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Bad Bosses, Employee Retention, and Mind-Bugs

by Larry Bloom and Adam Bloom
My heart raced and my stress level peaked as my boss opened his mouth to verbally hammer anyone at our group meeting who did not agree with him. As he directed his tirade at me, I felt my anxiety rise. No, this was not the time to give him the truth, and I could only think, “What a jerk!”

Unfortunately, too many of us have felt like this in dealing with bad bosses.  I recently read a discussion topic by Christelle M. of the SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) Official Group where she posed the question: Employees don’t leave their jobs. They leave the Company. What do you think?  In reviewing the posts, it is easy to see a few distinct common themes by these HR professionals.

This blog article will explore one of them: What is the impact of supervisors and bad bosses on employee retention?

What the HR Pros Say

Madura Joshi of AAF International observed; “there could be multiple reasons [employees leave] but I believe that people don’t leave their jobs in a company but they leave their managers.” Salvador Ramirez of Chicago Transit Authority stated: “Many employees leave due to the work environment becoming hostile and subjected to the constant tirades of administrators who are seldom held accountable for their unprofessional comportment. Even more sad when their superiors are aware of these behaviors and further enable these atrocities by their silence and indifference. This unfortunately seems to hold true in so many businesses today that are administered by professionals with little people skills and an overseer mentality.” Kevin Hessian of PricewaterhouseCoopers offered: “I agree with the majority that employees typically leave because of their supervisors. I think it can go deeper than that and how the supervisor impacts compensation, work/life balance, performance reviews or any number of other factors.”

The Facts about Bad Bosses

Attempting to avoid the “Generalization without Evidence” Mind-Bug from my book, I searched for an independent study that might shed some light on bad bosses. “They say that employees don’t leave their job or company, they leave their boss. We wanted to see if this is, in fact, true,” said Wayne Hochwarter, an associate professor of management in FSU’s College of Business. Working with doctoral students Paul Harvey and Jason Stoner, Hochwarter surveyed more than 700 people who work in a variety of jobs about their opinions of supervisor treatment on the job. The survey generated the following results:

  • Thirty-one percent (31%) of respondents reported that their supervisor gave them the “silent treatment” in the past year.
  • Thirty-seven percent (37%) reported that their supervisor failed to give credit when due.
  • Thirty-nine percent (39%) noted that their supervisor failed to keep promises.
  • Twenty-seven percent (27%) noted that their supervisor made negative comments about them to other employees or managers.
  • Twenty-four percent (24%) reported that their supervisor invaded their privacy.
  • Twenty-three percent (23%) indicated that their supervisor blames others to cover up mistakes or to minimize embarrassment.

It’s No Surprise – Bad Bosses are Toxic

According to this research on bad bosses, “Employees stuck in an abusive relationship experienced more exhaustion, job tension, nervousness, depressed mood and mistrust. They also were less likely to take on additional tasks, such as working longer or on weekends, and were generally less satisfied with their job. Also, employees were more likely to leave if involved in an abusive relationship than if dissatisfied with pay.” Bad bosses destroy value by triggering frequent, expensive, and time consuming replacement efforts along with intangibles such as the impact on the company’s culture.   In my experience as a CEO, recruiting, hiring, and training a new employee can easily cost 150% of their first year salary without consideration of lost productivity.

The Cure – Avoid Mind-Bugs

In The Cure for Corporate Stupidity I suggest the following: “One thing most bad bosses have in common is lack of awareness that they’re bad bosses. Under the influence of mind-bugs, nobody wants to believe they are the problem. Yet the only way out is to own the problem; only then do we have the power to fix it. When it’s happening to us, we engage our defensive reasoning. And not only is that bad for decisions, it’s bad for careers as well. So, even if we are convinced of being the greatest manager around, we would still be wise to check for mind-bugs. Of course that cuts two ways. Taking a long hard look in the mirror before pointing fingers at others is a sign of being in command of our thinking.”

Taking Action with Bad Bosses

Bad bosses are associated with considerable emotional distress from subordinates and many bad decisions.  So, how do you fix a problem with bad bosses?  Here are a few actions you can take based on “The Cure for Corporate Stupidity” and a diagram from Chapter 16:

1  Learn to take command of your own thinking

Surely you have an unpleasant situation, no question about it. I believe you share that with millions of others. When we understand how our minds and brains work, we better relate to quotes like; “If you say something stupid and no one disagrees with you then you know you are the boss” (Author Unknown). Then you realize that it is possible to experience people, even bad bosses, differently.  You can take command of how your brain automatically generates “survival reactions” that cause  “flaws in your thinking” and undue stress. This book teaches this complex subject in a way that is easy to grasp. Many times it  is all the correction that is needed.

2  Don’t react to your boss

We do this by being in command of our thinking even though our boss is not. The problem is that a reactive response invites the same. Anger is most always met with more anger, attacking invites defensiveness, and justifying who is right invites more of the same. Fear conditioning is the ability of an innocent trigger to unleash the reaction. Rather than react we need to listen. True listening requires taking command of our thinking. The simple fact is that we can’t listen when we are reacting. There is no space for it. If the implications weren’t so serious and the pain so great, it would be laughable to watch two people trying to reach an understanding by not listening to each other. Both are miserable and the mind-bugs love it! An effective way of dealing with a disagreement is simply to listen with complete attention. We can be mindful and seek to understand another point of view even if we don’t care for what the other person is saying. We are actually displaying a far greater power than arguing, the power to be in command of our thinking no matter how strongly we may initially disagree.

3  Take command of the way you learn and teach
  • If you want to improve as a boss, this book will help you realize that your “non-conscious programming” is a likely culprit that can contribute to bad decisions leading to problematic behavior with your direct reports.  You will learn how to put a pause between stimulus and response to improve results.
  • If you have a colleague or manage someone who is known as a “bad boss,” you can suggest this book to check out for personal growth in decision-making.
  • If you are an HR professional, the research-backed tools in the book can help people recognize their own problematic thinking, learn to “press pause” before they react, and then change to decisions and actions that achieve results in a way that employees respect and appreciate.

If you found this article helpful, please rate, comment, ask questions, like, or share it.
If you know someone with a bad boss, please forward it!

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