When I think about returning to work, I have a bit of fear about what environment I will find myself in when (and I’m using the positive word “when” instead of “if” today) I start another full-time job. In my last job I had the luxury of a real office, with a door that could close and window on the tenth floor. Prior to that, my “office” was a tiny desk facing a corner just outside my boss’s door.
The physical set-up wasn’t as important as the emotional and psychological nature of the workplace. In truth I’ve been in high-stress environments for over ten years, closer to fifteen. I worked at places where the corporation put up a bunch of motivational posters several weeks before the layoffs began, where everyone was doing the work of two or three people. There was no IT staff and when the copier broke it might not be fixed for two or three days.
Bulldogs were brought in as vice presidents and abused the staff when it failed to meet some arbitrary sales goal — unobtainable in mainstream publishing, let alone in the academic/medical publishing world in which I worked. (“Hello? We’re not selling Harry Potter here.”)
I recall working at a company that was moving into a shiny new office. The staff was presented with a combination lunch room/conference room, a highly welcomed addition since our old office had one tiny lunch table in a corridor. Most of the regular staff wasn’t making enough money to go out to lunch every day; we frequently packed our lunches.
Six months later, we were told we could no longer eat in the conference room, and that it was never supposed to be a lunchroom to begin with. All of us looked at each other in disbelief as this revision of history. (“Animal Farm,” anyone?) Many of us suspected the real truth was that they knew we gathered there to commiserate about the stress of the office and the behaviors of certain managers.
One of the muckety-mucks was particularly abusive to a fellow employee in front of everyone one day. Discussing this later with another co-worker, she said that this woman, this V.P., was “under a lot of stress” — the implication being that we had to understand her attitude and give her a break. I nearly fell on the floor laughing. This V.P. made three times what I made, lived in Manhattan so didn’t have to commute an hour-and-a-half every morning and evening, and could come and go when she pleased. Stress? Yeah. OK. I understand how that makes you abusive. LOL.
I’ve had bosses who’ve called staff meetings and slammed foot-high piles of resumes onto the table, announcing how easy we were to replace. One boss was embarrassingly racist. In one place where I was the only female employee, a boss joked about domestic violence — “Well, it’s time to head home and kick the old lady around!”
I’ve had a few decent bosses along the way, too. I just wish there were more of them. I know being in charge is tough, and some are more cut out for it than others.
The saving grace on a job is usually the coworkers, the ones who share the load, make each other laugh and make it all a little more pleasant. I hope wherever I land I will get along with both my bosses and my coworkers. An office with a window would be nice, too.