My Boss Calls Me A Knucklehead!


I need help desperately. My boss has it in for me and has had for some time now. I’ve worked for this company for 7 years, under him and it’s reaching the point that I’m having panic attacks and feeling physically sick every time I’m scheduled to work with him. I have made a mountain of mistakes at this job, I admit that. I always take responsibility for them, and either do what I can to fix them or take notes so it doesn’t happen again. I have never denied anything that I did wrong.

The problem I’m having is that each time a mistake occurs, it is thrown back at me to fix it. I’ve been called and “Idiot” and “knuckle-head” and if anything happens that is a mistake, and no one knows who did it, it comes back on me. If I can’t prove I didn’t do it, I just take it and fix it, but recently I thought I proved that I didn’t make a particular mistake, and he called me liar. He has said that he wished he could fire me, but I don’t do anything wrong enough to warrant it. He said this to my face! He also talks behind my back and thinks I won’t find out. All my other co-workers are angels. They don’t cover up for me, but they try to warn me ahead of time when he is on the war-path and tell me what he says when I’m not there.

No one can talk to upper management on my behalf without jeopardizing their job, and I wouldn’t ask it of them. But I don’t feel that I can either. He is constantly riding me about how I do my job. I do it the way he tells me. And the next week I’m doing it wrong and have to change to a different way because he said he never told me to do it the previous way. I recently went back to school full time, and before school started he said I’d have to quit because he wouldn’t work around my schedule. There are 3 other students that work there that he has no problem with. He’s pleasant to my face when he’s working on scheduling but then I find out that he tries laying traps for me to get into trouble. He’s been caught in lies by other co-workers but there is nothing we can do.

I’ve been approached by almost all of my immediate co-workers and asked how I can take it. I’ve been advised to keep a notebook of all the things he says to me, to go to his boss, or to even file a lawsuit for a hostile work environment. I’m lost, scared and don’t know which way to turn. I have a 2 year-old son to think about and provide for, and my boss knows I can’t afford to get a new job and lose my benefits from this one to cover my son. I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do I get a lawyer or do I continue to ride it out? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


Emotionally Beaten


Dear Emotionally Beaten:

Thank you for sharing your concerns with us–and I hope that doing so will start you on the road to taking control of your well-being in every way. Your boss sounds like a very poor supervisor or manager. You may need help dealing with him, but you also need to be reminded that you alone can make a difference in this situation.

If there are resources in your community that could provide personal support for you, please use them. Perhaps you can find personal counseling to help you develop confidence about the actions you need to take. Or, if you know someone who has been successful in their work, maybe you can talk to them to gain some ideas. Someone who knows you and perhaps also knows about the place where you work might be able to give you more specific advice.

If you wish to see an attorney at this point, you might find it beneficial from the viewpoint of learning about your options. Most attorneys will provide a short consultation without charging a fee. They will likely ask you the same questions I’m going to ask you to consider, so even if you see an attorney these would be good things to think about.

1. First, let’s look at how the mangers–those who could control your boss–are likely to be thinking about you as an employee. How much will they want to support you? How valuable are you to the overall goals of the business? You mention that you have made many mistakes–and now get blamed even for things that are not your fault. Think about those mistakes and do some self-evaluation.

Do they involve complicated jobs that would be difficult for anyone to do correctly or do they involve tasks that others do without errors? Do you make the mistakes because you lack the knowledge and/or skills to do the job–maybe because of lack of training? Is it that you might not be suited for that particular type of job? Or, do you make mistakes because of some other reason–you have lost interest, you become flustered, you don’t take enough time or you don’t care?

It seems to me that you do care very much about doing a good job. However, no matter how much you care, you jeopardize your job security when you make excessive or unnecessary errors. Is this the right job for you? Should you perhaps consider something else–both as a way to remove yourself from a bad boss and also as a way to have a job where you can feel good about yourself and your abilities? Or, should you be asking for more training in certain areas or developing different work habits?

Here is one way to consider all of that: If you knew that someone you wanted to impress was watching you and you would look badly to them if you made an error, would you be able to do your job for a day without any errors? If so, what would it take to ensure that error-free day? How can you duplicate that in the real world of your work?

Something else to consider: If you didn’t have this boss, would you still make the number of mistakes you usually make? If having a boss who treated you better would help you do your job better, you should use that when you take this higher up the organization. You can point out that the way this boss acts is counter-productive, because he keeps you–and perhaps other employees–from doing their best. But, if the number of mistakes you make would probably not change, even with a new boss, you should either ask for some training in the tasks or you should re-think your job situation. Otherwise, you may get a new boss–only to find that the new one will use your errors to ask for your dismissal.

2. What have you done to bring about a change in the way your boss treats you? You say you have been there for seven years. Have you ever gone to his managers to complain? That should have happened about seven years ago! If you have, and nothing was done, you likely should find another place to work, because it will not bet better! If you have never said anything to anyone, you need to do so.

You say that the other employees won’t go to management for you. That is not their responsibility. It is yours. But YOU can go and give their names as witnesses to what has occurred. If your organization has an HR section or a personnel office, tell them about your concerns. Or, if you think your boss’s manager would be understanding, talk to him directly.

You say that other employees are angels to you and let you know what the boss says when you are not there. They would prove their friendship to you better if they’d stand up for you to the boss. They would also prove their friendship better if, instead of warning you about him being on the warpath, they would all go to upper management and say they are sick and tired of working for someone who goes on the warpath! You don’t say what size business or company this is, but if there is anyone at higher levels, someone would care about the work environment.

If you feel you can do so, the next time your boss says something inappropriate, ask him to please stop talking to you in that way because it keeps you from doing as well as you’d like. You can word it in a way that won’t be as direct as that if you don’t feel comfortable speaking in that way. You could say, “You may not realize how it hurts me and bothers me when you say those things, but it really does. I am trying my very best to do a good job and that just makes it harder for me. Would you please not do that?” If he doesn’t apologize or at least agree to try to respond differently in the future, you certainly have something to take to personnel or to a higher-level boss.

The fact that others are allowed to have school schedules and you are not is also something to take to those in higher positions. Why haven’t you or others complained before now about these kinds of things? If the business is so small that he is the only one that would be one thing. But you say he has a boss as well. And perhaps there are others even higher in the organization. They want a well-managed business, and it sounds as though this is not well managed!

Write down the things that have happened–especially the names he calls you–and take it to someone who can help you.

3. My final thought is this: I don’t know your age, and I am aware that it isn’t easy to speak up, even when you feel that you are being treated unfairly. But, you can’t continue this way either. If you do not want to quit, I would suggest that you focus your efforts on being the best employee possible, doing what you can to avoid mistakes. Then, firmly but in a civil way, tell your boss that you do not like to be called names or treated so badly.

Many of us have been “chewed out” by a boss at some time–so while that might be irritating, it can be endured. But name-calling is not right in any work setting. Do not allow him to call you a rude name anymore. Never allow him to throw something at you. Tell him to stop. Know where to go in your business to report it immediately. Give the names of witnesses to that and ask them to support the workplace and you by speaking up about it.

I hope these thoughts will give you ideas for how to take control of your own work life. You do not need to be rescued by your co-workers or anyone else. You need to look honestly at your contribution as an employee, then require others to treat you with respect. If you cannot do that in your current job you should look for a job where you will be valued as a person and an employee.

If you wish, please let us know how things develop. Best wishes as you work through this challenge.

Earning a boss-bossed working relationship that can be seen and felt as WEGO will take courage and speaking up for your self.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.