The boss doesn’t care anymore … so now what?

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Talk of workplace productivity, motivation and passion (or lack thereof) typically focuses on employees and what they’re doing wrong. “Are you slacking off on the job?” “Is your bad attitude hurting your career?” (I even admit to addressing similar topics here and in articles.) Bosses are left to wonder how they can get the best out of their workers. But sometimes, the situation is reversed and the boss is the one who needs to get back to work.

A fellow writer over at The Hiring Site passed along this AP article (via The New York Times) that tackles the subject and helps workers deal with a boss that just doesn’t care anymore. In an ideal world you (the employee) could thump the boss on the head and say, “Snap out of it!” But that won’t do you any good. And if we’re in ideal worlds, you’d probably be the boss and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

In the article, different career experts offer their advice and share their experiences. Robert I. Sutton, author of ”Good Boss, Bad Boss,” recalls one group of workers who were direct with their boss — probably more direct than most employees would be or have the freedom to be.

At one company, Sutton says, four or five influential employees gathered together and confronted their boss, saying: ”We’ve admired the work you’ve done in the past, but if you don’t change your behavior, we think you should step down.”

It was a risky move, and one that’s not appropriate for every company. But those employees felt OK going with the direct approach, since they knew it was difficult for the boss to fire them.

The experts in the article point out that you have several different options, but you have to choose the one that suits you. A direct confrontation has risks. Going to a third party can backfire. Suffering in silence can just make you miserable. What you choose to do depends on your situation.

A few months ago I asked you to list the qualities of a good boss and many of you did (thanks!). Now that we’re on the flip side of the issue, I’m wondering how many of you have encountered a boss who was mentally checked out. How did you know that your boss had given up on the job and wasn’t just having a bad day? How did you respond?

50 Comments
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    • We never hire anyone with less than a year’s paid experience, but we made an exception because the applicant came up with a totally different concept… she offered to work as an unpaid volunteer. Three weeks later we hired her full-time. Her offer got her foot in the door, her subsequent attitude and work ethics secured the position although she didn’t have a bit of experience.

  2. I have a boss who is a %100 jerk. He verbally abuses his employees, refers to everyone with an expletive attached, and will not take resposibilities for his own decisions. While his product knowledge is excellent, he has no people skills. Being a manager and dealing with people the way he does has cost our business dearly, but he still remains in his job. It has made the employees wonder if he has some dirty laundry on upper management or do they have their heads completely buried in the sand!? We are watching a train wreck in slow motion and it is gut wrenching to see a great business slowly go down the tube.

    • I once was a DJ on the AM side of sister stations. I couldn’t understand why management was letting the station go downhill. There were simple things that would not have cost much that would have improved the station. Our equipment wasn’t being maintained was well as the FM side. Turned out they wanted to let it go. Wasn’t long before they automated it and listeners didn’t like it at all. Then they started simulcasting the FM over the AM and just used the AM for running ball games. They didn’t care about the AM any more.

  3. THERE SHOULD BE A LAW PASSED THAT EMPLOYER’S SHOULD CONSIDER TAKEING THERE OLD WORKES BACK BEFORE THEY CAN HIRE NEW ONES. IF THEY HAVE WORKED FOR THERE CO 38 YEARS. WHERE LAIDED OFF NO REASON AND WOULD NOT GIVE YOU A GOOD REASON. I LIKED 3 YEARS TO BE ABLE TO RETIRE. THE UNEMPLOYMENT OFFICE IS FULL OF OLD WORKERS.OLD WORKERS NEED TO EAT TO.

    • James:
      I know it often doesn’t make sense that a company lets older workers go then hires new ones. A lot of times they do it because of the bottom line. Why pay retirement if they don’t have to? Entry level workers often earn less than long-time employees. Older workers often have more health problems than younger ones, costing in sick days and higher insurance. Been in a job a long time? Long-time workers are often eligable for more vacation and other benefits.
      Again, it all boils down to the bottom line. Two part timers are often used in place of one full time employee because it is cheaper for the company. Believe me, I don’t agree with it, but it does happen. I’ve been there, and it stinks.

      • Marie,
        You got screwed! And have a good law suit should you decde to seek one out. The discriminated against you because of age, took your health insurance away which is an ERISA violation. Many, many companies are doing this and then they keep their fingers crossed, hoping no one will bring a law suit against them. It’s a travisty and they should be made to pay as they are violating many laws and refs that are meant to protect you. Kat

    • If your job required correct spelling and grammar then I can certainly see why you were let go. I hope you see this as constructive criticism, because on the basis of your post I certainly wouldn’t hire you, much less keep you on. Please, please, brush up on your English or you may never find another position. By the way, I’m speaking as an HR Manager and throw out applications daily that are this poorly written. Whether it’s true or not, it reflects that if you care so little about how you present yourself that you will will also be a ‘sloppy’ employee who doesn’t care about his/her quality of work.

      • I am college educated lost 2 careers due to corporate mismanagement. My husband has been in a self owned business for 21 years now. He still mispells words on his bids and proposals, but he knows his business that doesn’t require that perfect bull. He makes more than I do now after 2 layoffs and an expensive education. He delivers what he sells to people that can speak appropriately but not lay their own asphalt driveway. What we were taught in college was a dream. follow your dream, sell your car, do what it takes. That is what he did. Not me though, I went to a respectable college, only to learn to be real. Be dependable, show up on time, do what you say, be honest and follow your dream. It is pretty simple. People that “don’t speak well” probably make more money than you.

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  9. My worst boss was one who should have retired before I came on board. I think he was starting to go senile because he kept talking to me like I was another girl who had just gotten hired by bending union rules. We didn’t even have the same hair color, but he kept reassuring me, they didn’t need me and I would not get hired. I needed the money and stuck it out until he let me go the week he was on vacation. I didn’t let him get away unscathed, however, as I hung up my uniform on his office chair along with my id card with picture removed. I think that move blew my chances of ever being hired by the city, but, I learned the city workers hated their jobs, so, I’m glad I won’t be working with them. I’m tired of working with Unions, anyway, so many people hate their jobs it is very pathetic. They won’t quit, though because of the excellent wages and benefits. I think these types of persons are addicted to hate and stress and create it for themselves…..but I digress we were talking about the boss…….

  10. My boss was great for about a year. Young, smart, hands-on and ready to learn everything from top to bottom. I think the newness of the job wore off. She learned a lot, but fell short actually learning to be a leader. Staff is rude to customers and often on the phone or internet at their desk. If someone has a problem she will just shrug her shoulders and hope it blows over. Then she will take a 2 hour lunch. She’s absent from work at least once a week and already owes the business 2 weeks of PTO. I’m sure she will never pay it back. My boss is MIA! We work at a place that is very hard to get fired from so I can only hope things improve.

  11. Perhaps you were let go because you can’t spell, have bad grammar, can’t write a proper English sentence and cannot make the distinction between “there” (a location) and “their” (possessive pronoun) and I’m guess “they’re” (a contraction of they are) also.

    • I don’t want to be overly rude, Janine, but it is obvious that, if this gentleman worked at that job for 38 years, he had all the qualifications management asked of him. Grammar is important only in certain settings. There are many different types of intelligence; being able to recognize the differences among homonyms has nothing to do with being able to install or repair plumbing, nor does it guarantee a high level of reading comprehension and attention to detail.

      • GRAMMAR IS IMPORTANT ONLY IN CERTAIN SETTINGS KERI? REALLY??? that is a very poor attitude to have. Grammar and spelling seem to be things of the past that are no longer taught in American schools. I am disgusted by the younger people in the workforce that have no clue how to type a simple letter correctly or spell!!! I am only 40 and wonder what the future holds for a country full of inept illiterates.

        • Relax. Take a deep breath and let go of all of the hate and anger. Being angry with the world doesn’t change how it is, nor does lashing out at someone you can’t see. Just breathe, and find a yoga or meditation instructor. You could probably benefit from some inner peace. Love and peace, Rachel.

    • SHUT UP JANINE…. If we want a teacher surely we will come to you!  I am good at my job but have a very lazy boss…thats what this is about…OOOOOH I get it you must be one of these bosses…I get it..Kick folks when they need better guidance from their employers…Sick on your ass and complain when you should be making sure its done right..Yes I know as you are reading this you will critique my shit..enjoy!

  12. I work for a very small company (18 people), so there is not exactly a huge management structure as you can imagine. The 3 guys that own the company are the bosses and everyone else is an employee. There are 3 groups of employees and each group reports to one of the bosses. When I joined the company everything was great. The bosses were fun, friendly, energetic, and always trying to keep a non-corporate, no red-tape, Silicon Valley start-up image, even incorporating fun activities such as “pizza party Fridays” in the office and happy hours after work. Then business hit a rough patch in the down economy as so many others experienced. I’m not sure that was the complete trigger, but my boss’s attitude went south with the economy and progressively got worse. Now he has a very surly “sick of it all” tone to everything he does. He barely assumes the duties of managing projects anymore, gives us very little to work with in terms of requirements/specifications when assigning new projects, and then gets very annoyed when we try to ask follow up questions due to his vague, unclear, no details instructions. Many of his email responses are one sentence or less. He still has very high expectations though and thinks highly of himself. When something goes wrong or gets delayed because of his lack of direction, he takes zero responsibility and immediately places blame on others and points fingers loudly, even if he is the direct cause. He regularly talks behind others’ backs and complains about other employees work, decisions, intelligence, etc. Our office is pretty small, so you can easily hear through any closed doors or into the conference room when he is talking. His usual solution to any problem is to send a stern email outlining fault and blame instead of trying to solve the problem, and then bragging about how “he showed them”. He has thrown out his anti-corporate attitude and now boldly states that he owns this company and declares many tasks and people to be beneath him. I saw the start of this even before the economy tanked, so I can’t even say its even partially justified or understandable due to the hardship of watching his company’s bottom line shrinking. I don’t know what caused it, I just never thought it would get this bad. The worst part is you can’t confront him about it because he’s not just a boss, he owns the company. He’s not going anywhere and confronting him will only lead to a worse situation. Others have tried going to the other bosses with their concerns in the past and it never ended well as none of them work here anymore.

    • Arman,
      I can relate to your situation 100%. I have a very similar situation and don’t know what to do about it. I’m looking for a resource on how to motivate the boss, but haven’t been very successful yet.

  13. Hi Orlando,

    Sounds as though you have a good attitude.
    Good Luck.

    I would:
    1. Every day you go out anywhere, buy a paper, meet for coffee, get gas, get groceries:
    just count the doors you walk past where it says Now Hiring. I live in Michigan. Some people think there are no jobs here. It is not true, I think people are not looking carefully enough.

    2. If you get to talk to any employer/hiring manager, I would not just ask “Can I have THIS job? ” Ask if you can put your name on a list for future jobs. Ask them what qualifications they will be looking for when they next hire. Then go get those qualifications as much as you can within your budget. Online and free library courses teach a lot including good updated computer skills.

    3. I work in a hospital. I help nurses monitor the safety of inpatients. Here, Manpower hires and places for this job. It is entry level but you have to respect the feelings of people when their family is severely ill. You cannot be afraid of blood and body products. You have to learn and follow simple safety regulations.
    Unfortunately, there is always more work midnight shift and evening shift than days; but if you need the money you can adjust. I would go to every nearby hospital and ask an administrative Director of Nursing how patients are monitored while recuperating from operations and in transition from the hospital to assisted living or hospice.

    Good Luck,
    Pat

    • Jason, see my reply to Janine. Attention to detail is important in all jobs. Not kicking a man when he is down generates respect.

  14. I work at a non-profit agency with a director who is 62 or 63 and makes it well known that she will be retiring in a year or two, which isn’t soon enough. She will not make decisions, rarely attends meetings that she should and has absolutely no enthusiasm left for the job or the agency. I’ve seen her asleep at her desk twice and at lunch she goes to her car and naps, one afternoon someone had to go out to her car and wake her up because someone from the state kept calling and asking for her. Talk about an episode from the office. This office definitely needs some new blood, and I can’t wait to find something else!

  15. I worked for a consulting firm, and I could never reach my boss who used to work out of Chicago. He is always in a meeting, and the door is always shut. His fellow employees tell me that he spend alot of time on the phone taking care of chatting with spouse(?), and attending to family matters. Rest of the time he is travelling.

    When it comes to important matters to discuss he is never available, or hardly returns emails, unless you tell him that we just signed a million dollar contract.

    There were a number of lyoffs in 2009. Usually, the most talented employees with all the more realistic ideas, get laidoff first and the deadbeats get to stay on the job, working right next to their family members.

    Its One Big Happy Family!

  16. @ Janine : What about your grammatical skills? They’re not above board too!

    Quote : -

    “I’m guess” from

    and I’m guess “they’re” (a contraction of they are) also.

    Look at yourself before you point out the flaws of others. :-P

  17. I’ll ask the obvious; why not take the issue up with management? Make it a concerted effort with your peers. If your second level manager won’t listen, then take it up the chain. Believe me, someone in the executive office DOES care and will act. I’ve seen it happen. Best of luck.

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  23. To me, the traits of a bad boss include not returning employee phone calls or outside phone calls, not making decisions or standing by any previous decisions, not supporting employees in their work efforts or with superiors, lying, being lazy, having a “let’s keep below the radar attitude,” and playing favorites. I also abhor managers who take credit for their employees ideas/work without giving the employee any credit to superiors. I just described most state government managers, and as in my state we are a “right to work” state which means that an employee can be fired for no known or given reason with no recourse to defend themselves or fight for their job.

  24. As do young workers. I can’t get a job in this market because I’m competing against experienced 40-year-old veterans for entry level office aid jobs that consist of getting coffee, taking calls, cleaning, and the usual grunt work.

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  26. i get up everyday for work to support my family my boss is a jerk for the last past two three months my checks were bouncing i cant cash them no were i didnt even get paid this week cause he said hes broke i just want a job were its thank full please some one comment back

  27. Hi all,
    I really appreciate the article here and the comments it has received, as it explains my recent situation to the “t.” I’m a 19-year-old still living with my parents as I go to school, and I recently quit a job as an assistant manager at a retail store. Retail is a tough job with low pay, but it was my first management experience and I really enjoyed my job and took my position very seriously. I was very proud of my “high up” position considering I’m only 19. Anyway, I would still be there right now if it weren’t for my store manager. She is very good at her job – when she’s there. She’s efficient, organized, consistently doing hiring & tasks for the entire district, so she’s a busy lady; however, in August, her performance plummeted. She took vacation every weekend, our most busiest days, left work early and came in late, and we (management) could never prove that she didn’t work her 40 hrs. a week because she gets paid salary, and we cannot view her timesheets. This became an issue because communication to management became few and muddled (she claimed that we twisted her words/expectations when she was gone, but we could never clear it up until she got back). Also, she had a very negative presence when she was in the store. Not one brand representative liked working with her because of her sarcastic, read-between-the-lines attitude when it came to correcting their mistakes, and her very severe attitude in general. I admit, she had a very domineering attitude & terrifying presence when she was around – every mistake you made, no matter big or small, resulted with a backroom talk and always consisted of “do you really value your job? Because we get 20 applications a day for your job..” with every employee. On top of that, the company has a “talk up” policy, therefore, if she has an issue with an employee beneath her, she is to talk about it with NO ONE except her boss or that person directly. That was not the case.. I’d often hear of her issues with me from my lower management and never hear of it from her directly. My business was everyone else’s, and she made it that way. Out of the blue one morning, she came out on the salesfloor when she was to work in the backroom and took one look at our statistics and sent me to the back. I was a little bewildered, as we DID have low statistics, but the store had just opened and we only had 3 transactions (this was considered normal for every opener). She came in the back later and slammed two printouts on my working space, one of which was a copy of our low statistics. However, on this printout, there were 10 transactions with even lower numbers, and I told her that I was only responsible for 3 of those transactions. She lied and told me that they were all mine, and she had obviously rang those herself. At this point, I was furious but still trying to maintain my professionalism, until she took it too far. She started with “This is an example of you not bringing your best self to work today.. I really try hard to stand up for you, Steph, all the time.. You get a lot of complaints..” and ended with “I.. uhh.. I even got a complaint this morning..” That’s when I lost it. I know for a fact she was lying straight to my face – for one, she couldn’t look me in the eye when she said this last part. Secondly, I had no negative encounters with any of the few customers we had that morning. She couldn’t give me a name of the supposed customer or what I did wrong. I know in my heart she made that last part up, and I realized how badly she wanted me gone at that point. I put in my two weeks after a yelling match, and ended up cutting it a week short because of her continued effort to “get me gone” even when I was quitting. She tried her very hardest to make my last week awkward and horrible for me, mostly by telling everyone “what I did” and probing them with questions like, “Have you ever seen ‘any of the managers’ take from the register? What about Steph?” etc. It was humiliating, as I took so much pride in my position & my honesty & integrity. I was one of the most-favored managers there with the best customer service, told by everyone who worked with me & my history of no complaints, and to have it all thrown in my face with lies made me quit a week short of my two weeks. This was only a little while ago, and it really is such a shame to quit during Christmastime when I could use the money the most. I just couldn’t mentally or emotionally take it anymore.
    I don’t know if I did the right thing, but I really feel like there was nothing I could turn to because of the upper hand of being the store manager. She could falsify documents without anybody knowing it, and seemed to be very talented in creating a false problem when there wasn’t one. I had plans to talk to her boss, the district manager, when I had my two weeks in, but now that I have quit, do you guys think I should still shoot her an email? I worry about the employees I left behind, as I was the only one who ever stood up for anyone and questioned her judgment because of everyone’s fear of her. I also have my boyfriend’s little sister working there now, and I’m afraid my ex-boss might take her hatred of me out on her. What should I do, if anything at all?

    I feel really bitter about the whole thing, as I am a great employee (proven in my 3 promotions in 1 year) and I am not a quitter. But for my emotions’ sake, I had to end it. Advice?

    Thanks!

    • Wow Stephanie! I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had such a rough experience at your first job; however, please remember all of the positive experiences and skills that you developed at the store. I’d write out the good and the bad – everything that happened – so that you can not only encourage yourself with the positive but begin to build a concise case against your boss. I’d also try to get notarized statements from former co-workers to back-up what you say. (If you or your parents are AAA members, you can have items notarized for free at their local branch.) Research who is above this woman in the corporate structure, or if they are part of the problem, who is above them. If you do go two steps above your boss, I’d make sure to cc: the middle manager as well so that they don’t just kick it back down to them. Also, notify the HR department of the corporation. Make some noise! Just take a bit of time to thoroughly go over all the details and test them for validity, bounce them off trusted adults (like your parents, clergy, etc.) and make sure you get a number of people to back you up on paper (the more details they can provide, the better) before blasting corporate with your concerns. One other thing, you mentioned that you are currently in school. Try going by the business department to see if they have any resources or advice on whether you should pursue notifying corporate or if you should chalk it up to education. After-all, you are going to college, eventually you should be able to take her job (if retail management is what you are studying) or you’ll be in a whole different field and this experience will help keep you grounded as you move up any corporate ladder. Good luck!

  28. I just lost a job due to a very bad boss. I was only there for 2 months. I moved over 1,000 miles, spent a lot of my own money, including having to sell my old home to have the money to move. It took a lot of time and effort to move. I made 2 trips here applying for and then coming again to find a house, see about the job, etc- very expensive. The new boss was extremely hard-core and seemed to have hired me with the intention of firing me. There were terms and other things that were very different from what I was accustomed. I told her I needed more training and got made fun of for it. She said that I should have known all that. I came from a different state and the job I had here did not exist in the other state. The state I came from has a negative image here, but then this state has a negative image where I was. I am not originally from the state I came here from and have lots of relatives here. Anything I said or did was taken the wrong way. Parts of my evaluation were good and parts were not so good, but not terrible either. The whole eval was dripping with sarcasm. I found out later she is a different religion that I am and she was possibly using concepts from her religion for the way she handles things on the job. She got angry and made threats over the littlest things. She blew up over being shown a partially-done paper just so I could get some feedback for it. I was shown examples of others’ work on the same type of paper and their work was not as good as mine. She passed things on theirs that she told me I couldn’t do. They were males. There were no other females with the same type of job I had in the place. Yes, Virginia, there is such a things as females discriminating other females!I finally felt I had to be direct and that was when I got fired.

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