I couldn’t make up a story like this if I tried. This week’s newsletter is based on a comment posted by a reader on the Ask The Headhunter blog, edited gently. It’s still long — but I’m publishing the gory details because it’s the sort of story I’m sure many of you have heard from a friend. Worse, it may be a story from your own work life. While many employers cry there’s a talent shortage, this is how some treat their employees.
In the September 30, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader recounts a story no one wants to experience:
After four years with my company, I made a choice to abruptly quit (even before I have officially secured a new job). I know that’s idiotic and irrational, but ever since new management took over last year, I’m mentally drained. They are a twisted bunch of jerks, to be quite frank. One incident in particular was the final straw for me!
I’m open-minded and actually enjoy change and new routines. However, I can’t function at a job where bosses let their authority get to their ego and judgment. Last month, one of my new managers flat-out bullied me. I’ve never had a full-on issue with a boss or co-worker ever, so it was devastating to be a target for no apparent reason.
There are two sides to every story, so I’ll admit… I was having an unusually horrible day (personal life, etc.). As I was walking back to my department, one of my managers ignored my friendly hello and then hastily asked me why I had gotten disorganized so suddenly with my workload. She said it in a confrontational way. I thought I was being over-sensitive, so I politely smiled and told her what my plan was to fix the problem shortly and I walked off to my destination.
Suddenly, she yelled at me over the P.A. system to go to her office pronto. I was annoyed, but sucked up my pride and did as I was told. She was seated like a high school principal about to expel a mouthy, troubled teen. I knew she looked angry, but I passively tried to discuss the issue she seemed to randomly have with me.
She barely let me say one word. Instead, she yelled at me that I had answered her in a rude, sarcastic manner. I told her: “I am having a pretty bad day. Maybe I came across as rude, but I didn’t mean to be.”
To rub salt into the wound, she paged another manager to join her in scolding me. She exaggerated everything to the other manager and got her upset at me, too. Obviously, my adrenaline was starting to flow now. I was in that fight-or-flight mode. It’s extremely rare for me to get upset in public or at work, so I was about to have a panic attack from the stress.
I quietly told her that I needed to walk away and use the restroom. I was fighting tears at this point, so I excused myself. She then yelled over the P.A. system again for me to go back to the office. So I did. Mistake! She was straight-up cutting me down this time. I snapped and said shakily: “Let me get back to my f***ing job and stop micro-managing me.”
I know, how unpredictable of me, however I was feeling threatened. She and the other manager then cornered me and yelled at me that I needed to go home immediately. I thought I was being fired so I cried as I walked past my co-workers. I went to my car and drove home crying. Really, I’m not normally a wuss, I just felt animosity towards the situation.
The next day I called to see if I had gotten fired. The HR lady said, “No, of course not.” After I explained to her what happened, she barely seemed to care at all. After four years of being a proactive and well-rounded employee, I felt appalled by her “whatever” attitude. I then wrote out my resignation notice and dropped it off on her desk within an hour.
I finished out my last day yesterday. I have a potential new job tomorrow (interview). I’m optimistic that I’ll land it with no problem, considering my slightly above-average resume. I’ll never tolerate that level of drama at any job, ever.
Having read “How your old boss can cost you a new job,“ I am afraid my old employer will not give me a good word for my potential new job. I’m hoping my possible new employer won’t find it necessary to call my old job.
I could have fought harder to maybe get my wrong-doers in trouble, but with the complexity of their office politics, it wasn’t worth trying. Sometimes you really do have to simply… quit. We are creatures of habit, so it takes guts to break routine and start fresh! But I feel a person’s mental well-being is more important than almost anything else.
Never apologize for psychopathic managers.
I very rarely tread in the waters of clinical psychology, but it’s worth putting a name on what you encountered at your company: a psychopath. Don’t let the term intimidate you. Understand what it means so you can recognize it sooner next time. A psychopath is marked by:
“…a personality disorder characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, diminished empathy and remorse, and disinhibited or bold behavior.”
Sound like your boss? Read on.
“Lacking affect and urge control, demand for immediate gratification, and poor behavioral restraints… Lacking empathy and close attachments with others, disdain of close attachments, use of cruelty to gain empowerment, exploitative tendencies… and destructive excitement seeking.”
I had a psychopathic boss myself during a long year in my life. This company president abused and terrorized individual employees in company meetings, held them up to ridicule, and encouraged others to attack them verbally, too. He held himself up as a godlike figure whose opinions were law. I didn’t realize what was going on until I heard a company customer dress him down and abuse him the same way — while he physically cowered, “Yes, Sir-ed,” and did exactly as he was told. A classic case of the abused abusing others. I quit soon after, to save my own soul.
In cases like this, as the verbal violence increases, your mind tries hard to rationalize it. (Maybe I should learn to accept such behavior. After all, we have such big-name customers, so my boss must be doing something right. Look at how much money he makes. Maybe this is what it takes to be successful, and so on.) But it’s not alright, ever.
No matter that you don’t have another job to go to. You preserved your self-respect and integrity. You were right to quit. It was the smart thing to do. Here’s the thing: You will quickly recover. Your former employer will not. Rest easy knowing that.
My one criticism is that, although I understand why a person might “go off” like you finally did, cursing in front of your boss is never acceptable. She succeeded in bringing you into her sick little world. In the future, avoid getting baited like that.
As far as references, I guarantee you that any reference from that company will be worthless or toxic to you. The business community already knows the company and its management for what they are. All you need say to any prospective employer is, “I don’t disparage anyone I ever worked for. I look forward. I want to work with a good company that encourages me to use my skills to produce profit in a healthy environment.” Then provide excellent references from everywhere but your last employer. (See Take Care of Your References.)
I show how to “launch” your best references so they’ll really pay off, no matter how negative one reference might be, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, pp. 19-21. This PDF book also shows you how to get the truth about private companies, how to figure out whether a company is a “Mickey Mouse operation,” and how to pick worthy companies to apply to.
Please remember a piece of advice my mentor gave me many years ago — advice it took me a long time to understand: Never work with jerks. (It’s not the first or last time I’ll cite that advice.) As you learned while facing the sick wrath of your boss, It’s the people, Stupid. (No offense intended. We all need to think about that.)
When I resigned from my employer, I did it on my terms, like you did. I compliment you for not resigning on the spot in anger. It’s critical to take time to think, and to act with forethought and grace.
I wish you the best. Leave that illness you survived behind you — it’s a sick company. You’re healthy. Go work with healthy people and let the past go.
Have you ever had a psychopathic boss? What were the signs? What did it take for you to escape? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?