Agony Lance: Horrible bosses, endless whingers and scandals

Lance Wiggs help with your tricky business problems.

Let Lance Wiggs help with your tricky business problems. Email him at

Work is a killer

Dear Lance, I got back from a long Christmas break and now I have the work blues. I heard about that movie Horrible Bosses, where they kill their evil bosses, and I’m wondering if I could do the same and get away with it. Do you know a good hitman? How do I hide the body? And got any tips and tricks for getting blood stains out of the carpet? – Mightily Murderous Max (in the living room with the candlestick)

Well Max, you might have to check out that movie for yourself. The characters in Horrible Bosses didn’t actually manage to commit murder and thus don’t have to live with the guilt, nor are they behind bars, and indeed it seems they’re available for a planned sequel.

Killing your boss is an under-thought and short-term strategy, and it certainly isn’t productive to ponder body disposal techniques.

Remarkable as it may sound, even the meanest of bosses is human and will respond positively when motivated in the right way.

You might immediately leap to thinking of manipulating your boss into performing an immoral act on camera, but enough of the bad movie plots – why not turn your efforts to assisting him to become a great boss? Channel those blue thoughts into thinking of ways to help your boss become happier. He’d probably like to start with cheery staff who are happy to be there, and would also appreciate the occasional bit of thanks for the work he does, making sure you keep your job despite your perpetual grumpiness. Ask him what you can do to make his life better, and take some of the nasty work away from him.

If you’re trying to hide a body, it’s too late. Try to incorporate body disposal into your overall plan. High-energy lasers, plasma, wood chipping or milling equipment, pools of acid and molten metal have proven almost successful at removing the stars of countless action movies. Perhaps you, above all others, can actually make it work.

Endless Whingers

Dear Lance, I’ve taken over a new job and I’m in charge of a group of grumpy employees. They’re fully capable of doing their jobs but they all groan and moan – they have the most terrible attitudes. I love the job but they behave as if life is one big long drag. How can I motivate them and get them to see that the glass is half full, not half empty? – Sad Sack, Auckland

It’s a bad old time out there, it seems. The first thing to do is understand the source of the poor attitude. Sit with each of the staff formally, informally, individually, and as a group. Together, work out what the sources of angst are, and work together to fix the underlying problems. Try not to make assumptions until you have gently questioned everyone in a non-threatening way.

I typically see three different types of answer, excluding personal events, of course. The first is that the team is not working well, the second is that there is a lack of meaningful work, and the third is that there is an appalling management and work environment.

However, also watch out for a cause from outside the work environment, such as a family tragedy or other similar event.

Address the problem by ensuring everyone has control over their work and destiny, meaningful work to do, and a safe and encouraging environment. Ask each person about the parts of their job that they love, and the parts they don’t like. Find out what work they want to do, and then switch things around so that everybody is challenged. Give the authority to each person for their job, letting them make mistakes and helping them learn from them. Your job will be as coach rather than director, so your focus will be on helping the team perform to their best.

Next, build a culture of always improving by challenging everyone to find and deliver ideas to make the team’s job easier. Let them make changes, let them make mistakes, and celebrate the successes. A team that works on improving their lot together will start to produce higher quality work, and the quality of the workplace will improve.

If the source of the pain is external then your primary job, as boss, comes into play. Your first role is to shield your team from the external influences so they can focus on getting results.

If the pain is coming from internal sources, start wielding your formal and informal power to divert their attention and provide air cover for your team. Let your team know that you will take on the horrible relationships, and then in turn be very firm with them on expectations and ways to work together. If the pain is from external sources then do the same, and perhaps think about firing some of the less valuable and more annoying clients.

In all circumstances the key is to seek to understand, show compassion and work together on finding a solution. Put the team first, even if it means breaking the rules. Send a bouquet of flowers to a bereaved family, allow a staff member to take the rest of the week off, or check the team out of the office for a day for an offsite meeting.


Dear Lance, I own my own company and I’ve gotten involved in a few scandalous things. It’s my own fault, and I shouldn’t have done it, but the problem is the media might get wind of it. Should I hire a PR person to do crisis management or is it a waste of time and money – and is spilling the beans to a PR person just asking for trouble in the first place? – Wrongdoer, Wellington

It all depends on your definition of scandal, doesn’t it? If your scandal is of the ‘illegal behaviour with interns’ or ‘serious fraud’ variety, then please do call a PR company and get the news out there. Just don’t spend too much money on that PR company – someone who is a ‘social media expert’ without any Twitter followers or marketing degrees will do just fine.

If what you did was scandalous in the salacious sense of the word, then the answer is still that it depends, and it depends on whether you were a scoundrel or a bastard. A scoundrel takes advantage of a situation or three, but is lovable for it. A bastard takes advantage of a situation, is self-centered and not a nice person with it. He (and it’s almost always a he) probably has a wife back home.

And finally, if your scandal is of a business nature, such as being involved with timeshare apartments, or real estate, then best keep it quiet.

But what am I saying?! This is New Zealand, and everyone in your industry, and probably well beyond, already knows about your antics. If it’s affecting your business, perhaps it’s time to move over to where the other selfish bastards are waiting – in Australia.

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