Games Bosses Play!

Most of us have been in jobs long enough to know games played at work and have insights into key strategies doled out to keep the Boss-Employee equation well balanced. Though most of us may believe that these games are fair-play, few of us have greyed with experience of boss's dirty-tricks and suitable remedial action by employee subject to varying magnitude of skills, strategies and strength that each may have. After all the equation between Boss and Employee is balanced only when the fouls anticipated are counteracted by the right rules. Here is a compilation inspired through grapevine discussions near the water-cooler, the usual hullabaloo at lunch-time and interesting articles floating on the net.

Trick #1: The lucrative “Opportunity”

Boss’s Dilemma: Bosses typically have so much to handle that they need to hive off unpleasant assignment(s), aka the proverbial plague, to an employee(s).

Boss’s Foul: A smart boss will package the unpleasant assignment as a rosy lucrative “opportunity” to a gullible employee and convince the employee that the job will look good on his resume and enhance his long-term career plans.

Boss’s Spice: Bosses typically use their position and package the deal so well that an employee will not only jump at the “opportunity” but also be grateful – an emotion which can be further leveraged for more concessions from employee!

Smart Employee Solution: An employee must see through the packaging and get to the details. If the employee senses that there is more mud than what can be cleaned, the employee must explain to your boss that projects as such will jeopardize the employee's commitments towards other more important projects. More often than not, boss will find another gullible employee and assign him the “opportunity”. However if your boss insists then the employee must ask for adequate resources to fulfil the new responsibility.


Trick #2: The Sacrificial Lamb

Boss’s Dilemma: Bosses need to occasionally pass on controversial messages to a larger audience and they will not do that directly because this can lead to repercussions which may make the boss look bad.

Boss’s Foul: A smart boss will look for an ambitious and insecure employee. The boss will share the message/idea with him and convince the employee to pass on message/idea to larger audience as his own. In fact, the boss will convince the employee to “own” the idea. An ambitious and insure employee will grab the opportunity to “gain more visibility” with the larger audience.

Boss’s Spice: If the message/idea gets shot down, the boss will typically act surprised and feign anger for introducing the employee to the larger audience. If there are kudos, then boss will take over at the right time and remind how the employee had to he cajoled to bring this "his" idea to light.

Smart Employee Solution: A smart employee will accept the proposal to take the message/idea to the larger audience but will refuse to be the sacrificial lamb. The employee will credit boss for everything. If the message is taken in the right spirit, it is because of the boss. If it’s not, then a smart employee will remind the larger audience that he is only a messenger.


Trick #3: The Time Warp

Boss’s Dilemma: Boss is pressurized by the employee to take a decision that the boss does not want to make.  For example, an employee with a pet project may require certain things to be done on fast track. Fast track would require the boss to pull up a few people who may not be totally in his control. But if the boss does not do so, the employee may get pissed off and abandon the project or try to leave his job.

Boss’s Foul: A smart boss ensures that he will be making a decision shortly, but before he does so, he would need some “additional information”, preferably something that will take a long time to gather.  When the employee finally brings the requested data, the boss will ask for more information or for buy-in from somebody off-site, or for a detailed analysis, or whatever that will procrastinate taking the decision…

Boss’s Spice: Bosses typically will praise the employee and tell him that he is good at certain aspects of his work! Any employee will lay low basking in the glory of the praise from the boss thinking he is so worthy of everything that he has not yet done.

Smart Employee Solution: A smart employee knows that a decision isn’t going to be made any time soon no matter what he does. The employee will either:

  1. empathize with the boss’s indecision, or
  2. empathize with the bosses inability to push the deal, or
  3. try to bring matters to a head by insisting that he needs a decision now, and that, if a decision can’t be made right now, he’ll assume it’s “no” and mark any project delay or cost-over-run not on the employee’s account


Trick #4: The Carrot

Boss’s Dilemma: Bosses never like to lose a valuable employee but most bosses also do not pay what these employees are worth for. Worse still is scenario where the employee sees the disparity between the inputs the employee brings to the table and the reward the employee gets in return.

Boss’s Foul: A smart boss creates a grand vision and a place in this vision for this employee. In an undefined execution path, at some undefined time in future, a defined employee is promised an undefined reward if the defined employee aligns to the boss’s vision.  

Boss’s Spice: In such cases, boss's vision is free of actual commitments, details, and timelines. Additionally there are vague, wonderful-sounding promises that keep the employee happily working away for peanuts the boss can easily part with.

Smart Employee Solution: A perceptive employee will try to pin the boss down on details. When the boss makes vague promises of a bigger salary, for example, the employee will want to know exactly how much and when the salary will change.  If the boss says that specific commitments cannot be made, the employee will realize that unless the boss is willing to talk specifics, nothing is going to change. In that case, the smart employee will probably start making future or parallel career plans based on the (entirely true) assumption that the boss was just making it all up anyway.


Trick #5: The Boogie Man

Boss’s Dilemma: The boss understandably want your employees to work longer hours for less pay. However, the boss is afraid that they might leave for another job if asked to do so directly.

Boss’s Foul: The boss uses fear psychosis and creates an atmosphere of constant fear. The boss talks about how the economic conditions are making new job opportunities scarce, aids in distributing articles on high unemployment and the bad economy, misuses his position to pressurize insecure hard-pressed-for-money employees, iterate the possibility of a layoff at every employee meeting, indicate that the few jobs may need to be outsourced for better cost-effectiveness, etc.

Boss’s Spice: Bosses may brand certain employees as black sheep and try to implicate the employee’s second half of the day punctuality as an act of indiscipline or against the standard corporate ethics.   

Smart Employee Solution: Fear Psychosis is a temporary whip and intelligent employees will figure out right away that the boss is simply trying to amp up the level of unreasoning fear.  Worst case, they may start to wonder why you’re attempting to manipulate them in this way. Chances are they’ll start networking to find a new job. Of course, the rest of the dunderheads will remain quaking in their office chairs…


Trick #6: The “Professional” hype

Boss’s Dilemma: Every boss need employees who work 50 or 60 hours a week without falling sick and applying for leave at the pay of 40 hours a week.

Boss’s Foul: Bosses convince employees that they’re “professionals” and therefore are expected to put in long hours.  Even if they’re doing rote office work, or your customers are paying by the hour for their services, bosses make certain that employees think that they’re professionals like lawyers or doctors!

Boss’s Spice: Bosses position the demands for unpaid overtime in the context of a “competitive threat”.  They make sure that employees know that the extra hours are “standard practice” in the industry, as if that somehow makes it perfectly OK to steal time from employees’s personal lives and turn it into company’s profit margin.

Smart Employee Solution: Some employees know enough about the world to realize that, unless you’re a doctor or a lawyer who owns his own practice, you ARE NOT A PROFESSIONAL.  The employee realize that they’re being paid to do a job, and that their actual salary is the money they make, divided by the hours they spend to make it.  They will feel that, since boss is insisting on unpaid overtime, they have the right to reclaim some portion of their personal lives.  Employees will make personal calls at work; take long lunches, browse internet, etc., because, frankly, employees feel the boss owes it to them.  This of course, a boss who believes in “unpaid overtime” does owe to his employees.


Trick #7: The Tied Hands

Boss’s Dilemma: Bosses have the power and resources to give to the employee something that will ensure that employees execute their responsibility better… but the boss would prefer not to give it to the employee in order to save costs or in apprehension of losing control.

Boss’s Foul: Bosses typically pretend that their hands are tied. They cite vague, unknown forces (e.g. “our salary guidelines for this year”, “our corporate culture”, “no one has got such a raise ever!”) that prevent the employee from doing what the employee “really love to do if you  could” with all his heart.

Boss’s Spice: Bosses are as vague as possible, because (after all), it’s hard to hard to reason with a person who has already made up his mind, has closed his ears and can talk at length without getting to the point.

Smart Employee Solution: A smart employee learns to cope with vague talks. The employee demands the truth in the guise of wanting to understand the situation more clearly. May be a smart employee will still not get anything but in an attempt to get to the details, the point is made… loud and clear.

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