Working Wounded: Worst Boss in the World

Having written a column titled Working Wounded for a decade, as you can imagine, I hear from a lot of people with terrible jobs. Last time I addressed a few of my favorites. This week the worsts continue:

  • Worst Interview (some worst jobs start even before you get the job)
  • Worst Co-workers
  • Worst Boss
  • Worst of the Worst

Worst Interview:

"I applied for a job as a researcher. I was informed before the interview that the director was chemically sensitive. She said I shouldn't wear any scented products or even wash my hair before the interview. I complied, but when I arrived at the office, the director pointed at me from across the room and said, 'She's here, Bill. Could you sniff her?' At which point, this big, hairy guy proceeded to do so -- very up close and personal. Having passed the sniff test, I was allowed to approach the director and begin the interview. I later got a call saying I got the job, which, of course, I didn't take."

I've heard references to the "sniff test" at work, who knew that some people took it so literally?

Worst Co-worker :

"The last straw for me was the guy in the next cube who would have long, loud conversations with his wife, totally in baby talk."

OK, admit it. The Dumpster cleaning gig isn't sounding so bad right now, is it?

Worst Boss:

For many years, I included a worst boss contest in my speeches. I asked more than 10,000 audience members for their stories. I heard some whoppers. But by far the all-time worst boss story was told to me by a guy in Los Angeles:

"The worst boss I ever worked for? He asked his assistant to type her own termination letter."

Ouch, you've got to be really tough to survive today's workplace.

Worst of the Worst:

"I had an office mate who muttered to himself and constantly interrupted me. I complained to our boss, but he wasn't moved. His desk was directly under an old ceiling fan. One morning I left an oily machine nut on his desk. During the day I caught him glancing up at the fan. The next day I put a rusty bolt on his desk. The next, another nut and a screw. That afternoon, he went to our boss and asked to be moved."

This e-mail gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase just dropping a hint at work. But you're probably thinking to yourself that this guy used creativity and guile to get what he needed. How does this qualify as a worst job story?

My answer is a question: Should someone really have to work that hard just to put themselves in a position to do their job? That really sums up the insanity of today's workplace. And this guy's not alone. Watson Wyatt, a management consulting firm, did a study that found that 62 percent of us report that we don't have the information that we need to do our jobs. And another 57 percent report that we're not given the skills to do our jobs.

The most important lesson we can take away from Worst Jobs is not the horror stories from the few really awful jobs out there but the fact that so many of us aren't given the simple things we need to make ours a great job.

Worst Working Conditions:

"I once had a job steam-cleaning Dumpsters. It was even worse than you can imagine. I had to climb inside of these dirty Dumpsters with nothing but me and my steam gun. This was before the days of protective clothing. As an aside, many of your readers have no doubt seen corner reflectors hung on sailboats, designed to reflect radar energy back to the source so that the boat will be easily seen. It turns out that directing steam into the interior corners of a Dumpster works pretty much the same way. Everything that was once stuck in the corner of the Dumpster gets blasted out and comes directly back to you, covering you from head to toe in an instant. A sort of putrid tsunami."

This e-mail sums up the real value of reading about someone else's truly terrible job. It makes each of us feel so much better about our 9-5.

Quote of the Week

"Business is like sex. When it's good, it's very, very good; when it's not so good, it's still good." -- George Katona

Book Excerpt of the Week

"Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel" by Scott Adams (Harper, 2002)

"In the Weasel Zone everything is misleading, but not exactly a lie. There's a subtle difference. When you lie, you hope to fool someone. But when you're being a weasel, everyone is aware that you're a manipulative, scheming, misleading sociopath. For example, no one believes an engineer who says he's going to explain something briefly. No one believes a contractor who says the job will be done in a week. No one believes a salesperson who says there are no hidden costs. No one believes a politician who says large contributions don't influence his decisions. And no one believes a lawyer who says, 'Have a nice day.' You know none of that is sincere. And they know that you know, so in a way, it's a form of honesty -- a weasel form."

Blog Ballot Results

Here are the results from a recent Working Wounded Blog/ABCNEWS.com online ballot:

How would you describe the patriotism of corporations?

   Extremely patriotic, 2.2 percent

   Patriotism isn't a corporation's job, 9.9 percent

   Patriotic, but only when it serves their interest, 37.4 percent

   You're kidding, correct?, 50.2 percent

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker, and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at bob@workingwounded.com.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.