Teaching our Kids About Bad Bosses

Teaching our Kids About Bad Bosses

Ever worked for a bad boss? I’m sure all of us can think of a least one boss that would, in one way or another, qualify as “bad.” Whether micromanaging your work, making nonsensical rules, or being the office gossip, you can likely name at least one boss that you came to despise.

Bad bosses are seemingly ubiquitous. But, were we ever warned about bad bosses? Were we ever taught how to handle a bad boss?

I certainly don’t ever remember being told by my parents, or anyone else, that some bosses are just plain bad. Rather, I grew up thinking two things related to work. First, the customer is always right. Second, your employer is always right too.

The closest advice I ever got about anything bad happening at work was to save my paystubs — you may need them to prove a mistake. So, I saved them. But, I never once needed them for anything other than loan applications.

I suppose, years ago, when bookkeeping was actually done in a book, paycheck errors occurred with some frequency. But, still, was that the only thing an employer could do wrong? Nothing else warranted a little heads-up?

It’s almost as if everyone just assumed that their bad boss story was more about themselves as an employee than it was about the boss. So, the stories never got shared.

But, then, once we discovered LinkedIn and Facebook, suddenly, we could read and comment on other people’s bad boss stories. We started to openly talk about how badly we were being treated.

Or maybe, bad bosses are a more recent phenomenon. Maybe bosses treated employees better in the decades before I started my career. So, there was no warning to provide.

It doesn’t really matter why we didn’t talk about bad bosses until recently. What matters is that we continue to share the stories. Not only amongst ourselves, but with our kids as well.

Our kids should know that some bosses are bad. That the employer is not always right. That Human Resources departments aren’t always there to help the humans. 

Having a bad boss, or working in a toxic culture, is a horrible experience. Belief in yourself and your abilities begins to weaken. You start dreading even going to work, making your time away less rejuvenating. You even begin to question whether the fault lies within yourself.

With such a huge impact on our lives, it only makes sense to teach kids that not all employers are created equal. That as much as an opportunity may seem like a dream come true, sometimes it just isn’t worth it. In fact, sometimes, having a job with a bad employer does more harm to a career than never having had the job at all.

In the Future of Work, job changes will occur with greater frequency. Some workers will be displaced. Others will proactively seek job changes, hoping to avoid displacement. With each job change comes a risk. A risk of getting a bad boss. 

Our kids should know about this possibility. Our kids should know how to evaluate employers. Hopefully, research on the front end will help avoid a bad boss all together.

In addition to LinkedIn and Facebook, bad boss stories also show up on job search sites. Think Glassdoor or Indeed. Not only can you find posted jobs, but the employers are reviewed and rated too — similar to how restaurants get reviewed and rated on Yelp.

Sure, the metrics aren’t precise. There can be overly disgruntled workers writing bad reviews, and overly zealous advocates writing good ones. But, in between all that, there are certainly noticeable trends that give insight on an employer’s culture. In this age of online reviews, we can learn so much about an employer. Before we even step foot in the place.  

But, if a bad boss can’t be avoided, even with research before taking the job, it’s good to know what to do. Each type of bad boss will require a different response. So, the goal is not so much to give our kids an entire bad boss toolkit. 

Rather, the goal is to give kids permission to be skeptical about how they’re being managed. To question whether continued employment, with that employer, is in their best interests. To think about changing jobs. Not because the work is bad, but because the boss is bad.

Kids should know that they’re not destined for mistreatment just because they need to work.

So, we need to teach our kids to seek advice, ask for help when they encounter poor management. Maybe it’s not a bad boss as much as a bad habit and some communication will help the relationship. Or, maybe it really is a bad boss, one who is looking the other way when wrongdoing or harassment occurs.

Teaching our kids a little self-advocacy will go a long way to empowering them. By giving them the ability to question, they can proactively seek solutions. Hopefully, well before they find themselves dreading work or believing they deserve mistreatment.

We work hard to help our kids develop into productive young adults. We teach them to believe in their abilities. We encourage them to explore and take risks. So, to have one bad boss undue any amount of our work, to me, is unacceptable. 

So, we should prepare our kids. We should equip them. And, we should teach them to have confidence. The confidence to believe that no matter the job they do, they’re entitled to be treated with dignity.

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