Boss Yells

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about abusive boss:

I have been working for this company for 4 years and I need some advice. My boss has been really loud and verbally abusive about things that shouldn’t even matter. Some employees of mine thought that there were cameras put in the place that we work, so we asked his assistant about it. She got mad and stomped into his office. Later in the day, he called us into his office and slammed the door. He yelled and got in our faces. It made me really want to cry. I was scared. I just want to know if I have any rights.

Signed, Scared

Dear Scared:

No, you have no legal rights not to be yelled at. Bosses can yell so long as their workplace culture allows it. There would be rules against verbal abuse if you had wise management and/or a strong union, but apparently you don’t. But do you have a moral right to be talked to and treated respectfully? Yes. Will that protect you from a shouting and demeaning boss? No.

So what options might you have? You can confront him on the spot or in private. You can bypass him by seeking the help of Human Resources. You can enlist your boss and others in quality improvement that indirectly transforms or at least helps him manage his anger. Confront on the spot: You can say when he yells, “Stop. If you are angry, cool off and describe what we did that is wrong. You’ll get more cooperation when you do.” Or in a private meeting, you can frankly say something like, “Jason, it really bothers me when you explode at me and my coworkers. All of us want to do good work. None of us want to do anything that might make you look bad. Do you believe that? We can make mistakes but we do our best to correct them if you bring those to our attention. You don’t have to yell to get our attention.”

You or you and coworkers should not have to work scared of a boss who bullies by yelling in your face and putting subordinates down. He likely does that because it gets him what he wants. Yelling works for him. He probably learned that in his home, school, or in earlier jobs. He will not stop it until and if some of you insist on being treated with respect. You should not be scared to ask about cameras monitoring you. He should not bring you in like naughty children for asking about that or objecting to that. Management might not take them down, but you shouldn’t fear to ask about them.

But you will be intimidated so long as you behave like naughty dogs. Your boss appears to have a habit of bullying by verbal abuse, and possibly you and your coworkers have a habit of taking abuse. Bypassing him. Human Resources and/or personnel are there to help make things run smoothly. Some might advise that employees should secretly bring them complaints against a boss. I don’t. I prefer to advise that those who have a boss-complaint to first confront her/him. Then, if abuse continues, it’s the time say, “Jason, I’ve told you that your yelling and verbal abuse bothers me. Would you come with me to Human Resources because I feel I must bring my complaint where it will be heard?”

Your boss would then realize you were serious, that you didn’t want to take more abuse. Indirect Attack. Rather than confront or report on your boss, you might decide to attack the problems that almost every work group has: waste and lack of innovation. What would your boss think and how would he behave if he saw you and some of your coworkers finding ways to cut wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy? How would he react if you ask for support for a way to improve quality and productivity? No doubt he would be pleased. What would he say if you engaged him in talk about saving the company money? Would he yell at you for that?Changing a workplace culture from incivility to civility takes courage and persistent effort. Are you up for that? If not, steel your self. Abuse will continue. If you are, don’t see your boss as the enemy, but as someone who wants to be liked and respected just as you do. See him as one who has a habit that can be changed, or at least made less mean. Don’t gossip or complain. Do get backbone. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and both he and you need that.

Tina Rowe also responds:I agree with Dr. Gorden in his general advice, but also want to add something about this.We heard your side of the story, but I’m wondering if there is another side as well. For example, it sounds as though you and others went to the assistant to the manager to ask about cameras in your work place. It may be she felt threatened or defensive about that. A better way would have been to have just one person represent all of you, or for all of you to have written about it. For several people to surround a clerical person at her desk can create frustration, fear and upset on her part as well. That would almost inevitably have made your boss angry–and apparently it doesn’t take much to make him angry anyway.

If there is a manager above your boss, consider the kind of relationship you have with that person. Maybe you can ask for advice, rather than making a complaint. In the meantime, the rest of Dr. Gorden’s advice would be helpful. Keep your focus on work, not on maintaining an us versus that boss approach. It doesn’t sound like your boss is anyone you would want to be friends with, but maybe you can calm things down to the point that your work place is pleasant and people feel good again.Best wishes! If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. Tina Rowe

William Gorden