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Struggling With a Grouchy Boss

By Dan Bobinski

The other day I was talking with a friend mine, Jane, who is ready to quit her job. Why? Her boss is a grouch! I’ve known Jane for over twelve years, and she is a dynamic person who engages others. People want to work for her because of her energy and enthusiasm. But her boss is the exact opposite. Jane’s boss believes that if you’re having fun, you’re not working hard enough.

Jane says “working for someone who is inflexible and doesn’t allow people to have fun is stifling and doesn’t allow for creativity. The attitude my boss displays reduces workplace morale and it makes the job a grind for everyone.”

Since joining her company a year ago, Jane has earned the respect of her staff, most of whom have been there more than six years. They say that work has never been so enjoyable since Jane came on as a manager. They couldn’t believe it when Jane got them together her first month on the job and asked them for ideas on how to improve the workplace. “No one has ever asked us that,” they said.

Jane is right. Discouraging fun at work limits productivity and creativity. Don’t misunderstand: Too much fun can diminish productivity to the point that a company doesn’t get much done. But to squelch all fun has a huge negative ripple effect that many grouches do not see, and therefore they do not see the damage it does to employee morale and even the bottom line.

As an example, the other day Jane got copies of her department’s financial reports: Her labor costs are down, her supply costs are down, and profits are up for the first time in several years. But does her boss congratulate her? No. Her boss says the figures don’t matter and she doesn’t like Jane because Jane doesn’t take things seriously enough and doesn’t have a sense of urgency.

That is a typical grouchy mindset. In reality, she just doesn’t like the fact that Jane is a happy person.

The Jane I know is a businessperson through and through; she just doesn’t run around like a chicken with her head cut off. Jane says, “If I stress out, my employees stress out and the domino effect is bad for morale. I handle stress with humor and everyone on my staff likes that. We have hope instead of despair, and solutions come a whole lot faster.”

Sadly, grouches like Jane’s boss exist everywhere. Most everyone can think of several people with whom they’ve worked in the past—and maybe still do—who are absolute kill-joys.

It’s amazing that we still have grouches in the 21st century, but it’s my wish that they’d go the way of the dodo bird. Life is too short not to enjoy it – even at work.

Energizing the workplace is the subject of the book 301 Ways to Have Fun at Work by Dave Hemsath and Leslie Yerkes. They believe that work doesn’t have to be bland and boring, and that having fun at work makes the workplace more productive.

Hemsath and Yerkes believe that fun is a strategic weapon for increasing productivity and employee satisfaction. They say it can positively affect quality, customer service, team efforts, and it can relieve stress.

In addition to reading the above-mentioned book, check out the video produced about the Pike Place Fish Company in Seattle. Maybe you’ve heard of it: Guys who throw fish around. They promote fun as a way to increase both customer and employee loyalty. The video demonstrates the kind of performance that is unleashed when each member of an organization is empowered to be creative.

Obviously, not every company can have fun by throwing things around, but the point is that people can find ways to make work a fun place to be. Have fun!

When it all boils down, grouches will be grouches and there’s not much other people can do about it. Grouches are addicted to their anger and their bitterness and it takes a miracle to change them. In Jane’s case, she has been through the chain of command to try to resolve her situation, but to no avail. In the end, I know she will stick to having fun in spite of her grouchy boss, and I applaud her for it. She may even quit, and I would support her in that, too. As I said: Life is just too short to not enjoy it – even at work.

© 2003 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development. Dan Bobinski is President of Leadership Development. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.com.

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