The lesser of two evils is still evil. And no, this is not a political post. This is about various levels of mistreatment and how the least awful can easily be mistaken for appropriate behavior by comparison.
I’ve had more than my fair share of jobs, partially because I often work more than one at a time (sometimes, more than two) and partially because I have a heightened sense of self-preservation and No Problem with job-hopping if it serves my sanity. Because of this, I’ve seen a colorful assortment of work environments and corporate cultures.
What I can tell you for sure is that:
1 There’s always one nutjob in every workplace
2 There’s always someone who’s been promoted who should not have been
3 There are more barely functional adults in the modern American workplace than you could possibly imagine
4 When trapped in the monkey house, you adapt or you suffer.
My last full-time employer was a company held together by ideological duct-tape and routine, the leader of which was a irrelevant megalomaniac whose occasional presence in his giant office often left hand prints in the dust that accumulated on his desk. His vice president only spoke to others when he couldn’t get his computer to work and spent most of his time “working from home” writing grants that he was never awarded. The next two leadership positions were held by women who busted their asses every day to no avail whatsoever and who eventually gave up trying, came to work to collect a paycheck, and played their fiddles while Rome burned.
The training I received from the human resources rep on a complicated procedure came down to her repeating how copy/paste works and why that makes everything easier than typing it out every time. And the president once said to me, after I had edited and formatted his PowerPoint presentation, “I tried to make it so simple that even you could understand it.” And not maliciously, mind you. He actually expected me to giggle and agree. He was surprised when I stared and squinted instead.
The professional development manager, by contrast, seemed like an OK dude. He deferred to me on matters I understood more than him, asked for help instead of demanding it, thanked and complimented me when I accomplished an important task, and talked to me like a goddamn human.
Until… I told him I was pregnant. He was my supervisor at the time and I had already laid out a working plan for how much time I would need off, how things would work while I was away, and a general timeline of events. His response was, “Oh, okay, well, congratulations, that’s great!” Then he got up from the conference table we had been meeting at, motioned for me to follow him down the hallway, and asked on the way, “So was this planned or not so much?”
Wait, what? Was my pregnancy planned? Is that… um… strictly speaking, an appropriate question… to ask anyone, ever?
“You know, sometimes things happen,” he joked… because he was the good guy… in the office full of… not so great… people. I mean, the smarmy head of research who considered himself so charming he could get away with anything spent a lot of time getting away with staring at his coworkers’ boobs. The scheduling guy who had lost over 120 pounds in the last year often commented to others how easily they could lose their extra weight with just a little effort. The head of that other department I had nothing to do with treated me like his own personal secretary and demanded that I pause all other projects to help him and, while I’m at it, bring him some coffee. Surely, surely the good guy didn’t suggest that I got myself knocked up irresponsibly and was now dealing with the consequences.
OK, no, we’re not actually talking about real evil here. I told you, this isn’t a political post. But it took me several months to figure out why I was so taken aback by Mr. Good Guy’s comment. At the time, I thought it was rather too personal a question to go shouting down an office hallway. It wasn’t at all where I was headed with the conversation (see above, re: plans and timelines). And as a fairly confident employee who is rarely intimidated by workplace authority figures, I was surprised and embarrassed by my stuttering response.
I was so ready to forgive the comment and move on simply because it wasn’t the worst I had heard. But not being the worst doesn’t make it OK. It was ridiculously inappropriate and understandably offensive and I shouldn’t have stood for it at all. Looking back, I’m angry at myself for letting it go.
The lesser evil is still evil. The less horrible behavior is still horrible. And for real, people need lessons in Adulting before they bring their bullcrap to the workplace because this isn’t even remotely the worst workplace horror story I have. It’s just the lesser of the lot.