Friday, April 30, 2010

Lessons Learned: You can’t cure crazy with kindness – The Story of Cindy

The first time I moved to the Los Angeles Area from Northern California was a ridiculous adjustment for me. Moving from Texas to San Francisco had been off-the-chains culture and sticker shock but I fell in love with the Bay Area almost immediately. The breathtaking beauty, the friendly people and all those diverse cultures and lifestyles in a 60-mile radius won me over in no time flat. I only left the Bay Area because the tech industry had gone bust and jobs were few and far between. Me and my three best friends went from spending $100 a person for Friday night dinner to potluck and a DVD on Sunday afternoon. We were all laid off and competing for the same 2 jobs. After one afternoon when I sat with 72 other applicants for one job, I knew I needed to do something different. After some research, I sent out resumes in SoCal, lined up interviews and headed on down Interstate 5. (For the record, I hate that drive. Hate, hate, hate.)

I was hired to be Senior Recruiting Manager and Associate Human Resources Manager at a large entertainment/publishing/media company that had just been purchased by Rupert Murdoch. (Should have been my first warning) Anyway, I reported to the Director of Human Resources, Cindy. From our first interview, I wasn't 100% comfortable with her. I felt she was only telling me half the story and she was slightly off. But they met my salary requirements and I really, really needed a job so I ignored the voice of reason telling me to run the other way. Very quickly, the friction started. She wanted to be sure I knew who was in charge. Nothing I did was right even though my work product kept showing up in the CEO's hands. (I took to putting my intiials in a watermark in the footer of everything I did). She picked arguments when no one disagreed with her. She started out as generally unpleasant. I just stayed out of her way. My saving grace was that my office was way on the other side of the floor from hers and we didn't have to interact face-to-face.

Her terrible behavior got a whole lot worse very quickly. Cindy was a screamer. Yes, as in yelling at grown-up folks. She screamed at the top of her lungs at her staff. People cried. I remained stoic and tightlipped. That seemed to make her more angry. She was a crier as well. She would sob in the middle of meetings. She decided to move my office next to hers and give me more responsibility (read: she decided she didn't want to do her job anymore and I should do it for her while she took the credit). She came in late (her daughter kept running away), she left early (her husband was threatening divorce); she went through administrative assistants like Kleenex. The joke became whether they would come back after lunch. Some of them didn't even make it past the first coffee break.

I decided that the best way to handle Cindy was to play nice, just kill her with kindness. I bit back more words, re-wrote more emails, ran more interference with the executives and the team. I came in early, I left late. It was to the point that I was literally running 80% of the department. We had Wally in Benefits and Lu in Payroll but everyone from the six subsidiary companies were coming to me for all human resources issues. I was hiring, training, doing employee relations and writing company policies... to name a few things. I was swamped, stressed, and miserable. My hair thinned and broke off. I slept fitfully and I ate constantly. I looked and felt like twice warmed over shiggitty.

Let me illustrate Cindy's kind of crazy. She would kick my door open (yes with her foot) and scream at me for having it closed. In the middle of a conversation, she took her arm and swept everything (computer, phone, etc) off my desk to the floor then wrote me up for having a sloppy workspace… it was very Mommie Dearest up in there. We shared a common wall and when she wanted to speak to me, she would bang on the wall with her fist repeatedly until I showed up in her office. She flung a stapler at my head, missed and it broke a window. She threw the three hole punch at me in a meeting, I dodged and it hit Wally. He needed stitches in his cheek. I started documenting EVERYTHING all the time.

I dreamed of running her over in the underground parking lot. And by dreamed, I mean I planned where to rent a non-descript car with cash (no ID needed), where to dispose of it "after" and figured out the timing of the security cameras on levels B & C of the parking garage. I even had an all-black outfit and a blonde wig picked out. Just. In. Case. I always woke up with a smile on my face after that dream.

The story that truly indicates Cindy's crazy: I was at home with the stomach flu to end all stomach flus. The first day she called me 32 times in nine hours. The next day, I unplugged the phone. Around noon I heard frantic banging on the front door. It was my building concierge. Cindy had called my apartment building (12 times) and threatened the concierge until he came to tell me I had to call her back RIGHT then. That was followed by a messenger bringing me a laptop and a fax machine with a note: you can work from the toilet. People, you can NOT make stuff like this up. I started sending out my resume like a fiend.

A next clue to leave (quickly!) came when I received a collect call from Cedars-Sinai hospital at 7:30 am on the morning we were doing Open Enrollment. Wally, the Benefits Guy, had been admitted with chest pains and diagnosed with acute anxiety disorder brought on by stress. He resigned by faxing a twenty-five word handwritten note sent from the Cardiac Health Division fax machine: Michele, Can't do it. She will kill me. She is crazy. Get out if you can. I'm never coming back. Good luck. Call me… Wally. Cindy had a replacement there before noon. By 5 pm, that person had quit. Last I saw that poor girl, her long blonde hair was all over her head, tears were streaming down her face and she was running for the stairwell – didn't even want to wait on the elevator. The next replacement started the next morning. She had been out of work for eighteen months, had worked with Cindy before and knew what she was getting into.

The last straw came after my vacation. I had just spent seven glorious days in Maui. MAUI! The most relaxing, stress-free place on earth. I was tanned, healthy, and at peace. I took an extra two days after vacation to ease my mindset into going back to that place, to that woman. I was driving on the 110 passing Dodgers' Stadium when I suddenly felt light-headed. I flushed hot and then cold and couldn't catch my breath. Pains were shooting around my chest. Not a good thing at 70 miles an hour in rush hour traffic. I made my way over to the shoulder and dialed my older brother – the trauma surgeon. I told him I was having a heart attack. He told me I was not since I was dialing and talking and sitting upright. I described my symptoms and he told me I was having a panic attack. Impossible. I don't panic. I'm Ms. Cool in a Crisis. I'm not the sort to have panic attacks. "And yet, that is what you're having." He said before telling me to go to a doctor… immediately.

I called in sick and went to see my physician at Cedars-Sinai. He gave me a survey to test my level of stress. After reading the results and hearing that I was fresh off a Maui vacation, he prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depression meds and told me to get a therapist, a new job and a relaxing hobby – not necessarily in that order. What?! Stress, Depression, Therapy? I ignored that and decided to self-medicate instead. The after dinner glass of wine became a half a bottle. Mix that with anti-depressants and you are basically just walking around fuzzy and druggy all day… but hey, you're not stressed! I only made it a week on the wine and pill diet before I knew that wasn't the answer. Blissed-out zombie was not for me. I started planning my exit.

I spent a month gathering evidence, interviewing for other positions and lining up my allies. Six weeks after the panic attack, I faxed in my five page resignation later detailing every single thing she'd ever done, peppering the letter with catch phrases like "hostile work enrivonment", "discriminatory behavior" and "malicious acts". I faxed the letter to her, the CEO, the CFO, the Board of Directors, the head of the legal department and just for good measure - the California Labor and Workforce Agency.

Two weeks later I was contacted by the company's attorney but I had already filed my "that chick is crazy" paperwork along with affidavits from Wally, three former admins and our doctors with the State of California. The state investigator came to my home and was so traumatized with what I told her that she cried. I had to pour her a glass of wine so she could go back to work. Long story short, I received a "sorry you went through that" check from Cali (thanks!) and a "please don't tell anyone what she did" check from the company. I took two weeks off and started my new gig at twice the salary.

She, on the other hand, took a "stress leave" and was eventually given a package to never return. She was forced to undergo psychological testing and was diagnosed bi-polar (no, really?). Since I had named her in state employment claim documents, she had a rough time getting work in the Human Resources field and ended up raising horses somewhere near Fresno. I feel for the horses.

Today's lesson learned: Listen to the voice telling you to run the other direction – it's so much easier to go with your first mind. Oh and crazy is crazy 24 hours a day… no matter how pretty you smile at it.

Any crazy co-workers, bosses to talk about? Hostile work environments? Thoughts, comments, insights? The floor is yours.

48 comments:

Sweetpea said...

You are so right! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Sarah said...

OK. I promise I will never complain about my old boss/colleagues again 'cause nothing I've been through working has been anything like what you describe. How old were you at the time? I think when people are young they get in these situations not realizing that we live in a BIG country and unless you are impossibly tied to an area there is another job out there somewhere.

midwestdominicana said...

I think my boss is her distant cousin. Think "Devil Wears Prada". Haven't had anything thrown at me yet, but she did tell me (while I was with my husband and his dying father in the hospital 3 hours away) that I had "picked a critical time to be out of the office because we were in the midst of several new client negotiations". Orly?!
Just yesterday, I came back to the office after being home with a fever and some weird nausea thing and she says "shake it off". By the way...still a little sick, but guess where I'm at? Sad thing is that I still work here and plan on giving her till the end of the year (please, please, please God, let us win the powerball soon!! Wait..I don't think I can ask Him for that, huh?)

Glad you made it out, Chele. I'm workin on it!

Brown Babe said...

And my ex-boss must be her not so distant cousin! I worked for an attorney for a few years who also happens to be a friend of the family. I was in the midst of a major life change after having pressed the reset button - left my job and relocated and was unemployed, but leisurely looking. When she first offered me the job I initially turned it down flat, listening to my instinct. She countered with more money and proposed it as just a temporary replacement for her paralegal that dropped everything and ran, never to return. That should have been my first sign - but I ignored my gut and said I'd step in for 3 months...I stayed for 3 years!

Her staff, primarily made up of family and friends, apparently gave her the license to be as crazy as she pleased and not fear repercussions...or charges. Not only was she hostile to her staff - which included yelling, throwing things, physically attacking, multiple firings (and subsequent rehiring after tearful apologies), throwing and/or kicking walls, doors and office equipment - she was also hostile to her clients! She would curse them out regularly, behind their backs and in front of their faces, miss or show up late to court, fail to maintain files, fail to do paperwork...and then wonder why she had to hunt folks down for payment. She would bring the drama of her unfaithful husband and wayward children into the office on a daily basis - the office represented all of her kids at some point and she even had me draft several complaints against her husband and his mistress for alienation of affection and extreme emotional distress among other things every time sh*t hit the fan. Worst of all after her eruptions, she would turn around, smile in your face and act like nothing happened...and expect everyone to do the same.

I managed to exit relatively unscathed as I turned out to be her "favorite". But I was definitely stressed coming in to work every day not knowing which side of the boss would be showing its face - not to mention the bi-weekly I'm not sure if we're gonna make payroll meeting!!! I got out as fast as I could...still waiting for someone to report that she was officially diagnosed bi-polar, disbarred and placed on meds.

RandomRambler said...

O.M-to the freakin-G! I am so in this situation now, except there are only 2 of us in my office so it all comes to me. As soon as I find a new gig, I'm out of here!

www.madnessatitsbest.blogspot.com

diamond life said...

She messengered a fax nachine to your house!? Glad she was diagnosed with something so that evil had a name... dayum! My boss just curses and slams door. I'm outta here in less than a month. Sane boss please. And eventually no boss at all. I wanna work for me so I know what mood the boss is in everyday!

Just Passing By said...

No ma'am - I could not have done it! I would have thrown something backa nd all hell would've broken loose.

OneChele said...

Oh is there a rule about not praying for the Lottery? Even if you whisper fervently?

Mr. Analytical said...

I have no similar story to share. I will say that I am sorry you went through this and mad jealous at how you handled it. Always the classy high road, I likes. She would have put my freedom in jeopardy. If I were a woman and endured that I would have went straight n. jersey house music, rah-digga, party & bulls...chorus on her, "beat dat itch w/a bat; beat dat itch w/a bat" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXIO17p6gTM).

I could see them assigning me an orange jumper and a number now.

Great series...(I'm Della Reese mad all over again thinking about it..."now I got to cutchu)

OneChele said...

Small family/friend companies are the worst. I have a story for that too. Actually, I could do a week on Bad Bosses and Co-Workers...

jake said...

My last boss held the important update meeting in the mens bathroom. The women had to stand outside and listen in, we had to huddle around the stall while he did what he had to do... finally enough people complained and we moved to the conference room. He still gave out the best assignments to the people that went to the bathroom with him... I didn't last there long.

Javalicious said...

Wow! My bosses just been lazy and stealing my work calling it theirs. Doesn't seem so bad all of a sudden.

OneChele said...

Sending positive "get out of jail free" thoughts your way

All Honey said...

My boss wanted me to sleep with her husband... and now, I did not work at an escort service. It's a food and beverage corporation. She said that would really free her up to be more productive at work. He was fine too, would've served her right if I'd done it. I tranferred to a different department.

brendakay50 said...

I count myself lucky, because my most interesting boss was a complete angel compared to Cindy and some of the stories I've read so far.

I was the administrative assistant to a retired 2 star Air Force general at a company that bid on contracts for the military. From the moment I interviewed with "The General" as he preferred to be called. I knew I was in for a treat, but I needed the job and having grown up as a military brat, I figured he couldn't possibly be worse than my father was when it came to being strict. I was wrong...

Included in my job description was the edict that I was not allowed to wear pants, even in winter. The General's personal coffee pot could never be empty or cold. The daily newspaper had to be folded a "certain" way on his desk in a particular spot. Letters or documents for his review or signature, had to have specific color coded post it notes. The pens and pencils on The General's desk were not to be mixed. The blinds and curtains had to be opened in the morning, but in the afternoon partially closed. All year round the temp in his office had to be set at 65 degrees, not 66, not 64 ~ and yes he checked it, every day! When the office was cleaned each night, everything from the chair to the trash bin had to be put back in an exact spot and The General would check to make sure that it was in the right spot with a ruler! I'm not making this up. The list of do's and do not's, what was acceptable and what was not acceptable for The General ,was longer than Mariah Carey's performance/entertainment rider.

Three time a week, The General would eat lunch at the Officers Club on the nearby Air Force base. Same table, same menu choice, week in and week out. And of course, it was my job to make sure that this reservation was on the books. Well, one week, The General arrives at the O-club and someone is sitting at his favorite table. Now did The General speak to the club manager about this? Nope. He called me, yelling down the phone. After that incident, I was required to phone the O-club 30 minutes prior to The General lunch dates, to ensure that there wasn't a repeat of this monumental disaster.

And the dress code did not just extend to me, even the male clients coming to see The General were expected to be in a suit and tie. There was one memorable occasion when The General came out to greet a client, who happened to be sitting in a chair in the outer office, reading through his notes. The General looked down and noticed that the man didn't have socks on with his nice business suit. Big mistake. The meeting was promptly cancelled and I had the wonderful task of explaining to a grown man, that for the next meeting he needed to be wearing socks. :-)

Now despite all of that, I worked for The General for three years and 9 months. Sadly, he suffered a major heartache while playing golf and was forced to retired a second time. And up until he passed away, he and his wife always send me a birthday and Christmas card each year.

brendakay50 said...

*Knock me over with a feather*

Did the boss make this request with a straight face? LMBO!

brendakay50 said...

I'm sorry Jake, but that is hilarious.

nadetteeatreadrant said...

Chele, I literally threw a mini fit at my desk reading this post, chock full of "oh no she didn't" and neck rollin, jaw dropping, and head shaking. I though I hated my job, but obviously I don't know shit about work place misery. you are a trooper for not having thrown that stapler right back at that broad. Lawd bless you, and go 'head with the "twice the salary" new gig.

RoyalLee said...

I've been complaining because my boss tends to call meetings and assign "urgent" things at 4:30 in the afternoon. Compared to your drama, I'll just keep muttering to myself.

OneChele said...

Where was your HR department - wow!

OneChele said...

Let's thank @Disqus for getting the embedded links working. And thank you Mr. A for sharing...

thinklikeRiley said...

All this does is reinforce my need to have my own shit. Quickly. Cuz I'd catch acase behind crasy ish like you went through.

OneChele said...

Again - a human resources fail... just no.

Winter137 said...

I'm sitting her frozen with fear .....horror story.

SomethinSpecial said...

LOVEDDDDD this post! I am a mental health professional and I have *secretly* diagnosed my Director as having Borderline Personality Disorder SMH... You are aboslutely right you can't kill crazy with kindness. Just get out while you can. Took me a year and a half.. But they that wait on the Lord shall renew their stregnth!... I resigned yesterday. Praise Him!

rozb said...

We were at sea in the Gulf of Mexico after leaving New Orleans. She already messed up my free time by requiring that I be the only one that had to be at work at 5 am every day (I worked on the mess decks supervising feeding the crew). No Mardi Gras nights for me! When the seas got rough, we had given some of the regular crew time off. Even though we cleaned everything shiny, she still decided to tell me that even though I was in charge I needed to ask her for permission because she did not trust my judgement (then why was I in charge?O_o) While she was in the middle of her temper tantrum in front of everybody, I started feeling nauseous. Just when she asked me what I had to say for myself, I threw up dinner all over her feet and the bottom of her pant legs (corn and BBQ sauce isn't pretty coming back). She turned beet red, puffed up like she was going to scream, then shook her feet off and left. All my workers fell over laughing, and offered to clean up after me because that was the best thing they had seen in a long time!

It took me six months to recuperate from working with her (my assignment with her ended at the end of that week) and not want to slash her car tires. Whenever she saw me she always smiled, asked how I was doing, and said she liked working with me. I wanted to punch her on top of her head...

Man's World said...

In honor of all the crazy-assed bosses out there, let me post up this vid: Slap by Luda
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZL93gODc1s

OneChele said...

That kind of anal-retentive stuff makes me crazy. But as long as he didn't change the rules every day - you could live with it.

Mocha Dude Speaks said...

Well I think after throwing up on someone, you've made your opinion known...

maureen palmer said...

Dang, Cindy is off the chain, you are a much better person for hanging in there that long. I thought I have had crazy bosses, but none compares to Cindy. My previous boss had mood disorders, one week she spoke to you and the other week silent as mute. And oh she could decide to close herself in her office and if you have to submit a request you have to slide it under the door.

oyan said...

1. co-worker tells his wife he's sleeping with me; she calls me everyday and begs me not to take her husband
2. worked in 'traffic' at a tv station, blk female boss, the worst kind of snake. i tried to transfer out, during the interview she walks in and tells the interviewer (white male) why i should'nt be hiredn and i was'nt.
3.worked at an HBCU; the female machinations were horrific. the manager was rumored to be gay, everyone was afraid of her, with good reason. oh, and she despised me, made several insults to my person, like demanding that i not talk in the office; had one of her henchmen accuse me of talking back, and i was suspended for a week w/o pay. da hell! i'll stop here or i will start screaming..... "i see dead people"...

Nicole said...

ouch.....as someone who is bipolar it makes me cringe to hear the bad experinces you had. Despite what you experienced( I am not downplaying it - untreated bipolar diorder is the worst), there are people with bipolar disorder that do recieve treatment and that make it their business not to treat people badly and to deal with their issues. I would just like to remind everyone that for every person with mental health issues who is untreated, there are people who you wouldn't even know have a mental health issue becuase they are functional and in treatement. And remember, yes, don't tolerate bad behaviour ( I would never ask someone to do that) but be compassionate. Just like someone who is living with HIV/AIDS, we did not go out there and ask for a serving of these illnesses.


One Chele while I feel your pain and I know you needed to vent, I must say that I did not appreciate the quote, " Crazy is crazy 24 hours a day, no matter how you smile at it".........Please, while you have every right to speak of what your boss did to you, don't make statements like that. It really does contribute in a small way to the stigma people with mental illness face. Simply look at it form my side of the fence, if I were to take the attitude behind the statement literaly and take that stigma to heart, I wouldn't have picked myself up off the floor after going to mental hopsital and rebuilt my life back and gone on to go to university. Oneof the things I fought aginst to regain myself back was the notion that people are always going to percieve me as crazy no matter what I do or how I act and that becuase of that I would never be re-integrated into society. Don't make statements like that please, it stings!!

keishabrown said...

if you've ever seen Chef Ramsay on tv (Hells Kitchen or something)..you'll have some insight to what my job is like.
and Allah/Buddah/Jesus help me if there is a VIP event...

i'm a tough cookie, but when you are being berated and yelled at when you are already having a bad day - it's hard not to crack. my boss has had me in tears on more than one occasion. and even when he's wrong - he refuses to apologize.

i know that it's partially cultural (he mentions that some of his personality traits is an Arab thing), but he signs my paycheques soo...

Annette said...

Had a boss who treated everybody equally: with contempt. On the day he was supposed to leave for another job, he was told that they had to let someone go, and he said(within earshot of a lot of employees), 'Oh , let me do it, that is my favorite part of a job, firing people). He had the young man crying, and he (the boss) was grinning like someone had told him he won the lottery. The day my father in law died, I was talking to a client on the phone, and he stuck a note (written in red ink) in my face that said, "call home, your father in law just died). I still have the note, because no one would believe that story otherwise.......

BAP, Interrupted said...

This was an awesome post. I have had a couple of experiences with "crazy" bosses but in a recent traumatic experience I found myself working in a cult. I didn't know it was a cult going in, but as time progressed unusual behavior and unrealistic behavioral expectations occurred. I was at a emotional vulnerable point in my life, and the person running the organization, who I would describe as a sociopath, recognized my weakness and exploited it. After several starts and stops I finally cut myself off from that world although I suffer post traumatic stress syndrome from my experiences.

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