Posted April 29, 2009
Book Review

Bosses Behaving Badly

Expert says happy workers an endangered species

The author of the scathing new novel, The Boss, a May 2009 release from Greenleaf Book Group Press (, has worked in human resources and understands the impact managers have in the lives of their employees. The heroine in his book, Lauren Johnson, navigates her way through numerous encounters with bosses who behave badly with no regard for the havoc they wreck. Though a work of fiction, her experiences are based on true stories of insensitive executives who exhibit all the people skills of a pit bull.

Bad bosses are bad business, and O’Keeffe wrote his book to make just that point.

“Most people want to give their energy to their work,” O’Keeffe said. “But as bad bosses have gone forth and multiplied in the business world, the numbers of people who are getting any kind of professional satisfaction from their jobs has reduced dramatically. For most people, it’s a question of survival.”

The good news for those interested in reversing the trend toward happiness extinction is that you don’t have to look under many rocks to find the answer. The factor most driving people’s satisfaction with work is the person’s immediate manager.

O’Keeffe sites statistics from a number of studies to demonstrate this point:

* The Corporate Leadership Council studied 23 job factors to find what most causes a person to stay or leave their organisation. It might surprise many people that it wasn’t work challenge, nor salary nor recognition – it’s the quality of the manager; a person who works for a quality boss is unlikely to look elsewhere.

* In a study of 60,000 exit interviews, 80 percent of people who resign from their job do so to escape their immediate manager (Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans – Love ’em or Lose ’em)
* Bad bosses are a health hazard – one study has found that stressful bosses increase the incidence of heart attack by up to 64 percent

O’Keeffe said it’s all about power, and he suggests one tell-tale sign that you work in a negative power culture.

“What would a manager in your company have to do to be fired?” O’Keeffe asked. “In the best companies, managers are moved out of their roles if they don’t serve their teams well or use their power inappropriately. But in most companies, unfortunately, managers are only fired in they fail in their business goals. In fact, managers who can get ‘short-term’ results can do whatever they want with respect to the people they manage, and senior management will turn a blind eye as long as that manager continues to ‘get results.’”

It’s gotten so bad, that even the mention of our supervisors can tie our stomachs into knots.

“Simply uttering the word ‘boss’ drives an emotional response,” O’Keeffe said. “People are instantly positive or negative, based on their past experience. And now, you don’t even have to work for them to feel stress from them. Just pick up the newspaper and read about how senior executives of high profile corporations are taking million-dollar bonuses to reward themselves for failing their customers and driving the American and global economy into the sewer.”

O’Keeffe said that the struggle that most people face when they work for a bad manager is trying to cling to their self-esteem and avoid sliding into helplessness and self-doubt. People can feel trapped, he said as they have to stay where they are to retain their income.

“It soon becomes an either-or situation,” he said. “In a bad economy, it’s more difficult to find a new job, so managers find that their power-base is increased and workers discover that they have little choice but to cater to the whims of their superiors. I wrote this book as a way to bring this situation to light, and to demonstrate to both executives and employees that it doesn’t have to be this way – we need to learn how to lead effectively in business so that people don’t have to choose between their income and their self-esteem. In a civilized society, we should be allowed to have both. In a civilized society, happy workers should not be a dying breed.”

About Andrew O’Keeffe

Andrew O'Keeffe has been observing bosses for many years. He's worked for bosses, and he's been a boss. As a senior human resources executive, Andrew has worked closely with a range of bosses in diverse companies over his twenty-five year career. He was employed by an iconic computer company, a leading telecommunications company and a global professional services firm. Early in his career, he worked in industrial relations in the mining and manufacturing industries.

Andrew grew up in Broken Hill, Australia and studied economics, industrial relations and psychology at the University of Sydney. He lives in Sydney, Australia and consults in the human dimension of organizations.

Andrew speaks frequently at conferences on the subject of leadership. In October 2008 when Dr Jane Goodall toured Australia and New Zealand, Dr Goodall and Andrew joined together to speak to business audiences about leadership lessons from our hardwired instincts.

While writing The Boss, Andrew talked to a large number of people. Almost everyone had their own boss story to tell, and people always told their stories with emotion - anger, frustration, hurt, despair, amazement, joy, humor. Some of those stories provided content for this book. There was plenty of material.

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