why are there so many abusive bosses?

In the 15 years I’ve been writing Ask a Manager, I’ve heard about some really bad bosses. There was the boss who crashed an employee’s wedding (and then wrote her up for having him escorted out!), the boss who told bizarre lies about all her employees, and even the boss whose negligence killed someone’s horse. But the bosses who stand out are the ones who are openly abusive to the people they manage.

At Slate today, I wrote about abusive bosses — and why companies need to stop tolerating them. You can read it here.

{ 226 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Thank you*

    I’ve been told more than once that I’m “too nice” to be in an upper management role. Some companies just prefer awful bosses because they think evil=gets the job done.

    Reply
    1. Magenta Sky*

      It depends on how you view your employees, I think. If you view them as necessary leeches who won’t do anything they’re not forced to, it’s logical to assume that you have to whip them to work every morning to get your money’s worth.

      Reply
    2. Antilles*

      The close cousin of this mindset is “he’s a jerk but he gets results”. In both cases, the underlying theory is that evilness is just part of the deal – that success requires a certain level of jerkiness and if you deal with that, it won’t be successful.

      Reply
      1. Distracted Librarian*

        Yep. I loved Bob Sutton’s book, The No Asshole Rule. He addresses this idea directly, basically saying that assholes aren’t worth the cost, no matter what kind of results they generate.

        Reply
    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Too nice does not always mean they want you to be evil. I have a new manager who *is* too nice, and it means that they are so concerned about being a friend or not being seen as mean that they soften feedback and let issues slide because they don’t want to make people uncomfortable or feel like they’re being criticized. I don’t need them to be mean/maniacal/evil/a screamer, but I do need them to be able to give direct, timely, unsoftened feedback to their team before something goes from being a minor annoyance to a major liability. A good chunk of their team is also new college graduates, many of whom are still learning to take constructive feedback without personalizing it or becoming emotional, so they are particularly reticent to “hurt their feelings”.

      Reply
      1. Dust Bunny*

        This.

        I’ve had three supervisors at Current Job. The first one was too nice and the department got behind on a lot of work and got left out of a lot of funding and equipment upgrades because she didn’t have the push to ask for more from the organization. The other two are nice, but not afraid to either discipline us (nicely) when necessary, or to stand up for us/the department when we need materials, raises, and tech.

        Reply
      2. Artemesia*

        Being weak is not ‘too nice’ — it is just weak. I am sure that is where the idea that psychopaths make great bosses comes from though. A good boss is firm and gives clear feedback and doesn’t shy away from managing. You don’t have to be a mean jerk to do this, but you can’t be someone who can’t deal with ‘confrontation’ ie. willingness to handle tough situations. And nice people who can do that are not thick on the ground

        Reply
      3. Ellie*

        That definitely happens but I also regularly get the ‘too nice to be a manager’ thing and told that I’m a people-pleaser, when that’s just not true. I’ve fired people for not performing, improved the performance of many, many teams, and routinely make the tough calls on what we have time to work on and what we don’t, then have to tell that to the people who are impacted. I really think the ‘too nice’ thing is 50% because I’m a short, blonde woman, and the other 50% because I don’t act like an asshole – I say things politely. I’ve also been told I’m amazing, that I’ve turned things around, that I’m the best manager, etc. People can see things very differently.

        Reply
      1. ferrina*

        Yeah… “people like you, ergo you are a pushover. Even though you are famous for your collaboration and ability to get work done with any team. If you were meaner and less effective you could be a manager.”

        Reply
      2. She*

        Exactly, or beyond pushover, some people just cant manage and the description here isnt “nice” it’s manipulation through people pleasing

        Reply
    4. Decidedly Me*

      Too nice IS a problem and it’s not about evil or awful being preferable. Bosses that don’t give proper feedback for fear of being mean or unfriendly do more harm than good. If someone is struggling, but is only told “keep up the great work! you got this!”, they are being set up to fail. They are many ways to be a bad boss; evil and awful are far from the only ones.

      Reply
    5. Irish Teacher*

      I know in teaching, it is very common for young teachers to start out believing they must be strict and if students aren’t scared of them or if they have to motivate students by avoiding flashpoints, giving rewards, etc, it means the students “don’t respect them.” (I know I felt a bit of this in my early years teaching; I never wanted students to be scared of me but I did feel I’d sort of “cheated” when I reorganised things so students had less opportunity to cause trouble). Good teachers move past this and realise that respect and fear are not the same and you don’t need to “make students afraid to misbehave” in order to have good discipline, but…there are teachers who continue to believe that “they should be scared of me; otherwise I’m failing and they won’t do well”. Those tend not to be particularly good teachers.

      I think it’s the same with managers. It’s those who are insecure and don’t believe they can manage people effectively who are most likely to think that being “nice” will prevent one from managing effectively.

      Now, as somebody said below, there can be such a thing as too nice in management (and teaching also). When I worked retail, we had this time when a guy came down from another branch to cover when one of our managers was on holiday and I don’t know if he was uncomfortable giving orders to strangers who weren’t really “his” staff or whether it was just his personality (and he was very young, early 20s, which can’t have made it easy either) but he gave virtually no instructions whatsoever and while I liked the guy a lot, it was frustrating when there were people standing around complaining about all the work that had to be done, not doing any of it and he made no move to get them to do it. (At one point, I just started giving orders to the newer people, because somebody had to organise things).

      But I am guessing that this doesn’t apply to you and that you are having success in your role. In which case, it’s probably people who really fear being “taken advantage of,” if they don’t “keep the pressure on.”

      And in my experience, with a boss like this, it gets cyclical. She thought people were out to take advantage of her so she had to be “tough,” but because she was so nasty to people, they tended to call in sick more often when she was in charge, thereby convincing her that they “didn’t respect her” like they did the other managers and she had to be “tougher” to gain their respect.

      Reply
      1. turquoisecow*

        I have DEFINITELY had “too nice” teachers. The class was easily able to derail them on various personal topics (“tell us again how you met your husband!”) or other off-topic statements (after he said the Roman Empire went “down the tubes,” some of my classmates derailed things by asking the origins of that phrase) and they had trouble keeping the class focused. As a well-behaved “quiet” kid, I hated those classes and those teachers while the others claimed to love them. I didn’t learn nearly as much as I did in classes where the teacher was able to use their authority and maybe even meanness to keep the discussion on topic.

        Reply
        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          The kids *thought* they were derailing my husband, but they always learned something–and since he kept a firm eye on the clock. after a ‘derailment’ he would tell them exactly how much time they’d missed working on an assignment while he was around to help them. It did not take long before they wised up.

          Reply
      2. ferrina*

        I did feel I’d sort of “cheated” when I reorganised things so students had less opportunity to cause trouble

        This brings back memories. First thing I did as a student teacher was memorize where all the reflective surfaces were. Then I would scold a student for doing something that I could only see in the reflection (my back was turned to them). Instantly misbehavior went down by 50%. (they never figured out how I could see them, but they definitely tried).

        Reply
        1. Heffalump*

          No personal experience as a teacher or a pupil, but I’ve heard of adults claiming to have eyes in the back of their heads and children not being sure whether to believe them or not.

          Reply
    6. irene adler*

      Our bad boss very proudly states, ‘I’m not here to be liked.”

      Question: is ‘nice’ equated with ‘supportive’?

      Reply
      1. Magenta Sky*

        Machiavelli wrote that it’s better for a Prince to be respected and feared than to be liked.

        But Machiavelli wasn’t talking about business managers, no matter how many business managers fail to understand that.

        Reply
        1. MarsJenkar*

          I wanna say he said that being feared was safer than being loved, not necessarily better. But above all else, you do not want to become hated.

          Reply
        2. Vio*

          Interestingly there’s an increasingly popular theory that Machiavelli wrote The Prince as satire. But even if that was commonly known and accepted I’m sure there would still be those who would take it as gospel regardless.

          Reply
          1. Magenta Sky*

            There are people who take The Onion as gospel. There always will be.

            (On the other hand, when the biggest newspaper on Beijing quoted an Onion article as a source, and it was pointed out to them that it was satire, their response was, “With American newspapers, we can’t tell the difference.”)

            Reply
        3. Ellie*

          Being respected is more important than being liked, or feared. I love The Prince and what it says about politics, but Machiavelli was a psychopath who supported some of the worst people in history.

          Reply
        4. Bagpuss*

          Not to mention that Machiavelli was living in 15th & 16th C and lived through the rule of the Borgias. In world where getting things wrong politically was often fatal, you’d expect ideas about what was, and wasn’t, wisest and safest would be different! (even setting aside the issue of whether it was ever intended as genuine advice or not)

          Reply
      2. Alternative Person*

        For me, ‘nice’ is saying what someone wants to hear, ‘supportive’ is constructively telling them what they need to hear.

        Reply
    7. ProducerNYC*

      Same. I had a boss who told other coworkers I got along ‘too well’ with everyone to be taken seriously as a leader. Meanwhile all of my coworkers were coming to ME to talk about staff morale, etc, and I would be the unofficial spokesperson for all of our group concerns. When I finally left (after being turned down for promotion, grossly underpaid compared to peers and newer workers), so many of those coworkers told me how much they appreciated my leadership. It confirmed that I was good at rallying and encouraging people, even if I wasn’t getting the recognition and payscale from higher ups. I’m at a much better job now but man, that one took some years off of me.

      Reply
      1. ProducerNYC*

        I also had ‘difficult conversations’ with cowrokers that this boss didn’t want to do themselves. I didn’t know at the time I could have pushed back and said “I’m not comfortable doing that,” so I did it, and it turns out I’m pretty good at it (thanks, therapy!)

        Reply
    8. Here for the Insurance*

      I think the mistake people make is seeing it as an Either/Or, when in reality it’s a spectrum. There’s a huge amount of real estate between too nice and evil or abusive. Too far in either direction is a problem.

      Reply
    9. River*

      I am so glad your comment was first. I interviewed for an upper management role two years ago and was told by one of my interviewees “You know you have to be more than nice to be in this position.” You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar sweetie. Management is surely a balancing act not a one way show.

      Reply
    10. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I have a friend who was refused her bonus because she was “too nice” with her reports. They had all checked all the boxes, met all expectations, but she’d achieved that by managing her reports in a civilised fashion rather than by yelling and threatening.

      No prizes for those who guessed she was also the only woman manager there.

      She left pretty quickly after that and found a better paid position.

      Reply
    1. What nonsense will 2023 bring us?*

      Me neither.

      Also “unpopular personnel decision” has to be the understatement of the century, and a perfect example of how such an environment warps your sense of normalcy.

      Reply
      1. Cynan*

        Yup, the letter writer made it sound like it was a mere difference of opinion over management styles (not unlike the letter about the “decisive communication” boss) as opposed to people being rightly angry that the boss did something wildly inappropriate.

        Reply
    2. TomatoSoup*

      Me neither. Wow! That is a letter that I’d want an update on. While there *is* something to learning to deal with difficult people, that boss went waaaay outside the spectrum you’d normally encounter or could likely be expected to put up with.

      Reply
    3. ACM*

      There was another one about a boss who made a newbie employee who didn’t know better leave a note with a work question on the fresh gravestone of a bereaved employee’s loved one.

      That one sticks in my memory

      Reply
    4. raincoaster*

      The one who forced his employee to leave a note on a gravesite is also a standout. She got fired, he didn’t, if I recall.

      Reply
      1. Cynan*

        I remember that one. I believe the letter writer and the boss were both fired, which was still frustrating – boss deserved it, but LW was following orders and the boss had threatened their job.

        Reply
      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I remembered it once it was mentioned and I am NOT going back and re-reading it like I do with a lot of the linked posts. Ugh. So Awful.

        Reply
  2. The Rural Juror*

    Great article, Alison!

    I’m just now going through Seasons of Succession (HBO). I’m up to the last episode of Season 2 (I know, I know…I’m behind on the times!). I love when people write in asking about fictional characters as bosses, and Logan Roy (the patriarch of the family in the show) would be a wonderful one to assess! I couldn’t help but thinking of him yelling at his employees while I was reading the article. This may be a better tangent for a Friday Open Thread, but man… what a horrible boss! He takes the cake for sure.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I love Succession with all my heart. To me that show is about how massive amounts of wealth corrupts not just the person who has it, but everyone around that person.

      Reply
    2. Elle*

      I also love that show with all my heart and I care deeply about all the characters. They would all be horrible bosses. Bad boss of the decade candidates all around. Even Bill, who was loved by his staff, is actually a horrible person.

      Reply
    3. Ormond Sackler*

      I would much rather have Logan as a boss than any of his kids (or other relatives).

      Succession boss rankings:
      1. Logan–mean and abusive but knows what he’s doing and inspires a certain amount of loyalty (his higher-ups seem to have worked for him for a while; apparently it only takes about four direct reports to run his whole empire)
      2. Tom–weird and passive-aggressive but shows flashes of competence. Only Roy relative to actually do any work running his division. Would not like to be human furniture though
      3. Geri/Frank/Karl–don’t seem to have any power and live in fear of Logan but could be worse
      4. Connor–wouldn’t get paid after a while once he inevitably runs out of money but wouldn’t require much work.
      5. Shiv–job security would be major issue as none of her power plays ever come close to working
      6. Roman–even weirder than Tom and would send inappropriate pictures. Occasionally slightly competent.
      7. Kendall–even weirder than Roman, his power plays fail even more worse than Shiv’s (although Shiv hasn’t figured that out), and I’ve rather be human furniture than have to listen to his buzzwords and attempts to be cool or relatable.

      Reply
      1. SINE*

        At first I was going to argue that Geri would be ok but then I remembered that, while she has the ability/competency to run Waystar, she 100% would throw me to the wolves if it served her interests.

        Reply
  3. Essentially Cheesy*

    Why are there so many jerk bosses? Because many workplace systems are broken and their behaviors are ignored or tolerated. Top Leadership is often not strong enough to take on a very motivated jerk. It’s a tough process when someone sees nothing wrong with how they personally behave.

    Spent 14 years working for an awful boss and I had no way to fight off his behavior because there was zero zero zero support.

    Reply
    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Top Leadership is often NOT WILLING to take on a very motivated jerk. Abusive bosses are and should be dropped onto the plates of top leadership to deal with, NOT their employees, because the leadership is the one with the power to actually change things.

      Reminds me a lot of some older Captain Awkward letters about Creepy Guys and her points that women are already holding up more than their fair share of the social contract to protect themselves from creepy dudes, and to make any lasting change the non-creepy dudes have to step up and do their fair share by not enabling the creeps.

      Reply
      1. College Career Counselor*

        I am once again reminded of Bob Sutton’s book, “The No Asshole Rule” which points out the drawbacks of having toxic people in leadership (or as colleagues). Really good read.

        Reply
    2. TomatoSoup*

      People get kicked upstairs rather than kicked out. Then there’s the assumption that if someone is good at doing a thing, they’d be great at managing people who do that thing instead.

      Reply
      1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        for sure. i worked under a Class A bully for five years. it got so bad i had to involve a team lead + boss’s boss. it didn’t help. then boss’s boss was edged out in a restructure and bully boss recently got a big promotion. i hope bully boss rots in hell for all eternity. worst boss of my life. also very nosy.

        Reply
    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      If there is a bad boss that stays, that means the boss above them is doing a bad job too. Because it is part of their job to ensure their employees are doing a good job, and an abusive boss is not doing a good job.

      I’ve heard a phrase called ‘seagull management’ which means that a boss comes in, poops over everything and makes a lot of noise, and then leaves again. When I hear about bad bosses who endure, I refer to it as ‘seagulls all the way up.’

      Reply
  4. Fluffy Fish*

    “Part of the answer is that abusive managers are often good at hiding their worst behavior from those above them, and their employees are afraid of repercussions if they speak up. ”

    ANDDDDDDD when you do speak up its reduced to a “personality conflict”. There’s a lot of bad behavior at all levels that seems that people kind of throw up their hands and go “Oh that’s just Bill” or “Jane’s always been that way”

    It is both appropriate and vital for employers to address bad behavior.

    Reply
    1. irene adler*

      Or “no one else has reported this experience” with abusive manager.

      Or an upper management person states, “I’ve never seen any kind of abusive behavior from that manager”.

      And no one gets why this is the case.

      Reply
      1. Fluffy Fish*

        “Or “no one else has reported this experience” with abusive manager”

        THHHISSSSS. As a person who repeatedly spoke up about a former bosses behavior that was a huge issue. “Well no one else said anything.”

        Yeah, you wanna know why? Because his behavior was so egregious (seriously the dude reputation preceded him and they hired him anyway), that the assumption is why bother because you clearly are accepting it by letting it happen.

        Reply
        1. Totally Minnie*

          Fun story: My abusive boss story is below, and when I made my first complaint, I got the “nobody else has complained” speech. Then, after months of talking to people in other departments who had worked with this manager in the past, several of them told me they HAD made a complaint to HR.

          At the appointment I describe below where we presented all our documentation, the HR lady told us what she meant was “nobody has filled out and signed the official form requesting an investigation.” I asked friends afterward if they had been offered the form to fill out and sign. They had not.

          Reply
      2. Artemesia*

        The Germans of course have a word for this person — the bicyclist personality — below they kick, above they bow.

        Reply
    2. cncx*

      « Personality conflict » or a « bad fit » or the employee is « too sensitive »… also my particular bad boss had a tendency to saw the most horrible things in our one on one meetings behind closed doors then complain to colleagues he didn’t understand why I was so unhappy… these bosses hide their worst behavior and tptb don’t care as long as the bottom line is there.

      Reply
      1. Fluffy Fish*

        I’ve heard the terrible boss I mentioned say absolutely seriously on multiple locations “I get a long with everybody”.

        Reply
    3. Meep*

      So much this. It took the owner bringing in a third-party HR specialist for him to come to terms with the fact that my former manager and I were not having a “personality conflict”. She was participating in straight-up harassment to hide her incompetencies. It didn’t matter to him that we had gotten along well until she needed a new scapegoat or that I was the fifth in the line of scapegoats she had wrongfully terminated (selected due to their chronic medical conditions and other protected classes).

      The HR specialist was floored and blown away. Said she (my former boss) was the worst HR violation she had ever encountered in her 25+ years of experience. FB really up and went into that interview trashing the owner. Really woke her boss up who ended up apologizing to me profusely despite my warning him several times. (I mean I wouldn’t want to employ someone who calls my wife a b*tch would you?)

      Reply
    4. Heremione Danger*

      I worked for a kiss up / kick down boss for not quite a year. I had friends urging me to tell company leadership. Only, I’d met the abusive boss for the first time in the executive conference room, where I’d also seen a quote by Machiavelli prominently displayed. Of course I wouldn’t expect “end justifies the means” leadership to have problems with a bully they’d hired.

      Reply
    5. Totally Minnie*

      When I worked for an abusive manager, my coworkers and I brought a mountain of documentation to our grandboss and HR. Her offenses included religious discrimination, age discrimination, sexual harassment, disclosing employee evaluation information to other staff, forcing staff to violate policy because she disagreed with it, and overall bullying and abusive behavior. We told them that we had a supply closet staff used to hide and cry in.

      We were told that since Manager’s daughter had died a few years earlier, we needed to cut her some slack. Noting was done about it.

      Reply
      1. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

        Huh. I also had a monster abusive bullying boss once whose behavior was excused by upper management because her adult daughter had died a few years prior. “She’s been through a lot” was the excuse they made for allowing her to treat everyone else with contempt and disrespect. She needed to take major time off for long-term intensive counseling, not be permitted carte blanche to demean and bully everyone else she came in contact with. It was completely out of control. So glad I got out of there when I did.

        Reply
  5. Kaiko*

    It’s also important to remember that abusers don’t abuse everyone they meet, and they often have a courting period where they hold off on bad behaviour.

    Reply
    1. ferrina*

      And they have the flying monkeys.

      One horrible boss I had brought in her cheerleader/’reliable witness’/henchman within 3 months of her becoming the boss. The Henchman had been with the boss since Hench graduated college- Boss was pretty much the only professional norm that Hench knew. So Hench was constantly talking up Boss and how great she was. Meanwhile, Boss was absolutely awful to me–she held me to completely different standards than Hench. If a project was too difficult for Hench, it got moved to me, even (and especially) if I didn’t have any time for it. I worked 50-60 hours/wk while Hench was working 35-40 doing the same job. When it was time to hire help for Hench and I, Hench got 2 people and I got 0, even though I had a higher existing workload and a bigger projected workstream (Boss’s argument was that we couldn’t increase Hench’s workload without hiring people for her. Even though Boss was perfectly happy to increase my workload). Boss would talk herself up, and Hench would immediately parrot everything Boss said. I was the odd one out by speaking the truth. Grandboss didn’t know much about our department and was famous for unofficially working part-time (he really didn’t work much), so he would take the easiest way out. 1 vs 2? No investigation or oversight needed, just tell the 1 to stop complaining.

      Reply
    2. I'm fabulous!*

      Agreed. They will always be respectful of those higher than them. Those who are lower ranking get the brunt of it.

      Reply
    3. CharlieBrown*

      This is a perfect description of my former boss. I remember sitting there looking at a fellow employee as he was schmoozing up a couple of new employees and we knew that the end of their honeymoon period was only a few months away. (One of them got wise and just stopped coming in. Good for her!)

      Reply
    4. Alice*

      Absolutely. I would get sympathetic looks whenever I mentioned who I worked for and people would ask me how I could work with him. I never saw it. He treated some people horrifically and others well. I didn’t see how bad things were until I left, and looking back I’m horrified at what I put up with (boiling frog comes to mind).

      Reply
  6. Beka Rosselin-Metadi*

    In my experience, these people are tolerated because they bring in money. At least, that’s how it was in my old company. As soon as they stopped bringing in the money-that’s when they lose their jobs. But it’s different everywhere.

    Reply
    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yep. Some of the worst behavior I’ve seen from adults was from law firm partners with enormous books of business, especially pre-2008 recession. It should not be a joke that someone throws office supplies at junior team members.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia*

        In universities, big grant getters are untouchable. They can abuse grad students, be sexual predators, abuse subordinates and torpedo their careers — nothing will happen to them because they bring in grants and news coverage.

        Reply
    2. ferrina*

      I’ve had a couple that stopped bringing in money. Either they were dealt with swiftly, or not at all. Often their boss was hands off and decided that at a certain level, no management was needed. So Grandboss wasn’t actually aware of what Boss was doing. By the time they were aware, it had been going on so long that they continued to ignore or even hid it so they wouldn’t need to answer hard questions about why they let a bully who didn’t bring in money continue to work there.

      Every time I’ve had a toxic boss, the Grandboss wasn’t actually providing any management to them.

      Reply
    3. irene adler*

      Or they get a phenomenal amount of work done.
      Our abusive boss can squeeze the work of 8 people out of 5 employees.
      No one else is able to do that.

      Reply
    4. Meep*

      Funny enough if they didn’t tolerate it and had a healthy environment for employees they would make even MORE money.

      Reply
    5. Cut & Run*

      Exactly! I’ve worked in marketing in sales-supporting roles, and the level of nonsense that I’ve seen account executives get away with when they are high-billers is absolutely insane. Each, and every instance was never dealt with appropriately until their billings dropped.

      I once managed a sales team myself, and I found out that one of them was inappropriately messaging a minor when the minor’s mother came into my office with her daughters phone to prove it. The level of pushback I received against firing him instantly was mind-blowing. My boss (who had a daughter the same age) wanted to keep him, but give him a “stern talking to”. Then it was on me to match the same sales figures despite being down that person.

      Reply
      1. cardigarden*

        Your boss was willing to risk the company’s reputation (clearly they were beyond doing the moral/ethically correct and legally responsible thing) to keep a guy who was SENDING INAPPROPRIATE MESSAGES TO MINORS (!!!!!) because his sales numbers were good????!

        Reply
    6. Clobberin' Time*

      Or: they are THOUGHT to bring in money. Rarely do the excuse-makers look at how much money that person is costing the company, or how much money someone else with the jerk’s job could bring in.

      Reply
    7. Aggretsuko*

      On a related note, ever notice how some celebrities finally only get taken down once they stop making money for people? Nobody listens to the allegations unless the person isn’t bringing in the big bucks.

      Reply
  7. Anon4This*

    I have a manager on my team who should not be managing, and I’m less than a week from being able to fix that problem. In this case, they have a very specific (and lucrative in our tiny market segment) expertise that is rare, not something we can train for in-house, and the product of well over a decade of industry battle scars. The principals of the company value the expertise and are not affected by the offending behavior, and the manager actually leverages their high turnover rate to increase the value of their expertise to the team.

    It’s been a long, slow process, but guess who’s being stripped of all their management duties (finally)? And the principals are STILL terrified they’re going to quit on the spot when we meet with them about it.

    Reply
    1. Zircon*

      Oohhh, please let us have an update on how this goes! Both in a couple of weeks, and long term. I’m really interested to hear if people do actually change.

      Reply
  8. LR*

    Had the exact experience of the legal assistant example, but in the indie film world. small shop, guy who ran it was a tyrant, totally zero management skills, nightmare. as Allison always points out, it warped my sense of workplace norms for years afterwards.

    Years (and other jobs and some therapy) later, I can see so clearly that this man was very insecure, and presiding over his fiefdom with an iron fist was both a learned behavior and a way to keep his own terror of inadequacy at bay. Today I am able to school my interns to watch out for this sort of behavior and not be afraid to walk away from it. I also make very clear to them what is and isn’t ok for them to feel stressed about (as in, this part is Not Your Job so don’t feel like you’re responsible for it falling apart as you watch!).

    I really hope this sort of behavior, along with ludicrous things like unpaid internships, will become increasing untenable with Gen Z coming into the workforce. While I definitely learned much about my industry while working for this jerk, it was NOT worth the mental/emotional trade off. I left the industry completely for several years to exorcise the experience. He still pops into my head more than once a week, and I haven’t seen or spoken to him in over seven years.

    Folks interested in ‘sexy’ industries like film, fashion, PR etc…as soon as you see that red flag, just leave! Keeping your sanity and sense of self intact is FAR more important than whatever benefit you’ll get from jerks like these.

    PS – this guy ALSO crashed his employee’s wedding. In another country, bringing his wife and child. So 3 people to feed who hadn’t been invited. UNREAL.

    Reply
    1. Hlao-roo*

      When I read the line about giving managers adequate training in the article, I thought about the “I yelled at our intern” letter (I’ll link in a follow-up comment). That letter-writer had the power to fire the intern! There was no reason for them (or the lawyer in the article, or your ex-boss) to yell at the intern. Luckily, that LW recognized they were out of line and wrote in for advice, but I think there’s a lot of truth to

      this man was very insecure, and presiding over his fiefdom with an iron fist was both a learned behavior and a way to keep his own terror of inadequacy at bay

      It’s very sad that so many managers are left to wallow in their insecurity and yell at their employees, instead of being trained on how to effectively use (non-yelling!) management techniques.

      Reply
    2. Grace Poole*

      A few years ago I read that expose of the famous film/tv producer who allegedly bullied and abused his staff, and I almost had a panic attack. I’ve never worked in that industry, but in a parallel one where it’s hard to get experience and there isn’t a lot of opportunity to move around. The “management” behavior was remarkably similar to the worst supervisor I ever had, though, and I forwarded it to former colleagues with a trigger warning.

      Reply
      1. LR*

        The thing I’ve tried to contextualize to my interns is: if you’re in an industry where there’s always more talent than there are jobs, you’re likely to be treated badly from jump because the marketplace is so uneven. As someone said elsewhere in the thread, people get away with bad behavior when there’s no repercussion/incentive for them to change. And if you drive away your employees over and over but you can easily replace them, and it doesn’t tank your business productivity … why would you change how you operate?

        Conversely, my husband works in software engineering and the attitude there is (or was, anyway) that big companies wanted to gobble up young talent before their competitors could. So kids got hired out of college with $120k base salaries because they were scarcer than the demand for their talents – inverse of the film industry situation.

        If I had had someone give me a sort of Marketplace-esque explanation of the industry dynamics when I was right out of college, I probably wouldn’t have gone into film at all because it would have been obvious I’d never make enough money (I make $50k now with over 10 years’ experience).

        I *certainly * wouldn’t have gotten a master’s degree that has no impact on my hire-ability and that put me in add’l $25k student loan debt!!

        Reply
  9. Dust Bunny*

    I think also for the same reason so many celebrities are jerks: It takes a certain amount of ego and willingness to prioritize yourself to get that far.

    Reply
    1. Nobody*

      +1
      Just add politicians to your list: you have to have a certain amount of ego to be one.

      I had not previously considered management, but I think that is almost certainly true for many, many bad managers

      Reply
      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        It’s a well-known fact that the Venn diagram for bosses and psychopaths are two circles that overlap A LOT.

        Reply
      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        The typical start-up owner has a pretty huge ego, and also the inability to take orders from others.

        Reply
  10. Vlad the merry impaler*

    It’s the Mighty Profit Cult, the short-term result orientation of the companies and the over-focusing on shareholders at the expense of other stakeholder groups. The end result is a system that incentivizes (sub-clinical, but sometimes clinical) psychopaths and sociopaths (and in the C-suite layer those + narcissists are over-represented, studies show), who can afford options that normal, caring people don’t.

    Organizational psychology clearly shows any short-term gains a psychopath brings are way erased in medium- and long-term, but companies don’t care anymore about long-term, not since Milton Friedman’s “Greed is good” catastrophic line.

    Reply
  11. Meep*

    Seven months in, my bad boss being fired was the best decision the company has ever made. Not only is she no longer here to scare away current clients, we are actually getting very large new clients. On top of it, morale is so much better and things are going to get done.

    I understand that companies (like the company with OP using the mouse-jigger) think eight hours of work needs to be done each day, but it is amazing how 4-6 hours of quality, stress-free work can outmatch 8-12 hours of “productivity”

    Reply
  12. Michelle Smith*

    I am a lawyer and at least where I’m admitted, you are allowed to provide additional information to the bar. I would strongly recommend that if you have a toxic employer like that who you know is going to give a horrible reference, that you speak to someone (like a judge or clerk as mentioned in the article) to see if they would be willing to write a letter explaining your professionalism and the problems they’ve seen from the prior employer. Character and fitness committees can truly be brutal, but if you are preemptive in gathering information to counter or explain things like short stints, firings, etc. you’re going to be in a much better position to avoid having to fight in court for your admission.

    Reply
    1. Zircon*

      But wouldn’t it be even better if that clerk and judge did something about the lawyer directly? Talk to them directly, describe what they observe about the lawyer’s behaviour, state this is not acceptable, tell them what they expect to see and then contact each employee and pro-actively provide them with a letter so there is some protection.
      I very much doubt lawyers get any training on managing people.

      Reply
  13. Prospect Gone Bad*

    I feel like the job of management gets more thankless as time goes on. Most of the perks like support staff or generous discretionary budgets/petty cash or just getting a tad more respect or a private office are gone. HR makes it harder than ever to fire low performers so you need to suffer with problematic employees for ages. It’s ever more common for upper management to come down hard on you as a manager for an area you run but isn’t doing great, but you aren’t allowed to hire or fire in the area because HR wants a phone book of documentation on how the employee is messing stuff up, before you let them go. You are constantly between two groups of people who aim all of their complaints at you. Neither side sees the other side’s points. For example, highly paid employees will still think they are underpaid, but when someone who is actually underpaid needs a raise, upper management acts like I am being unreasonable. I think this one is generational, I have more people than ever complaining to me about stuff that people simply didn’t complain about even ten years ago, stuff that you used to just laugh about on Friday over drinks. Employees increasingly thing I can change everything in the world and stop every little annoying thing their coworker does. So I am constantly in a cycle of fighting off requests, leaving employees feeling unheard, so I can focus on core issues and us staying in business. You are now supposed to be a business guru but everyone’s counselor. Then there is the odd trend where if you give everyone what they ask for, it doesn’t improve performance. I don’t condone abuse, but I can see why a manager may not always be in a great mood. Abuse is also a subjective term. I’ve lived through too many work situations where someone was disgruntled because they were told “no” so told everyone else a completely different story than what happened.

    Reply
    1. GenX and loving it*

      Oh man! This is so true. I left management (ED) last year and went back to individual contributor. The final straw was the board brought in a leader who had a record of destruction ( in newspapers etc all over country) I had spent 5 years, 50 to 60 hours a week, making connections, getting funding, hiring the right staff to truly have an outstanding program. He basically said I was incompetent and didn’t understand how things worked. I gave me “help” with a Director who REALLY was clueless. I had the staff fussing about her, she was giving “ideas” and he was yelling at me and the businesses that had donated or wanted to support upset with changes, that he attributed to me. Now they are in the red, programs closed or not full. It is a mess….

      Reply
    2. Skippy*

      I’ve been a manager, and yes, it’s not easy for all of the reasons you cite.

      But I’ve also been the victim of an abusive boss, and believe me, it’s nothing like working with a boss who “may not always be in a great mood.” I’ve worked for moody bosses, and it is heaven compared to someone who lies to you, gaslights you, and screams at you so much that you need to seek therapy.

      It also doesn’t help when you have other people who insist that you must be making things up and that you’re really the one to blame.

      Reply
      1. Totally Minnie*

        Exactly this. I’ve had bosses who were overworked and could be frustrated and moody at times. I’ve also had a boss who caused about 60% of her employees to go cry in the supply closet on a regular basis. They were not the same.

        Reply
      2. cncx*

        Thank you. I had my abusive boss brushed off as a « personality conflict » and me being « too sensitive » and « expecting too much » when like… I used to work in a law firm and had stuff thrown at me and this guy was WORSE. It isn’t the same.

        Reply
    3. unperformative worker*

      Did you choose to be a manager? Did you do any research into what managing entails?
      It’s not for everyone.

      Reply
    4. Appletini*

      I have more people than ever complaining to me about stuff that people simply didn’t complain about even ten years ago, stuff that you used to just laugh about on Friday over drinks.

      Employees are increasingly learning what their rights are.

      Reply
  14. Me*

    My manager is very hard to work with. But he’s not measured by his behavior, so he has no incentive to change. His targets are pretty low and they are met, although in a different work environment, the targets would be greatly exceeded. But the place has been dysfunctional for so long that the targets are not set higher.

    He’s also personal friends with a very high up person so he’s not going anywhere.

    Reply
    1. Avery*

      Sounds a little like my old manager. She did great at her personal work, so everybody loved her, even though she clearly didn’t want to be a manager, didn’t have the time to be a manager, and didn’t know how to be a manager. But she’s the face of the place now, so she’s not going anywhere.

      Reply
  15. Bunny Girl*

    The message I’ve always gotten with crappy bosses is that it’s harder to replace them then the “little pee-ons” that keep quitting.

    Reply
      1. Some words*

        And large employers often would send people they wanted to groom for management positions to actual management training. Does that happen any more?

        Reply
        1. Dinwar*

          Not in my experience. I’ve been making it up as I go along. They haven’t fired me yet, so I must be doing okay. On the flip side, the last time someone asked what my job description was I just started laughing–no one can define what it is I’m supposed to actually do.

          And that’s not unusual. The podcast “Management Tools” has pointed this out as a major failure of corporate culture: They don’t treat management as an actual role, with actual skills that need to be developed and responsibilities that need to be taken care of.

          This manifests in another way: The “working manager”. Folks who are expected to both produce product (whatever that may be) AND manage teams of ten, fifteen people. It shows that executives really don’t respect the position of manager.

          There’s a reason managers had offices with doors that close–they have hard conversations with people, and it’s polite to have those conversations without broadcasting them to everyone. There’s a reason managers didn’t work on the production lines–it’s their job to keep those lines running, to deal with the things the folks on the lines don’t even realize need done. There’s a reason management was considered a career–it’s HARD. There’s a reason managers were well compensated–done well, the job actually sucks. Higher-ups took all that away because “we’re one big happy family” (read: “We’re cutting costs to the bone”), decided that management was simply a minor task that could be tacked on to a random worker’s workload, and everyone’s now wondering why we have bad managers…

          Reply
          1. Avery*

            …I spoke too soon above. THIS is my old manager to a tee. If she was just left alone to do her own work, she’d be a rockstar! But she had no business managing, and she didn’t have the time to do it on top of her regular workload anyway, and it showed in how she “managed” me when I got thrust upon her anyhow.

            Reply
          2. Alternative Person*

            Yep. This is a problem with my job. Corporate (and a fair bit of the wider industry) has weeded out quite a few pure management and not quite management roles, leaving those left dealing with admin/personnel/managing duties and everything that comes with producing our product + delivering it. Then when that goes sour, someone has to pick up the pieces and they’re unlikely to be able to leverage that for anything because there are no positions to go to. It’s a vicious cycle.

            Reply
  16. She/Her/Hers*

    I would love an update on any one of those examples if Alison is ever looking for letter writers to reach back out to!!! OMG!

    I am so glad that all of my own bad bosses have been bad in the “benign neglect” or “irritating but tolerable micromanaging” kind of ways. I’m getting myself out of management (after 2 years of hating it more every day), hopefully before I’ve done anything awful enough to cause someone to write into this column.

    Reply
    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      There was an update for the one where the boss was negligent and the horse died! Grandboss had much more of a spine than the boss or the union rep and they did their best in making things whole for OP.

      Reply
    2. Horse OP*

      I’m the horse boss OP.
      I’ve been meaning to write into Alison but the update to the update is super depressing and I’m waiting for things to improve so there’s some positivity.

      Reply
  17. Full-Time Fabulous*

    My former monster of a boss was and still is completely enabled by her boss, her boss’ boss, and Human Resources. They go along with anything and everything she says/does/wants.

    Reply
    1. mate*

      Just like my worst-ever boss!

      I don’t get it. This dude continues to cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in legal fees alone. He is not good at his job. The turnover is intense, so no work ever gets done. Why are they protecting him?!

      Reply
  18. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    I have worked for some absolutely toxic bosses – like the one who dinged me on my Annual Performance Review for investigating EEO Related Complaints (I’m in HR). Of course, this was the same guy who flat out told me that I probably should find another job if I didn’t like what was going on (yes, because any respectable HR Professional is going to put up with the crap they were doing!) So, I did find another job, but not before gathering a bunch of documentation regarding ongoing Wage and Hour Violations, and EEO Violations, which were reported to the appropriate agencies. I understand my replacement didn’t last three days before they walked out.

    Reply
  19. Wintermute*

    I think a large part of it is threefold.

    First, people are often promoted based on their skills as an individual contributor, not because of any promise as a manager of contributors. They will make someone the Director of Llama Processing because they process so many llama you can’t believe it, and do it well, not because they show skills at interpersonal communication, handling difficult conversations, and developing people.

    Secondly, that would be fine if they then trained them, but often managers are expected to just figure out how to handle things on their own. In most organizations they’re lucky if they get a week worth of training that includes legal obligations (FMLA, ADA, etc), how to use any new systems (how to approve timecards, approve expense claims, how to use the scheduling software, etc). They rarely talk to them about how to handle upset employees, how to deal with awkward conversations, how to give feedback well, how to hold people accountable. And as a result many managers just… don’t do those things, or don’t do them well.

    And lastly but perhaps most importantly, a manager has a wider view of the situation and is often divorced from the immediate people, especially upper managers. It’s easy to hear about someone’s pet dying or a serious medical issue and think “For Pete’s sake, now I have to find coverage and John said he wasn’t working any more over time because he covered the last three times, and Bill refuses to ever work any overtime and I can’t punish him for that, even if it’s not fair to John and Greg has his own medical issue going on, and I’d r ather not miss another school play for my kids but if everyone else refuses I’m going to have to!” And because of that distance and appreciation for the consequences react less than charitably. And that happens frequently, where the needs of the business and your job as manager put pressure on you that conflicts with the humane “take the time you need, we can survive” answer you ought to give.

    Reply
    1. CR*

      Your first point is an excellent one. Being a manager is such a different skill set but this isn’t taken into consideration when hiring managers!

      Reply
    2. Warrior Princess Xena*

      This is such a great breakdown. I’d add that it’s all too easy, with your third point, to get into the mindset of making clinical decisions (because that is sometimes what the job will involve) and burn out all of your humanity because you pour too much of yourself in. Being a good boss is hard.

      Reply
    3. Dinwar*

      Regarding #3, the thing to remember is that a manager’s first loyalty is to the company. A good manager will show that loyalty by building a good team, thereby improving quality, cutting costs, and making a better working environment. But if it comes down to an individual on the team vs. what the company needs, they are obliged to favor the company.

      Further, the problems are exacerbated by lean employment. Having just enough employees to do the job is a great way to make a profit–right up until something happens and one of them has to call out sick. Even just-barely-staffed teams can usually take a hit for a short time–everyone just works a bit harder, a few hours of overtime each, something like that–but if it’s more than once in a blue moon you’re inviting burnout, stress, frustration, etc. And that’s generally not a management decision. Budget for staff is likely being determined higher up the food chain. Taking the blame for it, on the other hand, IS a management role. To those below you in the org chart you’re the immediate representative of They. To those above you, you ARE the team.

      Reply
      1. Wintermute*

        you are absolutely right. This has only gotten worse and worse as the norm in most offices went from “have enough people everyone can use all their PTO and you can handle people being out sick” to “lean and mean” and then way past “lean and mean” to “skinny and pissed off”

        Reply
    4. Here for the Insurance*

      I wish I had $1 for every time I’ve argued your point 1 with some of my colleagues. They’ve bought into “good producer = good manager” hook, line, and sinker and it drives me bonkers. But then they’re also micromanagers who think they have to do their employees’ work for them, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

      Reply
    5. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      Your first and second points: I am one of those people, an experienced individual contributor who become a people manager (a poor one, in my own estimation). But I didn’t do it willingly. As the company grew and needed more staff, I was informed that I would get two direct reports to help handle the huge workload. So I said, very directly, that I didn’t want direct reports, that I wanted to remain an individual contribute and specialist. The response was “tough, there is no one else to do it, and you are getting direct reports”. Of course I received no manager training, no guidance. I am a poor manager in the sense that I dislike doing it, don’t want to do it, and feel very uncomfortable doing performance evaluations and giving critical feedback. (I am not abusive.) I am too non-confrontational to be a people manager, plus I have no inherent interest or aptitude in that area. The situation sucks. I am also in a small company that doesn’t offer a specialist track, so the only way to get promoted is into a people management role.

      One very curious note about the mindset of individual contributors who become people managers:
      Once I become a people manager, I told my own boss that my new number one job responsibility was now managing my direct reports (NOT producing work product for my boss), because in my opinion, a people manager’s first responsibility should be people management, obviously. Well, you should have seen the look on his face! It was a combination of surprise, guilt and concern. Surprise and guilt because he didn’t place any importance on managing me or his other 5 direct reports and instead focused on his own individual contributions. And concern because he then realized that my #1 focus would no longer be supporting his needs and creating work product for him. LOL.

      Reply
  20. Singing in the rain*

    Why was there never an update on the wedding crasher boss? I’ve SO wanted to hear more about that one.

    Reply
  21. Keymaster of Gozer*

    In my experience of the Boss From Hell, it was down to a number of things:

    1. He only picked upon the less popular staff. The outcasts. The weirdos.
    2. He dressed all his abuse up as ‘trying to help the staff’. Bashing your gender, appearance etc. was done to ‘help you fit in’. Or ‘for your health’
    3. He played rugby with the big bosses
    4. He’d escalate only in situations where it was your word against his. Since he’d be believed.
    5. He was very good at rumour. This was a guy who spread around that I was delusional and wanted into his pants. Just ew. But, again, people believed him.

    And lastly:

    6. This was a male dominated environment and he only picked on women. The rest of the guys either joined in or just looked the other way.

    Sexism is behind a lot of it.

    Reply
  22. Aggretsuko*

    I’m reminded of a buddy of mine who worked in an office for most of her career and finally had to switch to a totally different office/field because she’d been getting bullied for 8 years. Plenty of complaints had been made, nothing happened, the bully kept getting promoted and promoted.

    People like Strong Leaders and Strong People and people who run others over like a bulldozer. That’s what they *want* in power, not nice wusses who won’t bulldoze. That’s why power corrupts. When you can do whatever you want to whoever you want, why wouldn’t you become an asshole?

    (Note: yes, some people don’t become assholes in power, but I had this DRUMMED INTO ME DAILY at my high school, literally. It seems like more people become jerks with power than don’t. This is why I avoid power at all costs. I don’t want so much as a tiny taste of yummy, yummy power….)

    Reply
    1. Sara without an H*

      The problem with complaining about abusive bosses is that, in a lot of cases, they are getting the results the Higher Ups want.

      Reply
    2. Dinwar*

      “People like Strong Leaders and Strong People and people who run others over like a bulldozer. That’s what they *want* in power, not nice wusses who won’t bulldoze.”

      There’s something to that. I’ve read that one of things kings of the Middle Ages had to do was act like a king. They had to play the part. They had to be seen granting favors and lands and titles to loyal vassals, they had to be seen giving judgments and fighting wars and the like. Because that’s what kings DID, and that’s what everyone expected kings to do, and if you didn’t do that you weren’t really a king.

      I think there’s something similar in management. Upper management/executives and employees have a picture in their heads of how a manager behaves. Often these contradict each other. But just think about “manager” for a moment–you think of a person in a business suit in an office talking to an employee. In some fields, “management” is expected to bark and push and shove people into line, to be “forceful” (read, verbally if not physically abusive). There’s a lot of historic reasons for this (see Duke Wellington’s statements about his own soldiers), but mostly they’re irrelevant; that’s how many people see managers, and that’s what people–above and below us in the hierarchy–want to see us do.

      I think that’s where the generational thing comes into play. We’re in the midst of a cultural shift, and the expectations of the performative aspect of management that the younger crowd has is very different from that of the older crowd. This of course means those (young and old) who hold to the older views are entrenching themselves and making a Flanderized view of the previous normal view the new idealized vision of what a manager should be. But it also means that people–young and old, but mostly leaning young–have very different expectations of how managers should behave.

      This creates a disconnect. Someone used to the old version of a manger–the forceful one who puts their employees in their places and gets things done, personal problems be damned!–is going to think modern managers are too soft. Someone who holds the modern view of a manager is going to find the old-school managers extremely problematic.

      (To be clear, I’m absolutely on the side of the newer views of management! The jobs I make my people do are hard, and I STRONGLY emphasize self-care, and have pushed for it for them. I just also grew up around old-school folks, and understand the other side. Created lots of fun situations where folks thought they could run over me, until they learned that just because I don’t cuss and scream doesn’t mean I’m going to put up with crap.)

      Reply
  23. rayray*

    I’ve never had a boss who was fully abusive or threatening, but I had one boss who made my working life hell. A few years ago I worked for a woman who was an absolute TYRANT. Besides being insanely micromanaging and controlling, she was just mean and difficult. I frequently complained about her to friends and even on open thread Fridays here. I don’t even know how I could possibly make anyone understand how much she beat me down. I could only function at work in Survival Mode and counting down the minutes each day that I could get away from her. There were times when SHE made mistakes and would yell at me for how things got done. If I made the smallest of error, I absolutely heard about it but if I pointed out where she’d gone wrong, she had the audacity to laugh at herself as if it was so adorable and funny. I had the name of the person who had been in my role previously and I looked her up so many times on LinkedIn and thought about messaging her just to ask how she made it in that job because she was there a couple years from my understanding. I never did so, I wasn’t sure if she could possibly have been a relative or something. I have never in my life been in any situation where I had ZERO autonomy in that way. Even as a child in first grade, I had more autonomy. Being laid off from that job was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I had been job hunting, but genuinely I think I was so depressed and beat down in large part due to this job that it affected how I did in interviews and my job search overall. A few people commented on how much better I seemed once I’d been away from that job for a while. I have thought many times about writing some kind of article or something about that woman. She is absolutely bat shit insane and she made my life MISERABLE. The times I vented or just told people about things that went down, jaws would drop. I was told so many times to walk away and I wanted to so badly but, I needed to survive.

    Reply
    1. Sara without an H*

      Ummm…From your description, I would say that she was definitely abusive. Don’t second guess your instincts.

      Glad you’re out of there, and here’s to a happier future.

      Reply
    2. cncx*

      It is funny you mention autonomy, I hadn’t pegged that as one of the symptoms but it is absolutely true! I was « coached » on answering the phone (I have over twenty years of reception and helpdesk experience)!

      Reply
  24. Sarah M*

    The lawyer sounds just like the one I clerked for the summer between 1st and 2nd year. She did everything *but* throw binders at me.

    Reply
  25. Spicy Tuna*

    Mean bosses are very effective for some employees. Back when I was working full time, the worse a boss treated me, the more work I got done. That was my own issue, of course, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who responds that way. Bosses are mean because it works sometimes

    Reply
    1. Middle Aged Lady*

      Not me. I get anxious and start making mistakes. My creativity tanks so I don’t have any goid ideas, and I spend off time ruminating and dreading the next day.

      Reply
      1. Chirpy*

        Same. Mean bosses are the reason I’m currently hiding in the warehouse on AAM….

        I definitely work best with supportive bosses and coworkers. The quality and quantity of work goes way up when you’re not spending mental capacity on worrying about who’s going to explode next or tear you down for tiny reasons.

        Reply
    2. Wintermute*

      that can work… to a point.

      The problem is like any pressure boiler, if you turn the pressure up just a little too high it becomes a time bomb. and people are not always good at knowing when they are being pushed over the edge before they hit a complete mental breakdown.

      You get more efficiency by driving for consistent and sustainable excellence than by burning out employees and having to replace them.

      Reply
  26. Ashley Armbruster*

    Because it doesn’t qualify as a “hostile work environment”. If my boss is bullying me, what is HR going to do about it? Nothing, they are they for the company and I will probably be the one penalized.

    Reply
    1. It's Marie - Not Maria*

      Unfortunately, unless you are being bullied based on a protected class, it’s not a hostile work environment, which sucks. Some states have anti-bullying laws, but not all. Equal opportunity a-holes are protected almost everywhere.

      Reply
    2. Observer*

      That’s not how this works, if you have competent HR / Management. Because legality is only ONE thing that needs to be considered.

      Of course, recognizing that requires competence. But the idea that HR for sure won’t do anything because they are only there for the company, and it’s not illegal is not reality in the *general* sense.

      Think about whether your HR is reasonably competent. If they are, you should NOT be penalized for going to them. And hopefully they will realize that reining in a bullying boss is a good idea.

      Reply
  27. Sparky*

    The most abusive boss I ever had was the owner of the company. He also made it a point to hire people who might not be able to get hired easily in other places, like former convicts. He had everyone over a barrel and could act however he wanted until employees finally figured out how to get another job.

    Reply
  28. Lily Potter*

    What a timely post. I just learned that my horrible boss from 25 years ago passed away recently, and for a few minutes I felt guilty about not feeling bad about that. Then, I remembered the hell I went through working for that person, and I cut myself some slack.

    This boss was beloved by their superiors yet horrible to their reports. I put up with it for too long because, like the lawyers in the article, I was very young and was afraid of failing and never being hired again. In retrospect, I realized that this boss ALWAYS had one employee in their sight for “improvement” at a given time – “improvement” meaning “they’d better be perfect in every way or I’ll make sure they’re reprimanded accordingly”. No yelling, just a quiet, continual and constant berating about what a terrible job you were doing. Worst of all, this boss was very good about making you feel like you deserved the treatment. After living through it for 18 months, I began to have a small understanding of why beaten spouses stay with their abusers. Your self esteem takes SUCH a shot.

    I’ve often wondered how common this targeting is, as my BFF years later lived through the same experience. Luckily she was older and more experienced than I had been, and didn’t put up with that nonsense for more than a few months.

    Reply
    1. Meep*

      My former boss was the same (unfortunately, still kicking). She always had someone that was a problem employee so she could distract from not getting her own work done. Sadly, her reason from choosing her marks were ADA accommodates which added a more bigoted spin on it.

      Reply
    2. Tabby Baltimore*

      Triggered a 2006 memory here, when I learned of the passing of a former boss from over 15 years before. She was well-liked, and even admired, by her peers in academia, and by her counterparts at other institutions, but not by her direct reports, who feared her (she iterated our failings in lengthy single-spaced memos, bad-mouthed the administration, and targeted negative behavior toward you if you weren’t a favorite).
      A few short years after I’d left, I learned from another staff member I kept in touch with that she’d taken a year-long sabbatical at another university, so the staff finally got a breather. But when the year was up, and they learned she *might* be coming back, within the hour, every single member of staff had the university “pink sheets” on their desk, which advertised other on-campus jobs.
      When I read that she’d died after a long illness, I just felt relief, for her and for myself. She was one of the unhappiest people I had ever met, and I was sad that death seemed to be the only way to peace for her.

      Reply
  29. JustMe*

    Oooof, what about the bad Entrepreneur or Owner/Operator? I’ve had some WILD owner/operator bosses where they operate the company like their own personal fiefdom and there is no recourse. Is there really anything that can be done about a boss like that other than to leave?

    Reply
    1. irene adler*

      Find a way to get THEM to leave.

      Like referring any and all recruiters to bad boss.
      Sure, it’s a long shot. But maybe their interest in climbing the ladder will outweigh their interest in remaining to abuse their reports.

      Reply
        1. irene adler*

          Oops! misread the comment. MY BAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          Hopefully there’s someone out there willing to buy the business from the owner and then become former owner’s boss. Maybe an anonymous source can let the industry know boss will entertain offers to purchase the company?

          Reply
      1. LR*

        My experience with this was the Terrible Owner had about 100% employee turnover in 12 months (company of, like, 7 employees). You’d have thought that would be a wakeup call, but because we worked in a sexy industry (movies) there was an endless supply of young, insecure talent willing to take poor treatment for a toe into the industry.

        But his poor treatment has definitely damaged his reputation in the long term…i’m sure he’ll end up a company of one eventually, which is what he should have been all along.

        Some people should never, ever be in positions of power over other people!

        Reply
  30. BellyButton*

    I’ll add some positivity to the comments. I have been in Organizational Development and Leadership Development for almost 20 yrs. I have seen it all. In the last 5-7 yrs I am seeing a BIG shift in leadership. As the “good ‘ol boy networks” begin to retire and we see more diversity being promoted there has been a greater push for empathy and adaptability in leadership. I am also seeing that a lot less people are being promoted just because they are great at the individual contributor role and a push for leadership training before people get promoted, as opposed to just figuring it out once they are there.

    The problems mentioned still exist, but I do think things are changing. I don’t like to stereotype generations but Millennials and Gen Zs are changing the norms and I am looking forward to seeing them in leadership roles!

    Reply
  31. TypityTypeType*

    It’s remarkable what companies will tolerate, apparently just out of habit. I worked alongside a department head who was an abusive screamer — to one employee, who was one step below him on the ladder.

    This was often public, so everyone knew about it, and the target was openly unhappy. Management seemed to consider them a sort of complementary pair, like every screamer needs someone to scream at, and tough luck, buddy, it’s you. “Oh, that’s just K and A again. They’re always going at it.”

    In retrospect I’m amazed it was allowed to continue, in an otherwise pretty reasonable workplace — nobody else behaved that way.

    Reply
  32. Carol the happy elf*

    My pet hatred is when a large company cuts cost by moving someone ineffectual into a depleted HR position.
    HR is like a library; to the outside it looks like “file books” and “take fines”, but it’s like a good ballet. You never see how complicated the dance is until somebody drops a ballerina.

    Reply
  33. SaffyTaffy*

    At book club we read John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood, and talked about whether it’s possible for a person to become wealthy in the United States unless they behave in an antisocial, unethical way. It seems to me that there are lots of bad bosses because there are lots of bullies, and bullies get rewarded in a culture that values profits over humanity.
    Of course that’s culture-specific, but the result is similar in any country with antisocial priorities. We see it in countries where seniority is valued over competence, or where nepotism is considered normal. Bad bosses exist because they’re allowed to.

    Reply
  34. Vio*

    I really wish we had an update about the boss who made up crazy lies about their employees. Maybe we should make some crazy lies up about her? Like how she kept making things up until eventually HR started wondering why everyone in her department had some kind of weird backstory and how such private information became common knowledge. To their horror they discover that Crazy Boss was telling fibs and make her personally apologise to everyone she has lied to and about. She also has to start and end every sentence she speaks while on the clock with a disclaimer that she cannot be trusted to tell the truth.

    Reply
  35. Middle Aged Lady*

    I have been a boss. It’s hard to do well. The best two pieces of advice I came across were to ask, first, am I a peacemaker or a peacekeeper? Peace is made, every day, by being open, honest, consistent, reality-based, and respectful about conflict, which will always occur. People have different values, goals, and so on. Peacekeeping in this comtext means doing some of the things that get highlighted at AAM: not dealing with problematic employee beahvior, hinting instead of being direct, not telling higher ups about structural issues, not calling out their bad behavior to ‘keep the peace.’
    The second is that you get the whole person, not just the part that shows up to work for you. People aren’t machines. Have some savvy about the users, and some mercy on the good ones. Everyone has issues.

    Reply
    1. Dinwar*

      “People aren’t machines.”

      I think of people as machines all the time. Not in the “I expect unreasonable production with no errors” sense, though. Every machine has operational parameters, conditions within which it’ll work and outside of which it breaks down. Considered as machines, we should expect humans to be no different. And just like any competent operator of a machine would never operate it in the red for extended periods of time, no competent manager should expect humans to operate outside their operational parameters for very long. They CAN be pushed harder for a bit, like a car engine can be pushed into the red for a brief spurt of speed, but if you constantly do it the thing WILL break and it’ll be YOUR fault.

      I find this helps in two ways. First, externally, it provides a way to evaluate my bosses. Are they treating me with the same respect they would show any other piece of equipment? If no, then they are a bad boss. Second, internally, it provides a way to evaluate myself and my conditions. I’m not weak for struggling to meet the requirements of a position if those requirements are outside the operational parameters of a human being to begin with; I was set up to fail.

      Reply
  36. fgcommenter*

    They tend to be powerful people with very little restriction on that power. The sense of entitlement such an atmosphere fosters often leads to them throwing their weight around as an indulgence in their power, often escalating into abuse and violence.

    Compare this to better-regulated countries like the Netherlands, where the boss’ power is kept in check by strongly reinforced rules against aggressive, violent, bullying behavior; as well as many other countries where the power is kept in check by strong and broad unions.

    With such restrictions on the power of bosses, that destructive sense of entitlement isn’t given much room to develop, and can be squashed if it does develop.

    Reply
  37. Heffalump*

    Alison, you’re preaching to the choir here! So many times I’ve wanted to say, “Hello, we have a moral right to decent treatment because we’re human beings.” But I knew that my breath was better saved for things like blowing out birthday candles, blowing up balloons, blowing on hot food or drink to cool it, etc.

    An employer of mine (sole proprietor) used to say, “It’s my company, and if people don’t like the way I talk to them, they can go to work somewhere else.” I took him up on it.

    Reply
    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      Yes. This. I have a leader in my upline who likes to say, “I don’t get paid to be nice” as a way to excuse away his brash boorish behavior. My response to that is that he probably actually get paid to be nice as I’ve never seen an employee manual that doesn’t include standards of how one conducts oneself and treats others. But my response in the general scheme of life is that we sign a social contract when we participate in society. Basic kindness and manners is part of that social contract and I hold my managers to it as much as anyone else.

      Reply
  38. StellaBella*

    Thank you Alison for this article in Slate. I have sent this link and this page link too to a few friends and colleagues

    Reply
  39. Academic Librarian*

    One reason bad bosses are so prevalent is that the balance of power in most workplaces is heavily weighted towards management, not labor. This is especially true in most US workplaces which have few protections for employee workplace rights. Of course in an at-will employment environment, employees will be afraid to rock the boat and hold a bad manager accountable. Unions are not a panacea for everything, and bad bosses still exist within unionized environments, but the collective bargaining agreement I’ve worked under has definitely checked the power of some would-be tyrants in my organization. Without the CBA, they would have had free reign to make things even worse.

    Reply
    1. Skippy*

      Thank you for saying that. I just went through a training session about “employee discipline” and it was pretty clear that the company holds almost all of the power, especially in an at-will employment situation. Some bosses recognize that power differential and use it respectfully. Others, not so much.

      Reply
    2. Appletini*

      This discussion needed this truth.

      Whenever I see managers complain I think “but you can fire someone anytime you want for any reason whatsoever. If you wanted to you could start every morning at work by reminding people ‘I can fire you today if you sneeze’ You can have everyone shaking in fear of you. How can your life actually be so hard?”

      Reply
      1. yeah okay*

        Whenever I see managers complain I think “but you can fire someone anytime you want for any reason whatsoever. If you wanted to you could start every morning at work by reminding people ‘I can fire you today if you sneeze’ You can have everyone shaking in fear of you. How can your life actually be so hard?”

        Yep. 100% this.

        Reply
  40. Working Mom*

    This may sound bad, but the best bosses I have had have been in their late 20’s to early 40s. The worst have been early 20s (inexperience) and over 45/50. I can’t speak to everyone and its simply my experience but I do think its a generational thing.

    My mom was a very successful business woman who climbed the ladder in company in 80s. 90s and 2000s. She often spoke of the toxic “career culture” that existed in the late 80s and 90s. People working their butts off, doing whatever took to get to top and those that didn’t fit in, weren’t understood and didn’t get promoted. I think that culture is slowly shifting as more and more boomers retire and millenials, and Gen Z push back on those norms. Which I think since COVID is happening.

    This is only my take. Obviously, there are great bosses of any age, but I can’t help but see a pattern.

    Reply
    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’ve found bosses over 60 to be the easiest to relate to. The ones who fought their way to the top can be happy that others don’t have to do that, especially once they’re nearing retirement or at the top of their fields and there isn’t a threat of competition from people who had a less fraught trajectory upward. My best mentors have been people with an entire career of experience behind them, who saw things change and saw what stuck and what fell out of fashion. They usually have amazing stories. Sometimes their wisdom is outdated, but you learn to run it through a mental filter. And if you try to understand WHY their wisdom is outdated, it can give great context to what’s happening nowadays.

      On the flip side, I’ve had terrible bosses aged 25-50 who were so caught up in their own rise they didn’t care who they stepped on. There’s a wealth of experiences out there.

      Reply
    2. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      Older generations do tend to have more of the “butts in seats” mentality. Many were treated horribly during their early years, and unfortunately have come to see this as something of a “paying your dues” kind of thing.

      Reply
  41. Unkempt Flatware*

    I know that I raise the hackles of folks on this site when I say that I wouldn’t and don’t put up with things from bosses that many others think are just part of being an employee. But I am on a mission to civilize managers all over the place. I have very high standards for my managers and I do expect them to meet those standards. They either meet those standards or I leave. These include personal and professional courtesy most importantly. This means showing up to meetings on time and prepared (yes I understand sometimes things happen), reading my emails thoroughly, utilizing technology appropriately to manage the work, doing their part with little exception, using manners always, treating me like a fully formed adult who gets to decide how she dresses, if she chews gum, if/how she chooses to socialize with peers, etc. Managers who have ever disrespected me as a person or a professional were expected to apologize sincerely and then ensure it never happens again. I have quit exactly one job because a boss didn’t feel she needed to apologize for yelling at me.

    Reply
    1. mate*

      You are awesome!

      Every single worker needs to be like you. Seriously. It took me far too long to learn these lessons, but I finally have.

      Reply
  42. Jay*

    There seem to me to be distinct “Small Business Bad Bosses” and “Big Business Bad Bosses”

    SBBBs always seem to me to be the kind of person who is so completely unmanageable, and indeed UNEMPLOYABLE by literally anyone or anything else. They just either lucked into or inherited enough resources to start their own thing.

    BBBBs seem to be an exercise in terrible math.
    -Bill is a good boss and Bob is a bad boss.
    -Both start off managing a single identical small store for a multi-national chain.
    -Bill has a staff of 10. There is always coverage, and hours are set so people can make plans. Overtime is approved as needed.
    -Bob has a staff of 5. There are always gaps in coverage and everyone is overworked. Schedules are more or less random, with people being called in and sent home at Bob’s whim to keep just enough people present to not fall apart while at the same time preventing overtime hours at all costs.
    -Bill’s staff is competent and experienced. The store is neat, clean, and well organized.
    -Bob’s staff knows just enough to not kill themselves too often and turnover is nearly 100% year over year. The store is just well maintained enough to not scare off customers.
    -Bill’s staff, having worked there so long and been treated like human beings the whole time, advocate for themselves for things like raises. Bill, being a good boss, backs them.
    -Bob’s staff make minimum wage and that isn’t going to change. Ever. If they don’t like it, they can leave. Which they do, usually within a couple of months.

    All this means that while Bill’s store makes a whopping 50%more than Bob’s, salary costs are 400% higher, maintenance costs are 200% higher and now his engaged, experienced employees think of this as an actual real job, and so want to be treated like real live human beings and are talking about things like HEALTHCARE and DAYS OFF, and even, shudder, a UNION.

    Who gets promoted to Corporate? If all you see is the numbers, then, in most cases, it’s Bob and his “genius” cost cutting strategies every time.

    Reply
    1. Cedrus Libani*

      Exactly. If you’re the bigwig who lets Bob run things as he sees fit, you will likely pay a cost, but it’s extremely indirect. Customers who aren’t satisfied with Bob’s service won’t return, but there are a lot of factors that drive sales; it’s hard to pin that sort of thing down. Meanwhile, your stores are chugging along well enough. You want to focus on things that will be valued by your own boss (e.g. opening a third store).

      Having a bad boss is a direct and obvious problem for the employees, but they’re not the ones with the power to tell that boss to shape up or ship out.

      Reply
  43. WillowSunstar*

    Because too many companies will not do anything about them, even if the other employees are quitting in droves and telling HR. If companies cared about morale, they would not promote jerks to management. But the truth is many companies only care about profit and nothing else. That is what comes from having a capitalistic society.

    I have changed jobs several times because of abusive managers. Having had an emotionally abusive parent, the last thing I will do is put up with that kind of garbage as an adult at work.

    Reply
  44. CSRoadWarrior*

    Because some companies are run by tyrants. In 2017, I worked for one such company. The CEO was a narcissistic bully that expected everyone to treat her like a queen, and my boss was a childish brat that demeaned everyone and would throw tantrums. For a low-pay temp-to-hire job, I ended up quitting after 1.5 months without notice. It was a horrible experience.

    Reply
  45. Adrian*

    To do their jobs well, managers need to have the support of the people above them. Jack might handle an issue with Jan appropriately, but it won’t matter if Jan then runs to her friend Chris in the C-Suite and Chris makes Jack back down.

    On a different note, LinkedIn had an article several years ago about a toxic manager whose employer looked the other way, until he cost them a job candidate they really wanted. The manager was great dealing face-to-face with clients, and they could have others get the actual work done without involving him.

    But he didn’t hide his true colors in the interview with the candidate. She would have brought them several new clients. and they would have come only if they were working with her.

    Reply
    1. mate*

      I find that it’s usually the boss in the situation that has the friend in the c-suite, meaning that Jan never stands a chance, because Chris will always back Jack, no matter how abusive he’s being.

      Reply
  46. Waving not Drowning*

    Ohhh, shudder, this is bringing back memories – and not good ones!

    Bully Boss was here for 3 years. The first two he was protected because he sucked up to the big boss (who also sucked, but for different reasons!). Too many instances of bullying behaviour to get into, but, there was a toilet block that usually had someone crying in once a day.

    He was on a 2 year contract, and as Big Boss was walking out the door, he renewed it for another 12 months (the longest he could do). His sucessor then spent that 12 months reining in Bully Boss, and not letting him get away with as much as he did previously. In our workplace, if you are on a contract for 3 years, you can apply to have the role made permanent – leading up to that time, Bully Boss suddenly resigned to “spend time with family”, which is usually code for contract not renewed. Usually when the announcement is made that someone has resigned there is lots of people speaking up in the meeting, saying how much they will be missed. In his case, when the annoucement was made in the staff meeting, there was just silence. We were told by the Big Boss that we had to attend his farewell function (one of the single most excruciating lunches I’ve sat through). In an amazing stroke of karma, I heard on the grapevine that he applied to work at a company where one of the people he brutally shafted ended up working. Greeted them like a long lost friend when he walked in the door for the interview. Said person went to their boss, and said, diplomatically, that this person would not be a good cultural fit for the organisation – and he didn’t get the job.

    He is the only manager in my long career that we actually popped the champagne when we saw his car drive off on his last day.

    Reply
  47. Flowers*

    A while back my boss got impatient and had a rather brusque tone. Later he apologized and said that this would be the worst I’d see of him.

    I’ve worked with bosses who called me an idiot, smashed pens because they didn’t like them, sent me mean text messages, were extremely cold towards me, said I was stupid etc etc.

    An impatient tone accompanied by dozens of other positives in the short time I’ve been here….I can live with. I’ve dealt with worse – not that I should have. But it makes me want to do better to earn and solidify that trust and be a better employee.

    Reply
  48. WorkerBee83*

    This is why I can’t understand why an employer reference is so absolutely critical to getting a new job. I mean, obviously, its the employer trying to do research before they bring someone on, just like I research a big purchase in advance. But how does an employer know that a reference, good or bad, for a candidate is accurate at all, or if the person is an awful boss like one of these? I can’t talk crap about a previous boss because the new job I’m interviewing with doesn’t know me and doesn’t know if I’m the problem or the boss was. But how does the same logic not apply to an employer’s reference? You could have potentially the best applicant you’ll ever see that you want to hire, but if you call an abusive ex-boss and they give you a scathing review, how do you know that’s “more accurate” than what you saw in their interview? This is one of many ways that people get stuck in their current job, when it seems that a good employer reference is the only thing that matters.

    Reply
    1. Inkognyto*

      I worked for a global HR services/payroll company. They do not allow managers to give a reference. A non-manager can, but not all companies like this. This causes issues when new companies want one, and it’s like 8 years of your working history.

      You have to give the 1800 number of HR and they will confirm employment and title.
      I’ve had interviewers bugging me like it’s my issue. I tell them, “why are you mad at me for this? I’d love to give you their numbers but the company has a policy where it is not allowed so don’t get mad at me”.
      It got bad enough where I told them my previous manager’s name and said go ahead, call the main number get a transfer and try and get a reference. I did text him stating someone was going to probably try, and if he could be kind to them. He turned them down politely stating the policy and I didn’t get the job.

      That job is within my 10 year window still so still an issue if I need to find a new position, which I’ve been looking as the current static company raises of 1% are not in line with my jobs market (Information Security). I’m getting remote job offers for 50-70% more atm.

      Reply
  49. Inkognyto*

    someday I’ll write up my experience with a bad manager over a decade ago. It’s like pages long to just explain the core stuff. The best part of when I left is people going “I bet you love the raise at X company”. I never told people. I didn’t get an increase. It was a lateral move with the same pay. I had to work to get them to that point, and they created a job for me. I took it before I punched my boss to wipe his fake smile off his face.

    Reply
  50. Excel-sior*

    The worst manager i ever had (to be fair he wasn’t anywhere near as bad as many of the bosses written about in these hallowed digital pages) was someone who had clearly got the promotion because he was very good at his job in the team and his bosses didn’t want to lose him (he basically told me this outright) whilst having absolutely zero skills in managing a team (which i found out very quickly).

    There were a number of reasons why he was so bad. On more than one occasion in 1-2-1s with me he spoke negatively about one of the other members of the team (who was a good worker so who knows what he was saying about me). On one occasion my then girlfriend (now wife) needed an operation at short notice. I wanted to be there for her. He was on holiday, so i cleared it with his equivalent in the team we worked with. I was gone for one day. Upon his return he expressed disappointment that I hadn’t let him know I was taking a day off; dude, you were on holiday, i cleared it with another manager.

    To be clear, the role and myself weren’t a good fit and i struggled from the off. My working style wasn’t a great fit either – i try to work things out which isn’t great if it takes a while and you have deadlines, i accept that. This was bought up in my 1 month review and i agreed i needed to ask more questions. Makes sense. New to the field, if you have questions, ask for help and do it quicker than you usually would. So i asked questions from then on in. The answer was almost every time “hmmm yeah, that sort of thing you’ll only learn with experience”. Absolutely utterly useless. Not even the slightest semblance of help provided. I was looking for a new job 6 weeks after starting there and it was the best decision i ever made.

    Reply
  51. no one reads this far*

    Never work for a family business. When the boss nearly breaks your wrist and locks you in a room to scream at you for an hour over a mistake he made, his sister will tell you “that’s just how he is” and then fire you.

    Reply
  52. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    Some of the very worst bosses are at small or family run companies. Why?
    Because these people because so un-hirable by better or normal companies they had to start their own company.

    Yeah, I worked for one of those.

    Reply
  53. Heffalump*

    Some years ago I read The Twelve Truths About Surviving and Succeeding in the Office: And Some of Them Aren’t Very Nice by Karen Randall, ISBN 9780425156216. She offers this (thoroughly believable) quote from a CEO:

    “I don’t care how Jack treats his colleagues and staff. As long as he’s performing, he can behave any way he wants. I don’t have time to get involved, and I don’t have time to hear both sides.”

    Reply
    1. mate*

      Aww, just like the Big Boss who protected my Worst Ever Boss! (Who cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in legal fees alone because of all the unlawful dismissals, but anyway…)

      Reply
  54. Worked for a nut*

    Had a boss several years ago who went to the hospital one day when my coworker was admitted for an emergency. She SAID she needed her office keys for a sub to use. I know of at least 2 sets other than the poor coworker’s she could’ve loaned out.

    We’re certain she was making sure coworker was really hospitalized and not calling off. Coworker had zero history of skipping work, had a great work ethic, actually one of my favorite coworkers because she was competent.

    I didn’t hear about it until months later; and still encouraged her to report the psycho boss. She ended up quitting, unfortunately.

    Reply
  55. mate*

    Thank you for writing this article, Alison.

    I’ve worked with some amazing leaders, but overall, I’ve had more bad bosses than good ones. The worst of them ruined my health, and had an extremely negative impact on my career and my finances.

    The bad bosses I’ve had are why, as a manager, I don’t bother with reference checks from past managers: the worst ever manager I had lied about me so I lost my job, and then lied about me for years through unauthorised reference checks, all to try and ruin my future job prospects.

    It is well past time that these bad bosses are called out for what they are: abusers, and the type that can literally ruin your ability to make the money that you need to survive.

    They need to be seen for the liability that they are, and removed permanently from positions of power.

    Reply
  56. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Why are there so many
    Abusive bosses
    Who yell and make working a chore?
    Bosses are people
    But power corrupts them
    And doing your job’s such a bore

    So they micromanage
    And do so much damage
    They’re going to get sued, wait and see
    Someday we’ll find it
    The Bad Boss Connection
    The big boss, the small boss, and me

    Why were you late today?
    Why did you call out?
    I need to see your doctor’s note
    You’re such an idiot
    You made one mistake there
    Yeah, you’re not the kind we promote

    Texting at midnight
    “Can you work the open?”
    And wondering why people leave
    Someday we’ll find it
    The Bad Boss Connection
    The big boss, the small boss, and me

    Reply
  57. ADA when*

    A few years ago, my supervisor directly and clearly retaliated against me. I reached out to HR representative to carefully figure out what my options were.

    His response cc’ed my boss.

    So that was great.

    What they wanted: me to somehow just Work This Out with my boss, because this is just some personality conflict, and I’m a whiny woman and he’s obviously in the right, and if he just tells me this enough times, it will magically become true.

    What I wanted: accountability.

    Reply
  58. Anonymous Pinko*

    I think there are lots of toxic bosses because they are an inherent part of a toxic system of capitalism: the late-stage kind we’re in now, complete with weak political will to rein businesses in, which is in turn driven by an overwhelming amount of money and lobbying the likes of which no individual voter can begin to combat.

    Could there be better bosses? Have there been good bosses in the past? Are there many managers who do their best not to be terrible in a system that incentivizes terribleness? Of course. But when survival depends on participating in a system whose highest goal is “make money for the shareholders,” not “be a decent person” or even “produce decent work,” it’s only natural that even decent people placed in positions of relative power within that system will be corrupted, and those who are already indecent will seek those roles out.

    Reply
  59. LMN*

    I hope I am a good boss. I view my direct reports as people who have happened to join the same endeavor with me. I like to give as much as I can because of how crappy I was treated in jobs from age 13-37. I am lucky I found a good place and want that luck to pass on.

    Besides, you never know who might be your boss in 10 years….

    Reply
  60. Pam Poovey*

    I worked for a clickbait website that makes widely-circulated white-on-black memes. The owner was cruel, narcissistic, and abusive. He’d shout and scream over the tiniest things, loudly fire people in front of everyone, tell you something one day then swear he never said such a thing the next, etc. When I’d had enough, I tried to give a week’s notice instead of two (because I literally could not face going in any longer) his response was so nasty that I basically replied with f you, if that’s how you talk to me I’m not coming back at all.

    If you look at the company on Glassdoor it has like a 1.8/5 rating, and the only positive reviews are super obvious fakes.

    Reply
  61. BobBob*

    Narcissists gravitate to positions of power and are generally very good at fooling people. They appear genuine. They have a big resume. They ingratiate themselves. Then they attack. Depending on the climate of the organization it can take years to decades to get these people out.

    Reply

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