Abusive Workplace

I once had a job which was really bad. The work itself was okay, but what made it so unbearable was the fact that the owner of the business was so unpleasant towards me and everybody else who worked for him. In the name of professionalism, I wouldn’t like to divulge the details of the job, but once I left I wrote quite a long and detailed post about my feelings while working there. At the time, I thought it might be unwise to post it publicly, but now enough time has gone by that I think I can post it.

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I recently quit my job. This was quite a tough decision for me, because in the past, the months I spent unemployed were probably the most difficult and unhappy of my life, but I came to realise that I could no longer stay in the abusive workplace in which I had found myself.

I started working at this business as a freelance writer – this seemed great at first, because the rate of pay seemed quite generous and writing is the work that I love the most. The problems began when every single one of my invoices (save for the last one) were aggressively challenged. I made excuses for this. Maybe other people had lied in the past, I thought, maybe this was understandable.  But there was no excuse for it. Every pay day I was worried that I wouldn’t get my pay and every pay day I had to have the same argument over and over again. Foolishly, when I was later offered a contract, I accepted it; this contract brought with it about a 50% cut in my pay, but as I had a client who was clearly trying to get out of paying me (and making me do additional unpaid work anyway) I decided that security was the best choice; I should have left then and there.

But the pay wasn’t the only thing, my employer was a strange mixture of nasty and nice; one minute he was trying very hard to be a “buddy” or a “mate”, but the moment he was challenged, or the subject of money came up, he was an aggressive, stone-cold businessman. Of course, when in the buddy-mode he would say things like “You know you can always talk to me if you have any problems” which would then make me feel bad for not raising my many issues, but the truth is, actions speak louder than words: just because he said he was an open and approachable person, it by no means made him one.

But you might think that the existence of the “buddy” persona meant that he was a nice employer at least 50% of the time, but this was not the case at all. Even when he was being ‘nice’ he was spouting racist, sexist and homophobic nonsense, creating inner conflict for me every time – these are all things I feel passionately about and I think that it is important to challenge them whenever you encounter them. I never went along with these at jokes, at most I would be silent and at best I would challenge him (only to be met with the typical ignorant responses of it only being a harmless joke.) So even when he was being friendly, I was either going to be filled with a sense of guilt by being implicated into his ugly worldview, or I was going to have to struggle through the process of explaining to an ignorant person why their regressive jokes are harmful.

Clashing political perspectives were not only encountered when it came to joking around though – very regularly, and especially around the time of voting, he would start political discussions with me. A few minutes into any discussion, it was clear that he knew nothing about what he was talking about, but still he would relentlessly try to sway my opinions, which, I might add, is entirely illegal. He never listened when he was told that it wasn’t something I wanted to discuss. I don’t really enjoy discussing it with my friends, let alone people I despise.

He was the kind of person who would never take no for an answer, because he could not and cannot understand perspectives other than his own. I am not a very touchy person – occasionally I can enjoy a hug or holding hands with my especially close friends and it’s a nice form of comfort and of bonding. What I don’t want is my aggressively masculine boss patting me on the back in a “friendly” way that feels more like being assaulted – or, indeed, him giving me hugely inappropriate massages (and usually when nobody is looking.) I would tense up every time and go very quiet – I wish I had spoken out against it, but what good would it do? He would not respect my perspective because he would not understand it and he would probably forget and then do it again.

And this is all him being nice. I haven’t even gone into the “business” side of his personality. I was constantly given instructions verbally which were later forgotten and then because I did not have them in writing, he did not believe he had ever told me to do them and would tell me off for doing things wrong. He had no qualms about openly lying to other businesses and organisations (including charities) and was always, always trying to get out of paying people. Most of his staff are stationed overseas and are working for less than minimum wage, yet he expects them to work (and produce writing) which will be of the exact same level of quality as somebody working in the office with English for a first language. He never even bothered to learn their names and made jokes about their “funny” sounding foreign names. My job was to manage those workers and he told me that the best way to manage people is to make them think that their jobs are in danger – that about says it all.

I am a person who spends a lot of time thinking about what is right and what is wrong and it was not hard for me to come to the conclusion that it was wrong to hire people overseas so that you can pay them for less than minimum wage and treat them like dirt. So often I was asked to say horrible things to them; I never did it (always found nicer things to say) but then there’s the constant worry of getting in trouble for being nice to people. What a terrible environment to create. He once commented that he wished English workers would work as hard for as little pay. Clearly he does not believe that employees deserve basic rights.

One time it backfired on him – one of the things he told me to relay to someone (that he wasn’t going to be paying them) was followed up with an email complaining that he was a horrible person. Quite right too. This resulted in him getting angry at me and saying that I had caused them to be upset and threatening to email them and say that I was to blame for his decision. I can’t remember ever raising my voice to anybody else, but I shouted at him to say that that was not something I was going to do. I went to my lunch to cool off, when I came back I told him to pay the person out of my salary – I didn’t think it was my responsibility, but I would rather they be paid than not. He said no and explained to me how he never apologises to anybody and explained that I need to learn to take responsibility for my actions. I bit my lip and said nothing.

The only thing that made the job bearable is that I formed good friendships with all of my co-workers and even had a friend of mine come to work there. Perhaps it says something about my own self-value, but for it is even harder to endure somebody being relentlessly nasty to people I love and care for than it than it is to be the victim of such behaviour myself. I remember once, when someone was away, I had to argue with him to defend them in his absence. Another time he suggested to me that I could start doing the work of one of my co-workers so that he could fire them. This was despite the fact that he knew that I was friends with this person outside of work. His reason for wanting to get rid of them was because they had a few days off sick, too.

But despite the fact that he was so horrible and nasty towards everyone in his employ, the “buddy” persona never went away. He seemed to think we’d all want to spend time with him outside of the office. So whenever I wanted to spend time with my co-workers outside of work, I had to arrange things in secret to avoid him overhearing and inviting himself. One time he found out about something I was arranging by looking through my private Skype messages (which are on my work computer, because he told me not to create a work-Skype) and when he found out that we were doing something without him, he was disgustingly passive aggressive to all of us.

How he thought he could have a relationship with someone where he is having a heated argument one minute and casual drinks the next is beyond me. You would also think, that if he wanted to be friends with his employees, he would show them some level of respect: yet he would hold separate meetings with us to give us different information – clear lies and manipulation. The fact that he thought we would all be so ignorant as to realise what was happening is also a clear indication of how he thought himself mentally superior to us (and, also, how he clearly was not.)

I’m going to bring myself to a stop now: I feel I have ranted and that this may have become nothing but a very bitter piece of writing. The aim of this post is to highlight that I had an abusive relationship with my boss – in the end, my reason for leaving was not that I disliked him, but that I disliked what I had become while working for him. I hate complaining about people, yet I did very little else while working for him. He brought out the ugliest side of my own personality and caused me to dislike myself. The impact will not go away instantly, but I realised I needed to leave ASAP, so I did.

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That’s what I wrote within days of quitting. After I left, he continued to give me trouble too. I was becoming deeply anxious and depressed as a result of working under such a disgusting person and things outside of work were getting to me, which otherwise would not have done. Even spending time with friends was less enjoyable, because I knew the social events would end and I’d be back in that dreadful office.

Quitting was one of the best career decisions I have ever made and things have only gotten better since then. Today, these negative experiences barely ever cross my mind, other than in the occasional nightmare, but ultimately I am glad that this happened. Working there was good for my career and I did make some very good friends as a result of it. But what I said in that original piece of writing (“The impact will not go away instantly.”) is very true. I don’t think the impact will ever truly go away. People have always described me as a very positive and optimistic person, but since then I feel I’ve had a certain degree of cynicism – maybe it’s a healthy dose, maybe it’s not. It’s hard to be sure.

But, still, I’d like to be able to stop people from suffering in terrible workplaces like that if I can, so I shall end this blog post by saying that if you ever find yourself having to make excuses for your boss’s bad behaviour, it is time to quit. You deserve a lot better and it will definitely be different at another job.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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