Q: Steve, I work for a guy who is just a jerk. He yells at employees all day long, fires people every week -- seemingly to keep people on edge -- never gives raises, etc. And the worst part is, I can't afford to quit. Why do people act this way?
A: It never ceases to amaze me how many employees work for really bad small business owners. It is surprising for two reasons: First, how anyone can think that berating people works is just strange, but more importantly, the very nature of a small business is that they are intimate, close-knit affairs. Small businesses typically work in confined spaces and with only a few people. Under those circumstances especially, being a good boss is all the more important -- to your staff, your business, and yes, to your bottom line.
But that doesn't seem to stop the jerk small business owner:
- One guy wrote me, explaining that he told his boss that he would have to miss some work because his wife went into premature labor by about month. He was fired for his "a lack of commitment to the job."
- One woman shared the story of how she was afraid to miss her shift at the local restaurant because the boss valued "team players." So she showed up sick with the flu, contagious, but was praised for her work ethic. Most everyone got sick later that week.
Here are the top 7 signs that, behind your back, your employees think you are a jerk:
1. You don't know the difference between managing and micromanaging: A good small business owner knows about more than just how to run his or her business and make a profit. Good bosses manage their employees, allowing them to do their jobs the best they can. Jerk bosses try and tell their staff how to do their jobs, down to ridiculous detail. If you spend more of your time on silly minutiae and less on the big picture, your employees probably don't like working for you.
2. You engage in petty office politics: Of course all businesses have their share of politics, but it is the bad boss indeed who ends up in the middle, playing favorites, pitting one player against another, all in a bid to build their pathetic little empire. You should have more important things to do with your time -- like actually running your business.
3. You hide the ball: I once had a boss who gave me two days to do a project that really needed about three weeks. When I walked into her office 48 hours later, disheveled and with hardly any of the work product finished, she laughed and said, "I was just testing you." Bad bosses have unclear motivations, strange priorities, and have no problem obfuscating.
If you don't shoot straight, your staff probably mocks you behind your back.
4. You bully: Like the boss in this question, bad bosses don't inspire, they bully and humiliate people. They try and get people to do things their way by threatening them with a loss of their job, or by verbal attacks, or other similar methods that have nothing to do with making people feel and do their best. People who work under constant threats and fear hate their job and their boss and the business.
A sure way get your staff to resent you and undermine your business when you are not looking is to bully them.
5. You do not give credit where credit is due: Great bosses love to praise people for a job well done. Bad bosses are not only incapable of positive reinforcement, they also love to take credit for others' work.
6. You lack consideration: Maybe you think nothing of giving a ton of work to someone late on a Friday, or you refuse to make accommodations to the schedule based on people's real life needs. Whatever the case, you can be sure that your employees do not like working for you if you care more about whether the trains run on time, and less about them as people.
And the irony is, the more you care about them as people, the more the trains will run on time, not vice versa.
7. You are just a creep: Maybe you touch too much. Maybe you say inappropriate things. Maybe you tell off-color jokes. And you do these things because, hey, who can fire you?
Guess what? You are really a jerk to work for.
(photo creit Flickr, creative commons, Kaushal.)
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