In the chick flick “The Devil Wears Prada” the main character Anne Hathaway is confronted with one of the ultimate career dilemmas: you have just landed your dream job, but you have a boss who must have originated from the deepest pits of Hades.
We have all been there – everyone can relate to Ms. Hathaway’s grueling experience at the hand of Meryl Streep’s character. You will have sympathizers sigh at your tales of suffering, as they shake their heads pitifully before they give you sledgehammer advice: “The economy is tough – at least you have a job. Be thankful and suck it up; besides you are only with your boss from 9am to 5pm.” From Monday to Friday, that is only 40 hours out of a 168 per week, not including time spent commuting.
There are also occasions where a boss is as unpopular as Sandra Bullock’s character in The Proposal. Everyone in the office knows she has just driven into the building long via internal email alerts long before she walks through the doors.
In our dear country, bosses from hell thrive like flies in a carcass. Nigerians love shows of power and authoritarianism is rife.
The Nigerian boss is a special physical specimen. If you use Nollywood as a visor, you form a mental picture of a file-clutching, pot-bellied, grey suit wearing man in his late 50s with a thick Lord Lugard type moustache.
One who comes to work late and leaves early and actually does the least amount of work for the renumeration he commands. The type of sturdy, world-weary man that barely grunts greetings in reply to his office juniors, as he walks briskly to his office, followed nervously by his driver bearing his suit jacket and briefcase. His first executive order is usually for his secretary to bring him tea and the dailies. His office had been cooled to perfection for him, with the air-conditioner switched on by his secretary, in scant disregard of the environment or power-saving.
A female boss from hell is an unknown species – unmarried or barely married. Loves to work long hours. Her professional and person relationships with others are two extremes on the totem pole. The type of woman to send her assistant to her son’s primary school to drop treats for him, and fire the assistant two days later for over-staying her lunch break by 5 minutes.
A friend of mine once worked for a huge corporation in the FCMG industry, where the HR manager had an acute case of “aka gum.”
The aka gum syndrome is a condition where the sufferer is very miserly or stingy with resources, even those that do not belong to him.
He got absolutely angry that office juniors and non-managerial staff were drinking “company tea.” The tea, along with coffee and biscuits had been freely supplied by the company for workers to enjoy in the morning. Dude, tea is such a basic thing to be spiked about.
This HR manager sometimes refused to replace tissue paper in the staff loo, if he felt that the last set of rolls finished too quickly.
He manned the door of the office or put up a chair against it to prevent late-comers from sneaking in. He once snuck out of an AGM meeting several times; to check if a serial offender had left his PC on when stepping out of the office.
On the day, he resigned to take up a new appointment, nobody turned up for his send-off dinner. Everyone claimed that they were ill or under the weather. To be fair, there was an apollo epidemic around that time.
Do men or women make better bosses? Most people believe that women bosses are more prone to emotional stress and more likely to take out marital problems and PMS hormonal changes out on staff under their control. What about single and menopausal female bosses?
The world has long had a history of bosses from hell. From the feudal lords who reigned over serfs in the middle-ages to present day suit and tie bosses.
Leona Helmsley, an American hotelier and socialite was famously known for sacking hotel staff for the smallest and flimsiest reasons such as a misaligned lampshade.
Henry Ford used his henchmen and secret police to spy on employees. He hated unionism and used tear gas, scare tactics and a private army to deter them.
It also gets close to home.
I have a couple of friends that worked in a law firm somewhere on the Island where one of the partners was a very difficult woman. Sometimes, she could be heard from her office upstairs shouting at staff on the telephone, when she could have simply called them up to her office.
Her pet peeves were spelling mistakes in reports or write-ups or even slight punctuation errors. She would rant and complain about a lawyer’s writing style or the format for the letter for hours, even making one particular associate re-print a letter up to 15 times. She employed Word spell-check and a large Oxford dictionary to catch out offenders. She monitored every single correspondence with clients handled by her associates, even refusing to entrust some senior associates with up to 15 years experience with some ordinary tasks.
It was not uncommon to see workers spending hours formatting an internal report for a 30 minute meeting just not to run foul of Ms. Boss from Hell.
When she chided a staff member via email, she copied all the staff. She also blasted staff at meetings in front of everyone, regardless of the erring staff’s position or level of seniority in the office.
She once shoved someone away for leaning on the venetian blinds in the over-crowded meeting room.
Her method of laying off staff or getting rid of workers was through a process similar to the Japanese ancient traditional act of hara-kiri.
In feudal Japan, where a warrior was disgraced or defeated, he “lost face” thereby feeling extreme shame. As a result, to assuage the shame he performed an extremely painful act of ritual suicide called “hara-kiri” (disembowelment) where he cut open his abdomen with a short blade.
After giving the erring associate a public reprimand, she would ask him to resign by turning in a letter. This involuntary act of resignation absolves her of the one month’s notice requirement and also gives her a kind of moral legitimacy. Well, you jumped, I didn’t push you to your death; I just watched.
At least 15-20 staff of that firm have resigned, been retired, sacked or have left that firm due to her attitude.
There was also a female Managing Director who went through personal assistants like water. She dismissed one P.A. for getting engaged without telling her, and laid off another because she did not “feel her vibe.”
Many people can put up with any level of harassment and rely on their monthly pay check to put the smiles back on their faces at the end of the month. What about when a boss from hell fails, refuses or neglects to pay salaries frequently. The boss of all bosses.
It is a different kettle of fish, when a boss especially in a “one-man business” sort of enterprise elects to pay staff peanuts. Worse than this, is the flagrant disregard of our labor laws, due to non-enforcement of employment laws due to the wide spread unemployment, desperation of job seekers and economic hardships.
Some bosses do not pay their staff salaries at all. You join a company and you are given training, then you resume your duties. Your bank details are collected by the Human Resource Department or as is the usual practice, an account is opened for you bringing your number of bank accounts to about 5. Your first salary is paid, and then you get into the company system working putting in between 40-60 hours per week, including weekends and public holidays. Then you hit a wall. You insert your ATM card into the ATM machine at your local bank on the last Friday of the 2nd month, and see the balance: zero naira.
This process continues on the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th month. Meanwhile your boss carries on like nothing is wrong, even adding a new flash automobile to his fleet of wonder on wheels. Some co-workers even spread rumors that he has been sighted painting the town red, having a blast at exclusive restaurants, travelling to the South of France for weekends, and chasing tail all around.
When some members of staff confront him, he becomes aggressive and reacts like he is annoyed about their effrontery. He still expects them to show up at work even if they have to beg, steal or borrow.
I know a situation where the boss was not paying salaries to every worker; just those who curried favour with him or performed office-snitching on his behalf. He was also paying one particular girl who he was sleeping with an additional allowance.
There is a company in Lekki which carries on the business of ATM machine installation, repairs and maintenance. The boss there has unenviable track record of not paying staff their salaries. Sometimes staff are summarily dismissed for the pettiest reasons when the arrears owed them have accumulated to heavy sums.
Sometimes, some ogas are just plain bullies who love humiliating junior staff.
Some years ago, a recent graduate friend of mine with a degree from a University in England resumed for work at a multinational manufacturing firm somewhere on the Mainland.
On his first day, the HR manager gave him a tour of the firm’s premises, and took him to the department he was supposed to work under and introduced him to the manager in charge there – a grouchy man called Mr. Laja.
While the HR Manager was there, Mr. Laja asked the graduate (Toby) what his major was in school. Toby proudly replied “Project Management and Finance from the University of Liverpool.”
As soon as the HR manager had left and was out of sight, Mr. Laja asked him “Shebi you know how to sort files?” and gave him the key to a filing cabinet that looked like something from the National Library and Archives.
Toby sorted files for weeks and weeks; he would get to work, take off his suit jacket and tie and sort out dusty files which had been previously arranged by a whirlwind. He might as well have studied Library Science. Well, at least he got some experience for his CV.
Some bosses are just plain bullies, who look for weak prey.
A girl called Dee resumed work at a telecommunications firm in the VI area as a HR officer.
On her first, second and third day, nobody assigned her any work, not even her manager. She shared an office with the other HR staff while her manager had his own office next door. She decided to read the company’s website, arrange her desk, help with any small tasks she could, but she was generally idle.
On the fourth day, she was reading the company newsletter to update herself on happenings, when the manager poked his head through the office door and saw her: “Oh, so you are idle, eh? Ok go to Tantalizers and get me a Tanta-roll.” One Tanta-roll.
She had a car, but it was around the lunch rush-hour where there was bound to be loads of traffic.
As if he read her mind, he said “Take an okada. Be back here on time, because I don’t want the office empty.”
She was not thrilled at being “messaged” but she thought to herself: it is alright, it is just like a coffee run. Interns and new staff do coffee runs at times.
Well that is what she thought.
The next day her boss sent her to get more Tanta-roll.
Then it became a daily ritual to send her at 12 noon to get all kinds of bites from eateries far and wide, from Tanta-rolls to meat-pies, yam pottage, egg rolls, beans, bread etc. Soon everyone in the office was also chipping their money once it was 12 to send her to Tantalizers.
She once stained herself with a large “map of Nigeria’ red stain on her crisp white shirt from palm oil leakage while juggling takeaway packs of yam-pottage and other foods, and trying to hold on for her dear-life on a speeding okada.
That was the last straw – she devised a plot to go to the loo once it became 11.45 and stay there till way past 12 noon. After then, she would come to the office, grab her jacket and announce that she was off for lunch.
She did this for like 3 days in a row, before she noticed that her boss had now assigned chap doing his NYSC attachment to do the “Tanta runs” instead.
The very next day her manager put his head through the office door and said “Dee, bring a laptop in tomorrow, we are going out for a meeting with a client at Ikoyi Hotel.”
These are little examples, but I am sure that everyone has had some kind of experience. There are certain people in this country who due to cultural influences, believes that a boss, particularly for certain industries, has to be unapproachable, authoritarian and aloof. It is the same kind of people who call the bad guy in the movies “the boss” and believe an office manager just has to be like them.
He tried to get this job at Calvin’s record shop/
He was in it to win it, but the boss fronted and said/
Sorry Warren G but there’s no help wanted/
Snoop Dogg (Vapours, 1996)