Q: “What’s the worst thing a boss ever said to you?”
A: “Don’t worry. We’ve run the numbers and the average time anyone spends in this company is five years.”
This is what my former boss, we’ll call him Duane, said to our entire department. He was leaning back in his seat behind his giant oak desk, trying to look important and strong. He said what he said after our manager’s two-week notice came to an end. Duane was trying to reassure us that he and the company would find a replacement right away. Unfortunately, two of the people in that meeting – myself and a coworker we’ll call Barb – we’re a month away from our four-year anniversary with the company.
When Duane said what he said, Barb shot me a worried glance, which I returned with one of my own.
Duane yammered on about how our manager wasn’t a good fit anyway. (I guess this revelation never occurred to him during the manager’s six-year stint with the company.) Duane went on to say how confident he was that he would find a newer, better manager to take the other one’s place. How could he not? The Acme Widget Company of East St. Clair Shores, Michigan was ranked one of the best places to work in Southeastern Michigan. Too bad that ranking was in the fever dreams of Duane’s delusional imagination.
I knew right away why Duane said what he said. At least I thought I did. The manager’s decision to leave Duane’s company meant that the manager found a better company to work. This probably bruised poor Duane’s fragile ego. Saying that people typically last five years was Duane’s way of convincing himself that the manager’s departure was no big deal. My boss was talking to himself in a vain attempt to soothe his own ego and using us as a surrogate audience.
As we left the meeting, Barb pulled me aside and whispered a nearly-incoherent stream-of-consciousness rant into my year. The basic gist of her ramblings was her concern over whether she would have to find a new job in a year or not. The average person only lasted five years, after all, so what would that mean for her? What would that mean for me? It was a daunting question.
In time, Barb and I both discovered that there was more to Duane’s comment than fluffing his own damaged ego. It wasn’t a prediction at all, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like many small businesses run by entrepreneurs, the Acme Widget Company had a nasty habit of giving most people their raises within their first two years of employment. Whatever someone was earning at the two-year mark was their ceiling, for the most part.
Employees aren’t stupid, despite what Duane might think. After two or three years of not getting a raise – and all the lame excuses that justify such stinginess – people find another job and move on. That’s what Barb did somewhere around her five-year mark, and I followed suit about a year later. To the best of my knowledge, this practice hasn’t changed at the Acme Widget Company but the company and Duane are in the rear-view mirror of my life. I hardly give them a glance these days.
I know the question was “What’s the worst thing a boss said to you?” Granted, what Duane said was pretty bad, but it wasn’t technically the worst thing a boss ever said. Perhaps I’ll save that story for another day.
About Indie Author John P. Ribner
Born in Flint, Michigan. Raised by narcissists. Victim of a drive-by shooting. Writer. Singer/songwriter. Punk rock enthusiast. Martial artist. Social critic. Iconoclast. Author of “Wasted Youth: The Narcissism Recovery of a Punk Rock Kid from Flint.”