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Five Ways Employees Both Get Mad and Get Even

In This Article

(Click the links below to move easily to sections of this article)
Who Has the Power in the Workplace
How Do Employees Get Even with a Bad Boss
Conclusion: Why Employee Feelings Matter
Video: How Employees Respond to a Bad Boss

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Who Has the Power in the Workplace

Gold icon figures against a blue background having a tug of warIn my work, I encounter some managers who believe that they have all the power in the workplace over their employees. These managers have no desire to hear about the importance of motivation and creating a positive work environment. Some of them operate under the motto: Do it my way or hit the highway.

Other managers who believe that they have all of the power in the workplace take a different approach. They resort to outsmarting their employees to get the results they want. These managers view these short term gains as success, and they also have no desire to hear about the importance of motivation and creating a positive work environment.

Both of these approaches to management create Pyrrhic victories (win-the-battle-but-lose-the-war victories). These victories harm workplace motivaton because they show little regard for employees’ feelings (employees resent always being bullied or tricked by their boss). Managers who use these techniques too frequently do not understand that there is a significant organizational cost when employees feel mistreated.

Employees too have power in the workplace! In fact, when managers treat employees badly, their employees will will find ways to get back at them. They’ll get mad and get even! As I explain to these resistant managers, for this reason alone, they should be concerned about workplace motivation.

Some managers think their employees have little power in the workplace. They should think again! Employees both get mad and they get even. Click To Tweet

(Continual mistreatment of employees has consequences — even for the most powerful leaders in an organization. To read a true personal story about the sudden fall of a powerful executive, click here.)


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How Do Employees Get Even with a Bad Boss

As I work with business organizations, I see five common ways that employees both get mad and get even:

They Leave

High voluntary turnover rates are often a sign of dissatisfied employees who have opted to speak with their feet as they leave a boss (since most people leave their boss not their job). Some exits are very dramatic: employees who quit on the spot; do not return to work; or otherwise make a high profile exit.  Other exits are more quiet with employees simply moving on with their professional lives.  Either way when you calculate how much it really costs to replace an employee, organizational turnover is very expensive.

They Dig In & Fight

Some employees are not able to leave their place of employment or they are of the mindset that no one is going to make them quit their job. These employees will resist management efforts, either covertly or more overtly. Neither employees’ covert or overt resistance is desirable. Both forms of resistance harm organizational productivity.  The passive-aggressive tactics that come with covert resistance are especially problematic, however.  They are harder to detect and the manager may find he is unable to fix the damage that has occurred in secret.

Employees resent bosses who bully, manipulate, or deceive them. Click To Tweet

They Withdraw Their Support

Some employees respond to management actions by withdrawing their support. They are physically present and may have great attendance records but emotionally they have left the job without formally quitting. They do what’s minimally required to keep their job and not much more. They also resist in subtle and open ways. A manager cannot depend on these employees to exert extraordinary efforts on his behalf. In fact, it’s a tug of war to engage them in any meaningful way to fulfill the organization’s objectives.

They Withhold Information

Employees who work closest to the customer and to the products and services that the company offers have the best information.  Employees often get mad and get even by simply withholding information that a manager needs to make better decisions.  For example, an employee who typically has her ideas about how to improve operations stolen and unacknowledged by her ambitious boss may decide to withhold information from him in the future. The result is often declining market share as these employees impact customers through poor customer service. Remember, unhappy employees make unhappy customers!

They Damage Reputations

Employees who believe their boss treated them unfairly often share their discontent with others.  This information can spread throughout an organization damaging a manager’s reputation and his career.

The old advice that you never know who someone knows is worth remembering here as well.  I know a manager who found his career stalled because one of the employees he treated so badly actually knew the CEO of the firm where they all worked.  The CEO and this manager’s employee regularly played golf together but did not interact directly in the workplace. The manager had no clue that they knew each other.

There is also another way employees can damage a manager’s and a firm’s reputation. Employees can spread their unhappiness in a dramatic way. They can go public! Executives at Goldman Sachs and AOL both learned this lesson firsthand.

These are five patterns of behavior that I often see repeated by employees who both get mad and get even.

Employees are not powerless pawns in an organization. They can make a manager's life difficult — especially when they get mad and decide to get even. Click To Tweet

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Conclusion: Why Employee Feelings Matter

railroad tracks stop abruptly at sign saying end

So, what does this mean to you as a manager of your team? It means that workplace motivation is not only important to your team members, but it is also important to your own career. When you create a positive work environment that fosters team member motivation, your team members will be less likely to leave, resist your instructions, be unsupportive, withhold information, and talk about you negatively behind your back.

This holds true when you have to make the inevitable difficult decisions that come with being a manager. If you use a thoughtful approach that is fair and respectful of your employees, they will further appreciate you and they’ll be less likely to want to get mad and get even.

Ignore workplace motivation and your team members will get mad and get even. Treat them badly and they’ll really get mad and get even!

Given this fact, the following often-quoted words of  Maya Angelou are even more powerful: I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

When managers treat their employees badly, their employees find ways to get mad and get even! Click To Tweet

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Video: How Employees Respond to a Bad Boss


Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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