By Colleen Kettenhofen


“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” ~ Erma Bombeck


Wouldn’t you love to know your boss’s biggest pet peeves – not the usual ones like making sure you’re productive, but the ones they rarely discuss?

As part of numerous speaking engagements across the United States on managing difficult people, I asked the managers and supervisors in attendance, “If I had a group of employees sitting here now, what would you tell them are your biggest pet peeves?” Then, I had everybody break into groups, pick a recorder to write down their ideas, and come up with their top 10 biggest frustrations. We then had a group discussion where each table took turns sharing their findings. The results were written on flip charts with a large green felt pen marking those traits that came up consistently.

If they wanted to write more than 10, that was okay too. People in the groups joked, “Just ten? We came up with a lot more than ten!”

As I walked around these rooms day after day, week after week, month after month, it became obvious what the top 10 biggest frustrations of bosses are with their employees. I tabulated the results. As I stared at the findings, it became glaringly obvious what makes managers tick –and especially what ticks them off—when it comes to employees.

While the information on this list might seem like common sense, you and I both know that common sense isn’t always commonly applied. Anyone involved with managing difficult people knows this to be the case.

There are 10 top major mistakes employees make that tick off bosses and also jeopardize their jobs. I will list the top five in this first article, and in part 2, I will address the rest.

  1. Excessive absenteeism and chronic tardiness. Know any “clock watchers” who arrivelate and take off so fast from work that they leave skidmarks? They use excuses such as “the kids, the husband or wife not working” or that they’re late “due to construction on the roadways, inclement weather, or the alarm not going off.” Certainly, these can be legitimate issues on occasion. But when there’s a litany of excuses, managers tune out and tune in to the idea of taking disciplinary action. This includes someone who shows up on time, but they don’t start their work until much later.
  2. Negativity, subversiveness, and lack of buy in. This is the problem-child whiner who complains, has no solutions, and says, “I don’t get paid enough to worry about that!” Or says sarcastically, “It’s not my job.” Managers don’t want to manage a whiner or “water cooler instigator” as I call them – someone who rallies everyone around their complaints. I refer to the employee who interrupts everyone to whine about understaffing and how busy they are as “busy doing nothing.” In managing difficult people, why is this a pet peeve? Their behavior rubs off on the rest of the staff. Simply put, those who whine rarely come up with ideas and they want the boss to solve their problems.
  3. High drama! This is similar to the negativity pet peeve. “High drama” people leave the same bitter aftertaste. Disruptive gossips, tattletales, sense of entitlement employees, and pot-stirrers. They are not team players; nor are the people who talk about their personal lives all day every day. These disruptive individuals typically have strong personalities and a propensity to persuade. When I conduct training for managers and supervisors, I tell them these behaviors have to be stopped immediately, otherwise their drama and negativity becomes a cancer that spreads.
  4. Combative, challenge authority, lack respect, don’t follow chain of command. Other traits managers never want to see are malicious compliance, or what’s referred to as passive-aggressive obedience. Like it or not, managers and supervisors are the ones in authority; that’s why their called bosses! Not following the chain of command is a major pet peeve, too. So if there’s a question about something, or you have an issue you can’t resolve on your own, take it to your manager first. The last thing managers want is someone going over their heads!
  5. Lying, especially regarding time spent on the job, lack of integrity, dishonesty. This pet peeve circles back to number one because it can mean you’re not working much. Add to that lying for why you’re not working and lying in general. When you lie, you die. Lying and excuses can often go together (this will be covered more in part 2 as Mistake #7). Suffice it to say, if your boss thinks your excuse is a lie, it’s a lie.

The bottom line is that bosses don’t want to be everybody’s babysitter or referee. They don’t want to feel as if they’re running an adult day care. That’s why in managing difficult people, attitude is considered more important than aptitude. Numerous bosses have told me they’d rather have someone with “high will, low skill” if they had to choose one trait because at least these people are more malleable. In the workplace, as in life, your attitude does determine your altitude.

Colleen Kettenhofen is available for speaking, coaching, and consulting by calling (971) 212-0479. She is an award-winning speaker, author, and media veteran who has presented keynotes and seminars before thousands in 48 U.S. states and five foreign countries. Colleen has conducted more than 1,100 programs on leadership, dealing with difficult people, presentation skills, and change/stress management. Colleen is the author of “Secrets Your Boss Isn’t Telling You” as well as 10 unique audio programs. For more information, visit