Our Worst Bosses And What We Learned From Them

Just like fun workmates can make boring jobs so much more enjoyable, a bad boss can make a perfectly decent job feel like hell. And bad bosses seem to be pretty prevalent, with most of us able to rattle off a tale or two. From inappropriate comments to incompetence, from bullying to gas-lighting, bad bosses run the gamut.

But we can learn a lot from these dodgy managers – and if we ever rise to the top of the workplace ladder ourselves, you can bet we won’t be repeating their mistakes. Here are a few lessons we picked up along the way.

#1 Rise above the negativity

Straight out of uni, I worked as a receptionist in a fancy corporate office for a bit under a year. My boss would come to be known as ‘the evil dragon lady with no soul’. She would never say ‘hi’ to me in the morning. She literally ignored my presence, unless she was ordering me to go buy her an “extra hot, extra strong latte” from a specific cafe halfway across the city. She was terrifying and I don’t think she had the physical ability to smile. I suspect she was subhuman.

But she taught me (indirectly) that you shouldn’t let negative people get into your head.

#2 A good title doesn’t make you a good person

My first job was as a Subway sandwich artist — an illustrious title for a task that involved me folding meat at various angles while a perpetually sweaty dude in his mid-30s lurched around bragging about how many pre-mixed Jim Beams he downed the previous weekend. It was a fine job that I liked. Good work, free cookies. But this guy, my first manager, was a constant burden.

He smirked as he talked down to after-school casuals, and basked in the blinding light cast off his pristine, lime green 2006 Holden ute parked (purposefully) outside the shop window each afternoon. One day he cracked a gag to the lads a little too loudly about me “knowing my place in the kitchen” as I washed the mounting stacks of sauce bottles and bread racks. I sat with it. Scrubbing hard. I did a better job than he ever had, dropped my wet gloves in front of him, looked him purposefully in the eye and left.

I got a new job two months later where people treated me better, knowing that Good Titles don’t always make you a good person. I probably should have said something to him at the time, but even then I knew anyone who feels they have to put down a 17-year-old girl working her first job to feel good about themselves isn’t worth much time.

#3 The meaning of business casual

If you’ve ever seen The Office (US), you’ll know that one of the worst kinds of bosses is the ‘Michael Scott’ (Steve Carell’s character) type: overly familiar, desperately awkward and unfailingly incompetent.

That was my boss, in my first office job straight out of university. A dank office building in the depressing backstreets of West Melbourne; and covered in a cloud of cigarette smoke from the crusty old ad sales executive sneaking durries out the front of the building, in the back stairwell, out the windows of their offices… everywhere.

And the boss, a ‘Michael Scott’ if ever I’d met him. He called unnecessary meetings to “brainstorm productivity”; he stopped work to relay an inappropriate joke or unfunny anecdote. He refused to give any women in the office raises, but would flaunt the purchase of his brand-new Maserati sports car.

bad bosses our worst boss what we learnt

And he was unnaturally obsessed with everything I wore: “Look, everyone, Matilda’s wearing those pink boots!” “Ah, the green skirt girl is back! Look, everyone, it’s the green skirt girl!”

I’ll never forget the 13 months I spent in that office with Australia’s Michael Scott. At least we once spent an hour and a half brainstorming what we thought “business casual” should mean. (That’s useful, right?)

#4 The importance of sticking up for yourself

When I had freshly turned 18, I was studying full time, was unemployed and was quickly burning though my savings. I bulk applied for a bunch of different bars via email and scored an interview, met the boss (she was lovely) and secured a job at a bar in town.

When I started, I began to hear horror stories about how she often scolded employees to the point of tears, would tear people to shreds over the smallest circumstances and micromanage the hell out of people. I didn’t really believe any of it, and thought that people were just overreacting – after all she had always been really lovely towards me.

Oh boy, was I wrong.

Her two-facedness was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I caught her out one time saying some really horrible things about me when she didn’t know I was clocking off in the small room beside her office. She was unfair with hours, wages and unfortunately had me wrapped around her finger for several months – I was desperate for a job and developed some serious anxiety from working in such a toxic environment.

The worst thing that she ever did was when a close family member of mine was really unwell and in hospital, doctors said that it was more than likely he wouldn’t be around much longer and we were encouraged to come visit. I asked for time off (I was a casual staff-member, I might add), explained my circumstances and was flatly refused. There were people available to cover my shift, but for whatever reason she said no.

A few of my work mates rallied around me and declared if I wasn’t allowed to go home for a few days they would quit, so I ended up getting the time off, which was a really lovely gesture on their end.

I could honestly go on and on, but I think you get the gist.

What I learned from having such a horrible boss was that it’s never OK to compromise your mental health for work. If a situation is toxic, sometimes there is no shame in quitting!

I also learned the importance in sticking up for yourself when you feel as though your rights are being compromised. Talk to someone if you feel you are being screwed over!