If you've morphed into a boss from hell, you're going to lose more than a popularity contest. Mean or devious bosses will "experience low productivity, employees who will not make decisions, high turnover and the inability to recruit a quality staff," predicts Toni Talbot, owner of Human Resource Management Services in Williamston, Michigan. "Bosses from hell will eventually end up taking the company to hell because no company can survive that kind of management style. Not today, not in this economy." If you had a wretched boss who treated you like a galley slave, relax (a little): Chances are, you've already sworn never to treat your own employees that way. But if you worked for a tyrant and stayed on his or her good side, you may have subconsciously decided the tyrant's tirades weren't a bad way to go.
As with watching the gazelles on a National Geographic special, there are signs that can clue you in that the animals are upset. (By the way, tip No. 1: Never refer to your employees as "animals.") Few people likely aspire to be the boss from hell. Sharon Jordan-Evans, co-author of Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay, suggests three warning signs of unhappy employees:
1. Avoidance behavior. "If this person doesn't ever seek you out, chat with you, share information readily with you, those are clues that the employee isn't comfortable with you. It doesn't mean you're a jerk; it might be you're just not very approachable."
2. Visible drop in productivity and morale; increased absenteeism. "If people don't seem very enthused, it's time to look in the mirror because very often it has to do with the boss."
3. Heavy turnover. "If you had a revolving door, wouldn't you get the idea that you have something to do with that? But I can't tell you how many bosses don't get it. They say 'Yup, that's just our industry.' And they don't even check. Or they blame it on the age group: 'Well, they just change jobs all the time.' They find other excuses."
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.