Thirteen Ways to Frustrate Your Employees

Education comes in odd ways. Most of us think you can only learn from a great leader. I’m here to tell you that you can learn just as much from a bad one—maybe more.

Frustrated Businessman - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/prominx, Image #5626007

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/prominx

This is fortunate for me, because I’ve certainly had more bad bosses than good ones. You probably have, too. These lessons were certainly more painful, but they taught me what not to do, which is just as important as what to do.

So, just for fun, I thought I would share these lessons as positives rather than negatives. If your goal is to frustrate—or even exasperate—your employees, here are thirteen ways to do it:

  1. Don’t be responsive. Let their emails languish in your inbox. Don’t return their voice mails in a timely fashion. Let them wait. Maybe they will solve the problem on their own or simply give up.
  2. Cancel meetings at the last minute. This is especially effective if they have had to travel to the meeting or do a lot of preparation for the meeting.
  3. Reprimand them in front of their peers. This is even more dramatic if you can do it in front of their subordinates. Nothing quite says, “I don’t have confidence in you” like public ridicule.
  4. Change your mind frequently. This works best if you can get everyone excited about moving in a new direction, get them to invest lots of time, energy, and, hopefully, money, and then suddenly change direction. This works best if you don’t explain your rationale. Leave them guessing!
  5. Don’t bother stating your expectations. Instead, be vague. Go silent. Let them wonder. But then, when it comes time for their annual review, hold them accountable to specific goals. This way, no matter what they accomplished, you can make them feel like a failure.
  6. Always ask for what they don’t have with them. If they present a summary, say, “Where’s the backup for this? You don’t expect me to make a decision without the detail, do you?” If they present the detail, say, “Do you have a summary? You don’t expect me to wade through all this detail, do you?” Either way, you keep them off balance.
  7. Focus on superficial things rather than substance. For example, log how much time they actually spend at their desk or in the office rather than what they actually accomplish. Pay attention to their style and the way they dress. This is way more important than the quality of their work. Plus, they either have it or don’t.
  8. Assign them work, then micromanage the process. Don’t be responsive to their needs (see #1 above), but insist that they keep you informed every step of the way. Second-guess their decisions. Challenge their thinking. Question every expense. Don’t give them much rope. They should spend more time answering your inquiries than actually getting work done.
  9. Do all the talking. You’re the boss, right? That automatically means you are smarter, funnier, and more experienced. Listening is for sissies. Until they become your boss, they need to listen—and take notes. Most people would die for the chance to be your subordinate.
  10. Never recognize your people. Take them for granted. After all, you are paying them to work for you. What else could they need? When they do a great job, quickly brush by it and give them a tougher assignment. Keep raising the bar. You don’t want them to get “the big head.”
  11. Catch them doing something wrong. Be quick to acknowledge their mistakes. If you can do it in public, so much the better. If you do this often enough, you will wear them out. If they are not perpetually discouraged, you are not trying hard enough!
  12. Communicate that you are the fount of all wisdom. The only valid ideas are your ideas. If you want their opinion, you’ll give it to them. Find ways to explain why their ideas won’t work. You are really doing them a favor by pointing this out—as often as you can.
  13. Be moody. This is probably the most important tip I can give you. This keeps everyone off-balance. Sometimes, you should be charming. Other times, be angry. But never let them know why. Keep them wondering if it’s them or something else. You want your people asking your assistant for a “weather report” before they meet with you. They should ask, “Is Bill in a good mood today?” You want to keep this unpredictable. This will give them just enough hope to stay in the game but ensure that they stay frustrated and dreading each meeting.

There you have it. And if for some crazy reason you don’t want to frustrate your employees, you can just invert these suggestions and do the opposite. Good luck!

Question: What other ways have you seen bosses frustrate their employees? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Audrkrell

    Always be holier than thou. It’s okay for you to be of the the world because you aren’t human. Constantly remind your subordinates that they aren’t to be trusted with daily cultural messages because they will be led astray and tempted beyond what they can bear.

  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    I think that “Reprimanding them in front of their peers.” is a serious one. There is no better way to destroy someone than that right there!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yep. It is amazing how many times I have seen this done.

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

        Yeah…and it is totally unacceptable for a leader who wants to make a
        positive influence on others.

        _____

    • http://LookingForPurpose.com Dylan Dodson

      Very true. They become humiliated and afraid to take any risks in the future.

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

        Exactly! This has happened a few times with me in the past with my guitar
        playing. I was constantly told that I wasn’t very good and that my style did
        not suit the vision of the band. I became discouraged, but then I asked God
        what to do…He has now lead me to take over the band. We have been going
        strong for almost 1yr now!

        _____

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Humiliation is definitely NOT something to use on subordinates. How
      demotivating!

  • Ryanskoog

    The most painful blog post I have ever read.  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I think.

  • http://alexspeaks.com Alex Humphrey

    The worst way I saw my boss frustrate employees was at my last job. My boss is a good guy, but he tries too many things too quickly. He started ramping up the work exponentially. At the time we had 2 employees and were just about to hire a third. Within a month we had 3 more employees…but they were working in a different office! aka we couldn’t train them or even give them any of our work! all the while he was continuing to ramp up the work that needed to be done. About the time I left he was promoting a secretary to office manager without giving her any training. =(

  • Joe Lalonde

    Great list Mike. It makes me fondly remember some of my former bosses. Points 1, 2, 4, and 5 remind me of some of my bosses. Glad to know I’m not the only one that has dealt with bosses like that.

    Here are some other ways that my bosses have frustrated me –

    1. Have no concern for their personal needs – Oh, you put in a time off request? Nah, you’re better off working. This makes employees very happy!

    2. Threaten your employees(this one comes courtesy of my wife who’s currently on doctors orders to not work past 5) – This is a great one. I was working 9-9. Right now I’m working 9-5, threatening to make me work 1-9 once I’m able to work past is a relief from the last 6 years of 9-9.

    3. Overwhelm your employee with work – Adding more and more to your employees workload is great. Seeing his desk pile up with paperwork lets him know he has work to do. Not knowing when this work has to be done also helps this process.

    • Anon

      I have had a boss tell me straight that, unless his staff feel absolutely overwhelmed with more work they can handle, they haven’t got enough work.

      In a related issue, this boss couldn’t prioritise one task over another, they both had to be done – right now!

      I never could convince him that providing clear priorities and a workload appropriate to the timeframe would produce a far better result.  Mainly because his main motivation method was based on fear, and improved productivity would have resulted in people fearing the loss of their jobs less.

  • http://joeandancy.com Joe Abraham

    This is a cool way of communicating great ideas! Felt like looking at a negative film in the dark room! 

    I am analyzing my own life to wage war against these frustrating qualities. 

    Meanwhile here’s an add on: asking the staff not to do something and then doing it secretly!

  • Ray

    How does an employee in this situation “lead upward’ to positively influence a bad boss?

  • http://leodesousa.ca Leo de Sousa

    Thanks for this post.  I worked for a guy exactly like this for the last 4 years!  He finally got fired after the staff rebelled (for the 2nd time).  I called him my “Reverse Mentor”  Cheers, Leo 

  • Shandel

    Excellent word to all employers!  Thank you Michael for sharing your wisdom with us once again!

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

    It seems I’ve learned MORE from the bad leaders I’ve been under than the good ones. And it was convicting to think of how many of these apply to me in some way today.
    Another one is an unrealistic boss – the type that wants a three-day project finished in two hours.

  • http://twitter.com/M1ssDiagnosis Deanna Johns Nichols

    Hold back information from your employees that would make them more effective at their jobs. That way you can be sure they never know more than you do.

    Don’t allow employees to flourish by assigning tasks in their areas of greatest strength. Instead, keep them bored and frustrated so they dread coming to work every day. 

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      This goes back to a previous post, one about whether your boss is for you or
      against you… there are so many bosses that don’t care what your skills
      are, as long as you make them look good.

  • http://www.kinderboost.com Michael Gray

    14. Motivate them by messing with their sense of job security.  Nothing produces results and fosters creativity more than reminding your employees that you authorize their paycheck.  If you create an environment where they feel like the slightest slip-up might mean the end of their employment, they will be much more motivated and will be innovative workers.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      A better way to keep your employees (I’ve heard) is to get them into deep
      debt… encourage them to get a mortgage, have the company loan them money,
      etc. :)

      • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

        I once worked for a company where management had this exact philosophy. Sad.

        • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

          I think I read recently somewhere that there were major banks on Wall Street
          that do this to their top talent… to keep them. Weird…

          • http://www.walkwiththewise.wordpress.com Gail

            It creates false loyalty.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I have worked in this kind of environment, too. Very frustrating!

  • Al Pittampalli

    Micromanaging is an absurd form of leadership. What’s the point in having a person to delegate to? Dan Pink tells us that autonomy is one of the primary drivers of motivation in our new era, it’s time managers start to realize this. Great list, Michael.

  • Karen Carter

    My personal favorites are “we need to talk” and then leave them alone for a couple of days to think about the statement and try to figure out what they did, and lay down the law, say there are no favorites or family preferences and then proceed to overlook the stated indiscretion.

  • Travis

    Mike, what is my boss does all 13 of these plus more.  Should I jump ship or wait for him to leave? Is my career in jeapordy as long as I am working for him?  Thanks

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This depends on many factors. I think you should try to find something else. Life is to short, and your boss to important, to subject yourself to this day after day.

  • http://twitter.com/CoachTheresaIF Theresa Ip Froehlich

    A couple more:
    - Failure to take decisive action re: dysfunctional team members
    - Consistently giving contradictory instructions
    - In a volunteer situation, tell qualified, capable, and available volunteers they are not needed.

    Coach Theresa
     

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Yes…. allowing a bad apple can be detrimental to the entire team. You’ve
      got to deal with them!

  • Stacy Echeverria

    My former boss did a lot of the above and one more not on the list: she never believed a word I told her. If there was an incident with another employee she immediately assumed that I was in the wrong and when I told her my side of the story, she didn’t believe me. The other thing with her too was that she gossiped about team members to other team members. She didn’t keep anything confidential and openly talked to various people about their teammates. I figured, if she’s talking to me about others on the team, what is she saying about me to them? She was untrustworthy, a gossip and a liar and the sad part of it was when I went to her manager and director and told them what she was doing, I got in trouble for it and eventually terminated. Poor management from the top down. I’m so glad I’m not working for that company. 

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Encouraging gossip in the workplace can be SO bad for morale and motivation.

      • Stacy Echeverria

        The morale was very low. It’s just sad because we spend much of our time at work and we need to try to make it as fun as possible with the people we work with while we’re doing the work.

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    Oh dear, that hit close to home. I chuckled as I read, most of these are all to familiar, either in my experience or my husbands. The sad thing is my husband is an assistant pastor, so you can guess who his boss is.

  • Beneupho

    I liked letter A the best.

  • http://twitter.com/ctpotts Chris Potts

    Outstanding!   This post is very timely, as I believe (through personal experience and anecdotal stories from many of my friends) that GOOD leaders are becoming more and more rare, unfortunately.  It is critical for every one of us to recognize a “bad” leader, and humbly learn from them, in preparation for our own leadership!  Thanks for posting.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    The more I read the funnier it got. #11 reminds me of something a sports guy often says about college coaches. “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.”

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Oh, by the way, I’m thankful that none of my bosses came anywhere near 13 ways to frustrate me. Unfortunately for me though, most practiced quite a few of these traits.

  • http://ericspeir.com/ Eric

    I have experienced one that was not on your list. I know your list wasn’t exhaustive but I would definitely add it. It frustrates me when a boss rewards mediocrity and not performance. Just because someone’s been on the job for a while it doesn’t mean they should be promoted.

    Thanks,
    Eric

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That is a good one, Eric. Thanks.

  • Sherri

    Wow! This post and the comments have made me appreciate my boss all over again. Thank you, Marie! 

    I see myself in some of these unfortunately. Something to work on. Thank you. 

    Sherri
    esthersdestiny.blogspot.com

  • Smbolt

    Many names and faces to match your points. Sadly I can recall myself having operated in some of those ways also !

  • http://twitter.com/ladyketo Ladyketo

    Michael, if you were here I would give you a high five.  

    I think in these situations, the challenge is to maintain integrity, resist the urge to gossip under the guise of venting frustration and maintain motivation to work well.  To do this when you’re feeling micromanaged, undercut and you know the goal posts will move without warning, is when true professionalism has a chance to shine.

    But boy it can be tough.  Thanks for this insight.

  • Jmhardy97

    Your list sure makes someone self reflect

  • Kelly

    While I’ve had my fair share of these bosses myself, I now am the boss…so I’m reading this looking for the areas I’m falling short in.  Good stuff to think about.  Definitely feeling convicted when you put it this way!

  • KB

    Great post!  Felt like you read my employment history!

    I’d add, whine to your spouse over the phone about confidential employee issues, and make sure you do it in a public workroom with lots of people around.

  • Olewema

    Reward lazy employees. Have favourites

    • http://www.walkwiththewise.wordpress.com Gail

      Even better – promote bad supervisors into positions where they supervise More people.

  • Robbie Phillips

    WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL GOOD AND COMMON SENSE DO YOU PUBLISH AN ARTICLE THAT FOCUSES ON THE NEGATIVE? WHY NOT FIRST TURN ALL THE POINTS TO THE POSITIVE? BEING NEGATIVE IS EASY – IT REQUIRES MENTAL ACUMEN AND HARD WORK TO CULTIVATE AND MAINTAIN A POSITIVE FRAME OF MIND AS REVEALED IN THE GOSPEL.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Sometimes we learn as much—or more—from negative examples. The goal is positive: to help us become better leaders.

      Why do you think the Bible contains both positive and negative examples? What would be lost if we selectively deleted all the negative examples?

      (By the way, all caps looks like you are shouting.)

      • http://www.walkwiththewise.wordpress.com Gail

        I like that you put this in the negative context. Sometimes it gives us the “Uh oh!” moment when we realise we are doing something we shouldn’t be doing in a way the positive can’t.

  • Murphytina

    Question – Does anyone know how to politely and firmly set boundaries with a boss who takes credit for your work and does not throw you an occasional motivational bone.

    Thanks :)

    Tina

  • Anonymous

    One of the things that frustrates me the most is a boss that nows that there are issues going on that need to be address, but does not address them. I have seen to many teams fall apart because of this.

  • Harvestchurchinternational

    Great article for anyone who is a leader. We have to keep in mind these things if we
    are going to be effective, especially in this economy.  Who wants to serve someone who
    is not thoughtful, considerate, focused and consistent?
    Thanks for sharing.
    Linda Cross
    Assistant Pastor
    http://www.HarvestChurch.tv

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  • CharlesS

    cutting a valued program because of problem in it rather than solving the problem.

  • Donna

    this was excellent.  i was stung a few times, myself.  djl

  • Tanya Marie Lewis

    What are the reprint rights on this article outside of the Internet?  This needs to be read by our newspaper readers under our business section.

    Thanks

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      My permissions policy is here.

  • Smbolt

    Begs the question, how many ways in my position of employee, do I frustarte my bosses?

  • http://www.facebook.com/KennethClapp Kenneth Clapp

    One of the most frustrating situations I’ve ever had to face was when the Sr. Minister I worked with would ask questions he already knew the answer to, but would always ask them in such a way as to try to belittle myself (or whoever he was asking the question of). For instance, we would talking before meeting with our leadership board about some project, discuss the aspects that didn’t work out the way we had hoped, but then when we would get in the middle of the public meeting he would always bring up those troubled areas as if he was just asking an innocent question. He would also do this to try to humiliate you into doing things his way. He knew our two styles were different, for instance, when he was a youth minister he used to have seating assignments for trips in the church van. I did not. For 2 and a half years he would show up when the vans were leaving on a trip and ask me in front of all the parents where my seating charts were. Sad thing is, this didn’t make me look inadequate in the eyes of the parents, but it did make him look foolish.

  • http://www.beyondhorizons.in Beyond Horizons

    Great post! Enjoyed reading it!
    And I have something more to add to the list : Not keeping your employees in the loop and not showing them the ‘entire picture’.
    When you don’t keep your employees informed and give them only tiny tit-bits, your employees don’t feel ‘engaged’ and so they don’t give in their best. Besides, limiting information affects productivity as well.

    - Sindoora (http://www.beyondhorizons.in)

  • Greg

    Let your employee give you enough information so that you know what their plan is or you know what they have already don and say one of these phrases, “You’re not going to do __________, are you? or, You haven’t done ___________ have you?” The blank is exactly what they have hinted at doing. This really crushes their creativity.  Also, MBLA, “Management By Lurking Around”. Michael, this goes with your catch them doing something wrong.

    I truly believe the high % of people that are unhappy in their job is not because of what they are doing as much as frustration with their treatment or leadership.

  • turner_bethany

    Phew. I got a little stressed out just reading those!  You can definitely learn so much from bad examples. 

  • http://twitter.com/KelvinKings Kelvin Kings Mulembe

    Great article Mike, here are some add ons:
    –Leave them out of important meetings and then asking them to follow up and write a report–Make them use their initiative and then call it useless–Always remind them of the possibility of being fired–Sneak onto their work stations and ask what they are working on

  • Joey Espinosa

    For just about all of these, the opposite works just as well.

    “13 Ways to Frustrate Your Boss”

    http://differentway4kids.blogspot.com/2011/07/13-ways-to-frustrate-your-boss.html

  • Tamara Vann

    This is a great piece that really shows off what many companies do wrong. Sadly, these very same 13 points can cause companies to fail. When employees are frustrated and unhappy, everyone suffers. As this video (http://www.upyourservice.com/video-theater/get-better-results-through-alignment-of-effort-not-through-greater-effort) points out, alignment of effort is critical for great service. You’re just not going to get that when employees are frustrated!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1398138107 Dale William Melchin

    BWAHAHAHAHAHA!  This was hilarious.  It is sad, but true however. 

  • Raghu_barigeda

    Thirteen ways to frustrate your employee. Some more

    14 : Hold long meetings going on details on the topic and prolong it with no result.
    15: Tell stories about self in the meetings
    16: Call subordinate’s  subordinate and give him wonderful jobs to frustate your reportee. Ask your reportee to do job of  his reportee in the name of building team.

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