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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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Understanding the Boss Will Make Your Life Easier

I'm always surprised by the number of people who complain they absolutely cannot get along with a boss. While there are some toxic bosses out there who should be sent to Asshole Island (Bob Sutton gets to pick the spot), the truth is that many employees could find it easier going at work if they just put some thought and effort into the boss/employee relationship. The boss, like anyone else, has joys and sorrows, and the sooner you figure them out, the better your work life will be.

One of the ways to do this is by putting yourself in the boss’s shoes. What are the duties and situations that set your boss off? These are the trigger points that you try to head off before they reach the boss’s desk. At the same time, what are the issues that the manager likes to get involved in? Those should also be your priorities. Because if the boss is happy, chances are the good times will roll for you, too.

Some other strategies to keep you on the sunny side of the boss:
• Managers don’t make mistakes. Or, rather, they make mistakes but don’t want anyone to know about it. Keep such news to yourself, and try and fix any errors quietly and discreetly.
• Never say “I don’t know.” Educate yourself about how your company functions, and who you can go to for answers on various subjects. If you don’t know, you can say to the boss “I know who to ask about that issue.”
• Be a good listener. Take notes if you have to when the boss is giving you an assignment. Most bosses won’t mind if you ask them to repeat something so that you clearly understand it.
• Be on top of key issues. Be aware of what is happening in your industry that will affect your boss’s work. Read industry periodicals, and keep your ears open at industry events such as conferences and trade shows. Keep an eye on what the competition is doing.
• Speak up. If you know of a way to streamline a process or cut expenses, tell your boss. Your good ideas reflect well on him and help him see you as a problem-solver.
• Be a cheerleader. If the boss or your department does good work, ask if you can send the information to an internal newsletter or an industry report. If it’s printed, make sure the boss’s boss gets a copy.
• Be trustworthy. Never repeat anything your boss tells you, and be discreet if you overhear something. If trust is developed with a boss, you may get a chance to hear inside information that will help your career and keep you an important part of your manager’s world.
• Don’t be a whiner. Most supervisor’s automatically shut out the sound of a whining voice. If you have a problem or issue, practice what you want to say so that it sounds logical, not lamebrained. Provide the boss with any date that supports your position. For example, if too many tasks are affecting the quality of your work, map out what happens for a few weeks so that you can present the evidence to the boss. This gives the supervisor hard facts when requesting more resources or personnel from her boss.
• Work on communicating. Much of the friction at work these days is caused by e-mail or voice mail overload, or reports or memos that don’t make sense. Always decide what is the best form of communicating your thoughts, not the easiest or fastest. That way, what you say or write will have impact, not just add to the clutter in your boss’s life.


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