Bulllying By My Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about speaking back to a boss’s belittling: He verbally abused all of his employee’s including me in front of everyone and asked me if I though I was better than him and if I thought so I should leave.

I just came from a staff meeting were the boss pretty much verbally abused all of his employee’s including me in front of everyone and asked me if I though I was better than him and if I thought so I should leave.He also told all of as that we should think ourselves lucky that he has given us work and that he could take it away from us at any time. This went on for an hour or so.

I left the meeting feeling enraged at how he spoke to us. He told the supervisor to write out a written warning for me to sign tomorrow because I spoke up and said that he was being unreasonable. I don’t want to go back to work but can’t really afford not to. This sort of treatment has been going on for some time now and I am beginning to feel like a nervous wreck. What came I do?

Signed, Warned

Dear Warned:

You can sign. Signing doesn’t mean you agree with being unreasonable; it simply means that you have received the warning. You also can submit a defense of why you spoke up against your boss’ verbal abuse and threat of being fired. Since you can’t afford not to work, and few of us can, you may need to eat crow until you can achieve a better working relationship within your workplace or can find work elsewhere.Flare ups, particularly those of a boss who has a habit of verbal abuse, are cause for serious reflection. Someone, such as you, asks, What’s going on with our company? Is it in trouble? Are we screwing up? Too many rejects? Too few orders? Are my coworkers screwing up? Can’t we push enough out the door, make enough calls, or is it just me???

From a distance it’s impossible to know if you have a bully boss or if the problems that precipitate his abuse come from problems within your workplace. However, usually the problem is not the employee; rather it is a dysfunctional system. One that permits a culture of bully bossing. Obviously, you are reviewing what seems to tee off your boss. What mistakes? What wasn’t done on time? Do you have performance reviews, and if so, what are the behaviors that merit a good grade and what are not so good? What does your boss propose that you do to prevent the lower grades? Get special training or simply work harder?

I assume that you have determined to do all that you can so that your boss doesn’t blow his top again. The fact that your boss criticized you and others for much if not most of a staff meeting is evidence that your staff meetings are communication poor. There is plenty of talk, even passionate talk but it is talk down not talk with. Boss talking is not communication. Communication is two-way, give and take, listen and talk back, analysis of what causes problems, debate over possible solutions and clarifications of job definitions and who does what.

In short, your staff meetings are not skull sessions in which your boss engages all of you in applauding what has been going well and analyzing what can be done effectively. Can you change from talk-down staff meetings to talk-with skull sessions? Probably not. Is there any hope that a pattern of bully bossing will change before you become a nervous wreck? No, if you and your coworkers can’t shape up to meet your boss’s demands. No, if you and your coworkers don’t assert yourselves. Q. How? A. Study of your company’s policy book about what rules a boss should follow in making assignments, giving warnings, and also how to complain about a boss and request an investigation.

Then confront your boss, his superior, and/or formally request that your personnel or human relations department conduct an investigation of how your work groups is being managed. Don’t become a whispering, whimpering gang of coworkers conspiring to get rid of your boss. But quietly compile a log of incidents describing the verbal abusive language used by your boss. Be as specific as possible. Detail the dates and context. Make several copies. These don’t have to be presented in the request but should be available because those assigned to investigate will want to learn who said what when and why.

The hard fact is that changing the way a boss bosses is not without risk when employees have no union, and I assume that is true of your situation. If you had a union, there would a process for dealing with abusive bosses. Warning of risk is one you don’t have to have written down; you will simply feel the stress that comes with confrontation with power. To be forewarned is to be better armed. It will take persistence and courage to see it through. The end result might be to request a transfer within your work organization or to seek work elsewhere. Work is hard enough without verbal abuse. Working day after day walking on eggs lest your boss blow up is not the way you want to live. You can do better. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that is the kind of spirit you want to have when you head for and return from work.

William Gorden