Some bosses are total monsters. (Christine Cavalier/Flickr)

The Drive Home: The boss whisperers

By Chris Williams

They do exist, in spirit anyway. Lurking behind the scenes, taking credit for things they haven’t done. Ill informed, they allocate duties to the wrong people and misread the office culture. They seem constantly busy while getting nothing done and laugh at all the worst jokes while getting confused and irritated by the best ones.

They notice when you’re one minute late for work, but have no problem asking you to stay an extra hour or two on Friday afternoons and Saturdays. They have a family but you wonder why you have never seen them. Trivial things upset them while matters of vital importance clearly don’t register with them in any way. The make employee work schedules with algorithms normally used for generating random numbers while “days-off” are awarded when they are least needed and never when they are requested. On sunny days, staff are made to stay inside with the heat on while on cold, wet winter days, outside chores are suddenly found that have no apparent relevance to what anyone is doing.

And do they chip in when needed? Are they around to re-stack already perfectly stacked pallets in the rain? No, because they suddenly have a “management meeting” that materializes out of the blue and for no apparent reason at all.

The Boss Whisperer is an enigma. A person devoid of usefulness, yet promoted to the heights of responsibility, non-valued yet inescapable. How do people so underwhelming, so detached from reality, so annoying and inept become our superiors, our managers, and our bosses? This is a valid query and older than the joke your boss tells at the Christmas party every year.

In The Modern Employer: A Handbook for Establishing a Dysfunctional Work Environment, author Frank Contradiction observes that the modern employer has different attributes than he had ever seen before: small, underdeveloped cerebellums (like those of people who can’t parallel park or who are offended by Halloween costumes), plus a never-ending supply of bad jokes and unfunny anecdotes. Frank speculates that modern managers have been crossbred with small, uninteresting potatoes, beets, and turnips, and that the new attributes are a manifestation of the starches found in these vegetables. He also discovered this new breed of “bosses” are slower-minded, weaker-willed, and less inspirational than traditional managers (and vegetables for that matter), focussing on disrupting the natural flow of the office and getting upset by things that just aren’t that important.

In a controlled experiment designed to elicit better communication and cooperation between employers, supervisors, managers and their employees, Frank chose four managers from three different sectors: government, private, and not-for-profit. He asked each participating manager to organize a random group of people into four different teams – those that were productive, those who were procrastinators, those who were under-trained, and those who were still asleep.

All three participants immediately got to work by being called away for special meetings in totally different time zones leaving Frank to organize the groups himself. When he was done he realized that all three participants had already taken credit for his work and that he had suddenly been rescheduled to work Saturday and would miss his daughter’s piano recital.

Frank was confused and a little scared. While contemplating his predicament, Frank was violently accosted by one of the managers he had recruited and given a stern warning about “wasting company time” and “not seeing the bigger picture.” Frank, full of anxiety and stress, ignored their bad breath and diligently began doing all their work for them.

Well played Boss Whisperer, well played.

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