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Bosses Don't Have It Easy Either

By Marty Nemko

I've seen so many books, TV segments, and articles on bad bosses--the ones that steal, abuse, micromanage, and/or get rich while their employees starve.

Of course, monster bosses exist, but having worked with hundreds of bosses and non-bosses, I gotta say that, on average, bosses get a bum rap.

After all, they didn’t all get to be the boss because they schmoozed (or slept) their way to the top. Most of them got plucked for management because they did a better-than-average job in the trenches, earned college and graduate degrees, showed unusual initiative, demonstrated the ability to motivate people, and okay, maybe schmoozed their butts off.

And for all that ability and effort, bosses, really don’t have it that good.

Yes, they make more money, but often after taxes, unless you’re a big-time exec, the extra income doesn’t afford a much better lifestyle than the workers’. Let’s say a manager makes 70K while the worker bees earn 45. That 25K in extra income is taxed at the manager’s top tax rate which means he or she will get to keep maybe 13K a year extra. That won’t allow him to buy a house when he was renting an apartment before; it won’t allow him to send his kids to private school, nor buy a Lexus to replace that ten-year old Corolla.

And what does the boss get for the small amount of additional income? Yes, a little prestige, but usually a lot of hassle.

First, managers are “exempt” employees—which means they can work overtime until exhaustion yet won’t earn a dime of extra pay.

Then, there are the headaches. You’re no longer just responsible for your own work, you’re responsible for all your supervisees’ work. One of life’s major sources of stress is when you have problems that are out of your control. That defines the managers’ job. So often, the manager is caught in a vise between upper management screaming for you to squeeze blood out of a stone and supervisees screaming they’re already squeezing as much as they can.

Perhaps most stressful is when you have a problem employee. Often, it isn’t even your fault. You didn’t hire him; you inherited him. And despite what the how-to books tell you, it is damned hard to improve a bad worker. So you try and try—a stressful process-- and too often, things don’t get sufficiently better.

So, at some point, you start thinking you’d like to fire the lump. In many work environments, it would be easier to build the Taj Mahal. To reduce risk of a lawsuit, most lawyers recommend an assiduous months- or even years-long effort to document the employee’s incompetence and inability to improve despite your carefully developing and supervising an improvement plan.

Despite all that, if you let the employee go, you are at real risk of being sued for wrongful termination, especially if the employee is in a protected class: minority, women, person over 40, gay/lesbian, handicapped, or who practices a religion that is not the dominant one in that workplace. Now you’re talking maxi-stress. Few things are more stressful than an employee claiming you are racist, sexist, etc., and then having to endure interrogations by your HR manager, lawyers, and EEOC investigators.

Even if you’re proven beyond reproach, you will have suffered enormously while having no recourse and having spent tremendous amounts of time dealing with the lawsuit instead of doing the work likely to make you feel productive and set the stage for your future career advancement.

So, next time you’re tempted to bash bosses or contemplate becoming one yourself, think twice. And do me a favor. If you have a good boss, thank him or her. Bosses don’t have it so easy, either.

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