Do you recall the last time you spit in an employee’s face? It shouldn’t be hard, since the answer is certainly “never.” However, wiping spit off her face is the image Marketing magazine columnist Karen Howe leaves you with in her Sept. 12 column, “It’s time to stop coddling toxic bosses.”

Kerry Knudsen
Kerry Knudsen

I am not interested in picking a fight with Ms. Howe, but just the headline of the column has so many things wrong with it, and they all point to problems we all have finding employees in Canada.

Right out of the gate, Howe creates a caricature of a boss: “With veins popping out of his neck, eyes bulging, his face six inches from mine, he screamed at me.”

By creating a “straw man” caricature, Howe, as a writer, is in position to tear him apart. I assume for the good of society.

What is really going on? In the first place, the headline begs two questions. First, it asserts some bosses are toxic. Second, it asserts they are coddled. I don’t buy either assertion. Sometimes a failure to communicate civilly is the fault of a boss, and sometimes it’s the employee.

But to the point, it is clear we have created a culture where people want to have 20 years of authority with 20 weeks of experience. It is common for employees to feel they are underappreciated, and it is common for employees to believe their bosses are idiots. For verification, you can look up some old newspaper cartoons called Sad Sack or Beetle Bailey, where the common infantry grunt has to suffer the foibles of captains, majors, colonels and generals. Or you can look in contemporary cartoon literature and find Dilbert and others, all bemoaning the bitterness of life being underappreciated.

Of course, life is not a cartoon, and bosses and generals sometimes must have merit before they can get promoted.

I think it’s relevant, too, that some bosses are owners and some are employees, and bosses that are employees often are victims of the same syndrome that affects disgruntled employees. At best, it’s complicated.

Right now, bosses/owners across Canada are having a terrible time finding willing, let alone qualified, employees. It’s not just in our industry. Landscaping, food service, building and construction… The list seems endless, especially for the private sector. It seems every potential applicant want to list his or her “rights,” and compel the bosses to read up on law and compliance literature before he or she dares to assign a responsibility. I have told the story before about the e-application I received for a sales position. The applicant ensured me he was the only one competent to do the job, but he added he would not accept anything less than $70k for a base. I allowed as how any good salesman in this field should easily make $70k, but for me to provide a guarantee, he would have to return a guarantee of $750k in revenue. That was five years ago, and I am still waiting for his response.

Ms. Howe’s article, above, included a “call to action” insisting that employees such as she should corral toxic bosses and teach them a lesson. And, as we have seen, such actions can sometimes get traction — sometimes to the extent that the complainant can punish the boss, close the company and put dozens of people out of work.

However, in Howe’s case, she did not, as far as we know, achieve punishment for the offending, bug-eyed, vein-popping spitter. She quit. She quit and started her own company.

Odd position, that. In marketing, you either expand or shrink. If she follows the vast statistical majority of marketing start-ups, she will fail. If she grows, she will soon find herself in the position of having to review resumes, make personnel choices and spend more time being a boss and less time being a company.

And one day she may find an employee that simply makes her eyes bug out, her veins bulge and her voice to rise, even to the point of spraying a droplet of moisture or two.

For the rest of us, we need to find employees that will start at less than $100k, show up on time to do menial tasks and recognize, at minimum, that the boss is trying to achieve something in life, too. A larger question exists in the editorial judgement of Marketing.

  • Good article as usual. There seems to be little appreciation for the risk/liability and employer carries. In addition, the law is usually on the side of the employee.