Bully Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a boss’s abuse of one’s wife: She’s had threats of firing after 20 years of stellar service; all of a sudden her new boss is stressing her out with what I view as a hostile environment.          

Should I speak to my spouse’s boss if I feel they are bullying her? She’s had threats of firing after 20 years of stellar service; all of a sudden her new boss is stressing her out with what I view as a hostile environment.

Signed, Spouse

Dear Spouse:

Should you speak with her bully boss? Probably not. Rather your wife must speak up for herself. Unless she is a member of a union, she’s on her own. She can quit when she will and her employer can fire her as it wills. We don’t provide legal advice, but you should consult an attorney if what you describe as a hostile environment is caused by discrimination based on sex, race, religion, age, disability, etc.

However, from what little you say, most likely your spouse’s new boss is not pleased with her work and what is needed is to learn why. You say, “her new boss is stressing her out with what I view as a hostile environment.” You are not there to view what is taking place. She is. She can log what her new boss does that stresses her out; she can list each incident in her work that has prompted his threats, his language, who if anyone in addition to herself observes his behavior, and her reaction. Has she met with him to discuss her performance?

Is her place of employment large enough to have a Human Resources Officer? If a meeting with her new boss doesn’t resolve the threats, she can seek the advice of that office, her boss’s boss, or personnel. Few employers fire an employee with a stellar record of performance. She has that on her side and should approach this as a matter of adapting to the standards, if reasonable, of her new boss. Of course some bosses have learned to boss by bully threats and they will continue to bully until and unless they are confronted.

No one should be threatened, belittled, sworn or yelled at by a boss. Inadequate performance should be approached as a problem to be solved; by training, clearer specifications, revising the system, discipline, re-assignment, etc. Her meeting with the new boss is one seeking clarification and making her desire known to be treated with respect. Usually a new boss wants to make a difference and he/she comes with ideas about how to do that. Is it possible that your spouse can understand that and see her job as one that is open to improvement?

A meeting with her new boss should spell out expectations with a plan to meet them and she should have a say in that. In short, a boss/bossed understanding is a matter of clear communication and collaboration.

Rarely do bosses and the bossed talk about how the talk to one another. But when one feels bullied, it is time to talk about that talk. In your spouse’s case, if the new boss is bullying, her working group might meet with him to collaboratively hammer out do and don’t communication rules about how it wants the boss to communicate with them and how he wants them to respond.

The focus, of course, of boss/bossed communication should be performance and production; meeting the needs of internal and external customers. Terminology of that today is lean management; ways to improve efficiency and quality of goods and service.

I predict that if your spouse approaches her boss with that mindset, she will see her boss in a better light and he in turn will see her more positively. You are to be commended for wanting to speak up for your wife and to thinking through if this is the best way to help her. I trust that my thoughts on this matter will help you decide if you should, and if you do. how to do so effectively. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that is what you want for her, her boss, and her workplace.

William Gorden