Five Signs You're a Bad Boss
by Diana Middleton
Friday, February 18, 2011
When the number of employees Matt Kaplan managed at a lab at the University of Arizona in Tucson mushroomed from six to 30, the school called in a management coach to make sure he was prepared. What he learned surprised him -- his employees thought he was distant and didn't trust their work.
"The biggest challenge for me was realizing I couldn't do everything myself," he says. "I had to learn to trust my team, which was a gradual process."
Experts say many bosses are similarly clueless about their appearance to employees. Here are five signals you may be one of them.
1. Most of your emails are one-word long.
It may be efficient, but many bosses don't realize how curt a one-word email -- even a simple "yes" or "no" -- can be, says Barbara Pachter, a management coach and author of several workplace etiquette books. She calls it the "BlackBerry effect."
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"Managers have a tendency to be abrupt, especially when they're answering emails on the go," Ms. Pachter says. "It comes off as an invitation for conflict. A simple addition of 'thanks' goes a long way."
Some managers craft even shorter emails. When Christina Marcus emailed an idea for a project to a former boss, he responded "Y." Thinking he was questioning her idea, she spent 20 minutes crafting a response. Turns out, the "Y" meant "yes," not "why." Ms. Marcus eventually left the firm.
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2. You rarely talk to your employees face-to-face.
Relying on email may be convenient, but bosses are increasingly using technology to avoid having tough discussions, says Robert Sutton, professor at Stanford University and author of "Good Boss, Bad Boss."
"No one wants to do the dirty work, but it's a boss' lot in life to deal with difficult issues," Mr. Sutton says. Face-time engenders trust with employees, adds Ms. Pachter.
3. Your employees are out sick -- a lot.
Employees will fake sickness to avoid a bad boss, says Mr. Sutton. But there's evidence that a bad boss may be bad for your health. A 2008 Swedish study that tracked more than 3,000 men over 10 years found that the men who said they were poorly managed at work were 20%-40% more likely to have a heart attack.
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4. Your team's working overtime, but still missing deadlines.
New bosses are particularly prone to giving unmanageable deadlines to staffers, says Gini Graham Scott, author of "A Survival Guide for Working with Bad Bosses."
A human resources executive at a New York firm who declined to be named because she's currently looking for a new position, says that she began working 15-hour days after her new boss came on board. Her boss' first order of business: Promising more aggressive deadlines to clients. "She would tell the client, 'We can have this for you in three days,' which was impossible," says this woman.
5. You yell.
Even if you aren't screaming angrily at your employees, speaking loudly can damage workplace morale, says Ms. Pachter, the management coach. "Employees will constantly feel like they're being reprimanded, and they'll avoid you if there's ever a problem," she says.
At one of Ms. Marcus' former jobs every debate was a public forum, she says. "My bosses would shout freely across the office, even when they weren't necessarily angry," she says. "It charged the atmosphere and really killed productivity, especially when you were trying to figure out who you should be listening to."
Write to Diana Middleton at email@example.com