Like a [Horrible] Boss


It’s the same thing every year; once the turkey has been cooked, carved, and eaten, everyone sits around the table, staring at the leftovers, wondering “what now?” The build up for the Thanksgiving feast is so consuming, it can be easy to forget that the actual consuming of the feast takes less than an hour–leaving you to fill the remainder of the evening with fun family activities. Which, if you’re anything like 35% of Americans, means going to the movies.

Thanksgiving is notoriously the busiest day of the year for movie theaters, and film producers know it. Over the past several years, some of the biggest box office hits have been released on Thanksgiving day, including Frozen, Toy Story (followed by Toy Story 2), and Tangled. But this year it wasn’t a feel-good family flick that drew Thanksgiving revelers to the theater–it was a raunchy comedy that held the thinly veiled promise of gratuitous language and attempted murder. I am, of course, talking about Horrible Bosses 2 (which really should have been called Horrible Investors… unless the “bosses” portion refers to the classic trio’s inability to manage their own business). The sequel fell a little short of the original (don’t they all?), but it did get me thinking–what does it mean to be a horrible boss?

To answer this question, we must first go back to 2011, when the original Horrible Bosses was first released. Within the first five minutes of the film, we’re introduced to Mr. Harken–Nick’s boss. Mr. Harken is commanding, controlling, and manipulative. He expects Nick to work ridiculously long hours all for the sake of earning a promotion, which Harken dangles in front of him for months, only to yank it away at the last minute–claiming the promotion for himself instead. “If you want something done right,” he says, “you have to do it yourself.”

Cut to… Dr. Julia Harris, D. D. S.–Dale’s incredibly attractive yet disturbingly inappropriate boss. What appears to be a normal dental office quickly transforms into something much darker; the home of a workplace predator who thrives on sexually harassing her employees–specifically Dale, who is unable to quit due to an innocent mishap that landed him on the list of child offenders.

Finally we meet Mr. Jack Pellit–he’s kindly, he cares about his employees, and he strives to do the right thing; even if it means sacrificing the bottom line. He seems to be the perfect boss, leaving the audience wondering “What could possibly go wrong?” Well, he could have a heart attack and die, leaving his no-good son to take over the family business–a position that had been offered to Kurt not five minutes beforehand. Bobby Pellit is more interested in doing drugs and making money than he is in doing the right thing. His first order of business? Commanding Kurt to fire all the “fat people” because they make him “sad to look at.” When Kurt resentfully follows through, Bobby throws him under the bus, telling the other employees “This is entirely an accounting department [Kurt’s] decision. My hands are tied.”

Harken, Julia, and Bobby Pellit might be extreme examples of “horrible bosses,” but real life horrible bosses aren’t too far off (seriously, there’s an entire website dedicated to them). According to this article, there are a few solid core beliefs to truly horrible bosses… and this time it’s not quite so funny.

Horrible bosses command and control.

All three of our horrible bosses fall into this category. They rule with threats and manipulation rather than managing with the strength of a leader.

Horrible bosses assume that employees WANT to work long hours.

They’re convinced that employees who don’t want to work 60-hour work weeks are slackers. Or, in Harken’s case, 80+ hour work weeks. Little does he know, productivity actually decreases after 40 hours.

Horrible bosses manage numbers rather than people.

Take Bobby Pellit, for example, who reverses years of his father’s hard work in effort to make an extra buck. He makes the call to dispose of the company’s chemical waste the cheap way–also known as “the way that endangers thousands of Bolivians.” He doesn’t have his employees’ or his company’s best interests at heart.

Horrible bosses think of themselves as the star performer.

Case in point; Mr. Harken. When he claims Nick’s big promotion for himself, he’s essentially saying, “No one can do this better than me.” And when Nick consequently envisions himself throwing Mr. Harken out the window… well, I guess you could say company morale was down.

Horrible bosses take the credit when things go well and point blame when things go poorly.

Heeere’s Bobby! He’s more than willing to pass the blame when the employees react to his poor decisions–at Kurt’s expense, of course. Likewise, Harken is notorious for publicizing his employee’s downfalls–even if those downfalls are made up or perpetuated by him (i.e., Nick’s “drinking problem”).

Horrible bosses keep their employees guessing.

No one is better at keeping their employees on their toes than Dr. Julia Harris–who resorts to sexual harassment and line-crossing remarks to shock and awe her subordinates. We’re all for keeping the work environment fresh, but this isn’t the right way to go about it.

Horrible bosses don’t have to be polite.

When all is said and done, horrible bosses know that they control their employees’ fate. They don’t have to be nice and they certainly don’t have to be flexible. Harken proved his importance when he refused to let Nick leave early to say goodbye to his dying Gam Gam. Julia proves her importance when she asserts herself on Dale and threatens to tell his fiance. Pellit proves his importance by, well, doing whatever he wants, when he wants, without giving a second thought to his company or it’s employees. In short; horrible bosses don’t have to care.

Do you recognize any of these values in yourself? If so, you might want to “check yo-self before you wreck yo-self.” After all, these three horrible bosses wound up dead, blackmailed, or in jail–and while you probably won’t suffer such lethal consequences, being a horrible boss could just be the death of your company.


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