detail for tons and tons of different scenarios. And when I say memorize, I mean perfectly; if you’re still making even the smallest mistakes after a couple months, it will be barely tolerated. By the end I was getting emails from various senior editors and my boss almost every day telling me various things I’d done wrong (in some cases, I’d never been instructed to do the thing I’d done wrong; in another, the reprimand came a week after the actual offense, which I hadn’t repeated since, and it just confused me!).

So I had a lesson driven home again: if I’m more insistent than the person in charge of hiring that I’m a good fit for the job, it isn’t a good sign. I had unfortunately made the same mistake in the past before, and it didn’t work out too well there either. So, while job search rejection can be frustrating, especially when you think you know you’d be a great fit and you’re just getting overlooked, a lot of the time it really is for the best. The person hiring knows the type of person who should do this job, and often he/she can tell if you aren’t it. If you continue to insist that you are, and gradually win them over, you’ll learn in the end–they were right, and you are not the right fit. And both times I ended up quitting after deep dissatisfaction.

So for a couple months I’d get asked “How’s the new job going??” by well-meaning friends and former coworkers and I wouldn’t really know what to say. I had nothing overwhelmingly positive to report. “It’s an adjustment…” was my usual response, with an optimistic, “It’ll get better…” tagged on. It really was an adjustment. I went from a workplace where we had our own building to a suite in an office building complex with a parking garage; went from my own office to one of several desks in a communal room not separated into cubicles or anything; freedom all day long to regimented breaks and lunch hours; and coworkers I knew well to coworkers who had already formed a clique. Three of my coworkers, my boss included, had worked together for years and socialized regularly outside of work. Because we all worked together in one big room, they would discuss getting together in front of the rest of us. I thought that was a little rude–it isn’t like I wanted to be included, but it’s still slightly awkward.

Those three were all also female geeks, big ones. Mostly Whedon, some anime (Miyazaki and so on)… and you’d think that would be great! We have things in common! (My boss and I also share an affinity for Maine coon cats, so I thought we might bond over that too; we didn’t.) But even among geeks there are different kinds, and they were different from me. I do not like or enjoy meme humor, at all. I think it gets overplayed fast and I don’t think it’s funny in the least, especially not five years after something became widespread. They felt the opposite, and would sometimes say meme-y things aloud. Ugh. Also, they used those interests as a sort of insular shield, assuming the rest of us wouldn’t understand while they bonded around it–but I did know exactly what they were referencing when they’d bring up Firefly, even though I was never given the opportunity to contribute to the conversation (I did one time and didn’t feel like I’d made a welcome intrusion). It just felt like a clique, no room for outsiders. An example: I was gone the exact time frame of Comic-Con, I know they knew about Comic-Con, the head of the office even asked me where I went and I said “San Diego,” and none of them asked me if I’d gone to Comic-Con. They really just took no interest in me (no one ever asked if I was on Facebook, etc); it was like I was going to have to stay forever and prove I was in this for the long haul before they would accept me. And while I get it, they’ve witnessed their share of turnover and are wary of getting close to someone who might leave, it’s that same attitude that drives new people away! The beginning is the worst time for newcomers–that’s when I need support from friendly coworkers, to reassure me that this new workplace is going to be okay!

The biggest adjustment though was going from a wonderful, supportive, sweet, and genuinely kind and good boss/supervisor to one who was… not so much. One who was rather brusque, not very friendly or warm, slightly nervous (she would talk too fast and her voice would shake when she gave me instructions; I had to start bringing Xanax to work to calm ME down because listening to her made me anxious), a little impatient. Someone that I suspect was more promoted by dint of the most experience as opposed to hired thanks to the most natural leadership skills. I don’t believe she has what it takes to be a leader–at all. I think she’s not gifted at social interactions, and someone like that is no match for a supervisor position. And when you’re close friends with the other two most senior people there, it doesn’t feel very fair to anyone else. (One last horror story: about a week before my last day, she’d been getting onto me about beginning a task and then going on break in the middle, even a bathroom break. Again, I’d never been told not to do that and her attitude was that I should have just known not to. I completed a practice exercise, which she had to look over, but she was busy, so I let her know that I was done and went to the bathroom. I came back and she was sitting in my chair at my computer with my work pulled up. !!! It was SO brazen, aggressive, and completely inappropriate. I was just utterly taken aback at how rude she was, and I don’t even think she realized it because of the lack of social skills.)

I ended up spending two and a half months there (never emerging from training! Endless training!), and by the end I was finally able to acknowledge to myself that things weren’t going to get better. They had started out low, but I thought they would improve with time. Nope. I just couldn’t take her leadership style, I couldn’t take the complete lack of positive feedback. That was the big thing. I cannot be told only what I am doing wrong, and never what I am doing right. It gets demoralizing fast. After weeks of trying my absolute hardest to please, and never getting rewarded with praise, only criticism, I decided I couldn’t take it any longer. It was stressing me out every day, almost every aspect of the job–the commute, the office building location, the regimented breaks, the banning of cell phones and Internet access at our desks, the pressure to do every single thing 100% correct all of the time. If you do something wrong, endless censure with no qualifiers like “I understand you’re trying really hard/you’re still learning” that would soften the blow; if you do it right, no response. In the end, barely any sense that you’re appreciated at all.

By taking this job, I had made myself unhappier–I was complaining about my boss to my boyfriend almost every day, and at least once I broke down in tears over feeling so beat down and miserable–and the higher pay was only partly making up for it. I knew it had only been two months, and things could turn up, but I’ve also been at two-month internships that turned around faster to the point that I adored them by the end. And I was getting beaten down with the relentless critiques every day. I began to lose respect for my supervisor as a leader and as a person. I suspected that she began to view me as a perpetual screwup, and I knew the odds of us recovering from that dynamic were very low (despite all my efforts to prove myself otherwise–and believe me, I was trying so incredibly hard and nothing was working). I began to job hunt. I also found out that one of the editors at my old job was quitting, and right before the managing editor’s maternity leave–which would leave the department with a grand total of two editors, one part-time and one who had only been there since the summer. I figured, might as well give this a shot, and let them know I’d be interested in coming back.

I didn’t hear anything for a couple weeks, and resigned myself to the cold world of job hunting when the jobs in my field have dried up again. Finally, my wonderful former managing editor contacted me… and after some negotiating… I got to return to my old workplace with enough of a salary boost to make it a sensible choice. I got to go back to a place I love, where the atmosphere is relaxed (but efficient), where I know everyone and they know me, and at an improved wage that still satisfies my goal of earning more money to save.

How did my boss and coworkers take the news that I was leaving? I quit on a Thursday morning; I had to arrange a meeting in the conference room with my boss so that we could speak in private. I passed her a letter of resignation I’d written with the date of my last day (two weeks from then) on it, and told her I was quitting to go back to my old job. I didn’t want to leave on bad terms so I emphasized that they had sought me out, and it was too good an offer to refuse. She was quite surprised. Her exact words were, “Well, damn!” I guess she didn’t think I had it in me to be that proactive and have such good prospects? I walked back out to our main room and announced I had just put in my two weeks to my coworkers. No one… said… anything in response. Not one word. No questions, no sympathy, not even a half-hearted “We’ll miss you!” The next day, the head of the office–who I got along very well with–called me into her office and let me know that I could make that day my last day if I wanted, which I accepted since I was eager to get back to my old job before my boss had her baby and went on maternity leave. Again I announced this to the office, and again no response. That more than anything told me I was making the right decision; these people didn’t care about me at all and it was going to take forever for them to.

And in sharp comparison, on my first day back at my new-old job, my boss had baked me a grain-free (!) streusel cake and arranged for everyone to meet in the conference room to eat it and welcome me back. The contrast is just staggering, isn’t it?

The funny thing is that a few weeks before I quit my publishing job in June, another editor there had quit to take another job as well. (When she told me, I was like “No fair, you beat me!” to myself.) Well, she just returned this month as managing editor to take the place of the kind, wonderful boss I had missed, who decided to make her maternity leave permanent! She also hated her new workplace (so it was funny when we’d see former coworkers during that period of time when we both weren’t there and get asked how things are and our responses would be the same half-hearted “It’s… okay…”) where incidentally I also worked once and hated as well, and is just as thrilled to be back as I was. If anyone had to replace my amazing boss, I’m glad it’s her.

The one nice thing about that job is that it involved a lot of international work with translations and so on (not performing them, but formatting them and so on). It was wonderful to get to work with translations and I loved that part of it. So I did take something valuable away, and I did learn a lot, including that treating people the way my boss treated me is terrible. It’s very easy to only point out the things someone is doing wrong, without recognizing the good as well. Her bad behavior made me vow to be better about that myself going forward, and try to give others lots of positive feedback, especially if I am asking for someone to do something different/better in the future. That experience made me more sensitive to others’ feelings and that’s always good. But of course I’m very glad that I was able to leave and come back to a place that I see now is far and away better. I gained the perspective to be able to see how good I had it, which was priceless.

I do still want to be a translator, but I need to save up money for that of course, and working as an editor accomplishes that goal while fulfilling me professionally and honing my writing skills. I love being an editor. I don’t always like writing to order, I get burned out easily–that was one reason I was happy to leave for a job that involved no writing–but I love proofreading and working in publishing.

After I quit the crappy job, HR sent me an exit interview form and asked me to fill it out and send it back. I started to, but inevitably vented instead and quickly realized that if I sent it, I would be burning my bridges in a major way, even if I was tactful and circumspect in my answers. So, in the end, I never sent it. But I’ll post my answers here…

What was your reason for leaving [Company]?
It was becoming difficult for me to work under my supervisor.

What did you like about working at [Company]?
The sense of organization, discipline, hard work. I liked feeling like when there was downtime, you had earned it.

What did you NOT like about [Company]?
My supervisor’s management style and the complete lack of positive feedback I received from her or anyone while there. The only type of feedback I received was negative. There was no acknowledgment that I was trying my best or working extremely hard to please, which I was. I don’t expect a reward for simply doing my job, but none of the negative feedback (which was all the feedback I received, and feedback is crucial while training) was tempered with anything like “You’re doing a good job at [x], but [y] needs work” which would have given me more confidence. In some cases I was lectured on not doing something—via email, not a spoken discussion; I often felt like I received a lecture without a chance to give my perspective—when I had never been told to do the thing I hadn’t done. In another case I was told not to do something I had not even done that day, but evidently had in the previous week (yet not since), which I found extremely confusing.

While I can handle constructive criticism and do not expect praise for simply doing my job—I want to stress that this was not normal, measured criticism, which I could have handled just fine—it was reaching a point where I was reprimanded almost every day while all of the things I had done that went above and beyond (such as [z], which no one had told me to begin yet; I took my own initiative there) were not praised or even acknowledged! I believe I was making no more mistakes than the average person in editor training would, and I was getting a lot of things right consistently, yet I was treated as if I were messing up all the time and on thin ice. The constant criticism became very grating, took a toll on me emotionally, and made it extremely difficult to work under. I grew stressed, unhappy, insecure, and anxious; I probably made more mistakes due to that than true incompetence.

I also didn’t like how members of the sales team would ignore their duties when it was their weekly turn to clean up the kitchen and run the dishwasher. It made a certain hierarchy very clear and felt unfair.

Did you feel comfortable seeking help from your supervisor or HR for questions or requests? If no, why:
HR, yes. My supervisor, no. Sometimes I would ask a question and she would answer in a very snotty and/or sarcastic way (that made me feel stupid for asking), so that over time I grew to avoid asking her anything for fear of how she would respond.

Did you at any time observe anything that management should be aware of? Explain:
I believe management should consider how promotions are made, and if the promotion is more on the basis of seniority and longevity than on actual natural leadership skills, it should not be made.

I also think two months for training editors is excessively long and means the job of a [Company] editor is too complicated overall, but if it has to be that way, I think editors in training need to have lots of positive reassurance along the way, since they are learning a lot in a short period of time. The senior editors have been doing this job for years and need to have more patience with those who are just beginning it.

It would have been nice if, by turning the form in, my former boss could have gotten held responsible and accountable in some way for my decision to quit (which I’m sure screwed them over; they had just spent 2.5 months training me and would soon have to find and then begin all over with a new person. They wouldn’t have wanted to lose me but they sure weren’t acting like they wanted to keep me either). It would make me happy to know that she had to confront her failings as a supervisor and that her supervisors were aware of how she drives people away. But, in the end, I think keeping all this to myself is the best decision in terms of not burning bridges. But oh, it’s hard to resist the temptation to send one last “F U” to someone who was terrible to you.

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3 thoughts on “A horrible boss

  1. Penny says:

    I’m glad you didn’t turn in that form to HR! At my former job they had a New Hire Training Review and a Exit Interview. Both stated at the top they would be confidential to HR and NOT placed in their personnel file. More than once my boss told me to file those in the employee’s file, despite my pointing out the confidentiality sentence at the top.

    Kept those in my desk drawer, in case I was asked for one of them, then filed them right through the shredder before I left the company.

    • Séri says:

      Exactly! I just knew somehow it would get back to her and she’d know it was me. I’m glad you did that but probably most people wouldn’t. So annoying that it’s supposed to be confidential but isn’t. Reminds me of the time when I filed a complaint against a professor and she spent the next class period wailing (literally–there were tears) and defending herself because she knew it was someone in that class who’d done it. Also, I appreciate that you came up with your own pseudonym and I think it’s very cute BUT I want them all to start with the same letter as your real first name. :3

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