Did you head into work this week with a well-polished apple, group card and bunch of balloons for your boss?
October 16 was National Boss Day but magazine executive Frances is one employee who didn't mark the occasion, after a string of bad managers have left her disillusioned with the workforce, despite a long and successful career.
“In the few years since I returned to an office environment after having kids, bullying bosses have dominated my work sphere,” Frances said.
“The first was the passive-aggressive type. She'd sing my praises day-to-day but when I applied for a promotion, she dreamt up some vague, impossible to measure, yet crucial milestone that I hadn't even come close to meeting. I saw the light and resigned.”
Next cab off the rank didn't bother with the passive — she doled out praise and denigration in equal doses and let Frances know her place by refusing to give her any responsibility and excluding her from important meetings. The experience left her questioning her own ability and cemented her decision to become self-employed.
“You wonder whether you have some massive blind spot, whether you somehow lost your mojo and failed to notice, or whether you are just the unwitting victim of a string of dysfunctional bullies,” Frances said.
Healthcare systems project manager Liam shares her pain. He is still recovering his equilibrium after rolling off a project last month, following a year of answering to a physician-turned-technocrat who promised senior executives the moon and shredded her team when they failed to deliver.
Liam says attempts to adjust his boss's expectations were invariably unsuccessful and often resulted in a warning that she was feeling menopausal followed by a knuckle rapping in front of his team of 10 developers.
“She had no realisation of the effort taken to get something done,” Liam said.
She would say, 'I don't want to be talked off by you. Do not talk me off — I want to hear, 'yes, we're going to do this in six months'.”
Compounding Liam's deadline woes was her practice of hauling his staff off the job and summarily assigning them unrelated tasks.
“She would be pulling them in from the corridor for impromptu meetings and telling them to do things,” Liam said.
“I had a meeting with her about it to say, 'you're compromising the project'. I tried to do it in a logical format and produce evidence but all she said was, 'I know I'm being a bitch. You're a nice fella and I can see you bring some talent but this is my show'.”
Other hard-to-handle practices included expecting immediate responses to her 2am emails and demanding her first-class travel and five-star accommodation bills be chalked to the project budget, while Liam and his team flew economy.
After advising he would not renew his contract, Liam was refused a reference and copped the silent treatment for the remainder of his tenure.
Unhappy campers like Frances and Liam are the norm rather than the exception, according to a National Boss Day online poll of 300 Australians of varying ages and professions, conducted by psychologist and workplace activist, Michelle McQuaid, who has also authored a manual for dealing with bad bosses called 5 Reasons to tell your boss to go f**k themselves!.
Thirty-seven per cent of poll respondents believed they worked for someone who had little or no integrity while 49 per cent said their boss did not stay calm and in control.
Forty per cent reported feeling unappreciated, uninspired, bored and miserable at work and 60 per cent said they would do a better job if they got along better with their boss.
Organisational psychologist Helen Crossing says misuse of power and authority are the most common gripes employees have with their bosses. This can take many forms, from micro-management and excessive control to unjustified preferential treatment and lack of clarity about expectations.
Conversely, good communication with workers and honesty and integrity are the attributes staff surveys routinely rank as most important in a leader, according to Workplace Research Associates principal Julie West.
“Of these two, staff are usually much happier with their bosses' honesty and integrity and much less happy with their level of communication with staff and their visibility with staff,” West said.
As to finding a leader you could have a Hallmark moment with on Boss Day without resorting to the sick bag, Frances believes it's potluck.
“Based on my experience in the last few years I'd say it's skewed toward [bad bosses] which is awful because not only can it make or break your career, it also feeds into your personal wellbeing and that of your family,” she said.
“These bosses never get the best from you, but that doesn't matter to them as it was never on their agenda. In fact it often seems to me that the worse you do, the better they are able to feel about their own performance.”
Brickbats or bouquets? How are you celebrating with your boss today?