A bad manager's tricks: Mind games and manipulation

A control freak reigns over employees by withholding valuable information and making ridiculous demands

A bad manager's tricks: Mind games and manipulation
Credit: iStockphoto

Bad managers come in many shapes and forms, and the worst of them might even combine several annoying tactics to control their employees. Thankfully, the Head Honchos sometimes see through the smoke screen -- eventually.

One of the managers I used to work for, "Jim," was a challenge for a variety of reasons. For starters, he had no sense of personal hygiene and smelled. On a less visceral level, he needed to maintain his hold on the workforce by any means necessary.

Jim relished keeping his employees on edge and robbing them of any sense of personal control. He didn't like when tasks weren't done his way, even if the solution was better than what he had designed. He never played fairly and always hoarded a few main details to keep employees in the dark. In a number of incidents, even the Head Honchos were left trying to piece together missing notes, which did not go over well for Jim.

Despite these problems, the Head Honchos were very patient with Jim as he was a tenured employee. The rest of us would file complaints with HR, but they were ignored. For a long time, it seemed there was nothing we could do except find ways to survive it.

Dance, techies, dance

Jim's bad-manager playbook included a number of strategies. For instance, he often dumped work on one of my colleagues at the end of day, then made him stay late to get it done -- but during office hours, this colleague was not given any work. He requested a different shift, but to no avail. Thankfully for him, the Head Honchos eventually listened.

Though the Head Honchos knew about Jim's antics, we still had to defend our actions, as I experienced for myself when I was working as a system administrator. I needed access to a few important servers when Jim was on leave for a personal matter, but Jim had not shared the access information. I had to get access through the top boss -- who saw it as my fault that I did not have the data in the first place.

I had proof that I'd reached out to Jim for the access information, but he had ignored my request. The top boss backed off and gave me the information I needed. Like all employees who worked with Jim, at least I had learned to watch out for myself. 

After Jim returned from leave, we went through a transition with our systems. Though I needed access to these systems, Jim kept me out of a few of them. I couldn't do my job, and I asked again and again. Over time, he gave in, but I think he enjoyed seeing his employees jump through so many hoops.

Jim didn't push the limits with work only. For employee birthdays, our team would contribute money toward throwing a small party. This contribution was always collected by Jim. But we soon ran the numbers and noticed a pattern: Leftover contributions always disappeared and were never returned. Of course, he never gave us a straight answer when asked.

The company wises up

As time passed and the complaints kept pouring in, the Head Honchos and HR forced Jim to take a few leadership sessions. But there were no signs of improvement, and slowly we noticed that others were involved in responsibilities that Jim had once handled. Finally, Jim went too far and broke a major company policy, for which he was let go.

Persistence can pay off, and we didn't let up in documenting and filing complaints as the incidents occurred. The paper trail helped. With people who push the limits continually, their actions eventually catch up to them. Personally, it's satisfying to witness the demise.

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