Employee Morale: What We Can Learn From Bad TV Bosses

by | May 12, 2015 | Blog, Employee Morale, Uncategorized

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or info@integrityhr.com

With Mad Men coming to a close, we have little time left with Don Draper, the boss we love to hate.

As much as we love the show, we can’t say we’ll miss all of Don’s cringe-inducing behaviors. As HR professionals, we had our fair share of “oh no” moments watching his lack of, um, managerial skills.

In fact, that happens A LOT when watching TV. TV bosses are often hilariously bad leaders.

One area TV bosses tend to be most inept in is employee relations. If, say, Dunder-Mifflin was a real office, employee morale would be pretty low. (And Michael Scott would be facing countless lawsuits).

Put simply, employee morale is high when employees are happy. And when employees are happy, productivity is high.

So how can we keep employees happy? By not acting like our favorite TV bosses for starters.

Poor leadership is the biggest reason for low employee morale. So today, we figured we’d look to some of our favorite bad TV bosses for examples of what NOT to do. Up first, of course, is Don Draper.

Boss: Don Draper (Mad Men)
Mistake: Not rewarding good work

Don Draper certainly has his own leadership style. Though some fans applaud his frankness and selfishness, most can agree he isn’t the best at rewarding his employees. His employees, such as Peggy Olson, are often resentful of his lack of appreciation for their hard work.

Take this quote for instance:
Don Draper: That’s how this works. I pay you for ideas.
Peggy Olson: You never say ‘thank you’.
Don Draper: That’s what the money is for!

What we can learn: So what can we learn from Mr. Draper? The importance of rewarding good performance. It’s a pretty simple fact: If employees feel unappreciated, they aren’t happy. And they definitely won’t hesitate to switch to another company where they are appreciated. If you want to retain your top talent and keep morale high, you need to show your appreciation. Remember: good money and benefits are not enough to let your employees know you appreciate them. Rewarding good performance can be as simple as just saying “Thank you!” or “Great work!” Or you could take some ideas from our recent blog on ideas for celebrating employees.

Boss: Michael Scott (The Office)
Mistake: Pitting himself against human resources

This wouldn’t be a list of bad TV bosses without Michael Scott. We could write an entire blog about his bad managerial practices (he is the perfect example of what not to do in terms of harassment.) But, of course, this one is dear to our hearts. A popular (and we must admit very comical) part of the show is Scott’s intense dislike of Toby, Dunder-Mifflin’s human resources professional. He often degrades and refuses to work with/get along with Toby.

What we can learn: Even though Michael Scott may think he is the “world’s greatest boss,” we shouldn’t follow his strategy. It is very beneficial to be on good terms with your company’s HR professional and to work together. When management and HR work together as a strategic team, it’s clear to employees that upper management is working cohesively and is organized with the same agenda. When they are not working in this way, such as in The Office, the company’s upper management looks unprofessional and unstable to the employees, which could affect morale.

Boss: Montgomery Burns (The Simpsons)
Mistake: Never remembering employee’s names

Montgomery Burns, the owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, is quite diabolical. We’re talking once-plotted-to-block-the-sun-to-boost-his-profits diabolical. But Burns isn’t exactly a good boss, either. A running joke on the show is that Burns never remembers the name of his longtime employee Homer.

What we can learn: Research has shown that people feel more valued and respected when someone remembers their name. Be sure to frequently use each employee’s name in conversation. It shows the employee that you see them as an individual and care enough about them to remember their name.

Boss: Ron Swanson (Parks and Recreation)
Mistake: Not caring about employees

Fans of Parks and Recreation know Ron Swanson is anything but “chummy.” Although he does show signs of regard for his team every now and then, he typically avoids being personable. (We all know he’d rather be eating breakfast food somewhere, anyway.) He once said, “The less I know about other people’s affairs, the happier I am. I’m not interested in caring about people.”

What we can learn: Your employees aren’t just workers; they are people, and they want to be treated as such. We’re not saying you have to be their best friend (in fact, you shouldn’t try to be), but you should be interested in caring about them. Occasionally ask what they did this weekend or how their sick mom is doing. People will work harder if they feel like they are working for somebody who cares about them personally.

Boss: Gordon Ramsay (Hell’s Kitchen)
Mistake: Degrading employees

Gordon Ramsay sure works hard to make his kitchen live up to the show’s name. Ramsay repeatedly treats his chefs horribly. On his rap sheet: getting in chef’s faces and insulting them, threatening chefs, slamming utensils down, and using expletives. Oh, by the way, he also likes to call the chefs “donkeys.” Needless to say, Ramsay’s managerial style is condescending and extremely critical.

What we can learn: Treating employees in this way will not only lower employee morale, but put you on the fast track to a lawsuit as well. Leading by fear is never a good practice. If an employee needs to improve something, it’s best to sit down with them one-on-one and calmly discuss the issue (without calling him/her a donkey).

Okay, so let’s review what we’ve learned from our favorite bad TV bosses. In order to keep employee morale high, you should:
• Show your appreciation.
• Work closely with HR.
• Show you care.
• Remember each employee’s name.
• Not degrade or insult employees.
• Not be a TV boss.
Pretty simple, huh? Especially not being a TV boss. Luckily, we don’t have to worry about that one. We are bosses in the real world and get to experience all of its real world excitement, including the best part of all: our employees.

Looking for more tips on how to be a great boss? Check out our blog here that we wrote in December, “Top 10 Tips For Being A Great Boss!”

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