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What To Do When Bosses Are Bullies

What should employers do when workplace bullying and bad behavior are coming down the corporate ladder from bosses? Here are some ways to see if your frontline managers and supervisors are creating a bad work environment.

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Flight from bad bosses
The direct effect of bad bosses is easy to trace. Do you have a constant need to hire new employees? Should you install a turnstile at the door to the HR department because of your high employee turnover? Are your managers and supervisors micromanagers who insist on making every decision and overseeing everything their underlings try to accomplish? Is bad news the only news your workforce hears from the bosses? Are your employees afraid to talk to or even approach their bosses, for fear of accusations and reprisals? Do your bosses smother their underlings with too much — too much personal news, too much gossip, too much information? If you answered yes to any of those questions, read on. You may be faced with bad boss syndrome.

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Driving them out the door
So what makes a boss bad? An online survey conducted at prompted more than 2,000 responses to just what makes a boss bad. The results aren’t surprising — just over 40 percent of respondents said the worst offenders are bosses who belittle people in front of others. The lying boss ranked second, at 34.2 percent. The condescending or demeaning boss came in third, at 31.5 percent. The boss who humiliates or embarrasses others ranked fourth, at 23.9 percent. And coming in at number five, with 21.9 percent, is the boss who micromanages.

Male respondents faulted micromanaging more frequently than female respondents. Women condemned humiliation and embarrassment more than men. Generation X employees — regardless of their gender — focused on micromanaging more than others. And for baby boomers and members of the silent generation (that huge group that spans people from their early 40s to their 80s), the lying boss was the worst.

Lying bosses were most disregarded by workers in the southwestern United States. At the other side of the country, respondents in the Southeast were the only ones to select “fear as a motivation” as one of the top five characteristics of a bad boss.

And in another survey, conducted by Florida State University, of 700 people working a variety of jobs, 39 percent of respondents said that a bad boss is someone who doesn’t keep her word. A boss becomes “bad” when she doesn’t give credit when it’s earned, according to 37 percent of the people who took the survey.

Bosses who give the “silent treatment” are disfavored by 31 percent of the respondents, while 25 percent dinged the boss who makes a negative comment about a worker behind her back to another employee. The boss who invades an employee’s privacy was faulted by 24 percent of the respondents, and the boss who blames others to cover up her own mistakes or minimize her own embarrassment was held in disregard by 23 percent of the respondents.

It’s not hard to look at the statistics of both surveys and see that employees’ dislike of the boss who belittles isn’t much different from their distaste for the boss who demeans or humiliates or embarrasses. In short, it’s the emotional reaction employees receive from their bosses and the way they perceive their own treatment — and the way the boss treats their fellow workers — that drives your employees out the door.

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It’s all about respect
If a bad boss is thwarting your company’s ability to succeed by leaving you with employees who are unhappy, unmotivated, frustrated, and constantly updating their resumes on, you’ve got no choice but to confront the situation and get him to move over to the “golden child” category.

Keep in mind that a bad boss may have no clue that he’s despised by the employees in his charge. He may not realize that giving constant direction and checking and rechecking every employee action is creating a staff that feels insecure, insulted, and threatened.

A bad boss may be overwhelmed by the increasing responsibilities of his job, may not have been adequately trained to take on managerial or supervisory responsibilities, and may even have been the wrong choice to be promoted to a manager’s job.

Confront the bad boss, but not by telling her that she’s an unwelcome presence and disliked by everyone. Instead, focus on the needs of the job and the short- and long-term goals that must be accomplished.

Offer your own feedback and support on how she can obtain the results the company wants. Consider pairing the bad boss with a proven mentor — either at her own level of management or above — and see if exposure to someone with demonstrated leadership skills will enhance her own performance. Consider a series of conversations in which you tell her that your company won’t tolerate a rude manager or someone who’s a tattletale or a brownnoser.

Emphasize how important it is for the boss to have positive and regular communications with his staff. Tell him that he must be accountable for his own work — the successes and the failures — and that his employees should be accountable in the same way, without him covering for the workers he joins at happy hour on Fridays and passing the blame on to those with whom he “just never clicked.”

If you take responsibility for positively directing the bullies and the bad bosses, your company will be filled with only the best employees.

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2 thoughts on “What To Do When Bosses Are Bullies”

  1. tell me what to do, i have been terminated from my job due to the fact that i stood up for what was right, our department was going down the revenue was dropping and i went to the big boss about our supervisor not doing her job. I went several times trying to save my job along with the billing office of the hospital, the big boss and my supervisor are best friends and the big boss told us several times she would take care of things, she had us complete a supervisor evaluation on our supervisor to use with her evaluation when it came due. The way the big boss took care of things was let me go. How can I fight this, they have all the other employees scared to say anything because they were told if they wanted their jobs they would get on their side. What can i do about this?

  2. Workplace bullying is a deliberate health-harming effort, vast majority of the time by a boss or supervisor to a subordinate.

    There may be “bad bosses” for a variety of reasons, but a bully is deliberately harming the employee and is manipulative and usually covert in her tactics.

    Therefore, different approaches must be considered depending whether you have a legitimately stressed-out, incompetent, or incapable manager, vs an actual devious and manipulative “workplace bully” who most often has no desire or intention for improvement and doesn’t care one iota for the success of the company.

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