What To Do About Abusive Treatment By Boss?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about owner demeaning behavior:

I work as a Controller for a mid-sized company and am constantly being threatened with replacement with a receptionist, have balls thrown at me, called dumb-ass, princess, Paris, harrassed when I request time off…this is all done by the owner of the company and he thinks it is cute. What should I do?

Signed, Angry

Dear Angry:

Your decision about what to do will be based in large part on whether you want to stay working there or not and whether or not you think you are being pushed to quit anyway. If you think you could get another job for the same pay and benefits, but without the hassle, you could do as Dr. Gorden often suggests, and “vote with your feet” right out the door.

If you are good at your work it would seem the owner would not want you to quit, so that is in your favor. If you get along well with others and have no serious conflicts in the organization, that also will help you because you will have support. If those things are present, it might not be as easy. However, there are still things that can be done. If you want to stay you will need to decide how far you are willing to go to make things better.First, make sure you have clearly indicated that you do not like being treated in that way. You might want to start by talking to him about it, taking the approach that you wonder if he is unhappy with your work, or if there is some other reason he talks to you that way. You might as well know that anyway.

Then, you can tell him how you feel about the things he says and does and ask him to not do it anymore.If you don’t want to talk to him directly right away, you can at least make sure you indicate your displeasure. The first time you might say, “Don, that really hurts my feelings when you call me names like that. Please don’t do that anymore.”Then, you can move to putting your hand up like a stop sign and saying, “Stop, Don. I don’t like that.” Or, “Stop calling me those kind of names. I mean it. I don’t like it.”And finally, “Don, I don’t want to hurt my job here, but honestly the way you talk to me and treat me is really making it hard for me to work. You may mean it as a joke, but it hurts my feelings. Would you please stop?”

Whatever you do along that line, you need to make sure you are not encouraging his actions through joking responses of your own. (Also make sure you do not ever say similar things to him or others, or that you don’t do it again if you have in the past.)

You may find that if you can talk to him about it before things come to a show-down he will stop on his own. You say he thinks he is being cute, which I assume means he thinks he’s being humorous. If he jokes this way with everyone, and others find it amusing, he may very well use that kind of wild humor and not realize it is offensive to some.If he only makes remarks like that to you, it makes me wonder who he thinks is being amused by it! Or, if he is not joking at all, but perhaps is angry about you or your work and thinks he is getting his point across indirectly.

Among other responses are: Get support from others at your level. One or more of them may be able to make a change when you could not on your own. If there is an HR section, maybe there is someone there you can talk to about it. Let him know you are job-hunting and why. That may make a difference as well! Ultimately you will have to decide how much you can tolerate, how much you can stop it, and what you are willing to do to make things better. Your strength as an employee may have a lot to do with that, because you may need to use that as leverage to make your boss realize what he will lose if he doesn’t treat you with more courtesy and respect. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens as you deal with this.

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.