How to manage a horrible boss: the seagull manager

17 December 2015 -


Erratic, ill-prepared and arrogant, seagull managers damage staff morale by talking down to colleagues and blaming everyone else for their failures. In this final article in our horrible boss series, Insights looks at how best to ‘up manage’ a seagull boss

Jermaine Haughton

If you’ve ever experienced a boss who gives out deconstructive criticism and muddled direction during projects, with a limited understanding of what their job actually entails, then you have had a seagull manager. Quick to take all the credit for successes and none of the blame for failures, seagull bosses constantly cause disengagement among their workforce.

A 2006 study of 1,500 UK office workers by recruitment outfit Office Angels defined seagull managers by their propensity to fly into office situations without being armed with any knowledge about the potential challenges, squawk out orders to workers and promptly leave. Workers are often given too much to do in the time requested, or given work better suited to others.

As a major project deadline approaches, seagull managers can often be seen stomping around the office, seemingly preparing to point the finger at someone for potential failures. Furthermore, they talk non-stop, avoid eye contact and actively discourage anyone else from saying anything.

IT business development executive Tom Robertson, 29, notes how one of his previous team managers brought a sense of gloom to his office through his negative and unfairly critical manner towards staff.

“He’s brilliant on the phone and in meetings with prospects but is very cold to us,” he said. “Last month, I devoted a lot of my time to a new project to stimulate business from small-and medium-sized independent retailers – a previously unchartered area for the company. We were an inexperienced team, but rather than receiving strong guidance and interaction from our manager, we were lucky to see him three times a week.

“The only times we would see him, he would pick out the people struggling to meet their targets and give them a stern word or two. Every time he stepped in the office we almost shrieked in fear. We were lost.”

At the heart of problem is a lack of people skills from seagull managers. As parents have told their children for centuries, first impressions count. The initial step into the office, first lunch break, opening meeting with senior management and inaugural after-work drink with colleagues are all key moments for new managers in establishing their presence and personality within the office.

But studies have shown that nearly half of employees fail to last more than 18 months in their jobs due to generally poor interpersonal skills. The lack of social skills are further exacerbated by a superiority complex from seagull managers, who typically consider themselves to be the most important person in the conference room. Often based on the fearful premise, 'do as I say if you want to keep your job,’ seagull managers avoid being exposed for their lack of knowledge on a project, client or concept by talking down to colleagues until they can excuse themselves and leave.

The breakdown in this relationship between managers and staff can have damaging impacts on employee health, as well as business performance. A survey of more than 1,100 UK workers carried out by job site CV-Library found that a fifth of respondents felt overworked and stressed due to poor management.

Moreover, 68% of workers also felt pressured to rush their work and more than half of stressed employees said they feel underappreciated by their employers. Further research from specialist recruiter Randstad found that more than half of UK employees (53%) admit they have to do the job of more than one person. The survey of 2,000 UK employees found one fifth (22%) of staff say their workload should be covered by two people or more, and 6% said they do the job of at least 2.5 workers.

Dame Carol Black, the Department of Health’s expert advisor on improving the welfare of working people, said: “There is abundant evidence that the health, especially the mental health, and overall wellbeing of employees depends greatly on their relationships at work. That means their relationships with each other but particularly their relationships with employers, from line manager to the most senior executive and board member.

“These relationships are encapsulated in the concept and practice of engagement – a concept that reflects the culture of an organisation.”


Some individuals choose to ignore their boss’s rants, while others listen and use it as motivation. But when the situation threatens to become damaging to staff confidence and health, workers are encouraged to be assertive in booking a meeting with the manager to discuss their concerns.

Write down what your job objectives are and what you are doing and give it to them, as well as openly talking to the manager about what they are doing and the effect they are having. Once the issue is explained, be firm in highlighting that continued bad behaviour will be met by a complaint to a more senior manager or HR.

Employers can also play a more effective role in helping seagull managers change their behaviour. One answer could be to encourage managers to spend more time with each employee. By interacting with staff, managers can build an understanding of how their employees work and what management style gets the most efficient performance from them.

Researchers Leadership IQ showed that managers should spend exactly 6 hours a week with each employee, including face-time, phone conversations and email. The survey of 32,000 workers estimates half a dozen hours to be the perfect balancing point between too little interaction and too much, with staff feeling 29% more inspired about their work, 30% more engaged and 16% more innovative.

Finally, management experts advise employers to place as great an emphasis on soft skills as they do technical criteria when assessing candidates throughout the recruitment process, especially when hiring project and office managers.

Although interpersonal skills are often harder to identify, Deborah H. Herting, author of The Power of Interpersonal Skills in Project Management, said effective personable managers boost their organisations by getting the best out of people, communicating project goals with all levels of the business and unite stakeholders through collaboration and teamwork.

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