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 ©, Image #5626007

Photo courtesy of ©

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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