A Boss’s Guide to Killing the Souls of the People You Work With

I’ve seen a lot of bad bosses in my time, managerial vampires who live off the souls of the people with whom they work. I’ve had some of those people for bosses. And occasionally, I catch myself tempted to act like a bad boss.

You know what I’m talking about. Somehow as a culture we’ve mass produced bad bosses.

But here’s the problem: We haven’t been systematic enough about it. If we’re going to pump out bureaucratic nightmares, we need to be more intentional about it. So, I thought I’d share a few secrets I’ve learned over the years, which are guaranteed to make you the object of scorn among the people you work with.

Trust me on this. Follow these simple rules, and soon won’t have to worry about all that pathetic “employee morale” stuff. You can kill it in a heartbeat. And you should! This is what bosses do.


  1. Always assume the people you work with are trying to get away with something. This is the key to the whole thing. If you want to be a certified soul-killer, question everything people do, as if you’re sure everybody’s out to screw you — you just haven’t figured out how yet. But you will. Oh man, you will. Trust no one.
  2. Remind them every chance you get just how lucky they are to have a job at all. Believe me, they’ll forget if you don’t regularly bring it to their attention. They’re all entitled little brats who need help remembering that they continue to have employment because of your generosity. And lest they get too comfortable, it’s helpful to let them know that your generosity comes with a series of long, self-serving, and often unspoken expectations they would do well to expend vast amounts of energy trying to discern and satisfy — which leads to rule #3:
  3. Be vague about your expectations. I can’t stress this enough. People get complacent when they know exactly what’s required of them; it’s too comfortable. They need the challenge of trying to read your mind/expression/body-language. Otherwise work is too easy. You’re paying them good money (well, some money anyway), and they should have to earn it. Keep them guessing.
  4. Let them know that their family life should always take a back seat to the job. “Oh, so you have a family, do you? I bet they like to eat, don’t they? It’d be a terrible shame if all that precious food and shelter you provide should all of a sudden disappear. I think we understand one another. So, finish the Peterson report before you go home tonight.”
  5. Repeatedly tell people how to do their jobs. Clearly they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing or how. They want/need you to tell them in detail. You’re smarter than they are (you’re the boss, after all), so don’t be stingy with your wisdom.
  6. Make sure to keep scrupulous track of every vacation and sick day, every lunch half-hour (lunch hour? Seriously?), and bathroom break. If you think I’m kidding about this, see rule number one. Make sure that you know every move they make, and as much as it’s within your power, make sure they know you know. If they try to take even one minute more than they’re allotted, you’ve got to lower the boom. I mean, you’re paying them to work, after all — not to have meaningful lives. Let them do all that bladder-emptying when they’re on vacation. Or even better, in the hospital; they’ve got tubes and pans for that stuff.
  7. Make certain people don’t have good tools to work with. Windows XP is a perfectly fine operating system. Don’t be fooled into thinking that people would be “more productive” if you gave them sharper tools. That’s just an excuse for laziness. The Transatlantic Railroad was laid with a few sledgehammers and the can-do spirit of thousands of underpaid immigrants, after all. If people really want to produce, they’ll find a way to overcome stone age technology. Don’t do it for them. You’re not getting paid to hold people’s hands.
  8. Take credit for everyone else’s ideas. People get a paycheck. They shouldn’t expect recognition too. If they want the glory, they should be the boss. And, trust me, they’ll thank you for it. The people you work with are simple folks, who prefer not to have their lives complicated by doing work that gets recognized. You’re actually doing them a favor with this.
  9. Never accept responsibility for your own mistakes. This is closely related to rule #7. You’re the boss, which means you’re the smartest. So, by definition, any mistakes that occur must be caused by someone else. Make sure that someone else is always standing close by, ready to receive the blame.
  10. Try to make all decisions yourself. People don’t want all that needless “responsibility.” The people you work with are like cattle, who only want to be told what to do by thoughtful people like you. Don’t complicate their lives unnecessarily by burdening them with authority.
  11. When you do find yourself in a situation where you have to give people authority to make decisions, always come behind and change/dismiss/criticize those decisions. Don’t let anyone get comfortable making decisions without obsessing first over how you’ll take it. You’re the boss, right? The people who work with you should always worry about what you might want.
  12. Be condescending and sarcastic. People love this. Nobody wants to be treated like a grownup. Everyone wishes their job was more like high school. You are in a unique position to be able to help them recall the wonders of adolescence. (Oh, people may say their teen years were hell, but don’t pay any attention. That’s just something people say.)
  13. Be passive-aggressive. The world doesn’t have nearly enough signs posted by anonymous fatheads looking to make a ridiculous point about yogurt consumption in the break room refrigerator. You can be that person! People secretly want to be manipulated by worthless turds who can’t quite work up the courage to say publicly what they want.
  14. Always pay people as little as possible. This is obvious enough that it shouldn’t require any explanation. You’re trying to make a profit here, not line the pockets of the undeserving. People just waste money anyway. You’re helping them learn to be more frugal, which is something you should feel good about. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Easy peasy. So simple are these rules, in fact, that just about anyone can ruin people’s lives and kill the souls of those with whom they work.

Don’t believe me? Just ask the people who call you boss.

Now, get in there and crush someone’s spirit!

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