Climb the Ladder

Work Horror Stories

What's spookier than a bad job?

Spooky season is here, and as we decorate for Halloween and watch scary movies, let’s not forget the scariest situation in everyday life: being stuck in a horrible job

We asked and you answered. Here are the Mediabistro community’s top work horror stories.

“I was hired by a nonprofit that wanted me to fill five roles into one position: digital marketer, graphic designer, content editor, social media expert, sales person. And the boss acted like the character in The Devil Wears Prada.”


“The owner of a company I worked for several years ago was just plain scary. Moody, micromanaging, and he had his favorite employees who could do no wrong. Everyone else was expendable, even though we were the ones who produced the bulk of the product.

My cubicle was next to his spacious office, so I heard everything. I heard him yell at an employee for being absent the day before. I heard her crying, “My mother-in-law died last night.” When she wanted one of us underlings, instead of calling the individual directly, she would use the interoffice PA, which was very disturbing, jarring and distracting to those of us who did most of the work via phone interviews.”


“I was pressured to fill in for one of my supervisors during their parental leave. Without backup (I’m usually back up to this position), I worked a very busy period that included 32 days without break (including weekends) and two back-to-back 80-hour weeks. None of which is legal. When I told higher-ups, they were mildly sympathetic but didn’t bat an eye about the hours. When my supervisor returned, I was tossed back to my original job without ceremony — no promotion or raise. In fact, I wasn’t permitted to take a couple of days off in between because things were busy and they needed me to jump right back to it.”


“I was intensely recruited for a role and made it to the final round of interviews only to then be ghosted by the company. I realized I didn’t get the job because I never heard from them again.”


“I was working as a commissioned salesman at a pool, spa and billiard store and took it upon myself to take charge of organizing and ordering the billed accessories because I thought it would increase sales. It did, and the owner made me assistant manager of the store. That task involved some more paperwork, which included reconciling the hot tub inventory versus those sold. One day we sold one for cash (about $3,000), but I couldn’t find the paperwork. Shortly afterward, the owner’s brother was showing off a $25,000 engagement ring he had purchased. I observed that every spa sold for cash was getting the same treatment. I then told the owner that the new position was distracting me and I would rather go back to my sales position (and avoid complicity in their embezzling). I soon returned to school to study another field.”


“87% turnover in 6 months. The stats say it all.”


“Around this time last year, I was catfished by my (former) executive editor and his business partners to join their ‘growing’ local, digital newspaper in my hometown, per relations with a shared (ex) acquaintance. He’s well-known in my community and I was initially drawn by his passion for serving residents, so I saw it as an opportunity to position myself as a reporter in a grassroots newsroom.

Fast-forward a few months, my editor (who later admitted he didn’t really care about journalism and only wanted to grow his business) promoted me to managing editor. Considering my credentials, I accepted, as I had already been working with other freelance reporters on editing.

But things got weird real quick after that when he began trying to dump random tasks and requests my way and abruptly made changes to my pay, all in violation of my *updated* contract. Among other noticeable red flags, he dragged his feet at implementing mentoring resources (this was one of my stipulations up front), appeared to care little about basic journalistic ethics, and I later learned he had joined one of his business partners in verbally harassing two former freelancers.

I’m now long gone from that position and company, but still I believe his ‘newspaper endeavor’ serves as only to masquerade his manipulative character and not as the hub for reliable, local reporting I once believed. I’m horrified at my naivety, and it was a hard lesson learned at the time, but I’m grateful it happened when it did. I understand my power and worth as a writer so much more now because of it.”


“I worked for a publishing company that did not have higher-up leadership whatsoever. Once the pandemic hit and we began working remotely, my boss began to emotionally manipulate me and verbally harass me via Zoom. I went to HR about it every week and they didn’t take it seriously enough until I left and she was eventually fired about a year after it started happening.”


Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get our best career advice and job search tips.


Climb the Ladder, Skills & Expertise