Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ten things guaranteed to make workers angry

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, you're 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 an 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 positive 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. 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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