I have the world's worst boss

How can I get along with him? How can we work as a team?

Published March 28, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

So I have this job in sales and marketing. It's a desk job and much of my work is ever-changing projects as we are a start-up company. All in all, it's a fine job. I'm not unhappy with my responsibilities, but I can't get past my dislike of my boss.

He's a bully. If you disagree with him or offer your opinion, you can see him just bark back as though you're telling him he's stupid. No idea of what teamwork is. He withholds information about the goings-on in the company from our team and I believe it's because knowledge is power. He wants to keep his team in the dark, then charge us with tasks and take credit for our work loudly. He keeps his calendar a secret and we are quite sure he does so to hide his long afternoons on the couch at home. He doesn't produce much unless networking, Facebooking, trip planning and strategizing over company-paid lunch counts. But, he's not a bad guy when he's in a good mood. He doesn't micromanage, quite the opposite really. But, he irks me to no end. I want to be a part of the growth in the company and the excitement that goes along with it. He sucks the life right out of our team and we all feel unappreciated. And I haven't been able to keep my mouth shut about it with my work peers.

I have great relationships with my co-workers. We have become quite close in a short time and work well together. Most everyone who has ever spoken to me about my boss has only negative things to say. And, this only fires me up more. Next thing you know, I am shit-talking the hell out of this guy. It feels good in the moment, but I know it's a bad idea. And, not because I could lose my job. Sure, it could happen. But my biggest issue is how I feel afterward. How I'd feel if you could hear me.

I know people talk -- I certainly do. And I believe my shit-talking is known by more people in the company than I realize. And, I do believe that my boss has heard something. But here's my question: Is there anything besides ceasing the bad-mouthing that I can do to move past this? I feel like I want to come clean. Go to him, tell him I think he's terrible, and why. Then tell him I am sorry for shit talking behind his back. Then I want to tell everyone I work with that I've come clean, deep breath, it's over. I know I can't really go to him. He'd go ape-shit, fire me, etc. What can I do to feel better?

To end the worry that he'll find out more. He's fine as a human being, just a terrible boss. I don't want to be doing this to him and myself. Help.

Can't Handle the Boss

Dear Can't Handle,

I fear some people will say this is the worst advice I have ever given, that it is neither practical nor ethical.

It's true I'm no expert on workplace behavior, and perhaps I have some revenge fantasies. But I suggest you abandon all your high-minded beliefs about teamwork and the good of the company and seek this man's downfall.

I say this because I stand with many other millions of people outraged by the ugliness and pettiness of workplace culture and by the slow deadening of the spirit that occurs there, by the alienating and meaningless tasks performed there, by the often harmful products created there, and by the autocratic and fearful behavior that its hierarchical structure enables.

Finally at the age of 45 or so I lucked out and came to work at Salon and somehow have managed to hold on to my job here, but the fact remains that for millions of us, having a job is a form of torture. Yet we pretend that we like it, that it matters to us, that we care! We have to pretend because we know of no other way to get money except to have a job! Should we become thieves? Sometimes it seems preferable! But we have honor! So we work! And we are not skilled in business so we do not create businesses, though perhaps more of us should.

What's worse is that the educated and thoughtful among us naively bring to the workplace a set of ethics learned in the ideological training grounds of university and family.

It would be better if we had been trained on the battlefield, and knew to treat an enemy like an enemy. We are taught by family and school to work together harmoniously. But how do you have "teamwork" with a sociopath? This boss threatens you and makes you unhappy. He torments you like a bully. This man is just out for himself. He cares nothing about you.

He will destroy you if given the chance. You need to protect yourself.

So undermine him. Undermine him any way you can. You say he withholds information. You can do so as well. Stop with the trash talk. Instead, speak of him with condescension, as one speaks of the incompetent.

Don't confront him directly. Just let him fail.

Experience your workplace as it actually is -- an amoral, anarchic battlefield in which the powerful prey on the weak, where phrases like "the good of the company" and "the importance of treating others fairly" are merely tools of indoctrination and pacification.

Don't protect him. Let him fail. If his failure requires some help, do not hesitate.

Walk with your head held high, knowing that what you are doing is right.

If you get fired, big deal. You're not happy at this company anyway. You can always get another terrible job.

By Cary Tennis

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