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From the Editors

From the Editors

Why Does 'Horrible Bosses' Strike a Chord With the American Public?

July 13, 2011
Related Topics: Strategy and Management

I went to see Horrible Bosses, which had a promising debut in theaters this weekend – a film about three friends who share a vilified hatred for their respective employers. Their nightly employer-bashing sessions at a bar spiral out of control, to the point where they’re conspiring to murder their bosses.

The plot may be far fetched, but there’s a tinge of bitter reality in the utter disengagement, hopelessness and even despair some workers feel about their jobs. A quote from a recent CNN Money article reviewing the movie notes: “[The American public] want[s] to see characters they can either relate to or shake their heads at in dismay.”

And boy, can many relate! Nearly half of the employees who participated in a recent OfficeTeam survey reported they’ve worked for an unreasonable manager. Of these, 38 percent either quit their jobs immediately without having a job lined up or eventually after landing a backup gig; but a much larger percentage (59 percent) said they either stayed at the job and attempted to deal with the issue or “suffered through the torment.”

This reminded me of a particularly poignant scene from the movie in which one of the protagonists who put in his blood, sweat and tears working around the clock in pursuit of a promotion was overlooked and questioned his boss about the decision. The boss — an unreasonable, over-demanding man — nonchalantly stated something to the effect of, “Think of it as motivation. You never would’ve tried as hard and accomplished so much if you didn’t think there’d be some reward. So you should be thanking me.”

While the cruelty here might be uber-blatant, I wonder if it’s any more ethical to make seemingly harmless false promises, such as“This year, we’ve frozen our budgets, but we’ll think about giving you a raise next year.” Talent managers in the real world certainly need not fear for their lives — a la Horrible Bosses — but what could easily wind up in the grave is the level of engagement and commitment of their employees.

A recent Talent Management blog analyzes the somewhat unpredictable jobs numbers and, based at least on last month’s figures, suggests we might even be re-entering a recession. So, during a time when employee hopes of changing jobs seem ever so bleak and some companies are greedily squeezing out every last drop from their employees, you — as forward-thinking talent managers — will instead be focused on making investments in your talent and in their career progression.

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