The first question comes from A. Brown, of Dallas,
Dear Mystery Boss,
Do all bosses hate temps? I'm temping now while trying to learn a new career
(I don't want to show false "loyalty" to a permanent employer) and all of
the jobs are clerical. I've been in so many companies you wouldn't believe
it, but without fail the people supervising me are a bit on the overbearing
side. Because I'm a temp they give me things to do from other departments
I'm not assigned to so they can help out bosses they're friends with (I see
them going to lunch together, etc.), they're rude, make jokes or comments
(as in, verbatum, "She's just a temp") and on and on. Why?
Is it because they can get away with paying
me next to nothing, providing no benefits, and get rid of me without legal
consequence if I even flinch when I'm insulted?
I start on each assignment anew, with an
open heart, feeling good, wanting to do a good job, but I always end up hurt
and isolated. Don't they realize that temps have feelings just like "regular"
Thats a very good question, and my heart goes out to you! But
the number one rule that every employee must learn in the work place... and
its a very hard one to live by... is: Dont take it
The Off The Boss Manual (and Website), have an excellent
section called The Bag Lady Effect, where you learn to see your
boss as that crazed homeless bag lady on some street corner spewing out verbal
garbage and abuse to anyone (real or imaginary) who passes by. You dont
take what she says personally, since you realize she really knows nothing
about you and is just spewing out her own internal hell. By putting her
head on your boss body when they give you grief, you suddenly
realize theyre also just spewing forth from their own internal
But that only answers one bit of your question. The bigger answer
and time-honored trick (which works for so many frustrations in the work
place)... is to imagine yourself as a boss. Now, though you may find this
very hard to believe... but MOST bosses (and remember now, Im saying
most, not all) are human, and are actually very much like you. And therefore
they carry the same prejudices and knee-jerk reactions, emotionally
speaking, as you do.
Now that you are the boss, sit behind their big desk and sink into
that leatherette cushy chair, and close your eyes. Now travel back to your
own childhood. Remember what it was like when you were in Elementary School
and suddenly a frail, slightly scared and pale stranger would come into your
third grade classroom and say in a shaky voice and even shakier handwriting
on the chalk board: Hello, my name is Miss. Ginsberg, and Im
going to be your substitute teacher for the day. Know the feeling?
Suddenly something snaps inside your otherwise well behaved little angel
head, and you become her worst nightmare... testing her limits to see just
how much you can get away with.
Well, even though we grow up and have to shave and watch our fatty
acids, the child is still deep inside of us. I will be the first to admit
that when a temp comes into the office, even I... a well adjusted,
mature and very professional big-shot finds myself falling back to the days
when Id tell my substitute that our regular teacher always lets us
play tether-ball all afternoon on Tuesdays instead of the usual math
lesson. Unfortunately, you, as the temp, who like Miss. Ginsberg
and all the other substitute teachers of the world just want to do your job
without losing an eye, and get home to your microwave. Is it right? No.
Is it professional and mature? Of course not. Is it human nature?...
you bet it is. And therefore if you understand the child in all
the bosses you have to contend with, youll find yourself realizing
whats really going on inside their childish head, and just going with
A third factor comes into play, that you may not even be aware of.
In the world of business there is a lot of corporate espionage that transpires.
Really. Bugging of offices, copying of confidential documents, stealing of
computer files, etc. And one of the best people to get at these secrets are
temps. Think about it, a stranger comes in, and yet is given
access to the entire company. Many bosses have been burned (including me),
and no matter how reputable the temp agency is... there is no guarantee that
the temp that comes in, isnt really Tom Cruise in disguise who is going
to be hanging from the ceiling stealing all your secrets while Im out
wolfing down a Happy Meal. So we play our cards very close to our chests
when it comes to temps, and many times it may come across as just plain cold
Finally there is the simple trust factor. Any stranger is, by
animal-human instinct a threat until proven otherwise. Unfortunately, one
or two days on the job isnt nearly enough for any temp to create genuine
confidence with their bosses.
I feel for you. It isnt an easy job, and as the name implies,
hopefully is only a temporary discomfort until you settle in
to a more permanent job. But as Ive shown, the reasons for the very
real abuses you describe have nothing to do with you... but are
only "fortunes of temping" in general. But look on the bright side. Just
as it may be uncomfortable for you every day to come into a new battle
ground, at least its only for a day or two! Think of the poor
employees who have to work for such a cad of a boss day in and day out. Many
envy you your freedom! And, you can pick and choose. Learn from each
assignment... and understand just what you are looking for in an ideal job.
Its really no different, than dating in a way. Except you do get paid
(albeit not as much as you are worth) for your troubles, and you dont
have to worry about what to say after the movie is over.
QUESTION #2 from Larry D. of
Dear Mystery Boss,
Whenever I have to go in to see my boss, I find, no matter what time of day
or week I go there, that I have to wait a long time after I am summoned,
or have an appointment. Ive also noticed that the furniture in the
outer office, and even in the hot seat in my boss office
are very uncomfortable. Am I just paranoid, or is this done on purpose? And
if so, what can be done about it?
I, of course, cant speak for
every boss, but I must tell you that, in most cases, you are far from being
paranoid. Especially if you are coming in to ask for a raise, or to log a
dispute, yes, I must admit I (and many fellow bosses I lunch with), have
been known to purposely keep you waiting.
This has a two-fold effect. One, of course, is outright intimidation.
The longer youre kept waiting, the more insecure you become, the more
you begin to question your reason for being there. In a busy corporation,
you will also, most likely see all kinds of activity at a high level that
will make you feel smaller since you see just what a powerbase
youre deal with.
Secondly, I have discovered that if an employee is coming to give me hell,
the longer they are outside to cool off the better for me. Youd think
waiting outside would help fester the anger into something even worse, but
it seems to have a reverse effect. Being in that cold outer office (and yes,
we DO keep the thermostats unusually cold for the psychological effect!)
makes them reflect on their lives, their jobs... their childrens
orthodontia and education, and their mortgages. I myself have not gone to
the extreme of selecting uncomfortable furniture to enhance the ego-deflating
effect, but I actually know of one boss who did have an assistant scour the
furniture emporiums to find couches that actually make you sink so far down,
that even the tallest employee suddenly feels like one of the Lollipop
Gang -- with hot seat chairs in his office that have high
backs and low seats to make one feel very uncomfortable and inferior.
Personally, Ive never gone to that extreme, but I must admit that I
do purposely use a chair in front of my desk without arms, since Ive
discovered that it makes my accuser very uncomfortable and gives
me an advantage.
What you can do about it?
Id say go for a two-pronged attack. First off, be totally
and completely secure in the reason youre going to see your boss in
the first place. If you have a grievance... think it out totally before hand,
so that nothing we do to you will make you change your mind. Exhaust all
your options first, so that you are aware that seeing us is the only course
left to you. And most important, remember the secrets I just
told you... that, just like when you see a horror movie and you say to yourself
Its okay... its only a movie... try the same thing
when youre sitting in a quicksand couch in the outer office
in sub-freezing temperatures for hours at a time waiting to talk to your
boss. Remember, its usually all just smoke and mirrors,
and, though its hard for me to admit... Im only a boss. Say to
yourself: Its all just calculated manipulation!
QUESTION #3 from Melissa G. of Williamstown,
Dear Mystery Boss,
I'm employed by a small publishing company. Ive been working here for
eight years now, and have grown with the company, which is doing better each
year. I have sat back, done my job, and assumed that I would, one day, be
promoted or at least get a raise that would reflect my efforts and the
companys continual success. My friends have given me all kinds of advice
for asking for a raise, from threats, to intimation, to out and out begging!
When someone comes into your office asking for a raise or a higher position,
what works best with you?
I hate to say it, since this is a word most bosss flee from
like a cross put in the face of Dracula... but Ive found
honesty to work the best! A colleague of mine has a habit of
speeding and is an expert at talking to Highway Patrolmen who pull him over.
Hes found that he has actually beat a ticket, or simply got off with
a warning, when, after the officer asks him if he knows why hes been
stopped he says: Yes, officer. I was going 85 miles an hour, and the
speed limit is 65. I was in a hurry to get to an important meeting, which
I know is no excuse, but I stupidly accelerated anyway. I was wrong, and
you had ever right to stop me.
This kind of approach totally disarms the officer, and since my
colleague obviously isnt drunk, nor has any wants or warrants against
him, and his license and registration are in order, many officers let
him off! I think the same approach is the best for asking for a raise.
First off, however, may I also suggest that you do a little bit of homework.
Without making it sound like you have single-handedly turned the company
around by yourself (we bosss do have fragile egos you know), make notes
as to just what youve contributed and what the outcome of your work
has done for the companys coffers. I hate to say it, since it perpetuates
the belief that we bosss are all unfeeling, money- hungry monsters...
but pleas of poverty, or family needs, or some monolithic bad luck in your
personal life falls mostly on sympathetic but ultimately deaf ears.
Decisions made in the Wonderful World of Commerce are more
often than not, ultimately based on fear and greed. I promise you that if
you are an employee who deserves a promotion or a raise, we are aware why
youve come to see us, long before weve made you wait in the outer
office. What we are looking for is YOUR understanding of just how much
youve given to the company... and how well youve documented it.
That doesnt mean you come in with charts and spreadsheets, but if you
simply, and calmly tell us what you have accomplished, it has a very strong
The greed factor comes in play if we believe that we can make even more money
from you, and the fear factor arises if we believe that if we dont
at least give you an inch, youll take a mile and a hike
to another company. Therefore, you must also be willing to truly believe
youd walk if you dont get what you deserve.
My advice is never, ever threaten to walk! That only steps on a Boss'
delicate toes by challenging their power! Simply totally believe you
are indispensable and that you are willing to leave (perhaps you may want
to put feelers out beforehand)... and trust me, your boss will pick that
Like my colleague with the Highway Patrolman... by telling the truth and
stating the facts, you'll leave your Boss little room to argue. Truth is
a powerful tool that even a boss has a hard time denying!
QUESTION #4 From Steve J.,
Dear Mystery Boss,
Right off the bat, I hate ass kissers! Makes me sick! Ive worked as
a trucker in a large meat packing plant for five years. I like my job, and
I dont have too many complaints. However I do see other employees
ass-kissing the owner at every turn. Boss seems to enjoy it, and Ive
noticed that they do get better hours and routes than I do. Hey, Im
no idiot. I dont want to be left in the dust here, and I sure the hell
dont want to make my boss angry, but isnt there a better way
to get her to throw some favors my way without putting on the knee-pads and
Yes. However, firstly I must say that perhaps what you think is giving
others favors over you could be your imagination. Our shipping Foreman
is accused of that all the time, and most of the time his decisions
are based solely on the dart board approach... that is, he just
slots times and routes with drivers as their names come to him, or appear
on his list.
However, to say we dont have favorite employees would be a vast lie.
I know you dont want to put on the knee-pads as you say...
so may I make a suggestion. Rather than telling the boss how good they look,
or what a nice dress theyre wearing, etc., simply have a warm smile,
a nice sense of humor, and be easy to be around. Theres nothing a boss
likes better than a good hard worker who seems to be after nothing more than
their hard earned paycheck, and seems to enjoy their work. I have several
employees who I like hanging around, simply because they make
me laugh, and take the stress of the job away for a few minutes. I cant
tell you how much that impresses me to have workers like that.
Lets face it, we know that every worker would like to get ahead, or
make more money. So theres no reason to make that so obvious. Maybe
it's my having been raised on Eddie Haskell, but to me, most chronic
"suck-ups" are only trying to conceal the fact that they're just not doing
To put it bluntly: we like to help those we like. So make yourself likable
and easy to be around and youll be surprised how the opportunities
will open up to you!
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