Tales of the Office: Jackass Bosses I Survived!

Administrative Professionals don’t need flowers. They need respect and a raise!

Every time I find myself sliding into “Retirement Guilt Phenomenon”, I remind myself not just of the forty-four years I worked full-time, but, even more importantly, the incredible number of truly awful supervisors I endured.

Their names are legend. Actually, some of their names were Schuster, Tom, Lois, Gloria, and Evil Troll. (There were others, but these were the most memorable.)

And I, the lowliest of the low (and trust me on this one: in an office environment, there is hardly any lower life form than the formerly-known-as-secretary-now-called-Administrative-Assistant-same-shit-different-title) anyway, lowly little me survived them all to emerge, victorious, un-fired, and finally, safely and happily retired. (Here picture middle finger extended high into the air. Perhaps on both hands.)

For, let’s face it: some of these people—no, a lot of them—were genuine jackasses.

Schuster was the first one, and, no, I don’t recall his given name, because we lowly file clerks were not permitted to speaketh it aloud. He was addressed, always, as Mr. Schuster.

To be fair, the toxic environment in which Schuster operated contributed to his view of himself as sitting enthroned high upon Mt. Olympus while we mere worker bees scurried far below, just waiting for his thunderbolts to fall. This being in the early 1970s, conditions existed at

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An iconic “Railroaders” coin bank.

“Railroaders” (the nickname with which we parodied the bank) that would now be unthinkable. Sexual harassment and promotion-by-office-affair were the norm, yet male and female employees were segregated into separate lunch lounges. Female employees were required to wear hideously ugly, uncomfortable polyester uniforms, because women could not be trusted to dress appropriately for business. (!) Resembling the office of Nine to Five infamy, it was a sadly real hell where Schuster reigned supreme, with we, his “girls” ensconced in a tiny back room, invisible to the public and even most of the other employees. Funnily enough, fifty years on, I can’t really recall the precise events that made me completely despise Schuster, but any person who supported and empowered such a revolting office environment deserved a whole lot worse than mere contempt.

Next came Tom. Promoted to first-time supervisor of a group of, yes, female secretaries and clerks, he solved every problem by creating worse problems. One coworker had the habit of taking overly-long breaks and lunch hours, while the other half-dozen of us adhered to the correct schedule. When confronted by our complaints regarding the unfairness of this situation, his solution was to institute a system of rolling breaks and lunch hours, so that we never knew from one day to the next what our schedule would be–thereby punishing all for the misbehavior of one. A wiser supervisor finally intervened, but the damage was done. After that, we all pretty much came and went as we pleased, Tom and schedules be damned.

Then there was Lois. Ah, the joys of working for a self-important, dictatorial, tyrannical, officious narcissist! This was one time in which difficult lessons (learned by careful management of a relative who suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder) came in handy. Extremely handy. Despite an occasional road-bump in which I upset Lois’s self-delusional little applecart, I survived several years under her autocratic rule, even emerging with a favorable employee rating. But it was a near thing, always. I did a bit of a happy dance when Lois moved on to greener pastures, there to devastate a fresh raft of hapless victims.

And how could I forget Gloria, the supervisor who always assumed that everything was my fault. I came within inches of being fired one day, saved only by the honesty of another employee, when the message regarding an important meeting requested information on the wrong topic.

Following the meeting, Gloria stormed back into the office like the proverbial fire-breathing dragon, furiously telling me to start packing my bags. Thankfully, the secretary who’d sent the message intervened, corroborating that I’d been given an incorrect request. Gloria, neither shamefaced nor apologetic, simply told me I was off the hook. But, neither then nor any of the other hundred times it happened during her tenure, did she express any regret for her immediate assumption that I was at fault.

Finally there came Evil Troll, the sexual harasser. The female sexual harasser who backed me (and other women) into corners to invade our body space and sometimes press her extremely large breasts up against us; who made constant sexual innuendos in work conversations…and got away with it. Because in the 1990s we knew the cards were stacked against us. We had children to support, jobs we had to keep. Decades later, I turned cartwheels and handsprings when the Me, Too movement evolved, recalling Evil Troll and everything she put me through until I escaped to another job.

Every office worker has tales like this, some (many) I’m sure, far, far worse. To them I say: I salute you. I know what you’re enduring. Stay strong, keep on, and emerge, eventually, the victor on the other side. Or, as the mock-Latin saying goes, Illegitimi non carborundum.

Happy Administrative Professionals Day! If you enjoyed this essay, you might also appreciate Administrative Professional (or, A Tale of Popularity). You can locate it by scrolling to the Archive files, below, from April 25, 2018.

Antiquated Thought

I began my working career, aged 18, in the lowly position of File Clerk. Since desktop computers were not yet a glimmer in the eye of Bill Gates and every record was typed on an electric typewriter or laboriously entered by hand in a thick ledger before being arranged into orderly files, the mortgage company for which I worked had a spacious room entirely devoted to the files it kept on its customers.  It was there I toiled, clambering up ladders or squatting and kneeling to pull out requested files or placing them back into their slots when completed.

The attitudes of the company were more antique than their filing system now sounds. In 1973, at the height of the feminist movement, this company required that its female employees—only the women, not the men–wear uniforms.  Women, it was patiently explained, could not be trusted to dress professionally.  And so we were coerced into uniforms made of nubby, heavy woven polyester, ugly as sin and hot as Hades.  Horrifically uncomfortable, too, as the fabric scratched and scraped at one’s skin like an army of straight pins.  Rendered in colors selected by the Executive Secretary to flatter her olive skin and (dyed) coal black hair, the uniforms were hideously unbecoming to most of the female employees.  Accessorizing with so much as a scarf was forbidden; even the style and color of footwear we were permitted to wear was specified.

Providing our clothing, though, was also the excuse used by this company to pay its women employees less than the men. After all, they reasoned, we had no work-related clothing expenses; why, then, would we need as much compensation as the male employees?

It’s difficult for me now, as a 21st century woman, to remember that I once lived under such strictures.  Yes, I chafed at them—but there was virtually nothing I could do about it, not if I wanted to keep my job.  So I put up and shut up, until I found another job.

It would be more than a decade after my sojourn at the mortgage company before the organization was sued over their uniform policy (and lost, primarily due to the pay discrimination factor). As an 18-year-old, though, supporting myself on a meager income and living in a semi-slum, I dared not buck the system, no matter how wrong I felt—knew–it to be.

But I was recently forced to recall my feelings of bitterness and injustice—recall them vividly and painfully–when an acquaintance complained of the “attitudes” of African Americans fighting against police brutality and racial inequity. “It’s not like when I was a kid; they can be anything these days—doctors, lawyers,” my acquaintance grumbled.  “They need to stop bitching.  They should be grateful.”

Grateful….  I was forcefully reminded of my 18-year-old self in similar circumstances.  Remembered being told, recalled even telling myself,  “You have a job.  Your generation can work outside the home. Your clothing is provided. So what if you’ll never make as much money as the male employees?  So what if the only promotion you can expect is to another clerical position?  So what if a male employee can put his hand up your skirt, and there isn’t a damned thing you can do about it?  Quit your whining and bitching. You don’t know how good you’ve got it.  Show some gratitude.”

But like typewriters to keyboards, paper files to a cloud drive, attitudes evolve—must evolve—and change. And they do so only when forced: by pressure, by recognition, by lawsuits, by revelation, by coming out of the darkness into the piercing daylight of truth.

For until all of us are free, none of us will ever truly be free.