Bad Bosses in Hollywood


My husband and I needed a break from the heat last weekend, so we ventured out to the movie theater. We decided to see Horrible Bosses – I’m a Jason Bateman fan, and my husband (not surprisingly) finds Jennifer Aniston quite talented. As the storyline unfolded – three friends plotting to kill their respective bosses – I started thinking about how many memorable films have depicted frustration and dissatisfaction in the workplace.

One of the first movies that came to mind was 9 to 5 starring Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and Lily Tomlin. In 9 to 5 the women dream of murdering their overbearing, humiliating, and sexually harassing boss. In this case, their accidental murder attempt (never keep the rat poisoning with the coffee creamer) resulted in kidnapping their boss and taking over his job. Ironically, the organization had greater productivity, work life balance, and employee satisfaction under their reign. This film provided a great portrayal of some of the frustrations and barriers women faced during the 1980s.

More than a decade later, the film Office Space provided a comedic outlet for anyone who was being downsized, analyzed, or bored by a mundane work environment. After a meeting with an organizational efficiency consultant, Peter Gibbons plots to steal money from Initech with the help of two friends: Samir and Michael Bolton. When this plan works a little too well, the men try to correct their mistake and end up watching their company be burned to the ground by their disgruntled co-worker, Milton.

Flash forward to last weekend. Once again, Hollywood portrayed three friends working for arrogant, micromanaging, and sexually harassing bosses. Each friend faces unique challenges in his work environment, but the sentiment is the same: the work environment will improve with a staffing change.

In addition to providing a humorous take on the workplace’s daily frustrations, these films have a common theme: they illustrate that leadership plays a vital role in employee satisfaction and motivation in the workplace. In a presentation I recently attended, the speaker asked the audience how many people had worked for a bad boss. The show of hands was astonishing! When asked what these individuals found frustrating, we heard responses like volatile, micromanaging, and manipulating – adjectives related to interpersonal style and behavioral characteristics, rather than skill or intelligence.

Although the Hollywood portrayal of these bosses may be dramatic and comedic, these individuals do exist in the workplace, and organizations need to provide opportunities for self-awareness and development.

If not, we may have more cases of disgruntled employees – minus the money laundering and murder plots (of course).