Dreaming of the bosses from hell

One of the main advantages of being self employed is that I don't have a boss, although I work for people.

In the words of Bob Dylan you "Gotta serve somebody," whether it's the Lord or the Devil and, as most of us come to realize, it's usually the latter.

The main problem I have found with bosses, is that most of them have been universally terrible. This may be a particular problem in the newspaper industry with its macho culture, a culture that incidentally means female bosses feel they have to overcompensate and be more macho than than the men.

I still have nightmares about one female boss who had a habit of marching around the office, throwing around phone books and yelling "fuckwits, fuckwits, fuckwits."

Which was a nice prelude to another day in the paradise we call the office.

Talking of the office, when we think of bad bosses we think of David Brent in the Office - a cringeworthy and embarrassing boss who is, nevertheless, entertaining. I have had bosses who I would willingly exchange for Brent.

Perhaps the most infamous newspaper boss of modern times was Kelvin McKenzie, the editor of the Sun, whose verbal tongue lashings of reporters in the middle of the newsroom were the stuff of legend.

McKenzie famously printed the direct phone number of Stuart Higgins, a subordinate, without his initial knowledge, billed him as the "Human Sponge" and asked readers to call him to "get things off their chest".

The newspaper industry probably exacerbates the bad boss culture because people are being laid off all the time. This gives bosses the power of economic life or death over employees. I recall the many times we were called into a conference room to be told of a restructuring that represented an "exciting new era," although it would mean the strategic removal of 20 jobs.

Then one day Boss called everybody into the conference room to announce he had been laid off  - by his own boss presumably.

More commonly the bad boss stuff goes on behind closed doors and in offices dubbed with phrases such as the "ice room," the "death suite" and the "bollocking room."

At one previous newspaper when a reporter was dragged into the "bollocking room" we would take bets on whether he would emerge with a job. I say "he" because if it was "she" the reporter would be taken into the room to be given a promotion, particularly if she had long legs and a short skirt.

Jayne had long legs and a short skirt. Boss would send emails to me about readers moaning and to Jayne about how he would have to take her to lunch to introduce her to contacts. One day Jayne approached me. All the blood appeared to have run from her face.

"He wants me to attend x conference,"


"He's booked me a room at a hotel,"


"It's the same room as his."

"Not so OK."

At another newspaper, news conferences would become increasingly tense when Boss was in one of those moods.

"So what have you got Macca," (examining his slip on shoes because he hadn't worked out how to tie his laces."

"Blah, blah, blah."

"Is that it?"


"You don't have more for me."


Long sigh that signified my failure as a human being.

At another paper I got into design. One day I designed a page that was a bit different. Creative use of space. Like the Louvre. Sort of.

I arrived in the office the next morning and Boss is glaring at me, holding up my page.

"Good morning C..."

"You are taking the f... piss."

I started to get the impression he didn't like my design.

In America bosses tended to be less 'in your face' but that doesn't make them any cuddlier. There's a rule book for US bosses and it's called The Guide to Passive Aggression. A superficially friendly conversation on the stairwell will often be followed up by a terse email about an issue they could easily have addressed face to face.

I'm not sure why I went on this bosses rant but I think it was due to last night's dream. In it I dreamed of a former boss who had rather skillfully ignored my existence for six months or so really loved me and she was being distant to cloak her true feelings. The final scene as I departed for another job was like a vintage movie as the train pulled away and she sought to drag me to her in a last corporate embrace.

I woke up feeling frankly queasy.

Being my own boss can be illuminating but sometimes the spirits of bosses past creep into my soul and I beat myself up. Will I ever escape from those bad bosses?


  1. I was pretty lucky with my lawyer bosses, for the most part, but there was some passive-aggressive stuff too. I had 5 jobs in less than 2 years in WA because I couldn't stand the people I worked for so I left. When I was interviewed for the job where I stayed for over 10 years, Steve asked me what the one thing I disliked the most about working for a particular firm in the area. I knew he'd already called my reference there (a lawyer I didn't work for directly but a nice guy who agreed to be my reference when I quit working for the asshole in the office) so I had no choice but to admit, "working for _______!" Steve burst out laughing, shook my hand and said, 'Great answer!" I was hired. :D

    1. that's so cool JoJo - yay for honesty, I say. do you still work for lawyers?

  2. What you describe above is pretty intense, David. Will you ever escape...? Can any of us, I wonder...

    That was really helpful of me, wasn't it? :-)
    Some Dark Romantic

    1. Ha - no. It make me feel I am being sucked down a big, dark sink hole, Mina - thanks

    2. Well, to take your mind off the sink hole - You've Been Tagged by Some Dark Romantic! Click on the link to learn more! :-)

  3. I had a foul boss, an American control freak when I first started work here. Luckily he was eventually kicked out, I mean retired early and everyone breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.

    Bosses can be a bane.

    1. so can Sarah - an American control freak - my that sounds familiar.

  4. I'm on my 4th Line Manager in a year which I think says a lot more about me then it does about them! Work would be fine if it wasn't for all the office politics, overpowering stench of ambition from certain quarters and the control freaks. Sigh.

    1. 4 real offic politics sucks - wow aren't you powerful Abi - I went on one line manager course the high wire stuff was fun.

  5. A "corporate embrace"? Sounds like a nightmare. This post makes my blood boil, thinking about similar problems with former bosses. Sadly, I think the good boss is a rare find. I'm lucky to have one now, even though it's not me.

    I'm glad you have a good, er great, boss now. =)


    1. nope Robyn - I am beating myself up and giving myself formal reprimands - glad you have a good one now x

  6. Wow some of those stories are awful, though I've had enough bad bosses in the past that I have no trouble beleiving them. Luckily my current boss is actually nice, which I'm starting to think us unusual.

    1. cool Alyson - when you get a good boss you need to hang onto that person.


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