Owner Plays Blame Game and Berates Everyone

Question:

I Jump Through Hoops For Fear But The Owner Berates Me! I went back to work for a family owned manufacturing company. I adore my co-workers; we all work hard. I was hired on as a Customer Service Manager. I handle customers, in the showroom and on the phone and I do the invoicing for the repairs of equipment and assist my Purchasing Mgr, along with other details that I keep up with. The issue at hand is this: the owner berates, yells and blames every employee in this company for his “special projects”. Meaning there are equipment sales made that exceed our 7 to 10 day turn around. Not everything is in stock per his set min/max requirements on parts. We all jump through hoops, and when the hammer comes down, he begins his blame games, putting everyone down. It is harmful, it is stressing beyond anyone’s normal level of acceptance. He ranted and raved at me in front of customers, and wouldn’t let it go on confronting me on Monday to the point he was in my face, every 30 minutes to make his point in nasty manner, and I didn’t want to listen to his belittle and his unprofessional manners in which he demanded answers to questions he wouldn’t allow me to provide proof of. He accused me of not getting something down, when he pulled me from said task to do another task, and this is a continued hostile effect on my work ability for his blaming me on one thing when he had me directed in another area. I understand there are laws to prevent this. It is now affecting me in a form of a hive outbreak, and tears off and on when I leave the work place. It isn’t as if I can just leave, when I have responsibilities and bills to pay. Can you stir me in the right direction? Is there a law against verbal abuse in the work place?

Signed,

Depressed and Tired


Answer:

Dear Depressed and Tired:

Dear Tired: Thank you for sharing your concerns with us. It sounds as though it would be very upsetting and frustrating to work for someone like you describe! However, there is no law about rudeness, anger or even verbally abusive behavior in the workplace, unless they relate to the legal definition of a hostile work environment, which involves EEOC issues. For example, if the remarks frequently are sexual or racial or related to ethnicity or other protected areas.

If you feel you can show emotional damage severe enough to cause loss or damage on your part (for example, you end up with physical and mental conditions that require you to get professional help) you may have a case for civil court, to recover damages; as determined by the court. That is something you would want to talk to an attorney about. Most attorneys will provide a free consultation about such things. Look in the phone book for those that advertise as specializing in workplace issues. Use the rest of this message to help you put together some thoughts and answers to questions an attorney or attorney’s assistant might ask you.

Sometimes it helps to get a clear picture of what you are dealing with. You seem to do well with the parts manager. If he has been there longer than you, ask him about the history of the boss’s actions. Is this the way he has always been? Is there something else going on? Has anyone ever spoken to him about his behavior? You may want to verify with your parts manager that the actions of the boss are, in fact, way out of line. I mention that because sometimes one person is much more sensitive to angry words than others. If the boss acts this way to others but no one has quit or confronted him, maybe they do not find it very upsetting or they see a reason for it.

You may find it helpful to keep a record of the situations that occur. Write the date and time, what he said and the nature of the situation. Seeing a pattern of some kind might be helpful. That wouldn’t excuse his manner of talking to you, but at least might give you a clue as to what sets off the yelling.

If you talk to an attorney you may be asked: *What have you done to try to improve the situation? *Have you talked to a senior employee, such as the parts manager and explained how the actions of the boss make you feel, asking him to speak to the boss for you? *Have you ever said to the boss, something like, “When you yell at me like that I get so upset I can’t think straight. Could you talk to me in a more courteous tone of voice?” Or, “Ed, after a day like this I go home in tears, I break out in hives and I feel sick at my stomach. I can’t take this much longer. Please stop talking to me like that!” *Have you gotten with other employees and asked them how they are handling it and ask for their assistance in talking with the manager or the boss? *Have you told the boss about your reactions, both physical and mental? *Were you hired by the boss or by someone else in the company? If so, have you talked to that person about this problem?

Those are valid questions, because anyone defending your boss would certainly say, “He had no idea it was so upsetting to the employee. If the employee would only have said something, he would have stopped.” Whether that’s true or not, you know that’s what would be said!

The other issue, which might be brought up, is, “Does the owner of a business have the right to establish expectations, standards and requirements?” “When the owner got angry, had those requirements been met?” (If they weren’t, that doesn’t excuse abusive behavior, but does explain the anger. The problem is how he expresses his anger.)

Especially in the case of an owner, he may feel that he is the one who takes the risks, he’s the one who pays the salaries, he’s the one who pays the taxes and the advertising and everything else and he gets very angry when employees repeatedly don’t do the things that will ensure he makes the profit he wants or needs. The store is his, so he can have pet projects and he can set any standards and requirements he wants and fire those who don’t meet them. In this case he apparently doesn’t fire people, he nags at them, yells at them, is rude to them and berates them in front of customers. Some employees may prefer it this way, since they want their jobs and do not want to be fired.

I assure you, I am not excusing his behavior. What I want to emphasize is that, while employees are justified in disliking the way the owner reacts to work performance, he has the authority to run his business any way he chooses as long as no laws are violated.

Having said all of that, consider some things you might be able to do to start improving this situation. If you do good work generally, it would seem the owner would not want you to leave. You may want to tell the parts manager that you don’t know how much longer you can take the verbal abuse and hope he passes that along. If, as you say it is a family owned business, is there some other family member to whom you could talk? They may see that losing you because of his actions makes it time to call a halt to his way of dealing with people. You might want to say it to him directly, “Ed, am I doing such a bad job that you want me to quit? Because that’s the feeling I’m getting.”

The time to converse about it is likely not when your boss is yelling. At that point he is high on his anger and you can’t deal with someone who is doped up! When he is yelling, you may only be able to state the basics, “When you yell at me like that, I can’t think straight. Can we talk about this in a half hour when things are calmed down?” Just repeat that until he realizes you won’t be able to discuss the matter. Get busy with a customer, go to the bathroom or whatever, to put some distance between the two of you.

When you do talk to him, take the offensive by saying, “What just happened awhile ago is the very same thing that has been going on for weeks. I’ve gotten to where I stay half sick over it and we all dread it when you get angry because everyone suffers. If you just talk to us, we’ll understand you’re upset. When you yell or berate us in front of people, nothing gets better. I will try to explain what you were asking about, but I can’t do it if you start yelling at me.” You would have your own words, but at some point you will have to say something to let him know how you feel.

When you talk to your co-workers, find out if anyone else has tried to make it stop. You may find this has gone on for years and no one has said anything. Now it’s such a habit that he thinks its normal and so does everyone else. I think your parts manager is a key person in this. He may have been around longer than the others and also may value your help to the extent that he will support you. However, when it’s all said and done, you may not be able to change this habit of the boss. You are a new employee and apparently all the other employees haven’t made a change in the situation either. If that’s the case, you have to decide how much you’re willing to put up with. Dr. Gorden often uses the phrase, “vote with your feet.” That may be your only option.

Think about it this way: If you do nothing, he’ll still be treating you this way a month, a year, ten years from now. If you try to make things better by speaking up, you will probably be no worse off and you may awaken his awareness of how others see him; and that you and others might not stay if he keeps up his behavior.

This is a challenging situation and one that will take a lot of mental control and courage to deal with. Best wishes to you as you work to make things better.

Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

Tina Lewis Rowe