Don’t be that boss

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By Michelle van Schouwen

As a small business owner, you know that being the boss gives you the proverbial home-field advantage over your employees. Of course, it’s important to maintain a level of authority over the staff who can make or break your company. But – and here’s where bosses get a bad reputation – it’s easy to abuse that power.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard some alarming stories from employees, which inspired this post.

Don’t be the boss who…

-Hires a new employee, and when they show up ready to work on the first day, tell them you’ve given the job to someone else.

-Takes advantage of employee conflict to pit one worker against another.

-Starts or spreads rumors about staff members.

-Acts like a best personal friend to favored employees, and not-a-friend-at-all to others.

-Demands to know the details of an employee’s personal life.

-Is mean or derisive, yells or swears at employees, or humiliates them in front of others.

-Is at all sexually inappropriate with employees in word or deed or allows an environment of sexual harassment to thrive.

-Texts and calls staff members all day and night on a holiday weekend to start a new and impetuous project.

-Heaps more and more work on the most competent employees without additional pay, benefits, titles, recognition, or perks.

-Promises a raise, bonus, or promotion and then “forgets” to fulfill the promise, despite the employee doing all that is expected (or more) and the company doing well.

-Misleads employees about the revenues or financial health of the company. It’s one matter to keep certain information to yourself, another to spread untruths.

-Demands excessive work hours month after month – and doesn’t ever work hard herself.

-Expects endless loyalty and provides none in return.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Your authority over employees is not a permission to be a nasty, intrusive, deceitful, overly demanding, or manipulative person. And especially when good employees are hard to find (and harder to keep) the risks of your bad behavior should be enough to keep you in check, even if your conscience does not.


Michelle van Schouwen is principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. 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 work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.

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