Out Of Control Angry and Elderly Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about an old angry boss: He curses and yells expletives loudly from his office and doesn’t seem to care who hears him.

I work for a man who is in his upper 70s and has started this business. He has always been known as an arrogant ass, in general, but is a big “name” in this industry. He curses and yells expletives loudly from his office and doesn’t seem to care who hears him. Yesterday, He said that half of Americans are so stupid, they ought to be “lined up and shot.”

In light of the recent Aurora shootings, I feel like this man is absolutely out of line. The board of directors is weak and do not care what happens in the office, just as long as things look good from the outside. I am a little afraid that one day, he will go completely nuts and bring in a gun. The office vice president is an older codependent female who has smoothed his feathers for years and considers herself his “office wife.” Her primary job is to keep his ass covered and keep him out of trouble. Everyone here (an office full of professionals) is slightly afraid of him and very intimidated. What can or should I do, if anything?

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

Apparently your boss has a history of being loud, arrogant and obscene. He’s in his upper 70s and so far not done anything physical or been specifically threatening. While that is no guarantee of future behavior, it doesn’t seem to indicate a strong predictor for future violence. I agree that his remark showed very poor judgment and would sound foolish any time. However, it probably is similar to other excessive rhetoric he has made many times in the past. If his remarks were more detailed, “I’d like to get a gun and line up a few people and watch them die”, that would be much more serious sounding and would merit a call to the police or to his board of directors, no matter what you think of them.

No one should talk like that and no one should tolerate it. (Even though there is nothing illegal about it, just very concerning.)In this case, he made a generic remark that usually indicates disdain rather than a real desire to do violence: “Half the people in this country are so stupid they should be lined up and shot.” That would have been the perfect time to say, “Yes, but your family would probably miss you.”

You mention that the board of directors doesn’t care about what happens in the office, which may be true. But, it also sounds like the employees don’t care what he is like as long as they have their jobs. So, he has been allowed to be the way he is, over the years, and now everyone is stuck with it. (I wonder how he is at home!) You may want to try the approach of mildly showing your dislike when he says or does something that is excessive in the way you described. For example, a mild frown can send a message of disapproval. Or, a frown and a head shake. You might say, with a tone of mild correction, not anger, “Mr. Anderson, I can hear you without you yelling at me.” I doubt you would be fired for expressing a thought like that.

But, honestly, I don’t believe there is any chance you will change his long-term behavior and verbal habits unless you have the support of someone with authority over him. If you and others think you can gain that support, you may want to document your concerns and at least ask that he be made to stop using obscenities and shouting angry remarks.

If you can’t bring about that change, you will need to either leave and let him know why or stay and implement your own personal safety awareness and response plans.

*Keep a record of particularly upsetting things that might indicate a potential for violence.

*Talk to HR, a company attorney or some other organizational resource if you can point to a specific issue that makes you feel unsafe.

*Have a plan in mind for how you could react if he ever does something that seems to be threatening. (Safe areas, escape routes, doors that can be locked, etc.) That is a good idea for any workplace.The one positive note is that your boss may not be working in the office many years longer. It’s just a shame he was allowed to spend his whole career making the work-life of others unpleasant and will probably retire with a sizable amount of money, rewarding him for it.

I imagine you have found ways to insulate yourself mentally most of the time. Continue to do that and do your best to not let his angry and weird behavior have a negative effect on you and others. You can have a leadership role among your peers by encouraging them to stay strong mentally and emotionally. An employee may need to tolerate bad behavior in order to stay in a job he or she wants to keep, but they don’t need to stay and feel intimidated or frightened. That is as a much a choice as any other.Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what you decide to do.

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.