I had a great boss at one job and he was a sweet and talented man. His medication slowly turned him into a monster. As weeks rolled into months and then years, he would have good days and bad days. The good days were when he was out of the office. On Fridays we would breath a sigh of relief because he was off Monday. An older man who had put in decades at this company, he was down to a three or four-day week.
About once a month he would lose it. REALLY lose it! He would come into the art department and scream about some design problem or something he wanted done a certain way. Some of his ideas included:

Not to use circles or ovals in layouts. Only squares and rectangles. He actually said, “”I never want to see yucky circles or disgusting ovals. I want yummy circles and delicious rectangles!”

Helvetica is an “updated” font.

No rules on frames.

Grey borders only.

Weekly design meetings for him to teach us design.

We should collect examples of “good design.”

I should fire everyone in the art department and hire students (young women).

I should hire a friend of his although she didn’t know design or how to use a computer.

Revealing his underhanded plans against the editors.

Revealing his underhanded plans against the freelancers

People revealing his underhanded plans against me

It was hard to watch the descent into madness. He was agitated but not angry. The anger came later on and in waves no one could predict.

Death Will Lead To Better Employee Engagement!

After many frightening tantrums, I had to call Human Resources, which quickly ignored it because he was a “nice man” and “with creative types you get a mustang and not a plow horse!”

“He’s going to hurt someone one day,” was all I could reply.

On another explosive day, he was so red in the face (he had a pacemaker) I followed his rapid pacing around the art department, wheeling a chair, trying to get him to sit down before his heart exploded. He turned and grabbed a large pair of scissors and threw it at the chair. It bounced back and hit him right in the eye. I told HR someone would get hurt!

He recovered and was retired shortly thereafter. He seemed better once he didn’t have to commute or listen to HIS crazy boss any longer. Now I got to deal with her.

Sure, that was a medication-related anger issue but there are many in the workplace as with people who are just downright mean.

Are Psychotic Bosses Misunderstood? 

There are bad bosses in every company and profession but we, as creatives, have the joy of a job creating something from nothing and along the way there’s lots of hot buttons people can push.

This story arose when I got a call from my friend, the banana bread-baking creative who had finally found employment with an old connection of hers, and she was almost in tears at how she was being treated. The sorted story is the abuse was visible to every employee as was the knowledge that the company owner had little or no social skills. Another revolving door employment company.

There was no answer to the requests and demands he was making of her. There was no logic. The truth was, he was angry and took it out on those who could not defend themselves, and that’s the bottom line of abusive bosses. You either take it or blow your career by telling them what you think of THEM!

Summarizing all of the endless articles on the psychology, company financial loss, legal issues and emotional costs and possible threats, it all comes down to really screwed up people somehow ending up in a position of power and there’s nothing you can do about it and still work there.

Don’t speak of legal suits. It will be years before it ever gets to court and things change quickly in this world. Three years is an eternity. You are left with few options, but options none the less.

In a firm where the owner is also President, CEO and supreme pain in the boardroom, they will usually have a child who is training under them to be even meaner. Find another job, quit, torture, murder. Trust me, you’ll feel better with any of these options.

In a large corporation, there is a human resources department and employee relations specialists at the ready to intercede on tricky, slippery situations and cover it over quickly and bury it beneath you out in the woods.

What Are The Key Signs When You Are Interviewing With A Psychotic? 

If you drive yourself over to an interview, you get to experience one of the biggest factors and that is the commute. If your boss is abusive, it becomes a long journey of dread in the morning and a sobbing drag home in the evening. The same goes for public transportation but people will see you’re crying. You will probably see others crying, too!

Red flags abound to the senses – you just need to let your brain recognize those sights, sounds and, in some cases, smells. Watch for some of these signs:

As you arrive, ask yourself if the building itself is a death trap. That can include a coffee and pastry shop next door. Does the elevator have a death rattle. Are the bathrooms a science experiment?

When you walk in, is the reception area clean? Are there awards on a shelf or do you see collection notice envelopes in the mail pile at the receptionist’s desk? 

Is the person fidgeting with something and talking AT you instead of to you? Do they speak negatively about the previous person in that position? Listen to what they say because they are telling you what they don’t like. If it sounds crazy, it probably is.

The biggest telltale sign is the look on other employee’s faces. I always ask to see the creative department. When they turn me down, I see a red flag and imagine some gulag of beaten-down creatives.

The same can be said for large corporations. Do they book you on a 4AM flight for a full-day interview, so you can be home by 11PM the same day? Good luck staying awake after lunch!

The type of ride you get is also important. I’ve been told to take a cab to my hotel...in the middle of deathville. That’s why no employee wanted to pick me up. I’ve had a van that I think had been blown up in combat at one point. I do love the ever wonderful stretch limousines. If they take you to the right address, even better!

In any situation, you know when things just don’t feel right. I’ve sat in an office while someone argued with my interviewer. I’ve met with multiple senior executives, all whom had a different job title for the position for which I was interviewing. I have had an interviewer who told me how horrible the company was. I wonder what would have happened if any of them had offered me a position?

Back To Corporate Life And Death. 

Proving abuse in a corporate setting is up to the corporate wishes. If HR didn’t cover up most abuse, that’s all we’d hear about on the news. A lesson to remember; work hard but expect the company to want you dead in the end. When corporations finally get the power to just execute employees, “firings” will have a new meaning. Sometimes it’s the entire entity that is abusive and it just trickles down in odd and incompetent ways.

It was my uncle who first told me, “save every piece of paper and keep a journal!”

Most people foolishly can’t control themselves in emails and it becomes great evidence. Take it home at the end of each day and file it in a special box. One day you may need these.

When the unstoppable force of your evidence meets the immovable object that is corporate HR, don’t expect a great outcome. HR wants a quick and quiet return to “normalcy.” You will probably be asked to leave. The evidence you have collected will allow you to be asked to leave with a “deal.” You negotiated your way in on salary and such – now it’s time to negotiate your way out.

You will probably be offered four to six weeks of salary and certain medical coverage (COBRA in the U.S. or normal, humanitarian coverage everywhere else in the world). This is when it helps to know what other people get when leaving. In the U.S., one month of salary for each year you worked there is customary. Medical, and support services can be negotiated, as can separate payment for any vacation time or paid-time-off programs. It’s always better for all parties if everyone leaves happy, and quietly.

Abusive people have many, many reasons to be that way and there is nothing short of a near-death experience that will change them. In fact, they would miss a near-death experience as they would throw you in front of themselves.

If you can spot it quickly, usually the first five minutes of an interview, you can dodge the future anxiety and therapy. If you are in it, you need to get out.

There is another thing to consider. If you work there for more than six months, it should go on your résumé and employers will want to call for a reference. Just try to explain they can’t because your old supervisor was insane. If you get into a bad situation, it’s best for your career to get out fast or wait until you have a new job so the “do not contact” checkbox on your application is understood as to not inform your present professional hell that you are looking to leave.

There is one slight glimmer of hope for those working under Satan’s rule;

turn the lunacy back on the boss. Use their sickness against them.

The abusive boss is usually guilty of something. They feel inadequate and overcompensate by bullying those who can’t defend themselves. Some couldn’t get enough love from mommy and had to face being weaned at age eight. Either way, that is the sacred dagger you can plunge into their black hearts and turn them into withered shells that is their true essence. Well, gain some respect and have them back off a bit.

I suggested to my friend that she make an appointment with her boss for a “friendly chat.” Her boss was cutting her down and accusing her of not performing her duties. He would set impossible tasks and deadlines but she would always complete everything.

“In a low but firm voice, looking him in the eyes most of the time, but looking down, sadly every now and then, tell him you are concerned that you have not lived up to his expectations and are confused because you have completed everything he has asked and then mention the other million things you have done. Throw some numbers at him, showing increased productivity and whatnot and (this is when you look down sadly) you cannot work in such a situation. If he feels you are underperforming, would he give you a written action plan with specific goals and duties and you will strive to exceed them all. If not, would he like you to leave the company?”

To do anything else would back her boss into a corner and then he would strike out and fire her. As wrong and as damaging as it would be to his own business, he would have to do it to save face. She kept his business running. She knew it and he knew it.

By acknowledging him as the boss, she would feed his massive. She also put him into a two-exit situation. He could write a plan and goals but then he would be stuck with something in writing. That would be bad.

Instead, he apologized to her not in words, but in actions -- gifts of a sort. She got some days off, some money and some fun time. All of this followed with him being very nice to her…for the time being.

It’s best to move on, as my friend will eventually do but while you’re stuck, learn to use the system and insecurities to your advantage! Guilt and insecurity make a powerful psychopathic disorder. Don’t worry about making the boss crazier – they’re beyond help. Some are not completely insane – a few of the parts are missing!

If you are in that situation and there’s no escape, here’s a handy checklist to help you cope and/or escape:

The abusive boss is more frightened by you. They attack you because you are either in no position to defend yourself or they really detest your talent, popularity and general breathing patterns. Take comfort in knowing the more you smile and laugh, the more it sinks into them like a knife.

If your boss is saying crazy things, then he/she is crazy. Back up everything so you can deflect attacks on your performance.

When they don’t accept any excuse for a problem and lay it on you, tell them you’ll fix it right away and apologize. The boss goes home to his/her own miserable life and they’re someone else’s problem until the next morning.

Does it really matter if the boss thinks they have “won out” over you? What have they won?

Think of it as being paid to baby-sit a horrid child. Eventually they will go off and land in prison. You will be far away, enjoying life.

Whatever an abusive boss tells you about coworkers, they are telling that about you, to them. In every abuse-filled workplace, the coworkers should band together for moral support. Beware fo the office snitch. There is always one person reporting to the boss, so NEVER say anything negative about the boss to ANYONE! In example, you might say, “the boss wants me to redesign the site. We’re going to need to put in some late hours.”

Coworkers will already know why inane changes have been demanded and will gladly pitch in to help “team members.” If you say, “jerkwad wants glitter rainbows (or something crazy) on the site, we all have to slave all night to get it done for his royal highness,” then you can count on someone overhearing it and running right to jerkwad to tell on you.

You should always be discreetly looking for a better job, anyway, so keep looking.

As coworkers depart looneyville, your network expands. The more workers that come through, the more connections you have. The more connections you have, the better the chance you will find a job that you love. It also means more people who know all about the “Lord of Crazytown” and will back you up on recommendations for a future employer.

Watch your back, collect as much paperwork as you can and be prepared to defend when needed. If you move on, you can either throw away the piles of emails and memos or compile them into a book about crazy bosses. 

Be humble with the boss and they may reward you in place of an apology. Just don’t expect them to keep a promise. You can use that down the road when you are promised something for a favor. Eventually it works out in your favor.

If you are fired, then, although without a paycheck, you will find those anxiety issues that caused you to vomit twice a day, suffer odd aches and pains and lose incredible amounts of sleep will disappear within a week. No paycheck is worth the problems that arise from living with abuse.

Only you know how much you are willing to accept in the workplace and with abusive freelance clients. These days, a paycheck gives us more latitude in what we are willing to live with day-to-day. Perhaps that latitude needs to carry some weight of just not caring about someone yelling or calling us names. After a while, if you let it roll off your back, you don’t even notice it anymore.

To my last abusive boss, I just have to say, “you’re fat, ugly and will always be alone forever and ever, Everyone there hates you and laughs at you behind your back!”

Ah, I feel much, much better!

©Speider Schneider

Published 10.29.2010 - Webdesigntuts+



  1. Keith says:

    I think I've had several bosses like this. The best way I found to deal with them was to NOT deal with them. I got out and joined the work at home world as a freelance writer. I've been detailing my journey (including what works and what doesn't) at www.home-dad.net.

  1. cre8ivetype says:

    as usual ... brilliant and right on the money!