Top ten tips for creating angry employees

I’m somewhat of an expert on anger. I think I’ve had good teachers, which is to say, I’ve worked for some very bad managers who were absolute masters in the art of infuriating their employees. I’ve decided to distill all the worst anger-instilling behaviour I’ve witnessed over the years into a top ten list – the things that absolutely guarantee an angry workforce.

This is not intended as a how-to guide for wannabe satanic managers. I did briefly consider that this might be akin to distributing a bomb-making recipe (very dangerous information in the wrong hands) but I actually believe most bad managers aren’t deliberately bad. They are far more likely to be ignorant of how destructive their actions are. As Hanlon’s Razor states: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

So please, anyone in doubt, this is top 10 list of things NOT to do. So here are my top 10 tips for guaranteeing an angry workforce:

1. Don’t communicate – That’s right, don’t tell ‘em anything. Why do they need to know? They’re not the all-powerful manager – you are. Here’s a tip: if you aren’t communicating, your staff are filling in the gaps themselves. And they rarely put the most positive spin on things. Case in point: in one job the IT manager went on a trip to the branch office in India without telling anyone what he was doing. As a joke, I said he was going to outsource the whole department.

Everyone believed me. I assured everyone it was a joke and I had no reason to think we were being outsourced and everyone calmed down. Then he came back and still didn’t tell anyone the purpose of the trip or what he did while he was there. Then I started to think he really was outsourcing us.

2. Encourage a culture of blame – Things go wrong from time to time, that’s unavoidable. But if you spend more energy fixing the blame than you do fixing the problem people will know not to make mistakes again. Actually if you make people think your first reaction to discovering a problem is to look for someone to blame, they’ll stop coming to you with problems. And then you’ll never find out about problems until things are totally and irretrievably screwed.

3. Don’t recognise achievements – if you congratulate people for doing a good job they’ll expect pay raises and that will ruin your budget. Actually, recognising achievements can create more positive feelings in a workplace than money but still, they’ll get all uppity if you congratulate them for a job well done.

4. Impose arbitrary rules
– There’s no end to how far you can take this one. The rule can be no talking to co-workers, limits on software, hardware and/or peripherals available or even no drinking coffee at the desk. The important thing is not to waver from arbitrary rules no matter how logical the counter-argument made by employees. Change one rule and they’ll think they can change any rule they can build a compelling case for.

5. Play favourites – Some people are just more likeable than others. Everyone tells you to treat staff equally but how will your favourites know you like them more unless you give them preferential treatment? And besides, what’s the worst that could happen? The rest of the staff get resentful? You don’t like them anyway, maybe they’ll stay the hell away from you.

6. Be inconsistent – Even arbitrary rules can be made worse by enforcing them inconsistently. If staff don’t know how you’re going to react to a given situation, they’ll never relax. And relaxed staff are unproductive staff. Probably. Best not to take the risk.

7. Be secretive – This is not exactly the same as not communicating. Being secretive is making it obvious that something is happening but not telling staff exactly what. It’s even better if you tell them there’s a big secret that you can’t tell them the details. Combine this with playing favourites for extra effect – make it obvious you’ve told your personal pet but forbid them from telling anyone else.

8. Be unresponsive – Don’t respond to email. Stare in the general direction of your staff with a peeved expression but don’t say anything. Respond to any questions or (god forbid) small talk from staff with a grunt. Agree to meeting requests then don’t show up. This will let staff know exactly where they stand and exactly how powerful you are.

9. Refuse to listen – When staff come to you with important issues, brush them off. If you listen once they’ll expect you to listen all the time. How they think their concerns can have any effect on managing the department is anybody’s guess. They’re probably just complaining that they think your favourite never does any work. And you wouldn’t play favourites with anyone who’d exploit that favoured position, would you?

10. Refuse to change
– Sometimes staff will go to the trouble of presenting a case for changing your way of doing things. Sometimes that case will seem compelling. Sometimes you will be tempted to think about changing because it seems like the best thing to do. Banish that thought from your head! Are these schmucks managers? How could a non-manager possibly be smarter than a manager? Make sure to mark them down in their next annual review.

These are not the only ways to make staff angry but they are methods I’ve seen successfully employed many times over the years. Sometimes very successfully. So successfully that sometimes I formed the obviously mistaken impression that the manager concerned was a deranged psychopath. It’s a consistent disappointment to me that all the best staff quit when faced with managers like this. Where do they get off making logical choices to protect their own well-being? And how do quality staff always manage to find another workplace where they aren’t subjected to such negative behaviour?

Don’t people like a challenge any more?

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60 Comments

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60 responses to “Top ten tips for creating angry employees

  1. Salamaat,
    and to think managers get paid more than the average employee?

    where i work there’s just too many managers; and everyone comes in from a diff. angle; with diff. expectations and deadlines…it’s quite dizzying.

    why would any company need 4-5 layers of management? beats me. (think of all those problems above and exponentially increase them by the number of managers…)

  2. Great post, Mr Angry. I particularly like number 4. I was at a place recently that decided that a particular text editor, due to its ability to edit text files, would be the “official” method for web development in PHP. Because it was already approved. It was like telling us we couldn’t drive a car to work because we already have legs.

  3. My supervisor is a #7. He’ll tell an employee – you need to be more consistant. ok – will you give me a specific example? No. People are complaining. Will you tell me who and about what. No. Just be more consistant. “you make me crazy – consistantly motherfucker” how’s that?

  4. Wow, it’s like you were watching my last employer and making notes! I am *SO* glad to have left there to start my own office – as a competitor! I’ve had interesting visits from clients AND co-workers who went out of their way to track me down. Be warned, all you managers out there who may not realize they are being described, above… your staff is your strongest asset!

  5. Margherite

    Actually, this list is an improvement over some of the places I’ve worked, even though it strongly resembles my current situation for non-communication, arbitrary rules, and management poodles (smart people don’t become pets here). I’ve worked for, and quit (or been fired before I had a chance to quit), working for bullies, screamers, thieves, and extortioners, although my resume looks like I’ve worked for a bunch of Fortune 500 companies. One creep claimed I reminded him of his wife, so #9 was his only option. A number of them were extremely flattering when customers were around (customers seem to know who works and who doesn’t) but screwed me over thoroughly when performance review came around. One of them even had me charged with sexual harassment when I informed an unusually foul-mouthed, overbearing, and physically smelly colleague that he was no gentleman.

    The fates have repaid these bozos in kind. Many of the companies/divisions no longer exist. I’ve encountered a remarkable number of their children in jails and rehabs (I do volunteer work). And every one that replaced me ended up paying more — in one case hiring 2 people to do what I did.

  6. Wes

    I recently left a small company (15 employees including myself) where the CEO (who was the primary manager b/c all the people he hired to actually be managers were worthless but he didn’t have the cohones to fire them) practiced *all* *10* of these behaviors. One you didn’t mention which was probably his worst attribute was “constant one-up-manship.” Any time anyone had a significant personal or professional achievement, he had to top it. Bought a car? He’d buy a more expensive one. Bought a house? He’d buy a *much* more expensive one. Hit a weight goal? He’s claiming he’s running 10 miles a day. Had a good college semester? He did better in a harder (he claims) program. Even when he did stoop to recognize the peons who worked for him with paltry bonuses or pay raises, he’d give himself a disproportionally larger bonus or raise.

  7. The art of a good manager is always deligation, with that you can delegate the blame to someone else no argues with the boss

  8. Ha! This had me in a guffaw from the deja vu. (Deja vu from this afternoon, unfortunately.)

    The sad thing is that some managers do some of these things, because they believe they work. For example, blame is part of recognizing problems so that they can be fixed. After all, someone’s gotta fix them. And we can’t congratulate people willy-nilly. We need to have a balanced perspective, right? Never say something congratulatory without also saying something critical. Of course, with poor communication, the converse does not apply. No news is good news, eh?

    -TimK

  9. Maliha: yep, too many layers of management is s urefire recipe for stagnation

    Mike: yeah, don’t you love the “just because” justifications?

    Sandra: I’ve had that, I was team lead and a manager said my team was unhappy with me (news to me, I thought we were doing great) I actually asked my team: anybody unhappy? Everyone said no (although I thought it was possible someone was simply not admitting it.) A while later I found out it was some suck-up from a DIFFERENT team that had told the manager my team was unhappy. They were just trying to undermine us (successfully as it turned out)

    Graphicsman: that’s scary isn’t it? I’ve had that so many times – someone relating a horror story and it’s *so* familiar I think they must have been following me.

    Magherite: stick to your principle and you’ll come out on top. That’s my naive belief anyway. And yeah, I didn’t deal with outright psychopaths in this post – they’re in a category all of their own.

    Wes: that’s a good addition. What an annoying goddam habit.

    Cindygirl: very devious :)

    Tim: Yeah, I wish I was writing fiction but it’s all from my personal experience. And everyone else’s too it seems!

  10. The inequality issue is a huge one where I worked; the place basically ran on nepotism anyway, and good luck getting a job if you weren’t related to (or sleeping with) someone who already had a good job. It got to the point where wholly unsatisfactory people, hated by clients and co-workers alike, hung on to cushy jobs and continued their unacceptable behaviour (including, in one memorable instance, yelling at clients in public) because of who their daddy was. Or positions being ‘created’ just for people’s partners. Meanwhile, a lot of very talented, hardworking people were stuck in contract jobs with no security or benefits because they weren’t sufficiently connected.

  11. Cody

    The secretive thing really gets me. It creates an atmosphere of paranoia and makes myself and other employees want to quit

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  13. keith

    challenge? challenging you? omg no, but i can have post about how you can be a favourite, may be!

  14. defrost: yeah, nepotism is almost always the kiss of death for workplaces. Sounds like that place was in a serious death spiral.

    Cody: I think there are certain managers who like to make staff paranoid but the result is always the same. Like you, I quit.

    Keith: You want me to tell you how to be the boss’s favourite, or you’re going to tell me?

  15. “defrost: yeah, nepotism is almost always the kiss of death for workplaces. Sounds like that place was in a serious death spiral.”

    Without wishing to give too much identifying info away, I shall tell you this: it’s a publicly-funded institution. Thus, no incentive to shape up (they will never actually go out of business), and all the more reason to be dickheaded and insular.

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  17. JC

    great article! I’ve experienced almost all of them and am just looking for the right time to quit. I’m still giving our manager the benefit of the doubt, maybe just maybe, he’ll change. By the way, I’m taking the liberty to post this article in my blog, Je suis qui je suis… (www.jpalmes.com). with all due credits, of course.. :) Thanks!

  18. defrost: oh yeah, dysfunction in public institutions gets really toxic

    JC: spread the word!

  19. Great Wisdom, Oh Angry One! Looks like you’ve really been-there-done-that. Let me add one more technique that I have encountered… Refuse to let any task reach a conclusion… always keep the ball in the employees court. After all (and I mean all) is done, say something like, “Why don’t we get this vetted, check these facts out, explore this angle further, talk to some experts on this to get their views, bounce this off our target group, etc., and meet next week and take it forward?”

    Yaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!

  20. Haha, great post, Angry!
    Now add in the Sept. 11th concessions mentality “Pull together, Win Together” {guess who I work for…lol} and there you have some extremely unhappy workers.

  21. madaboutmusic: oh yeahhhhhh, the project that never ends! Way to make people happy!

    brenda: exploiting a sensitive topic that has nothing to do with your work… what could go wrong?

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  23. Aaaahh, but see, Angry, there’s the rub…it has EVERYTHING to do with my job…I work for a major airline, and so, in order to keep from going bankrupt [so says the company and our unions, for that matter] we take concessions that will enable us to stay afloat. However, we have not seen the end of the tunnel yet, even though we made a profit for the second quarter this year…it’s this continued mentality that has our work ethic in jeapordy…and the fact that our big bosses are getting bonuses…:) Nice, huh?

    I’m sorry…was I venting? I’ll shut my mouth now…:)

  24. brenda: this is the home of venting! And the airlines make me sick, the exploit their staff, they exploit the public grrrr vent vent vent

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  26. whatnottoknit

    Awesome list! You forgot the “throw inexplicable tantrums at employees” when they aren’t behaving the way you want them to. I had to leave a job recently where the boss would come in and grind us before he even had his coffee – even pleas of “we’re doing the best we can” didn’t help – in fact, it just made him say “I’m serious, this has to be done today” when in reality the whole project was delayed because HE didn’t his portion of the work done on time and he knew it couldn’t be done that day like he wanted. We even got to the point where we knew day-to-day when the tantrums were coming – he’d send “warning emails of stuff to do lists” and rag on us the next day with “just how long does it take to do this anyways??”.

  27. mac

    Wow, this is my workplace (a government agency), except for #9 isn’t a problem and #4 they go overboard on.

  28. 11) Fired them via email like Radio Shack did

  29. I have had a few of those managers described in the past but I am one of the few lucky people. Now I have what I think is a really great manager. I try to emulate him.

  30. You forgot this one -

    3.1415) Hire them. Eventually any employee will grow dissastisfied with their job/place in life/etc etc. Then they get angry then that makes others angry. Its like a virus only its based on emotions.

  31. Yes, you’ve outlined the rules quite well. Evidently this is common amongst Corporate America? When will they wake up and see that something isn’t quite working?

    I am quite certain this rule, 2. Encourage a culture of blame is what does the most damage. I watched an entire company go from a fun, exciting place to work to a molten of hot lava and everyone watching their backs for fear that a shovel might be sticking out from a simple trip to the loo.

  32. whatnot: tantrums! That’s a good one, I thank a tranquiliser dart might be the answer

    mac: hard to pick which one I like least but arbitrary rules really get to me

    bmear: I have a good manager now, but this is all based on real experience

    realdon: yes, the ultimate result of management like this is a really toxic workplace with lots of angry people

    piglet: I’m in Australia but most readers seem to be in the US so it seems a fairly widespread problem. We got to fight the power!

  33. I actually wanted to piss off some of my employess. I think they have been plotting to get fired simply becasue they want to collect unemployment. Well with this list of things maybe I can get them to quit. ahah
    thanks

  34. A very good way to say beautiful things from a negative point of view. Quite impressive !!

  35. everyday: you go! Trust me of your staff are bad enough to make you want them to quit, nothing will work. They suck so much they know nobody will hire them. I should to a balancing post: ten things you are doing that makes your manager angry

    bratboy: I try to keep it light while making heavy points

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  37. I just stumbled across your blog and this post rings so true. I have had most of these, but you missed my “favorite”, micromanagment. I once had a manager who’s desk was 20 ft from mine and would listen to my end of phone conversations. He would then proceed to tell me what I had said was wrong. When I explained that the person on the other end had asked something completely different and that I had given the correct information, his typical response was “Oh.” Truely brilliant.

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  40. Don’t forget: Build team trust in your judgment by hiring entirely unqualified people, since by contrast you will surely look more skilled.

  41. this post is really interesting. another input is that managers rely too much on the stronger team members and let down the weaker ones. Thus creating a natural disliking amongst the team for the go-getters. Which disrupts team performance. I’ve had to face that on both sides of the front, and its never easy for everyone to be happy :)….

  42. How about the boss who parcels out all his mistakes to his underlings (so equitably), thus NEVER having to take any responsibility for his most glorious self, while said underlings stand (or sit) there taking it in total confusion in front of everyone so as not to make a scene while trying to figure out what just happened.

    Thanks for a reeeeally spot on list.

  43. Kris: yes, I reckon if they’re micromanaging you, they can’t possibly be doing their own job

    mothergoose: I’ve seen that one, you end up with *really* dumb teams that way

    tashfeen: like playing favourites when people probably deserve to be your favourite. An easy mistake to make but as you point out, doesn’t make the whole team happy

    sweeney: yeah, I like the boss to protect me, not to be the one actually dumping on me

  44. aboutmakingmoney

    LOL. How True! I love the blaming game.. had one that use to blame all his mistake on everyone. Oh I how I hate it not to say that it wasn’t long before I found another job with a better manager. Oh yeah you should the Top 10 things for creating An Angry manager. I can give you one. I am not picking crawling under desk to pick that pc my suit will be dirty (coming from IT Desktop Support person). Oh I wanted to kick his arse then.

  45. I have a number 11.

    Managers interfering and overriding the professional opinions of their employees.

    For example, I worked for a company in which the Sales Director overrode the design and interface descisions of the actual senior designer. As you can imagine the design and interface of the product then turned out to be far from professional.

    Another example, when I worked for another company my manager thought it was his place to tell me how to write good code. His qualification? A chemistry degree, no development training, and no experience. He didnt even know what SELECT DISTINCT does in SQL (we were building a heavy use of a DB web based application).

  46. melissadunagan

    Hello It looks like you have worked far the same company that I work far. We have fill out employee surveys, and they have all came back that favoritsm is a major problem. But they have never even tried to fix. It is no wonder that production is going down hill.

  47. Actually all you need to do is watch the BBC version of “The Office”. The original version with Ricky Gervaise. The Manager who wants to be popular and thinks he is entertaining.

    I would also add to the list. “Get rid of people who are open and honest with you about the organisation you work for and where improvements can be made. Discourage criticism and debate. Never wonder wonder why your customers and employees are leaving in droves for the competition.”

    You might also read “When Anger Hurts” McKay Rogers McKay ISBN 1-57224-344-9

  48. aboutmakingmoney: you read my mind! I was going to do an equal time response about unnecessarily crappy attitudes from staff making managers angry – I’ll use this one of yours if you don’t mind.

    Paul: ah yes, nothing like that feeling that someone who knows less than you has no respect for your knowledge and.or skills

    melissa: lip service! I should have included that – saying they want to know problems but then not responding.

    Stephen: The Office makes me cringe – it’s far too much like a real documentary than a comedy. And your point about honest feedback is well taken, it’s scary when people don’t want to face real issues and choose to shoot the messenger.

  49. Employees get mad when they are being lied to, that’s happened to me a bunch of times.

  50. Shoulung

    Good stuff, and I love The Office

  51. Pingback: You Make Me So Angry… « Hidden Dragon

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  53. hello mr. angry. I really like what you have enumerated here. It clearly describe my boss. I posted a copy of the article on my blog linking to your site. I’m hoping he would have time to check my blog and be able to read this and reflect.

    Thanks

  54. Your article “Ten Tips for Creating Angry Employees” is brilliant, and I plan to add it to my blogroll – I am a business coach and I have worked with clients who do all 10 on your list and then wonder why they have a revolving door of employees! Thanks for the insight.
    Kristin Nickells

  55. angry legal assistant

    You forgot my personal favorite. Screw with employees vacation time salarie and hours worked. Make sure that you dont have their paycheck to them untill you can collect all extra intrest off of them. Then cut their pay by 8 percent and hours from 40 to 16 a week. Next steal their vacation earned from them saying that they were never entitled to it in the first place.

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  57. Simply want to say your article is as amazing. The clearness in your post is just great and i can assume you’re an expert on this subject. Well with your permission let me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the gratifying work.

  58. Reblogged this on Community Capital in Business and commented:
    It does not have to be like this!

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