Work. You can either conquer it, or let it conquer you. Amirite? Don't let it conquer you. Conquer it. Yes. Conquering it is preferable. Having survived four full years at Gawker Media—eight-time winner of Forbes Magazine's prestigious "Most Unstable Workplace" award—I have picked up some prudent methods of survival. Don't just work—flourish™.
A boss holds power over you. The power to control your salary. The power to fire you at whim. The power to make your days a living hell, should he so choose. It does not matter whether you think your boss is a god damn fucking idiot or a great fella (or, in some theoretical world, woman). Your boss must be dealt with, one way or another. Each boss is a special flower. Cultivate them lovingly.
- The Maniacal Boss
Characteristics: Driven; possessed of a firm vision of what is right and wrong, which may change due to invisible messages received only by him; brilliant but mercurial; sociopathic.
Best strategy for working with him: Keep your head down. Do your work and remain silent. Ask friends in his social circle to approach him at parties and lavishly compliment your work. Communicate only through backchannels.
Do not: Vie for his attention. His unpredictable nature means that this could well result in you becoming an unintended target of his wrath. Do not attempt to plot against him. He knows.
Good water cooler talk: "[See boss at water cooler, quickly step into bathroom before he notices you]."
- The Smart Boss
Characteristics: Smart; smarter than you; more knowledgeable about your own job than you are; full of ideas; organized. Whether you like him or not is a completely unrelated issue.
Best strategy for working with him: Vigorous agreement. Because he knows more than you about your own alleged area of expertise, any vocal disagreement on your part could well end with you looking stupid. Because you are, relatively. Just go along with whatever. Cover up the gaps in your own knowledge by speaking only in vague, sweeping, philosophical statements.
Do not: Attempt to defeat him intellectually. You will lose. Any angry outbursts about working conditions on your part should be strictly emotional.
Good water cooler talk: "I went to see monster trucks this weekend, did you? Oh, well never mind then."
- The Hands-Off Boss
Characteristics: Easygoing; distracted; always busy with something unrelated to you. This boss is a blessing, in the sense that he gives you all the freedom you could ever want, and a curse, in the sense that you cannot blame him for your failures. Or can you?
Best strategy for working with him: Blame him for your failures. I mean... if it comes to that. Although the Hands-Off Boss may be popular with independence-minded employees, his own boss would be outraged to hear about the blatant lack of slave-driving. This is a tool that you may wield against him, if necessary. ("Necessary" means "to save your own skin.")
Do not: Get too ambitious. Ironically, although this boss affords you wide opportunity to pursue your own interests, he also ensures that you alone assume the risk of failure. Never allow yourself to fall into a position in which you assume all of the risk of failure yourself. You might fail.
Good water cooler talk: "Everything is under control. Well, I won't keep you any longer."
- The Boss Like You
Characteristics: Acts how you would act if you were to become the boss one day; possesses flaws disconcertingly similar to your own; is "cool." Which is not necessarily a valuable management quality.
Best strategy for working with him: Take advantage. Having a boss like you is an opportunity for you to actually try anything that you ever thought would be a brilliant idea. Whereas past bosses may have shot down your brilliant ideas—or intimidated you into refraining from even airing them—the Boss Like You tends to like exactly the same things you do. The synergy is amazing. The downside is that some of your ideas are, in fact, stupid. Oh well.
Do not: Spend too much time discussing ideas with this boss. The orgy of mutual reinforcement and agreement can raise your self-satisfaction to dangerous levels. Expect to reach both new heights of professional brilliance and new lows of ill-advised disaster under this boss.
Good water cooler talk: "[Female colleague], amirite?"
Unlike bosses, your coworkers do not hold direct power over you. That means you don't have to cater to them as much, or at all. Still, you never know when you might make a great friend or find someone easily manipulated for your own selfish ends. Keep your eyes open.
- Cool Coworkers: These are the coworkers you like. You get along, and whatnot. Maybe you go eat lunch together and gossip about people. Shit like that. Because these people pose no danger to you, they may safely be ignored. If you expect them to quit in solidarity when you are fired, you will be unpleasantly surprised.
- Kiss-Up Coworkers: These are the coworkers who kiss the boss's ass. Ugh. (Not to be confused with you kissing the boss's ass—you have your reasons.) Though you may find these people repulsive, their accrued good will with the boss could come in handy one day, should you get in a tight spot. It's best to make fake friends with them in case of emergency. Just don't invite them to any parties.
- Incompetent Coworkers: Their greatest value is as patsies. They may easily be positioned to take the blame for your own failures. For that, they are useful to have around. Work to make sure that they're not fired, while also subtly ensuring that the boss knows exactly how incompetent they are. Maybe insinuate they're mentally challenged or something. Can't fire the mentally challenged guy. Oh—no, Roger, we were talking about somebody else. How are you bro?
- Enemies: Backstabbers. Foul zealots. Competition. Enemy coworkers can range from former lovers to former lovers' new lovers to stupid jerks who eat all the yogurt to people who are better than you at your job and therefore place you in peril of becoming expendable. Relax. Take a deep breath. Smile. That's it. Never let them know you're thinking about them. That's the key. Then, plot their demise. Plot it all the time. Plotting their demise is far more important than doing your "assigned tasks," because unless you rid the workplace of your enemies, your workplace will forever be a place that you share with your enemies. There is only room for one of you. And you are that one. Not them. Fuck them.
Though it would be nice to anonymously report them all to HR for sexual harassment, one by one by one, that is not realistic. Just bide your time patiently. Wait for your opportunity. And then... hope that they get a job somewhere else (that sucks).
Rid yourself of aspiration. Enjoy your work today. Tomorrow, you may die.
Image by Jim Cooke.