Member No.: 44
Joined: 8-June 04
Hate to start off the forum with the job from hell, but there is a method to my madness...
I worked in the IT department of a medium-large company in the same room as two other men: Mr. "M," who was a productive Atlas that was single-handedly holding the entire company's IT structure on his back, and Mr. "N," a parasite second-hander who chronically and neurotically strived to maintain "appearances" and never, ever, did a lick of actual work.
Mr. "N" was my boss. He sat four feet from my desk. Staring at me. All day.
Now don't think I'm kidding or exaggerating when I say that he never did any work. I'm not; he didn't DO anything. His days consisted of being schmoozed by salesmen, taunting telemarketers on the phone, having day-long conversations with his divorce lawyer, pirating playstation games, fraudulently selling MMORPG hacked accounts on Ebay (which he boasted had gotten him $20,000), selling who-knows-what on Ebay, "going home early."
His sole "responsibility" was to allocate (squander) the departmental budget by purchasing unnecessary "latest and greatest" gadgetry while the day-to-day operations of the company were done on 10+ year old equipment. We never had enough spare equipment to handle breakdowns (which were frequent because we had to use the "cheap" way to fix things), while managers with "pull" got brand new flat-screen monitors. (Don't get me started on the flat-screens. People in our company declined 20" CRT's in favor of 15" flatscreens, because for some reason they were seen as "status symbols.")
When he wasn't wasting money or skipping out on work, he was micro-mis-managing us, bringing in non-work-related projects (that he would spend company money on), or otherwise making things miserable. We celebrated when he skipped out on work, because at least he wasn't making things WORSE.
But that wasn't the part that made it unbearable. (Well, aside from the micromanagement)
Mr. "N" was a "communications black-hole," as Mr. "M" put it. Mr. "N" would communicate in half-sentences, while simultaneously holding us responsible for doing what he wanted. If he was sent a ten-question email about his instructions (and he would be, given the clarity of his instructions), he would half-answer the first question and ignore the rest. Attempts to get further answers were replied to with scorn or evasion.
If his instructions couldn't be understood, and I couldn't make him clarify, then I would do literally what he asked, even if it made no sense. He would, of course, hold me responsible. I was written up and all that. ("why must you keep making me look bad?") Mr. "M" taught me that I had to independently research whatever project I was assigned and find out what really needed to be done, and then do that. Every project was therefore a riddle wrapped in an enigma.
His primary management technique was to repeat a failed behavior and to expect different results. We switched phone companies away from a certain provider due to billing problems, only to switch back and be plagued by... billing problems. He was genuinely surprised.
We would constantly be building up systems and then tearing them down. He would order and then cancel work or equipment. We were always wary to put any effort into working on any long-term project because the rug could be pulled out from under us at any moment. (i.e. "stop what you're doing. I forgot to ask so-and-so if it was okay and now he says he doesn't want to do this.") Even then, if we implemented his alternate solution, he might switch back to the initial plan.
I once spent a week cataloging equipment only to have him buy a new set of inventory software and make me do it all over again. I once catalogued an entire closet of equipment only to have him change his mind and tell me to throw it all out.
Any work that was ever done was in constant threat of being rendered pointless by the next "emergency."
And woe to the man who finished his work early. Since he had to maintain the appearance of constantly being "busy," he would INVENT fake or futile "work" to "occupy" me. If any actual work came up, I had to put in double the effort to complete the fake work and the real work. I am not kidding here, he invented Napoleon-style-ditchdigging-makework!
Add to this the impossible product of the Sarbanes-Oxley audit. I had to dig through phone-book-sized binders to account for equipment that didn't exist (because he had sold it on eBay) or whose receipts were so vague and faded that it was impossible to trace. I did my best to match things up but had to fight a long battle with him to get him to match the unmatchable by himself. ("keep looking; it's in there!")
There's worse. I was once told to go dumpster diving at a rival company to find evidence that one of our ex-employees had violated a non-compete contract. (I refused, but had to fight for it. He insisted it wasn't a crime.)
I was criticized for being a "clock watcher" and not putting in "extra hours" (which I would not be paid for, being salaried). Mind you, I would always stay after if a project needed completion. What he wanted was for me to stay after work even when no reason existed to. He gave me a condescending speech about how "management material people" would stay after. I asked him, "how many minutes should I stay after, then?" He threw a fit at that, telling me that I "just didn't get it." Indeed.
Mr. "M," of course, single-handedly ran the place. He did ALL the work. He would work, often until 4 or 6 in the morning. Being salaried, he got no overtime. And he was given the "standard" raise increment every year. No bonuses. He was once promised a bigger raise, only to have it retracted later. ("well, I didn't clear it with management first, so they said no. It's not my fault, they're the ones who said no!")
I quit, of course, but not as soon as I would have liked to. (there were complications financially and around my moving out of town)
The really grating part was that most of the time, I was not engaged in productive activity. When I was, I could not be sure that my actions were productive, since they might be destroyed at any time by an "emergency change" from Mr. "N" or his bosses. And if I was TOO productive, I would be assigned fake work which I literally felt sick while doing, and which would also interfere with my ability to do any real work that came up.
Even an actual ditch-digger couldn’t work if he knew that at any moment, a whistle might blow that signaled him to fill in the ditch, and then another one to start digging again.
This exact method was used to break the wills of the inhabitants of nazi concentration camps.
I was constantly reminded by Mr. "M," "Remember that you'll still get paid at the end of the day." He was driven just as crazy by it as I was, and we would remind each other of our financial needs when we saw the other about to crack, emotionally. This was, of course, frequent. Mr. "M" would sometimes be seen throwing things, or hitting walls. I think I was the only one who really understood why.
As a result, I would deliberately avoid Mr. "N," avoid finishing all my work until the end of the day, and I would beg Mr. "M" to give me enough work so that Mr. "N" would leave me alone. But, being IT, "down time" is simply a part of the business, and there wasn't always enough work to keep me busy. I lived those days in fear.
Even Mr. "N" eventually ran out of "make-work" for me to do, and so he came up with a horrid idea: he assigned me to read, cover-to-cover, the manuals for programs that we used. He looked over my shoulder and periodically quizzed me by flipping to a random page and demanding that I answer some inessential question that I would know only by rote memorization. He would berate me when I inevitably failed to do so. And I also had to constantly fear falling asleep: I am a bit of an insomniac and it's hard enough to get up in the morning, much less stay awake through useless manuals that taught me nothing I didn't already know. Even with Mr. "N" a few feet from my desk, I almost nodded off a few times, and he caught me once. They never let me live that one down.
He would constantly manipulate things like that: asking impossible or loaded tasks so that I would fail and he could berate me, or justify his lack of recognition for my hard work. And like any liar, he believed his own lies about me, and only assigned me the most basic and mindless of tasks. I would spend days on end simply moving around equipment or running errands.
One last thing: That manual he assigned me to read? Once I was about 120 pages into it, he came up and said, "Stop reading that. I'm switching us over to a different program. We won't be using that one anymore."
Stay tuned and I'll share a few of the lessons learned.