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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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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