The wise sages in your life may tell you that the only person standing in the way of your happiness is you. But when you’re the small fry in the company whose opinions get ignored by your dictator of a boss, it really doesn’t matter what you do.
A 2012 JobsCentral survey showed that 30.9% of Singaporeans are unhappy with their bosses. Out of this group, 61% feel miserable in their jobs, citing reasons like lack of autonomy and unreasonable demands.
In 2017, the percentage of Singaporeans satisfied with their companies fell below the Asia-Pacific average of 76%. As they say: People don't leave companies; they leave bosses.
We’ve been taught to have iron wills and ‘can do’ spirits. But let’s be honest – one can only take so much. Here are four horror stories of millennials who trudged through rough waters and survived working under “The Worst Boss Ever”.
Note: All names have been fabricated to protect the identities and livelihoods of the featured millennials.
Tale #1: Truly Hell's Kitchen
Jocelyn, 24, F&B
RIGHT NOW, WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT? FAMILY OR COMPETITION?
My charismatic and experienced first boss had the staff believe that the skills we learnt from him were invaluable and couldn't be picked up elsewhere. I thought I was in safe hands.
However, he started to pick on the smallest things I did. At first, I viewed his constant berating as a way to help me improve. But being put down every day eventually takes its toll. I dreaded going to work and second-guessed every action I took, bracing myself to be scolded.
What finally woke me up was the incident of the cooking competition.
These industry competitions don't offer money, only experience and recognition. My boss thought the title of ‘Trainer’ would be a great addition to his resume.
Nearing the competition, my grandfather was suddenly admitted to the hospital. I felt immense guilt as I’d been doing unpaid overtime every day for the last year – having bought into my boss’s “no work-life balance” motto – and neglected my family.
Finally, I sat down with him to explain why I couldn’t join the competition. His words to me were:
"To be blunt, your grandfather is almost 80. If I were him, I wouldn’t want you to waste your time and life worrying about me when you could be furthering your skills."
I was appalled, and resigned a month later. Thankfully, my time there was not all for naught. I learnt from him how not to be a leader, how not to talk to people, and just how not to treat people horribly.
What traits do you think a boss should have? Experience, empathy and confidence.
What are your career goals for 2019? To find a place where I can learn under a boss who knows how to treat his/her staff right.
Tale #2: All Kinds of Dodgy
Daniel, 26, Retail
Rather than lead by example, she would humiliate her employees in front of the team. I’d argue that she actually enjoyed doing that.
Micromanagement and indecisiveness. The lucky ones have bosses with neither of these traits, or maybe just one of the two. But for the very ‘suay’ ones, we get bosses who are fuelled by both.
I was part of the marketing team at a retail company, and we had to create a brochure. While my boss knew what the end product was, she had absolutely no idea how to get there or what design she wanted. Her indecisiveness resulted in a month of painful and unnecessary back and forth, with pointless critiques that failed to point out any concrete flaws. This was also not the first time this had happened.
In addition, rather than lead by example, she would humiliate her employees in front of the team. I’d argue that she actually enjoyed doing that. The lowest I saw her sunk was her attempted underhand means to tailor accounts and siphon off a portion of government grants just to make it look like the association was profiting!
It’s no surprise that the tiny company of fewer than 10 people saw an astronomical turnover rate, with 80% of its staff replaced multiple times under her tyranny.
What traits do you think a boss should have? Decisiveness, integrity and the ability to give all colleagues mutual respect.
What are your career goals for 2019? To not be like my ex-boss and treat my colleagues how I'd want to be treated!
Tale #3: Left in the Lurch
Karen, 22, Advertising
Are you trying to use me to get business from my dad?
I was thrilled when I got hired as a copywriter in an ad agency, as I’d always wanted to have a go at advertising.
But on my first day, my boss didn’t even tell me what to do. He just showed me to my seat – in the furthest corner of the office – and left me there. The first few days went by pretty slowly and my boss hardly spoke to me.
When my boss did finally give me work, he’d give the most ambiguous project briefs. When I submitted my work to him, he’d tear it to shreds and ask me to change everything. I wasn’t assigned to any supervisor, so I pretty much had to learn everything on my own, and boy did I learn the hard way.
The weirdest thing, though, was how my boss would ask if my dad – who is the managing editor of a luxury lifestyle magazine – would be interested in hiring the ad agency. It seemed like a harmless question at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t help but think: “Why do you keep bringing this up? Are you trying to use me to get business from my dad?”
I tendered my resignation after 2 months.
What traits do you think a boss should have? Genuine care for employees, willingness to get their hands dirty with the least of their employees, and the ability to set a clear direction for the team.
What are your career goals for 2019? To work in a place that makes a difference in the world and where the work environment reflects the mission and vision of the company seamlessly.
Tale #4: I Stared at a Blank Wall
Diane, 28, Early Childhood
It was like a punishment for a child.
After living abroad for years, I finally found a job at a private kindergarten and was excited to take over a class of Nursery to K2 kids as the form teacher.
The only problem was how my assigned mentor was a Chinese teacher and I barely spoke the language. Instructions were not very clear, but I powered through them nevertheless.
My boss lives abroad so she’s not around that often. She came back to Singapore to prepare for our kindergarten art exhibition, which I’d been working on with the children for one and a half months.
Imagine my surprise when she told me that everything we had prepared was pointless. Apparently, we weren’t allowed to use colour for the exhibition, something no one had informed me of. Rather than wasting the works, she redid everything in black and white marker, but that itself was quite a slap in the face.
There’s more to this fiasco. On the night before the art exhibition, she asked me to sit in front of a white wall and 'think' about how to place the artwork. It was like a punishment for a child. I wasn’t allowed to touch anything or leave the room. After six hours, she finally told me at 1am that I could go home “early” so that I could come back “early”. I had to be back at school at 6.30am.
Needless to say, I quit my job soon after.
What traits do you think a boss should have? Empathy, kindness and understanding.
What are your career goals for 2019? To make it through my Master's this year!
Any kind of workplace harassment is absolutely unacceptable. You are valued and you have rights!
If you have been ill-treated at your workplace, feel free to go to the right people for help.