Final Word: Maybe it’s you

I’m convinced everyone needs to have a bad job at least once in their life, preferably when they’re a teenager. Having a slightly demeaning job like waiting tables, pumping gas, bagging groceries, stocking shelves, delivering appliances or picking up trash can make you appreciate how good you’ve got it later on in life. Every now and then, when I’m having a tough day, I’ll say to myself, “This is bad, but at least I’m not out throwing papers at 3 in the morning.”

My worst job ever, you see, was managing paper carriers for the Tuscaloosa News. The carriers were treated shabbily by the paper, back then, and they were always getting angry and dumping routes. Which meant the phone would start ringing at about 2 a.m. By 3 a.m. I’d be driving around in the predawn dark trying to figure out who on that particular route was supposed to get a newspaper and who wasn’t.

Having an unpleasant job can build character, teach you good work ethics and, most importantly, make you sympathize later in life with a waiter or a check-out clerk who’s having a bad day. You can forgive a lot if you’ve walked in those shoes yourself.
So having a substandard job can be a good thing. Having a bad boss is a whole other ball of wax. I can’t tell you how many contractors I talk to who mention working for a bad boss as they tell me their stories. My own boss, Marcia, often mentions that she once worked for a “screamer,” and never wants to go through that again.

Working for a jerk is a miserable experience. It’s dehumanizing. It can be traumatizing as well. My worst boss ever is actually a good guy most of the time and I’m friends with him to this day. The problem was he just couldn’t handle pressure well. If everything was going fine, he was great. But when things went south on us, he’d blow up so fast bystanders would be hit by shrapnel. And we all know how quickly – and how often – a good day can go bad in the business world.

Things would go wrong, and the boss would lose his temper. He’d start yelling at me and his other employees, berating or belittling us, and then everybody would get ticked off. Efficiency and productivity would fall off because at that point, everyone was tense. Then, since we were miserable, we’d start taking it out on the customers. And then they’d get angry because they weren’t being treated the way they expected. It was an ugly, uncontrollable spiral once it got started.

Of course his business suffered as a result of his temper. His employee turnover rate was high. And he couldn’t recruit good workers because once the word got out about his temper, talented people wouldn’t even consider going to work for him. And because he’d occasionally get mad and snap at customers (never a good idea), they’d eventually go somewhere else. The interesting thing is my old boss doesn’t think he’s a bad guy to work for. He’d be shocked to read this (provided he knew it was about him)… completely flabbergasted and speechless.

So… are you a bad boss? Like my friend, you may not think so. But you may also spend a lot of time wondering why your employee turnover rates are so high. And it might be a mystery to you why your employees are always in a bad mood. And maybe you never were able to figure out why a long-term customer suddenly started using your competitor.

I once heard a comedian remark, “Been married nine times? Maybe it’s you!” And the same principle applies here: Self examination is never easy and rarely fun. But if your business is faltering and you can’t quite put your finger on why, then the problem could be the boss.