10 Reasons It’s Hard to Be the Boss

People who have never managed before often don’t think about the downsides of the job – and people who do manage are often surprised by how hard the role can be! Here are 10 of the toughest parts about being in charge.

1. You have to make decisions people don’t like. Whether it’s ending a popular incentive program, not hiring an employee’s friend, or telling your team that they need to work late, managers have to make decisions that their teams aren’t always happy about.

2. You have to tell people when they’re not doing a good job. Sometimes these are people you like and people who are genuinely trying hard. These conversations are difficult and many managers hate them, but they’re also unavoidable.

3. When things go wrong, you’re the person who gets blamed. When things go right, you give your team the credit. But when they go wrong, you’re the one who shoulders the blame. And even if the problem was due to an employee’s mistake, you’re ultimately the person accountable.

4. Your decisions have high stakes. If you hire the wrong person, release the wrong product, or make the wrong budget trade-offs, your decisions could cause serious problems for the company, even leading to people losing their jobs. Every decision you make, even the smallest ones, could have unforeseen price tags.

5. You have to enforce rules you might not always agree with. If your company has a policy you don’t agree with, it’s still going to be your job to enforce it. And if you don’t, or if you mention your disagreement to your employees, you’ll have undermined your own boss.

6. People bring you ridiculous or awkward complaints. Managers get asked to intervene in personal squabbles, talk to the guy with body odor issues, and tell the receptionist that she’s coughing too much.

7. You need to give up some workplace friendships. Since managers need to have professional boundaries between them and the people they manage, you can’t have the same types of office friendships that you had before you became a manager. You might really click with someone on your staff, but you can’t become close in the same way you could before.

8. You’re being watched and scrutinized. As the boss, everything you say or do carries more weight. If you express enthusiasm for one person’s idea, people will assume that’s the idea they should back. And if you’re in a grumpy mood, people may spend days wondering what they did wrong and agonizing over their relationship with you.

9. You might need to let people go. Easily the worst part about being a manager is telling someone that they no longer have a job. It’s not as hard as being on the employee’s side of the conversation, of course, but for most managers it’s agonizing.

10. Some people just won’t like you. If you’re doing your job, not everyone is going to like you. You are going to tell some people their work isn’t good enough …  hold accountable people who may not want to be held accountable … enforce policies that may irritate the heck out of some people … and yes, fire people. It’s unnerving to know that some people will dislike you simply because you’re doing your job, but it’s unavoidable.

Of course, there are plenty of upsides to being the boss – probably more than the downsides. But it’s harder than it looks from the outside!






Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • The Other Dawn

    3. When things go wrong, you’re the person who gets blamed. 
    This is probably the one that has been the biggest struggle trying to get people to understand.  Everyone assumes that if they do a poor job, they are the ones who will be told about it.  They may do a poor job and never hear about from a higher-up, but I’m sure hearing about it.  A lot.  Then I have to explain to my employee why she did a poor job, what has to change, etc.  I’ve tried to explain many times that whatever my employee does, whether it’s good or bad, reflects on me and I’m the one who has to explain why we lost money or why someone just can’t get her act together.  

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    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Very good point.

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  • belle001

    Having to talk to an employee about an issue that shouldn’t be an issue, for example, taking their hour lunch break every day and then coming back in with a full meal that takes them another thirty-forty minutes to eat. Every day. Because you know having to have the conversation means the person either doesn’t get why it’s an issue and will think you’re being ‘picky’, or gets why it, but doesn’t care.

    Signed-happy to not be managing anymore.

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    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Ah, but then as a manager you have the authority to set and enforce consequences in situations like that!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=733861127 Sarah Dentan

    I shared this with the supervisors I manage – it led to a much needed conversation about holding staff accountable, even when it’s not fun (is it ever fun?).  Thanks!

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    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    That’s great to hear — thanks!

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  • Janinebarry

    Hi Alison,
    I would be interested in hearing the upside of being a manager.  All of the items you note below are the exact reasons why I am not interested  in managing people, although I am being encouraged by my company to become a people manager.  

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    Tia Reply:

    Good idea. I’d be interested in hearing the upsides too!

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    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Great question!  I would say that you should resist if the stuff on the list above sounds awful to you — many people do find it awful, which is why you see so many managers who just opt out of doing this stuff … which makes them terrible managers!

    But as far as upsides … you have the ability to run things the way they should be run — to reward great employees, set and enforce consequences for those who are not so great, create a good culture, set clear expectations, give people feedback that helps them grow, help people stretch themselves, buffer your staff from unreasonableness above them… etc. Of course, to do most of that, you need to be working in an organization that won’t get in the way of you doing that, which is why you want to pick jobs and companies really carefully. The nightmare scenario is getting into a management position where you don’t actually have full authority to manage.

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    Kosmos Erdem Reply:

    You are talking about a Utopia that doesn’t exist Alison. Managers get paid more because otherwise nobody would do it. It sucks.

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    Kosmos Erdem Reply:

    “The nightmare scenario is getting into a management position where you don’t actually have full authority to manage.”
    I tell you, not one of any of them would be my friend and they should and would all fear me on their back. (I am talking office) and I dont care what they think and I take home 3 times per week more than any of them and the boss above me damn well knows I will walk out at the drop of a hat if he doesnt leave me in there to be the Nazi these punks need over them to do the work they are bloody well being paid for.

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    Kosmos Erdem Reply:

    There is no upside to being a manager if you have a boss above you. But generally being the boss of a startup and watching money go out the window from employees being retards (YOUR MONEY) and still paying them, and then I use the “I have run out of money this month. I didn’t get results I needed them bad and we didn’t get them”.
    The other part is that you really can’t be friends with people you are paying to work for you. You can be friendly, and courteous, and polite, but its not like friends. So you feel lonely pretty much all day. You cant start having laughs with them, you need try inspire them and its difficult to inspire them when even the offer of bonuses doesnt improve their work performance.
    Its damn hard to find good quality people to be employees. Generally retards and desperate people are employees. Or when employees cry to you about the problems in their life bla bla and bla bla almost all of it is the only part I hate about my Start-Up but I cant do it all because I alone do not have the hours to figure out everything even though I could figure it all out if I had 5 heads, 10 ears, 5 laptops, 10 hands…..

    They only care about the money they are getting hourly. They really dont care about your success, in fact deep deep down they actually want to see you fail.

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    BossLady Reply:

    Well said!! I agree with everything u said
    Your employees thinks the world revolves around them and complains about pay and any other bull crap concern that they don’t even care about. But they bring it up to sir conflict and to make you run in more
    circles, not to mention their pay looks great compared to the salary we bring in and the hours put in that they never see cause when their job is done they go home but yet they continue to call and bother you with all their personal life bull crap. Cause your the boss everything is your fault. People have no work ethics anymore. Honestly people should be grateful they even have a jobs.

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  • http://twitter.com/devans00 devans00

    I would add one topic that new mangers seem to miss.  Your direct reports success is your success.  You’ll have a more successful boss-ship by being supportive and encouraging.  Being competitive and domineering encourages people to flee for the nearest exit.

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  • someone

     Working thru other people:   People are promoted because they can do the work better than their co-workers.  This means that they will be replaced by someone who is less productive than they are, but they are responsible for the productivity of the department, so all the reports are going to have to work more productively, led by someone who knows nothing about management!

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