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Bad bosses spur revenge fantasies in life, fiction

| Thursday, June 2, 2011

Revenge might be a dish best served cold, but Candace Jennings says her most vivid plans of getting payback against her obnoxious boss years ago came during smoke breaks.

There was the time she pictured his face on a dart board after he cleared her for a day off, only to call her in to work the next afternoon.

Or the day he wrote her up for coming to work five minutes late, only to find out from coworkers he rarely made it in on time.

"I could have choked him. But, of course, I didn't," Jennings, 52, says with a chuckle. "Not because I forgave him. I just didn't want to go to jail."

One the worst, most-inept bosses ever found is in Pittsburgh right now -- onstage, that is.

In "9 to 5: The Musical," three female cohorts fantasize about knocking their arrogant male boss down a peg or two. The show, which runs through Sunday at the Benedum Center, opens a summer of bad bosses. The Jennifer Aniston-Jason Bateman workplace comedy "Horrible Bosses" hits movie screens on July 8 with more daydreams of revenge.

In real life, it's not all fun and games. The National Labor Relations Board estimates about 23,000 complaints are filed each year by individuals, unions or employers alleging unfair labor practices.

Bad bosses run the gamut, from supervisors with potty mouths, to chauvinists, to task masters who pile on the work but snarl when you ask to be paid for overtime.

Fantasizing about embarrassing or getting even with the boss, like the characters in these productions, is natural, says Dr. David LaPorte, psychology professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

"Everyone does it," he says. "It's a normal human activity."

For Jennings, an ad for a job at a Shaler grocery store read "part time, flexible hours, no experience necessary." She was fresh out of high school and trying to earn her keep, so she applied.

Jennings says things were fine at first, but that her boss's disorganization started to show -- shelves got stocked late, walkways weren't shoveled during the winter and she and other cashiers often were blamed when tills came up short.

"I could sum him up in two words -- Michael Scott,'" she says, referring to the bumbling and inept branch manager on TV's "The Office."

On more strenuous days, she says, she was calmed by thoughts of "smacking him in the head with a bag of peanuts."

"I know it's wrong, but he would have deserved it if I did it," she says.

Such fantasies are not exclusive to bosses and employees; they can transpire in just about any relationship, particularly those in which at least one person feels oppressed, abused or powerless, LaPorte says.

Acting on the impulse is crossing the line. Remember what happened to Bud Fox at the end of "Wall Street" when he tried to get back at Gordon Gekko?

"It's probably more therapeutic to talk these kinds of situations out, but, short of that taking place ... people fantasize because it makes them feel wanted or important," LaPorte says. "In the end, that's all most people, especially those who feel that paranoid, really want."

Tiffany Kramer was a waitress for a summer while studying at the University of Pittsburgh and had to wear a uniform each day.

The restaurant's handbook spelled out how the uniform should look, but her boss, she says, encouraged her to wear it more provocatively.

"He told me I'd be hotter and go further in life if I wore lower-cut tops," says Kramer, 34. "No, I don't miss working for him."

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