The boss from hell
Surviving school is good practice for some of the horrors my son is enduring in the workplace.
Over the accrued 24 years of my kids’ primary and secondary education, I now and then had reason to ‘go down to there and have a word’ with a teacher, school secretary or principal. I sometimes wrote angry letters. Occasionally I did both.

The reasons varied, but since I was fortunate in that my kids didn’t battle intellectually, they usually had to do with unacceptable behaviour of some kind: a right-wing Christian teacher who told my non-Christian son he would ‘burn in hell’; a fascist secretary who refused to let my daughter phone me when she was clearly not well (the puddle of vomit at her feet a clue to what was ailing her); a headmaster whose astonishing incompetence finally spurred me to actually remove my kids from his school.

When bosses behave badly

At age 19 my son got his first real job, and very soon was coming home with hair-raising stories about his appalling boss. It became clear pretty quickly that this was a woman who lacked even the most basic of management skills, and wasn’t a particularly pleasant human being into the bargain.

She blamed my son for infractions that were not his fault (that were, in fact, often hers); she issued incomplete or completely incorrect instructions, then lost her rag when things didn’t go as she wished; ignoring his job description, she treated him as a general dogsbody. He worked long hours for little pay, and often came home in a state of woolly-haired distress, having had yet another run-in with his boss.

Young and inexperienced as he was, my son mainly took the abuse; he was scared that if he complained, or even just stood up for himself, he would lose his job.

When, 6 months into his employment, my son told me he wanted to resign, I had to apprise him of a hard fact of life: no matter where you work, or for whom, you’re probably always going to have to deal with some dickhead.

It may not be your boss, but it’s likely to be someone senior to you; and even if it’s only a colleague, you’re still going to have to learn how to handle some of the less pleasant aspects of human behaviour, including selfishness, avarice, dishonesty, cowardice and plain old spite.

I told my son about the boss I once had who grew so angry with someone he was speaking to on the phone that he literally tore the instrument out of the wall; I was so traumatised that I spent hours in the loos, crying my eyes out.

Then there was the soak – someone who was always either drunk or hungover (or somewhere between the two), and for whom I became a virtual punching-bag. And the editor who fired me, loudly and publicly, for something one of my colleagues (a friend of his) had done.

The hard truth is, real life isn’t school. Your boss isn’t your teacher (or not in the ‘school’ sense, anyway). He/she isn’t answerable to your parents. And regardless of how much I itched to ‘go down there and have a word’ with my son’s boss, I obviously couldn’t. That time had passed: out in the real world, my son now had to learn to stand on his own two feet.

What advice would you give kids when dealing with their first bad boss?

Read more by Tracey Hawthorne

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