The Worst Thing My Boss Ever Said To Me

Most people have had to deal with a bad boss at some point in their career. Why do you think there are so many movies featuring villainous bosses? Who hasn’t worked for some version of Miranda Priestly? Recent studies indicate that up to 65 million Americans have been affected by workplace bullying at some point in their career, with bosses making up the bulk of bullies.

If you’re dealing with a toxic work relationship (and still trying to show up in the morning and be productive), we know the struggles. Ahead, 10 women share their worst boss stories — and how they got over the drama.

I Learned To Move On For My Own Mental Health

"I took some time off when I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks. My boss called on the fifth day to ask what was taking so long, because someone else at work had a miscarriage and she only missed one day at work. I returned to work the next day but had to go for another ultrasound (so I had to be out sick again). When I told her I had to miss another day, I made it clear I didn’t want her to question my professionalism — I’m committed to my job. She told me other people had been picking up my slack at work. I considered filing a grievance, but I had so much else going on, I just didn’t get around to it. Ultimately, I decided I needed to let the interaction go for my own mental health."

—Jennifer, 31

I Found a New Job

"In my last law job, we represented several clients who attended a statewide conference. I took a few clients out to eat, then to the bar at the hotel. I let a few of the older male clients buy me drinks and maybe a shot or two. After a few spins on the dance floor, I politely excused myself around midnight. The next morning, after another appearance at the conference, I drove two and a half hours and went back to the office to avoid any appearance of ducking out of work early. When I walked in, I was pulled into a meeting with the office’s three partners. I received round-table attacks about my behavior. They didn’t think I drank too much; I was criticized for not partying hard enough. I didn’t go to the after-party where all the 'good' and 'successful' female lawyers danced and partied. Fortunately, I was waiting for an official offer from my current employer and quit about six weeks later."

—Sarah, 34

I Was Young and Stayed With A Toxic Boss For Longer Than I Should Have

"I once had a boss who was terrible on so many different levels. He used to watch porn on his computer in his office, but didn't know how to turn it off, so he used to unplug his computer when someone walked into his office. There was one incident where he yelled/screamed/cursed at me so viciously that I ended up having hysterical blindness. I was so upset that I literally went blind for about 45 minutes. I can't even remember the details of what caused his freak-out. What’s crazy is that I stayed in the job another four years. This was my first job out of college — I was 21!

"Eventually, I started looking for a new job because I needed to get out. The boss who yelled at me ended up running the company into the ground, and they went out of business about a year after I left."

—Katharine, 37

I Can Look Back (On Some of It) and Laugh


"I worked at a small advertising agency, and one of the partners threw temper tantrums like a toddler! I definitely had a FedEx box thrown at my head as I was running into the elevator. He was also constantly talking to my breasts. I remember a time when the fax machine wasn't working (legitimately broken), and I was trying to fix it. He came over and asked, 'Well, did you plug it in, sweetheart?' So condescending. I didn’t stay at that job for more than two years — and was relieved to leave. Thankfully, I can look back on it (well some of it, at least) and laugh now."

—Alison, 31

I Stuck it Out, and He Left

"I was working in banking and headed up a number of tech teams — all of these people were great workers and really intelligent. Our bank (let’s call it Bank A) purchased another bank (Bank B) and there was a merging of the firms. My new boss came from Bank B. I met with him first to give him the background on the teams I oversaw and suggested we arrange a morning meet-and-greet so he could be introduced to everyone. When he arrived, he didn't do much to mingle. Finally, he gets up in front of the group (about 30 people), introduces himself, and promptly says 'I’m here to tell each of you what you’re doing wrong.' The room was silent. I stuck it out, and luckily, he only lasted about a year. His supervisors decided he wasn’t the right fit. In the end, arrogance doesn’t pay."

—Nicole, 39

I Found a Work Environment That’s More Family-Friendly

"After I took just two weeks off to give birth to my daughter via C-section (and almost immediately [took] a work trip with the baby), my boss asked, 'How do you feel your pregnancy affected your work last fall?' He was definitely implying that it had had a negative impact on my work. So insane. I didn't take a maternity leave. His lawyer (a working mom) was in the room when he posed the question, and she was mortified and tried to change the subject quickly, but the damage was done. He was a horrible human, in general. I left a year ago, and I think my new job is a bit more family-friendly. It certainly tries to be!"

—Michelle, 35

I Cooled Down and Then Approached Her

"There was one time my boss completely flipped out over something so small: She was mad when I responded to a client email we had both been cc’ed on. I had the information, I knew what I was talking about — but she was literally screaming at me. I’m fine when a supervisor tells me I made a mistake, but this was beyond anything appropriate. I walked away and held off saying anything until I cooled down. I told her that I felt disrespected, and she finally understood and apologized. She actually started tearing up and said being a manager is hard. This wasn’t our first tense interaction — nor our last. But it was one of the few times she reminded me that she, too, has a human side."

—Ellie, 27

Her Lack of Professionalism Kicked Me Into Job-Search Mode


"In my last job, my boss was constantly crossing the line between personal and professional. She’d tell me about flirting with her personal trainer and how she used to sleep with people quickly. She thought relationships had a five-year shelf life and then they needed to come to an end. The final straw came when she gave me advice on how to land a boyfriend. She told me every girl should follow three rules to get a guy: always do her hair, wear clothes that fit, and always let him believe he’s in control sexually.

"I went to HR with my complaints, and nothing ever came of it, although ultimately it pushed my search for a new job into high gear."

—Emily, 28

Illustrated by Sydney Haas.

I Figured Out How to Listen to My Instinct

"I was working in advertising as a lowly assistant and was barely making ends meet. I had spent most of my post-college savings on a few pieces of 'work-appropriate' clothing. I remember my boss walking into the office one day and criticizing the fact that I had worn the same pants twice that week. (There had been a day in between!) Her words still stick with me to this day, and that was over 10 years ago.

"I stayed with that job for a long time (a lot longer than I should have — I needed the money). The funny thing is, I had a sense that there was something off with her when I was interviewing for the position — but ignored my gut feeling. When I started looking for new jobs, I decided I only wanted to work for someone who seemed like a good person. Of course, it’s always tough to tell for certain who is going to be a jerk, but I’ve learned my instinct is pretty strong, and sometimes I really need to listen to it."

—Erin, 34

He Made Things Super Awkward

"A few years ago, I was working at a pop culture website that I loved, but the guy who owned the publishing company was a sexist jerk. He would complain about how many women I had working on my team and was angry when we wrote about certain 'female-focused' TV shows, like Sex and the City (which he thought was awful, although Entourage was 'brilliant'). He constantly made weird comments about how 'feminine' the site sounded. Every conversation I had with the guy would turn into a heated showdown, so I would try to avoid meeting with him in person as much possible. One day, out of the blue, he sent me an email that said, 'You really must hate working for me.' And that was it. Our desks were only 10 feet apart, and he was sitting right there, so it was incredibly awkward. How does a person even respond to a message like that? When I took another job a few months later, he had the gall to try to make a counter-offer. No, thank you!"

— Elizabeth, 34

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