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Horrible Bosses close to Home

Last year I saw the movie “Horrible Bosses” at the cinema.

You might remember one or two things about this movie. You might remember a story about a bus load of grey army members who went to see the movie but walked out during the session as they were so offended by it. (Side note: in all the movies I have seen over the years  I have only ever walked out on one. “Quigley Down Under” was not, in my opinion, Tom Sellock’s proudest moment).

Or you might remember hearing Jennifer Anniston starred in the movie, but in a very different role to her usual Rom-Com fare,  playing one of the three horrible bosses of the title.

Aniston’s character was a predatory female dentist who took sexual harassment to new limits. The kind of behaviour that makes Mark McInnes’ (ex DJ CEO) alleged conduct seem like friendly banter.

The two other bosses included a corporate psychopath who amongst other character traits, took credit for the work of his staff, and micro managed to the point of issuing formal warnings for employees arriving one minute late to work.

The last boss was a drug-addicted ‘tool’, the son of the business founder who inherited the business through his father’s untimely death. And then proceeded to milk the business to fund his lifestyle until he ran into the ground.

Yes the three boss characters were portrayed as particularly evil, and some licence should be given for the fact this was after all a fictious story.

But how close to home are bosses like this? I wondered this at the time, when thinking about my own chequered history of managers.

And I had cause to wonder again this week when interviewing a young man for a trainee role at my work.

“Stephen” is a young man of barely 20 who has recently qualified as a chef. Over the three years it takes for an apprentice chef to qualify, he has been relentlessly bullied, harassed and picked on.

Stephen’s story is probably not the first time you have heard of bullying of apprentice chefs.

So traumatised is Stephen by not one, but four workplaces where he suffered relentless torment, that even though he loves to cook he is now looking to change professions to a completely different industry.

One where he might be able to learn something, without living in fear of his next humiliation.

I empathise with Stephen and his encounter with horrible bosses. If “horrible” is in fact an adequate description.

Over the years I have had three bosses who could qualify to represent Australia at the Horrible Boss Olympics.

My very first real boss took great delight in sexually harassing me at every opportunity. When he was not harassing me, he was by his own admission trying to make me cry. He claimed this would toughen me up and make me a better lawyer.

He also told the then fiancée and I at our engagement party how our marriage would never last. Funnily enough, we have now been married longer than his first marriage lasted. I’m not sure exactly how many subsequent marriages he has had.

How young looking were we at our engagement party!

A few years and jobs later, I encountered a manager who bullied me so badly that even to this day hearing his name makes me feel physically ill. Before he bullied, belittled,patronised and humiliated me, he too was a regular sexual harasser.

His infamous “so you like to f#%k” do you?” question posed to me during a client meeting was one incident I will never forget.

Then there was the female director who told me one day how she cared about “animals and children but not anyone or anything much else”. Including her staff. I will not bore you with details of her behaviour, but on the day she was fired, the staff jumped around the office singing “Ding dong the witch is dead” (click for the Glee version).

Of course not all my bosses have been bad. In fact I count one of the them as a personal friend, and the current one is quite simply the best boss I have ever had.

But sadly it seems from Stephen’s story that horrible bosses will continue to haunt our workplaces.

With all the job losses currently occurring across Australia (Qantas announced 500 are to go today) – wouldn’t it be just and fitting if even a small percentage of these were from the horrible boss category?

Nonalcoholic cheers till next time,

Ali.

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