Your boss never looked so good

Marketplace Staff Aug 9, 2006


KAI RYSSDAL: There are good bosses. And bad bosses. I’m not naming any names, but we’ve got some of both around here, and I’m sure it’s the same for other people, too. But if you stop and think about it, how bad was that bad boss really? Prize-winning? Alex Goldmark reports on the Bad Boss contest.

ALEX GOLDMARK: Screamers, cheapskates, bullies, and just plain weirdos.

AFL-CIO affiliate Working America heard about bosses like that from over one million workers. So, the outreach group decided to hold an Internet contest. A lot of entries leave you wondering what was that boss thinking! Like Hannah from Florida. She works in big box retail and didn’t want her last name used.

HANNAH: “Any employee caught violating safety procedure was given a two-foot rubber chicken to wear around their necks, the chicken was on a string. In order to get rid of the chicken an employee had to catch another employee behaving unsafely and so that, of course, invited employees to chase each other around the store with the chicken, trying to find the slightest safety violation and rid themselves of the safety chicken.”

Another boss thought firing a stun gun in a staff meeting might increase motivation. Or how about the boss who wouldn’t pay doctor’s bills for his employee who got hurt on the job, even though the hurt employee was his own daughter.

Karen Nussbaum is executive director of Working America.

KAREN NUSSBAUM:“Despite the fact there are so many really funny entries, it was the ones about my-mother-was-dying-and-my-boss-still-made-me-write-up-the-memo-from-the-meeting-instead-of-being-at-the-hospital kinds of stories that were the winners every week.”

She says, venting helps cope.

NUSSBAUM: “There are some really unbelievable stories, like the guy who worked the night shift from the change over time from daylight savings, whose boss insisted there was no way he could have clocked in eight hours, because an hour had been lost that night.”

JIM HIGHTOWER:“But it really does boil down to that issue of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, respect.”

Author Jim Hightower is one of the celebrity commentators invited to post some wit and context on the Web site. He sees the contest as a way of standing up to your bad boss.

HIGHTOWER:“While you are an employee, that doesn’t make you a slave. You’re still a human being and a citizen. And you’ve got a right to speak up, and this is, this is one way to bring that out, that other people are speaking up and fighting back.”

The prize for having the worst boss story is a one-week paid vacation, but what many entrants really want is a different boss, so they can take that vacation. And the AFL-CIO isn’t doing this just for catharsis and commiseration.

GENE CARROLL: “Bad bosses are good for unions, but they’re not good for anybody else.”

Gene Carroll is a former union organizer. Now he heads Cornell University’s union leadership program in New York City.

CARROLL: “When there is an atmosphere in a workplace created by a boss who is arrogant, immature, insecure, it will fuel people organizing to stand up to him, and it really forms the basis of building a union in a workplace.”

Say if you’re boss makes you wear a rubber chicken at work, you’re gonna want to find a way to confront him. And Carroll says unions are one way to do that. They offer protection from retaliation.

But, I’m not sure any union will be able help the winner explain to the boss where that vacation came from.

In New York, I’m Alex Goldmark, for Marketplace.

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