psycho boss

You know how it goes. Everyone seemed so nice at the interview. And it looked as if there were chocolate biscuits in the little staff kitchen. They seemed to like the answers you’d prepared to what turned out to be some pretty standard interview questions, and the general vibe was okay, if a bit quiet. And now you’ve got the job! Hooray!

It usually takes at least an hour on your first day before you have that first inkling that all is not as it seems. It might be the eyes sliding from one side to another when you ask what you thought was an innocent question about time in lieu, or perhaps the jumpiness of everyone when someone yells out that the boss is back. Or it could be the moment when the first person starts sobbing at the weekly staff meeting. No one seems to think this the slightest bit unusual - they’ve all got their eyes down staring at the table - and you glare as you get up to get a box of tissues. What’s wrong with these people!

Then the next day you have your first performance review and it’s glowing! You leave the boss’ office feeling great if a bit confused, as you didn’t think you were
that good and it is only your second day. But hey, maybe you are! Perhaps the other poor sods in the office are just not doing as well at the moment. Hmmm. Better not let on just how much the boss seems to like you. At first you thought these weekly performance reviews would be a bit stressful but not if this first one is anything to go by.

And then you really start to feel that things are not all they’re cracked up to be. You’ve started to notice the little huddles of employees that form whenever SHE is out of the building, and at the second staff meeting a different person cries. Then, like any good leak, what starts with a trickle soon ends up being a flood. You find out that SHE has a habit of singling out workers and making their life hell. At the next meeting your eyes are on the table, too, praying it won’t be you with tears silently dripping down your cheeks. And at your next performance review SHE brings up something from your personal life that you’d casually mentioned previously and says SHE can see it having a detrimental effect on your work. You realise now why nobody ever, ever talks about what they do outside of work.

Then it’s your turn. SHE berates you in front of two other employees for not doing something that you weren’t even asked to do in the first place. In your head you know exactly what to say back but SHE is so scary all you do is stand there with your mouth open. Now you’ve gone from the ‘can’t do anything wrong group’ to being one of the gang. And in some ways it’s a relief.

You go to your first drinks session, informally known as the “I hate HER” support group. You laugh and laugh, and can’t believe how funny and nice your fellow workers are. Yet still you wonder how all these strong, funny and confident women can be so cowed by one woman? You’d thought bullying only happened in primary school, and that you’d always stand up for yourself. Are you just like them? You take it in turns to tell stories of humiliation and you can’t believe for how long it’s been happening.

Why didn’t anyone say anything when you came in for the interview? Couldn’t they have slipped you a note while you waited in the foyer? Or made throat slitting motions behind HER back when she thanked you for coming in? But later, when it’s your turn to say hello to a potential new employee, you realise that to do so would be to break the code of silence that holds everyone together. Together you will face whatever SHE throws at them, together you will do HER bidding, and together you will laugh about it later at the pub.

It’s years later and you’re at another interview. It sounds like a great job, and you’re feeling hopeful as you push open the door of the office. You introduce yourself to the receptionist who tells you to take a seat. As you sit down you see out of the corner of your eye a small group of employees huddled in a doorway talking. Suddenly, like startled deer, the group breaks up and scatters, heads down. You make eye contact with the receptionist but she glances down, too, but not before visibly blanching when another women strides down the hallway towards you both, hand outstretched in welcome. You pick up your bag, ignore the outstretched hand and turn towards the door. You’ve been here before and you’re not doing this again.