Sunday, August 22, 2010

Work Environment

I have received a couple of emails from people in jobs working for tyrants.  Yellers, screamers, liars, manipulative madmen, you get the picture.  If half the stories are true, it's more than awful. I don't know if it's a trend, or happenstance or unfortunate circumstances.  The stories are difficult to read and people are looking for help and answers. I can offer only what I know from experience and read and refer people to other good blogs - get your materials up to date, keep looking, keep networking and try and stay positive.   These words feel rehearsed, overused and shallow.  I wish I could offer more - like a decent work environment.  But I can't.  

I am appealing to you collective group of great HR and career people.  I promised the writers that I would share everything I receive.  If you don't want to post here, feel free to email me. What advice, counsel and words of encouragement do you have for those who are working for really awful bosses?   

Thanks to all for your input.  


rlsherman said...

The words you offer may feel overused for good reason and doesn't mean they aren't valid - they are the best advice in these situations. Here is what I can offer in addition if it is at all helpful:

Don't take on the burden of changing the tyrant, particularly if they are your direct manager. For whatever reason, they have become successful with that behavior and for you to battle their learned experience at the cost of your own well being (energy, self-appreciation, etc) is not a good choice. There is an old proverb that I will try and paraphrase (someone can probably remind me where it's from): He who battles the dragon for too long may become the dragon himself. Don't be a dragon to fight the dragon.

Remember that you can't control how they behave, but you can control how you respond to the behavior. Remember always that your value is not based on what the tyrant says or thinks, and don't let him/her bully you into reacting the way they want you to.

Venting has a place, but only if that is truly what is is...think of the verb "to vent"...if you are releasing the frustration and letting it go, then it's good. But if you are just using that time to re-live and re-experience the frustration, then it's better to let it go quickly and move on. Sometimes we feel like it's helpful to turn to our co-workers or colleagues and go over the really awful stuff time and again. Just remember...vent, don't re-live.

Last item that I can think of right now is reinforcement that you don't have to work for a tyrant - spend the time and effort to find a better situation. I think there are more tyrants rearing their heads these days because they think they can get away with it given the job market. But even in this market, there are opportunities and you should work every angle you have to find yourself an exit - a proper, diplomatic, and non-bridge-burning exit.

Steve Boese said...

I have to agree with RL's advice, and I would add this - try to find (if you can), whatever speck of positivity you can out of the situation and focus on that. Does the manager have any expertise that you could benefit from learning more about? Is there a way to get to a point where you say, 'My manager is a jerk, but at least while I am here, I am going to get as much out of this deal as I can'. But ultimately, I think you have to get out of a situation that is really that bad. A toxic workplace almost always affects your health, your relationships, and your happiness outside of work. Eventually, this person could ruin much more than our 9-5 life.

Yvonne LaRose, CAC said...

As much as you can, remain calm and professional. Do NOT get baited into the fray. Tact and diplomacy will help you gain much.

When they are about to go into yelling mode, ask if the two of you can step into this office (some place of privacy in order to cut down on the noise). Ascertain what the problem is. If you already know, ask what part of the project they want you to handle. Once it's done, ask if there's anything more. Keep doing this until it is completed.

Meanwhile, the days will be passing. Begin your job search (if you haven't already).

If the onus is on you and the source of the manager's rant, sort out what they expected and let it be in their words. Write down what they want and ascertain in what order.

Let them know that some things may need to be delegated (get approval to delegate and even go outside of department if necessary) and give updates re the progress.

For more on this subject, please read my article, "It's About Your Manager," which can be found at

I wish you peace.

Deirdre said...

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I had another email from a reader who re-emphasized the not getting drawn in to the manager's drama.

The reader wrote, when working for a psycho, I would match his antagonism with kindness. The more irritated he got, I matched with a calm demeanor and approach. It kept me sane.

I hope to have more feedback other the next couple of weeks.

Beth Gilfeather said...

I'd normally say "get out quick". It's the natural response you would give to anyone being abused in their everyday life. But the truth is that not everyone has the luxury of quitting their job. And taking this person on directly about the issues(if they are truly an irrational and unpleasant person) would just seem like a really bad idea that will only make matters worse. What about putting together a very well-written, objective account of what's going on in your department with this boss and submitting it anonymously to this person's supervisor? Appealing to a higher court could put the right information in the right hands so that this can be dealt with.

Michael Krupa said...

Interestingly enough, I learned the most from a manager that was the most abusive. I learned how to be political, calm, detail oriented, organized, careful, astute and when needed to jump in with a quick comedic quip to defuse the situation. And then...I got out as fast as I could. So my advice while you are stuck in bad job is step back and figure out how you can learn from it until you can get out of it.

Deirdre said...

Beth, thanks. Keeping notes is a good call and I will pass that on. Moving up the chain of command is certainly an option.

Mike, that's a terrific perspective. From experience it's hard to see what could possible be of value in the moment.

Thank you both for your thoughts.

Jim aka Evil Skippy at Work said...

All of the advice given above is great -- in addition, keep in mind that you are not alone. Without turning the situation into a crisis of high drama, consider meeting off-site with others who are affected by the bad behavior. Discuss an "intervention", perhaps involving HR management or the "tyrant's" boss. Several years ago, I worked for a tyrant when I was based in a branch office for a huge law firm. By staying calm and professional, we were able to present our concerns to her in a positive way. We did not come off as crazed villagers pursuing the Frankenstein monster with torches and pitchforks. The tyrant did not change into a model boss, but she did improve. Since we had all banded together and did not make this a personal attack, there was no retribution.