Monday, October 8, 2007

Bad Bosses Are No Laughing Matter

Anyone who has ever worked for a bad boss knows that, despite such lighthearted looks at these people through comics such as “Dilbert” and television shows such as “The Office”, it really is no laughing matter.

I’ve had two really bad bosses in my life, and I can tell you it is truly a painful experience, both physically and emotionally. At times I was depressed, at times angry – and suffered from headaches and stomachaches, not to mention waking at 3 a.m. every night and re-running every horrible encounter through my head.

It’s probably little consolation to anyone going through this experience that there are plenty of people going through the same thing, but I think it’s important to show that these bad bosses are at least being exposed more and more to the sunlight. First, there are websites devoted to outing bad bosses and providing helpful advice to employees going through a rough time. Second, more press has been given to the fact that a lack of management training means we’re putting ill-prepared and poorly qualified people into these upper positions where they can become abusive. Third, rising healthcare costs mean that companies cannot afford to have employees sickened by bad bosses, plus face high employee turnover because bully bosses drive away the talent.

One of the latest looks at the problems of butthead managers is a study by Florida State University study, which shows that 31 percent of 700 respondents said their supervisor had given them the “silent treatment” in the past year. (This was a favorite tactic of one of my bad bosses, lasting one time for six months.)

Further, 37 percent of the respondents reported that their supervisor failed to give credit when it was due, and 39 percent noted that their supervisor failed to keep promises. And on the truly smarmy scale, 27 percent noted that their supervisor made negative comments about them to other employees or managers, while 23 percent said that their supervisor blamed others to cover up or to minimize their own embarrassment.

At the same time, the abuse took its toll on employees in physical ways, such as increased exhaustion, job tension, nervousness, depression and mistrust.

Wayne Hochwarter, the professor who did the study along with a couple of his doctoral students, offered some advice to suffering employees:

Stay visible at work. While it’s common for the employee to blame himself or herself for the situation, hiding out can hurt a career because it can prevent others from noticing individual talent and contributions. And remember, bullies have often subjected others to this treatment, so their history is probably already known to others.
Keep focused on the future. While it may seem that you’ll never break free of the boss, chances are good that you will eventually work for someone else, and you want to make sure your performance will impress others. “You want the next boss to know what you can do for the company,” Hochwarter says.
Know when to draw the line. No one should take abuse that is physical or would be considered harassment or discrimination. Such complaints should be made through formal channels, such as internal grievance committees or law enforcement.


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