The Learning Spotlight
The Origin of Bad Supervisors
By John Grubbs
The most common reason people quit a job is a bad relationship with a direct supervisor. Hollywood’s movie satire “Horrible Bosses” contains enough reality to be relatable to most people at some point in our lives. How did bad supervisors become so common in the work place? Why is it easier to remember the horrible bosses?
Bad bosses are not merely like people; some good and some bad. Bad supervision is a learned behavior. It is the manifestation of generations that were never taught exactly how to lead or supervise others. The disproportionate amount of bad supervisors that yell and scream at employees is not representative of humans in general. When surveyed most people know how a good boss should behave yet so many bad supervisors are indelibly etched into our memories.
The beginning of bad bosses can be traced all the way back to industrialization and the migration of hard working farmers to the growing cities. These tough and work-hardened individuals gave up everything to start a new life in the emerging factories of the early 1900s. Workers and supervisors were expected to continue the same long hours as they had experienced on the farms that gave most Americans the sustenance needed to survive. Good supervisors were not necessary in a
factory that had an unlimited supply of workers who could make more money in the city than was possible as a farmhand or sharecropper. The many poor were eager to find something other than a dirt farm and willingly traded one meager existence for another in the company of many others attempting to better the lives of their families.
The Great Depression contributed significantly to the common method of supervision. The attitude toward the worker changes when you have far more
workers than you do positions to fill. At twenty-five percent unemployment, it becomes easy to take people for granted and not develop the necessary relationships that promote a healthy work environment. In this environment, people become interchangeable pawns that can be easily replaced. Workers become conditioned slowlyovertime to have low expectations from others in the chain of command. As time passes the bond between the worker and supervisor becomes very weak....
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