Horrible Bosses and the January Phenomenon of Staff Giving Notice
in Careers Advice, Changing Jobs, Employers, Legal Profession

Horrible Bosses and the January Phenomenon of Staff Giving Notice

Why Horrible Bosses Should Be Very Nervous – Happy New Year and Goodbye!

Every year in late December and early January, and very often straight after Christmas Day, we get a surge of new candidates registering with us, looking for new jobs. I’ve just had a look today (day after Boxing Day) and I can see that we already have new registrations from Boxing Day.

Employers should be very nervous indeed, particularly those of the unpleasant variety (you know who you are, and if you don’t then see below for a quick test for horrible bosses). This is the great (or not so great depending on the economic climate) migration of employees that happens every year.

There are a number of reasons for this, but before we get to it, lets see a) why this phenomenon happens, b) what makes a horrible boss and c) how to combat it. Some of the advice for option c) is to do next year, but there are some immediate tips for you to consider.

Why does this happen?

Picture the scene – an extended family are going for a walk along the beach on Boxing Day, and one family member asks another: “how is work?”. The other family member replies “not so bad thanks”, but then thinks a bit more, and because they have a captive audience to listen to them for the next 3 miles and also because they are not at work thinking about it, they start to pour out their troubles – their boss is a bully and a tyrant, the workplace is infested with mice, the clients are a detestable bunch, their colleagues are only interested in their own careers and the support staff are thoroughly unpleasant.

Suddenly, that person is thinking about a move – why should they carry on working at the firm? They might enjoy the work, but the Boxing Day walk has reminded them of all the things they hate about their job. The following day, when they get a few minutes’ peace and quiet, they register on a number of agency sites and start to look around at alternative options. One thing leads to another, and by mid-January they are interviewing with three firms and by the end of January they have handed in their notice.

By the end of January we start to see lots of firms registering vacancies with us because the Boxing Day/Christmas break cycle has kicked in again.

Horrible Bosses

Having a horrible boss or manager (or senior co-worker) seems to be by far the number one reason for candidates making a move. As most recruiters will tell you, the number one reason given for actually making a move is to ‘progress a career’, but we all know this is complete baloney.

Horrible Boss Test

1.       An employee approaches you and asks for a week off in January at short notice. Do you a) say yes of course, hope everything is OK, b) say you’ll think about it and give them your decision the night before or c) throw a book at the wall and tell them how they are letting themselves down, the side down, and you are most disappointed in them.

2.        Before Christmas did you a) take all the staff out for lunch, tell them how wonderful they are and how grateful you are for their hard work, plus give them a £50 tax free gift, b) ask the staff who is free to work on the 27th December as you are really busy, c) make sure all the staff knew that you are going to be working all through the Christmas break and they should be grateful they are even getting Christmas Day off and not being called into the office.

3. An employee makes a serious mistake at work, accidental but damaging. Do you a) tell them they are f****g useless and should be fired, b) you will be deducting any costs from their salary or c) that you understand that stuff happens and they shouldn’t worry about it.

4. An employee asks if they can work remotely and not in the office. Do you a) tell them they are lucky to have a job in the office, and you are not going to be paying them to loaf around in their pyjamas watching TV all day, b) inform them its standard practice not to allow remote working at the company so not possible or c) tell them you’ll have a chat through the practicalities with them and see what can be done.

5. An employee asks for a pay rise. Do you a) throw a stapler at them, call them lots of rude names and tell them they don’t know the meaning of work, b) tell them the business is struggling to cope right now and to come back in 12 months or c) tell them you will arrange a meeting in the next few weeks to discuss and see what can be done.

6. An employee doesn’t reach their performance targets. Do you a) tell them they have 3 months to buck their ideas up or they will be fired, b) explain the terrible effects their lack of billing is having on the business overall and why they should be ashamed of themselves, or c) set a meeting time and date to go through their work and discuss opportunities for increasing their billing.

I’ll stop there. I could do 100 questions of a similar nature, most of which we have come across in our day to day work as recruiters. Bosses can be horrible in so many ways, but the key thing is the ability to emphathise with staff, look at issues from their perspective and always try to be supportive rather than restrictive or critical. You tend to know if you are a horrible boss, and nothing I write in this article is going to change this.

Ten top tips for avoiding staff handing in their notice after Christmas.

How to combat the ‘Happy New Year and Goodbye’ phenomenon.

  1. Don’t be a horrible boss

Easier said than done if you are one, but if you look at the options I have given above for the horrible boss test, you will see that a number of the more passive aggressive options are more unpleasant than the horrible boss throwing staplers and bad mouthing the staff. So I guess the additional advice is don’t be passive aggressive!

2. Before Christmas, be nice to the staff

Do you really need to open on the 23rd December, the 28th December and the 31st December (or any other days between Christmas and the New Year)? Being that just about everyone else is closed, other than firms owned by horrible bosses (or with compelling reasons for opening), do you really need to open the office doors? Think of the goodwill you will generate by closing..

3. Before Christmas be nice to the staff part 2

Have you given each member of staff a gift? Don’t forget that as tax regulations currently specify, you can give them a tax free gift of a value up to £50. Vouchers work a treat.

4. Before Christmas be nice to the staff part 3

Its all very well and good being nice to the staff, but if you pile them up with work just before the Christmas break and give them a deadline of the 31st December, it is not going to be very conducive to a relaxing time for them.

5. Consider setting a date for an annual review in January or February

Give the employee notice of the annual review a few weeks beforehand, and make sure you ask them to complete a questionnaire before the Christmas break. This way, by the time you get to the review they are thinking of all the positive things about working at the business and any issues they need to sort out with you without changing jobs.

6. If an employee makes a mistake, be nice to them

Everyone makes mistakes, even you. If you come across a mistake by an employee, discuss it with them. How did it happen, was it an accident, was it a result of a lack of training? You don’t know if you don’t ask. Support your employee.

7. In the New Year, tell your employees about any plans for the business if they are positive

Obviously if you are about to sell up or go into administration they probably don’t need to know! However if you are looking to recruit in new areas, set a new advertising campaign in motion or take on new work, tell the staff.

8. Don’t just not be a horrible boss, be a nice person

Being a nice person takes effort, particularly if you are under stress & pressure yourself. Don’t take it out on your employees.

9. Be a nice company to work for

One thing that keeps employees at firms, and we see this time and again from our business brokerage work, is that nice firms with strong principles of decency, morality and social responsibility tend to attract and retain staff for considerable amounts of time. Firms that are cut throat, ruthless and have a bad reputation tend to turnover lots of staff.

10. Get over your antipathy towards remote working

Final tip is to bear in mind that one of the main reasons we get from employees for changing jobs at the moment is the complete failure of some businesses to appreciate that not everyone who works from home is sat in their pyjamas all day watching TV. Our company has been remote working since April 2000, even before it was a thing. Once you have tried remote working then you are unlikely to ever want to go back to an office, or at least not full time. This is what you are up against – during lockdown everyone tried it, and a lot of candidates looking to change jobs are doing so in order to work remotely in some shape or form.


Happy New Year and we hope it is not followed by a Goodbye! Follow the tips above to make sure you are not a victim of the exodus of staff, If you are a member of staff with a horrible boss, perhaps drop this article on their desktop accidentally..

Similarly if you have a horrible boss who is never going to change their ways, sign up with Ten Percent Legal Recruitment – we are specialist recruiters with the personal touch and over 24 years of experience working in the legal profession.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.ten-percent.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk