Even Not-So-Great Bosses Can Teach You a Thing or Two

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I’m the type of person who remembers just about everything you’ve ever said or done to me.

But the flip side of my good memory is, lessons learned stick with me. And over the years, I’ve learned all kinds of things about the world of work—including a few lessons I’m pretty sure no one actually intended to teach me. Such as …

“Even if the Boss is a drunk, he’s still the Boss”

Such was the response my 17-year-old self received after reporting into work one gorgeous summer day and innocently asking the new, never-before-seen receptionist, “Hey, what happened to ______? (the old receptionist)

The new receptionist, Bea, an older women who would later take me under her wing, gave it to me straight. “_____ (the old receptionist) thought she owned the place and that she knew better than the boss how things should be. Finally, he got tired of her and fired her.”

Lessons learned: Membership has its privileges. Respect the boss or be prepared for your butt to eventually hit the curb.

“It’s time for you to get a job, young lady”

After learning that our local church had received a grant to hire teens to assist elderly and home-bound people with activities of daily living (ADLs) my parents told me I was getting a job. Did I want that job (or any job)? Heck no. But that didn’t matter to my parents. So, I got to working.

The job was supposed to be limited to 10 hours a week for 10 or 12 weeks, but a funny thing happened —  the weeks passed and most of the other kids dropped out of the program! And that meant that I (insert diabolical laugh) was able to work as many hours as the law allowed for several weeks beyond the expected program ending date.

And that was actually a blessing, because it turned out that I liked earning my own money more than I’d thought I would.

Lesson learned: When you’re willing to do what others aren’t, you’ll get the rewards that others don’t.

“I don’t want to fire him, but I sure wish he’d quit”

My husband and I were saving to buy a house, and I’d picked up some part-time bookkeeping work in addition to my full-time editorial job.

My part-time employer, a small-business owner, and I got along really well, and we used to chat about all kinds of stuff, including her business. One day she told me about one of her employees, enough of a problem to regularly get on her last nerve but not enough of a problem that she cared to go through the trouble of firing him.

When he finally quit, she breathed a sigh of relief.

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Lessons learned: (1) Sometimes managers are passive and will let you think you’re doing a great job when really they want you to go. So, it’s not ever good to take your performance for granted. Once in a while it might work to your advantage, like it did for Mr. _____, but you’re just as likely to find yourself unexpectedly out of a job. (2) Don’t be a passive manager! If a situation is so bad that you’re praying your employee will quit, say something — to him or her — not your bookkeeper! Life is too darn short, and there’s work to be done, people.

“The thing is, she doesn’t have much of a life”

It was my first “real” job after college graduation, and it sucked. My boss was crazy, and she was making me crazy, too. Finally, in desperation, I approached her boss, the woman who’d hired me, looking for some help …. any help.

And this is what I got.

Lisa and I have been friends for a long time. What you have to understand is that she doesn’t really have a life outside of this office. She doesn’t have a husband or any children … so what happens here is really important to her. I’m sure if you made her feel needed, you’d get along better.”

I was 21-years-old, and even I knew that this here was some real BS. Right then and there I resolved to get out of that madhouse. And a month later, I’d started a new job at another (slightly less crazy) company.

Lesson learned — Friendship and management don’t necessarily mix, especially when the manager is an immature incompetent.

What about you? What workplace-related lessons have you learned over the years?

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.