Subtle Threat From Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about fear of bully boss:

My boss is the Dean of HR. Over the past few weeks, she has been under pressure because of new management. She had been coming to work under the influence of alcohol (I believe) and uses vulgar language when she gets upset. She is a bully and in a staff meeting, threatened to start a separate file on staff regarding errors. In the meeting, she elaborated on one typographical mistake I made and refused to listen to my concerns.I have encountered problems of this type with her before. I do not want to deal with it again so I asked for a transfer.

I have worked in HR for 10 years. My desk is about 50% of the HR functions and she knows it. She denied the transfer. I went to her supervisor and complained. He talked to her and she met with me and said she heard I had discussed her with other individuals. She sternly warned me to be very careful in what I say about her and to whom I say it.Now I am terrified and I really want to transfer. I am so nervous I cannot go to work.What should I do?

Signed, Terrified

DearĀ Terrified:

Working scared is no way to work. Of what are you scared? Getting fired? More of your HR boss’s demeaning criticism? Her bullying? Unfortunately, because your boss is “Dean of HR”, you can’t go to her to get help with your problem with your boss. You have a fight on your hands. You complained about her to her superior and she has now warned you to be careful what you say about her and to whom. She has refused to transfer you. So what is your strategy in the next round of this fight? For you to work “terrified” and be “so nervous you cannot go to work”?

If that is how you fight her, she already has knocked you out! Pull yourself together. Decide how you will fight. Decide if you will give her cause to criticize you in the presence of a staff meeting. Decide if you will prepare a list of past and present incidents in which she has bullied; what she said, when, where, who witnessed them. That list should include specific times she has bullied, threatened, and exploded. Decide how you will respond the next time she disrespects you. Decide if it would be wise to have a head-to-head meeting with her (possibly in the presence of a third party such as her superior) to discuss the things you dislike about her bossing and about what she is displeased you; to learn if you two can come to a cooperative working relationship.

Decide if a follow up meeting with her superior is warranted because she has refused to help you transfer and has subtly threatened to “be careful what you say about her and to whom you say it.” Incidentally, that is good advice. You should not gossip with co-workers about her. You should not talk about her “under the influence” unless you are sure of that and have examples of her diminished performance or lack of control of her temper. Decide that you should be treated respectfully and will do the best possible work in spite of not being transferred immediately. Sometimes a transfer takes time.

Decide if you can see some good things that your Dean of HR does and if you can commend those? Decide if you can assume she has good intentions and is doing the best she can “under pressure because of new management.” Decide if you can try to make her look good instead of bad. Decide that your job is not all of you; that you have a life and are engaged in being excited about life outside of work. Decide if you can’t get a transfer if and where you will look for a job elsewhere. Your ten years of experience should make you a valued prospect for a different workplace.These thoughts are meant to help you not be terrified and to reflect on possible alternatives to seeing your self as a stressed victim.

Carry your self as worthy and deserving of respect, rather than with a chip on your shoulder. See your little circle in that workplace as a microcosm of a great place to work; one that is friendly, supporting of each other, trying to make each others’ job easier, cutting wasted supplies, time, effort, cheering each other, delighting internal and external customers. That kind of attitude can help shape your workstation and office to be a good place to work in spite of what has happened. Think about the deep meaning of my signature: Working together with skilled hands, smart head, and warm heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden