A horrible boss. At some point in our lives, we will all have at least one.
In my seemingly never-ending struggle to find a good, permanent, full-time role, horrible bosses have been a big factor.
After having a boss that was physically abusive towards 2 of my colleagues, and extremely verbally and emotionally abusive to us all, I thought that there was no possible way I could ever have a boss more horrible than that.
But last year, I was proven wrong.
I Had a Great Boss, Until...
Not long ago, I had a great boss. But I didn’t really like my job.
It was an incredibly fascinating industry, but there was a lot of pressure and not a lot of training. Because it was within the justice system, the smallest mistakes could have severe, legal consequences.
After being unemployed and underemployed for years, however, I was just happy to be working full time again.
With my boss’s full support, I tried to find my place within the organization. I started off in one department, moved to another, and back-filled for a third. I applied (and interviewed) for two other positions at a secondary location. My boss even sent me to a career conference, hoping it would help me out.
There were things I liked and disliked about each position, but I couldn’t see myself working in any of them for the rest of my career.
Then I experienced a severe “false alarm” on the job. Which, at the time, I didn’t know only a false alarm. Had it been real, it could have been fatal.
I didn’t sleep at all that night, and I didn’t go to work the next day. I didn’t want to go back to work at all! But I didn’t want to go back to being unemployed again, either.
So I started to very aggressively applying elsewhere. And was prescribed anxiety medication for the first time in my life.
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I Ignored the Red Flags
Within a couple of weeks, I was offered and accepted a new job. I was thrilled! I had never been able to find a job quickly!
The role was half administrative and half financial, which was the direction I was hoping to take. I wanted to learn more than the underlying financial things that I had done in the past, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Everything was falling into place so quickly; I completely ignored all the red flags that were there right from the start.
Like how I felt during and after the interview. Or how my new manager, Mrs. Horrible Boss, gave me a hard time for wanting to give two weeks notice, insisting that I quit and immediately start with her the next day.
Instead, I did whatever I could to convince myself that accepting this new job was the right thing to do.
The anxiety from the “false alarm” was overwhelming. I couldn’t keep going back into that same office and being put in that same risky situation day after day, constantly worrying that this time it might not be “just a false alarm.” That this time I’d be leaving the office in an ambulance – or worse.
I was vulnerable and desperate to get out, so I did.
Reality Quickly Replaced the Honeymoon Phase
My first few weeks at my new job went well! But it didn’t take long for Mrs. Horrible Boss to show her true colors.
The position had been vacant for more than six months, and she was not happy that it was taking me so long to get caught up. So she started to implement arbitrary and impossible to meet deadlines. And couldn’t care less when I tried to tell her that they were impossible.
The more I learned about the role, the more issues I uncovered, as well.
Hundreds of receipts without names or invoice numbers. Envelopes of cash, unmarked, and left sitting in an unlocked drawer for months.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of outstanding invoices still owed to the department, going at least a few years back.
All things that Mrs. Horrible Boss knew nothing about, and somehow didn’t care about, either.
She just wanted me to fix the year’s worth of mistakes within a matter of weeks. As a brand new employee, who was still being trained and was still learning the role. While also trying to catch up and keep up with the whole administrative half of the job.
I Started to Think There Was Something Wrong with Me
- Why wasn’t I getting it?
- Why was I struggling so hard to do even a mediocre job?
- Why was I always in trouble, no matter what I did?
So I started working through my breaks and lunches. I even offered to work overtime on the weekend, so that I could maybe make some progress.
Not that any of that mattered.
My second monthly performance review went horribly. I was now being told (for the first time) about all these other things I was being accused of doing wrong. None of which were correct. But any attempt to speak up or defend myself in that meeting was shot down.
I was told that due to my inability to meet deadlines (which I told her many times were impossible to meet), I was being kept on probation for an additional two months.
I was not happy. And I wasn’t going to sit back and take it, either.
I Tried Standing Up For Myself, But...
Standing up for myself is something that I’m terrible at.
I try to avoid confrontation at all costs, even when that cost is my sanity and self-worth. But Mrs. Horrible Boss was entirely out of line.
Lying, blaming me for things that happened years before I was hired — not offering me any kind of support, guidance, or solution. Trying to reprimand me for things that were direct violations of the labor laws.
So I contacted my union rep, who told me that this was not the first time Mrs. Horrible Boss had pulled these stunts. She had even somehow bullied her way into firing someone that didn’t also work for the organization!
Then I did my homework. I had a spreadsheet full of exact dates, times, and details of relevant conversations. Copies of emails, the Employment Standards Act, and my union collective agreement, all highlighted and ready to go.
I was ready to stand up for myself. At least I was on paper.
In reality, however, I was not.
I wanted to get mad. I wanted to be angry and defend myself over her blatant lies and the ridiculous allegations being made against me.
But I didn’t.
The truth is, I was barely hanging on.
Outside of Work, Life was Also Going Terribly
At the time, my husband was on medical leave, getting the runaround with his claim, and therefore had no income. I couldn’t just quit, because then we’d have no income at all.
Then there was a sudden death in his family.
And if that wasn’t stressful enough, my nearly 21-year old cat’s health took a significant turn for the worse. My poor little old man was obviously suffering, and nothing we were doing was helping him. We made the most painful and agonizing decision to have him put down.
I was completely broken.
Days before my original probation period ended, there was a big meeting that included the union and HR.
I Was Fired
For the first time in my life, I was fired.
Mrs. Horrible Boss didn’t have a valid reason to fire me – but she didn’t need one. Because I was still on probation, there wasn’t a damn thing that I, the union, or anyone else could have done.
Once again, she bullied her way into getting what she wanted.
- I was an unemployed failure, yet again.
- I wanted to give up.
It's Gotta Get Bad Before It Gets Good
I know it’s hard to believe, but somehow, someway, being fired actually turned out to be a good thing.
First, the good people at the Employment Insurance office wholeheartedly agreed that I was fired without just cause. Therefore, they approved my claim. Although I wasn’t thrilled to be collecting E.I. benefits again, I was grateful to have some income and some time to find another job.
More importantly, it gave me some time to grieve, to process everything that had happened in the last few months, and to recover emotionally and mentally from hitting rock bottom.
Then, being unemployed actually helped me get an excellent new job!
I wrote a whole post about it, but the just of it is this: In Canada, you can work and collect employment insurance benefits at the same time.
This opened up a lot of new opportunities for me that I probably wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Including a casual contract for a job that I’d be perfect for. So I applied for it, had a great interview, and was offered the job!
Less than two weeks after starting as a casual employee, they offered me a temporary full-time contract! Which became permanent full-time a year later.
If I had not been fired and able to take advantage of this program, I couldn’t have afforded to work only casual hours, and wouldn’t have even bothered applying. I would have missed out on this truly amazing opportunity.
Finding a job that I love has been life-changing!
I now come home from work every day happy instead of miserable. I’m excited for Mondays, instead of being terrified of them. I sleep well at night, instead of being perpetually exhausted. I feel useful and appreciated, instead of incapable and worthless.
Once again, I feel like I matter.
My husband said it best when he said: “I finally have my wife back.”
I Was Replaced by 5 People
I try to forget about the whole ordeal as much as I can, but it’s almost impossible to do so, living in a smaller community.
Like last week, when out of nowhere, I ran into a former coworker of mine from this job.
At first, it brought up a lot of negative emotions. Even though she was very supportive of everything that had happened and we had a good rapport, I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk to her.
But I’m so glad that I did.
She told me that Mrs. Horrible Boss is still just as horrible as ever. In a department of less than 20 staff, she has fired three other people and drove another 3 to quit in less than a year. And then she told me something that made things even better (for me, at least).
My former position has now become 5. FIVE!
Yup – all the work that I was expected to do by myself is now being done by five full-time staff!
I Finally Felt Vindicated
Mrs. Horrible Boss’s severe lack of management skills and completely unrealistic expectations of the position were the problem. Not me.
I failed at that job because I was set up to fail. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me or my abilities. All that self-doubt I felt for months was really about her.
There was nothing that I could have done to be successful at that job.
(Unless, of course, I made four clones of myself. But if I could do that, I wouldn’t have wasted it on a crappy $20 per hour job!)
Finally, I have a real resolution to this whole ordeal beyond just trying to forget it happened in the first place. I can finally stop dwelling in the past, and stop beating myself up for not doing or saying something different.
I feel like I can finally talk about it (or, in this case, write about it) and really start to move on.
Don't Let a Horrible Boss Destroy You Like I Almost Did
It is almost impossible not to start believing the belittling, demeaning abuse that a horrible boss puts on you, day after day. Not only does it affect your performance at work, but you take their words and behaviors home with you, too.
Before long, a horrible boss can take over every aspect of your life.
Their negativity can turn you into a negative person. Their bullying can turn you into a bully. And their lying and manipulating can turn you into a lying manipulator.
They can destroy your confidence, your future career path, your professional relationships, your personal relationships, your mental health, your physical health.
If this is the case, please, I beg you to get help. Here are a few resources that include helpful information, personal stories, and crisis lines that you can call, text, email, or chat with:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- The Lifeline Canada Foundation
- Dear Debt – Suicide Prevention
- Self-Care Gifts
- How to Go On Stress Leave
I almost let a horrible boss destroy me. Over something that had absolutely nothing to do with me or my abilities.
Please, don’t let this happen to you.
Have you ever dealt with a toxic work situation? How did you handle it? What happened? Let us know in the comments!