Dysfunctional Addict Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a screaming boss: I feel trapped in a bad job situation, and am unsure of the best move to make, whether to confront my boss, or remove myself from the situation completely.

My boss is a pain med addict. Depending on his meds and mood, he regularly screams at his employees, cursing at them. He occasionally treats his clients and sub-contractors the same way, causing them to avoid him when they call in. This is only a portion of the unprofessionalism that he displays in the office. He also continues to smoke in the office, despite that it is illegal and that some of his employees have requested he stop due to allergies. The work environment is overall hostile due to his unprofessional behavior and derogatory attitude.

I feel trapped in a bad job situation, and am unsure of the best move to make, whether to confront my boss, or remove myself from the situation completely. How can an employee address such concerns with their boss, when the issues are directly involving his own bad behavior?

Signed, Trapped

Dear Trapped:

You are trapped??? If so, just bite your tongue, suck smoke into your lungs, and work within a hostile environment. I don’t mean to minimize your frustration. I agree you have more than ample reasons to dislike working under a screaming, cursing, moody, smoking boss, whether he’s a pain-addict or just an individual with dysfunctional behavior. Getting out of a trap needs not mean cutting off an arm, leg or your tongue. It is because you have a head and tongue, arms and legs that you can get out; either by fighting or by fleeing.

Effectively “fighting” your boss’ behavior in a professional way might entail the following action:

· Prepare a written account of the behaviors you describe. Log them with dates and context of what, who, when and where they occurred to the best of your memory. Also do this unobtrusively for the next several days. Don’t share this list or gossip about them or disclose you have made a list. But you might confer with a peer, coworker, or subordinate if one of more of them has brought complaints of the boss to you. More specifically without disclosing that you are working on a log, you might suggest that they too can make a list of the problems they have brought you and the solutions they think can solve those problems. And that they can follow the appropriate channels to voice their complaints. Talking down a boss with anyone else risks being accused of mutiny, and is not something you shouldn’t do. That’s why I suggest you should go it alone unless some of you have been discussing what to do and decide to do it together. However, be aware that sometimes those who are less committed get scared and back out.

· Once you have such an account and copies of it, file them in two different safe places. Why? So that you can have this account if and when you might need them as backup support once the investigation is underway.

· Now you are ready to make a written and oral request for an investigation of the hostile environment of your work area to the appropriate authority in your organization, possibly that is Human Resources or Personnel. That request should include the term “hostile environment” and also the reason you think your boss is harming your company. Use the descriptive language you state in the first few sentences of your question: “He regularly screams at his employees, cursing at them. He occasionally treats his clients and sub-contractors the same way, causing them to avoid him when they call in.” Avoid diagnosing him as a pain-addict because you are not a doctor or psychologist. An investigation most probably will find that as a contributing factor. But as I said above, he is bad news to your workplace no matter what causes such behavior. You will have to weigh whether you will confront your boss and inform him that you have decided to ask for an investigation. You have plenty of reason to candidly tell him that you have come to this decision because he has been so inconsiderate and destructive. Think through whether you would prefer to have him learn you have asked for an investigation from someone else or from you. Most likely he will know. Such a request will rarely be kept confidential.

Fleeing. You have a fleeing choice. You can request a transfer within your company or you can bide your time until you land another job and you vote with your feet. Don’t expect either fighting or fleeing to be a quick fix. Ridding the dark cloud of irritability and smoke that permeates your work environment no doubt will take a lot of fresh air. And a boss who screams and smokes won’t just blow away.

All these thoughts are made from afar and without your knowledge of what is your workplace culture and appropriate protocols for dealing with “bad bosses” or anyone else. Therefore, I trust that you will weigh them and seek the confidential advice of those you know very well outside of your workplace. As I have said elsewhere, work is hard enough without having to cope with a screaming, cursing, smoking and mood-changing boss.

Guard against allowing this matter to become an obsession and souring your life outside your workplace. If you choose to “fight”, do it with a good conscience and caring spirit. You will be fighting for your workplace and not against your boss. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that includes your boss. Once my associate Workplace Doctor, Tina Lewis Rowe, has read my remarks, possibly she will add hers and that might be different. I hope she will see her way clear to do so because she the wisest woman I know about workplace matters.

William Gorden