Screaming Boss Behind Her Office Door

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a boss who demeans her employees: I have a boss who calls her employees idiots and screams. Tell me if this behavior is considered harassment.

I have a boss who calls her employees idiots in several different forms; she screams through her door while talking to coworker out of frustration for things that her employees don’t do to her liking. She never speaks directly to them. She screams out her office so they hear her. I believe this has been going on for so many years that her people truly don’t respect her. They fear her or stay clear of her. I am not the brunt of her manic behavior. I work 9-10 hours straight without a break. I deserve respect. Please tell me if this behavior is considered harassment. And please advise as to how I can deal with her?

Signed, Deserve Respect

Dear Deserve Respect:

Yes, no doubt you deserve respect. A boss, who screams “idiots” at or about her subordinates, shows them disrespect. You say this is a pattern that has been going on for years, but you don’t say if such disrespectful name-calling springs from prejudice or discrimination due to race, religion, national origin, sex, or disability. Therefore, it would not be considered harassment; however, it is ill manners and bad supervisory practice.

Have you ever spoken with your boss about her screaming and hurtful name-calling? If you and others have failed to confront her about this for years, by silence you have told her that it is OK. She undoubtedly thinks she knows how to boss if no one has said, “Don’t call me an idiot. Talk to me about what is not right and I’ll do my best to correct it. Screaming out your office is disrespectful.”

I assume that although you have not been the target of her mean talk, you now want to take responsibility for allowing it to happen. Therefore, here are several options to consider:

1.You have the option of saying nothing because you are not called and idiot or screamed at. You can allow this uncivil bossing to pass you by and accept your screaming boss as “It’s just her way.” Don’t gossip about her; however, if others complain to you, tell them that “You don’t have to bite your tongue. You have a voice and you are not an idiot. You can say, “Jane, or whatever is her name, please don’t call me an idiot and scream at me. I want to do good work and will make corrections if you speak to be with respect.”

2.Although you are not a target, you sense that screaming and calling subordinates idiots. You feel guilty for not having the courage to say, “Jane, I’ve worked for you for years and I know you want to run a tight ship. You want things to be done right and on time. I work very hard and don’t even take breaks for fear that I might be the brunt of your screaming I am an idiot. Thank you for not doing that to me as you have to others. I feel guilty for not coming to you to say that screaming idiots makes you look bad. Do you understand what I mean?” This kind of confrontation might result in a denial or most probably evolve into a candid discussion of how she is seen by your department.

3.An indirect approach could be to join with two, three or four others who have been targets Jane to request a private meeting with her or simply for such a cluster of you to come to her office door after the next time she screams at them. Such a confrontation would stop her short. She would realize she had offended you. This then would be a time, really past time, to say what was on your mind; that Jane’s habit was not acceptable.

4.Yet another approach would be to request a skull session of the bossed to meet with Jane to talk about talk; something that all too often is not on a work group’s agenda. Yet it should be a normal topic: What kind of communication is effective and what is not? What do and don’t rules of talk can make us an effective work group? Some do rules might be:Check in with Jane to get assignments. To make sure assignments are clear paraphrase what you understand and ask clarifying questions if they are not; what, when, where, why and how questions.Complex assignments should have both oral and written instructions.Save most non-work conversations for break time. Some don’t rules might be:Don’t say something about coworker or boss that you would not say to them directly.Don’t scream at someone even from a distance.Don’t call one another a demeaning name. These are examples and of course your work group will need to word the do/don’t rules that apply to your particular work area. Should you choose this rule-making option, it should be understood that time should be set aside to review, change, and discuss how well you all are living up to them.

5.Urge Jane to have regular Quality Improvement team-wide sessions. The topics for such meetings might include: What have we done this past week that merits applause?What needs improvement?How well are we satisfying out internal and/or external customers?Are there ways we might cut waste; wasted supplies, time, energy, money?Are where ways we might make our communication more effective?Are we an employee-friendly place to work?

I’m sure these are more options than you need or want to consider. My point is to help you realize that your question implies that you want to take some responsibility. There have been and will be opportunities to do that; some that are appropriate, others that must be requested. I conclude with my signature that embodies this: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and isn’t what you want is for respect from and of Jane and each other?

William Gorden