Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Is Any Job Worth a Bad Boss?


When there are stressful times in the workplace, you can bet it's going to bring out the best in a lot of people -- and the worst.

Unfortunately, job seekers may not discover which category a boss falls into until it's too late.

For example, good bosses will understand that the continuing tough economic news means they need to rally the troops, to stick close to employees and make sure employees see they are calm in the face of bad economic news, determined to keep doing the best possible job. They make sure their door is always open to listen to worker concerns, and even spring for a pizza every once in a while just to help lighten the mood.

And then there are the bosses that crack under the strain. They hole up in their offices, the door tightly closed. When they do emerge, they are uncommunicative with workers, except to criticize or be short-tempered. They may be sarcastic, rude, insulting and thoughtless. Employees become tightly wired and depressed, alternately sniping with one another or lapsing into brooding silences.

Enter the hapless job seeker. With shiny shoes, a bright smile and firm handshake, the job candidate enters the door of a company, hopeful that in this crappy job market, he or she may land a job.

Many are desperate. They try not to let that show (a definite no-no in the job search world), but they know their current company is sinking fast, their industry on the rocks, their job security a thing of the past. They need another job, and they need it now.

So, they may be willing to overlook a few things they would not have in the past, when job seekers had the upper hand in a thriving economy. Now, with rising unemployment, they don't care about the long commute, the less-than-generous benefits, the lack of stock options. In other words, they are willing to overlook a lot of the frayed edges if it just means they can keep a paycheck coming in.

Understandable. You gotta do what you gotta do. But there is one area that may bear closer scrutiny: the boss.

As anyone who has had a bad boss knows, a rotten manager can affect you in ways you never dreamed. You can't sleep. You can't eat -- or overeat. You yell at your kids or partner when you get home, you develop bad headaches and stomach pains. You feel like you've aged 10 years overnight and secretly envision the boss getting hit by a bus. (Not killed of course, just in the hospital for the next five years.)

That's why it's still important that while you may be willing to settle on a lot of things when you go for a job these days, don't settle for a bad boss. And here's a bit of good news: The bad bosses are being exposed as never before. It's going to be easier to learn who is a lousy manager simply because he or she is cracking under the strain.

Here's some ways to find out a boss's true colors:

* Ask to speak to other employees. Sometimes you will not always be given this opportunity, and other times, the workers may not be truthful because they fear for their own jobs. Ask questions such as: "What has been your favorite assignment and why?" "What gives you the greatest satisfaction working here?" "What three words would you use to describe your boss?"
* Find the favorite watering hole. This may be a neighborhood pub, or a lunch spot where employees hang out. It may even be a nearby park. The idea is to strike up a conversation away from the eyes and ears of the boss so that you can get an employee to open up about the true management style of the boss.
* Be objective. Just because one employee trashes the manager doesn't mean the boss is terrible. It could be that this person doesn't get along with anyone. Try and talk to several employees so that you can get a real feel for what's going on.
* Don't think you're special. I'm always amazed by job candidates who take a position knowing the boss is an ass. They always think they can find a way to get along with the manager, that they somehow possess special powers to overcome a bully boss. Not so. If the boss is a jerk to the majority of workers, chances are you're going to experience the exact same thing.

What are some other ways to spot a bad manager?


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14 Comments:

Anonymous Jack S. said...

Looking down on the rest of us as if we're just the rabble is the worst. The boss who doesn't think anyone beneath his or her level of the hierarchy can't possibly have a worthy idea for the company is someone who doesn't deserve to have those possibly company-saving ideas offered up. Hey, we'll take them to our next employer!

Jack

October 1, 2008 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger Anita said...

Jack,
The problem with a bully manager is that they not only drive away the people they bully -- but even those they do not. Studies have shown that the bully boss so infests a workplace with poor morale and adversely affects productivity and efficiency that everyone -- even really valuable people who are never bullied -- eventually leave.
Thanks for making such a valid point.

October 1, 2008 at 10:06 AM  
Blogger Paige said...

Jack makes a good point.
It comes down to R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Everyone deserves it and everyone should give it. It shouldn't matter if you are an assistant, a manager, the CEO or a custodian.

I consider myself so lucky to have a director that is supportive, respectful and encouraging.

October 1, 2008 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger Anita said...

Paige,
You are indeed fortunate to have such a great boss. The way I've always understood it is that if you want employees to treat one another respectfully, it must come from the top down. That means that is the boss doesn't treat people well, chances are that co-workers don't treat each other well because of such an unhealthy culture.
Thanks for adding your thoughts.

October 1, 2008 at 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked for a really terrible boss one time, and a job candidate said, "So, what's it like working for X?" Well, I told her and she just acted like she didn't believe me! If you're going to ask for a honest answer, then at least believe what you hear! Why would I lie about something like that? Some people are just stupid and deserve what they get.
Rita

October 1, 2008 at 4:22 PM  
Blogger Anita said...

Rita,
This is what I meant by the "you're not that special" suggestion. Too many job candidates believe they are more tough or so super talented that they can overcome a bully boss. As if the rest of the workers were just losers who obviously brought the problem on themselves. Such arrogance usually comes back to haunt them.
Thanks for posting.

October 1, 2008 at 4:32 PM  
Anonymous Ian said...

Great insight in the post & comments. I think time is a good indicator, when a manager just think time = productivity.

This post reminded me of the 'no Asshole Rule', which has some good points.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_No_Asshole_Rule

October 2, 2008 at 3:32 PM  
Blogger Anita said...

Ian,
You bring up a good point. You can always ask other employees if they are ever allowed to work from home or have flexible schedules...a manager who believes you're only working when he can actually see you sitting in an office chair may not be very trusting -- and that can lead to a lot of dissatisfaction from workers who believe they are being treated like children.
Thanks for adding the link.

October 2, 2008 at 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Erika with Qvisory said...

You are absolutely right: A bad boss can take years off your life!

One way to spot a bad boss is to pretend you're interviewing them when it's your turn to ask questions. Does this person look you in the eye or do they spend the majority of the conversation looking out the window? When you asked about why this position is now available, did the boss get jumpy or speak fondly of the person who used to work in the position you're interviewing for?

October 2, 2008 at 7:38 PM  
Blogger Anita said...

Erika,
You're right. Every job candidate needs to make sure they interview the boss as well as vice versa, and every job seeker should be considering and evaluating not only what the boss says -- but the body language as well. Thanks for adding such good points.

October 2, 2008 at 8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OKAY I WAS WORKING A CLEANING OUTFIT BY MY SELF. THEN ANOTHER CLEANER EMPLOYED. I NOW RUN MY OWN CLEANING COMPANY BUT HERE ARE THE REASONS WHY. MY BOSS TOLD EMBERASSNG INCIDENTS THAT HAPPENED TO ME IN A CLIENTS HOME AND TOLD HER THAT I WAS INSCURE DWELLED ON THINGS FOR MONTHS. I WAS A WORRIED PERSON WITH LOW SELF ESTEEM. SO SHE SAYS. WAS THERE A PURPOSE FOR HER TO KNOW THIS? I DON'T THINK SO. AND MOST OF IT WAS NOT TRUE BY THE WAY. I DO GET CONCERNED ABOUT CLINETS BUT NOTHING ABNORMAL. SHE TREATED ME BADLY BUT THOUGHT SHE WAS SO KIND BECUASE SHE GAVE ME A FEW COMPLIMENTS. I AM GLAD I'M HER COMPETITION NOW. I HOPE HER BUSINESS BURNS. SHE WAS ON FIRE WHEN I TOLD HER I WAS GOING PRIVATE. I THINK SHE WANTED ME TO STAY BUT YET DID NOT WANT ME TO THINK I WAS GOOD ENOUGH TO GO PRIVATE. THIS ALL BACK FIRED ON HER. YOU LOSE!!!!!! MORAL OF THE STORY IN NO WAY SHOULD A BOSS OR OWNER OF THE COMP. SHOULD EVER TALK ABOUT AN EMPLOYEE TO ANOTHER ITS DAMAGING TO THE SOUL.

October 6, 2008 at 8:06 PM  
Blogger Anita said...

Anonymous,
I agree that it's a terrible practice for a manager to discuss one employee's private business with another. It's unprofessional and disrespectful, and even puts the employee forced to listen to the manager in a terrible position. Bad news all around.
But, now you can see there was something to learn from that harsh experience....how to treat workers fairly and with respect. You will be a better manager because of it.
Thanks for sharing your story.

October 6, 2008 at 9:29 PM  
Blogger Anita said...

Readers,
I received this comment from "Linda" who I believe posted it under the wrong entry. So, I've moved it here, which is the reason it has my name on it, and not Linda's.

From Linda:
I've been at my job for 13 months and watched this lady(if you can call her that) bully every one in the store including the store Manager and Co Manager. I worked with her over 10 years ago briefly at another store and it was the same thing there. Only they got rid of her pretty quickly back then. But, now my boss is spineless so the whole store is basically walking on egg shells around her.
She has bashed everyone at least once, according to her, shes working with a store full of Idiots and our Managment has told us to just do what she sais because he doesn't want to deal with her.
I recently stood up for myself to her and she was shocked. I watched the blood drain from her face and thought I was going to see her completley combust!! So, you got it, she really has it in for me now. Today, she tried to bump me as she passed by me in the aisle and I moved away out of instinct for my own safety. But, I'm done. Tomorrow I'm calling HR and hopefully, they will do something about it. I can't sleep at night, I feel sick to my stomach every day. It's all wearing on me and I have a problem concentrating at work. I'm having series anxiety and just plain tired of everyone being bullied by her.

November 19, 2008 8:38 PM

November 21, 2008 at 8:45 AM  
Blogger Anita said...

Linda,
First, I'm going to refer you to a very helpful website called www.workplacebullying.org, which can give you some really good tips regarding bullying in the workplace. I've also written on this subject:
http://www.45things.com/2007/10/backstabbing-co-worker.php
and
http://www.45things.com/2007/04/bully-at-work.php

Second, I think you're doing the right thing by realizing that this situation is jeopardizing your health. Workplaces are being more proactive in dealing with bullies, because they realize that if they don't, they can lose top workers -- and even those who are not bullied directly end up leaving because of the poisonous atmosphere and their lack of trust in management, who let such a thing continue. Good luck and let me know how it turns out.

November 21, 2008 at 8:54 AM  

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