AWAI Writing Challenge Winning Entry:
A Job No “Temp” Should Have to Do
I used to think the worst job I ever had was my very first job: dusting and vacuuming in a furniture store. Why? I hated cleaning. So, why take a job like that? Money. Pure and simple. Well, for the experience too. After all, when you’re 16, that’s what you do.
Still, it wasn’t my worst job ever.
That distinction came after I graduated from college and moved away from my home in Michigan to live in Florida.
My dream job was to work for a television station, since I had just earned a bachelors’ degree in mass communications. But that big break was still some time away. In the meantime, I had rent to pay, and since I was a pretty fast typist, I signed up with a temporary employment agency to do office work.
The third job I had with this temp agency was a receptionist position for a long distance telephone company. Not Sprint or AT&T. No. This was 1985, and Ma Bell had just broken up. I was being sent to work for a company that sold long distance services to small- and medium-sized businesses.
My responsibilities included answering the phones, making copies, keeping track of office supplies, and typing letters. Not so bad, right? That’s what I thought too, at first.
I soon discovered that my boss was one of those people who could not accept responsibility for making a mistake. Instead, she would blame someone else for her slipups – a sales person, the office manager, or me, the receptionist!
I learned that in order to protect myself from a yelling tirade, I had to keep an extra copy of anything I gave her. Otherwise, she would “lose” it and claim I never gave it to her.
Still, that’s not what made this the worst job ever.
No. What made this the worst job ever was the task my boss assigned me to do one day.
A task that no other boss in her right mind would ever assign a temporary receptionist to do. (At least, I certainly hope so!)
What was the task?
It gives me chills just thinking about it again. All right, maybe I am being a tad melodramatic. After all, it’s been 25 years since this took place.
Let me set the stage, so you can decide.
The boss is in her late 30s, maybe early 40s. She’s a successful sales woman, and has been working hard to build this business. I, on the other hand, am a 22-year-old young woman, fresh out of college, trying to make ends meet. Just the right type of person for a passive-aggressive boss to take advantage of.
It’s Friday. The end of the month. Sales numbers are being reviewed. Budgets are tight. The sales person with the least amount of revenue is going to have to be let go.
So what does my boss do? Does she take the person into her office and give him the bad news?
The boss calls ME into her office. Tells me she’s got to leave early today. And then, lays down the bomb. She wants ME to be the one to fire the sales rep.
I stare at her in disbelief. Did I hear her correctly? She wants me … to fire … Steve? Me???
I’m sure the shock registered on my face, because she insisted that I do it. It’s ok, she says. He’s expecting it anyway. He knows what his numbers are.
Yeah, but … I’m just the receptionist! How is this, my job? Ok, I didn’t say that out loud. I just thought it. I didn’t want to lose my job either. So, what did I say? Well … I was a temp. What could I say?
Looking back now, I could have said no. If this situation had happened to me today, I most definitely would have said no. But back then, I guess she just intimidated me.
At the end of the day, I asked Steve to step into our boss’ office.
I took a big breath, and apologized before breaking the bad news to him. What else could I say? He was a good sport and took it in stride. After all, he knew what the boss was like, and he knew his sales were not up to par. He told me he understood and thanked me for being kind.
I felt like a weight had been taken off my shoulders. But I still felt that weight should never have been there in the first place. I wish I’d had the guts to refuse to do it.
The good news is, I didn’t stay at that job for very long. In fact, the office manager soon quit to take a similar position with another company, and hired me to come along with her!
And about 12 months after that, I got a job at a local television station, where I was happily employed for more than 10 years.
So, what’s the moral to this story?
I’m not sure.
But I would offer this piece of advice: If you’re a receptionist, and your boss wants you to fire someone, start complaining that you feel sick, and plead to go home.
Once you’re there, pull out the classifieds, and start looking for a new job. You’ll feel a lot better about yourself if you do.
The alternative – take up a profession like copywriting, and become your own boss. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
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