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Nightmare Boss? What Will You Learn from Them?

Nightmare Boss

Sometimes a job you thought you’d love is ruined by a nightmare boss. But no matter how bad it gets, the experience can pay off in at least one way: With immensely valuable lessons. Those lessons could even improve your career moving forward. We asked our HT Group recruiters and staff members to share their own nightmare boss stories and what they learned from them. Take their unfortunate events as learning opportunities for yourself. 

Bored To Death

“I once had a manager who refused to give me work to do. I would consistently ask for new projects and responsibilities as I was never told what I would be doing during the eight-hour workday. My manager did not like to share projects or delegate tasks (important responsibilities if you are a manager), so I was continually unchallenged, unfulfilled, and generally confused. I was in constant fear of being laid off due to the apparent lack of need for any of my services or skills, but the company seemed perfectly content,” an HT Group recruiter told us.

It’s common to feel stuck in a job from time to time. Maybe your job duties have gotten muddled, or you’ve outgrown your current responsibilities. Ideally, your boss will respond well to you asking for more accountability or recommendations for clear assignments and set goals. Inc. outlines some ways to do that here.

But what if your nightmare boss just doesn’t get it? What if they’re a chronically poor delegator or—worse yet—bent on keeping all the work and glory to themselves? Our recruiter learned that they could have predicted that type of situation and behavior during the interview stage.

“This experience taught me the importance of communication and clarity of expectations in the hiring process. For job seekers, I encourage you to evaluate the type of worker you are: How busy you like to be, the volume of interaction you’d like to have with coworkers, customers and clients, and the amount of structure you need or lack thereof. The more you know about what makes a job fulfilling for you, beyond salary or commute or title, the better prepared you will be to find the right fit,” they told us.


Ready to move your career forward? Connect with The HT Group today!

A Toxic—Or Even Abusive—Environment

“I worked at a place I loved, but the company’s business was unstable, so I interviewed for another job. During the interview process, something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I even talked to my dad about it, and he suggested I pass on the job. I just shrugged it off as nervousness about changing jobs. On day one of the new job, my boss wasn’t who I interviewed with (as a matter of fact, I had never met the man before). Turns out he had quit before I interviewed, but his new job didn’t work out (you’ll see why later), and he got his old job back,” one of our staff members told us.  

“He was one of those bosses that would give you an assignment at 4:45 p.m., due the next morning, and it would be something that would take 5 to 6 hours to complete, so I was regularly there until 9 or 10 p.m.,” they continued. “Then one day, a coworker went into his office for a meeting, and the next thing we heard was screaming and yelling loud thuds, and smashing sounds in the office. Of course, my other coworkers and I got nervous. His door opened, and out came my coworker in tears (and she didn’t cry easily). She was seven months pregnant and, for no reason that we could come up with when he called her into his office and shut the door, he just started yelling at her and berating her. He also started throwing books and notebook binders at her, just missing her. Afterward, he acted like nothing had happened. Shortly after that, in succession, two of my other coworkers and I found jobs and left. In the end, only one person besides the boss stayed.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the story offers several critical lessons on how a nightmare boss can affect both physical and mental safety at work.

  • While they couldn’t have gotten to know the boss beforehand (since the boss wasn’t around during the interview), that “gut feeling” was still prevalent. These days, a Glassdoor or similar search may offer an indication of a toxic environment. They could have also asked the interviewer questions to help them understand their gut feeling, like: Why is this position being filled now? Who will be managing me? What will my days/schedule look like?
  • The late-night work assignments were clues about the boss’s irrational behavior. If a similar pattern occurs for you, consider your options. Should you complain? What are the potential ramifications? If you have an employee handbook, look for guidance on how to proceed, including the chain of command for complaints and the company policy on retaliation (if there is one). And keep as much of your interactions in writing as possible (perhaps respond with an email to “timestamp” a verbal work request, for instance). These tips from Psychologist and Consultant Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D., may help
  • The moment objects started flying at the coworker, there was no question that the situation was out of control. Call 911 if you need to. If your employer has an HR department, they need to be notified. Ideally, your employer has a zero-tolerance workplace violence policy in place. If they don’t, and you’re in a proactive position (not in immediate danger), you may want to help make that happen. OSHA offers some guidance and examples here.

A Miserable Match

Sometimes it’s not the boss but the job, in general, that’s a nightmare.

“My nightmare job was working in the restaurant industry. I helped pay my way through college by waiting tables and bartending for a corporate chain restaurant. Rude customers, no/minimal tipping, weird corporate ‘spec’ policies like plate positioning, measuring drinks, weighing kegs, and constant management transition/turnover were pretty common,” another staff member told us.

We’ve all had those jobs that don’t seem to fit. But sometimes, you need to have the experience to find that out. Career assessment tests can help point you in the right direction by identifying your strengths and preferences. The Muse offers several here. Temping and short-term contracting can be a great way to “try out” jobs and industries, too. Sometimes, though, that job you need to take while you’re in school or between ideal jobs can offer surprisingly valuable learning experiences if you let it.

“I still get nightmares about getting ten tables sat all at once and people spilling sugary drinks all around me. But I learned a lot about treating others well, being versatile (I also helped cook, expedite, and wash dishes), and training/guiding new employees. I also learned about patience, ‘choosing my battles,’ and doing what it takes to get the job done. Those skills are integral for where I am today,” they said.

Have you ever been haunted by a nightmare boss? What did you learn from the experience? Keep those lessons fresh as you move up in your career, and hopefully, you’ll find that the strengths you picked up will outweigh the terrible experience you had.


Ready to move your career forward? Connect with The HT Group today!