How Jerk Bosses (and Employees) Are Destroying Your Company

Think for a moment about your star employees — your top performers who can be counted on to get the job done and get it right.

Now, still thinking about those employees, ask yourself if these star employees also get the work done in the right way. Do they demonstrate the proper behaviors in line with your company’s core values, or do they bully, steamroll and steal credit?

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Eric Sinoway argues top performers who get the job done, but don’t do it in the right way are, in fact, vampires and not stars. I couldn’t agree more. As Eric explains:

Our company, Axcess Worldwide, was shaped in its early years by a small, tight knit group: my partner, Kirk Posmatur, and me and our first few employees. Now, after significant growth, we were honing our strategy, placing the right people in the right roles, continuing to deliver profitability while simultaneously maintaining a strong and meaningful corporate culture, something we consider to be one of our most powerful assets.

The new executive we were discussing that day was doing what we had hired him to: immediately deliver results. But he was doing so in a manner that didn’t strike us as consistent with our culture; he was focused so intensely on ‘what he did’ that he paid little attention to ‘how he did it,’ which resulted in consistently dismissing the opinions of others and pursuing what we felt was a strategy of ‘winning at any cost.’” … He was a cultural vampire. And so regardless of his functional performance, we had to terminate him.”

Negative impact from Jerk Bosses

Too many will simply dismiss this, believing “as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter how.” Now, new research supports the cost to business of allowing jerk managers to continue in your organization.

Just look at these findings:

  • 24 percent of employees thought their bosses were over-stressed, poor communicators and lacked empathy – a combination judged to be counterproductive and in some cases destructive by the report.
  • Just 5 percent of workers said their managers led in a way that: meant they were empathetic; explained why organisational change was good to staff members as individuals; created workplaces in which employees felt rewarded for their efforts; and were self-aware.
  • Only 35 percent of respondents said that, when their organization needed to change, their boss personally made them aware of the benefits.
  • Almost half (47 percent) of the 2,000 workers surveyed said that their managers made them feel threatened, rather than rewarded

If the boss can’t communicate to employees changing strategies and objectives, how employees are supposed to implement those changes in the daily work, or reward employees for doing so effectively, then change will not happen.

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What do you do with the “zombie managers?” You have two choices – train them or fire them. If the manager is a bully nature, then your choice is easy.

There should be no room for bullies in any organization that promotes a strong, positive culture today.

What do “star performers” look like in your organization?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


2 Comments on “How Jerk Bosses (and Employees) Are Destroying Your Company

  1. There is an excellent book on this topic by Stanford University Professor, Bob Sutton.

  2. I see a lot of print given to loud bosses that bully.  What I see and find more frequently is more subtle, just as damaging (if not more), and receives very little print or discussion.  And that’s information on dealing with “command and control” bosses.  This is FAR more prevalent than the out and out “shouter,” “I’m the boss around here!!” type (although the “command and control” type VIEWS himself/herself that way).  The reason it’s more damaging? (1) It’s not regularly identified as damaging by the “foster a vibrant workplace” enchanters and magicians, and therefore (2) it’s not so easily seen and dealt with in companies and organizations.  It’s considered normative and “not really that bad.”

    There is a famine in understanding how to LEAD versus “manage.”  And a lot of particularly bad bosses continue to get away with it because subtle “bad boss” traits are not identified.  Anyone can point out — without a lot of “self-help articles” — that a “shouter,” bully boss is a bad thing.  Let’s see some print on the characteristics that are more prevalent and produce unhealthy work situations.

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