I started working at 14 years old and never looked back. Despite my Dad’s best efforts, I was eager to join the workforce and wasn’t going to be denied for anything. I’ve worked at baseball concession stands, chain restaurants, gourmet chocolate shops, other chain restaurants, national retailers, a high end grocery store, and several other places I barely remember. As a result, I’ve seen a lot of good bosses in my 25 years.
Unfortunately, I have also been the victim of some terrible management. I wrote this post to help share some of the lessons I learned the hard way while working for bosses who lied to me.
“You are Stuck”
One of my first jobs out of college was working for a company where things didn’t work out as I’d hoped. I was in a hostile work environment where I constantly felt threatened and abused. It was the kind of workplace where the collective anxiety of the staff bubbles over in a rolling boil of fear and anger. It was an extremely unhealthy first job.
As a result I felt stuck—like I would be slaving away for ungrateful bosses who mistreated me for the rest of my life.
I can tell you that no matter how wonderful your life may actually be, feeling stuck at work can make everything seem dismal. For me, the feeling of being stuck crept far past the boundaries I should have drawn. I was unhappy at home, anxious all weekend, and my wife (then fiancé) was taking the brunt of it.
But the most important thing to keep from feeling stuck is to realize you have other options and to tell yourself that over and over and over again.
I saw my coworkers get so beat down by the feeling of stuck that their self worth plummeted. Believing you don’t have options leads to believing the job you’re in is the best you can do. And if that job happens to be working for an abusive boss then all of a sudden, the best you can do is work for someone who doesn’t value you.
Listen, you have options—probably more than you know.
“You Are Just a Number”
There was one particular boss at one particular chain restaurant (doing my best to keep this all from biting me in the butt later so no names) who treated most of the servers like garbage. Sure, he had a few favorites who could come in late and take extra breaks, but most of us were peasants in his eyes. He created a tremendous amount of animosity in me because of that management style. I actually became worse at my job the longer I worked for this establishment because I felt less valued as a person every time I went to work.
Anyone who tells you that you’re just a number—that the next person to walk in the door will do your job just the same as you—is lying. Even factory workers whose job is to push one button all day long still bring all of their personality and history with them to the job site every day. We are all unique with valuable stories and insight.
Treat yourself and your story with respect and avoid bosses who try to convince you otherwise.
“You are Alone”
This last lie isn’t one I’ve ever been explicitly told by a boss, but I’ve seen it manifest itself in my life because of the way I’ve been treated. Essentially, this to me boils down to insecure leaders trying their best to segment their employees in an attempt to gain more control. By attempting to break apart relationships, they can more easily control the individuals.
I had one particular boss who was constantly trying to get me to rat out my coworkers. She disguised this segmentation tactic with a cloak of praise. She would say things like,
“You’re one of my best employees and I’m going to career path you to be a leader, but first I need you to tell me who needs to be fired.”
I wasn’t unique to her. As soon as my time as the “leader” was done she would move on to someone else and I would be the one who was thrown under the bus. To counter her attacks, I never gave an answer—denied her attempted promotions because I knew they were traps.
I doubt this is a common occurrence (I sure hope it’s not at least), but it’s important to recognize when a boss is trying to make people feel isolated. Don’t believe it, not for a second.
Beyond the workplace, you have family and friends to listen. Don’t let your boss convince you that no one’s around to help.