Bosses play an important role in society as most employees have bosses. Many of these bosses have to play both roles of being a boss and an employee. There are over 30 million ‘bosses’ in the US and that number is increasing all the time.
Despite the Great Recession compelling many companies to thin their staff, the number of administrators, managers, and ‘bosses’ has continued to grow in recent years.
Since 1983, the number of professionals overseeing subordinates has risen by 100% according to the Harvard Business Review. From top executives to head chiefs – bosses matter a lot to the economy.
But they matter the most to their immediate subordinates – the employees underneath them in the local pecking order, who are guided and evaluated closely by their bosses every day.
Naturally, all bosses have to tangle with their employees’ virtues, shortcomings, and peculiarities every day. The success of all bosses’ centers on how competently or how poorly they navigate these vexing and human relationships.
So, when certain employees start getting on a boss’s nerves, how can a boss be a good ‘boss’? Is it even possible to be a good boss when you find an employee annoying, obnoxious, or unbearable? The answer is yes.
Annoying Subordinates – A Common Problem
If you think you’re the only evil boss who finds his or her subordinate/s annoying or unbearable, you’re mistaken. We’ve all experienced colleagues that get under our skin for some reason or the other. I would argue that every company has that one annoying employee.
Be it a chatterbox, a hopeless debater, or someone who can’t help but be agonizingly perky at all times. Just like annoying colleagues are an undeniable fact of life, so are annoying subordinates. Given that the number of ‘bosses’ in the country is increasing every year, it’s fair to assume that so is the number of annoying subordinates.
- In a recent survey involving male and female employees, the most trying characteristics of colleagues or juniors were revealed to be – laziness (29%), complaining (15%), gossiping (13.8%), and bragging (11.2%).
- Another survey by TimesJobs.com revealed that dealing with ‘annoying’ employees costs offices an hour a day. 42% of the office workers who were surveyed stated that mid-level employees are the most annoying.
Employees with annoying habits cause friction and while the right kind of friction can help any company, the wrong type of friction can easily tear apart a company.
The biggest victim of such friction – the bosses. In the last couple of decades, dialogues on “bad bosses” have become all too common. Countless books describe the stereotypical “boss from the underworld” and advise subordinates on how to deal with incompetent managers.
However, this never-ending discourse about what managers and bosses are doing wrong when it comes to engaging their subordinates has one fatal flaw – all of these books, articles, etc., assume that all subordinates are well-intentioned and competent workers who only need good management to perform well.
That’s why taking an objective look at boss-subordinate relationships is vital for all professionals, especially the bosses.
Bosses must ask themselves – are my subordinates setting me up for failure? Subordinates can make it tremendously difficult for bosses to create an environment of effective leadership at workplaces. Leaders who fail to address these issues efficiently can take serious blows to their careers or get labeled as a ‘bad boss.’
Why Bosses Must Resolve their Annoyances with Employees
Being a boss is akin to being a high-ranking primate. According to several anthropological studies on chimpanzees, gorillas, and monkeys, the creatures far below the pecking order of their societies watch every move the high-ranking primate makes. The leader however rarely looks at his followers.
What I’m trying to say is that your subordinates probably know a lot more about you than you know about them. In baboon troops, a low-ranking member will glance at the high-ranking male (the alpha of the group) every thirty seconds.
Similarly, humans pay attention to people who control their outcomes. We’re constantly trying to predict and hopefully influence our futures and paying attention to our bosses is a key part of these endeavors.
So, when bosses lose control or act defensive towards subordinates who deserve punishing, the rest of the workforce notices everything.
When voices are raised and situations are escalated, both managers and employees often spout comments they’d never think of voicing under normal conditions. Ultimately, the annoying employee may lose his/her job, but the boss loses control of his/her department.
So, instead of letting things spiral out of control or acting defensive, bosses need to act smart. Speaking to the employee in a moderate tone can help the boss not lose control of the situation. Such responses stand in strong contrast to the annoying employee’s behavior and boost the boss’s credibility amongst other employees.
Annoying Employees Affect Other Workers
Negative employees impact everyone around them with their “annoying” behaviors. They poison the work environment and not addressing these behaviors can lead to increases in absenteeism, poor employee retention rates, and reductions in productivity levels.
Nothing good ever results from allowing annoying employees to spew their disparagement into the office environment. Once managers realize how detrimental some subordinates can be to their subdivisions’ success, they’ll realize that there’s no option but to resolve these issues.
Just a few annoying or negative subordinates in your department can ruin your entire workplace dynamic. Hopefully, it’s now clear that the problem of annoying subordinates is very common and very dangerous.
If bosses don’t straighten these issues, who will? Your hesitance to resolve your annoyances with a particular subordinate can adversely impact your department’s bottom line. So, devote some time, patience, and energy to resolve your annoyances with your subordinates. Here’s a four-step plan to help you out.
Step #1 – Making Important Distinctions
Managers need to be observant manager to make distinctions while dealing with difficult subordinates. It’s impractical to use the same strategies with every employee. An employee may act annoying because he/she is going through a difficult period.
So, step back and ask yourself, “Is the subordinate always annoying or are there external forces impacting his/her behavior?”
Fears about a bedridden parent, divorces, etc., can take a toll on anyone’s workplace behaviors. That being said, taking actions against such misbehaviors is still important for every manager. Usually, employees with annoying traits predictably return to their “normal modes” after a few days of staying put. So, managers must –
- Be Upfront About What Behaviors Bother You
Annoying subordinates come in different flavors. When the irritations they cause start to negatively affect productivity levels, managers mustn’t play blind or tip-toe around the main issues. They must describe every moment of feeling justifiably annoyed at their behaviors.
Cite some behaviors of the subordinate that are genuinely irritating. For instance, the subordinate may be questioning your authority at every opportunity he/she gets. Talk to them about these issues.
- Test Them After the Candid Discussion
After having the candid discussion about their annoying behavior, see how they react to your claims. Does the subordinate feel persecuted, humiliated, or belittled by his manager? If so, tell them to introspect and improve. Give them the chance to change.
In the next couple of days, notice whether the annoying subordinate aims his/her venom at lower-level employees. Speak to those employees about their concerns with the employee in question.
- Draft and Issue an Official Complain Letter
If the subordinate is still carrying on with his/her infuriating behaviors, you must make matters official. Draft an official complain letter consisting of these details –
- Tell the subordinate about the repeated warnings he/she has failed to adhere to.
- Succinctly explain aspects of their annoying behaviors.
- Set performance goals.
- Indicate that this complain letter should be viewed as a final warning and all recurrences will result in severe actions.
- Set a date for reviewing the employee’s progress.
- Mention the actions you aim to take if the subordinate doesn’t improve his/her behavior.
- End the letter demanding the subordinate to take suitable corrective measures to secure his/her reputation with the senior management.
Step #2 – Avoiding False Expectations
Some people say annoying subordinates never change. I say they change but take a lot of time to do so. So, setting false expectations will never help your case.
For instance, a subordinate who is a chronic pessimist will find it hard to drop his obnoxious behavior easily. A manager may think that sending such an employee notes and praises of his work will change the way they think. But, that’s not how people work.
If you think you can change his behaviors within a week, you’re entertaining false expectations. Similarly, not dealing with such an employee and hoping these problems will resolve themselves is also entertaining false expectations.
Maybe problem of the chronic pessimist will only be solved if you fire him. But what if, that employee’s actuarial skills are important to your department?
That’s why managers must map out long-term plans for dealing with annoying subordinates. Never count on overnight miracles. Recognize that trial-and-error periods are necessary ingredients for every good leader. Maintain rational expectations and don’t lose your sense of humor about the situation.
Step #3 – Exercise Patience
So, you’ve addressed the annoyances that bother you and drafted the complaint letter to the subordinate. Now, it’s time to demonstrate patience. According to a recent study, camaraderie and recognition are the two most impactful drivers of employee engagement and improvement.
So, no matter how annoying a subordinate is, a manager must always demonstrate patience when handling annoyances.
Shouting or putting down an annoying employee is an unhelpful tactic and so is remaining annoyed. So, reshape your attitude towards that employee for a brief period and look for changes in his/her behaviors. Remember, attitudes are contagious, so having one that’s worth catching is vital for every manager.
In this observation period, here’s how managers should act towards annoying subordinates –
- Cultivate a positive spirit. Fake it if needed!
- Treat every employee fairly, even the extremely annoying one.
- Ensure workplace morale isn’t negatively affected because of your altercation with the annoying subordinate.
- Set examples. If you want an annoying employee to change certain aspects of his/her behavior, look for chances to set specific examples.
- Keep taking responsibility for your actions. Give the annoying employee the benefit of doubt in certain situations. Admit to them any mistakes you make or may have made in the past.
- Maintain a sense of humor. Don’t take subordinate annoyances too seriously.
- Acknowledge any good work the annoying subordinate does through praise. Say it privately and publicly.
- Recommend counseling to help the subordinate get over some of his/her quirks.
- Support your direct reports’ progress by opening career conversations with them.
- Ask them open-ended questions about potential development opportunities within the organization.
- Ask them what skills and experiences they want to gain and tell them how you achieved those goals in your career.
- Ask them about the internal or external roles in the organization that interests them.
- Tell them you’re open to guiding them through their ongoing professional development.
Play the “good boss” for as long as you feel it’s needed. An annoying subordinate isn’t your arch-enemy, he/she is just another subordinate. You’ll have many annoying subordinates in your managerial career so playing “good boss” can get tiring. But, never stop believing in human potential.
Step #4 – The Final Decision
If the annoying subordinate doesn’t show signs of improvement despite all of your efforts, it may be time to do what you’ve thought about doing for a long time – fire him/her!
Trying to retain a discourteous, disrespectful, and ever-annoying employee is pointless after a while. You’ve played the “good boss,” given the subordinate a chance to improve, presented a plan of action, and exercised patience. If all of that doesn’t make an impact and the subordinate still fails to live up to the pre-set performance plans, it’s time to follow through and take appropriate measures.
Trying to walk the line between being too assertive and not assertive enough can be challenging for managers. Obsessively monitoring and micromanaging every move made by an annoying subordinate, makes this job even harder.
So instead of overthinking, follow these tried and tested steps, try your best to be the “good boss,” and switch to a “mean boss” mode once you understand that the subordinate will keep disappointing you, no matter how many chances you give.