Would You Work For A Tyrannical Boss?

You work for a big-name company that's on the up and up. You love what you do, your wage is good and your office is swanky. There's just one problem: your boss is the spiritual reincarnation of Kim Jong-il.

Angry boss picture from Shutterstock.

Japanese game developer Konami's corporate culture recently came under scrutiny after a damning report from newspaper Nikkei. The paper alleged that the company treated its employees like prisoners. According to the report, management would monitor staff lunch breaks with time cards and those who stayed out too long would be humiliated though a company-wide announcement. In addition, security cameras allegedly keep watch on employees and staff aren't even allowed permanent email addresses in a bid to ward off headhunting.

And those were just the tamer allegations! Konami reportedly demoted developers on underperforming projects to roles as security guards and cleaning staff. A former employee who suffered this fate was said to have experienced severe depression as a result. Brutal.

Most of us spend at least half our waking lives working and considering the number of hours we devote to our jobs is on the rise, the best we could hope for is to be able to find some pleasure in our workplace. But when you have a tyrannical boss that contributes to a toxic work environment, the negative effects could encroach onto your personal life.

Does your boss want to control every facet of your work life? Is your boss timing your lunch breaks? Is your boss reading your emails or listening in on your conversations at work? Whether or not there is a good reason for your business leader to use such draconian tactics, this kind of behaviour can add unnecessary stress to your job.

Some people may be inclined to throw in the towel, give the finger to their bosses and walk out like an action hero leaving behind a trail of flame and destruction. Easier said than done. For those who love what they do or have no other alternative, they stick around. Some people may even thrive under the pressure. Some may have had their self-esteem severely battered and cannot even fathom leaving their companies despite a hostile work culture. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't right?

We've heard many workplace horror stories and we would like to hear more from readers who are currently stuck in a job with a horrible boss or have survived through a despotic work leader.

If you're currently stuck in a toxic work environment and want to take step in making a change, we have a handy guide offering tips in how to handle the situation.

Either way, we would like to hear your stories. Tell us your tale in the comments.


Comments

    I've had a few terrible bosses over the years. One boss took brought his cronies from another project and muscled them all into the project I was on. It was clear who had sway and this tactic caused all sorts of tension on the project.
    On another project, I was lucky enough to have Donna (a fake name) talk to me behind closed doors. She stood over me and was screaming. She banged her fists on the desk. The difference of opinion was that the team had no idea where we were going so I gave them 3 days to re-baseline the schedule (yes, I had the authority to do it). Donna insisted we didn't need a schedule (which was code for "I have a schedule and you don't need to know it"). This goes down as the worst attempt at physical intimidation i've experienced in a work place.
    Or another boss who kept on asking me if my immediate boss was incompetent and needed to be removed. All this did was re-enforce that things had become extremely political and that upper management were on a witch hunt.
    Or another boss who called a fellow manager a "fucking dickhead" in a meeting with about 80 staff present. The CEO added "we don't need the whips and chains". There was obviously a culture where that happened behind closed doors often.
    I've seen some shockers over the years. I would go as far to say that it's normally pretty obvious when you first join a company - if people behave strangely, don't talk or seem to be afraid to speak their mind, it's a culture of intimidation. Intimidation can come from anyone. Skin colour, gender, religion, height, weight, etc are no guarantees of fair, reasonable or respectful behaviour.

      Thanks for giving us such a detailed account of your experience. Yes, does sound like you've had a few shocking bosses throughout your career. Hope your current boss is a nice one!

    I had a female boss who made me alert her if I was going to the bathroom (as one time I wasn't at my desk, and she called me into her office to ask why, I explained I was in the loo. "Well, you need to tell me if at any time you leave your desk."). My boss following this wondered why I kept asking if I could go.

    The old boss also used to call me outside of work hours, and would repeatedly call my phone until I answered. Once I was in a bottle shop on a Friday night and she made me run through a sales presentation there and then, as she didn't understand it (director of the company, her data, but I'd put it together as she had no computer skills). So I stood with my bottle of wine in one hand and ran through 24 slides from memory. She also did it once on a Sunday afternoon, as a client had called her with an issue, and instead of saying "it will get sorted on Monday", rang me and told me to go home (I was at lunch) and sort it out.

    Her idea of a 'team building' activity for our team (which I use that term loosely, as there were HR issues with a few people) was pole dancing.

    She had a staff member who wrote abusive emails behind my back (personal derogatory ones), abused upper management and stole cabcharges - but never got fired, only several written warnings.

    When I resigned, despite having told me that there would be no money _ever_ for a payrise (she thought I was being overpaid anyway), she offered to match the new salary I'd been offered if I stayed. When advertising my job, the pay was above what I'd been paid, with half the responsibilities.

    Bosses are tricky. Unfortunately, many people who obtain power (even a small amount) lose empathy and gain megalomania. I once worked for a manager who seemed to feel she had full control over the lives of her staff, both professionally and personally. This manager would routinely release private information about staff to colleagues for the purposes of harassment. When a new staff member started, she would meet with her cabal of loyal staff and ask whether they liked them. If they did, life was paradise. if they didn't, she set out to destroy their lives.

    This same manager once discovered by accident that one of her young female staff was planning to leave her abusive husband. The young woman had spent months developing a plan to extract herself and her son from the situation. The manager first met with the young woman to explain why she disagreed with her decision. When the young woman wouldn't do as she was told, the manager fabricated disciplinary actions against her. Eventually she referred to the young woman publicly as an "insubordinate" "slut" and "whore". In the end, frustrated at being ignored, the manager sent an (anonymous) letter to the young woman's husband, which succeeded in trapping the woman in the abusive marriage for another four years.

    It was the most toxic environment I've ever been in - professionally or personally.

    I've had several slightly less psychotic bosses, including one who sprouted slogans and buzzwords and expected staff to work 80 hours a week for 40 hours pay. He was genuinely confused and frustrated that people had families and responsibilities outside work. He would regularly rant about "priorities" at staff meetings. Ironically, this same gentleman arrived precisely at 8am and left precisely at 5pm every work day. He never worked weekends, although he frequently expected others to. Unpaid.

    But I've also had a few good ones. I'd say the ratio is 70/30 in favour of maniacs, though. Luckily, I currently have mostly excellent bosses.

      If you have evidence of the boss who sent that letter to the husband.. I would be giving that to police.. surly something like that someone should be jailed for. That is not acceptable on any kind of level.

      Last edited 05/08/15 2:59 pm

        Unfortunately, the anonymous bit. No real proof except obviousness. And, unfortunately, any attempt to gain justice would have exposed the woman to more risk in her situation. In many cases, an employee has minimal power and is often vulnerable financially (can't risk losing their job) or socially (can't risk reprisal). This young woman was both. One bit of good news: HR did issue the manager with a 'warning' and she backed off after several of us issued a complaint. Managers are a protected species unless they put the organisation at financial or PR risk. I don't think HR were concerned about the woman, but they cared about the potential financial and reputation risk to the organisation. Her behaviour towards her staff has apparently been more controlled since. Hence, four years later things worked for the young woman. So some good news.

        In my increasing years, I've become very interested in the corrupting influence of leadership (Right up to managing a country. Just look at politicians on every continent). The stories I've heard from employees at every level is astounding: From small business to big companies to the public sector. It happens everywhere, and sometimes just as shocking or worse than the story I told above.

    No. There's no remuneration high enough to put up with terrible working conditions. I've actually quit jobs without having a fall-back (didn't particularly matter - I always land on my feet), purely because I couldn't tolerate what was going on with management or what we were expected to do.

    Activities that took place from management I observed in my time in a tech support call centre:

    * Any and all toilet breaks monitored for duration and frequency, to be discussed with officers in their fortnightly performance meeting.

    * Supervisors responded to emailed queries or alerts about potential process issues, asking for this information to be delivered verbally, not via email, in order to preserve 'plausible deniability'.

    * Tech support troubleshooting staff were graded on their ability to generate sales leads.

    * The tech-illiterate managers' 'personal folder' in the shared network drive (I guess they thought it was hidden?) had an actual I kid-you-not 'shit list', which was actually called just that. The 'shit list' was a word document which had names of staff to be monitored more closely to record any potential excuses to build a body of evidence for eventual firing.

    * Staff were 'encouraged' to improve call times by only doing software troubleshooting for a set period, after which they were to end troubleshooting and book a tech visit, from techs who were not trained in those systems and who could not resolve the problem. Reason, verbatim: "The truck rolls don't come out of our department's budget, but your call times do. If the customer has to call twice, that's actually better for us because it counts as a fresh stat."

    * Good performers and those deemed 'sympathetic' to the corporate culture were quietly requested to report to management on the comings and goings and break-room conversations of union members and union reps to look for anything that could be used to discredit them, or anticipate what the union was up to.

    * A centre manager went on 'extended vacation' after a staff member complained that her workplace compensation case had been rejected, with an appeal determining that the medical records on file were different to those supplied by her doctor. The staff member mysteriously came into a lot of money and retired.

    * Staff were advised not to use their work machines to check personal email or do internet banking/recreation, instead were advised to use one of two machines set up in the break room... which had key-loggers installed by a manager who wanted to see if staff were saying unflattering things about the company. Said manager used their own details to register the key-logger software and was unaware that it was a violation of the Surveillance Act.

    ***

    Basically, there's something about management culture in some corporations that automatically turns bosses into ****s.

    Ooooh boy. What stories I can tell from this...

    My last job was EXTREMELY toxic. Lets make a run-down of some of the many things which occurred. When I first started there, I let a few things slide - but after I did some research into personality disorders, and in particular, narcissism in general, I was well equipped to deal with the shitstorm, and a few months later I left the job and started working elsewhere, from the sheer shit that I went through. I wouldn't work there again, even if you paid me 10 million dollars a year.

    1) Being told that I couldn't take the day off to see my dying aunt (who I was VERY close to) in hospital, yet my immediate supervisor could take as much time off work as she pleased. In the end, I told them I was doing it anyway, regardless of their decision.

    1a) On the subject of death - a work colleague died suddenly and unexpectedly, at a fairly young age. None of us were allowed to go to the funeral.

    2) Having your work sabotaged by a narcissistic fuckwad co-worker, and when multiple people saw them actually doing it - nothing was done after it was reported to the boss. I should also mention the same narcissist assaulted another co-worker at work - and said co-worker was 8 months pregnant at the time. Theres many stories about that particular person I unfortunately worked with - including how she came into a lot of money and would brag about it to everyone.

    3) It seems the monitoring toilet breaks was a given, too, at this place. Ditto lunch breaks (and a lot of time they would pile up so much work that you were forced to do, and would often have to skip lunch break (or work overtime without pay - they NEVER paid overtime there) to complete it all).

    4) Co-workers being nasty and abusive behind your back (when they thought you couldn't hear it) but pretending to be nice to your face.

    5) My boss calling my house, when I was still on my way home from work - and saying that I "must" work the next day (I worked part time, and said day was my day off work) - without any element of choice being given. My sister who took the phone call - basically told her in diplomatic terms to get fucked, which I laugh about to this very day. Heaven forbid people have lives outside of work - some people were forced to stay back until 9-10pm (finishing time was 5pm) without pay, to finish their work. Fortunately they weren't stupid enough to suggest this to me though - I would have told them to get fucked, too.

    6) Co-workers whos first language wasn't English - speaking their own language in front of you, and with body language you know they're bitching about you. When told to speak English at work they pulled the racism card.

    7) Your boss finding out about your personal life by stalking you - and then using said personal life stalkage to turn it around so its all about them and how their life is so much better. Cue also criticisms on what people do in their personal life outside of work. Also, criticisms on what you ate for lunch, what you wore to work, what phone you had, yada yada yada. I wasn't aware this was highschool, people.

    8) When I had had enough of the place and put in resignation (by which I had another job I was working) the bosses demanded to know why I was leaving. I never told them why (of which it was a few reasons including the above), and told them simply that I'd had enough. Usually when people leave a job, they'll give a gift or they'll hold a party or something like that - in this case nothing at all was planned. This told me all I needed to know about these people that I worked with - and I'd been there nearly 4 years.

    I feel like we should do a post on the collective horror stories from our readers! So many to pick from.

    I had a complete nut job of a woman who go side shifted into a media creation area for 8 months, worst 8 months ever!! This person was an admin type person, who had no idea of video production, and media creation, but due to this persons old job behind made redundant was shifted into the supervisor of the section. Within two weeks of taking over the sections moral slowly become to crumble, this is just some of her behaviour:

    A Coffee break was considered leave, meeting with clients was even considered non-work, and my time sheet was deducted for anytime away from my desk. Even though the stupid woman would go for hours on end for coffee, lunch, and even make a point of saying “I am going for a long lunch break and you are not invited”!

    I am a professional media producer, as are all the people in the section, but I was I was told by her our positions should be able to be summed up in 5 steps so that any one reading it would be able to understand the job and do what we do. I explained while I can document some local procedures etc, it is not possible that I can document in easy steps of how do this job or others jobs , when its based upon years of experience and training, and indeed any new person would have to have a media degree, with specializations in TV and film production with a Cert 4 in Adult Learning and education. She said how hard can your job be?, any idiot can do it !

    Once when I had order new light bulbs for our studio lights, turned into a lengthy discussion of how we need to do analysis and projections of consumable goods for the section.

    She harassed me to the point of exhaustion about not wanting a higher level position, to do more courses in supervision or accounting, (which is not my field of 30 years experience) or move location to Canberra (I was in Melbourne) to obtain non existent positions with the organisation, even though I explained many times no such positions exists,

    She would often say sexist comments, now she was in charge of a section of men.
    Every few weeks she would just outburst "men are all jerks and cant be trusted”

    Would send you sexist male degrading jokes over e-mail, or say them outloud.

    Saying that men wine and whinge about being sick far more than women.
    Told as a male I should take less stuff on trips, take too many clothes, guys can wear same stuff, even though I usually only took a GYM bag on overnight trips away.
    She said you couldn’t praise men, as they might interpret that I am trying to "pick them up"
    Was told I have a wife, and she should be able to look after my injuries (after having skin cancer treatment, and I don’t need time off!
    When I need follow up treatment for my skin cancer, I was asked why I am going to the doctor, what for? She wanted to know every detail, She would say “ why do you need a day off?” Even annual leave days are questioned were questioned.

    When I come up with a better procedure for organising the workflow of other media creation people in my building, was told not to question the systems currently in place, and not to questions procedures. And accept the status quo of current arrangements of procedures, and if I was not to participate then I was going to get transferred to another location!
    She would write e-mails behind my back, to head directors, making up stories about not following procedures, and not treating her with respect, which would result in conversations to defend myself against false aquasations.

    She even tried to hit on me one day, which resulted in me being repulsed, and I told her off and said I was going to report her, she said if I mentioned it to anyone she would get me fired, and make up anything to get me sacked!

    She would overload me with non-related finance and admin tasks then to only tell you off for not doing it right!!

    I finally had enough, and could’t stant this one person destroying the good work of this section, Thus, the story has a happy ending, I recorded every conversation of her and edited it together in a 15 min audio recording, and sent it to her boss, she was removed overnight, and has been made to leave since, or charges were going to be pressed !

    I've had a few tyrannical bosses. From painful experience I've concluded that there's no point in trying to address their behaviour either directly with them or through organizational structures. You can choose to stay because the job is worth it in other ways, or be forced to stay because you can't find another job, but attempting to change the situation from within is generally impossible. External pressure through union action can be another matter, but that's a separate discussion.

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