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Thursday, September 11, 2008

verbally abusive boss

A reader writes:

I recently left a large internet company to join a well established, yet small creative agency. The company's philosophy of listening and constantly learning really connected with me and the team was very passionate about doing good work for a great set of clients.

The issue here is the level of verbal abuse that I have since found out is a feature of the work environment. The cool radio station playing in the background wasn't because the office was hip - it was to cover up the screaming coming from the executive office for even the smallest offenses. Late 10 minutes? Well, you are going to get yelled at for a half hour and have every other fault or perceived flaw flung at you along with a litany of questioning of your professionalism and dedication. Didn't convey the exact message that the founder force fed you before a client meeting? Well, that is good for at least an hour.

I have tried everything from being calm and reasonable, to trying to get a work in edge wise, to confronting him and telling him behavior is unprofessional and damaging, to just flat out ending the conversation and walking out. Unfortunately, because I am not willing to sit through these tirades with my hands folded and head down like all of the other executive team, I am being froze out of key meetings and now enduring work which is totally not in my job description suddenly becoming my responsibility (i.e. I am a producer and suddenly I am being told that site QA, customer research and architecture work is also part of my duties).

I am a senior level person with over 10 years of experience and have not had the experience of working for someone who only knows how to express themselves by yelling. I just started this job and really would like to get a year in before going, but this is taking a toll on my health and I dread stepping foot in this place. There were also a whole host of things that they flat out lied about during the interview process (no 401k, no flexible hours, team is widely dispersed) and I would have never taken this role if I had known. I am not sure what to do here - I am very on edge and don't think I have it in me to deal with another day wasted with these tirades.


Seriously, leave.

Okay, look for a new job and get an offer first, but ultimately, the answer is to leave.

I get that you want to stick it out for a year, so that you don't look like a job hopper to future employers. But you have a perfectly reasonable excuse for leaving now. You can tell interviewers, "The manager's management style revolves around yelling, and it's not for me." Assuming that the other jobs on your resume were longer stays, people are going to understand this and will realize that good people don't want to work for tyrants.

Chronic yelling should be a deal-breaker. It demeans the person being yelled at, and frankly, it diminishes the authority of the yeller because it makes them look out of control. And if anyone out there is reading this and thinking, "Well, there are some times when yelling is warranted" -- no, there aren't. If you're a good manager and you're confident in your own authority, you don’t need to yell; problems don’t get under your skin because you have effective tools at your disposal (such as performance counseling and moving out employees who aren’t the right fit). Yelling is the sign of a bad manager. And a jerk.

Leave, and have no qualms about doing it.


Anonymous said...

I would find a new job and then get out of dodge. I have interviewed half a dozen candidates in the last two weeks who quit, figuring they'd find something right away, and now have been out of work for months (I'm in a major city) - so I would try try try to stick it out until you have an offer.

I have to say, the way you've handled yourself shows your maturity (taking it, trying to reason, then decided to walk out). Those would be my steps too - knowing that you're worth more than that means you have confidence and recruiters eat confidence up like candy. I would absolutely get out of there...and that old thing about burning bridges? Screw it. I'd probably state, in writing, why I was leaving and give that letter to the HR person (if such a person exists - which I highly doubt).

Rachel - I Hate HR said...

What's the question here? You hate it. There's no reason to stay. I would be calling everyone I knew (including the last company I worked for) trying to get out of the job.

Been There said...

Want another reason to leave? A boss this abusive probably has it in him or her to accuse you of abusive behavior. Nature of the beast. Matter of time.

So on top of everything else it's time for you to start writing e-mails to yourself. Describe behaviorally -- don't make inferences, only describe behaviorally -- what happens. Such as:

Today at 9:17 a.m. I was working alone in my office when I overheard AbusiveBoss yelling. AbusiveBoss was with (name) in AbusiveBoss' office. The only phrases I made out were (quote). The yelling was audible until 10:05. I did not say anything about this to AbusiveBoss or to (name), and nobody said anything to me.

E-mailing yourself gives you a time stamp. Send it to yourself and from yourself. And don't use your work e-mail address.

AAM, you have a grip on these situations. I'd like to know what you think of this suggestion please?

Ask a Manager said...

Been There: Hmmm, I'm not sure I'd advise her to bother with that. I guess I'd ask: toward what end? I'm not sure I see anything in this letter to make us worry that the boss would accuse her of abusive behavior. Sure, he could snap and fire someone (and I'd be interested to know if he has a history of that), but I think the measures you're describing wouldn't end up being needed. Say he fires her, and she has this documentation of his temper -- then what? She doesn't sound like she'd be inclined to sue (nor would I recommend it or necessarily think she'd have a case, despite this guy being a jerk). I'd rather see her spend her energy on moving on to a new job. Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Hello - Thanks for the comments and thanks to AAM for responding to my question here. I am definitely planning to do all within my power to stick it out until I have a new job - however I am still concerned that given some of the freeze tactics I have been experiencing, that they don't already sense my frustration and are planning on finding some stupid reason to let me go as I have seen them do with no less than 2 other people since I have been there.

I actually hired a career coach two weeks ago and am getting some really good advise and help on updating the old resume to make sure I am portraying my skills as I intend to use them (ie not coding- I don't think I mentioned that is also part of my new job description here). Fingers crossed!

Been There said...

Thank you, AAM.

Mary E. Maguire said...

I was hired as a graphic designer for Bard College last July, packed up my two children and moved 100 miles to work for them only to be verbally abused everyday by the two running the small under-worked publications department. After several formal complaints to H.R. my bosses fired me. But wait, it's better. They fired me by telling me first they were going to give me a project I could prove myself with to work on over the next four weeks and later that very day the two were discussing, while standing next to my desk, putting an ad for designer in the paper. For one month I was still abused, I still complained to HR, worked my ass off on the bone they threw at me all while watching applicants come through their door and leave and I had to listen to the abusive remarks made in regards to each one of them. I held on and still looked for work to support my kids and me. Nine months after I was hired I was fired. HR never did anything about it. Infact, I was not the first to have put up with this. The college allows this to happen and has become their hobby of sorts. I was given a huge severance (which I chalked up to hush money). 4 and a half months after I was fired they lost another new hire. DUH! Don't they see what's going on? I am working a part time design job and a waitress gig. I am so happy and a lot healthier not being around the Bard College toxic twins.

Anonymous said...

Hi- I am in a rough bind where my boss essentially hates me and over reacts to any statement made about me. She treats me like I am an ex boyfriend that she can't stand. She tells me that other people in our office are sick of my behavior without really explaining what my behavior or mistakes have been. When I reach out to these people and ask for an explanation or offer to fix the situation- they usually have no idea what I am talking about- seem very sincere- and say that it was just a casualy comment or even a joke and that they were suprised by her reaction when they told her as well and thought that she took it the wrong way. I feel compelled to cover my tracks because she is so abusive and angry- but when I do everyone thinks I am just paranoid about losing my job- while they do acknowledege her temper.

I probably do seem panicky because everyone only knows half the story. The other half is that she pursued a relationship with me for months and months- I was interested in being a good friend and I thought we were just that and when I made it clear I wasn't interested in any more she began to pretty much criticize me continually- and cruelly on a personal level- and now on a work related level as well. I have dozens of e mails that document this.

I feel a bit stuck- and I don't know if I should bring everything to light because I think with a level of certainty that she is laying the ground work to dismiss me or at least make me look bad to the other executives I work for.

Anonymous said...

I am in the exact same situation like you, a verbally abusive boss, yelling, personal attack, spend 30 minutes with you for a small mistake that easily to be corrected in 30 seconds. Micromanage, no trustworthy, wondering everyone is stealing his business. Yet, he is smart and he knows how to kiss senior management ass. He treats me in a totally different way while in a public environment. This is way too terrible!!

I really wanted to leave and have been looking around for several months, but now it is just bad timing to find a new job since so many companies are on hiring freeze. My depression is deepening...

The good part of the post is that I never know I can tell the interviewer about "my manager's management style is revolving around yelling..." I was always informed that you should never bad mouth your boss.

Furthermore, the concern is for future job reference check, I cannot imagine this manager will provide any positive feedback. How bad could that impact future job application?

Looking_for_my_Niche said...

I just want to say that I really appreciate these posts. I worked for an abusive boss for almost a year and a half. I wanted to get the time and experience to be able to move to another job so I knew I had to stick it out for at least a year. The problem is that... when I hit my year, the recession hit and I was just grateful to have a job.

Well.. needless to say, I was 'let go' on Monday (after putting in a full day's work). My ROE was dated the 29th of April but I was let go on the 4th of May so obviously things were going on behind closed doors.

Now, here I find myself a single mother, in a recession with no job and thank to a tyrant of a former boss and the inability to defend myself, nowhere NEAR the confidence needed to even sit through another interview.

My advice, in hindsight, would be like the others. Find something else FIRST.. and don't let anyone still your spirit.

Anonymous said...

TO the person who says she is a single mother, don't be a victim. QUITTING SOLVES NOTHING IF YOU JUST FIND ANOTHER JERKY YELLING BOSS OUT THERE. Talk about micromanaging? I have a boss who sits in the room with us all day long seven hours a day, in front, like a teacher facing the class. She makes note of every expression or tone of voice and complains. How many of you have to put up with THAT?!

believe me, I am the veteran of over 45 jobs, and why so many? because I don't take abuse and quit. Only to find another abusive jerk. It is very like your love life, where you break up with someone, only to find another abuser. That is what needs to be dealt with. Also, do you all have supervisors who are so angry that they just sit there with big grumpy looks on their faces all day long, and don't smile, even when they say "you're doing a great job'? I have had many of these.. isn't that strange? Boss yelled at co worker when I was new on the job, he certainly isn't interested in impressing the new person, is he? These people are jerks, that is why they have such turnover. Also, sense the stress in the room when you go for the interview,. If boss man is being ignored by workers, that means he likely is abusive. Take my experience as the queen of worst jobs ever.

Anonymous said...

I am a white male who is still working as a tutor at my local community college Spring2010. The last week of college May2009 I was working the front desk of the tutoring center when my coordinator walked up to me and asked if I was going to attend the end of semester party. I said No because I had other plans for that day. Keep in mind this was a NON paid event that is simply a get together for all of the tutors in the center.

She turned to me and in a very raised and forcefull voice she said...

YOU F....NG B...H.

Nothing else was said by her then she turned and walked away. I had never ever had any employer call me that simply because I had other plans and could not attend a non paid company party. I just stood there in shock in disbelief about what I had just heard.

To this day I get a huge KNOT in my gut every day that I walk into the tutoring center. She has her little company snitches repeatedly ask me why I do not bring my 8 year old son there anymore. That only makes the KNOT in my gut grow and grow. I am an expert at identifying company snitches. The ones who act like a team member but only go back to report to the boss about what is going on and what is being discussed. It takes me at most two days at any company.

I told my family about the abusive language, one other student, and one other tutor at the center. All of these folks will keep it quiet but personally I want to show up with leaflets and pass them out to all of the students announcing the action of this person but have not as of yet. I have kept it quiet but the knot in my gut keeps telling me to let everybody know about what happened.

While I am a guy and accustomed to the dude talk a college tutor center is no place for that type of language when you do not approve of somebody who has other plans and I think it is bordering on sexual harrasment with the words that were used.

I know how it is and feel everybody's pain who suffer this abuse and worse. Is it any wonder why most folks are not happy in the work place.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, yes. Yelling is appropriate when someone is about to do something physically dangerous and doesn't realize it - "LOOK OUT, THAT'S ON FIRE!" - and basically no other time.

Anonymous said...

I have a verbally abusive boss that is out of control. I am at my whits end with his behavior and I dont know what to do. He yells, screams and curses at me multiple times throughout the day everyday. My work performance has taken a turn for the worse and I can no longer focus.

Jamie said...

Like Annonymous 8:06 I, too, would not mind if a co-worker or boss raised their voice to me alerting me of fire...or perhaps that an icicle was about to fall off the building and impale me.

I think the rule of thumb should be if no one is in threat of imminent danger everyone should use their inside voice at work.

It amazes me how often I read about the yelling and I feel for those of you subjected to it who can't just up and quit. Work is stressful enough without that.

Anonymous said...

I had a verbally and emotionally abusive boss as well. She could be really great. But she could turn on a dime into an angry, hostile, mean person. I was cussed at, told I was stupid, autistic, and was yelled at, and on and on. I endured it because I wanted to stick it out and make things work. People that act like that have mental issues and aren't very stable. The whole experience was awful because while I was not perfect I gave a lot of myself personally and professionally and I got it thrown back in my face. I did a few hours of work I never got paid for and it ended with me telling her to basically jump in the lake- and she responded in a horrible way- which wasn't all that surprising. The worst part of it was she tried to make me seem like I was the bad guy- to add insult to injury! It takes time to get over the experience- I am still not over it- but I like to believe you reap what you sow and people like this get what they deserve at some point- I hope!

Anonymous said...

When a boss starts yelling, immediately leave the area. When he stops yelling, make it clear that you will not be spoken to in anything less than a professional manner.

Also, begin looking for a new job