My last ‘proper’ job was where I learnt how important systems and processes were to keep you organised and sane. It was the place where I turned the Boss from Hell into a nice cake-buying boss.
I was there as a temp to the assistant company secretary. The Boss from Hell was his boss, the company secretary. It was a multi-national engineering plc and the boss from hell had a PA who had only just started.
There were three of us in a shared office providing the admin support for the Secretariat which encompassed everything from HR, pensions, legal and compliance.
This was what I discovered to be the routine. Every 5 minutes or so, the Boss from Hell would march in our office, up to his new PA and demand a document from her. His new PA would be in a complete flap and be thrown into confusion and panic. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife! The Boss from Hell would stand there, imposing, impatiently tutting, arms folded, frustration etched into his brow. The flappy PA would be frantically searching her piles of files on her desk, umming and erring desperately trying to find the requested document. In the end he would turn around and leave, empty handed, muttering under his breath, slamming the door behind him.
I remember thinking to myself. “What a way to behave! I could never work for him!”
My boss, on the other hand was the complete opposite. He would hand me three or four pieces of hand-written sheets of paper for me to type up, wander down the corridor to the kitchen for a cup of coffee; stop off and chat to a few people on the way and by the time he was back, the letters he had asked me to type up were ready on his desk awaiting his signature.
The second day was like this too. By the third day, the boss said to me as he handed me his letters to be typed up, “this is the day’s work – you need to pace yourself!” I was shocked. It was literally an hour’s work I was meant to stretch out for the whole 8 hours I was there! I was used to turning typing work around as quickly as possible! I offered if there was anything I could relieve Flappy PA of, but she was reluctant to let anything go for fear of being thought inadequate for the job.
A week after the temp stint finished, the agency called me and said that they wanted me back as temp to perm. The new PA hadn’t lasted and was about to be sacked and was I interested in working for the Company Secretary – the Boss from Hell!
I have to admit, that had I another job to go to, then I would have turned them down! There was no way I could work for someone so rude and impatient! However, with no other opportunities to call upon and needing the money, I agreed to give it a go and see how it went.
Well first day…. After the cursory good morning and welcome, it was straight into it. The desk I inherited was piled high with files on every inch. I had to clear a space next to the keyboard for the work I was typing. The Boss from Hell handed me a pile of files with his hand-written notes to by typed up (this was in the days that bosses didn’t have their own computers).
I did what I was used to and whizzed through the work methodically, quickly and accurately as I could. It wasn’t long before the Boss from Hell appeared demanding a particular document that he had given me earlier in the huge pile.
So I pointed to the spot on my desk where I was putting the completed work as I finished it. “Have you done it?” Came the response. “Yes”. “Oh!”. Not the response he was used to. Wind taken out of his sales, he would gingerly pick it up and examine it and take it silently back to his office while reading it.
Five minutes later, he was back again, demanding another document. I would respond in the same way, pointing to the completed document in the same spot on my desk where I would place completed work.
After a couple of days, he stopped demanding work in this way. He just knew to look in the same spot on my desk.
Over the next few weeks, his whole demeanour changed. He stopped making cutting remarks. He started being pleasant. He started wishing everyone good morning in a cheerful manner.
The change was so noticeable, that one day the Finance Director approached me and asked in a quiet voice “What have you done to Robin?”. Worried I had done something wrong, I asked him what he meant. “Well, he’s become a lot more calmer and pleasant to be around!”
So that’s when I twigged what was going on.
The Boss from Hell was not being supported by an organised PA. His workload was immense. There were no systems in place to prioritise or find things. Because there was always an urgency, work wasn’t being done well, so it meant that it was taking much longer to get documents turned around. The work that was a priority to the Boss from Hell wasn’t being done, so he was left feeling stressed and unsupported and that was why he was grumpy and unpleasant to be around.
After a few weeks of my magic touch of speed, accuracy, focus, attention to detail and being organised, his workload was easing. He was achieving more and that made him feel happy.
Within a year, the Boss from Hell would bring cakes and treats in. Sometimes he would send me out with the CEO’s chauffeur to Valerie’s, a very fine patisserie in Covent Garden, to buy doughnuts for all the staff.
Having thought I could never work for this Boss from Hell, I was there for 10 years, with the same boss and he was actually the nicest boss I ever worked for.