Human-Centered Management

“You Are Paid To Do What I Tell You To Do” – Things Managers Do that Destroy Innovation and Motivation

These are things I have witnessed managers saying or doing either to me or to others during my career. I feel that these things certainly had a negative impact on the motivation of the employee on the receiving end.

This is follow up or a Part 2. The original post was called “I Don’t Want Problems, I Want Solutions” – Things Managers Say that Destroy a Culture of Teamwork. In that article, I discussed things that managers said that destroyed their claim to the teamwork culture. In this article, I will focus on how they destroy the motivational drive of employees.

“You Are Paid To Do What I Tell You To Do”

"You are paid to do what I tell you to do"What kind of employees do you want? Do you want mindless drones who only follow a checklist of items and anything more than that they don’t care what happens? Maybe you do want that, then feel free to tell them that they are only paid to do what you tell them to do.

If you do want that, I have a feeling the day will come when you will regret wanting that. This is essentially a disengaged employee who doesn’t care. They aren’t going out of their way for the job. They aren’t bending over to pick up a piece of garbage on the floor unless you explicitly tell them to. I have worked in places where many of the employees behaved this way.

This statement suggests that you don’t want your employees thinking too much beyond the scope of their work. You don’t want them to try to find better solutions or do anything that requires initiative. You only want them to do what you say. Not all ideas from employees are good ideas, but shutting them down completely by saying this is not going to get you very far.

I heard this one from a manager who was getting frustrated with an employee. The employee was arguing with the manager about something the employee was working on that was outside the bounds of his normal work. The employee certainly made things worse by arguing with the manager.

What you should say instead:

“I like the initiative. This idea may not work for us now, but don’t let that discourage you from trying again. The fact that you are thinking beyond the scope of your job is appreciated.”


Disrespectful Communication

Hand Motions, Snapping Fingers, Vague Commands With Little Respect, Emails with Only Question Marks, and probably many more things fall into the category of disrespectful communication.

Horrible Managers and Disrespectful PointingBack when I worked in manufacturing and was an hourly employee, I would frequently take my unpaid lunches in the employee break room. We had this one manager who would come through and need things from me on occasion. He wasn’t even my manager and he always picked my lunch break time to do this too because it was a convenient time for him.

Instead of coming into the break room and talking to me like a human being, he would stand at the break room door and knock on the door until he got my attention. Then he would point at me and make a motion with his finger to get me to come to him. As I later learned, this is how dealt with the employees under him and they had to listen to him and deal with it. I didn’t – and I refused to. I told him flat out after he tried it about the second or third time that if he wanted to talk to me he could either come into the break room or wait until I was done.

It helped that I got support on this issue from my manager, but it took a few times of me ignoring him when he did his finger-wagging thing before he just gave up getting me on my lunch break. He didn’t want to comply with my request, in his mind he was a manager and any form of communication he chose was the communication people had to accept. As he didn’t have any power over me to try and force me to comply, he just gave up getting me for anything.

I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but maybe you don’t know – pointing at people and issuing vague commands for them to come to you when you are the one who wants something from them, is just going to make them hate you. It is completely disrespectful and I don’t care if you are their manager or not. Snapping your fingers at a waitress in a restaurant or emailing a copy of a customer complaint with only a question mark in your message are not ways to show you respect people.

If this were the only problem that existed, it probably wouldn’t be hugely problematic, employees would grumble and move on. If employees have to tolerate it on top of other things, then at that point the job becomes only a paycheck to them. They aren’t helping you innovate, they are just punching a time clock.

What you should do instead:

Enunciate what you actually want. Have enough respect for the person to tell them what you actually want.

Make sure your request of them consists of more than a finger point, a question mark, or a one-line terse statement. Sure, you are busy, but I don’t believe you are so busy that you can’t state what you want in a respectful way.


Completely Ignoring Their Questions, Responding with Silence or Dodgy Answers

Manager Silence When Asking Questions

I worked for a company once where I applied for an internal transfer to a different division and more advanced job role. I was told I did very well in the first round of interviews and would be moving on to the next round.

Two days later I get a vague response back that stated I was ineligible for the transfer with some possible cookie cutter form letter reasons why I was being denied the job change. None of those reasons listed applied to me. What would you do in that situation – sit and accept it or try to figure out why?

I am going to bet most of you would try to figure out why, and that is what I tried to do.  I began with an email asking why. Then I called and left messages. I was a telecommuter and the system was very distributed so I couldn’t hunt down the person I needed to talk to in person (put that on the list of bad things about telecommuting). After repeated inquiries went unanswered and several weeks passed by, I was getting annoyed and turning to alternative means to find my answers. The rest of this story is continued in the next section – “Letting Managers Deny Department Transfers”.

What you should do instead:

Answer the question or at the very least give a response back stating that you are unable to answer the question.

I may not like the news you give me, but if I have to go through weeks of silence and jumping through hoops to find the answer I am going to be twice as mad as I would be if you had just been open and honest. This really comes down to – “If you don’t care, why should I care.”


Letting Managers Deny Department Transfers

Manager permission for an internal transferSo continuing from the story in the above section, I had spent weeks trying to learn why my internal transfer was denied. I wasn’t getting any answers. I began digging around deeper into the HR website and contacting other people listed there.

Finally, one of the people I contacted sent me a link to a policy on transferring internally. At that link, it stated the same things I had originally received in the email telling me the transfer was denied – but it had another section. In that section, it discussed the manager being able to deny the transfer by stating that you were required and needed to perform your current job duties. That is how I learned that my manager had actually blocked my transfer.

I am already upset it took me so long to find the answer. Learning the answer just made it worse. In the instance of a manager denying a transfer, there is only one acceptable response and that response involves getting your résumé ready. NEVER, and I mean NEVER, stick with a job when this happens to you. By sticking with them you are telling them you are a doormat that they can walk all over, and you will probably be miserable.

No one needs their manager’s permission to quit and leave for an external job. Leaving for an external job though removes that employee from any transition beyond two-weeks. By staying with the company, the employee can be contacted months later for their assistance and you have probably built up some loyalty points with that employee.

Two months later I had a new contract job and left the other job behind. The only regrets I had was that I ended up back in contracting, which has its own set of issues.

What you should do instead:

Get rid of any rules that require the manager to approve an employees’ transfer and instead focus on transition planning.



We have all heard managers say and do things that certainly made us question their ability to lead a team. Most employees show up to work on their first day looking for a reason to become engaged and a contributing member of the team. Failure to get that or completely destroying any reason why they would want to become a meaningful and productive member of the team will eventually cause more problems and lead to disengaged employees.

It doesn’t solve anything to completely hinder an employee from coming up with ideas to help the company, nor does it solve anything to brush an employee off by ignoring them.



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