Working Wounded: Worst of the Worst

Let's start with my qualifications to discuss "worst jobs."

For the last decade, I've written an internationally syndicated work advice column called Working Wounded.

With a name like that, you can imagine the e-mails I receive on a daily basis.

One example, "I decided to put a photo of my family on the wall of my cube. I got out a pin to attach it and suddenly I heard screams from the other side of the wall. Turns out my neighbor was bleeding and quite displeased."

Let's face it. We all get "stuck" once and a while at work. It's inevitable.

But this blog is about the very worst jobs out there, at least according to my e-mail. I broke them down into the following categories and include an example for each:

  • Worst Working Conditions
  • Worst Assignment
  • Worst Employee. Yes, bad employees can create a nightmarish job, too.

Disclaimer: A construction worker once e-mailed, "I'm just happy to come home each night with all my body parts intact."

The truly worst jobs are those that present a clear and present danger to your health and safety.

Each year, according to the government, fishing and mining are usually at the top of the list of most dangerous jobs. I try to avoid talking about dangerous jobs in my column, because they're just not that funny.

Worst Working Conditions:

"I once had a job steam cleaning dumpsters. It was even worse than you 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.

Worst Assignment

"My job was to sort through used men's and women's undergarments after lingerie shows across Europe (instead of discarding the unmentionables once the shows were over, the undergarments were shipped back to Winston-Salem, presumably for tax purposes). The problem was that each was different, so they needed someone to type up a description for each pair of panties, briefs, and thongs, which numbered in the hundreds. I was put into a cubicle with a computer and Hefty sacks full of the 'inventory.' I was assured that the garments had been washed. Scraps of paper were pinned onto each piece written with names like 'Jean-Pierre' and 'Bridgette.' I soon found out both by sight and smell that the laundry had NOT been done. I became intimately familiar with both Bridgette and Jean-Pierre and gained much unnecessary insight into French toileting habits. Because no one in the office could find me a pair of rubber gloves, I continued my task by pinching each undergarment by the least offensive part I could find and learned how to inhale through the mouth."

Finally, an explanation for the question we've all pondered -- what was Victoria's Secret?

Worst Employee

"I once asked one of my people to stop reading a People Magazine at her desk and to get back to work. She began to cry and went on disability for two days."

That's what I'd call people who really need people!

Next time I'll return with more worsts:

  • Worst Interview. Some worst jobs start even before you get the job.
  • Worst Co-Workers
  • Worst Boss
  • Worst of the Worst

Quote of the Week

"Socrates, the point is not to know oneself, but to forget." -- Jean Dubuffet

Book Excerpt of the Week

From "Working Wounded" by Bob Rosner (Warner, 1998):

"Back in college I took a course in abnormal psychology. One day the professor lectured on the behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner, and as he described an experiment in which Skinner trained pigeons to spot defects in a product with nearly 100% accuracy, the woman next to me began to cry. I knew it was impolite, but I had to ask what was making her cry. 'I just got fired from my job," she sniffed. 'I'm sorry,' I whispered. 'Don't be sorry,' she sobbed. 'I hated the job. But I worked in quality control. I'm not even as good as a pigeon.' Well, that day I learned there's not much you can say to a woman who just lost her job to a bird. I also learned that work is full of the unexpected. You never know what's going to fly in from left field, or where the stuff is going to land. So you've got to be prepared."

Blog Ballot Results

Here are the results from a recent Working Wounded Blog/ 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

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