One of the things that makes me most angry about every bad workplace I've been stuck in is that certain managers make a conscious decision to treat people like shit. One person can't save a shitty workplace but everyone can sure do their part to not make things worse. And one person can definitely be a cancer that fucks up an entire workplace. Some places are institutionally fucked and will never get better, but that doesn't excuse bad managers. Saying "there'd nothing I can do – that's the way things work here" is bullshit.
It's the riddle of the ages: do fucked situations attract fucked people or do fucked people created fucked situations. I know I've been in crappy dead-end companies where a shitty manager managed to make things worse and I've been in basically good jobs where a psychopathic manager has gone out of her way to fuck things up. The rogues in a good workplace feel worse but that doesn't excuse sadistic managers making shitty jobs worse.
I start to think that management training consists of telling managers all they have to do to control their staff is to crush their spirits. I had a Catholic education so I always picture the devil whispering in their ear: "Go ahead, you know you don't like them. You can't trust them, they're not working nearly as hard as they could be. Look at that one, I'm sure he's blogging from his desk. I bet he's writing something bad about you."
It's a self-fulfilling prophecy – treat your staff like shit and they'll end up surly and resentful. And surly, resentful staff don't work, thereby justifying your attitude that they're lazy good-for-nothings that deserve to be treated even worse. The mistreatment of staff doesn't even have to be anything major: the death of a thousand cuts is very effective. There's a reason torture exists and it has nothing to do with getting positive results. It's the exercise of power for the sake of exercising power. It's showing people exactly how powerless they are before you.
I have this stupid "loyalty" thing going and it's worked against me many times in the past. The downsides range from minor to major and I often question why I bother to show anyone any loyalty, considering how many times I end up getting kicked in the teeth. In the end, my behaviour is for me, not anyone else. It isn't so much a belief in karma, more that I believe if I act in negative ways I have no right to complain about negative outcomes. I'm not naive enough to think that positive behaviour always brings positive rewards but I look at the fuckers trying to drag me down and I simply refuse to descend to their level.
The most egregious examples I can think of for this sort of behaviour in a workplace in my past:
A manager at one job decided "she just didn't like me". In her mind there was no need to justify what she did after that, not liking me meant she could do whatever she wanted to get rid of me. She was enough of a sociopath to actually tell someone else she was after me because she didn't like me and I actually heard her say the same thing about someone else. Apparently you can get so fucked up you don't realise that other people may not share your views. Anyway, I outlasted her – stuck to my work, kept producing results and refused to knuckle under to her. A small victory because she left for a higher paying job but a victory nevertheless.
I was actually hassled on the toilet by a manager once. I was answering phones for a courier company at the time. The workday had a very regular cycle, starting off very busy for the first hour or so as people arrived at their work and started booking couriers. This one day I'm sitting in the cubicle feeling blissful relief and this voice from outside asks who's in there. I was a bit taken aback but the manager wanted to make sure it was me because he thought I shouldn't have left the phones. I had actually waited until the morning rush had passed but he apparently didn't agree. I explained I "had to" go right then (he really didn't want the alternative, stomach cramps had been starting to set in) and his response was that I should have gone before I left home. Ummmm, I didn't need to go two and a half hours ago when I was last at home. I actually stopped responding to him because, seriously, what the fuck can you say to someone when they say something as ridiculous as that?
One that almost made me laugh even though it was fairly serious was when I was admonished during a performance review for not attending a particular social lunch with cow-orkers. I'm amazed I didn't start spitting blood because I was biting my tongue so hard to avoid saying "that's because I don't like them." This one was worse than just the manager ripping on me because the dregs around me apparently wanted me to be more like them. In some workplaces I have enjoyed socialising but more often I don't. Why can't people just accept that? I'm here to get paid not to be your fucking friend. I'm almost never rude to people I work with but honestly, quite often I want nothing to do with them once I leave my desk. Why do some people have so much trouble understanding that?
At some point, it seems many people cross the line from "we're all in this together" to "I'm dragging you down with me." I don't think any workplace is perfectly but some managers seem to make a conscious effort to ensure the workplace is perfectly fucked.