I can easily remember my most horrible boss, and how much he negatively impacted my life. As I’m sure you can imagine, even if you don’t have first-hand experience, it’s extremely hard to work for someone you hate, even if you love what you’re doing.
Well, I survived, and I’m happy to report that I learned some valuable lessons from the experience. Not only did I learn not to take things personally, that it’s OK to question authority, and that asking for what I want is worth a shot, I also learned to appreciate plenty of other things you might be tempted to take for granted.
1. Real Lunch Breaks
In my old job, the culture dictated that you ate at your desk (just like the boss!), and if I forgot my lunch, well, that’s when I survived on a sleeve of crackers sitting in my drawer. I couldn’t risk leaving to grab food, for fear of returning to an overflowing inbox, and possibly a few missed calls (not to mention my supervisor’s glares).
But that was then. Now, I have every reason to be grateful for many regular lunch breaks, taken away from my desk. Instead of griping about a last-minute meeting with someone during the time I typically eat, I remember the days when I was afraid to duck out for even a 15-minute break and remind myself to appreciate the time I usually have.
2. Permission to Make Appointments During the Day
Scheduling a doctor appointment mid-morning and being absent from work for an hour or more is not something I’d have considered attempting with my old clock-watching boss. Even some decent managers make it hard for people to take care of personal matters during stated business hours.
My current organization, however, understands that sometimes you’ll have to deal with these things during the week when you’re otherwise expected to be in the office. The fact that I’ve got the supervisor’s green light to attend these appointments without being forced to use a vacation day is cause for applause.
3. Happy Co-workers
Obvious but true: A bad boss affects the whole team. When I work for a good leader, I’m surrounded by productive, content co-workers, and I can focus on the job in front of me rather than waste time commiserating about how much I hate my boss. Venting can be cathartic, but if it’s all I ever do, it can take a toll.
Even neutral colleagues make a better work environment than ones who just complain—so while I may not be BFFs with my whole team, I’ve got to admit it’s nice being surrounded by people who aren’t living in fear of upper management.
The first week after starting a new job, my boss thanked me for my work at the end of the day. I laughed in spite of myself. I thought he was kidding—all I’d accomplished was routine report writing and manning the phone. I was more used to criticism than praise in my old position. My new manager believed in expressing gratitude for his employees’ hard work, and I quickly learned to be grateful for it.
I may not be thanked each and every time that I check an item off my to-do list, but I don’t forget to embrace it when it happens. It keeps me motivated.
5. Work-Life Balance
Back when I worked for that horrible boss, I found myself constantly checking for missed calls or emails hours after I’d left the office. My situation was so bad that I had dreams where I woke up groping for my phone, convinced that I’d forgotten to answer an important email that would give my boss reason to chew me out—again.
My current job—dream gig or not—affords me the luxury of not being attached to my inbox and voicemail at all hours of the day, and that’s a valuable perk. My out-of-office time is respected—it’s wonderful.
6. Room to Be Wrong
Working in a healthy environment means room to grow—by experimenting and making mistakes. When I was walking on a tightrope over the fire of my boss’ wrath, I was afraid to take chances, which rules out exercising my creative side more often than not.
How can I possibly think outside the box when my supervisor’s breathing down my neck on rewriting the report so that it follows the exact template he laid out for me. Talk about stunted growth.
Now that I’m at ease tossing around ideas and trying different methods of executing old processes, it’s great! I’m empowered by my boss to brainstorm new ideas, and I’ve got some autonomy—something definitely worth celebrating.
Driving to work one morning (early, might I add), I hit a bad patch of traffic due to an accident in front of me. I was so terrified that my boss would think I was lying about my (impending) tardiness that I whipped out my phone to take a picture so that he would know I was telling the truth.
After working in an environment where all my decisions were questioned, and maybe even my integrity itself, reporting to someone who trusts me is nothing to sneeze at.
So, while my manager may not trust me with his most senior account just yet, at least now I can send an email without looking over my shoulder to see if he’s watching me type it.
Memories do fade over time, even ones that involve horrible bosses. So, if I find myself annoyed because of an assignment that doesn’t thrill me, a co-worker who slacks off, or a CEO who’s never around, I take a second to remind myself of the many things I have to be grateful for. Silly as it may sound, I for one, don’t take lunch for granted.
Photo of man at desk courtesy of Michael H/Getty Images