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CAREERS: MADDER THAN EVER | THE EMPLOYEE PERSPECTIVE

When Two Worlds Collide

Strategy: Looking to trim the payroll? All you've got to do is be a bad boss, if you aren't one already. It's as easy as stealing, cheating and lying.

November 02, 1998|MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The days of corporate downsizing appear to be back with a vengeance. In recent months, employers as diverse as Merrill Lynch, Packard Bell, Gillette, Arco and Raytheon have announced job cuts totaling thousands of workers.

The stock market is queasy. The Asian contagion keeps spreading, and a lot of bosses are feeling the nip of recession in the air. Yes, the season for layoffs could be right around the corner. Time for you managers out there to start crafting memos filled with phrases such as "global competitiveness" to explain why you're outsourcing your janitorial staff.

But what if you found a foolproof method to alienate your best workers in good times as well as bad? Wouldn't it be convenient to get them to hit the bricks before the next recession rolls around?

Well, now you can. And here's the best part. You don't even have to slash workers' wages or ax their health insurance to send them packing. Heck, compensation often has little to do with making your employees' completely miserable, according to experts such as organizational psychologist Harvey Hornstein, author of "Brutal Bosses and Their Prey."

Hornstein and others say all you have to do is be petty, controlling, arrogant, disrespectful, dishonest, unfair or cruel. In other words, you just have to be a bad boss.

So forget that wimpy human resources prattle about employees being your company's most valuable asset. Here are some sure-fire tools from management experts on how to make your employees furious and trim your payroll fast:

1. Use discipline to punish rather than to instruct.

This one's an oldie but a goody and one that comes highly recommended by Charles Sennewald, an Escondido, Calif.-based corporate security expert who helps companies cut down on insider theft.

Sennewald says punishing employees for petty infractions and making them fearful of making mistakes is a great way to show the rank-and-file who's boss. If you can combine it with public humiliation to make sure everyone knows who screwed up the big account, so much the better.

What's an expert on shoplifting and corporate sabotage doing giving management advice? Well, two decades in the field have given Sennewald an interesting window on employee behavior. He says employees rarely steal out of necessity, except to feed the odd drug or gambling habit. More often, they do it to get back at a management system they view as unfair or harassing.

Bad management "clearly is a contributing factor that feeds resentment and revenge," Sennewald said. "Jackass bosses can cost their companies plenty."

2. Cheat your employees, customers, the government or all of the above.

Dishonesty really is the best policy when it comes to making your employees loathe you. Doctoring their time cards, stiffing them on commissions or embezzling their pension fund will have them streaming toward the exits and into the district attorney's office in no time flat.

Forcing employees to help you rip off customers, lie to regulators and fix prices with your competitors is just as effective. You'll grind on their consciences and groom a whole new crop of whistle-blowers right before your eyes. Talk about win-win!

"It's just a real dangerous spot for an employee to be in," said Cynthia Stone, co-author of "How to Survive Bad Bosses." "We wrote the book to try to help employees hang in there in a bad situation. But if it's illegal, our advice is to get out."

3. Never ask for employees' advice, and, for Pete's sake, don't listen should they offer it.

Every bad boss knows that all decisions come from the top down. Surely the folks in the executive suite who couldn't find the factory floor without a map know more about production than the grunts on the line.

Never build consensus, ask for input or get your work force to buy into a new plan before you hatch it. That would brand you as weak and indecisive. Real leaders must talk and never listen. They must teach and never learn. They must demand respect and never earn it.

"[Bad bosses] think that people are to be treated like tools," said Hornstein, professor of social-organizational psychology at Columbia University Teachers College. "That gives them total command and control."

4. Never give employees credit for a job well done.

It's a tough world out there. Darwinism, survival of the fittest, dog-eat-dog, and all that stuff. It's hard enough competing with Mongolia without touchy-feely management science corrupting our organizations and making them soft.

Employees want to be complimented for good work? They want to feel valued and esteemed? Next thing you know they'll want the boss to tuck them in at night and read them a bedtime story.

In the words of that management genius Ebenezer Scrooge: "Bah, humbug." Why should supervisors sing the "Hallelujah Chorus" every time the work gets done? That's what you pay them for. Workers should be happy just to have a job, a paycheck and a place to hang their coats. If they want a pat on the back, let 'em pay for a massage--on their own time.

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