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How do you get rid of bad managers?

Dear Office-Politics,

Why don’t people go to the human resource office and complain? Because they are afraid of retribution.

I moved to Florida from Illinois in 2005 because my husband got a faculty position. I had a very successful career in Illinois with excellent job evaluations. I got a job at my husband’s college and was given money for relocation dependent on staying at the college for one year.

My first boss was a micromanaging misogynist. He ruled using threats, intimidation, embarrassment and putting people on the spot. He had a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality and changed his instructions constantly. I took it for almost a year so I didn’t have to pay back the relocation payment. Right before my one year anniversary, he was blaming me for another employee’s incompetence and I couldn’t take it anymore. When I told human resources, they told me “he was up to his old tricks” and transferred me to another department. They did not do anything about my supervisor.

My new supervisor is a slave-driving, control freak. She corrects everything – nothing is ever good enough. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. She wants total subserviance and loves “suck ups”. She gets mad when people take a sick or vacation day. Some people are so scared that they won’t take lunch. I’ve been looking for a job now for several months but have not had much luck so I am still here until I find one. It is difficult to take the mental abuse every day. I do not think that HR would do anything for me because they didn’t do anything the last time. My supervisor is very powerful. After I move on, I will have my 3rd job in 3 years which doesn’t look good on my resume. I feel that this college has ruined my career.

How do you get rid of bad managers? It is nearly impossible. Many seal their power grip through control. Employees are afraid of retribution. It takes a very powerful and thoughtful human resources department to do something about it. I think it goes all the way to the top. If a company puts up with bad managers, it’s because the CEO doesn’t care.

Victim of Office Dysfunction


dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Victim of Office Dysfunction,

Wow, if colleges are where you are supposed to learn, it’s sad to hear what you are learning, particularly about politics. Many people are not students of politics like you are, but merely day-dream in class and become even greater victims than you. You are at least surviving whereas many are axed, say the wrong thing to the wrong person when speaking truth to power (there’s a reason that the pioneers in many organizations are the ones with arrows sticking out!), or wind up in Organizational Siberia — that place that is so low on the food chain that everyone knows they are an “untouchable” in the caste system. So pat yourself on the back for recognizing the situation rather than being blind or living on that river in Egypt called “De Nile!”

But before jumping to conclusions, are you SURE it ISN”T just a coincidence and that a majority of supervisors and managers are more humane and effective? So first triple check by networking to ask others, discussing the phenomenon confidentially with HR, observing patterns of people who leave and why, etc. If you can find another transfer to such a positive work climate, obviously, lobby for that move. Although you fear three job changes on your resume, that’s a lot less eyebrow raising than three different colleges, etc., since it’s easy to explain at future employers and less likely for you to be seen as a “bad apple.”

Unfortunately, you are right that often such abuse, power tripping, control, micro-managing, slave-driving, and crazy-making behavior is often tolerated by non-progressive companies and organizations, so there are no panaceas. At times it’s simply a matter of several “managers” (we refuse to call such neanderthals “leaders”) getting by in an organization because they produce results that are stellar, they bully people higher than them, and/or they have someone in their pocket in some way.

But it sounds like you are describing a more serious level of dysfunction in which it’s not a mere matter of a few people or the small unit of an “office” being counter-productive, rather an entire organizational culture. We fear this is true since you are describing more than one occurrence of similar behavior (your current control freak, slave-driver boss sound not much different from a micro-manager) AND Human Resources acknowledges the problem (“he’s up to his old tricks”) and yet does nothing to lobby for a more permanent solution, instead transferring you.

We can only assume it MAY not be a mere coincidence that you would up with another power tyrant supervisor, but instead, that your organizational culture attracts and breeds such old school, Theory X managers. Such obsolete approaches are reminiscent of managerial techniques from the Industrial Revolution days when Frederic Taylor did scientific studies of how to bleed every ounce of performance from people swinging an axe or pick at a precise angle for greater productivity per minute. Ugh!

If culture wide power abuse, worker abuse, and toxicity permeate and is allowed, it may mean that it’s going to take wide-spread culture change to make a difference. It usually means that:
(1) top management administration has an incredible blind spot to the damage to morale, employee and engagement, and ultimately performance due to employee resentment and slow-down or even sabotage,
(2) management is actually consciously colluding to support such overly political people because they benefit in some way, and/or
(3) this style of management is more innocent but just a part of a historic hierarchical, old-way, command-and-control style of managing.

Which options are the case at this college? If the problem IS symptomatic of a larger macro-organizational culture and way of existing, be realistic about your chances of changing the norms. While you might choose to lobby for support amongst peers, gather advocates through networking, and approaching HR and LINE MANGERS to join you in providing managerial training, communications development, an employee Bill of Rights, joint labor management committees to improve the climate, atmosphere and attitude surveys, etc. If the college has an Organizational Development and/or Employee Relations department, their specialty in addressing broad-scale work environment problems and tensions will equip them better than generalist HR departments as far as forging change. But be realistic. Barring new top management that sees the problem, clearly announces the end of the line for such white collar torture, we suggest that you recognize the nature of the beast. Culture change is slightly faster than a glacier in some places, though more promising in other settings. What’s your hunch for your educational institution?

So continue putting feelers out, and meanwhile explore finding yet another manager, but why not do informal outreach yourself and proactively ask to be placed with a specific manager versus roll the dice and leave it up to HR? Secondly, remember in the words of the old 1960’s rock group, The Turtles, “It Ain’t Me, Babe!” Don’t take any of this treatment personally. Read the section from our Survival of the Savvy book called “Deactivate Your Political Buttons” in order to stay more calm, find mental techniques for not getting hooked, and for coping. You may or may not have the economic freedom to just leave without a job, but some people do start to weigh the health costs of an ulcer since your stomach may start keeping score.

If you must stay, work on YOU, find confidential supporters for some sort of “Dumped On Anonymous” group, but make sure it does not become public, that you do not gain a reputation of becoming a whiner, finding balance of how much to focus on this versus get the work done, and find other outlets for enjoyment. But it sure sounds like the hand-writing is on the wall.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.


Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

  1. 6 Answers to “How do you get rid of bad managers?”

  2. If the company that you work for will not deal with these people or pander to them then you do have a stark choice. One of my bugbears is regularly excused with the phrase ‘Oh he can be difficult’ ignoring the fact that he is a 60 year old man behaving like a 6 year old having tantrums in public. The fact that companies lose working days and employees talents to these people is conveniently ignored. They are simply allowed to continue whilst making peoples live miserable. Build up your CV,keep positive, have a life outside it, improve your talents and skills and look forward to a future outside your organisation because they doesn’t seem to be much future inside it. You are worried about having 3 jobs in 3 years – you can turn this to your advantage.

    By carole on Jul 2, 2007

  3. Boy does your story sound familiar! I work in government and it is the same.

    You worked for one university so list the university then the positions. This way it shows three years with one employer. It is not unusual for people in colleges, university’s or hospitals to move around to get a better feel for the organization so they have a broad base from which to help.

    It’s easier if you give up caring to make a difference.
    Good luck,

    By Kevin on Nov 19, 2007

  4. I have the manager from hell and all I do is dream of how to get him fired but the owners do nothing but look the other way even tho so many employees have complained about him …he is a bully and he intimidates and yells & threatens the only day at work thats a good day is his day off I feel so stuck because i can’t afford to quit but i am looking for something eles because I cannot stand another minute what possesses someone to treat another person so badly to make themselves feel worthwhile mystifying

    By Lynn on Sep 29, 2008

  5. I have a micro managing maniac. She has done nothing all year long. Now that the belt is getting real tight due to less and less work to do – now she starts to do something here and there. A problem gets solved by pointing fingers instead of moving forward and learning from mistakes. Her sick days follow the late nights of bars and her professionalism is a joke. Our employer would save time and money by letting her go and letting the department run itself. It consists of a team of three extremely competent women who nknow what they are doing and can run the department as a whole.

    By Martha on Dec 31, 2009

  6. How to get rid of a bad manager. Try this, find a way to feed infomation to your competion. Praise how good this manager is and then hint they are looking for change. Maybe your competor will recruit them away.

    By Thomas on Aug 24, 2012

  7. My boss is a micromanaging tard who is an expert at nothing and overpiles tons of work on the staff. He keeps us so beyond busy that we can’t even think while he closes his office door and takes naps, surfs the internet all day, plans his next vacation, and talks to his Egyptian friends all day. It is a toxic working environment where he gets all the cash and vacation bonuses and the 7 of us staff get a basket of apples for Christmas. Being that most of us are in our mid fifties, we are all just biding our time until we quit.

    By Jim on Nov 28, 2014

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