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5 S'poreans On Working For Bosses From Hell - "He Cut My Salary By $1,000 Because He Felt Like It"

“If your boss says things in a passive aggressive manner like ‘If you screw up, I’ll chop you up and feed you to the hyenas’ to you, it’s worth reporting to HR or MOM right?”

Just last month, a close friend of mine posed this question to me – in response to yet another incident with his ‘boss from hell’.

As infuriated as I was on his behalf, I had no solution to give him.

While telling HR seems like the most straightforward thing to do, doubts filled my head on how the situation would turn out.

Would HR give him the perfunctory (almost patronising) ‘Record the instance down, and ignore him/her as much as you can’ solution?

Or would HR take the side of the boss, thinking of his complaint as coming from ~another entitled millennial~ from the strawberry generation?

The thing is, even when I interviewed a few Singaporean employees about their own experiences with sexual harassment at work a year back, I realised that most were either “confused”, or just “tahan-ed” it until they left.

Image Credit: Giphy

This helplessness was similar to when I talked to a few contacts about their workplace bullying experiences and their own ‘boss from hell’.

Here are their stories.

Crystal, 20, Media

1. What do you think constitutes workplace harassment/abuse by higher-ups?


I guess abuse and harassment is really clear in MNC, [as it] clearly defines what kind of language is not right. Even commenting on a girl’s looks is a touchy boundary that can land you in trouble with HR.

With SMEs and startups, it’s a bit different. I think there are no clear parameters. It’s a case-by-case scenario.


2. What’s one of the most significant ways that your boss harassed/abused you?

I was looking for a full-time job but my boss insisted that she only took in full timers after a 3-month internship. I was hired to do marketing and writing, where I was promised a pay of $700.

My boss was particularly busy and whenever I finished an article, I had to wait 1-2 weeks before it was ready to be published.

She always had something to pick on.

There was once I was doing this time-sensitive article but while I was waiting for her to give the green light, she realised a few other companies already published the article.

She said it’s because of my incompetence we lost viewership. I checked the published articles, I realised they were live even before I was tasked to write about it.

After the article was published, she talked to me. Something along the lines of, “How do you think we can fix this problem. Like give me a solution.”

And “I agreed to pay you $700 because you said you’d write for me. But this kind of bullshit work is not writing.”

In the end, she cut my pay by $200.

Image Credit: Life & Style Mag

3. How did you feel when it happened?


I cried, haha, but it wasn’t out of a fear for her.

I genuinely felt incompetent, like this entire thing was my fault.


4. Did you talk to anyone about it? What were their reactions?


I took a gap year against my parents’ wishes, so I didn’t dare to tell them about it at first. They only heard when things got worse. Only my boyfriend knew about it.

When everyone found out, they were telling me how crazy she was.

I still felt like it was my fault though. Took me a while to understand how ridiculous everything was.


5. Were colleagues also experiencing the same thing as you? What did they do when confronted with it?


I was her marketing assistant, so while everyone else had to work with her for specific projects, I was the only one who had to spend every day with her.

But everyone was aware of her behaviour.

Whenever I asked for last minute favours, everyone was quick to help because they knew I’d kena if she doesn’t get what she asked for.


6. How did you deal with the situation then?

I honestly thought this was just the working world – that all bosses were kind of like that.

I didn’t think there was anyone I could report to – she was already the top level management and her business partners knew what she was doing.

Everyone was already encouraging me to quit. I think because it was my first job, I stubbornly wanted to prove that I could do it. I was also afraid of her.


7. Do you think workplace harassment by bosses is common? 


Now that I’ve left the place, I think most bosses are quite nurturing.


8. What do you think is the general sentiment Singaporeans have about abusive bosses and such situations?

I doubt anyone would want to report anything. We’re quite passive.

They’d think, “I’d rather just leave the place than to subject myself to an investigation.”

My boss was already so terrible when I was working for her, if I decide to fight against her, I might never work in that industry again.


9. Do you think there’s a need for more education about what constitutes workplace harassment, and what are some ways that this can be done?

I think when students from polytechnic or universities go for an internship, the school acts as a moderator. 

Maybe the school can talk more about work culture and fair treatment before sending them for an internship so we’re more prepared.

Aaron, 27, Retail

1. What do you think constitutes workplace harassment/abuse by higher-ups?

In my case, it was rather special.

My higher-up had this ego problem where he places himself above the rest. I think his lack of understanding of the Asian culture and lack of compassion also led to his abuse.

2. What’s one of the most significant ways that your boss harassed/abused you?

There are a few cases, and they weren’t just experienced by me.

For example, my intern was made to report for work despite running a high fever.

The ops team worked 7 days a week to settle his deliveries. I was made to do operations despite marketing numbers being my KPI. With that, I could only get down to do my marketing stuff after all the deliveries were done for the day, which was at 6pm.

He’s also an extreme case of a micro-manager.

I once had to send a delivery to a cafe and then take pictures of the effort. He followed me on a cab and sat down at the cafe while watching me do my work. He went on to speak poorly of how lousy my marketing idea was.

Image Credit: Social Talent

I realised that he adopted my ideas after I left. Crazy.

He also promised me a certain amount of salary, he cut it back by $1,000 just cause he felt like it.

3. How did you feel when it happened?

I was new to the startup sector initially, and I thought that it was normal to have such workload. But everyday was a drag even after 4 months, and I realised I had little time for my family.

The biggest challenge was feeling so pissed with your founder, but still trying your best to help him grow his company.

4. Did you talk to anyone about it? What were their reactions?

Most of the time, the Head of Ops and myself will talk about these incidents among ourselves since we spent most of our time together.

5. Were colleagues also experiencing the same thing as you? What did they do when confronted with it?

Totally.

There were complaints from the schools that sent their interns and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) was involved when we realised he did not pay us our CPF.

6. How did you deal with the situation then?

There came a time when I woke up feeling that I had enough – I left the company with an SMS.

I also realised that my CPF wasn’t contributed by the boss, and I had to text the founder to demand for it. I was so close to submitting my case to MOM, but I didn’t.

My colleague did.

7. Do you think workplace harassment by bosses is common?

I think it is pretty common.

Singaporeans are a unique bunch where they can take long hours of work and prefer to suffer in silence until their breaking point.

Thus, most bosses think they have the right to do whatever they want, or think that they are doing fine, since the unhappiness wasn’t communicated to them.

Image Credit: Giphy

8. What do you think is the general sentiment Singaporeans have about abusive bosses and such situations?

Mostly will deal with it. At most, they leave the company.

Summer, 26, e-Commerce and Retail

1. What do you think constitutes workplace harassment/abuse by higher-ups?

I think when you’ve been insulted by a manager, and your bosses know that it’s happening but they let it happen anyway. And when they know they have the power to stop workplace bullying but they don’t do it.

Another way I think is when they ‘make up’ to you for working overtime by treating you to food and not with proper remuneration.

2. What’s one of the most significant ways that your boss harassed/abused you?

At one point, I was singled out during a Whatsapp group chat conversation about punctuality and was taunted by my manager.

It was all casual until she told everyone how I’m supposed to owe the entire office a treat at the end of the month because I was late a few times. But there were at least 3 other colleagues who were later or were late more times than me.

My manager would also scold me in front of my colleagues when it wasn’t even a mistake I made.

One time, a colleague of mine had a late night and told my manager she couldn’t come in for work only in the morning. It wasn’t my shift in the first place but my manager told me to cover her for the first 2 hours.

I forgot to bring the keys to open the shop so I had to rush home to get them, but I was running late. I had apologised countless times, but she was still pissed.

3. How did you feel when it happened?

Angry and helpless.

I considered letting my bosses know but I knew that they would stand on her side because she was one of the first few employees that stuck around with them since they started up.

4. Did you talk to anyone about it? What were their reactions?

I talked to a friend who introduced me to the job, and she said, “Oh, you know her, she’s like that. Just do what she tells you and try not to annoy her anymore.”

She basically condoned her behaviour because she’s on good terms with her, and didn’t want to get on her bad side.

We’re no longer friends, by the way.

Image Credit: Giphy

I have actually texted my boss at least twice about my manager’s behaviour and he said he’ll speak to her. No updates on whether he actually did, and there was no improvement on her behaviour.

5. Were colleagues also experiencing the same thing as you? What did they do when confronted with it?

No, colleagues at the time I was employed had not experienced the same thing as I did.

I only heard stories about how the intern before me had suffered the same fate, then quit because of my manager’s bad attitude.

6. How did you deal with the situation then?

At first I internalised it, then realised that she was really just picking on me and not on anybody else in the department. So, I sounded people out to hear what they think of my situation.

No one encouraged me to report it. Perhaps they thought that a startup run by young people is supposed to be fun, and by getting on the superiors’ good side means you’re a good worker.

7. Do you think workplace harassment by bosses is common?

I think it’s common because they knew that they can get away with it, or they don’t see the harm in doing it because it ultimately benefits them.

For example, they get to leave work on time because their work is being done by their subordinates, or when someone from their department gets picked on by other department heads, they shrug it off thinking it’s that subordinate’s responsibility and not their ability to lead.

So, they ‘bond’ with the other dept heads to gang up on that subordinate.

8. What do you think is the general sentiment Singaporeans have about abusive bosses and such situations?

As the working force is made up of more Baby Boomers than millennials, I think it’s more of the former sentiment. Singaporeans tend to keep it to themselves when it happens.

They fear being ostracised by colleagues, they worry about losing their job, and they’re afraid of landing themselves into ‘more trouble’, that is, offending their bosses/managers even more.

I think some might even think it’s better that they victimise themselves so others might one day, stand up for them and portray the boss as the ‘evil’ one.

9. Do you think there’s a need for more education about what constitutes workplace harassment, and what are some ways that this can be done?

Yes, there is a lot of room for education on this matter.

A proper HR system has to be in place, or at least a firm set of guidelines needs to be enforced and adhered to. This requires that there is someone qualified to audit in the company, and also a very cohesive company culture.

The government could also be more active in this area, by providing a more easily accessed channel.

Instead of telling bosses they need to be fair (like in the TAFEP advertisement), there should be more awareness on how employees can report this matter to their HR or to TAFEP/MOM if there’s no other way.

Germaine, 25, Events

1. What do you think constitutes workplace harassment/abuse by higher-ups?

Using their authority to making you do things that you otherwise shouldn’t or wouldn’t be doing.

It could be not your job scope, or it could be not logically, mentally, spiritually right. It could also be something that goes against your personal morals.

2. What’s one of the most significant ways that your boss harassed/abused you?

First of all –  gaslighting. They used my passion for the job against me.

Because I had no specific background in that industry, plus I was super eager to learn, improve, and prove my worth, I was keen to take on big roles and yet get paid peanuts to do everything.

Bosses would call us (sales team) in and lecture us on every single little thing.

Whenever any mistake was made, it is ALWAYS your fault. They ingrained in us, through multiple lectures and repeatedly emphasising that we must take ownership for mistakes.

Image Credit: Social Talent

One significant incident that solidified my decision to quit: my senior salesperson+bosses collective advice was to apologise to our audio company vendor’s boss cause one of their speakers blew during my event and offer to pay damages with my own money.

I called the boss and did exactly that.

But after that my big boss ended up scolding me for doing that – which was their advice from the start. Apparently, he didn’t want me to offer to pay willingly.

He had wanted for me to apologise and then ask the vendor’s boss why their speaker blew.

It doesn’t make sense because it’s akin to me loaning your laptop and then returning it to you with a dead laptop and asking you, “Eh why your laptop die?”

But naturally, it’s still my event, my ownership, so my fault. I pay.

Big Boss would also expect us to clean up after his shit. He would underquote clients, close the deal, and throw it to us to deal with his under-budgeted quote.

Salespeople would have to go and find our own way to beg vendors or cut corners so that we won’t spend over the project budget, otherwise, be prepared to pay from our own pockets.

We were fined 50 cents or $1 every time we spoke in Chinese – they were trying to implement Speak Good English campaign so we can speak better in front of clients.

Lastly, Boss implemented a new system where all full-time salespeople had to pay for the monthly ‘Car Fund’ to fund the car washing for our company car.

Their alternative was for us to stay back after work every week to wash the 1 car and 1 van.

We ended up paying every month.

Boss’s reason was – it’s a blessing/luxury that you all got car to use. Company already paying for the car, the petrol, and the insurance, so you all should contribute.

3. How did you feel when it happened?

Depressed. I cried so many times in office, on the way home, during event, at home.

I felt like no matter what I did or how much I try, it is never right, never enough. I also felt like I was becoming more and more angsty and impatient, I would snap very easily.

4. Did you talk to anyone about it? What were their reactions?

Ranted to my boyfriend a lot, and shared a bit with my parents and friends too. All of them told me to quit because it’s not worth it – they could see that I was slaving my life away.

All of them kept telling me to report bosses to MOM even. They all hate my bosses now and see them as monsters who only cared about money.

5. Were colleagues also experiencing the same thing as you? What did they do when confronted with it?

Yes!

One example – there was this salesperson who joined on probation. During his probation, he had to attend ALL events, and he did not get any time off/OT pay at all.

So, he was working until like 10, 11+pm, and burning his Saturdays and Sundays away even though he should technically be working only 5.5 days.

Bosses’ reasoning to exploiting him – If he can tahan this steep learning curve, he will be able to tahan the stresses of being a full-time sales person after passing probation.

He quit.

6. How did you deal with the situation then?

At the beginning I always just accepted things as learning experiences. I was a noob and really wanted to improve.

Image Credit: Giphy

Nearing the end, I just saw how money-minded the bosses were and how they will never understand the true meaning of valuing your staff.

There were a lot of things they did that I hated and I really thought of reporting them.

But I also appreciated the opportunities they gave me and they did teach me a lot of things.

I also knew how the company was really their blood, sweat, and tears, so I couldn’t bring myself to report them.

7. Do you think workplace harassment by bosses is common?

Yes. Basing it off my own impression only, I feel like it’s common especially with private companies with older local bosses.

Maybe because it’s a lot harder to start your own companies back then, so they have a lot to lose if the company goes down, so they would do anything to keep their company alive?

It’s like a “you gotta do what you gotta do”.

8. What do you think is the general sentiment Singaporeans have about abusive bosses and such situations?

I think a lot of Singaporeans will just complain among their own circles and leave the abusive workplace eventually.

Most of us would rather not be the whistleblower because we’re scared.

We’d also rather avoid and leave ‘on a good note’ than burn bridges because Singapore’s so small and networks are important.

9. Do you think there’s a need for more education about what constitutes workplace harassment, and what are some ways that this can be done?

Yes. I think it’s very difficult to tell if you’re being harassed at work or treated unfairly, and many times only when you are out of the s**thole.

I think a clear list of examples would help, or like a #MeToo campaign of sorts, but for horrible workplaces/colleagues/bosses, encouraged by the authorities.

Priscilla, 28, Marketing

1. What do you think constitutes workplace harassment/abuse by higher-ups?

It’s using power to subjugate someone from a lower position.

And this can manifest in a spectrum of behaviours – verbal, physical, sexual, and so on.

2. What’s one of the most significant ways that your boss harassed/abused you?

I‘m not sure whether it’s harassment.

But my boss was manipulative in the sense that he expects people to not leave before he does (sometimes it’s until 1, 2am) even though you have finished your work, and he would also be very critical of everything that we do but also not give us the resources to do it.

3. How did you feel when it happened?

Just shitty. Like I couldn’t do anything about it nor truly voice out my opinion.

I also had a culture shock, partly because nobody in the office or higher management would actually say anything contrary to him.

4. Did you talk to anyone about it? What were their reactions?

I tried to speak to my colleagues about it and they just think that it’s his personality.

I tried to speak to my other bosses, but they were just sympathetic but wouldn’t do anything about it.

5. Were colleagues also experiencing the same thing as you? What did they do when confronted with it?

Some had it worse especially if they did try to voice contrarian opinions to his. He would start a blaming parade on those who dared to voice a contrarian opinion.

Image Credit: Tenor

They usually just quit shortly after.

6. How did you deal with the situation then?

I knew I had only one choice which was to quit. Prior working experience helped keep my sanity in check.

If I stayed longer, I really felt like I would’ve been manipulated or brainwashed to the point that I wouldn’t quit.

7. Do you think workplace harassment by bosses is common? 

I think it’s probably more common than we think, but with varying levels of degree.

Mine wasn’t explicitly abusive but was mentally and emotionally abusive. It was also having to deal with the unnecessary politics and feeling oppressed.

8. What do you think is the general sentiment Singaporeans have about abusive bosses and such situations?

Usually they’ll just deal with it.

If it’s something they can tolerate, they’ll usually just let it out to their friends. If they can’t, they’ll probably just quit.

9. Do you think there’s a need for more education about what constitutes workplace harassment, and what are some ways that this can be done?

I think there’s a need.

There’s a lot of grey areas on what constitutes workplace abuse.

If my boss makes me stay past 2am for nothing just because he can, does that constitute to workplace abuse? Questions like that.

Educational videos, hotlines for the sensitive cases, outreach programmes will definitely help to increase awareness.

We Need To Start Identifying Clearly What Constitutes Workplace Abuse

As mentioned by most of the respondents, there’s definitely a need for employees to be better informed about what constitutes abusive behaviour AND have the option to ‘whistleblow’ without fear of implications.

Image Credit: Giphy

Many are still very timid when it comes to confronting undesirable and unfair work conditions, and while tahan-ing it out is the path of least resistance, this only reinforces bad behaviour by bosses and a toxic work culture.

Do you have any workplace bullying stories of your own to share? Do let us know!

But for now, you can check out MOM’s recommendations on what to do if you feel like you’re being subject to workplace harassment.

 

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