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What I Learned From the Worst Manager I've Ever Had

A wise old sage once said, “People don’t quit companies, they quit managers.” This is perhaps one of the most truthful sayings about the workplace. Working with someone you fantasize about throwing in front of a train makes your life miserable but working for a manager that elicits the same feelings can be the stuff of nightmares!

I worked under a manager whose racist microaggressions towards me completely broke down the employer/employee relationship but this also taught the value of knowing my worth as a black woman in the workplace.

To start at the beginning of this story, I began working for this company after being laid off. So, to be honest, I primarily took the position because I needed the money. Right from the start, there were several red flags that I should have recognized. It was clear this place had problems, from the off-putting attitude from the HR manager to the fact I was the ONLY black woman in the entire building! Within weeks, I realized I made a terrible mistake. Nothing was in sync and it all made my time there exhausting and stressful, to the blame of the office culture, the workload, and even the leadership.

Still needing the job to keep my health insurance to pay for a major medical surgery, I endured the best way I knew how: by giving more to prove myself. The possibility for work-life balance was now out the window. I even tried to appeal to my coworkers and keep an at least cordial relationship with the HR manager.

All of this forced professional politeness went to hell in December 2017, in what I now call “email-gate.” To make a long story short, it started with our HR specialist who worked closely with shop floor employees on things such as payroll and benefits. Communication was lacking when she left the office for an extended Christmas break without clearly communicating this with the team at all. I’m talking no out of office, no notices on her desk, no reminder email, nothing. So, when employees came to the HR office, I helped the best I could, but without her, not much could be done.

Perhaps in mild frustration, I emailed the HR specialist:

“Hello, moving forward could you please send an email when you are going to be out of the office for an extended period. There were several people who stopped waiting to talk with you.”

I sent that email and left for my Christmas Vacation thinking that was it.

It was not!

The HR specialist replied to me but decided to CC the HR manager to make her aware of what was a minor situation. The old CC trick is a passive aggressive move that is sure not to win you any friends at work, and for her, a very telling decision.

To make things worse, the HR manager upon reading the exchange, responded by emailing me to accuse me of being out of line and rude all the while comparing me to the other coworkers in the office she felt did perform well. Such a harsh reaction wasn’t surprising as black women are often accused of stepping out of line when our white coworkers feel threaten.

Upon reading her email I realized, she had meant to send it to the HR Director, but as fate would have it, she sent it to me by mistake. You’d think this would have been easy to realize considering I was being addressed in the third person.

To say I was shocked and appalled would be a gross understatement. I responded with a level of professionalism that I couldn’t believe I was able to muster. This so-called manager took a minor situation, one that could have resolved by me and the HR specialist, inserted herself, and made it personal.

Of course, upon realizing her mistake and reading my response she apologized but the damage was done and things quickly snowballed from there. And yes, I still have those emails.

After that, I prayed to the ancestors for strength as I endured more microaggressions and personal attacks from this manager. This included her questioning my work, speaking down to me, and flat out coming to my office making veiled threats after I decided to call attention to my treatment.

I submitted my notice after that one, but another incident is a favorite of mine; she accused me of taking time off without having it approved it. Now, she was the manager, so she could have simply logged into the system, saw the request and her approval, and let it go. However, she must have thought if I couldn’t prove it, then she could delete the request on her end and accuse me of taking unauthorized time off.

BUT given that I didn’t trust this woman, I had already taken a screenshot of the request and her approval, weeks ago. I simply emailed her a copy of the screenshot and waited for her response.

Her response was a joyless, “Ok, thanks.” She was pissed. I foiled her attempts to embarrass and discredit me.

Shortly after that, I quit. On my last day, as I walked towards my car to head home, I felt a mental and physical transformation starting to take place. What was fully forming was my philosophy about black women to unapologetically center ourselves and the respect we deserve when it comes to our careers

The experience, although brutal, taught me several valuable lessons:

  1. Do your research before joining any company, who is working there and who isn’t.

  2. Pay attention to your surroundings! It should have been a MAJOR RED flag when I noticed I was the only black woman in the ENTIRE office.

  3. Trust your instincts! If something feels off or you’re uncomfortable, that’s because there’s a reason behind it.

  4. Keep receipts! I can’t say this enough. Keep documentation of everything and stick to email exchanges!

  5. Save your $$$! Keep an emergency “quit your job” fund. I was able to walk away because I had $$$ in the bank to hold me over until I found another job.

  6. Always interview! I make it a point to constantly network and interview for jobs because you never know what might be around the corner and what worse things may come at your current job.

In all, as in any relationship, if you think you see a red flag, trust it is a red flag! Walk, run, fly, or even moonwalk yourself out of here as fast as you can! Your happiness and self-worth are more than just a paycheck.

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