You Can’t Afford a Manager from Hell

You Can’t Afford a Manager from Hell

By Shawn Murphy

Shawn Murphy is owner and principal consultant at Achieved Strategies, a change-management consultancy, and co-founder of the Switch and Shift blog, from which this is reprinted.

Bob Sutton calls them assholes, which is perhaps a bit too descriptive for some. Managers from hell make work life unbearable.

Certainly every organization has its group of managers who trigger morning drudgery in employees’ routines getting ready for work. Listing the effects of mean managers, asshole-managers, or managers-from-hell on the workplace would generate a too-familiar list—perhaps an exercise in futility.

Gallup recently quantified the cost of hellish managers. Apparently this phenomenon costs the U.S. economy upward of $550 billion annually. Ouch. I’m no mathematician, but the more of these ineffective managers your organization keeps, the bigger slice of the $550 billion bitter pie you get to eat.

So I have a challenge for all organizations—public or private—who refuse to deal with the managers from hell: Get rid of them. Send an invaluable signal to your employees that such nonsense is no longer acceptable.

Let your people know that the culture you say is important is indeed truly vital to your company’s success.

Let conversations emerge that highlight the importance of the values in employees’ actions and that interactions that you painstakingly developed actually matter.

Give hope to your employees that their workplace can be a positive contribution to their lives by getting rid of crappy managers.

If you think my challenge naïve, think about the millions of Americans looking for work. Finding a manager who better embodies your company’s values, who can thrive in the culture you want, won’t be difficult.

Sure, some of the crappy managers are towers of knowledge. That knowledge, however, is poisoned, tainted with bitterness that when shared, if it is shared, only divides and alienates. Your company’s culture and business goals are more important than poisonous knowledge that restrains progress and limits ideas.

This is the Information Age. Knowledge is vital to thrive in today’s dynamic workplace. Treating employees, and approaching one’s work, as though we’re still in the Industrial Era is as antiquated as keeping underperforming managers.

In this age of information, don’t be fooled into believing that knowledge of your crappy managers is contained within your company’s walls. Internet sites such as are likely containers of examples of your mean managers’ ineffective antics.

Take control of the situation. It’s really your best choice. It may sting at first. But keep your eye on the longer-term picture. Your employees, customers, and your goals depend on and deserve managers who value people and honor your company’s purpose.

Of course, this assumes you care about such things.


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The Conference Board Review is the quarterly magazine of The Conference Board, the world's preeminent business membership and research organization. Founded in 1976, TCB Review is a magazine of ideas and opinion that raises tough questions about leading-edge issues at the intersection of business and society.