why don’t bosses realize people will leave if they’re not treated well?

A reader writes:

A buddy of mine just quit her job, and her boss, a truly evil person, countered with a raise and a promotion. My friend refused, of course, because, truly evil person. But it got me thinking, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen bosses offer too little too late to save a stellar employee, and I wonder why.

Why don’t bosses preemptively think that if they don’t treat their best people well that those people will depart for someone who will? Why do they think that making such an offer only after the employee gives notice will work?

Good bosses are aware of that. Good bosses do proactively think about how to hold onto good employees, and then they do those things. They also ask directly, because while money is one obvious answer, there are other things people want too and sometimes those are less obvious.

But yes, bad bosses often don’t even consider that good employees might leave, and then are shocked when they do. I think it stems from power dynamics — bad managers often have an unhealthy relationship to power that blinds them to the fact that the people working for them have options. (This isn’t a logical worldview! As a manager, you should want to hire people who have lots of other choices because they’e good at what they do. That reflects well on you.)

Bad managers — by definition — also tend not to be thoughtful about management in general, and how to attract and keep good employees, and how to create an environment good people will want to work in, and they’re often not paying a lot of attention to people’s morale and satisfaction. Because they’re not thinking about it a lot, they’re more likely to be blindsided when someone resigns, and then they scramble to make a counteroffer to resolve the immediate problem that’s in front of them (“I must keep this person to avoid disruption”) rather than examining it more broadly (“what drove this person to start looking? were there things I missed?”).

Sometimes, too, counter-offers stem from thinking about pay in a way that doesn’t include much understanding of how humans work — i.e., “we’ll pay this person the minimum we need to pay them until the exact moment that keeping them would cost more and then we’ll increase to that.”

None of this is to say that every counter-offer is the sign of a bad manager. That’s not the case. Sometimes good managers miss things, or they rightly needed to prioritize putting their capital elsewhere, or they’re hamstrung by policies from above them. But definitely any good manager who finds themselves wanting to make a counter-offer should be reflecting on whether they missed opportunities to retain that person earlier on.

{ 345 comments… read them below }

  1. Medical Librarian*

    I also think we’re seen as easy-to-replace if we have the misfortune to be in oversaturated fields and/or popular locations.

    1. Antilles*

      True, though we also saw in the huge employees’ market of 2021 that there’s plenty of managers who *think* their employees are easy-to-replace even if that’s objectively untrue.

      1. ariel*

        Yes, but I also think a lot of bosses show that they don’t care…. the head of my big unit of about 60 people is “nbd” to departures great and small from our unit.

        1. Greg*

          This is interesting, only because of perspective. I run a department of about 85 people and I actively communicate that if they have an offer that puts them in a better place or improves their lives, well, why wouldn’t they take it? I also communicate that no one, not even myself, is irreplaceable and if someone leaves, regardless of their talent level, we’re going to be ok! I don’t look at it as, ‘nbd,’ that they’re leaving; I actively work with my team to figure out what makes them tick, what could make their lives easier, etc. But if someone leaves? Ok, on to the next one.

          That’s not to say I see people as commodities or replaceable. That’s not to say I am uninterested in why people are leaving or staying. I just don’t think someone leaving is a thing in and of itself to react to.

          1. Ridiculous Penguin*

            I have a boss who has this approach and, as someone with anxiety and trauma surrounding past jobs, it’s… not entirely helpful. While I understand it’s a healthy approach to work in general, it often makes me feel like I’m not very valued and that I could leave tomorrow and no one would especially care (or that tomorrow he could decide my role is unnecessary since he’s already determined that everything will be okay no matter who leaves).

            1. Greg*

              To be fair, that’s not how I approach my interactions with my team. I work very hard to develop and spend appropriate time with my team and let everyone know I how much I value them (and where they need to improve). If someone’s skill set exceeds the role they’re in I work hard to put them in an elevated position; if the opportunity doesn’t exist on the current org chart then I make the business case for an new position or elevated title. And when people leave because they get an opportunity greater than the one we can provide we celebrate it (and publicize it).

              And then we look at that as an opportunity for someone else to succeed and we don’t waste any energy on the fact that the position is open. That energy goes towards finding the next candidate and developing the rest of the team. I know I need talented people to work on my team and don’t necessarily think it will be ok if a ton of people leave. But I am also confident in my remaining team members and the processes we have in place to get other people caught up to speed that I don’t put energy into worrying about who’s leaving when.

          2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Thing is, you’re calling yourself Greg so you come across as someone who can fire people without it being a problem while also managing to look as if you care. ;-)

        2. GlitterIsEverything*

          Yeah, I’m currently working in a company where we’ve had a huge number of long term, highly skilled front line employees leave for other departments or other companies. While the teams they’ve left see the loss, the people making the decisions that led people elsewhere don’t seem to care, because they’re not changing anything to improve retention or asking the people who left why they left.

          (I’m one of the people who left for a difference department. So while it’s possible they’ve asked others, I can absolutely say they never asked me, and I’d be shocked if they asked anyone else.)

          1. JustaTech*

            My department is like this (lost almost all our long-term staff in the last two years) and the Director 1) insists it isn’t a problem, 2) insists that it has nothing to do with his policies even when he was explicitly told otherwise, 3) refuses to see the impact on morale.

            He literally has had 100% turnover in a department where previously most people had 10+ year’s tenure, all because he’s butts-in-seats. All that not-really-replaceable knowledge gone “poof”.

      2. Gen*

        A tale of a boss thinking someone was easy to replace- my spouse left his job to become an independent consultant, his boss didn’t seem to care despite the highly specific system knowledge only he had. At the start of his last week the boss smugly told him five different recruiters were talking to a candidate for his position. Which was technically true, all five had called my spouse to ask if he was interested in taking the job. Seems like they never found any other candidates as 15 months later the role is still unfilled. At least once a month another recruiter calls about the job he’s still not interested in going back to do.

        1. pally*

          Are they offering anything more substantial compensation-wise then when spouse left?

          Not suggesting that spouse take a second look at their prior job. Just wondering if old company has learned anything from this.

        2. Caliente Papillon*

          Love this story and smug dude getting a slap in the face.
          A lot of “bosses” seem like narcissists who classically think that whatever they want is the way things will be.
          My last grand boss was this and was so shocked when I decided to leave after I talked to everyone about what I wanted – a retroactive title change plus an increase. He basically was like yeah just sit and stay like a good little girl til I’m ready. Of course I was offered another job within a couple weeks, making more than 10k more. Plus an extra week of vaca. Right now I’m about 20k more, plus I got stocks.
          Some of these “bosses” are literally stupid, I have no idea how they become leaders. Actually they are not leaders, they’re simply in leadership roles.

        3. Just Another Cog*

          This is a great story! It would be icing on the cake if smug boss found out it is your spouse the recruiters are talking to.

        4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Yeah. I was on sick leave and the work doctor was interviewing my boss because of accusations I had made of being so nasty to me he was obviously trying to push me to resign. Boss told the doctor I was a shitty employee. Doctor asked why he didn’t lay me off (since he was entitled to do so in that I’d refused to either WFH or go to work at head office once my satellite office had closed). Boss eventually admitted that yes, Rebel was actually a stellar employee and there had been a lot of complaints about the person they’d hired to replace me (even though I was still officially an employee!). Doctor explained that I had been traumatised by his shouting at me and could no longer work for him. So either he had to lay me off, or continue paying me, but without giving me any work to do. And cherry on top, she also initiated a general investigation into the company because she noticed that not a single employee looked up to say hello when she toured the premises, and they all seemed really stressed out. I know that he didn’t become a model employer after that but I’m pleased that he was given a hard time for being so nasty.

        5. OMG, Bees!*

          A bit different, but still hubris getting in the way. In 2010 I was looking for and rented a studio apartment. The one I got was about $1250/month (a good price), but there was another a block away asking for $1800/month! The only advantage it seemed to have was each room painted a different color to be interesting? Anyway, I keep checking on it periodically, and it was still listed as available some 15 months later before I stopped checking. But if they had listed it closer to market rate, they surely could have rented it out instead of missing out on that rent

    2. Sloanicota*

      Yes, a boss of mine once revealed that he hopes to retain people for about 4-5 years, long enough that they can do the job, but hopes they’ll move on before they become too expensive, so he can replace them with a new person at the starting end of the salary scale. It’s a bit chilling when you’re the employee in such circumstances!

      1. LoraC*

        Some businesses are structured with the expectations people will leave after 2 years. They’re entire business plan is structured around hiring fresh grads, squeezing out 2 years of work for as cheap as possible and then replacing them when they take off. They in turn offer cheap services to customers who aren’t too fussed about quality.

        So 401k matching doesn’t vest until after 2 years, and they don’t offer certain perks until after 2 years, etc.

        1. CorruptedbyCoffee*

          The library system I just left started doing this. The institutional knowledge lost was incredible.

        2. Receivable Jane*

          I’m in Accounts Receivable/Payable and that’s how most large consumer goods companies structure their AR/AP departments. Impossible goals and long hours/weekends so people burn out after a couple years and quit. And then the cycle starts again with the replacement employee.

      2. Irelass*

        I have two very oddball, uncommon specialties and licenses. After a few years, I kept being told that they felt my salary was overly generous. After I retired they had to pay two people more than twice what I made.

    3. Magenta Sky*

      It’s easy to view employees as easily replaced if you see them as cogs in a machine instead of people.

    4. Resentful Oreos*

      And I think a lot of bosses are still living in that 2010 mindset of “we will have 50 desperate applicants for every job opening; we don’t need to treat employees well.”

    5. CeeDoo*

      I’m not in an oversaturated field (I teach high school math), but I’m afraid to change jobs for a higher paycheck because so many schools are suffering budget cuts and are having to lose employees. Last in, first out. I don’t need that to be me, not with 8 years left until retirement.

  2. Garblesnark*

    I’m enjoying reading this from my couch, having quit my job about two hours ago.

    Last night, I sat at the kitchen table crying to my spouse, asking him, “Why does my boss make me feel so stupid all the time? My intellect is my top skill, and everyone else I’ve ever worked with has commented on it and said it’s something wonderful I bring to the table. But every time I talk to my boss, I feel like the biggest idiot who’s ever lived.” He said, “Because she is bullying you.”

    And today, when she escalated, I quit. That’s going to suck for a lot of people, but I told the whole team I work with, and they all (twenty of them!) said, “We’ll miss you, but we completely understand.”

    1. not nice, don't care*

      I wish my spouse would quit their bullying boss. The work she does is already dangerous and has shitty hours. Having to endure a malevolent boss in addition is just too much.

    2. PrincessClutter*

      I’m currently pondering the same decision.
      My current bigger boss is a temp, but in the time they have been in this role, my entire department has been bullied and demeaned. Our HR team says there is little they can do. I’m not sure I can outlast the temp.

      1. Garblesnark*

        This dynamic confuses me so much. Why do companies willingly put themselves in a position of being unable to protect their employees, if that’s even true?

        For the record, I doubt it’s true. When I was internal at a temp agency, customers called us all the time and said, “The temp you sent doesn’t work for X reason; send someone else.” When I brought employees from temp agencies and made that same phone call, I was only met with resistance if I had recently said the same thing about someone else or they thought I might be confused about what I wanted. And when I worked as a temp, I was sometimes relieved of my assignment due to those phone calls.

        1. Kit Kendrick*

          It may be that they don’t think they can get another temporary boss to take the position. Agency temps are easy to get rid of (if not necessarily easy to replace) — that’s half the reason for all those “temp to perm” jobs. Back in my temping days I once got a call on Tuesday morning for a “how soon can you be there” assignment only to discover I was the third person filling that position since Monday morning! (I was fine. I think that the first person sent Monday morning was not up to the job, and the replacement sent Monday afternoon was scared off because the manager was still upset about having to fire and replace a temp. I did have the right skills, and the manager’s temper had cooled overnight so I was able to just start working.)

          1. Garblesnark*

            Sometimes the missing stair is better when it’s actually missing, rather than a toothy maw lurking in the opening that bites people.

      1. ferrina*

        Congratulations! So proud of you for taking care of yourself! (cuz if you are in a position where you can do this, yes! put yourself and your wellbeing ahead of any workplace)

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “That’s going to suck for a lot of people…we completely understand.”
      Because the ire of your boss was spread more thinly over more people, but really really, that place sucked yesterday. It sucked today and will suck tomorrow.
      And you will be free.

      1. Garblesnark*

        The reason it will suck is not so much ire redistribution and more that I was the only one doing my job, and the team members who have been at the company for decades unanimously agree that I did it the best that anyone has ever done it.

        But a bunch of them offered to be a reference, which is nice. I did not think that would happen when I quit on the spot.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Well done, you.
          Funny how much light is shining on the good in your life now that you’ve walked into the sun!

    4. Festively Dressed Earl*

      Congratulations, Garblesnark! I hope you’re doing something fun to celebrate.

    5. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      I work with someone like this. She’s in a senior role at an organisation I have to partner with closely a lot. She’s lost so many great people from her team due to this behaviour. I’m able to push back on it a bit in a professional way but I do need to retain the relationship.

      All this is to say that I sympathise enormously. Even working at a different organisation, but having to work closely with this woman, I’ve had evenings similar to what you describe. It’s awful.

    6. A manager, but not your manager*

      Congratulations and good luck! I hope you get some time to build yourself back up and find somewhere where you don’t have to deal with that.

    7. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      Congratulations!! My spouse just quit their bully boss, and was given the ‘today is your last day’ the next morning. Spouse was pissed at first (this is not the norm in the company or industry, nor was it needed for any sensitivity reason), but is now luxuriating in his paid leave, and getting a bunch of spring skiing in. I hope you enjoy your freedom from that toxic human!

    8. StellaBella*

      Dear Garblesnark, well done. You will find a better place and you have some good references it sounds like from your other comment. You deserve to be treated well.

      1. Chauncy Gardener*

        A more AAM salute could not exist, except for perhaps the Cheap Ass Rolls salute

          1. Zona the Great*

            Cheap ass rolls during a resignation is the only time cheap ass rolls are appropriate. “I quit. But as a consolation, have this stale bun to rip apart in my stead.”

      2. Garblesnark*

        I am honored to have received AAM’s most coveted salute.

        I will consider, shortly, where to put this on my resume.

    9. Cupcake*

      I think you have my old job!! Working for bullys is the worst. It’s like getting out if an abusive relationship. I left a year ago and I still marvel sometimes at how nice it is to work for a reasonable supervisor!

      1. Star Trek Nutcase*

        Only thing worse than a bully boss is a bully boss who knows where the bodies are buried. Yes, I’m looking at you Pam.

    10. Garblesnark*

      I would like to sincerely thank you all for celebrating with me today. It’s been exactly what I needed.

    11. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Belated congratulations. I too quit on the spot once due to a truly evil boss and still regard it as one of my bravest moments.

      Still get flashbacks to his worst moments where I ended up crying but they get less through the years.

      You can have a cup of tea round my place anytime :)

  3. Corporate Junkie*

    A more generous interpretation: in my experience individual managers may see the bigger picture, but corporate decision making does not (for a myriad of reasons). So a good manager will advocate for employee retention, but until they can say “this employee is leaving which will cause XYZ disruption”, they don’t get approval for pay raise or other interventions.

    A related example: my group laid off people in early fall because we didn’t have enough projects throughout the year to meet metrics. 3 months later, we are hiring people because a bunch of work sold. Womp. that is not an environment that is thinking about retention until the perfect storm hits.

    1. TK*

      Yep, exactly this. I think about retention on the regular, but I am hamstrung by my leadership and company policy which will largely not approve changes except in cases of immediate retention.

      It may be different in smaller companies (I’ve never worked in smaller – my smallest company was still several hundred people), but IME, the manager you ostensibly work for often has very little control on comp. They can recommend, they can advocate, they can rate you highly but they may get held back by overhanging policies that are to some extent well-intentioned (avoiding imbalance in how comp is awarded) but also ultimately are toward protecting the company’s bottom line and can be VERY short-sighted in nature.

      That companies are more willing to pay to recruit someone new, who inevitably requires higher salary anyways, than to do a bare minimum to retain the people they have is bonkers to me. It’s just the stupidest short-term thinking.

      1. Also-ADHD*

        I do think in a lot of cases, companies got used to low raises (after 2008/9 recession, the economy didn’t rebound for 5-6 years fully in many areas) and a majority of employees not being willing to move on, with a narrative against job hopping (which used to be longer—I remember when 2-3 years was not enough) plus most people fearing change if they were in secure jobs. Getting a new job is a hassle, honestly. This is why a lot of people only have job hunted when laid off etc unless they’re in a field that gets heavily recruited. Even during the Great Resignation, a lot of people didn’t bother looking despite not getting the raises they should. More did leave (remote work makes it easier, big inflation made it feel necessary, etc) but a lot of companies can get away with keeping people for very little extra. They’re just sorry when the gamble doesn’t pay off. It is a bad strategy if you want happy employees and the best retention, but if you’re trying to get people for as cheaply as possible, many people won’t go after what they’re worth.

      2. Lab Boss*

        I truly don’t get it, because these same companies seem to have no trouble with the idea that it’s more expensive to get new customers than it is to retain existing ones. It’s like the spreadsheet mentality has gotten so bad that they see employee compensation entirely as an expense and literally can’t understand how having employees is important, because it’s not a number you can add and subtract.

    2. Kes*

      Yeah I think there’s a lot of short term thinking and being focused on meeting goals/looking good/shareholder value (raising the current value for the current shareholders) without looking at the long term effects of what they’re doing. We see this in other ways as well, with layoffs/cutting costs/understaffing/etc, but underpaying is such a common one (as is failing to promote because they’re doing good where they are).

      And yes, you maybe can get away with it, for now, but longer term you’re likely to lose your best people who have the most options. And then the boss is scrambling to try and retain them but it’s already too late – they’ve been showing their employee that they don’t value them and will only reward that when forced, and the employee has already put in the work to find something better that will hopefully value them more.

    3. KHB*

      Yes, this. Managers (especially those in the middle of the hierarchy, rather than at the very top) are subject to their own constraints on their time, resources, and political capital. Just because they’re not giving you everything you want, doesn’t mean they don’t care or don’t see the need for it.

    4. Festively Dressed Earl*

      ^^^This. Without the tools and the leeway to meet their team’s needs, no one can be a good manager.

    5. Check cash*

      Yeah, it was REALLY hard for me to jump up and down and wave my hands and give my people the BEST reviews and not be able to pay them. And I absolutely would support people when they left.
      But, we did know how this works, so one time I just had to mention that my top performer was talking with another company and was able to get them a promotion and raise.
      But, on the flip side, a friend of mine left and was basically told “if you want this, you should just go” but they ended up coming back like 8 months later, with a higher salary, a promotion, and a signing bonus buying out the company they just left. While the team struggled for that amount of time. It’s really bonkers.

      1. Chauncy Gardener*

        This! I’m a senior exec at start ups and I can’t tell you how many “discussions” I’ve had with founders/CEOs about the concept of paying someone what you will have to pay their replacement. That way you don’t have the opportunity cost of the person leaving in the first place. It’s a losing battle. Or at least, I’ve lost it most of the times I’ve fought it, which has been many.
        I just don’t get it at all.

        1. Justin D*

          A lot of business is just figuring out how far you can push it before the other side leaves or cuts you off. How long can I avoid paying my vendors or the bank? As a vendor, how late can I be with the delivery? How far can I push my employee? How badly can I treat customers and keep them coming back?

          The mindset is so pervasive.

          1. Dinwar*

            There’s logic to the vender thing. If I can go 60 days without paying you, what it really is is a zero-interest loan from you to me for three months. That’s better than anything I’m going to get from the bank!

            Same thing with employees. If I can keep you without giving a raise, that means the money I’d otherwise be paying you is available for things like equipment repairs, safety equipment, training, office supplies, and the like (very little of it, if any, would go to anyone’s pay). In my experience staff costs are the biggest chunk of money on a project, and sudden changes in costs suck (I’ve been dealing with the feds changing per diem rates, which our company has us using for travel costs, halfway through a few projects…).

            Raises may be less expensive than onboarding, but if onboarding doesn’t come from my budget I don’t see that. All I see–or, more accurately, what the person evaluating my performance sees–is “Jane used to make $15/hr, now she makes $20/hr, and my margin just evaporated.” (For the record, I work hard to retain people because new people have a high error rate, which is always more expensive than a raise.)

            None of that is to say that we shouldn’t give raises or pay people what they’re worth.

            1. truth*

              > that means the money I’d otherwise be paying you is available for things like

              Share buybacks. The money is only ever used for share buybacks.

    6. chewingle*

      Yep. Where I work, you have to be considered a “flight risk” before anyone will entertain the thought of paying you what you’re worth.

    7. kiki*

      In a previous role, the company had an old and really out-of-touch pay policy that meant if you were promoted internally, you’d likely end up underpaid compared to market. Every manager was aware of this, every manager hated it, and yet the policy persisted.

      I think for a lot of companies, bad management starts at the top and is often rooted in a singular prioritization of short-term profits. Paying people as little as you can get away with and being stingy with benefits may make sense on a balance sheet for the quarter, but in the long-term so much more will be spent. Limiting your PTO aggressively will get you more hours worked per employee, but what will the quality of work happening in those hours be if your employees rarely get to disconnect? Underpaying employees may look like it’s saving you money, but it’s not accounting for the cost of replacing great employees when they leave and the demoralization that occurs when people realize they are stuck being underpaid.

      1. MassMatt*

        I had an employer like this, salary increases were CALLED “merit increases” but were rarely enough to keep pace with inflation. To even get a promotion it was often necessary to leave for a competitor (not even as a promotion, even just as a lateral move) and such people were highly esteemed upon their return–even though their performance (very measurable, these were sales and sales adjacent positions) was average at best.

        It was strange to see that upper management valued working anywhere else more highly than their own company. And it was not the case at all that they were bringing competitor knowledge back with them.

    8. Hannah Lee*

      “… but corporate decision making does not (for a myriad of reasons) … ”

      In most companies I’ve worked at, the primary reasons for corporate decision missing a “big picture” in a way that leads to resignations of people with critical skills and strong willingness to work is that they devalue those people/those roles “just support staff” or “oh, she’s a hard worker, she’ll never leave”. They habitually and/or purposely plan on underfunding those position or that person, deciding to pay the bare minimum to those positions, putting money at their pet projects, their pet employees or the people who talk a good game.

      In other words, it isn’t that “corporate” just doesn’t understand, it’s that corporate doesn’t want to understand and will still try to squeak by with the bare minimum even if they do. Sometimes it’s a bias against a particular work function, often it’s a bias against a particular kind of person, often someone who does not “remind me of myself when I was his age”.

      If I had a time machine, one of the things I would do is go back and tell myself, and many other people that “why no, they are not going to recognize your dedication and work ethic, and no they don’t notice the long hours or care you put into the job, and why no, that talk of that promotion or bonus that always, somehow, keeps getting pushed off to next quarter is just talk. Polish up your resume, fire up your network and start looking for something else” Because if you’re in a position like that, at a company where management has that approach, you’re just going to wind up frustrated and poorly compensated for way longer than you need to be” Or alternatively, if there’s enough good about the job, and the compensation is good enough / your not looking for advancement, just dial back the effort, time at work and focus on other parts of your life.

      1. Chauncy Gardener*

        THIS!!! If you are not getting paid your worth and can get that money elsewhere, GO!

    9. Falling Diphthong*

      I think this is very common. You can have a good boss who wants to give generous merit raises, and a great grandboss who believes that you only ever give raises when the employee can show you a signed offer from a competitor.

    10. 2e asteroid*

      I don’t think that’s a more generous interpretation. I think it’s the same interpretation, just with a “boss” who isn’t the direct manager of the employee in question.

      Having moved from a 5-person company to a Fortune 100 company a few years ago, it’s striking to me how much corporate structure seems to be designed so that good news flows from your direct manager or someone else you have a personal relationship with, while bad news is always, “welp, someone far away made this decision and there’s nothing we can do about it, sorry”.

    11. Decidedly Me*

      Agree with this. You can have a great manager whose hands are tied when it comes to doing things like raises and promotions.

    12. thatsjustme*

      This matches my experience pretty much everywhere, but especially at companies who have shareholders to please. If your top priority is enriching shareholders, then you’re only really ever thinking in quarters, never long-term. I see so many shortsighted management decisions that are terrible for anyone who’s actually trying to run a business that does good work, but great for the stock price at the time.

      And if you’re not in an easily quantifiable role like sales, you’re endlessly replaceable to the super high-up people who are usually making the decisions about layoffs and budgets.

  4. not nice, don't care*

    Some bad bosses are uncomfortable with good employees and would prefer to drive out folks so they can hire easy-to-bully workers or ones who share their mindset.

    1. anon_sighing*

      I always assumed it’s an inferiority complex. A good boss loves having people smarter than them to manage for obvious reasons; a bad boss sees them as competition for no reason.

      1. EllenD*

        Absolutely. It’s often insecurity by the bad boss, who wants to feel superior to those working for them.

    2. i like hound dogs*

      It’s so true.

      Like the concept of “dating down” in romantic relationships, I had a terrible boss who would “hire down” — basically, hire people who were underqualified or barely qualified for their roles so he felt like he could control them and make them feel like they’d never get another job as good as the one he was offering (surprise, not true).

      1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

        I think it was on this site that I read that something like: A+ bosses hire A+ employees. B grade bosses hire C grade employees, because they’re afraid of getting outshined.

        Since reading that last year, I have yet to see an example that didn’t fit that, within my and my spouse’s workplaces.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot*

          I feel like a C manager on most of my projects, so I always want A+ people to make sure all our bases are covered.

          [insert gif of Beaker w/ hair on fire here]

      2. Moths*

        And sometimes it is true — and that makes the bad boss feel even more powerful. I worked closely (not by choice) with a manager who would take people who were failing in other roles under different managers and “save” them from being fired by promoting them into roles that they were 100% not qualified for under him. The promotions would always come with a big pay increase and title jump. These weren’t star employees and were in roles they now definitely shouldn’t be in. But his goal wasn’t to have superstars, it was to have people he could control because they would feel loyal to him — who else was going to pay them that much money when they had no skills or experience to justify it? He would then have them carry out projects in ways that he wanted, not according to company protocol. And they would, because control/loyalty. It caused all sorts of chaos for the company because inevitably projects would fail right as they reached the finish line, because no one on that team knew how to do any of the critical things that truly needed to be done. I wish I could say the company caught on to the problem quickly and resolved it, but unfortunately, they let it go on for years.

        1. lime*

          Wow, this almost sounds like this could be my manager. I often wonder if these types of dysfunctional personalities have some kind of manual that they follow and circulate amongst themselves on the dark web or something.

        2. Justin D*

          It sounds crazy but I think a large part of being in upper management is playing (and surviving) these kinds of hunger games where alliances and loyalty and etc are key. Those people operate at a different level. Maybe those projects failing was good for him politically somehow (or worth it for other benefits).

          1. lime*

            Well, as long as this manager is the only person who knows the key things (or has the key skills) that get projects past the finish line, they ensure that the rest of the team depends on them, therefore making them irreplaceable. It’s a form of knowledge hoarding to keep their position and ensure they don’t have any competitors.

    3. Penguin*

      This happened to me. I was there first, manager quit and we brought on a new one (I was not qualified for the role). New manager and I had just simply different personalities and she brought on two people that way more closely aligned to her, then I was canned after a few months. Before I was let go we did a whole team work style assessment and she and the two people she brought on were all the same and I was the complete opposite, and she acknowledged that. It’s much easier to manage someone who is just like you.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        A similar thing happened to me. It’s also mind-blowing how many bosses will actively sabotage their employees because they’re so terrified that someone will outshine them, or they perceive someone as a threat.

      2. Rainy*

        I’ve seen that before and the weirdest part for me is that a good team needs to be able to work well together as a whole, but a whole team who works exactly the same way is vulnerable in the same way and to the same degree as any monoculture. If your team moves in lockstep you’ve done it wrong; you need the people who don’t think and work and react exactly like you do, because they’re the ones who will point out the stuff you wouldn’t think of.

        I mean, if nothing else, a team that moves in lockstep will never successfully cross a bridge. :)

        1. Hannah Lee*

          There’s any number of studies that point to more diverse organizations being more successful, not just in stuff like ability to innovate and adapt to change or employee, customer satisfaction, but hard number stuff like Y/Y revenue growth, shareholder value, etc.

          But many managers, executives ignore that, and hire, promote, reward what feels comfortable, based on ego, gut instincts, familiarity. Ironically they are often the loudest to proclaim they are hard-nosed, bottom line businessmen, while hampering their company’s performance by choosing to be comfortable, surrounding themselves with people like them or people who they can bully into just doing what they say, and other things that are driven by their emotions and not facts/”the bottom line.”

    4. Elbe*

      And this is just the self-aware bad managers!

      Terrible managers who aren’t self-aware tend to find high performers difficult to work with. Why is this person pushing back on all of my ideas? Why are they suggesting changes to processes I put in place? Why are they pointing out all of my mistakes? This person must be a jerk.

      If someone is so bad at their job that they can’t understand the logic required to make better decisions, high performers are always going to be baffling and uncomfortable to them.

    5. LaurCha*

      DING DING DING. Insecure bullies want people who will tolerate their bullshit, for as long as they’ll take it. They don’t care about the well being of their employees or, I would argue, their company.

    6. Web of Pies*

      Well you just unlocked a truth about my last boss for me, thanks! My previous boss always reacted uncomfortably whenever I said a smart or correct thing, no matter how delicately I walked on those eggshells. He directly told me he wanted a cheerleader, not someone who’d point out problems (always accompanied with lots of ideas for solutions, mind you!) so I stopped contributing and just did what he said to the letter, and he was super happy with my ‘improvement’. It doesn’t feel good to put out sub-par work, but it’s literally what he asked for soooo.

    7. Lisa Simpson*

      Yes, this. I’ve had many a bad boss and what they want is an employee who has few options and can be easily intimidated. Whether it’s because they have a skillset that’s not particularly marketable or they desperately need the job for economic or personal reasons (outside caregiving responsibilities, can’t risk gap in insurance due to chronic health issue in their family, no second income in the household, etc.)

      I worked in a lot of toxic environments like this, and once my husband got a decent job title I started getting a LOT of invasive personal questions about the financial arrangements of our relationship at interviews or in meetings. If I wasn’t going to be dependent on that paycheck for survival, suddenly I was a less desirable candidate.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Gross. It does make me think how we’re not that many generations removed from workplace horrors like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

  5. Dawn*

    I think that comment about the power dynamics is so telling; invariably, the worst managers I have worked for have all worked under the assumption that I have to do whatever they say.

    The worst management team I ever worked for tried to reject my letter of resignation and advised me that I had to include the reason I was leaving. They were pushing me out anyway, so I quite literally laughed in their faces when a manager was assigned to ask me where my revised letter was.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      that’s what I commented, how the counteroffer is just an effort to realign the power balance. like many abusive people, they are buying forgiveness. And once you’ve set the price, you’ve sold your well being.

    2. linger*

      I had to include the reason I was leaving.

      “It’s right there in the addressee line.”

    3. AJ*

      YUP. My brother’s manager told him it was healthy and normal to be scared of the owners of his job. She treats the owners like she’s a serf and they’re medieval landowners. (The owners are actually not as bad as the manager. They pay pretty cheaply, and they don’t trust their workers, even the ones that have a good track record, but they treat their workers like humans and are nice about things.)

  6. fluffy*

    Then there’s the bosses when you raise concerns about how you’re being treated, they respond, “Sounds like this isn’t the right place for you.”

    1. Wonky Policy Wonk*

      This was my old boss – in the middle of reprimanding me about not prioritizing his last minute project over other priority ones that I was already working serious overtime to finish he told me, point blank, “if you can’t do this than you need to find another job”. It was hugely demoralizing, but it did motivate me to finally start job searching. The dickbag was still *shocked* when I put in my notice a month later though.

      1. AJ*

        “Oh, I’m sorry, did you not mean that I need to find another job? Did you actually mean that you wanted to manipulate me into getting defensive and trying harder to please your impossible standard?”

        Sounds like my ex who, after chronically lying to me for months, said when I was fact-checking her statements, “When one party in a relationship can’t trust the other, there’s a problem.”
        You think, Sherlock?

        1. CommanderBanana*

          LOLOLOL shades of my former boss, who liked to talk about how the workplace was based on trust, while being one of the biggest liars I’ve ever met. I eventually realized that it was easy to tell if he was lying – his mouth was moving.

    2. TheBunny*

      My awful boss says things like “I lose sleep if I upset people”.

      It’s the biggest lie ever.

  7. MicroManagered*

    I just gotta say, I’m really over this “truly evil manager” trope.

    I get that there are managers who misuse or even abuse the power differential that exists between a manager & direct report. And of course, there are very real issues (that are not mentioned in this letter) like discrimination, etc. But I think it’s far more common that poor management stems from a lack of resources and training, than mustache-twisting, cartoon “evil” managers.

    1. Dawn*

      I’m pretty sure one (1) example where we have no evidence to the contrary does not a trope make.

      1. MicroManagered*

        No. I see it a lot on here, on TikTok, reddit, etc. But of course you know I’m not referring to just this one letter. That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

        1. Check cash*

          Maybe not evil, but I had a manager that absolutely destroyed people’s careers, but I always consider that an issue with Top leadership – they let her act with impunity basically, and I will always doubt their leadership ability because of it.

        2. Dawn*

          Why would I know that? You commented on one post by one writer on one site where the rules explicitly state we’re supposed to believe that writers know their own issues better than we do.

        3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          ok, TikTok and reddit are not legitimate sources of anything. Whatever you see on either of those platforms is fiction, usually really obvious fiction with very poor construction.

    2. JP*

      I’ve had two truly heinous managers. Neither were “evil.” But, training would have done nothing for them. Neither had capacity for self reflection, or really much self awareness in general.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        This! My worst boss was actively out to destroy people’s careers.

        My current boss is just incompetent but thinks he’s great. And shows a lot of the same behavior, because he doesn’t know what he’s doing. And his lack of self awareness means that he won’t change.

        Evil and incompetence stem from different reasons. Unfortunately, the results are only different if you squint reeeeaaaallly hard. And not always then.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Going down the gopher hole of whether someone’s behavior (that is negatively affecting you) is evil or incompetence can keep people stuck for a long time.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Yeah. I really end up just using it to decide if I dislike someone or really loathe them.

      2. ferrina*


        The Dunning-Kruger Effect can be in full force with bad managers. They don’t think that they need training- obviously they are so smart and competent, because that’s why they’re the boss! It’s not their fault everyone around them doesn’t understand or appreciate their genius! /s

        Yes, there are some bad managers who are genuinely on a learning curve and will be better managers with more training. But I’ve found that a new manager with a strong capacity for self-reflection is only a bad manager for a year (sometimes less) and as a more experienced manager I can help them on that journey; but the worst managers are unapologetic in their approach.

    3. Garblesnark*

      I feel like the issue I run into the most is that the wonderful managers I’ve had seem to believe that as a human being, I have the same value they do – even if they make more money or have more education, they don’t believe that, for example, I deserve more to be yelled at, or that my stress matters less, or that my needs or preferences are less relevant. However, the bosses that end up mistreating me seem to be under the impression that they are somehow more valuable or important than I am *as human beings.*

      I totally understand that a brain surgeon brings in more revenue, for example, than their hypothetical surgery scheduler, and the plumber more revenue than their receptionist, and the CEO more than the finance intern. But all six of those people are human beings who should be treated with dignity, and I think some people get confused about that.

      1. Volunteer Enforcer*

        Oh wow you put that so wonderfully thank you. I am paid less than my manager (very fair) and still deserve respect.

      2. GladImNotThereAnymore*

        Unfortunately I can’t find the exact quote, but Terry Pratchett said something like that in one of his books. Was something like a person may be richer, more handsome, have a big house, land, etc. but they are not *better* than you.

        1. Rainy*

          He also wrote “Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things,” (I Shall Wear Midnight), and this, from Small Gods, which I think is pretty applicable to the person above who thinks that “evil” is too strong a word for a boss:

          “…there are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.”

          If your boss perceives their job as being to extract from you the maximum value for shareholders at the minimum cost for the company, that’s what they will do, and you will not be a person to them.

          1. Sharpie*

            Terry Pratchett was a very wise man. I had the greatest good fortune to meet him once at a book signing.

      3. JSPA*

        We all deserve the same respect, but we’re not all under the same sorts of strain.

        A brain surgeon works daily with the risk of killing someone or leaving them terribly injured, with any and every tiny slip. Like being in bomb disposal, that level of stress gets to a person in a way that “ugh, I have to call billing 5 times to get an answer” doesn’t.

        Does that mean they get to be snippy if other people are not as hard core and focused on jobs that are intrinsically squishier and more open ended? Heck, no.

        But does it mean that they sometimes leave their last nerve in the operating room, like an athlete sometimes leaves their last bit of energy on the field, and needs to be helped off? Yeah, sometimes.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Ok but honestly none of the frustrating people I deal with are actually surgeons. Maybe – *maybe* – I can consider societally giving some extra grace to people whose decisions are truly life or death. But most of our bosses are mid level office managers who, at the end of the day, are dealing with a few more or less dollars in a quarter.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          But that’s a different thing. Level of difficulty of what people do for a living, have chosen to do for a living, the level of risk to them or others while they are working does not change the fundamental value of a human being.

          We’re talking about management or more generally people in a power position over others treating those they have power over in a way that does not reflect that “all six of those people are human beings who should be treated with dignity” Someone exhausting their last bit of energy or concentration does not mean they are entitled to treat other people poorly or unfairly or disrespectfully.

        3. MassMatt*

          “We all deserve the same respect, but we’re not all under the same sorts of strain.”

          This is true, but it has little if anything to do with how much money you make or where you are in a hierarchy. Entry-level employees (and I’m thinking in particular of customer service roles, but it applies to many jobs) are often extremely stressful, with the added bonus of generally paying so poorly that people often have to work multiple jobs (if they can get them) to make ends meet. Have a stressful job? Try having two or three of them.

          1. Food service*

            Yes, thank you!
            My food service job was way more stressful than my white collar office job. The latter required decisions that were a magnitude more costly if I made mistakes. I still found that a great deal easier than being constantly mistreated by my colleagues, my boss and customers in the previous job.

        4. Garblesnark*

          I actually work closely (or I did, lol, quit my job today) with a lot of surgeons. Most of them saw me as, fundamentally, just as human as them. Seeing me as equally human didn’t mean they never got frustrated or acknowledged that they knew something I didn’t.

          The ones who didn’t seem to see me as equally human, though, would do things like not write out their entire thought in an email, then snap at me or ignore me when I told them I would need them to explain, because I had no idea what something like “a + c in or at h f, put in qg” meant. If they never explained (sometimes no matter how, or how many times, I asked), they would sometimes later reprimand me for not completing the task hidden in those letters. That is not a surgeon issue. Other, equally qualified surgeons were fully capable of explaining their shorthand meant when asked.

        5. Joron Twiner*

          Not sure what the difference is between your last and second-to-last paragraph. Having a stressful job doesn’t entitle you to be a jerk to others.

          Plenty of people have stressful jobs: Teachers. Retail workers. Child/eldercare workers. Veterinarians. Stunt performers.
          Plenty of people have stressful lives: Parents. Caregivers. People dealing with medical issues or family drama. People struggling to make ends meet.

          Managing your stress is your own responsibility as a human and has nothing to do with what you’re paid to do.

        6. Emmy Noether*

          In addition to what others have said, I think that truly great leaders, and people who are truly great at carrying a lot of responsibility, always are the type that see others as fully human, and as valuable. Humility and perspective are good traits to have. Arrogance does not make for good decision making.

        7. Treena*

          There’s literally a study where bomb disposal officers rate their perception of stress in their field lower than bartenders’. Google ‘Taking the strain: Social identity, social support, and the experience of stress’

      4. Goldenrod*

        “However, the bosses that end up mistreating me seem to be under the impression that they are somehow more valuable or important than I am *as human beings.*”

        This is entirely my experience as well! Thanks for articulating this.

      5. Hush42*

        This is really well put. I am very lucky to have a wonderful manager whom I have worked under for 10 years. However, my job involves supporting our Sales Team and we have a few high roller sales professionals who are very difficult to work with. I’ve never been able to articulate why I don’t mind the complaints of some and I mind quite a lot the complaints of others and this is exactly why. Some of them complain about a policy they don’t like or a decision that they disagree with while still treating my team as the human beings deserving of respect that they are. The others do not approach us with respect and very clearly think that they are better than we are so they don’t need to be respectful of us as people. The interesting thing is that the person who everyone would universally say is the worst on this front is actually a complete teddy bear when you are in person and not discussing work related things. i.e. when it comes to work he thinks he’s above you but outside of work he is a very nice person. I’ve never really been able to reconcile the two people in my head.

        1. Food service*

          I once read someone make the following point about “respect”:
          To respect someone is both used in context of “as an authority” and “as a person”.
          Some people say that “I will respect you if you respect me.” And for some of them it actually means “I only will respect you as a person if you treat me as an authority” whether that is warranted or not, which really helped me figure out why this phrase tended to bother me.

      6. Far North*

        This has been a huge part of the culture shock going from K-12 to software. The work I do matters way less but the amount of respect I garner both socially and in the workplace has skyrocketed. In teaching, everything was scrutinized and I literally couldn’t use the bathroom before noon some days. In software, as long as my work gets done, the default assumption is that I’m an adult who makes good decisions. I’m treated like a person now; in teaching I was treated like I was part of the facility.

    4. Olive*

      Unfortunately, I’ve been on two teams where the manager didn’t curtail a sexist environment. In one case, he turned a blind eye and in the other, he was part of it. I don’t think either of them were mustache-twirling villains in the sense that they wanted to ruin women’s lives out of pure unadulterated hate plus the fun of being evil. I’d bet the one who didn’t curtail the sexism would be shocked to hear that his team wasn’t friendly toward women. It wasn’t like the team members were calling women slurs. The second would have probably been surprised to hear that the women in the company wanted to work and build careers instead of actually wanting to be tradwives who just couldn’t afford it yet. Ultimately it didn’t really matter if they were “evil” or not. Their motives weren’t the issue.

    5. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think you are right. I think, overall, the number of truly evil humans is a small percentage compared to those who are generally good and just trying to get by, and of those evil people, how many are middle managers?
      I think the number of letters to a work advice column will skew the data but I think Alison makes a point of this when she posts list of “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change,” because even for a work advice column, these people are remarkable.
      Her general advice for people with “letter worthy managers” is too look at the company. So she fleshes out what you are saying: Is the problem that this person is a jerk, or that the company creates and supports jerks?

    6. anon_sighing*

      Some people have poor emotional regulation and invest too much of their self-esteem in a title. Communication skills are rock bottom lately, too. People lack self-awareness.So these people very much exist and no, they aren’t mustache-twisting, cartoon “evil” managers but they can end up being Truly Evil Managers because they make their direct report’s lives miserable.

      Are the managers actually evil people? No, probably not. Maybe they are. Would training help? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s really not really what people care about it. It’s the relationship, personal perception, and the interplay between them in their relationship that does. I oftentimes think when reading a letter, “What would the other people in this letter have said, had they written it?” It’s a useless thought exercise but it helps me understand that this is from LW’s POV, their feelings, their observations and their portion of the “reality.”

      1. anon_sighing*

        I guess it wasn’t a recent letter and just one I read recently in the archive, but the letter about the boss who got angry at their “disrespectful” employee’s tone comes to mind. Why was the employee “disrespectful” in this boss’ eyes? Because they were polite but firm that the company *needs* to pay them on time — something they forgot to do TWICE.

        If you would like to read it, it’s “my employee wasn’t respectful enough after the company messed up her paycheck,” from October 19, 2021.

    7. DyneinWalking*

      Eh, even with lack of resources, a moderately intelligent person who pays attention to people and to social dynamics should be able to avoid the biggest pit falls.

      But apparently a depressing amount of people are astoundingly self-centered, never think of other people as independent individuals, and just repeat behavior they found to be rewarding like a rat in a lab experiment.
      They may not be evil in the cartoon-ish sense, but they do evil just the same. Honestly, I suspect that a huge amount of evil in the world is done by people who, at least in some parts of intellect and behavior, never quite left the toddler stage.

      1. kiki*

        Even with lack of resources, a moderately intelligent person who pays attention to people and to social dynamics should be able to avoid the biggest pit falls.

        I think this is a great point! I want to expand on it with my own observation: a lot of companies otherwise smart, observant, and socially competent managers up to fail by overloading them so much to do that they do not have time to pay attention to people and social dynamics.

        I’ve seen an increase in the number of managers who are forced to wear too many hats or take on too many direct reports, so there’s no way for them to actually do their job as a people manager well and support their reports.

        1. Also-ADHD*

          Yeah, but I think most of us can tell the difference between a bad manager (I agree a bad manager could be a good manager in a different situation, with training and resources) and an evil manager. I think most bad managers are not evil, but there are evil people who could not be good managers or good people without fundamentally changing themselves way more than training, time, resources, etc.

        2. Sloanicota*

          Yes, this is in part a societal issue of what gets rewarded, what will be immediately corrected from above, and what is let slide. If some small percentage of people are truly evil (note that they may be motivated to seek power, so it’s possible they are slightly concentrated in certain areas) and *most* are merely thoughtless and petty, the latter group learns from our culture and society that what matters is money, not people’s feelings, and they are allowed to be careless with the latter without consequence.

    8. KHB*

      I agree. I’m sure there are certainly some managers who are awful human beings (just like there are some awful human beings in all kinds of lines of work). But also, it’s really easy to make the manager out to be the villain in any given story, even when it’s not always warranted.

      Managers are humans, and humans make mistakes. Sometimes they miss things (like a star employee becoming increasingly unhappy, say) that in hindsight it’s easy to say they should have seen. And sometimes they’re promoted into management because of their skills as individual contributors, and nobody thinks to ask whether they’re cut out for management until it’s too late.

      1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

        I think people know that. This column is full of letters from managers who have made mistakes. They’re met with thoughtful, generous answers from Alison and from commentators.

        But that’s not what this letter is about and there *are also* plenty of bosses who cause a huge amount of harm to others with their choices.

        No one mentioned moustache twirling evil.

        1. Sloanicota*

          to be fair, a small but significant portion of people truly are entirely without regard for other people, and without knowing the context, I’m willing to take some letter writers at their word that they are truly dealing with such a person!

    9. not nice, don't care*

      intentionally bad = evil

      Can’t count how many I’ve encountered who make a choice to be bad bosses. Who double-down when presented with evidence/reasons. No mustache-twisting involved, just trauma.

    10. Goldenrod*

      I must disagree…I’ve worked for some truly nasty people. And no, they weren’t just lacking resources and training…they were authentically nasty human beings, interested in wielding power to feed their own selfish egos.

      You are lucky you haven’t encountered this. But just because this isn’t your experience doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

      1. anon_sighing*

        Yes, this notion that everyone just needs a little training to be better is so divorced from reality. Just look around you: do you see a bunch of well-adjusted, mature, and reasonable adults *everywhere* you go? Probably not. So it stands to reason some of those people are managing others. In a more perfect world, enough people lateral and above them would notice and they’d need to control themselves (note: not correct) now that there are boundaries for their behavior. However, usually people lateral and above have other things to do so it rarely happens unless someone below them goes through the potentially job-losing process of sounding the alarm. It’s not worth the trouble sometimes, so people bear it.

        1. StellaBella*

          Exactly. My team lead has had all kinds of training for women leaders etc, coaching by several folks, you name it. She was literally having a moment of incredulity recently when our staff survey showed how horrible things are for people on our team. “but we have fun and everyone wants to work here” …. um no. You promoted your bestie, he has bullied people for 18 months now as a manager, you do not like to reflect and have literally no self-awareness, your bestie, he is a classic missing stair and does nothing….and yet somehow she is shocked when people leave and feel betrayed. Yes I am looking as are 2 others on my team.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        ^^ This. I had a boss who was so sadistically nasty and cruel that the director of HR would warn people before they went in to interview about her. As in, do not take this job, this person is a monster.

      3. today's OP*

        I would like to extend my heartiest and sincerest apology to everyone I have ever internally rolled my eyes at when they described how horrible their boss was. I was in my sixties before I encountered it in person.

        The mustache-twirling villains do exist, and I am so apologetic that I didn’t believe this before I experienced it myself.

        1. Goldenrod*

          “The mustache-twirling villains do exist, and I am so apologetic that I didn’t believe this before I experienced it myself.”

          Thank you for saying this, OP! In your (and others) defense, it truly is hard to believe and fully comprehend without witnessing or experiencing it firsthand. I wouldn’t have believed it either, had I not worked in the places I’ve worked.

          My last boss – if you turned her into a character in a TV show or movie, she’d be considered “unrealistic.” But sometimes the truth is unrealistic!!

          1. Sloanicota*

            Such people also often don’t reveal it to everyone they meet. They look for opportunities. Someone can be the absolute villain of one person’s story and not always universally hateful to everyone.

            1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

              This. I mean, frankly, this is one way how abusers trap their partners–true evil is often very good at appearing to be good to everyone except those who they are showing their evil side to.

            2. MassMatt*

              “Kiss up, kick down” is common for really nasty bosses. They get away with bad behavior towards underlings because THEIR managers never see it.

              It’s a shame long mustaches have gone out of style, it would help to be able to identify these evil mustache-twirlers from afar!

      4. Scarlett*

        Also, keep in mind that bad/evil managers manage more people than good ones, because of turnover. For example, say a great manager has 10 employees in a given year, because no one ever quits, while a terrible one will have 100 employees, because people keep quitting and they hire new people. So you poll 100 people and 90 of them had evil managers, so it *looks* like there are way more evil managers.

        1. Madame Arcati*

          Also, people rarely write in to AAM to say, yeah my manager’s great, no faults there, or my manager did a bad/strange thing but I know exactly how to deal with it. They write in when their boss has been so evil they don’t know what to do, so they need advice…from an advice column.

    11. Angstrom*

      You are correct in that too many companies promote without training on the (completely wrong) theory that “You were great at X! You should manage people who do X!”
      But I think most employees can tell the difference between someone who’s means well but is flailing, and someone who’s a jerk.

      1. Angstrom*

        The response to “What if we train them and they leave?” should be “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”

    12. Baunilha*

      I’m not sure. I’ve encoutered some pretty bad managers who no amount of training in the world could’ve helped. Maybe not cartoony, but definitely soap opera-like.

    13. Optimus*

      Depends on where you draw the line between “mean” and “evil,” which isn’t a line I personally think bears a lot of weight. If someone is in a position of power over someone else and they are treating that person in an unjust way because they can, that’s a moral and ethical failure.

      I’ve *personally* worked for the following:
      A leader who carried on a poorly hidden affair with a subordinate (whom they favored to the detriment of everyone else in the department) and also, totally unrelated, defended a manager’s right to yell at subordinates.
      A lead who was a demoralizing, demeaning bully who routinely denied leave requests for all manner of things and badmouthed her own team members to management in an attempt to ingratiate herself.
      Two different previous leaders, two levels up, have such hot tempers in the office that they scared people and had to be sent to a different facility to work. None of this is incompetence. These are people just being rotten, on purpose.

      Sure there’s a difference between not being good at managing and being “evil.” But the truth is A LOT of people who are managing other human beings knowingly, intentionally, and with enjoyment, mistreat the people working for them. I have also had wonderful managers and know they exist! I also think they’re a rarity and should be appreciated when discovered.

    14. Jackalope*

      You’re right that most managers aren’t evil. Some are good, some bad, some mediocre. But there are indeed evil people who get put in charge of others and use their power to make others miserable. And given the nature of this blog those are the ones we’re more likely to hear about. And given the way memories work, the ones we’re more likely to remember.

    15. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

      “Trope”? Really? So, people are inventing the issues they write to this blog about as a literary exercise? If you feel attacked, that’s a sign that you need to reflect on your own mindset and behavior.

    16. Statler von Waldorf*

      You know what I’m over? The fallacy of the excluded middle. A manager can cause serious harm washout being a mustache-twisting, cartoon evil villain. This comment screams #NOTALLMANAGERS, and I find it equally convincing as people who scream #NotAllMen .

      I also disagree with you in the strongest possible terms. Abusers exist, and I have no patience for people carrying water for them. People who want to abuse others often find positions that allow them to do so with impunity. Management is one of those positions.

      All your comment does is dismiss the actual experiences of those who have experienced a truly evil boss.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        I’ve never had a bad manager. Well, there was the one, but I didn’t realize he was literally criminally underpaying me until after he died. And his sickness may have a reason he wasn’t paying me correctly? But other than him, who I never had a bad manager.

        But I still know they exist. I’ve just been lucky.

    17. Ally McBeal*

      Some PEOPLE are malevolent (“evil” assumes a certain motivation that not all malevolent people have) and plenty of those people make it into management ranks.

    18. Hrodvitnir*

      Wow. I’m over a culture where incompetents are treated as inherently superior human beings regardless of if they can do the job.

      I actually hate that I’ve got here, because I’m not innately anti-management. I think at a certain size management is incredibly important and really hard to do well.

      My partner is a manager – a pro-union, pro-employee manager whose decades of experience with other managers were the first things to make me start developing serious feelings of resentment.

      IME the world is overrun with “managers” who are a net harm to their product or service on top of being unpleasant to work for to one degree or another, and I’m pretty over it.

      I have worked across a variety of industries (no white collar work but it sounds the *worst* for being overly heirarchical) and almost always got on with managers, because I am friendly and polite (though not defferent), and work hard. I’ve also seen almost all of them treat employees abysmally to one degree or another due to ego/their feelings. The exception that comes to mind was the supermarket I worked for as a teenager, and isn’t that sad.

    19. Nanny Ogg In Training*

      While I would agree that most bad managers are oblivious or stupid rather than evil, I can assure you the “truly evil” boss DOES exist. My husband had the misfortune to work for two of them, in succession, both textbook malignant narcissists. Evil Boss 2 actually tried to destroy his career out of jealousy (hub is that rare creature, a manager who is both respected and liked). Fortunately he failed, but it’s not an experience either of us want to repeat.

    20. Wilbur*

      I think most managers are just like us-overworked, under-resourced, and just trying to get by. They either never were taught how to manage, or they figure they just need to get past Project X and then they can handle the raise at a better time. Two years later that better time never comes around and they lose someone. When I had a manager that was nice, easy to work with…but she wanted to hire me on and get the satisfaction of giving me a big raise. Well, with hiring freezes and layoffs that never happened. She told me this when I left for another job at the same company, and was oblivious to the fact that it came across as “I suppressed your wages for years” instead of “congrats, I wish I could’ve hired you on!”

      If we’re talking truly evil managers, lets not forget Wayne Pankratz of Applebees who wanted to use the economic pressure of inflation and rising gas prices to depress wages for their workforce. He thought this would work because he knew he knew they were all living paycheck to paycheck. Sure they’d probably have to get a second job, but as long as managers sent out their schedules early employees could plan their second job around Applebees. Some people don’t realize real life isn’t a game of Monopoly.

    21. Lily*

      I wouldn’t use the same language but I did come to the comments to suggest that its worth adding some nuance to the binary presented here between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ managers. There’s a big difference between ‘truly evil person’ (in which case, yes, RUN!) and not offering a raise in time to save an employee. Many managers are constrained by the system that they’re in and can only do so much to shield their employees from the shit flowing downhill, or poor past decisions that have limited current options, or current budget limitations etc etc.
      It’s also worth acknowledging that some managers are genuinely doing their best but just don’t have the tools, or skills, or support, or bandwidth to deliver exactly what an employee wants/needs (just as some employees are doing their best but just can’t meet the demands of a role)
      There’s also the nuance that some people just aren’t a good match. A former manager had a reputation as a fearsome bully, and I only took a role on her team because it was a temporary promotion, so worst-case scenario I’d be back in my old team with a useful line for my resume. Turns out that I absolutely thrived in that team – she had very high standards but was clear about expectations, supportive, and would not suffer fools gladly – she’d created a passionate high-functioning, hard-working team that I loved working in. But I could see why others had come and gone. In contrast, my current manager would be universally regarded as ‘lovely’. But she’s wishy-washy, unclear about what she wants, doesn’t stand up to the next tier of management, looks at me like a stunned mullet when I suggest something new, and I just can’t be effective under her. I’m quitting tomorrow! Someone else will love working for her.

    22. EllenD*

      I’ve seen one team full of good people competent at their jobs, reduced to uncertain and tentative about their work due to a manager, who undermined them and questioned their knowledge/experience. I didn’t understand this until I saw said manager try this approach in a meeting, where he questioned my boss (slightly junior to him) by saying ‘Are you sure that’s right?’. It was clearly intended to throw my boss off, and undermine him with others at the meeting. My boss immediately replied ‘Yes I am. Thank you x’ and and continued. But I realised that such an approach could leave me second guessing myself and how insidious such a drip drip approach could be. It was clearly a power by horrid manager to overcome his own insecurities. No training could have overcome this. He wasn’t evil, but need to feel bigger than those working for him.

    23. Future*

      Neither of the two truly terrible managers, who have done actual professional and mental health harm to me and other colleagues, were evil at all. One in particular was a truly empathetic person who went above and beyond to do the right thing when truly awful things happened to staff – deaths, mental health crises, that sort of thing. But she had troubles of her own and anxiety and pressure and a lack of training and support from her bosses and lack of ability to relate to other humans all combined to make her a truly harmful manager.

      I will add that I don’t really believe in the concept of evil as I understand many folks mean it. I believe most people are capable of doing terrible, “evil” things in the right circumstances. I do think that horrible people who care nothing at all for other humans or the greater good exist, call them sociopaths or whatever, but they are rare. I am not sure I’ve ever met one of these people, and I don’t necessarily think evil/sociopathy/lack of caring needs to exist for bad management or harms to exist.

      And I don’t think the character of the bad manger really matters that much in deciding if one should stay in a job or not. Harm is harm, bad management is bad management. I can have empathy for someone, and not hate them, while taking care of myself (ie leaving a bad manager asap).

      I wish I could go back in time and tell my you get sent this!

    24. Lenora Rose*

      If the manager is driving people off, does it really matter if they’re evil or incompetent?

      And I do get that good people can end up bad managers because they mean well but don’t actually sit down and do the hard work (this site has so many letters from managers who are asking about a problem employee only for it to become clear they haven’t sat down and had the really hard, direct version of the conversation – they’ve been hinting, or avoiding). It’s also possible they would be decent but they’re actively denied the resources they need to do their job by higher ups (many examples of no training, or a manager who isn’t allowed to fire people on her own but has a situation where a bad employee she cannot fire is driving out good employees).

      But you generally can tell if it’s a good person in a bad spot, or a person trying too hard to be “nice”. And after that you have the entire gradient of just plain bad:
      – incompetent.
      – incompetent — and unaware of it.
      – not evil as such but very self-centred.
      – not evil as such but convinced their own bosses can Do No Wrong and will happily abet evil.
      – not evil as such but only sees current quarter outcomes and has no long view.
      – needs anger management.
      – bigoted, treats employees variably based on their likeness to the manager.
      – think others succeeding is a threat
      – Actively enjoys the power dynamics of having control over others.
      – several of the above at once.
      – Just plain evil.

    25. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I think that is true for the most part, but there are people who are genuinely manipulative and nasty to their employees, and we inevitably hear more about those than the run of the mill bad bosses because, honestly, those stories are more interesting. Of course, I am sure many of those stories are embellished, but I do not think the fact that we read more stories about those types suggests that they are particularly common.

  8. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    The bad bosses who come up with a counter offers are not trying to make things right. They are trying to reassert their control. “Oh, you are leaving? I’ll give you X to stay.”
    Ha, I knew:
    1) it wasn’t that bad, or
    2) you weren’t that strong. or
    3) you weren’t that much in demand
    4) you are only worth what I choose to give you, and you know it, too.

    1. ferrina*

      Or, “ugh, fine, I’ll give you some extra money. Happy now? Good, go back to what you were doing.”

    2. Filosofickle*

      Alison has given lots of rational advice about why not to accept counters — all the things you didn’t like are still there, they might be wary of you in the future etc — but this right here is the reason that matters most IMO

  9. Kevin Sours*

    What’s hilarious is counter offers that match the external offer. Auctions don’t work that way.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Ah, but they’re counting on a couple of things by making a matching offer:
      1) it’s a pain to change jobs, insurance, new commute, new learning curve, etc., so….
      2) better the devil you know vs. the one you don’t, therefore….
      3) status quo ante, plus a salary bump might make the disruption go away and they won’t have to search for a new employee.

        1. Also-ADHD*

          And a counteroffer is always a risk too. Most people would stay for less than they’ll leave for but only if you offer it before they start looking.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            I’m would be leery of considering any counter offer, but I’m sure as hell not going for anything that doesn’t beat the one I have in hand. If I have an offer in hand I’ve already made my peace with moving on.

        2. Sloanicota*

          Yes, this is my answer to the question posed in the letter. Status quo is powerful, job searching is awful, and many people decide in the end it’s better to stick with the devil you know. Bad bosses know this and figure people will stick around because it’s the path of least resistance. Then when the rare rocket reaches escape velocity, they panic and may counter-offer to keep them.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            But so often they counter-offer ineffectually for the same reasons they feel they need to.

      1. Orv*

        On the other hand, if you accept a counter-offer you have to know that your boss now sees you as disloyal and is unlikely to promote you, and in fact may throw you under the bus the next time there are layoffs. So I consider it risky to accept one.

    2. ferrina*

      I had an incompetent boss offer me less than the external offer. And a lower title than the external offer.

      Considering that I was leaving to a job that was the same position as my boss at a more prestigious company that paid better, there was no way that she could have come up with a decent counter-offer. What stunned me is that she genuinely thought she had a chance.

      Y’all, that counter offer was $30k less than my external offer

      1. Zephy*

        I don’t think I’d be able to stop myself from laughing out loud and asking him if he’s high, if my manager were to come at me with a counteroffer for a *worse job* than the one I was leaving for. Like the only explanation I would accept is that it was a weird test or a joke or something, there’s no way I’d ever believe he was serious.

        1. ferrina*

          Yeah, I burst out laughing and told her that I “didn’t want to waste her time with an offer [Our Company] couldn’t match”.

          She was smart enough to take the out I had offered her, and pretended like she had been joking.

      2. taco*

        OMG, a similar thing happened to me. I got a sweet offer at a much more prestigious university, my old supervisor came back with a “counter offer” that was at least 30K less than what the new place was offering, plus was the amount I had originally asked for when I requested a salary adjustment. Oh, and the new job is a 10 month appointment with 4+ weeks of vacation and generous sick time.

        It did take them a while to replace me, which made me feel good. What made me feel less good is they’re paying my replacement even more than my alleged counter offer.

    3. Cat Tree*

      I once had an external offer identical to what I was already making in my stable full-time job. They were unwilling to negotiate, but also shocked that I didn’t accept their offer. Instead they tried over and over again to convince me that that was what the position was worth. And I even agree with that. But why would *I* want that position at that salary? They didn’t understand that they would have to find a different person to do that job at that pay.

      (After I officially turned down the offer, they called to say they re-reviewed my resume and I wasn’t qualified anyway so they were rescinding the offer. Sour grapes, I guess. They just confirmed that I made the right choice to not work there.)

      1. Also-ADHD*

        Yeah, though it’s fine to have a budget a not be able to come to agreement, but then you just realize and accept you can’t come to terms.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        I would take every ounce of professionalism I have to not respond literally with “auctions don’t work that way.”

    4. Excel-sior*

      I once had a colleague who did accept a lower counter offer. he wasn’t badly treated at our work, had built up a lot of capital and hadn’t been looking for anything (the chance just fell in his lap via a friend). Company couldn’t match but got close enough and, in his words, he didn’t want the hassle of changing jobs, slightly longer commute and additional responsibilities.

      I’m aware most people aren’t so fortunate, but thought it an interesting enough occurrence to mention.

    5. HexagonRuler*

      Depends on why the person is looking for another job.

      About 10 years ago I was in a job I loved, with a supportive manager and a friendly team, but it was not paying enough, and I was struggling to make ends meet. I found a new job with a 30% pay bump, so naturally I accepted, and handed in my notice to my old job.

      If the old job had given me a counteroffer that exactly matched the new one I would have taken it, because the pay was literally the only problem with the old job. Everything else was near perfect.

      As it was, nice boss’s hands were tied and he was unable to counteroffer. The grandboss tried to badmouth the new employer to try to get me to reconsider.

  10. Not saying...*

    Sometimes they are just clueless. A long time ago, in a small consulting company that had developed a very high turnover due to abusive behaviours by the company owners, and just a few months before I jumped ship myself, I had one of the owners ask me why so many people were leaving.

    I think I just hemmed and hawed since I was looking around myself.

  11. Olive*

    It’s not always clear when people leaving is a problem, and many people don’t leave even a bad boss. There are a lot of toxic offices that have long-time employees.

    By people leaving not being a problem, I mean that some turnover is natural. My team has several younger people who have expressed that they like their work and the team, but I expect that a few of them will leave in the next few years for variety of work experience, wanting to live somewhere new, etc. (as I also did in my 20s). I don’t think it will be incredibly obvious that they’re leaving for a different reason than people with a terrible manager. (I am not the manager so I don’t have to do any particular self-reflection on myself in this regards!)

    A manager was a big reason I left a past company, but I didn’t really want to go into detail about her in my exit review, and I see here that people are often encouraged not to share a lot in exit interviews. (I’d have said something if I believed she was abusive or dangerous). I know another employee was unhappy, but she didn’t leave or say anything. All I could do was promise to give her a good recommendation if she ever wanted one. I realize the outcome of that is probably that me leaving looked like normal turnover with my former grandboss having no idea that there was a real problem.

    1. Lenora Rose*

      Trust me, some patterns are really visible.

      Department A has 3x the turnover of Department B and two of the 10 who left mentioned the manager in their exit interview. Chances are good the others just didn’t mention it because people don’t.

      Department A got a new manager and the turnover shot from 2 years on average to 4 months. Nobody is saying it’s the manager, but it’s the only thing that changed.

      Business A has more turnover than any of its obvious peers in the industry and a few bad Glassdoor reviews.

      You don’t need to ask every person leaving what the cause is to infer the difference between natural change and “I’m getting out of here.”

  12. sgpb*

    I agree that taking concrete steps to reward good employees who go above and beyond is the sign of a good boss. I have my best boss ever right now. I have been putting in very long hours because we are short staffed. I also just found out that my father has terminal cancer. He lives across the country from me. My boss put in and got approved 5 additional vacation days for me this year.

    1. I Have RBF*


      My wife has cancer, and I take her to all of her appointments. My boss not only allows, but supports me in taking the time off that I need to help her through this.

      At this point in my life, that’s worth more than a salary increase.

  13. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Hmm, this makes me wonder if my boss is too overworked to be effective.She is case holding due to how long the waitlist is, and at one stage was managing four out of our six offices. She is now overseeing two offices but in two different parts of the county. I can tell she prefers email.

  14. Momma Bear*

    I’ve left jobs and clearly cited the manager as the reason…and the manager is still there years later. Sometimes you can only save yourself.

    I think these bosses realize that people will leave, but they don’t care or don’t are enough to take steps to fix it until the dumpster is truly on fire.

  15. allornothing*

    At one job when I gave notice the first thing everyone asked me was if the boss made me a counter offer. So it could be that at least some managers want the ability to say “I tried to keep them but they just weren’t willing to meet me halfway.”

  16. CLC*

    Middle managers probably understand the value of keeping good employees a lot more than senior leadership at a large company, and it’s the latter that has the power.

  17. Festively Dressed Earl*

    Many managers have never had any people skills or communications training. Often they’re promoted because they’ve been in their position for a long time or because they were good in their previous role; that’s no predictor of effective management.

    And of course some managers are just bad people. Awful people gonna awful. See: jerks, advice about your boss, advice about your coworkers, wait, what?!

    1. Curt Hennig*

      At my company, it seems as if mediocre employees don’t get moved out. They get moved up!

  18. today's OP*

    I’m the OP and I gotta say this particular story gets better and better:

    I joined this group, realized my awful mistake immediately and spent the next six months scrambling for an exit. Whilst scrambling I encouraged the others to leave as well, because they were all pretty wonderful and deserved better. To date, of the five of us:
    Two have left
    Two have firm job offers
    One is arguing with HR about whether she is eligible for a transfer

    So Dr. Evil, who is perhaps-uncoincidentally being audited by an important regulatory body (probably for general evilness) will soon have no one left to treat like poo. I mean, she keeps trying to hire replacements but HR won’t send her anyone any more and the temps keep quitting, usually in under a week.

      1. today's OP*

        Thank you! Several of them are foreign and had no idea that this wasn’t just the norm in the US. I’m just glad they’re escaping.

    1. pally*

      “Dr. Evil, who is perhaps-uncoincidentally being audited by an important regulatory body…”

      This warms me heart!

    2. Pizza Rat*

      HR won’t send her anyone any more and the temps keep quitting, usually in under a week

      I love seeing karma in action.

    3. Goldenrod*

      “I mean, she keeps trying to hire replacements but HR won’t send her anyone any more and the temps keep quitting, usually in under a week.”

      Yep! This is the sign of an awful boss!

      When I started my job in HR with the worst boss I’d ever had…both people in the role before me had left within a year. One only lasted about 3 months. And she walked out one day without even giving notice. I know, because when I started, I listened to all the voicemail messages left for her, where people were looking for her. This is…a very bad sign.

  19. Delta Delta*

    I had a coworker quit a bad boss once and take a position for less money and with a longer commute. He gave a not-believable excuse that he likes listening to podcasts in the car so the change worked out perfectly. After he left, so did I, and then the entire staff turned over twice. I’ve run into boss since then and he says he just can’t understand what happened.

    1. starsaphire*

      There’s an old B movie with David Carradine in one of his usual martial artist roles – I think it’s called Circle of Iron – where he spends the entire movie questing for some mystical book that reveals all the secrets of the universe. In the last scene, he flips it open – and it’s just a mirror. (Not a spoiler; this movie is like 50 years old.)

      Maybe your former boss needs a copy of that book? :D

  20. Bad Wolf*

    I think some people are just clueless. And it goes both ways.
    The opposite happened to me recently. I had a terrible employee. It was a contract job and ending in a few more weeks, so I wasn’t planning on firing him. Figured we can stick it out to the end and made a mental note never to hire him again. He decided to quit early. I think he thought he was majorly screwing us over because he went around bitching to everyone that I didn’t ask him to stay. All he did was make room in my budget to bring in someone competent for the rest of the gig.

  21. KWu*

    I think also in general, a lot of people don’t think that far ahead from the current problem in front of them. Other things are grabbing their attention instead, for whatever reason. And it’s much easier and more comfortable to re-interpret someone’s expressions of unhappiness in their role as “oh that’s just temporary, it will pass” and then be surprised that they actually quit, than it is to be willing to hear something that’s going to add to your workload in the short-term, if you are already overwhelmed (or just not very engaged).

    1. RC*

      See also: climate change, covid, financial planning, child welfare, healthcare, etc? You might be on to something there… people do not want to deal with issues until it is acute and immediate, even though a longer-term, bigger-picture stance would in almost all cases serve everyone better and cause a whole lot less work and stress…

      1. Zephy*

        It’s become increasingly obvious over the last few years that there is a horrifyingly large proportion of people who literally don’t or perhaps can’t imagine any situation that isn’t right in front of them and affecting them, specifically, immediately. If it’s not a problem for them right now, it doesn’t bear thinking about. These people assume everyone thinks the way they do, and you get folks asking “why do you care about star-bellied sneetches when you’re a plain-bellied sneetch?*”

        It makes me wonder – do these people have fire extinguishers in their kitchens, because the kitchen’s not on fire *right now,* so why would they need an extinguisher?

        (*replace with your favorite issue of the last few years)

        1. Freya*

          Yeah, I’ve been asked why do I care about x issue when it’s in another country and not ours, and far too often, usually 2-5 years later but occasionally as much as ten years later, I’m able to point to the issue turning up here and say THIS IS WHY I CARED BACK THEN!!

        2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          And as things get worse this will only become more acute – because while some people are like this naturally, it can also be induced. People who have more immediate problems and higher levels of stress are more likely to develop tunnel vision about the short term.

      2. Pescadero*

        Dan Gilbert, a psychologist from Harvard wrote about this. There are four fundamental features that typically trigger an immediate response in humans.

        1) Intention
        2) Immorality
        3) Imminent
        4) Instantaneous

        Intention – the brain is especially attuned to threats from agents.
        Immorality – We’re especially attuned to things which are an affront to our sense of decency.
        Imminent – It’s very hard for the human brain to get very excited about things that aren’t happening now.
        Instantaneous – The human brain is not very responsive to gradual change

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      This is true, and something that does tend to reoccur in IT support in my experience. Because we’re trained to fix the immediate problem in front of us in order of severity there’s a tendancy to be tunnel visioned to the point where non-computer stuff kinda gets left. Then when the people start leaving it’s the fallacy of applying a computer fix to a person situation = offer more resources.

      A lot of my career as a manager has been trying to concentrate more on the people than on the machines.

  22. Goldenrod*

    Oh my gosh, I have asked myself this question soooo many times! I’ve worked for horribly abusive people who were shocked when I gave notice. It’s like: what did you *think* would happen when you attacked and sabotaged me on the daily??

    I agree with Alison’s comment: “I think it stems from power dynamics — bad managers often have an unhealthy relationship to power that blinds them to the fact that the people working for them have options.”

    I 100% agree with that. I also think bad managers tend to have low emotional intelligence. My last horrible boss had absolutely zero self-awareness, and zero awareness of other people’s feelings. She just had no clue! She had no interest in other people either. So how could she retain anyone? She had no idea how to treat people respectfully, or how to interact with other humans. It was all a big mystery to her. And I think she was hurt when I left, somehow.

  23. The Terrible Tom*

    This isn’t just a boss thing, it’s anyone: I feel like I’ve witnessed numerous romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships, where people assume they can just coerce others into doing what they want and are very surprised *if* the result is a breakup, end of friendship, or other estrangement.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Hah, this is a good point. Many years ago I dated someone and it was not working out, and his response was that relationships take work! So we just had to work at it! My response was to dump him. It was like the concept that one could exit a relationship that sucked didn’t exist for him.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          It’s either that, or they think endless arguments count as “working on the relationship.” Agreeing on who will do which chores, or planning a move, is work, but it’s a very different kind of work than trying to find some way to convince your partner to do their (usually his) agreed-on share of the chores.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I said this below, more or less, but you said it better. This is every parent who thinks they own their children for life and then is surprised when the kids go no-contact.

      1. The Terrible Tom*

        I think you are pretty spot-on with “misguided priorities”. These people don’t realize that it’s actually better to have relationships based on mutual respect rather than power imbalance!

      2. RVA Cat*

        True, and I wonder how many of us with unresolved family-of-origin issues end up in toxic workplaces because it’s “normal” to us.

  24. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    What these managers and organisations often bet on is that many employees will have difficulty either finding a new job or – if there are few other jobs locally – being able to move.
    (that’s why the common advice here of “find another job” can be impractical for some)

    Employees who typically struggle to leave:
    in a crowded field with many possible replacements / not having the usual formal qualifications / older people (40+ in some fields) / waiting for pension to vest / golden handcuffs / have children at high school (need to avoid disrupting their education) / have elderly parents living locally/ at an employer in a job desert and can’t afford relocation for the family ….
    In the US of course add health insurance and retaining specific doctors or meds.

    Even otherwise good managers may only give promotions and the highest raises to those they assess are most able to leave. Indeed, such a policy may make commercial sense when there are only ever a few promotions (typical pyramid structure) and financial constraints for raises.

    Of course, sometimes they guess wrong and someone they want to retain gives notice – and that’s when counter-offers come in. If they get suprised too often, they may eventually change policy, but don’t hold your breath until then.

    1. pally*

      My now retired boss used to say that he would hire people who not only wanted the job but needed the job. As in, they didn’t have many other job options elsewhere. His thought was that these people would stay around for longer. For some it worked (me and many others), for others it didn’t.
      He wasn’t entirely a bad boss. He made sure there were raises- everyone got the same % increases. He managed the benefits and did what he could to maximize these for us.

      1. Chriama*

        I think that’s a nuance that’s often missed. There are some people who want champagne on a beer budget. There are also people who know all they can afford is beer, and that’s what they hire for! That’s why even on the employer side, a counteroffer is not always ideal. You don’t want to be paying employees wildly different wages for the same quality of work, and it’s ok to bid a find farewell to an employee whose skill or experience has grown to the point where they’re not really a fit for your organization anymore.

    2. Lily Potter*

      You bring up a good point. People tend to over-share at work about their personal life situations. “I’ll never be able to retire!” or “I’m stuck here until the kids graduate” on one hand or “One more year and I’m outta here!” or “we just paid off the mortgage!” on the other. Managers hear these things and internalize them when it comes to compensation and/or layoff decisions – sometimes in favor of the employee but often against them. Point being – don’t overshare!

  25. InterPlanetJanet*

    Within my division, it is part of the supervisor’s job to train up their direct reports. If you are a supervisor whose team has remained unchanged (no promotions) for years, then you are a supervisor who is not serving the company well.

    As the great Higgins said, “A good mentor hopes you will move on. A great mentor knows you will.”

    Every supervisor/manager should have a succession plan for their direct reports. Every year review should include career goals.

    1. Angstrom*

      That’s a core part of the military management system. Officers are expected to help their subordinates earn promotions. If the people under you are not moving up it’s taken as strong evidence of poor leadership.

    2. allathian*

      It really depends on the employer and the field. I’m a senior specialist working for government, and there’s no room for me to go upward unless I want to go into people management, and even then it’d be unlikely because I have a very niche comms adjacent skill, but I’d have to learn more about comms before I could even attempt to manage comms specialists. And I don’t want to manage people.

      Sure, I want to improve and do better quality work, but I don’t have any career goals. I’m happy if I can stay in this job until I retire, about 15 years from now (I’ve been here 16 years).

      But we hire quite a lot of young graduates on fixed-term contracts, and our manager is certainly invested in helping them with the next step in their career, including offering to be their reference.

  26. honeygrim*

    I’ve been in a couple of situations where a boss just seems oblivious to either the general poor morale of the people working for them, or–when provided concrete evidence of said poor morale–can’t envision being in any way responsible for it. It’s like they enjoy having all this control over everything but don’t realize that… they have control over everything, including most of the reasons people don’t like working for them.

    Also, at my last job, I requested a raise, providing supporting evidence as to what my role should pay where I was working. The response was “well, you’ve asked at the wrong time of year. But hey, bring us an offer from someone else and we can give you a counter offer.” Since I had already been a longtime reader of AAM, I replied, “If I get an offer from someone else, I’m taking it. I don’t want to work somewhere where the only way I’ll get paid what I’m worth is so you can avoid the hassle of filling my position.” And that’s what I did.

    I was meanly glad that it took them nearly three years to fill my position.

    1. ferrina*

      It’s like they enjoy having all this control over everything but don’t realize that… they have control over everything, including most of the reasons people don’t like working for them.

      This is so real. There’s some people that just want to collect power like Pokemon, but then don’t know how to do anything with it. They use it in weird ways that benefit themselves short-term, but don’t have the strategic thinking skills to actually create a long term benefit for anyone. Even weirder is the people-pleaser power-collectors…those folks just get power and authority, then use it impulsively to gain short-term approval from people, but then don’t understand why everyone else is mad at them. They love blaming everyone else around them (even though they are the ones with the power). I’ve worked with a few of these folks, and they are a nightmare of incompetence.

      1. Daisy*

        I’ve had a variety of bosses but the people-pleaser was by far the worst. desperately needed everyone to like him so never gave clear feedback, couldn’t make hard decisions, and leaned (hard) on junior staff for emotional support. I once told him, “I’ll back you up on whatever you decide but you don’t get to tell me how to feel about it.” the man looked like I punched him.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      “If you would just do everything my way, it would all be fine.” No matter how irrational or unfair their way happens to be.

    3. StellaBella*

      THIS ^^^ from honeygrim.

      My team lead has no self awareness at all and cannot take feedback from anyone “but we have fun and everyone wants to work here” …. um no. Our recent staff survey (an annual thing) came back with dismal results for her and the team, she was sounding like trump making stuff up when trying to talk about it ….and yet somehow she is shocked when people leave and she then feels betrayed and has to bad mouth the person who left. yeah a few of us are looking.

    4. Chriama*

      I’m glad that you told them outright! Hopefully it brought some valuable perspective, even if they weren’t able to keep you. Also sometimes your manager’s hands are tied by upper management, so being able to say “we can’t retain employees because when we send them looking for counteroffers they end up just leaving” could get policy changed over time.

    5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I think this is a piece of it. Bad managers don’t necessarily realize they’re bad managers and that their staff aren’t being treated well. They think they’re doing great! Then it’s the Principal Skinner meme – Am I out of touch? No, it’s the children (employees) who are wrong.

  27. Bookworm*

    Bosses don’t care. A lot of them would weirdly prefer to go through the whole process of onboarding a new person again than working with what they have.

    Honestly, I think a lot of it is purely ego. Not only that they’re bad managers but that they can’t accept they are wrong/could improve on things and/or it’s truly a power thing with them.

    1. Salty Caramel*

      Something else I’ve noticed about bosses like that is they demand loyalty, to themselves first, and to the company second, while providing no reasons for either.

  28. CommanderBanana*

    I’ve also worked for several bosses who had zero self-awareness and seemed totally unable to register that they were causing the problem. 100% turnover every year in your department for 3 years once you became the boss? You. You are the problem.

    And for bosses whose bad behavior was tolerated to the point they no longer tried to exercise any self-control.

  29. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I have had some bad bosses in my time, the type that berate you in front of others at staff meetings, the kind that look at you and say “you need to work on your stress level it’s not a good example for the office,” after they’ve just turned purple at you for a fixable incident. When I resigned from one of them they asked to attend a meeting with me in HR about it. I brought up example by example. “Well I only thought you would do better and learn next time if I yelled/screamed/demanded.” HR met with them privately after that.

  30. Knitting Cat Lady*

    When I was a PhD student and quit because my thesis supervisor was a bully, the first thing out of her mouth was ‘What will your parents say?’*

    As if they had any say in the matter. Mind you, my parents were fully supporting me quitting and only adviced me to quit once I had a new job lined up. Which I did.

    *I’m also a smart arse, so I replied ‘If I quit, I follow my dad’s footsteps, if I stay I follow my mum’s. Either way I’ll follow my parents’ footsteps!’

    1. anon_sighing*

      Gonna be honest, them saying ‘What will your parents say?’ just encapsulates how they felt about you…because even if you got into a PhD program straight out of undergrad at 21, you’re an adult in a PhD program. Why in the world are your *parents* being mentioned at all?

      Glad you got out of that. PhD mentoring systems can produce amazing, collaborative relationships but it can also be the reason why someone ends up hating something they were passionate about & quitting. It’s too dependent on the “advisor.”

    2. Relentlessly Socratic*

      I quit my bullying grad advisor as well–he asked if I thought I would stay in the field. I commented that I wasn’t sure, and he replied “I wouldn’t recommend it.”

      Friends, not only did I stay in the field with a new advisor in the department, but I thrived! I wound up doing research that was ultimately much more interesting to me and have had a nice career without Himself having any negative impact on me at all.

      (I am also a knitting cat lady and am saddened that it’s not my user name now….)

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      My smart response would have been “my parents don’t understand why I put up with you this long.”

    4. Dust Bunny*

      My mother quit her Ph.D. because her thesis supervisor was a bully.

      Revenge was served cold: When he retired, nobody showed up for his retirement gathering. Not essentially nobody–literally nobody. It was apparently he and the university staff and that was it. Teaching for 40 years and getting zero response to your retirement announcements is quite an achievement (and one that, yes, the university should have handled decades sooner).

  31. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Don’t underestimate the power of limited attention spans and inertia.

    Managers, like anyone else, can only pay attention to so many things at once. The angry email from client X, the OSHA report that must be filed by the end of the month, the pressure to hit quotas and goals; they all take precedence over low-level or invisible resentment.

    And, like anyone else, they implicitly expect inertia in many things. We have so many stories of people flipping out when there’s any kind of a change, because people need continuity, homeostasis, predictability. Fergus keeps showing up to work every morning, so the boss doesn’t have to worry about him and just expects him to always be there. Until he isn’t.

  32. Kit Kendrick*

    There’s also the aspect that not everyone can or will leave. I stayed for years in a job that was killing me by inches because I was so burnt out I didn’t even have the energy to realize how bad it was. Job hunting takes energy, so a manager who make sure their workers have nothing left at the end of the day will often keep those workers.

    1. Ana Maus*

      A sad but true statement. Some places and people will just totally erode your feeling of self-worth and it’s hard to even get up in the morning.

  33. Media Mouse*

    My leadership believes in “letting people go pursue their passions/their interests” whenever they inevitably quit. No retention training, etc., nothing. The one and only time I heard of someone getting a counteroffer was just monetary and b/c this person was a VIP on a project. (The person rejected the counteroffer.)

    It’s long coming and I saw it for many years, but it’s a bit sad to see the middle managers disheartened from not being able to pay and pursue employees to stay b/c of higher ups and short-sightenedness. This is why they ended up trying to fill 5+ spots in the span of 2 months.

    I don’t blame people for abandoning my workplace.

  34. Dust Bunny*

    I mean, why are so many people bad [friends, neighbors, parents, pet owners, pick your category]?

    Because sometimes people have deeply misguided priorities.

  35. Nea*

    Heh. When I finally got fed up and quit my first office job, the company discovered that they had extended me into so many different tasks they had to advertise for three people to take my place – all of which had a higher salary than they ever offered me.

    And yet everyone seemed to be shocked that I didn’t want to stick around to be overworked and underpaid.

    1. Zephy*

      I left a position that was created with me specifically in mind, reporting to a particular manager that…had a very strong personality, let’s say. She wasn’t the problem, I could handle her fine (it’s why they developed the role for me, specifically, because I could work with her). The problem was *her* boss. I never found out what their beef was, but it became clear within a few months of reporting to her that she would have extremely normal requests for things denied simply because she was the one asking for them – other departments would get exactly the same things, for exactly the same reasons we were asking for them, without a fight. She moved from managing Program A to Program B (with me), and the person hired to backfill the Program A manager position was immediately given *everything* she had asked for when she was in that position, without needing to ask for them. They weren’t unreasonable requests – super basic things like office supplies, business cards, promo/marketing materials, etc. I got in trouble for, let me check my notes here, running a report that every other department also used, for the same reason (e.g., say if we painted teapots and my job was to find teapots for collectors with specific features, I wanted to see the status of certain teapots I’d earmarked at a glance without having to look up every single teapot individually). The stated reason was that the field in the CRM software that the report runs off of can only have one value in it at a time, so if I’m marking records for my purposes then no one else can use it for anything else. Which is fair! But then, there’s half a dozen other fields that we don’t use for anything currently – can I have a report that pulls from one of those? No, and also f*** you in particular, was the response from her boss. So, I left, and last I heard they replaced my part-time ass with two full-timers making $3 more an hour than I was when I left.

  36. Cartoon*

    Because we live in an economy not driven by making or servicing things or providing valuable services. Our economy is completely financialized, I..e., driven by Wall Street and shareholder value (neither of which produce any value). Economic financialization is the ultimate inevitable end game of free markets, and leads to short-term thinking.

    This is NOT a flaw, people. It’s a FEATURE.

  37. Tim C.*

    Something I did not see mentioned, management bonuses. I have worked in places where if managers/directors meet a staffing and budgetary goal, they are given a larger bonus. As a result they will understaff and undersupply their department. Greed makes some become really bad.

  38. La Triviata*

    On the radio this morning, there was a report that many people would pass up the usual incentives (benefits, money, more PTO) to be able to have their dog at the office with them.

    1. Just sayin’*

      I am all in favor of dog friendly offices. But the commentariat seems to disagree!

      1. Coffee Protein Drink*

        I love dogs, but am quite allergic to them. I avoid them when possible, but sometimes little Cerebreus can get too friendly and I get licked and start breaking out in hives.

        1. Freya*

          I adore dogs, and am allergic to everything furry (except, for some reason, rabbits), so I take daily antihistamines and have a decoy pillow to keep our himbo of a cane corso from sleeping on the one I actually use.

          Our cane corso is also extremely allergenic – one of the staff at the vets petted him before his last appointment, and by the time we finished up, that staff member was coming out in a rash. My father-in-law is diabetic and my cane corso thinks his skin tastes sweeeeet so will lick any exposed skin any time he’s in range, but of course my FIL is also allergic and comes up in hives!

          1. Coffee Protein Drink*

            I’m not allergic to rabbits either! I had one years ago, but I don’t have space for one now. It’s weird because I was told cats and rabbits are rather similar genetically and my cat allergy needs two antihistimines on board to control (If I do that, I can be around cats for about four hours before symptoms).

  39. Just sayin’*

    It is also possible that LW is exaggerating a wee bit she describes the boss as a “truly evil person”? I tend to reserve descriptions like that for genuine Nazis (see earlier article today), etc. I mean, the boss made a counteroffer; that doesn’t facially seem “evil” to me, or inherently scream “bad manager.”

    1. linger*

      Nah. See OP’s update above.
      When almost the entire team has left within six months, the remaining member is trying to get out too, temps quit within a week, and HR refuses to send any replacements … better believe there’s something objectively seriously wrong with the manager’s treatment of employees.

    2. Coffee Protein Drink*

      In role-playing game terms, this boss would be considered Lawful Evil, in my opinion. Known for weaponizing the rules and doing the bare minimum, staying just barely inside the lines.

  40. samwise*

    In higher ed, sometimes the only way to get more money is to have an offer from another institution.

  41. AltOrca*

    This was exactly my experience when I quit my job last year. My grandboss wasn’t truly evil, but a bad manager who was hands on enough to know that I was a good employee valued by my colleagues, but hands off enough to not know (or maybe just not care?) how much work and responsibility was really getting dumped on me relative to what I was getting paid and that it would eventually burn me out.

    I absolutely loved hearing his caught off guard reaction followed by his immediate turn into salesguy mode to tell me about all the reasons I should stay without really saying anything at all.

  42. New laptop who dis*

    I had a boss that absolutely *thrived* on having a target to bully. He was brought on to run our agency, and one by one he went through each of the staff and made them his own personal whipping post.

    It was amazing to watch… someone could be an absolute rock star, but when it was their turn, suddenly they could do nothing right. Boss would start berating that person in meetings, shredding their work, talking shit about them to everyone else in the agency, and then ultimately letting them go. Once they were gone, he’d start in on the next person. Nobody was safe, from VPs to the receptionist.

    By the time he’d been there a year, he’d gone through every employee that pre-dated his hire. I lasted almost the longest, because he couldn’t find anything to criticize me over. Finally I made a mistake (it was fairly minor, I accidentally dropped a client off of an email chain discussing a non-urgent issue) and he called me in with the other principal of the agency to chew me out for twenty minutes. One mistake, after a year. I could tell the other principal was embarrassed (but also wasn’t willing to push back and defend me). A few weeks later they let me go (for “business reasons”).

    I laughed, accepted my severance package, and was so grateful to see the end of that job.

    1. Coffee Protein Drink*

      It sounds like this twit was brought in to clean house. I’m glad you got out with a laugh.

  43. rhh*

    To quote The Wire:
    *shrugs* “but family cannot be helped”
    “…and it’s not like you can pop a cap in they ass and not hear about it come Thanksgiving.”

  44. foofoo*

    Some people are also stuck in the job due to circumstances (lack of jobs in the area, immigration issues, good benefits, etc) and bad bosses know that the person is locked in for whatever reason and rely on that.

  45. Chriama*

    Part of it is that humans are inherently ego-centric and not every adult grows out of it — and certainly every adult has times when they struggle with it. If you can only think about things from your perspective, you’ll be reactive. “My employee wants to leave, so I have to figure out how to make them stay.” If you can see things from another perspective then you can be proactive. “What can/should I do to keep my employees happy in a healthy workplace?”

    It’s exactly the same as people trying to call the hiring manager or circumvent hiring practices because it’s better for *them* as an applicant, even though the hiring manager set up the process that makes it easiest for them to manage multiple applications.

  46. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    There’s a woman in my industry who is known for having contempt for most other people. She says this herself. She is dismissive, rude, passive aggressive, undermines her own colleagues, alienates key stakeholders, and badmouths people behind their backs.

    (She also has a huge amount of knowledge in our field and she has achieved some big wins.)

    She’s surprised when people don’t want to collaborate with her or when people leave her team.

    Today she wasn’t invited to an important stakeholder meeting. She brags about how this stakeholder “hates” her and seems to relish the fight. She has outright stated she dislikes this stakeholder on a personal level so doesn’t want their project to succeed even if it is good for our industry. Yet she’s outraged at not being invited.

    Yes, she’s a major expert in our industry and should be invited as she will have crucial insights. But it’s not surprise that important people choose not to involve her when she behaves this way.

    I want to ask her what on earth she expects? It’s like she doesn’t see other people as autonomous being that exist outside of her. She gets annoyed when people have their own motives or goals. And she seems deeply incurious about that. Baffling and infuriating.

    1. Elbe*

      It’s like she doesn’t see other people as autonomous being that exist outside of her. She gets annoyed when people have their own motives or goals. And she seems deeply incurious about that.

      This is worded so accurately.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I wish she had my former mentor as a boss – he was the one who pointed out to me that yes, really good skills and knowledge may get you to the top but if you keep crapping on people from the branches they’ll just cut the tree down.

  47. MuseumChick*

    I think some of this is explained by the same phenomena where one person is blindsided by a divorce despite the other person telling them for years they were unhappy. Google “Tolerable Level of Permanent Unhappiness.”

  48. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Managers go to management seminars and often, maybe too often, believe what they hear there.

    One thing that’s oft-spoken = “No one is irreplaceable”.

    Is this true? Kinda, sorta, well, ummm… kinda…

    You can always hire another body, or multiple bodies but you may very well end up short-handed in the talent department and as a result, you lose your business efficiency.

    Example = I use baseball comparisons. The Red Sox had a superstar outfielder named Mookie Betts. They had a contract dispute so they traded him.

    They got a guy who finally emerged as a backup/platoon catcher, an outfielder who was good but pissed off management and they sent him to the Yankees, and the “shortstop of the future” who was so bad, he didn’t make it beyond the mid-minors.

    So yeah, Mookie’s going to the hall of fame with the Dodgers. The Red Sox replaced him, sure! But look at the standings.

  49. Elbe*

    I agree with all of the reasons that Alison listed and have one to add: A lot of truly terrible people have such a warped perspective that they don’t know that they are being terrible. They actually believe that people deserve to be screamed at, or that others’ time doesn’t matter, or that other people shouldn’t mind being worked to the bone, or that underpaying employees is just a clever life hack to save the company money. They have such little empathy/understanding that they honestly don’t get that what they are doing is a big deal that will push people out the door.

    I worked closely with a manager who had recently hired an offshore team with little to no planning about how they would complete their work in conjunction with the US team members. When issues inevitably arose, she VERY CASUALLY suggested moving them all to US hours, which would be night shift in their local time zone. Night shift is not at all common for our line of work.

    I was stunned, because I think that it’s unethical to 1) Offer someone a job with set hours included in the description 2) Let that person accept and quit their other job 3) Immediately pull a significant bait-and-switch once they are depending on you for a paycheck.

    She seemed to have no clue that working the night shift is a HUGE change and has a lot of consequences for their lives outside of work. Some of the new hires had kids, and all of them presumably have family and friends and lives that require a certain schedule. It was immediately apparent to me that, should that be put in place, they would all quit as soon as they could (after we had invested resources in training them). People aren’t robots. They don’t have to do what you tell them to do.

  50. Anon for this*

    The MVP of my small team is on the brink of departure, and the reason I haven’t been more effective about addressing the reasons is that those reasons involve overwhelming higher-level dysfunction in our organization and it’s crushing me as well. I feel remorse that I haven’t fixed the problems more/better, but also I’m not causing them!

  51. DivergentStitches*

    I feel like sometimes managers count on the employees not wanting to start the soul-sucking task of job searching. That’s what’s keeping my husband in his current job.

  52. MassMatt*

    I think a lot of the problem is ego. Even for a decent or mildy poor boss, they are of course focused on their own problems and needs far more than that of their underlings.

    Many terrible bosses are so egotistical that they think they are the only main character in the world, and everyone else is just a supporting player. Of COURSE they think that their underlings have no other prospects nor desires. Truly terrible bosses think everyone should just want to work for them despite poor pay, etc simply because they are so wonderful.

    Considering the alternative is painful for most of them, which is why so many bad bosses are shocked when an employee leaves, even though they had either made it very clear they were unhappy or even been TOLD to look for another job.

    1. Anonymous cat*

      That last part really gets me. You SAID go get another job. They got another job. You’re now upset they did what you said?

  53. It Might Be Me*

    Recently I was in a senior leadership course. There was a big discussion about the length of time it takes to hire someone and the frequency with which people leave.

    I made the comment that people tend to leave bad managers, not bad jobs. I got a lot of “What?!” looks. Good benefits doesn’t counter good benefits. Not when I can something similar in the same industry. I wanted to say, ‘Look in the mirror.’

  54. RJ*

    I feel like a lot of the time this is a broadly systemic problem at the company in question. I once worked at a company where the founder/CEO would famously say “We don’t negotiate with terrorists” when somebody would quit, even if they were a valuable employee who we’d want try to retain. That attitude flowed downwards and infected all the managers at the company.

    It’s also often institutional inertia and stasis – “things are going fine RIGHT NOW and so therefore I don’t need to do any maintenance, even if it would be preventative.”

  55. Donkey Hotey*

    Alison’s advice coincides with some graffiti I saw recently, which read, “If you’re scared you’re a bad person, remember that bad people never wonder if they’re bad.”

    Beyond that, the counter-offer raise always smacks me as, “we had the power to pay you more all along.”

  56. I'm great at doing stuff*

    I think some of the time the managers may feel a situation is “solved” when an employee quits. This is true when an employee says things like “I will leave if this person isn’t fired” or “I’m quitting if I am out on this project again.” If that employee quits, in the employer’s mind that problem is solved. Now of course it usually isn’t actually solved- but to them, it’s not an issue anymore. It’s why I coach employees not to use that threat as it rarely works.

  57. Tammy 2*

    My (excellent) manager told me in not-so-many words that the only way she was going to be able to get me the raise she thought was appropriate (she was trying!) would be if I brought in an offer that could be countered.

    I am still not comfortable applying for jobs I wouldn’t seriously consider taking, so I haven’t had an offer to bring in yet. But, at my organization, it’s this tactic doesn’t tend to be frowned upon; I’ve been in a position to see it work out well for others. HR holds all the cards when it comes to salary but they don’t control performance evaluations or access to growth opportunities.

    1. WellRed*

      You: “so the company can give me a raise, they just don’t want to.”
      (Excellent) manager: “uh…”
      I hope you’re looking around and when you get that offer, keep on going.

  58. Jaybeetee*

    I imagine in most cases, the answer to “why do they behave in ways that drive people off/what did they think would happen” correlates to toxic people in other aspects of life – that is, most people don’t perceive themselves as toxic, and toxic people tend to not realize they are. There isn’t a malicious long-game plan here. They’re surprised when people quit because they don’t see themselves as behaving in ways that drive people to quit – even if they’re doing exactly that.

    or TLDR: Everyone is the hero in their own story, and very few people perceive themselves as villains – yet villains exist.

    As for the rationales of why they perceive their terrible behaviour as not terrible… part of it might be informed by their own past experiences and normalizing certain poor behaviour from bosses towards them.

    But beyond that, solely based on my own experiences and observations in life: A lot of toxic behaviour stems from seeing the people around you in terms of what they can or should do for you, rather than as fully-realized people with their own wants, needs, abilities, etc. That can be applied to toxic bosses, who perceive their employees as work devices (that belong to them) on par with a printer or computer. It can also be applied to dating or personal relationships, where you (not necessarily knowingly or intentionally) perceive the other person in terms of what you want from them, how they should make you feel, etc. And generally, when you’re down that mental rabbit hole, you don’t even realize it. So you treat the people around you as props, and end up continually confused and baffled when they leave, because you don’t perceive that you’re treating them *badly*.

    Truly Evil Boss probably truly saw their behaviour as reasonable and correct. Because Truly Evil Boss likely saw OP’s friend as something closer to a broken appliance than a fellow human.

    1. Annie*

      I’ve seen the “Why can’t you just do/be the things you SHOULD without me having to lift a finger” dynamic in not-so-toxic relationships myself. Good people translate their “shoulds” into action items that work for the other people in their life and find reasonable ways to nudge other people in that direction, and bad people or even decent but clueless people get stuck on hammering “shoulds” home, because well, should.

  59. Beveled Edge*

    I heard that my Evil Ex-Boss actually had the folly and lack of self-awareness to ask a departing employee to send a positive review of her management to the directors at HQ; somehow she’d missed the fact that this employee couldn’t stand her either (Other Employee vented to me all the time after I left). After all the conflict Ex-Boss and I had, I guess she finally started to worry about how it might look to the HER bosses if there was a pattern of employees leaving because of her. Although probably not enough to accept responsibility for how she treated us. I heard another employee only lasted nine-ish months.

  60. Today's OP*

    FWIW I didn’t say that all managers who fail to keep good employees are evil.

    I did say that this one was, and it’s true. But it got me wondering why some managers don’t act until it’s too late. Example: a former boss was wooed away by a competitor with a ginormous promotion and raise. Her current boss countered, but it was too late. If he’d promoted her and given her that raise earlier perhaps she’d still be there. Too little, too late.

  61. Inkognyto*

    I once had a “I can put together a counter-offer within a day or two” manager.

    My response was something like “If money was the only reason I’m leaving, I think the time for that proper compensation was during my excellent performance review instead of the increase that was given to me (like .25%).”

    The funny thing about how clueless this toxic manager was, the follow up after my comment from the Director (I told them both at once), who said “yeah we cannot do counter offers.”

  62. Mango Freak*

    People generally assume the way things are = the way things always shall be, and are unused to thinking about things from another person’s perspective.

  63. TheBunny*

    If any of you figure out the answer to this, let me know.

    I’ve got a boss who bullies and gaslights me. And hides behind saying things like “I can’t sleep at night if I upset people” as her way of pretending she’s actually great.

    I’m looking for something else and hopefully that goes well. But I promise when I resign she’s going to say how shocked she is…and will be upset that I didn’t tell her I was looking.

    1. Mango Freak*

      Yeah, it’s been figures out for decades, if not much longer.

      Cognitive dissonance. The Self-Serving Bias. Egocentricity. Lack of empathy. And most importantly, the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

      Lots of people just…aren’t that good at this people stuff. But they still think they’re very good people, because that’s more tolerable to the brain.

  64. stitchinthyme*

    My former boss thought that his employees should be grateful to him for giving us jobs — he had no concept that work is a two-way transaction where one person is providing their time, expertise, and labor in exchange for compensation, and it’s not like the company is paying people out of the goodness of their hearts. Though annual raises are standard in our industry (software development), I got one raise in the five years I worked there. He protested that he had been planning to give me another one when I gave my notice, but I shouldn’t have to quit in order to get more money. Since I was one of several people who all left close to the same time, and it was a very small company to begin with (about 15 people), I do hope he learned something, but I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.

  65. Heffalump*

    A former 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, and I wasn’t alone in that.

  66. TG*

    The other reason besides the many fantastic ones noted by others is that corporate worlds can be insidious and if you try and be honest about a bad boss the company could bad mouth you, the bad boss, others etc. No reference or they frame you as the problem. It’s easy for them to do. So people just leave and don’t give the real reason. So bad behavior continues and only gets exorcised when the bad boss impacts the bottom line or screws up so badly they can’t be covered for anymore by HR. HR never stands up for the employees but for the company to shield it. Rather than go to leadership and speak up for employees suffering at bad behavior they protect the company. I’ve seen it all too often and have given up on HR folks ever helping the employees. Just my experience.

  67. Mango Freak*

    Tbh I suspect that most people in these comments take people for granted far more than they realize!

    We’re all thinking about ourselves and what we’re going to do way more than we think about other people and what they’re going to do. Managers mostly just…get promoted, and they feel like they deserve it because they work hard, not because they spend time considering other people’s motivations and potential actions.

    The whole question is egocentric enough to underscore how natural it is to be egocentric. People generally want their perspective considered, not to consider the perspective of others.

  68. ijustworkhere*

    I also think a lot of people reluctantly become managers because (in the US) it’s about the only way to get a pay increase or progress in your career. We don’t seem to understand that management is a specific skill set that is different from the technical or subject matter expertise an employee might have. For example, we promote our best engineer into managing engineers when that is not necessarily what they are good at. And they agree because it’s ‘the path’ to more money beyond just a COLA. We don’t have a good merit raise culture for individual contributors.

    We mistake managing the work with managing the people. These are two vastly different skill sets. Some people have both, but many people don’t. And that’s part of how we end up with bad managers.

  69. Charlotte*

    Also, far too often, people don’t leave when they should, so these bosses are sometimes right that they can keep treating people badly for a long time. On this very site we’ve seen lots of examples of people staying and staying and staying in a job where they’re badly treated.

  70. Scarlet ribbons in her hair*

    I strongly disagree with the premise that people leave bad managers, not bad jobs, because I reluctantly left a company where I liked my boss very much, and I liked my job very much. I quit because TPTB decided that instead of giving out raises when employees asked for them. We had to ask for raises, because if we said nothing, TPTB concluded that we were happy with our salaries, so why should they bother giving us more money.

    I was there for over eleven years, and every time I asked for a raise, I was given one. (I don’t know what happened when someone was denied a raise. I don’t know if he was specifically told that he wasn’t getting a raise, or if he was left hanging and forced to conclude eventually that he wouldn’t be getting a raise.) Anyway, I asked my boss for a raise. He said okay and promptly went to talk to TPTB. He came back and said that there was a new policy on giving out raises. All of the employees would be evaluated at the same time by a committee. Unfortunately, the committee was never able to meet, because someone was always out sick, on vacation, or on a business trip. I said that that wasn’t a good policy, and he said, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about it.” I wasn’t sure what to think. Did that mean that if he didn’t care how long it took for him to get a raise, then I shouldn’t care, too? Did it mean that he didn’t care at all if I stayed or if I quit?

    After about six weeks of waiting and waiting for the committee to meet (and seeing a parade of people quitting, saying that they got tired of waiting for the committee to meet), I decided to look for another job. TPTB were so surprised when I gave two weeks notice. I think that they were surprised because after I first asked for a raise, I never asked if anyone had any idea as to when the committee would meet. I merely smiled and acted sweet and mild and I didn’t quiet quit. So they probably thought that money didn’t mean anything to me and I was happy to stay there no matter what.

    They didn’t give me a counter-offer, which I never expected to get anyway, because TPTB had often announced that if any of us quit, it would take them five minutes to replace us, and ten minutes later, no one would even remember that we had worked there. But I was told that the committee would meet by the end of the year (they guaranteed it), and they hoped that I would stay at the company. I said no. I was told this in July. I eventually found out the following March that the committee still hadn’t met.

    So many people left. I really don’t know why TPTB thought that not giving out raises (which they could afford to do) was a good idea, and why they were so surprised that so many people quit.

  71. tw1968*

    [Sometimes, too, counter-offers stem from thinking about pay in a way that doesn’t include much understanding of how humans work — i.e., “we’ll pay this person the minimum we need to pay them until the exact moment that keeping them would cost more and then we’ll increase to that.”]

    Alison, THIS is unfortunately how all the horrible bosses think.

  72. JR*

    I suspect that at least some bad bosses are that way because they have centered work in their lives and assume everyone else has, too. At least that’s my observation from working under a micromanager and also from often interacting with people in a high-stress industry. Workaholic bosses won’t say no to their higher ups so they are absolutely flabbergasted when you pushback by, for example, leaving a job where your boundaries aren’t respected. They would never walk away, no matter how bad things get, so why should you? Honestly this type of attitude of ‘suck it up, buttercup’ is extremely prevalent in some industries and some workplaces. It’s toxic but they’ve lived with it for so long that they no longer see the toxicity and assume their bad behaviour is “normal.”

  73. Jam on Toast*

    Reading the many thoughtful comments about what makes a good, bad or evil manager and what behaviours should be considered indicators of each, I’m struck by the thought that the reason so many of us have difficulty agreeing on a definition for a ‘bad boss’ is there there a 1001+ different ways to be bad. It defuses the responsibility, in a way. In contrast, the characteristics of a good boss are much more succinct: organized, a clear communicator, willing to take feedback from many sources and act on it, concerned about the overall well-being of their employees, not only as they perform their jobs, but as human beings and able to help the people they manage grow their skills and abilities without feeling threatened by their reports’ expertise. That’s a good boss, full stop. But a bad boss can undermine their team’s well-being and success in so many ways that it’s much harder to pin them down.

  74. Brad Deltan*

    Well what’s the average percentage of bosses that were hired because they were good at task X so that MUST mean they’ll be good at managing people doing task X (groan!), and therefore they need zero support, training and mentorship from higher up in the company? (GROAN!!!)

    Isn’t it like 80 or 90%? No wonder so many managers are terrible “bad bosses”. Remember, in the movie of their life that plays inside their head, nobody ever thinks THEY’RE the villain. Even the worst bully is, deep inside, a terrified coward. Also all of the “bad bosses” are secretly freaking out about how “lousy” a job they’re doing and how they don’t dare let anyone know about it. And “lousy” is a judgment in their head that has zero correlation with how anyone else actually thinks they’re doing their job. Even good bosses frequently suffer from imposter syndrome.

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