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D. R.

This is so accurate it is frightening. I Was laid off after 24 years when the bosses son came to work. Comments made such as "I can find someone else and pay them substantially less than what I pay you to take orders" My biggest downfall was I would not kiss this guys ass or lie for him to our biggest customer (A large paint firm based in Southern California) though expected to.I being in middle mgmt. watched this person change into someone his father would not even talk to anymore due to his greed and transparent brown nosing minions. this paint customer knew they were making mistakes in the ordering of their paint labels and begged us to help them be more efficient, after I spent a week going through previous orders and confirming for the boss that this company basically wasted over $300,000 on the repeat orders over a six month period! their president of sales asked him point blank "Help us we know we can do better" my "ethically challenged" boss merely replied "Oh no you actually are very good at ordering your paint labels" My jaw hit the floor! I am sure that led to my dismissal. At least I can say I have not given in to the sheepeople at old CP


I've seen a few evidences of the kiss up kick down characteristic:
1. If the steering committee (similar to the board of a non-profit) of the organization meets over lunch, the supervisor makes arrangments for them to have lunch on the organization's dime. If the regular staff have a meeting over lunch, we have to chip in to cover the cost.

2. The organization has sent members of the steering committee for professional development over members of the staff. At one national conference the steering committee member seemed to be using the time as a tourist rather than consistent attendence at the conference.

3. We are relatively low-paid in our field, but in years that we could have received bonuses, the committee refused to give them.

4. At things like conferences the supervisor tends to ignore the staff and spend all her time with more powerful people.

On the whole, it wasn't a bad organization to work for until I, doing exactly what I was told to do (advocate for my clients) received a complaint from a bully outside the organization that didn't like my advocacy. That's when I became aware that if someone from outside of the organization complains, they are treated like all-knowing gods and employees will receive all the blame and enter into a process of inappropriate discipline.


cheers. This can be used as a ready reckoner anytime.

I also follow a blog on Importance of Human Resources:


Yoda's Weed Whacker

I'm working for an asshole infested organization, but there were clearly signs in the beginning (sounds like a trend ...) My most notable sign was the card shark. In our organization we call her the Eye of the Storm because she pretends to be calm while the entire organization revolves around her in a state of permanent turmoil, chaos and destruction. If I could do my interviews over again, I would definitely want to know who makes decisions in the organization, who gets moved up and how quickly. What's funny is that this place is so infested that I can point out at least one person for each category. My biggest concern is which one I've fallen into at this point.

One thing I really noticed early on, and that I'm more aware of now, is that when I was talking to people about coming on here "hard work" was seen as some magical virtue. What I quickly came to realize is that the work was only hard because it's hard to build a house in a hurricane.

Don Frederick

I think that I have been working in a place that has institutionalized assholism.
I'll give you a very simple example. If you have a certain degree, you start off with one week more holidays than anyone else. This is in the contract and there's no chance of negotiating anything else, ever, even if you try really, really hard!

For example, there are 2 people who have the same job title, duties, salaries, etc..... one person has degree X and the other has degree Y. The person with degree Y also has degree Z and a bunch of certifications as well as lots of experience. The person with degree X is fresh out of school and hasn't worked a day in the industry. However, degree X is the favored degree (although not specifically needed for the job) so the person with degree X starts out with an extra week of holidays that the person with degree Y and Z does not get and won't get an opportunity to take until he has been with the organization for at least 10 years! And, that's just what you find out on the first day when you sign your contract. Every day after that, you learn more about the assholism that seems to be part of walls or something. For example when the degree X person and the degree Y/Z person both apply to go to the same conference, there is an official policy to always send the degree X person regardless of the circumstance. The degree X person also gets training supplied by the employeer that Y/Z must pay for out of his own pocket.

I could go on about lots of stuff but I won't. There is one interesting thing that I have found out. In my attempt to get work somewhere else, I've discovered that this place does have a very bad reputation for being full of assholes. I was told bluntly by one employer that he doesn't consider people from my organization just for that reason. I should have read the No Asshole Rule sooner!

Courtney W.

After working for a year for an a--hole boss (actually a clinical narcissist), I realize there were a number of red flags early on after I was hired I should have paid more attention to. I may still have taken the job (as I was not armed with this great 10-point system) but it often pays to get out of a job on your own terms early on before it gets ugly and/or you experience emotional or physical impacts. The advice of using social networks to research a boss is great advice.

My additional suggestions:

(1) Pay attention to what your boss is saying about his/her colleagues. A narcissist, for example, tends to put others down, especially those climbing the ladder or sharing the limelight.

(2) Second, be wary of the boss who showers you early on with insincere praise and/or gifts. I received an expensive gift for our "1-month work anniversary" and a way too expensive Christmas gift out of his own pocket (not the organization). I never perceived it as a sexual advance (and it wasn't) but it is like the spouse who showers his wife with gifts when he is cheating. Too much too soon or too often could mean he/she is trying too hard to conceal his/her true self.

(3) Watch out for promised job responsibilities or perks that seem "too-good-to-be-true." My boss sold me on the position by saying I would be taking students on a trip abroad every other summer (I worked at a University); I learned the first day on the job this was never intended.

(4) If a potential employer asks you about your background and after hearing all of your accomlishments suggests you take a position that requires less education/experience/expertise than you hold, the chances are he/she doesn't hold any one else's abilities (other than his/her own) in high regard.

(5) Pay attention to your intuition and the intuition of others. I knew my former boss in a social context before I took the job. A commercial landlord, he often said horrible things about his tenant (a capable, strong woman). His disdain seemed disproportionate to any of the scenerios he described involving her (her opinion on store signage, for example) and the hairs on the back of my neck tingled. I also ignored other people's expressions when I told them who I was going to be working for. No one warned me verbally, but the signals were all over their faces.

Thanks for the great advice and links. I hope no one has to work for someone like I worked for. The recovery time is longer than one would expect!


Re rule #7: in addition to the strong-willed and self-motivated people who presumably are the only ones who have the strength to work as equals with such a person, I've known two disasterous bosses who've surrounded themselves with sheep who seem to have no opinions or initiative of their own, nor believe they deserve to have any. These folk generally demonstrate (or even profess) an extreme aversion to "rocking the boat" and will often go to great extremes, even betraying their colleagues if necessary, to avoid offending the boss or losing their own jobs.

It may be difficult to smoke these people out before taking a job, though, as it is their very nature to hide. I did inadvertently uncover one early on in my last job, however, and should have paid more attention. She was the Boss's right hand woman, and I asked her what her own vision was for the organization and what she might like to see improve or change in the future.

"Oh no, I don't think that way," she told me, shrinking even as I watched. "I just enjoy working here."


The aforementioned indicators are fantastic.

Perhaps, armed with this knowledge, employees and fellow bosses can nip a fledgling asshole in the bud before he/she fully develops.

I just launched a website that stores a database of good, fair, mediocre and asshole bosses so future employees can steer clear.

I award a prize once per month for the best rating.

George Bezou

Here's another way to find out if your future boss is an asshole: go look him/her up on

It's a building database of good bosses and bad ones, rated by those who work for them.


Working with graduate students, a question I frequently recommend asking is "What happens when you make a mistake here?" I also always recommend chatting up the secretaries (who always know everything in every organization) and listening to their experiences. How the people of low status/organizational power are treated is a pretty useful way to test an environment, in my experience.



Bob, these questions are all great. But what if you don't have access to any current or former employees of the company in question? Are there any surefire signs you can spot during the interview process?

Bob Sutton


These are simply fantastic. The stories are really key.


Wally Bock

I have three questions I use to get a quick handle on the culture of an organization.

What kind of people get promoted around here? The behavior and performance you reward is what you'll get more of.

What "bad" behaviors are tolerated here? This is good for patterns of behavior.

What kinds of stories do people tell each other? Stories are the carriers of culture. Beware if all they tell are "dumb boss" stories. Understand that service is a value if what you hear are "herioc service" stories.

Bob Sutton


Good questions. This is actually the main point of the book, particularly Chapter 3. But I would add that if you used the 10 items above and applied them "most people there" it would be a start. But Chapter 3 goes through work practices and reward systems, which are very important as you say.


IMO focusing on just the immediate boss overlooks the important issues of the culture and the environment. Unless the individual is at the top, the boss above could be the ASHOL whose impact leaks down. Or lateral bosses whose effects leak over.

So what are a good set of questions that get at the culture and environment that can be used without tainting or labeling the asker as a future problem best avoided?

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