How to Get Your Employees to Sink Your Business


A certain business guru has written a book about how to terrorize your employees. He’s promoting it with glee, chortling about the idiocy of “nice” bosses and the importance of bullying employees into following your orders without question.

I’ve worked for some variation on this guy a couple of times. Any effort at conversation about alternatives is seen as naivete or, worst of all sins, wimpiness. What these guys did before Tim Allen invented that annoying whuffing caveman sound, I don’t know.

(Not that they’re always guys. This is an equal opportunity for stupidity.)

These are the bosses who see the workplace as a war. The only thing that works is to beat, brutalize, and belittle the enemy (their employees) until the dumb bastards actually get something done. Employees are an opposing force to be crushed by any means necessary. Employees are a colossal impediment to actually getting any work done or making any money.

Employers who subscribe to this model are right. Their employees are, in fact, a colossal impediment to getting any work done or making any money.

Avoid communicating with people you hate and fear

It should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention that hatred and fear are anathema to success. They make it impossible to see real problems because you’re so busy battling fake ones.

They clench your thinking until you’re too mentally constipated to come up with anything that makes sense, much less something remarkable.

There are two important reasons the employment-is-war model doesn’t work. The first is that anyone worth hiring will promptly leave, leaving you with a bunch of malingerers who are too lazy to find a decent job. The second is that you remove any possibility that someone could teach you something. Which means you start getting stupider.

Very few of us are in a business environment so devoid of competition that we can afford to get stupider.

The fatal mistake of willful stupidity

I once worked for a CEO who refused to use because he claimed to have read a Wall Street Journal article that said their algorithms weren’t good. Mind you, this is someone whose secretary printed all of his email. He didn’t know an algorithm from a peanut butter sandwich. And the odds that he actually interpreted the article correctly are, um, not high.

Attempts to diplomatically point this out to him (at that time, it was really hard to make a decent hire in IT without Monster) were worse than futile. They branded us as troublemakers. We still gave a damn, and that made us dangerous.

We were employees; thus, we were the enemy. It was inconceivable that we could give this CEO any advice that would get work done and make the company some money.

Are you surprised to hear that it took him less than a year to run the company into the ground? It didn’t surprise any of us either. Some of us were fortunate enough to watch it burst into flames from a safe distance.

Of course they spit in your food

When you define your employees as the enemy, the ones with any spark of life at all will take you up on it.

If you’re lucky they’ll call you bad words and quit. If you’re not lucky, they’ll be rude to your customers, cheat on their time cards, and spend their entire waking hours figuring out how to screw your company. 40 hours a week is a lot of time to think. Enough time to come up with some pretty effective strategies.

If you honestly think you can come up with enough police state measures–enough recording phone calls and hidden cameras and secret shoppers–to confound your employees’ creativity, you are the one who is woefully naive.

If you’re trying to create remarkable relationships with your organization’s customers and you don’t create them first with your employees, your gig doesn’t stand a chance. Shut it down now and save everyone the trouble.

Some of you might be thinking, Why bother with this message now? Companies don’t work that way any more. This is the 21st century, everyone knows now how important employees are.

If you believe that, ask your friends who are still stuck in veal-pen cubicles. Office Space was not a parody. It was hardly even an exaggeration.

If you’re employed in an organization that subscribes to this kind of bully boy nonsense, find another job as quickly as you can. (You’re probably looking–look harder.)

And if you’re in the boss’s seat and find yourself tempted to let a guru talk you out of being a “wimp” and into being an overseer, ask yourself, Would getting a lot dumber help this organization grow more quickly?

Then find another guru.

If you want to read about doing it right, the classic management book Peopleware is a fine place to start. You can probably end there as well, actually.

(Hopefully unnecessary disclaimer, this post in no way describes anyone I currently work with!)


  1. Anna Yeaman says:

    “Of course they spit in your food”… made me laugh out loud remembering a job situation like you described – thankfully years past.

    They had cameras in all the offices, the boss who was just next door used to spend the day watching us on his computer monitor. He saw it as a plus to show us he was keeping an eye on us!

    Understandably they had a high staff turnover…everyone working there started looking for another job within two weeks.

  2. Dave Navarro says:

    Did a spit-take on “veal-pen cubicles.” Awesome.

  3. Sonia, I have to say that I enjoyed the reading immensely.
    Nothing new, but the reading went as bread, butter and caviar (beluga).

    I just discovered you (may be you’ll sneer on that, laughing on how some nobody discovers somebody, but be forgiving).

    You have very nteresting blog. And what I like most, there is no particular preaching in it. You speak about anything as describing Mona Liza. Thanks for your sharing your mind with us.

  4. I have just recollected a joke about “who is important for this work?”.
    It describes very truthly the behaviour of some bosses.

    Two party leaders in USSR derove near the border river.
    Suddenly, behind the turn, they saw a bridge.
    When they reached it, the more important functionary told to another:
    “it is very important bridge and we have to guard it.”
    No problem. The next day an old 70 years guard was on the bridge.
    Next month, our two party members come near the bridge and the higher
    Functionary said:
    “Very good that there is a guard. But who checks if he works?”
    The nexct day, they’ve brought a little prefab buyilding a very important supervisor too there his sit. His only job was to supervise the guard.

    The next month the question was:
    “And who will prepare to him the tea and will answer phones?”
    And the next day the secretary began to work.

    In a year, on one of their tours near the bridge, two party members came near the bridge.
    A two-storey building stand near the ebtrance to the bridge.
    Inside were :supervisor, his secretary, office manager, his secretary, her secretary, Salaries department manager, writing out scheques secretary, human resources manager with his three assistants.
    And outside, on the bridge, 70-year old guard was dragging his legs from one end to another.

    Our very important functionary saw this picture and said:
    “It’s too many personal but just one bridge. Decrease!”
    And the next day the old guardman was fired..