Employers and the work-life balance

Years ago I interviewed for a job where the HR Director told me point blank, “this job will be your life. I have family too, but this job comes first.” Thankfully, I didn’t get the job. Another colleague did, and less than a year later she was hospitalized for anxiety as a result of the stress associated with the position.

Fast forward 15 years, and not much has changed. When a class conflicted with a weekend office event and I chose the class (after giving management ample notice), my manager asked me if I was telling her that my life outside of work was more important than my job. Her question shocked me, and knowing that my answer was a resounding “YES”, fueled my determination to leave that environment as quickly as possible.

But it finally seems that some employers at least, are attempting to make room for life and work. In a recent NPR interview, Katie Sleep discussed why her company, List Innovative Solutions, lets employees telecommute and set their own hours. As a mom herself, accustomed to long commutes and managing the nightmare of transporting kids to and from school and daycare, Sleep was determined to offer better options for her own employees.  Not only does she have an unheard of 95% retention rate, she finds that employees still get their work done.

The problem with 9-5, is that it’s based on an outdated model of work. Back in the day, the workforce was largely male, and women stayed at home. In 2010, most households are dual income, and women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners. Sadly today, most companies, particularly those run by bad bosses, don’t trust their employees to work independently and out of sight. Allowing for flexibility and freedom in the workday is almost seen as a sign of weakness. As a result, both productivity, and employee moral suffer.

Not every type of job is conducive to flex time and telecommuting, but many are, and unless companies begin doing a better job of helping their employees balance work and life, we’ll continue to see a U.S. workforce at odds with itself.  You can listen to the entire NPR story here.

What are your thoughts on employers’ resistance to helping employees maintain a work-life balance? How does your employee handle the issue? Share your thoughts in the comment section or on our Facebook fan page.

Why Really Bad Boss, and why now

really bad boss getting to youThe idea for Really Bad Boss came to me after a particularly frustrating day at work.  I came home angry and annoyed, asking myself the same questions I’d been asking for the past few years and over the past two or three bosses – “Why am I working for this idiot?”, “How? How is he allowed to be in charge of anything?!”  And, I wondered, how on earth he’d gotten the position he’d gotten, with all its accompanying power and influence.  How was he able to sneak in under the radar?   

The worst part was, my experience with this company wasn’t an isolated one.  I thought about the VP of a former company, who within six months of being hired was drunk off his skull, dirty dancing on a table at the Christmas party.  He “resigned”, bonus intact, about a week later.   Or the CEO who, during an annual sales meeting, opted to complete a crossword puzzle, as the owner and board members discussed the uncertain future of the company.   And of course, I’ve already mentioned in several posts, the VP who fondly referred to the Jim Jones’ cult and its members’ mass suicide as the ultimate in company loyalty.  I can’t get beyond the fact that the same stringent screening process that had me in a three part interview that stretched over a four week period, and that can disqualify an hourly worker for having bad credit, can’t detect a pension for crossword puzzles, an affinity for cults or an alcoholic?  Ok, maybe that’s asking a bit much, but who are the gatekeepers letting these people in? Has anyone checked them out?  Why does it seem that those with the most responsibility and the most power have the least ability to use them effectively? And why are the rest of us beholden to them?  – think AIG, Congress, the SEC…

Webster has several definitions for the word boss including; a young cow, a person who exercises control or authority and a protuberant part or body.  While I’ve had bosses who fit into all three categories, I like the definition of a boss as being anyone who exercises control or authority.  By that definition, bosses aren’t limited to the workplace.   From politics – think  Rod Blagojevich and Elliot Spitzer, to Business – think AIG, Bank of America,  to Government - there’s too much wrong going on there to list here, to entertainment, sports, I could go on and on.  In fact, in our own lives, we’re bosses over our own choices and decisions…

Which brings me to why I launched Reallybadboss.com.  I wanted to create a space for people to share their really bad boss stories and more importantly how they got through them.  These days with unemployment levels hovering at near double digits, I think many of us feel stuck.  Stuck in jobs we may or may not like, but worse, stuck with bosses we neither like nor respect.  What got me through the last few months with the last really bad boss were friends, laughter and sharing stories with people who were in the same boat as I was. 

I want us to hold a mirror up to the really bad bosses around us, examine their behavior and do the exact opposite of what they’re doing.  I want Reallybadboss.com to be the place where we learn everything we can from the situations we’re in, and maybe have a laugh or two while we’re at it.

Bad times, worse management

Those of us with really bad bosses suffer more when times are rough

I was talking to a friend of mine recently, a hard-working, intelligent guy whose skills are in high demand.  When he learned his employer was folding and layoffs were looming, he wasted no time finding another job. Within a couple of weeks, he’d accepted an offer with another company.  Three months into the new job, he realized he’d walked into a company with serious management issues. Frustrated, he tried going through the proper channels to have the problems addressed.  First he went to the offending manager, who basically told him to get back to work.  When he went to that manager’s manager, he was told to hang in there.   A trip to human resources sent him straight into the proverbial brick wall.  The final straw came when in a meeting with both managers he was actually asked “where do you think you’re gonna find anything better in this job market?”

There have been times in my own career when I’ve felt like my bosses must have been thinking that very same thing. “Where are they going to go in this job market?”  And because they felt that way they either took us for granted, or worse, knowingly and willfully continued to mismanage and mistreat us.

When times are bad, bad management seems to get even worse. It’s a disorder that primarily affects companies whose management is already pretty horrible.    Whether you blame it on cockiness, their own fear of job instability or plain old stupidity, bad bosses are notorious for making bad situations even worse.   Managers who can’t function well during good times will most certainly fall to pieces when times get rough, and we, the employees, are the collateral damage. 

For obvious reasons, I look forward to our current economy turning the corner and returning to its former glory.  Another perk of the economic turnaround will be witnessing the mass exodus that occurs when good employees feel it’s safe enough to finally leave their really bad bosses.

Delivering really bad news to your really bad boss on a Monday morning

For years I wasted entire Sundays absolutely dreading Monday mornings.   The uneasy feeling would start to creep in on Saturday night, and by Sunday evening, I was a basket case.  For many of us Monday spells the end of the weekend, the start of the work week and a return to a real tool of a boss.  Facing a really bad boss on a typical Monday morning is bad enough, but it’s even worse when you’ve got to face him with bad news from something that happened over the weekend.  What could you possibly do over the weekend that would require you to give your boss bad news on Monday morning?  Glad you asked.   I crashed…no… totaled the car. The company car.  Did I mention I’d been on the job for only two weeks when it happened?  I challenge anyone to top that Monday morning story.  

Thankfully no one was injured in the accident.  I still remember the two block walk of shame to the office that morning, after a totally sleepless Sunday night.  As my new colleagues sped by me on their way to work, I sensed more than saw them looking at me in their rear view mirrors wandering why the new girl was walking to work.  They all knew I had been given a company car and like a scene from The Office, were all peering over the receptionist’s shoulder when I arrived several minutes later.  I could have taken a cab, but in addition to the car, the company was paying for me to stay in a hotel until I found an apartment.  I thought it would be pretty presumptuous to take (and expense) a cab to work the day after totaling the car.   

 It’s a testament to the saying “time heals all wounds” that I really don’t remember much of the conversation that took place that morning.  I do remember that it involved a lot of cursing on the Reprobate’s end (in two languages) and quite a bit of apologizing and tears on mine.   I was pretty young then, so crying was one of the only coping mechanisms I had mastered at the time.  I think I must have blacked out for a couple of minutes too because I remember someone handing me a bottle of water and seeing half of it on my shirt a few minutes later…or maybe that was sweat.  In any event, my point is this.  I dreaded that Monday morning probably more than any Monday morning I’d ever had before then and have ever had since.  Yet I survived.  I made it through the swearing, spitting (yes there was spitting) and crying that day.  Had I known 10 years later that I wouldn’t even remember the conversation clearly; I would have slept that Sunday night.  Had I known that the next two years would involve a lot more cursing, a lot less tears, and me ending up no worse for the wear, I would have had a lot fewer sleepless nights. 

It took several more bad bosses and Monday morning mayhems for me to learn that we can’t always control how our bosses treat us, but we can control how we respond.  Our really bad bosses get our talents, our time and our energy, but we own our emotions and our responses to theirs, no matter how erratic they might be. The next time I was faced with a Monday morning mayhem of that magnitude, I slept on Sunday night – not like a baby – but like an adult who knew in her heart that no matter what the boss dealt me on Monday morning, everything would be all right in the end.

Coping with a Really bad boss in tough economic times

For the second time in my career, I found myself in the unenviable position of having to deal with a really bad boss at a time in the economy when finding a new job seemed like a long shot.  For most of us, no matter how bad the boss is, looking for a new job when unemployment rates are at record highs is not a wise move.  You’re competing with the newly laid off and new graduates, and you never know if , God forbid, you’ll be trading in a really bad boss for a really, really bad one. 

I stayed with my really bad boss for a couple of years. But in the end, after a lot of hard work and smart job hunting, I did eventually leave the boss I now refer to as the Troll.  Along the way I collected my share of hard knocks. There were days when things were so bad that at the end of the day I’d collapse in tears, too mentally and physically drained to even eat. And lets be clear – me not eating is like 90 degree weather in Alaska – its very rare and demands immediate investigation. My family and friends got me through the roughest times and when I realized I would have to stay in those jobs longer than I’d wanted to, I decided that if I had to stay, I’d learn as much as possible while I was there. Read the rest of this entry »

Really bad boss rule #36 – If you don’t know what you’re doing…don’t do it

Momentary descent into really bad boss hell

My momentary three hour descent into Really bad boss hell

I broke a couple of my own Really bad boss rules yesterday.  Those of you who visit regularly may have noticed that for about three hours, when you stopped by, you were greeted with an angry looking message about a fatal error.   I fatally wounded my own site by trying to do something waaaay above my pay grade.  Really bad boss rule #36If you don’t know what you’re doing…don’t do it.  It’s very closely related to Really bad boss rule #57If you don’t know what you’re doing, find someone who does.  I did neither.  Instead, in a moment of blogging bravado, I attempted to do something I had no idea how to, and then, unwilling to admit defeat, wasted valuable time trying to put a band-aid on a wound that required a tourniquet. 

After  my momentary lapse into really bad boss hell (and some weeping), I got a hold of myself, started thinking like a really good boss and called the husband of a friend.   An expert on these things, he remotely took control of my laptop, asked me a bunch of questions I was incapable of answering (reinforcing  the fact that I had no business trying to do what I had been trying to do in the first place) and got to work undoing the damage I’d done.

While he was doing what he does best, I got to thinking about the difference between how really bad bosses and really good bosses behave.  Over the next few days, I’m going to talk about five of those differences.  Today, I’ll talk about something really bad bosses never do.

Really bad bosses never, ever admit when they’ve made a mistake -  Even when faced with indisputable evidence that they’ve messed up royally, a really bad boss will go to his or her grave before admitting to making a mistake.  It’s one of the worst and most common mistakes really bad bosses make.  Why?  Many bosses feel as though admitting to a mistake reduces their credibility and thereby their ability to manage effectively.  In fact, the opposite is often the case.  A boss’ ability to admit to a mistake says to his or her employees, I’m not perfect, I know I’m not perfect, and now I’m going to show you how someone who’s really in control handles a crisis. 

Pretending you’re infallible, even as everyone around you sees the problem, says  “I’m unstable and probably shouldn’t be trusted to lead.”   I once had a boss who made a serious error in calculating some figures.  When confronted with her mistake, rather than admit to it, she tried to explain how she’d used a different method for calculating her figures.  Not different information or data, a different method for adding and subtracting.  Ridiculous, but true.  Other than arithmetic, I was, and still am unaware of any other method for adding and subtracting numbers.  We never looked at her quite the same way again, referring to her as the manager who rather than admitting a mistake, created her own private system of mathematics.  Read the rest of this entry »

He did what?

lawsuit-cash-advance-gavel-moneyYou’re the director of a major hospital in Queens, NY and over an 8 year period you recieve numerous written and verbal complaints about one of your doctors.  You ignore the complaints and allow the doctor to continue working at the hospital.  That decision could cost the hospital  $15 million.  Actually, $7.5 million.  A Queens, NY jury found both the doctor and the hospital equally liable.  The nurse who brought the suit, Janet Blanco, says she suffered sexual torment at the hands of Dr. Matthew Miller for over 8 years.  Read the rest of this entry »