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Last week, my boss tore me a new one. Nothing could have prepared me for the verbal shellacking I had to endure, which was by far worse than any childhood lecture or ex-girlfriend rant. I was terrified. It was completely out of the blue, and the worst part was that I was actually at fault. So far, I’ve been able to dominate the corporate world and climb my way up the professional ladder, unscathed by showing up early, asking pertinent questions, and completing all tasks slightly early with moderate effort. What happened to me could have happened to just about anyone, which is probably the scariest thought of all.
Last Monday morning, my boss assigned me a 2014 Yearly Earnings Report covering our West Coast sales, to be done by the end of the week. It sounded pretty intense, but all I had to do was call our California and Colorado branches, get someone to email me their monthly income statements, and create trending graphs for each branch (a strongly motivated middle schooler could do my job). To be perfectly honest, I’m still not sure why this information isn’t tracked already, but I’m not being paid to question those decisions. Without drowning the reader in buzz words, I basically had a solid 90 minutes of actual work to complete in a week’s worth of time.
Immediately applying my college degree, I hopped on the phone, accumulated all the info needed, and knocked out the first quarter of the report. As always, I sent a quick “clarification” email to my supervisor, locking in the graph formatting and aesthetics right off the bat, and by Monday afternoon, I was sitting pretty with a week full of garbage time. Standard procedure from here is to take it easy the rest of Monday, completely chill Tuesday, and knock out the remaining 60 minutes of work Wednesday after lunch. Then I’d wait a minimum of 30 minutes after my boss had gone home, and I’d drop him an email attached with my completed progress Wednesday night. He’d slice up whatever formatting he agreed to earlier in the week on Thursday morning, I’d redo it, and said Yearly Earning Report would be complete by close of business Thursday. This paragraph is literally how I have done my job up until last week: ask questions, slack off, finish tasks early.
It all started late Tuesday afternoon, I had successfully killed an entire work day by reading PGP, LinkedIn creeping, and streaming HuluPlus through my headphones. I hadn’t touched the Yearly Earnings Report since my boss replied to Monday’s email, even though it was up on my screen the entire day. I was just kicking around the idea of checking for my boss’s car in the parking lot, when out of nowhere, I heard an urgent knock from behind me, which immediately brought up alarm bells ringing in my brain.
“Can I see how far you’ve gotten on the YER?”
I didn’t say that out loud, but I don’t think it would have mattered at that point. I was caught flat-footed, with documented proof of me not working; he had me dead in the water. While I don’t have the transcript of what happened next (in full earshot of a half-dozen coworkers, no less) I can promise you that my professional life flashed before my eyes. Here are some things to keep in mind if you ever incur the full wrath of your superior:
- Recognize the red flags. It will at least help you brace yourself for whatever happens next and give you microscopic amounts of extra time to brace yourself. My boss always summons me to his office when he wants to talk, so the second I heard the unfamiliar carpet scuffles of his hurried walk on the way to my cube, I knew something was way off.
- Regain your composure as soon as possible. I have no idea how wide my mouth was open when he asked to see my progress: total shock. Get your game face back pronto. Maintain eye contact, make sure your shoulders are back, and keep your face as composed as possible. It’s harder to cower that way.
- Don’t try to butt in a response. It can be really tempting to craft your reply while the axe is still falling, but when phrases like “there’s the door” and “I’ll have payroll cut your last check right now” start getting thrown around, just shut up and take it all until he’s finished.
- Have an excuse ready. It needs to be big, believable, and if possible, just a one-time thing. I said something along the lines of, “My mom called this morning, and it looks like my grandpa’s cancer is back.” Despicable? You be the judge after your boss eases up a little bit. You’re on your own if he demands proof, but I don’t think he legally can do that.
- Do not use apology clichés. You are not a professional athlete giving a press conference. “I take full responsibility” and “there’s no excuse” are great SportsCenter sound bites, but they come off ridiculous in real life, corporate America.
- Your future production is your apology. Sincerely apologize once with your words and say you’ve learned your lesson, but you better be prepared to cancel happy hour plans until this one blows over. Jack yourself up on Red Bull and get to work like the whips of hell are at your back.
- Don’t look to your coworkers for sympathy. If you work in an office like mine, half of your coworkers are secretly tickled that you landed yourself in the doghouse.
- See your boss one-on-one within the week. Just drop by (after you have finished the offending task) and thank him for the wakeup call. I’m aware that this is major ass-kissing, but if done correctly, it can completely smooth over any rough patch and build an even stronger foundation with your boss moving forward. Nobody gets to the top without kissing a little ass.
As harrowing as my ass-chewing was, this story has a happy ending. The higher-ups were so impressed with my report, that my job description has now been altered to include “monthly updates to Yearly Earnings Report.” My may rate and title stayed the same, but since then, my boss has started high-fiving me as he comes in every morning. I know, my life is basically a movie..