How to Work for a Rotten Boss

Boss_tweed2It’s inevitable. At one point or another you’ll undoubtedly work for a lousy boss. Hopefully it’s already happened and you’ve moved on. Battered and bruised perhaps, but no longer under the reign of a craptastic manager.

If, however, you’re still stuck, there are a few things to consider.

This guy (or gal) who wields such power over your day-to-day happiness might just be new to his role and learning as he goes. It’s possible (let’s give him the benefit of the doubt) he wants to do better but the organization is dysfunctional and he’s limited by heavy-handed HR policies. Of course, unfortunately, he could just be a contemptible human being.

I’ve run into rotten bosses who are passive, lack knowledge and are both physically – and mentally – absent. The more prevalent type of rotten boss? The bullying autocrat. You’ve seen her. She minimizes the feelings or ideas of others, makes up rules as she goes along, and loves to criticize individuals – often publicly. He’s the manager who flings accusations (”you’ve screwed up that report again!”), isolates certain individuals from the group, and picks other team members as his favorites…for now.

In any event I hope it gets better. And it can.

  • Talk to someone. Have a conversation with someone in your HR department, give a call to your employee assistance program, or have a chat with a trusted mentor/advisor. Don’t, however, just band together and grumble with coworkers. While the solidarity might make the shared-pain momentarily diminish, your collective negativity will only make the situation more intolerable.
  • Talk to the tyrant your boss. This may fill you with terror but it’s part of being an adult and a professional. “Hey Jane,” you can start the conversation. “I wanted to clarify your expectations for my performance but also need to make you aware of how your reactions/policies/tone of voice impact my performance.”
  • Run it up the flagpole. Talk to your boss’ boss; unless he’s a jerk too. In which case refer to #1. While there’s no law against being an asshole, there are laws against discrimination and harassment. Make sure you let someone in your human resources department know what’s going on; they can’t take action if they’re unaware.
  • Put yourself in her shoes. Really assess what’s going on. If she’s yelling at everyone for wasting time at work, is it true? Is there some validity to what she’s saying? If your team is composed of a bunch of slackers and work isn’t getting done it might be time for some self-reflection.
  • Find something positive to do for yourself. Exercise, join a book club, or take up square dancing. Go home and snuggle your cat, dog, children, or partner. Look for a new job and get the hell out of there. Take care of you.
  • Learn from the mistakes you see your rotten boss making…

…and vow to never be a rotten boss yourself.

 

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

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The Aftermath #50ShadesofHR

Employee complaint form

MEMORANDUM

 

February 16, 2015

TO:                   All Employees

FROM:           Janet Jones, Director of Human Resources

RE:                   Inappropriate Workplace Conversations

It has come to my attention that a fair number of you saw the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” this past weekend. Some of you, according to my sources, attended multiple screenings.

It is apparent that many of you have forgotten that Acme Corporation’s Workplace harassment policy prohibits “verbal or physical conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” (Section III, subsection A, paragraph 2).

While talk of one’s ‘inner goddess’ may not, on the surface, create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, when followed up with a discussion about the color of one’s cheeks it may cause others to feel uncomfortable.

Please also note:

  • It is not appropriate to begin using “Laters, baby” as your email signature
  • We will not, despite repeated requests, be turning the vacant office on the 5th floor into a “Red Room”
  • Corsets are not appropriate workplace attire
  • It is neither funny nor professional to inform a co-worker “I’d like to bite that lip.”
  • We will no longer allow college journalism students to interview our top executives
  • This memo is not tongue in cheek; it is not advisable, after all, to use the phrase “tongue in cheek.”

Thank you for your attention to this matter and please see me with any questions.

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How To Build Your HR Empire

empressRecently, I was doing some reading about internal barriers in organizations created by fear. In Tom Rieger’s Breaking the Fear Barrier he points out these barriers take three forms: parochialism, territorialism, and empire building. As he states:

Parochial managers do not necessarily want to take control over other departments. Instead, they build walls against others’ empire building attempts to keep outsiders from interfering with their own local focus and viewpoint. Territorialism is about keeping things just the way they are; empire building is about changing the balance of power. While territorialism seeks to impose limits over what people can do inside the silo, empire building seeks to change the focus of what those in other departments do. Territorialism is about defending the current span of control, but empire building is about expanding it.

Huh. I’ve known some human resources professionals that fall into each of those categories. Parochial HR leaders say things like “You can’t do xyz because it’s against policy/law/my wishes” or “We need you to complete that annual checklist performance review so we have documentation” or “Because I say so.”

The territorial HR manager will let you know, quite happily, that she controls your training budget so you best justify to her why one of your staff members needs to attend a $159 training workshop. You need to go through her (not IT) to get a new laptop and gain her approval before you allow a staff member to spend the afternoon working at the local coffee shop.

Interestingly enough, Tom Rieger shares an HR example of empire-building:

“A multibillion-dollar company centralized several support functions under its head of human resources. As a result, that executive became chief administrative officer over human resources, accounts payable, legal, real estate, and several other departments. Although the IT needs of the businesses were specialized in research and development, she insisted that IT should also be under her charge and successfully fought to add IT to her growing empire. The outcome was inefficiency, wasted resources, disengagement, and lack of focus, all of which resulted in unnecessary costs for the organization.”

Now I dare say the way this works in a multibillion-dollar company is just a tad different from how it occurs at Acme Financial Services with 300 employees. In some ways it’s easier for the HR leader to assume control of people, functions or resources in a smaller organization. No one wants to manage the vehicle fleet? HR will take it on. That administrative assistant whose job has become somewhat redundant in the last 10 years? Bam! We’ll put her to work in HR!

Next thing you know, the human resources span of control includes customer service/reception, purchasing, and facilities maintenance.

Is this always a bad thing? Not necessarily This sort of structure might be appropriate for Company A even though it’s not going to work at Company B. But, as Tom Rieger points out “Often, organizations will permit or overlook an empire builder’s encroachment because he presents his attempt at conquest as a faster way to meet an objective. In other cases, the empire builder is more subtle, taking over inch by inch. By the time anyone notices, the change has already occurred.”

Do the HR Empire Builders want to find ways to meet objectives? Get stuff done? Eliminate redundancies and remove impediments? It’s possible.

It’s also possible some just want power in whatever way they can get it.

But size – and control – have nothing to do with real strength and power. Wise HR leaders realize it’s not about gobbling up additional territory as if sweeping the board in a game of Risk in an attempt to conquer the world. Instead they realize it’s about delivering value by supporting and enabling the execution of company strategy. Period. End of story.

They understand that HR influence isn’t dependent upon the size of one’s kingdom. They know it’s about acquiring knowledge and mastering the HR fundamentals. It means they never stop learning and they look forward to the future rather than trying to run from it. They know that great HR is often invisible.

And that’s how they build an HR empire.

 

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

Henry The Fourth, Part 2 Act 3, scene 1, 26–31

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Why We Love HR. Really. #CarnivalofHR

giraffe valentine's dayOh human resources. A decade (!) on and we’re still battling to overcome the infamous “Why We Hate HR” article. This was such the thing back-in-the day that even SHRM commissioned a “Teaching Guide” to help us dislodge the arrows we found stuck in our collective back.

But it’s (almost) Valentine’s Day and, in the spirit of love in all its forms – agape, storge, philia and even eros – the writers on this week’s Carnival of HR share their affection for not only the things we do really well but also a bit of overall delight for this crazy profession in which we toil. And, since love knows no bounds, I’ve broken the rules for this week’s Carnival; you’ll find several posts from the semi-distant past.

So with a nod to Elizabeth Barrett Browning…

How do we love thee HR? Let us count the ways…

The business of new HR is love and social capital Jon Ingham

“I suggest the business of HR, or at least future-oriented ‘new HR’

is developing the right connections, relationships and conversations,

or generating social capital.” Jon Ingham 

10 Reasons Why I Love Being an HR Professional Andrea Devers

Best friend at work? Just have my back. Mary Faulkner

7 Tips for a Happy Work Marriage Erin McCune

Married to HR Kristina Minyard

Unconventional HR Advice: Love Your People Ben Eubanks

The Long Now of Employee Engagement Paul Hebert

How Paycor’s Guiding Principles Help It Build and Maintain Employee Engagement Chris Ostoich

The Engagement Answer Heather Bussing

“There is pretty much nothing you can do to make

employees love work or be happy. You can do all sorts of things to

completely make them miserable though.” Heather Bussing 

What Does House of Cards and Employee Personalities Have In Common? EVERYTHING. Bridget Webb

How to Develop a Performance Improvement Plan for Your Employee Blake McCammon

Has your lack of leadership led to a cultural failure? Mike Haberman

Delegation: Ask Permission, Beg Forgiveness, or Practice “Per-Giveness”? Jathan Jove

What Does Successful Succession Management Look Like? Lindsay Colitses

Your Hiring Manager is Bigger than Your Brand Adam Lloyd

You’re Not Special: Puncturing Egos for the Greater Good Victorio Milian

Do You Have a Blah Blah Blah Vision or a Driving Vision? Jesse Lyn Stoner

I Love Chocolate & Great HR David Richter

“When a company’s HR department is motivated, empowered and

aligned with the strategy and values of the rest of the company,

then magic can happen. That is what I love about great HR. “

David Richter

The Benefits of a Structured New Leader Transition Process Jennifer V. Miller

All You Need Is Love… To Succeed In Social Recruiting Tim Barry

As the HR Schoolhouse Crumbles Kyle Jones

 

“I do think an organisation where HR, and the rest of the business,

invested in love and hugs would result a rather special

as well as healthy and productive workplace.” Jon Ingham

 

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image courtesy of National Wildlife Federation

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The Harsh Reality: Sometimes HR Has to Talk about Sex

50 Shades of HRThis week brings the much-anticipated (well, in some quarters) release of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 4 years you’re likely aware that the Fifty Shades trilogy has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. According to Boxoffice.com, the movie is forecast to make $89 million in the US and Canada over the upcoming weekend and it’s been reported that close to 50% of advance ticket sales in the US have been from fans under the age of 30; two-thirds of them are women.

And next Monday morning these moviegoers will flock back to their offices, gather around the water cooler or huddle in cubicles, and give a blow-by-blow discuss flogging, paddling and shackles with co-workers. Amidst all the breathless (no doubt) titillation, I can guarantee you there will also be employees who are offended and place a call to the HR Department. Most human resources practitioners are accustomed to having conversations about FMLA, WC, ADA, OSHA and LTD … but not so much BDSM.

This all got me thinking about the “Seinfeld” case. Who remembers that one?

In 1993, Miller Brewing Co. fired Jerold Mackenzie, an executive, for an incident that arose from his discussion of the show with a female colleague. Mackenzie, relaying the story line from an episode, explained that Jerry was unable to recall a woman’s name that was described as rhyming with a part of the female anatomy (Mulva? Gipple?). Mackenzie, embarrassed to tell his colleague Patricia Best what the character’s name (Dolores!) rhymed with, ended up showing her the word in a dictionary.

She was offended.

Mackenzie, after being fired for sexual harassment, sued Miller Brewing Co. and Patricia Best. The jury (10 women, 2 men) ruled for Mackenzie and ordered Miller Brewing Co. to pay $26.5 million. The verdict was appealed and eventually the entire jury award was set aside. (note: the actual case focused on issues other than harassment – specifically Mackenzie’s lawyers argued that Miller deceived him for years and dubbed it “misrepresentation to induce continued employment”)

I’m not suggesting that HR Directors send out emails admonishing staff “not to wear leather” but perhaps it’s advisable to listen for excess talk about riding crops and bondage. It may be time to figure out, once and for all, if the cultural norms of one’s organization include language or visual displays that, well, might not meet grandma’s approval. As the lawyers and Supreme Court like to say, a hostile work environment is one that is “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.” This means when you work in HR you need to watch out for that stuff. I’m not saying be a humorless prude…(lord no); don’t be like the HR lady I met at a recent conference who was upset that an attorney speaking-about-sexual-harrassment used anatomically correct words for body parts. Please don’t be like her.

I am saying that even though you may not find it easy to tell the guys on the loading dock to “knock it off,” sometimes you just have to do that. And you might have to use words you’ve picked up by reading “Fifty Shades Darker” in order to adequately convey your message.

Claims of a sexually charged hostile work environment are often not painted in black and white; sometimes they’re in shades of grey.

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image: classic HR swag via Cornerstone on Demand

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