The 9 Circles of Corporate Hell
A tribute to Dante.
Circle 1: The Micro-Manager
You schedule 1-1 meetings to discuss your subordinates’ email styles and PowerPoint font choices. You routinely belittle your employees by taking tasks away from them and putting them on your plate because you don’t trust anyone other than yourself to complete the work to a sufficient standard. You don’t take constructive feedback on your management style because, simply put, you are a stubborn, insufferable ass. Your inability to delegate has you working 80-hour weeks. You are widely loathed and you know it. You are the butt of jokes amongst your chronically disgruntled staff. Nonetheless, you push on, cause the work has to get done, and only you are gifted enough to do it.
Your sin: A false sense of self-importance coupled with a wild overestimation of your talents.
Your punishment (in addition to your daily life of course): A grassroots revolt led by a group of Gen Z-ers who have ample time to plot against you since you do all their work for them. They band together to document each of your “micro-aggressions” and make a compelling argument to your leadership that you have created a hostile work environment. One of them goes a step further and tosses in a specious claim that you may have pleasured yourself during a Zoom call. Fired and disgraced, you spend the remainder of your existence teaching 7th Graders the MLA format and driving your adult roommate crazy with tips on how to best load the dishwasher.
Circle 2: The Aging Executive Assistant
30 years ago, it was fun. A bunch of young kids doing tedious but simple work. Happy hours three times a week and tons of office romance. Working hung over was not only feasible but expected. Three decades later: Your check hasn’t grown much but your expenses sure have. You’ve been getting meeting requests all day, EVERY day for 30 years. Let that sink in……. 30 years of juggling calendars and taking notes. 30 years of booking flights for your boss as well as vet appointments for Mittens, his cat that lives better than you do. By this point you probably support a specific executive wherever he or she goes. A flattering endorsement of your skills that is nonetheless overwhelmed by the constant reminder of how far some folks have advanced while you stayed at the same level.
Your sin: Not getting the memo. As most of your EA buddies hit their late 20s and realized the need to pursue greener pastures, you chose to keep going. You partied with a new crop of 22-year-olds and retained your hangover into your 30s. By that point, it was too late to adjust.
Your punishment (in addition to your daily life of course): Chronic High Inflation. You’re so close to finally being able to retire but the cost of living just keeps jumping up and you have to put in another year, and then another, and another. Finally, at age 75, you are forced into retirement because LensCrafters simply doesn’t make bifocals thick enough for you to keep scanning Outlook calendars.
Circle 3: The Chief of Staff
The position has a nice ring to it. Fool’s gold. You are the CEO’s lackey. His bitch. Compounding the problem: That CEO is probably either an asshole or a lunatic, very likely both. Two words best capture your identity: “Weyland Smithers”. You are the buffer between regular employees and the powerful sociopath behind the imposing oak desk. You try to humanize him but that is an impossible task. You go home to your family each night at 9 PM feeling good that at least you are a decent provider and may be able to tuck your kid into bed. Then at 920 PM, hell’s bell rings.
“Smithers! Smithers!! Bring me an oat milk protein smoothie and last year’s 10k post haste”
Your Sin: Cowardice. Mesmerized by the good paycheck and ability to rub elbows with the rich and powerful, you never stand up to your boss; for what is right and ethical.
Your Punishment (in addition to your daily life of course): Due to being the trusty sidekick to the CEO and looking the other way on his misdeeds, you get embroiled in a nasty series of white-collar crimes. Your sociopath boss immediately throws you under the bus when questioned by the Feds. Your well- practiced, fine-tuned role of being a lackey and a bitch do not serve you well in prison.
Circle 4: The Inside Sales Guy
Smile and dial baby! Your “performance” is measured by how many cold calls you make and how many of them convert into actual conversations that your boss, the lead sales person, has based on those efforts. You get rejected 300 times a week but soldier on for years, harassing the same people that rejected you every month because Salesforce tells you it is time to call back. If your boss happens to close a deal on one of your 1000 phone calls, the company throws some crumbs your way. You look lustfully each morning as your boss drives in to work with her 7 Series at the crack of 10 AM. You, on the other hand, had to once again beg your mom to let you take her Kia to work. One day though, one day, you’ll make the lead sales role and it will all be worth it.
Your sin: A complete lack of self-respect coupled with a lack of consideration for the tens of thousands of people you bother each year.
Your Punishment (in addition to your daily life of course): You never get the lead sales job. After 15 years of inside sales and constant harassment of every relevant person in your industry, your reputation is destroyed. People spit on the floor when they hear your name. When you flirt with a girl at the bar, she throws a drink in your face cause at some point 10 years ago you harangued her too. When you return home smelling of vermouth and disgrace, you start dialing 1-900 numbers in search of companionship: A toxic solution that combines your work “skills” with your soul’s emptiness.
Circle 5: The Proud Idler
You actively avoid doing work and take great pride in rubbing your colleagues’ noses (who are actually doing work including some of yours) in this fact. You set the stage early by declaring your intersectionality to your yellowbelly manager: “I am non-binary, bisexual and identify as an Alaskan Inuit”. Teehee – now they’ll never fire you no matter how useless you are.
But you don’t stop there. You make it a point of showing off how little you do. You take team calls from the casino floor in Vegas so that everyone can here the ring of slot machines and the sound of the roulette wheel spinning. You purposefully don’t respond to emails for days because you know that the task will eventually be assumed by someone responsible. Then you have the gall to brag about this strategy.
Your sins: Sloth and braggadocio.
Your punishment (in addition to your daily life of course): Due to the exotic way in which you self-identify, you are offered a seemingly cushy position as the company’s diversity and inclusion officer. Much to your chagrin though, this job turns out to be extremely demanding. You work 90-hour weeks authoring memorandums about how the company supports bisexual pygmies and planning events for obscure “holidays”. No matter how hard you work it is never enough; incensed employees come out of the woodwork to blast you for missing Yggdrasil Day or the Birthday of Baha’u’llah. Worse yet, due to your laziness, you overlooked the section in your contract stating that you will have budget to hire but hiring decisions will be made by your former management team. They quickly surround you with people just like yourself. Your futile attempts to delegate work to these do-nothings are drowned out by the sound of jet-skis, F1 races, EDM festivals…… whatever event of the day has captured your staff’s attention and time.
Circle 6: The Order Taker
“The customer is always right.” This is your mantra and you abide by it 100% of the time. You drive your staff crazy by never questioning anything your team is asked to do. You make them do cycle after cycle of useless work. Due to your inability to challenge any request or probe if there is actually a better path forward for both you and the customer, your staff works 40% more than they should. You claim to understand that this unpaid overtime causes problems for folks: An inability to spend time with family, rest properly, etc. Even worse, your team doesn’t end up walking away with that fulfilling sense of accomplishment that a hard day’s work typically brings because the excess work is all bullshit. The reality is though, you don’t get it, won’t get it, and will continue to say “yes” to everything. The more you say “yes” to frivolous requests, the more frivolous and frequent these requests become. As the great Frederick Douglass once said: “Those that get whooped the easiest get whooped the most.”
Your sin: An inability to say “no” coupled with a frightening absence of critical thinking skills.
Your punishment (in addition to your daily life of course): People walk all over you in all facets of life. Your kid is a total brat that bosses you around and has no respect for you. The kind of kid that rips the remote out of your hand and changes the channel. The kind of kid who demands money from you and then barks at you to “shut up” when you tell them not to spend it on drugs. Your wife (who also doesn’t respect you) will inform you that she wants to spice things up in the bedroom. Naively excited about some lovers’ role play, you charge into the bedroom in your recently procured UPS outfit only to find the actual UPS man in there with your spouse. How awkward, you match!
Circle 7 – The Company Moron
You have a low IQ, plain and simple. People dread including you in meetings because you slow everything down with stupid questions and side-track the entire discussion with irrelevant topics. Your “contributions” are met with one or a combination of the following four responses:
1) ‘We just discussed this 5 minutes ago!”
2) “Let’s take this topic offline.”
3) Exasperated silence
4) People promptly going off camera while you speak in order to perform rage-induced facial contortions in private.
You have no work product to speak of because (1) You are too stupid to complete a task on your own (2) people have learned not to include you in group efforts because doing so is highly counter-productive and catastrophic to team morale. Yet, here you are somehow. A mid-level employee, a colleague to those who are actually capable of contributing something. Your mere presence on the company org chat tortures your colleagues: “Why was he hired!?” “Why has he not been fired!?” “What have I done wrong with MY life to end up as this man’s colleague?” Or, most torturous of all: “OMG, this cretin is my manager!”
Your sin: Entering into a Faustian Bargain to secure employment for which you are grossly underqualified.
Your punishment (in addition to your daily life of course): Driven mad by your idiocy, the payroll team decides to move against you. They convert your biweekly paycheck to Indian Rupees. Too dumb to understand the significance of this foul play, you start bouncing checks, missing payments and getting your property repossessed. Having lost your car and too feeble-minded to properly navigate the public transit system, you are soon fired for truancy. You spend the rest of your days in homeless shelters and tent cities getting your ass kicked by the other bums because they simply cannot stomach anymore of your stupid questions.
Circle 8 – Willy Loman
The over-the-hill salesman. Your career, much like your yearly sales bonus, died in 2000. You still spend three nights a week at the TGI Friday’s bar because you think that’s where the business execs go to let loose. The spot was poppin’ in 88: Coke in the staff room, dudes in ill-fitting suits getting drunk, harassing waitresses and agreeing to shit they shouldn’t have agreed to. You simply grew up in a different, long-gone era. An era in which sales was considered the skill. A salesman didn’t have to know the product they were selling or understand the customer’s business. They simply laid on the charm, bought the prospect some drinks, and pressured them into a sale. Unfortunately for you, computers were invented and a crop of more competitive and better-educated youth changed the game and took your sales. Now you’re in the pitiful position of trying to impress your 25-year-old colleagues and pretend it doesn’t bother you that they out-earn you. You crack crappy jokes and objectify the women in the office to try and earn favor. The young ‘ins laugh but they’re laughing AT you not with you. They view you as a fossil, a Neanderthal really. The sole reason they don’t mock you to your face is because of mankind’s innate instinct to respect their elders.
Your sin: Resistance to change
Your Punishment (in addition to your daily life of course): You own a sky blue, 1988 Mercedes Benz 560SL convertible - your prized possession. The one thing you have been able to hold onto throughout all the alimony, child support payments and legal fees. The only joy in your life that doesn’t have the free will to leave you and somehow has not been repossessed. The one reminder of the life you once had.
One day, on your way home from work after another day of failure, you get t-boned by an uninsured motorist. The car is totaled and your Dickensian financial situation ensures that you cannot procure a new one. You spend the rest of your days riding three different buses to work – an odyssey that allows you ample time to reflect on the fact that you’ve hit rock bottom but don’t have the skillset or energy to ever rise up again.
Circle 9 – The Relentless Climber
Often from a small town and sporting a huge chip on their shoulder, this person’s life is dedicated to the “joy” of going back home one day and letting everyone know that he or she is now a big shot. Decades are spent working 80-hour weeks. Friendships are sacrificed. Backs are stabbed during the course of Machiavellian office politics. Potential new friendships are overlooked as this person’s sole focus is on the transactional, selfish assessment of: “Can this new person help me accelerate my career or no.” If not… get lost!
All these sacrifices, all the self-discipline, so that one day the relentless climber can go home and rub it in the face of someone who was mean to them back in 1998: “I am now the VP of Marketing for Proctor and Gamble”.
The Relentless Climber’s sin: A life fueled by and dedicated to spite.
Their punishment (in addition to their daily life of course): An epiphany that comes 30 years too late: “None of this professional success actually makes me happy.” Talent, self-discipline, tenacity, a lifetime of activity allocated toward something that not only failed to bring joy to anyone else but also leaves oneself feeling empty. The 9th circle is unique and by far the cruelest because the 9th circle is where you realize that nobody else can harm you as badly as you can harm yourself.