HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
January 8, 2007, Herald Journal

It’s not the cream rising to the top

By IVAN RACONTEUR

There are plenty of stories out there about “bosses from hell,” who make extremely unreasonable demands on those who work for them.

We can find humor in these bizarre stories (as long as they are not OUR stories), but it may be that many bosses, not just a few psychos, contribute to the misery of their employees.

A recent study at the University of Florida might lead one to believe that companies are not doing a very good job of selecting supervisors.

The study found that, of the employees surveyed:

• 39 percent said their supervisor failed to keep promises.

• 37 percent said their supervisor failed to give them credit when due.

• 27 percent said their supervisor made negative comments about them to other employees or managers.

• 23 percent said their supervisor blamed others to cover up mistakes or to minimize embarrassment.

I have often thought that ability and competence seem to sometimes be absent from the list of criteria companies use when hiring or promoting supervisors, and the findings of the Florida study seem to support this.

If two out of five bosses do not keep their promises, what effect does this have on employee morale?

If more than a quarter of supervisors disparage their employees in front of co-workers or other managers, what message does this send?

Not only does this unprofessional behavior affect the employee in question, it will lead others to wonder what is being said about them in their absence.

Then, there are the supervisors who blame others to cover up mistakes or to minimize embarrassment.

I have known some of these people.

I have worked for some of these people.

One might wonder if incompetence is one of the requirements for advancement.

There has been much talk about improving productivity in the workplace, but it seems that not enough attention has been given to hiring good supervisors, and training supervisors to do their jobs.

A good supervisor can motivate people to reach their potential.

A good supervisor will train, coach, and support his employees.

As a result, the employees will be more productive, and will feel valued because they work in a positive environment.

A poor supervisor, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect, and based on the findings of the Florida study, there are plenty of poor supervisors out there.

These dunderheads will claim credit for every success, and blame others for every failure.

The people who work for them will be frustrated, angry, and unproductive.

Employees who are stressed and thinking about their idiot bosses have less time to devote to their work, and will care less about the quality of their work.

It seems clear that one of the best things companies could do to improve productivity, worker morale, and profitability, would be to concentrate on their supervisors.

For those cases where bad bosses cannot be trained, there needs to be adequate systems in place for employees to voice their concerns without fear of retaliation.

Bad bosses can drive away good employees faster than a heavy workload or low pay, and this can result in a downward spiral for the company.

We love to laugh at insane bosses, and some of our greatest comedies have included these characters.

Unfortunately, when one is confronted with a bad supervisor, it is not so funny.

Despite the apparent abundance of incompetent bosses, the solutions that are offered seem to be limited to recommending strategies for employees to cope with the supervisors, rather than focussing on improving the supervisors.

It may be time to do something about this.

Moving on to a related subject, one can scarcely help but be amazed at the number of stories that have surfaced lately about people who are being paid not to work.

I refer to those coaches, company executives, and government employees, who have done such a poor job that their employers are willing to pay them millions of dollars just to get them to go away.

Where do you apply for a job like that?

For example, a certain former Minnesota Vikings coach was recently fired from his job in another state for not winning enough games.

His employer will pay him $2.5 million to buy out the final year of his contract.

In another example, after months of paid leave, and numerous accusations of improper behavior, the chief of a large metropolitan fire department in Minnesota negotiated a deal that will result in her continued employment by the city, albeit at a lower pay level.

Other cases have involved people who are released from their employment for a wide variety of reasons.

These people are apparently such a menace to the organization that it makes financial sense to pay them to not work there.

That is some seriously bad mojo.

If any of these companies are hiring, I would like them to know that I would be willing to not work for them, and my price to not work there would be much less than a million dollars.

As a matter of fact, I bet I could not work for several companies at once, and make a nice living by doing nothing at all.

I will have to look into that.