Be a great boss: Ditch the annoying habits

By Michelle Van Schouwen

Ever watch The Office and shake your head at Michael Scott’s (or subsequent Dunder Mifflin managers’) irritating behaviors? Ever wonder why they couldn’t see and mitigate their behavioral flaws?

Well, as a longtime boss, early on I became aware of at least some of my own annoying behaviors and mannerisms. I tried – and surely often failed – to be the boss without being a bully, a joke or someone’s pet peeve.

It’s harder than it sounds, especially because your employees likely come in all personality types as well, some more compatible with yours than others. You may also ask, “Why bother? Employees don’t have to like me.” True enough, but for many business owners, making the workplace reasonably pleasant is important. Employees often stay or leave in part because of the boss.

To be avoided:

-The habits that are annoying outside the workplace are especially irritating when people have to spend hours at a time in your company. From talking to yourself (my own worst habit) to interrupting others, bad table manners, or poor hygiene, some of these should be obvious, if you take the time to reflect.

-Showing favoritism is hurtful. Being friendlier or kinder to some employees because of whom you LIKE is wrong. (This is different than promoting or disciplining as merited, or assigning the right work to the right people, which is completely appropriate.)

-Telling off-color jokes, pushing your political or religious beliefs on employees or otherwise infusing yourself inappropriately into the lives of people who are stuck with you all day is a poor idea. Likewise, any hint of racism, sexism, homophobia, or other unacceptable biases must be avoided.

-Trying too hard to be liked also backfires in most cases. Sorry, it’s a fact. Being “best buddies” with particular staff members is also a conflict of interest. This doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly. (Running a small business can be lonely at times, so you may want to look for more contacts and friendships outside the business to avoid depending on employees to be your pals.)

-Being unpredictable – nice one day, a screaming jerk the next – is awful. Okay, you should never be a screaming jerk, but at least be consistent about it.

-Similarly, don’t fail to make performance expectations known, clear and consistent. Do this when the employee starts in the role, and reiterate your messages regularly, as needed. Each employee should know the job parameters, business goals and performance standards to which she or he is being held. If you must make a change to any of these factors, don’t act as if your employees are mind readers – provide detailed, rational explanations for what you want to see going forward.

-Forgetting that you are not the boss of anyone’s life, only managing them at work, is a serious error in judgment. The exception is when the person’s off-hours behaviors seriously and negatively impact the company, and even then, you should likely consult an employment attorney before getting involved.

-Sharing your employees’ personal information with other employees is a no-no. (This isn’t just annoying – it can be illegal.)

-Bringing your own problems to the office –  except in rare cases where it can’t be avoided – tends to create tension among staff. Don’t make your staff responsible for your well-being, or ask them to play psychologist to you.

-Expecting more of staff than you’d be willing to do yourself is bad practice. Model a strong work ethic. Also respect employees’ needs for work-life balance.

Good employees are a clear asset to your business. Being a decent boss encourages the best people to stay with you, to do their finest work, and even to model your best behaviors themselves, if you are lucky!


Michelle van Schouwen enjoys an “Act 2” career as principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. See For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her new work on climate change mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship.

Leave a Reply

The Self-Employment Survival Guide can help you succeed. Learn all about it here.

Self-Employment Survival Guide book cover