How to deal with a bad bossHR managers need to listen, act if there is a pattern of behavior
By Elaine Varelas, 6/5/2006
"Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." Long before Tom Hanks appeared in this summer's blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code, he uttered this folksy phrase in another hit movie, Forrest Gump.
While Forrest was talking about all the surprises a lifetime can bring, the same might be said about the workplace, or more specifically bosses. Whether you're starting your dream job, transferring to a different department, or your organization just hired a new manager for your team, you often just don't know what kind of boss you're going to get.
Your new manager might be exactly what you were hoping for (a creamy caramel, or dark espresso), or you may end up with one that resembles that unidentifiable, congealed green jelly-filled treat. Yuck!
It's fun to swap tales about bad bosses (especially when it's a former boss). Almost all of us have war stories about run-ins with difficult managers. What HR managers can do is to listen carefully to employees at the comment stage, and not wait until it becomes a formal grievance. As a rule, when two, three, or more "comments" about a manager are brought to the attention of an HR staff member, HR needs to look for a pattern of behavior, investigate the circumstances and determine the appropriate course of action.
While there are hundreds of examples of bad bosses, I've picked a few standard types and suggested techniques for how HR managers can deal with them:
- Credit-Stealing Boss-- This boss presents all work done by the department as "mine." He or she rarely refers to "my team" and never singles out an individual for recognition (the good kind that is). This person takes ownership of the team and all its work - unless someone messes up. Then, the manager is happy to identify a scapegoat.
When dealing with this type of boss, HR managers need to look at the department through a microscope to find out where the talent lies, and to rescue those people - or else they won't stay long.
- No-Work Boss-- This manager is a master of delegation. These bosses know how to get things done without doing any heavy lifting, because they know where to find the talent on their team - and to give them lots of "developmental opportunity." They can often be found chatting on the phone or cruising the internet, while their staff frantically prepares for a meeting or presentation.
The best way for the HR department to a direct report to this type of boss is to help him or her find another job. It's almost impossible to make a person work harder.
- Incommunicado Boss-- These bosses don't tell staff much of anything, choosing instead to let them flounder and figure it out on their own. Information is power, and they aren't about to share. They often manipulate colleagues and direct reports into failure out of anger at the organization or the entire system. They see landmines, but won't point them out to others and are very focused on office politics.
HR managers can best handle these bosses by letting them talk first. They won't say anything if they don't have to, so it's a good idea to get their opinions up front. It is also wise to advise their direct reports to put things in writing, have structured interactions, and to develop effective networks across the organization.
- Multi-Faced Boss-- This person manages according to moods or whims that have nothing to do with work. Employees are forced to read this person and wait for interaction to see "who" they're going to get that day - the good boss or the bad boss.
It is important for the HR staff to be cognizant of the fickle nature of this manager when he or she either praises or criticizes employees.
- "Eggo" Boss-- This boss waffles when making any decisions and is most influenced by the person he or she spoke to last. Employees usually have to wait until deadlines to get confirmation from their manager, and then need to continually reaffirm the decision.
HR can encourage the team to put all decisions in writing, so the boss can't change his or her mind. It also makes sense to see who this manager's go-to person is, to see who in the department is really calling the shots.
- Patriotic Boss-- These managers believe everything should be done the American way. They don't see the value of a global economy, and think any project can be managed from a desk in the good old US of A.
HR managers would be wise to keep this boss as far away from any interaction with business in a different zip code, and even farther from anything considered international.
Of course, these are extreme examples of poor management techniques. Where managers fall on this continuum will determine whether it is worth the organizational time, money and energy to offer any kind of development.
The bosses described here also have behaviors indicative of many people found in the workplace. Although annoying, not to mention career-limiting, these traits often can be modified - maybe even eliminated - through coaching. But if an employee, or HR, has serious concerns about a manager's behavior or conduct, then a proper resolution must occur or the organization may be put at risk.
Unfortunately, in many of these situations, the direct reports of these managers are pushed to manipulation to get anything done. Too much of their time is spent managing up. Talented employees won't put up with bad bosses for long. HR executives need to intervene quickly and effectively to ensure the organization's box of chocolates stays stocked with the best treats.
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