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Say goodbye to your psychopathic boss

I couldn’t make up a story like this if I tried. This week’s newsletter is based on a comment posted by a reader on the Ask The Headhunter blog, edited gently. It’s still long — but I’m publishing the gory details because it’s the sort of story I’m sure many of you have heard from a friend. Worse, it may be a story from your own work life. While many employers cry there’s a talent shortage, this is how some treat their employees.

In the September 30, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader recounts a story no one wants to experience:

After four years with my company, I made a choice to abruptly quit (even before I have officially secured a new job). I know that’s idiotic and irrational, but ever since new management took over last year, I’m mentally drained. They are a twisted bunch of jerks, to be quite frank. One incident in particular was the final straw for me!

psychopathI’m open-minded and actually enjoy change and new routines. However, I can’t function at a job where bosses let their authority get to their ego and judgment. Last month, one of my new managers flat-out bullied me. I’ve never had a full-on issue with a boss or co-worker ever, so it was devastating to be a target for no apparent reason.

There are two sides to every story, so I’ll admit… I was having an unusually horrible day (personal life, etc.). As I was walking back to my department, one of my managers ignored my friendly hello and then hastily asked me why I had gotten disorganized so suddenly with my workload. She said it in a confrontational way. I thought I was being over-sensitive, so I politely smiled and told her what my plan was to fix the problem shortly and I walked off to my destination.

Suddenly, she yelled at me over the P.A. system to go to her office pronto. I was annoyed, but sucked up my pride and did as I was told. She was seated like a high school principal about to expel a mouthy, troubled teen. I knew she looked angry, but I passively tried to discuss the issue she seemed to randomly have with me.

She barely let me say one word. Instead, she yelled at me that I had answered her in a rude, sarcastic manner. I told her: “I am having a pretty bad day. Maybe I came across as rude, but I didn’t mean to be.”

To rub salt into the wound, she paged another manager to join her in scolding me. She exaggerated everything to the other manager and got her upset at me, too. Obviously, my adrenaline was starting to flow now. I was in that fight-or-flight mode. It’s extremely rare for me to get upset in public or at work, so I was about to have a panic attack from the stress.

I quietly told her that I needed to walk away and use the restroom. I was fighting tears at this point, so I excused myself. She then yelled over the P.A. system again for me to go back to the office. So I did. Mistake! She was straight-up cutting me down this time. I snapped and said shakily: “Let me get back to my f***ing job and stop micro-managing me.”

I know, how unpredictable of me, however I was feeling threatened. She and the other manager then cornered me and yelled at me that I needed to go home immediately. I thought I was being fired so I cried as I walked past my co-workers. I went to my car and drove home crying. Really, I’m not normally a wuss, I just felt animosity towards the situation.

The next day I called to see if I had gotten fired. The HR lady said, “No, of course not.” After I explained to her what happened, she barely seemed to care at all. After four years of being a proactive and well-rounded employee, I felt appalled by her “whatever” attitude. I then wrote out my resignation notice and dropped it off on her desk within an hour.

I finished out my last day yesterday. I have a potential new job tomorrow (interview). I’m optimistic that I’ll land it with no problem, considering my slightly above-average resume. I’ll never tolerate that level of drama at any job, ever.

Having read “How your old boss can cost you a new job,“ I am afraid my old employer will not give me a good word for my potential new job. I’m hoping my possible new employer won’t find it necessary to call my old job.

I could have fought harder to maybe get my wrong-doers in trouble, but with the complexity of their office politics, it wasn’t worth trying. Sometimes you really do have to simply… quit. We are creatures of habit, so it takes guts to break routine and start fresh! But I feel a person’s mental well-being is more important than almost anything else.

Nick’s Reply

Never apologize for psychopathic managers.

I very rarely tread in the waters of clinical psychology, but it’s worth putting a name on what you encountered at your company: a psychopath. Don’t let the term intimidate you. Understand what it means so you can recognize it sooner next time. A psychopath is marked by:

“…a personality disorder characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, diminished empathy and remorse, and disinhibited or bold behavior.”

Sound like your boss? Read on.

“Lacking affect and urge control, demand for immediate gratification, and poor behavioral restraints… Lacking empathy and close attachments with others, disdain of close attachments, use of cruelty to gain empowerment, exploitative tendencies… and destructive excitement seeking.”

I had a psychopathic boss myself during a long year in my life. This company president abused and terrorized individual employees in company meetings, held them up to ridicule, and encouraged others to attack them verbally, too. He held himself up as a godlike figure whose opinions were law. I didn’t realize what was going on until I heard a company customer dress him down and abuse him the same way — while he physically cowered, “Yes, Sir-ed,” and did exactly as he was told. A classic case of the abused abusing others. I quit soon after, to save my own soul.

In cases like this, as the verbal violence increases, your mind tries hard to rationalize it. (Maybe I should learn to accept such behavior. After all, we have such big-name customers, so my boss must be doing something right. Look at how much money he makes. Maybe this is what it takes to be successful, and so on.) But it’s not alright, ever.

No matter that you don’t have another job to go to. You preserved your self-respect and integrity. You were right to quit. It was the smart thing to do. Here’s the thing: You will quickly recover. Your former employer will not. Rest easy knowing that.

My one criticism is that, although I understand why a person might “go off” like you finally did, cursing in front of your boss is never acceptable. She succeeded in bringing you into her sick little world. In the future, avoid getting baited like that.

As far as references, I guarantee you that any reference from that company will be worthless or toxic to you. The business community already knows the company and its management for what they are. All you need say to any prospective employer is, “I don’t disparage anyone I ever worked for. I look forward. I want to work with a good company that encourages me to use my skills to produce profit in a healthy environment.” Then provide excellent references from everywhere but your last employer. (See Take Care of Your References.)


I show how to “launch” your best references so they’ll really pay off, no matter how negative one reference might be, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, pp. 19-21. This PDF book also shows you how to get the truth about private companies, how to figure out whether a company is a “Mickey Mouse operation,” and how to pick worthy companies to apply to.


Please remember a piece of advice my mentor gave me many years ago — advice it took me a long time to understand: Never work with jerks. (It’s not the first or last time I’ll cite that advice.) As you learned while facing the sick wrath of your boss, It’s the people, Stupid. (No offense intended. We all need to think about that.)

When I resigned from my employer, I did it on my terms, like you did. I compliment you for not resigning on the spot in anger. It’s critical to take time to think, and to act with forethought and grace.

I wish you the best. Leave that illness you survived behind you — it’s a sick company. You’re healthy. Go work with healthy people and let the past go.

Have you ever had a psychopathic boss? What were the signs? What did it take for you to escape? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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84 Comments
  1. Bravo. I’m glad the person left on their own terms.

    I worked at two different companies with psycho management. It was tough because I put much of the blame on myself at the time, I ended up a better person from the experience, I saw first hand the dark side of management.

    I’ve gone on to a very successful career at the C-level for over 15 years. I’m proud that nearly all of my team has worked for me for a very long time. Those early bad examples showed me the value of treating people with respect and dignity.

    As Nick said, the good news is there are other options out there. Use the bad experience to help you interview for your next job. Learn the culture before accepting an offer And avoid what I call the dreaded rebound job.

    Again, great job standing up for yourself That will take you a long way. I’d love to have someone like you working for me,

  2. I had a psychopath for a boss once. He used to pace back and forth in the hallways, ranting at everything and tried to talk to offices two doors away while he was in his. A lot of stomping around, really.

    In the span of three years or so that this director was there, the place went through two CEOs, three VPs, and numerous other staff. He caused major factions in the office, to the point where secrets were kept across departments and “spies” came in an tried to get me to tell them what he was hiding from them.

    When a coworker gave her notice, he went ballsitic, closing her door and going ape, to the point that she walked out crying on that day.

    Later that week he was in one of his moods, came into my office and tried to start to pull the same anger fit on me, but that was a mistake. The second he started pointing and yelling I got up from my desk and walked right up to him, face to face (I am 2-3 inches taller than him)stared him down with my best “I’ll beat the living crap out of you” look, and then walked right past him. I ended up putting in my resignation within a week directly through HR.

    I had already made friends in other departments, so I wasn’t worried about a reference from this jerk.

    As a side note, this company has gone through two or three director heads in that same department, and are still in pretty bad shape, culturally. Existing employees that I know still live under the fear of the HR department that polices everything that goes on there. It was so bad that the company is clamping down on everything. Workers work in fear of another set of crises, because the departments still hate each other with a passion. It’s a slowly bleeding corporate blood bath in there.

  3. I don’t think I would have mentioned not being disparaging to the new company. To me, this says that there was some kind of trouble. It might invite a closer scrutiny into just what may have happened, which would allow these loonies the opportunity to beat this person up yet again. I would say something nice like “They have a lot of really smart people at XYZ” or “It’s really fun to work at XYZ” but I felt that it was time for me to make a change. To pursue more and different challenges.

    About psycho managers:

    I had a manager at IBM who used to sneak into my office and ask me in a loud voice, “What are you doing”. Since my desk faced away from the hallway to avoid distractions, this would SCARE THE CRAP OUT OF ME. Since I was doing marriage counseling, I asked the shrink what I should do. I was told that this guy needed to feel in control and scaring/startling me was how he could put me off balance and feel like he was in control. It was suggested that I calmly turn around and ask, “What can I do for you”. He eventually got tired of this and went off to harass other employees.

    He told several of the Chinese ladies that there would be beatings if productivity didn’t increase. They were TERRIFIED! They believed him. I don’t understand how it is that they don’t own IBM now… Well… I do understand. That’s just how most foreign workers behave and why they’re so attractive. Subservient, afraid, don’t want to get sent back to where they’re from. In short, easy to manage.

    • “I would say something nice like “They have a lot of really smart people at XYZ” or “It’s really fun to work at XYZ” but I felt that it was time for me to make a change.”

      It’s really sad to read how many people will speak positively about appalling ex-employers. I get that it’s a tough job market and badmouthing ex-employers hinders your chances at an interview, but surely this kind of complicity is helping to perpetuate a deeply sick system. Life’s very short, and there’s no situation that warrants covering up evil behaviour.

      • @Sebastien: I’m with you. Making positive comments about a lousy company is indeed complicity. The professional community doesn’t need phony applause for bad actors. If you don’t want to tell the details about a bad company, at least don’t give it compliments.

  4. I like your ” Ask The Headhunter” website. About bad boss- sometimes one can not just quit, sometimes the boss is not so outrageously bad. I have the boss who ignores positive and concentrates on negative, writes unfair and factually wrong evaluations, his is being capriosiuos and arbitrary, never smiles, but does not raise his voice. It makes him just as toxic boss like the one who screams. HR people are never helpful. They work for the company in a worst way possible- helping to save face not to improve situations and help employees. Many HR and many managers forget one important thing- unhappy employees are bad for business. If the higher Managers are not interested in knowing about the company employees and their satisfaction then they are just as bad as toxic boss. I wish the person who quit good luck!

  5. @Nick It is rare that we disagree but you tell him “…cursing in front of your boss is never acceptable.”

    Why? He is not going to get a reference from them or her. Nick, there is a time and place in my view to use the psychology route and for me this is one where playing the higher ground is not the angle I would have used. This situation I would have handled one on one (notice how she had to drag someone else in when confronting him.) I would have told that other person to leave and then let it rip.

    What I see is to me clearly an insecure, inadequate and potentially disturbed boss that has been described. Under the circumstances as this person described it is not only acceptable but also necessary in my opinion to “curse” right back at this so-called boss and knock her back into her personal hell hole.

    That inappropriate and abusive particular “boss” required a major reality check far outside the proprieties of social graces and in my view needed to be put in place, swiftly and severely. I know she would not have wanted to encounter my wrath; my response would have been far more verbal than his as described would.

  6. Ah yes, the psychopathic boss. Unfortunately I’ve had several of them. This last time, though, I got crafty. I let her bully me, yell at me, humiliate me in front of others. Finally, though, she went too far: In front of my subordinate, she twice referred to bodily functions in a crude way — really crude. Of course I wanted to quit; I had wanted to quit from the day she walked in. But I really did do it my way: I went to HR and insisted on getting my bonus if I quit (two months before bonus season) and a severance package. HR knew that if they didn’t give me what I wanted, I’d bring forth an accusation of harassment.

    I walked away with a bunch of money. The psychopath continues to be employed at that company (crazy, huh?) but is being “coached” weekly by HR. I’m counting on karma to ultimately do her in.

  7. There is only so much abuse one can take. I understand why this person resigned.

    What I don’t understand is why in the world companies keep these kind of people as employees–it is insanity!

    We have a new director and one of the first things she did was get rid of my toxic boss. He bullied his staff, ridiculed them behind their backs, collected a fat paycheck and shirked his responsibilities.

    Things have been better since he was dismissed. We are in the process if hiring a new person and I hope our director thoroughly vets this person before offering him or her the job.

  8. dlms asks why companies continue to hire such people. There can be ‘upsides’ for companies to some extent – take a look through this presentation: http://www.amazureconsulting.com/files/1/73329750/PsychometricsForumDarkSideLeadership250914.pdf

    But the downsides of trying to manage psychopaths eventually catch up with employers.

    Check out the Warren Buffet quote in the presentation – if you hire for integrity, intelligence and energy make sure they have integrity because if they don’t, they’ll kill you. If they have no integrity you’d better hope they are dumb and lazy.

    Keep your head under the radar and escape when you can – that’s my best advice for working with a psychopath.
    Erica Klein PhD
    http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/store/et/et.htm

  9. I have had several terrible bosses, crazy staff or the boss’ wives who make life hell for employees. Good people are often slow to recognize the psychopaths or get trapped by needing the paycheck more than needing sanity. I found dr phil’s book life code extremely helpful in identifying people who will harm one.

  10. OK, I’m sure it’s partly a joke, but “psychopath” is a pretty serious diagnosis that in reality only refers to a small subset of people, many of them on their way or already in jail, hopefully. My favorite diagnosis is borderline or narcissistic personality disorder–I’ve worked with a LOT of these!–but I know I’m not really qualified to make that diagnosis, either, as much as I’d like to. :)

    My question is, why does HR or your other bosses ever take being screamed at seriously?

    I worked with one guy (narcissistic personality disorder!) who sucked up to the boss, but then ambushed me late at night, screaming–and I mean, RAGING–up one side and down the other all the ways that I had somehow ignored or dissed him (like not saying “hi” in the morning) and about how much pressure I was putting on him during the week. Turns out I wasn’t the only one he was going off on. When I finally broke down crying in front of our boss, he listened, but nothing was ever really done about the problem.

    Second incident, different place, a producer took me aside during a shoot and screamed and screamed at me about how I was mistreating him (same issues–hurt feelings). I reported it to my boss, and then to the producer’s boss, and I think they mentioned it to him, but in effect, I was left feeling it was my problem that I should have been thick-skinned enough to handle on my own. That in effect, I was the problem and/or making mountains out of molehills.

    If it matters, I’m a woman the ragers were men. I’m pretty tough but getting ambushed and screamed at is terrifying.

    • Hahaha. The male bosses having tantrums over getting their periods, and the female subjected to it shouldn’t be so sensitive. Toxic male bosses who like to dish out unacceptable treatment are often pissweak when it comes to taking anything.

  11. When a business only measures success as the amount of profit, bad behavior is tolerated – sometimes even encouraged. When a business operates treating people as factory machines, bad behavior is tolerated.

    Most managers I’ve encountered have no management training. Zero. They were promoted (or hired from outside) because of their so-called or self-declared business savvy. Or they had started a company themselves – which still doesn’t necessarily qualify them to manage people. I’ve never seen a manager promoted or brought in with the announcement saying, “S/he has proven to be a fantastic motivator and people manager.”

    One note of caution when considering quitting if you have a divorce situation. My divorce agreement allowed delaying payment of alimony during any months of unemployment but only if I was terminated without cause. Unfortunately I was in a toxic work situation after my divorce and while it degraded my life and health, with no savings to pay alimony I could not quit. Eventually the toxic manager who had clearly been trying to get me to quit figured out I wasn’t going to quit and let me go. Looking back, I should have quit at least a year before my last day and dealt with the legal issues. Unlike Nick, I sold my soul to the wrong people for too long.

  12. I agree with Jane. Why did HR person say, “Of course not?” Of course you’re not fired. Possibly this reckless boss has lost control many times. What makes harassment effective is the victim’s feeling of isolation, of having been singled out, when the opposite is most likely true. It’s good this person didn’t quit on the spot, but demand for restitution was definitely in order. What else but costing the company money would make upper management do something about this psychopath?

  13. “Nick It is rare that we disagree but you tell him “…cursing in front of your boss is never acceptable.”

    It is never acceptable because it isn’t professional. That being said, none of us are perfect, except for my partner, so going off in one of these pathological situations is understandable.

    Calling in employees on the PA – I have to say that is the first time I have heard that happening to a professional.

    I am happy the reader has departed this sick, sick place of “employment”

    On getting your next position…

    Quote
    “Having read “How your old boss can cost you a new job,“ I am afraid my old employer will not give me a good word for my potential new job. I’m hoping my possible new employer won’t find it necessary to call my old job.”

    Channeling the ATH approach to job seeking, when you network me as the hiring manager and can describe the situation under which you left briefly, professionally, and can say “I was always positively reviewed for performance and left because of unprofessional conduct of a manager” you have told me all I need to know about that job experience.

  14. One more follow up

    “nd then hastily asked me why I had gotten disorganized so suddenly with my workload.”

    WTF?

    Ill never forget the first time I had to approach an employee on performance improvement. I sat her down in the office, one-on-one and said…

    I need to talk to you about improving your performance so we can both succeed. Nothing we say today will be written down, put into a file, or discussed outside this room by me, and I will ask you do to the same.”

    What a surprise. It went really well, and I got more than my desired result, and it was never ever documented anywhere.

  15. @VP Sales “It is never acceptable because it isn’t professional.”

    I disagree entirely as I feel the issue of “professional behavior” was lost in my view by virtue of her repeated unprofessional behavior that was surely abusive if not outright harrassment.

    When professional situations become grossly abusive I (rinse and repeat) place social graces aside in private mind you but nonetheless. I would hold no respect for anyone man or woman willing to be belittled and verbally abused in a public setting by someone clearly unstable, and who would allow such a person to feel satiated that they won their sick game.

    Social graces and professionalism are part of a two way street for me. I have no room for A-kissers, ever.

  16. @VP Sales you wrote “Ill never forget the first time I had to approach an employee on performance improvement. I sat her down in the office, one-on-one and said…

    I need to talk to you about improving your performance so we can both succeed. Nothing we say today will be written down, put into a file, or discussed outside this room by me, and I will ask you do to the same.””

    Precisely how it’s done! That is exactly what I would expect from someone both ways.

  17. @Nic, Nick’s advice not to curse is very good advice. The boss has no boundaries and may take the employee’s cursing as a sign to increase the abuse.

    @VP Sales. Thanks for the line about “positive review” and “unprofessional conduct of manager”. That is a line I can get behind.

    I got out of first-line management because an employee was clinically diagnosed as schizophrenic and went off the meds and threatened people. I had my cell phone in my pocket with speed dial set to 911. That was a bracing way to find out the limits of a manager’s authority.

  18. While it was the poster’s prerogative to resign that day, it amazes me that people do not use the weapons at their disposal in situations such as these. Which weapons? The ones that strike fear into upper management as they can have SERIOUS repercussions either financially, legally, or federally (e.g. from EEOC end the like.)

    As a physician now working in industry, I have to agree with the “not a psychopath” comment. The insecure narcissist is more likely. That said, there a few things that I would have done differently, albeit the end result may have been the same.

    First, NEVER tolerate anyone screaming or “losing it” in your presence, particularly from a boss. If they start to scream, curse or yell, simply get up and leave the office without comment. IF they follow you or pull the loudspeaker thing, continue to ignore their ranting. If they follow you into your office / cube, then calmly state that you do not feel comfortable with them being in such a state and that you would be happy to discuss matters after they calm down. Witnesses would be invaluable at this point. If the tirade continues, immediately proceed to HR. The buzzwords you must use are “hostile workplace environment,” “fear for my safety,” or if the boss was stupid enough to comment as to your gender, race or age – “discriminatory practices” or even “hate speech.” File a formal written complaint – handwritten on a piece of copy paper in the HR person’s office is sufficient.

    Now, two things happen. First, you have just pushed the ONLY buttons that HR must respond to officially. An investigation MUST occur or they are at risk of violating several federal and EEOC regulations. Second, they MAY NOT fire you because that would be considered retaliatory as you just filed a complaint. All of this alone may seriously change the manager’s behavior as upper management may come down on them hard. Also, investigations take time, which you may utilize to seek a new job. Again, if they give a bad reference, they may be liable for retaliation sanctions (just don’t expect a good one.)

    So, again, the ultimate outcome may have been the same, but NOBODY should ever put up with this behavior from a boss. You have official bureaucratic weapons at your disposal – USE THEM.

  19. @Bob Yes, good point. I understand both sides however I think it is a complex issue that is best handled on a case by case basis.

    Surely, if confronting a person with a like response creates a situation where that individual is going to increase the abuse then I would question what in the world that person is doing in the position to begin with and question the culture of the entity that hired her.

    All in all this is likely far too complex for online discussion over one situation.

  20. @Hank “The buzzwords you must use are “hostile workplace environment,” “fear for my safety,” or if the boss was stupid enough to comment as to your gender, race or age – “discriminatory practices” or even “hate speech.” ”

    Oh please, buzzwords? For what? On the ready lined up to create more s***? No, this type of circumstance would not warrant that to me or be worth my time. I would walk out first.

    I would never consider this myself for this situation as it appears to me to be weak and playing the victim. I think there are situations for such things but this does not appear to fit for me.

    Another thing I would be turned off by someone known to have buzzwords at the ready to claim victim at any drop of a hat.

  21. @Nic, Listen to Hank and myself. Don’t confront a person who is clearly out of control. You cannot force control on a person such as this boss. You are likely to start a criminal action if you curse or fight.

  22. @Bob I would not confront someone who is clearly out of control. Who knows what may transpire. In this case what is that person doing there? This could not be the first time this occurred.

    Can you explain where one could cause a criminal action by cursing? I can see if a physical altercation took place but by cursing?

    Again, as I said I think it is a case per case basis.

  23. @Nic “When professional situations become grossly abusive I place social graces aside in private”

    Respect for others is not conditional on their behavior. My professional behavior is a matter of my integrity. And my integrity is the only thing I have that no one can take from me. It’s mine to keep or to give up.

    That said, there is a lot of space between meeting rudeness with rudeness and subservience. I initially respond to abusive people (and bosses) by presenting myself with authenticity, making an effort to improve the relationship. If this is unsuccessful (and it usually is with bullies), I remove bullies from my life, one way or another.

    Case in point:

    After nearly seven years of hard work, I have had resounding success leading my department, establishing a culture of process and procedure, and building our company’s reputation in our market niche as “doers of the impossible”. Through these efforts, I have quadrupled revenue and transformed our department from a money pit to the most profitable business unit in the company.

    My new boss is quite abusive, and I blew his behavior off for a while, but a few months ago, after a particularly nasty bit (the letter Nick posted could have been my transcript right up until where the manager called in a colleague to double-team-abuse the writer), I stifled my anger for a moment and told him that if we were going to continue to work together, he needed to speak with me in a civil manner and offer me the same professional respect I offer him. He told me that he’d speak to me as he pleased and if I ever challenged him, he would never back down. To avoid making a decision in anger, I spent some time largely ignoring him and focusing on my work. After discovering that he had been trashing me and my work to almost every salaried employee in the company, I concluded that there was no salvaging this relationship, and it was time for me to leave. That was about a month ago.

    Today I’m on my third day of a two-week vacation, in the middle of phone interviews, and I have resolved to serve notice upon my return, job offer or no.

    I will take VP Sales advice on how to explain my leaving: “I was always positively reviewed for performance and left because of unprofessional conduct of a manager.” If such a statement removes me from consideration, then I will regard that as saving me both stress and time.

  24. To add a couple stories from my time as a manager in state government, in two agencies:

    As a senior staff member in IT, I handled specification and solicitation documents for the department’s IT procurements. Just after a change in administration, the administrative person for one of the new managers called to ask for an RFP I’d written for a procurement in progress. I sent it over promptly, only to have the same person request the same document a day or two later. Trying (maybe too hard) to be friendly to the new people, I made some kind of lame joke about the dog eating the first copy I sent. The same day, the manager who had asked for the RFP called me to his office and accused me of harassment. I quite literally couldn’t believe what I was hearing. After regaining some measure of composure, I asked that the assistant be called in to clear up the misunderstanding. Instead, she confirmed the complaint. I was relatively young at the time, lacking maturity and perspective, and willing to take pretty much any kind of abuse short of a physical beating. But in retrospect, the incident seems like just plain flat-out bullying to make sure I and my hold-over colleagues knew who the new Big Guys in Town were.

    Later in my career, I had a senior staff role in a state government public safety communications agency. Once again not long after a change in agency management, I’d been asked to bring to reality an idea my managers had for a statewide conference. Putting it together was an overwhelming task, and a number of critical path items went right down to the wire. In the midst of desperately trying to pull together presentation materials hours before the event started, my boss demanded that I “take a walk with him.” Turns out I’d put myself in the middle of two of the new managers who weren’t taking too kindly to each other. During a conversation about the conference, I’d made the comment to the agency’s new financial manager that it would make sense for him to attend, since the conference would include discussion of grants and other topics with financial implications. Although my boss had ordered him not to attend, he was coming to the conference anyway. For my perceived role in this offense, my boss pulled me away from vital, time-sensitive work for psychological harassment and intimidation over what amounted to a petty personal quarrel that had nothing to do with me.

    During my time in state government, I worked for a number of administrations and management regimes in a few different agencies. I learned first-hand something about the unpleasant truth of Lord Acton’s observations on power’s tendency to corrupt. In my experience, unhealthy management including the tendency to bully staff and employees has been very much a group phenomenon. There was really only one group I still feel proud and happy to have served, and that was the very first administration I worked for in state government. It was a tenure during which I learned a tremendous amount about IT, management, and government service. Unfortunately I got one big thing wrong: I thought being surrounded by mature, supportive managers and colleagues was normal.

    As a footnote to that early experience in state government, for whatever significance it has: the head of that agency ended up being indicted for conspiracy to accept a bribe, and committed suicide publicly during a news conference just after being convicted. Maybe there’s a serious price to be paid for going against business as usual. And much as I hate to say it and much as I hope I’m wrong, my experience over three decades suggests that it’s too often business as usual that gives rise to abusive managerial behavior.

  25. @George: Why would you say “It’s really fun to work at XYZ” – when the company’s reputation might precede you, and the manager who’s interviewing you might already know XYZ is a toxic workplace? How does that make you look?

    @KR: My use of the term “psychopath” was no joke. Check the write-up on Wikipedia about psychopathy: “Although no psychiatric or psychological organization has sanctioned a diagnosis titled “psychopathy”, assessments of psychopathic characteristics are widely used in criminal justice settings in some nations, and may have important consequences for individuals. The term is also used by the general public, in popular press, and in fictional portrayals.”

    I think it’s a legit term that the public can use thoughtfully. To avoid any misunderstanding, I cited the behaviors that justify the term in this case.

    @Nic: I understand your point, but I believe the workplace is never a place where anger, cursing and physical demonstrations are acceptable. Here’s the reason: It’s a person’s choice to stay there. If you stay, you either live under the rules – perverted though they may be – or you leave. The other alternative is to work with other people in the company to remove obstacles, fix problems, and get psychopathic managers fired. As the reader in this Q&A pointed out, even the HR organization was party to the psychopathy – approving antisocial behavior and cruelty, letting a manager follow her urges without control, lacking empathy, and so on. The reader made the best choice. I’d like to ask you – not rhetorically at all – what would it have accomplished to curse back at the manager or to put the manager back into her hell hole? I don’t think it would accomplish anything. I think the greatest satisfaction the reader could get was to quit and leave the bastards to live in their hell-hole together.

  26. The other psycho i worked for was many years ago, in an unpaid internship. The guy used to scream on the phone and argue with his wife so loudly that we could hear him through two walls.

    Oh yeah , he was on drugs too!

    one day he goes on a bender early on a Friday (he would disappear from late thurs to tuesday to snort coke most weeks.) and I have to cover for him by rescheduling a late friday meeting. He walks into the office at 4:30 – one half hour late for the meeting I already rescheduled. He asks me to come into his office, goes ballistic.

    I sat there emotionless. Then I firmly said “Are you done?” and got up and left forever.

    He called me to apologize at least 15-20 times in the next 36 hours. Multiple apologetic messages. I never went back.

  27. @Christopher you wrote “My professional behavior is a matter of my integrity.”

    I understand as I am one (and those who know me will testify to the fact) where integrity, ethics and honesty as well as tough as nails business go hand in hand without wavering.

    So yes, in most cases, yet for me there are points in time where one has to stand up for oneself. I have been in certain circumstances where it would have been absolutely pathetic to allow certain things to transpire essentially without addressing them straightforwardly and strongly in like response to the situation at hand. I am not saying I would make a fool of myself in public or start acting in public like the individual at hand that would not happen. I would however make my position perfectly clear to this individual in private, and then walk straight out (and if the circumstance and position warranted it, quit.) What is right for me is not right for another and each individual will do what is right for them surely.

    These things happen and there are no feel good situations anywhere all the time. I do not believe in a make everyone happy attitude because it is just not reality.

    As I said these are case by case situations and I feel one has to be ready to respond appropriately to a situation without compromising themselves as they each see fit.

  28. @Hank: I like your suggestions. If a person is of a mind to keep fighting the battle, it’s wise to rely on tested regulatory tactics like the ones you suggest. Sometimes, as the reader in the Q&A says, it’s just time to quit. Nonetheless, you raise an important option people should consider: Lay down a basis for litigation and sue the employer. If you’re going to do it, do it right.

  29. @Nick “Here’s the reason: It’s a person’s choice to stay there. If you stay, you either live under the rules – perverted though they may be – or you leave. ”

    That is a great topic, for a new thread, recognizing the individuals and overall culture of a firm or company before accepting employment.

    As for your suggestion to ” Lay down a basis for litigation and sue the employer. If you’re going to do it, do it right.” I think that may be all well and good in the most extreme circumstances that cannot be handled otherwise, but do that once in my world and be known for it and your options from that point forward can severely limited.

  30. Nic touched on it. These managers may or may not be whackjobs but they definitely are insecure and likely scared about their own future, and as someone noted, most likely never trained.
    even sans trainng When you step into management usually you are drawing on experience of working for someone(s). Ideally a mentor of how to manage…or in this case..of how not to behave.
    I’m a Marine..and as such can let crap like that described roll off my back and have a very high boiling point because I’ve been reamed by experts . Most likely I’d have leaned to the unprofessional side per Nic, smiled and cheerfully said “F you, thanks for sharing”
    Everyone has their limit, the person who wrote in knew theirs and quit. Good she followed the course of one of my favorite quotes that I shared on the original post…”Never try to teach a pig to sing..it wastes your time and annoys the pig”

  31. “The buzzwords you must use are “hostile workplace environment,” “fear for my safety,” or if the boss was stupid enough to comment as to your gender, race or age – “discriminatory practices” or even “hate speech.” File a formal written complaint – handwritten on a piece of copy paper in the HR person’s office is sufficient.”

    This is sound advice. If the HR person is at all professional, then he should is aware action needs to be taken to mitigate adverse consequences to the company. This is a hostile work environment by anybody’s definition.

    If an employee quits in this situation, a case can be made for constructive dismissal due to a hostile work environment, probably making the employee eligible for unemployment benefits if needed.

    The employee might also want to engage an attorney to follow up with the company to negotiate an agreement with them that protects his good name and reputation in anything the company says or does. While it may cost money now, it may save having to deal with issues in the future.

  32. @Nic

    re: “buzzwords” – while you may dismiss and denigrate the concept, in reality these concepts are the ONLY thing that will cause change in the situation. While it may give you an intense personal high to spew out an “I QUIT!!” to your boss or HR, in reality most of us would admit that we are not working for giggles and need a paycheck coming in, yes, even when searching for a new job, if only to be able to answer “Yes” to the “Are you currently employed” question. But I digress.

    I my business career, in dealing with HR, whom I have found to be overwhelmingly incompetent, unresponsive or unavailable, I have had reason to contact them, both by telephone and email. I have had to call about female dress code improprieties, sick leave abuses, malingering employees not performing, union issues and the like. I am not exaggerating when I state that NOT ONCE did I ever receive a response or reply in anything resembling a timely manner – I means WEEKS later and multiple followups.

    EXCEPT ONCE. I reported a case of sexual harassment of an overseas colleague at our Germany branch on my HR rep’s voice mail (I can’t recall any time that they ever actually answered their phones, BTW.) I got a response within 30 SECONDS from the manager and her supervisor on a conference call. (It turns out US laws did not apply to US citizens against a foreign national in a foreign jurisdiction.) The point however is that I used the magic BUZZWORD to get their attention and got the only immediate response one can expect – because if EEOC or the Feds can document HR ignored such a complaint, their jobs and possibly their freedoms are on the line.

    So poo-poo the concept personally if you like, but do not discount others wishing to try to keep their incomes intact for the time being, at least until a new job is in the offing.

  33. I will end my comments on this by saying I feel great care and consideration must be taken before crying victim or creating legal cases against an employee or employer, unless absolutely necessary, (which by my definition means extreme necessity.)

    In my case, this applies to situations at very high levels of power where most cannot even begin to understand or comprehend the nature of what makes things tick per se where such maneuvers can either work for or against gaining a little but risking plenty moving forward. This is an individual stance and each person does ultimately what they feel is right for them.

    I follow the old saying, ‘play by the rules of the game …or find another game.’ I go after and for situations that create success and opportunity to reach goals. I recognize the rules before getting into the game; and once in the chosen game, if those rules are changed or breached? I handle it accordingly.

    In my opinion, I know of no one (including myself) who will hire let alone deal with a known s*** disturber. It may not be said often enough for me but in my world that is the way it is as an unspoken fact of life.

  34. @Hank Yes, you will notice I distinguish between casual situations and extreme cases. I think what you describe leans on extreme.

    Also you wrote, “…in dealing with HR, whom I have found to be overwhelmingly incompetent, unresponsive or unavailable,” I could not agree more.

    That may be another topic for a good thread – C-level management setting clear cut rules of the game, redefining and orchestrating the role of HR confining it to the scope originally intended with accountability.

  35. I’ve worked with far sicker people than that but the details are unimportant at this point. My question is what to do when employers ask permission to contact that employer? If I say “yes” I risk a bad reference and if I say “no” it is assumed that I am at fault for something. How do I handle that? As far as having other great references lined up, I have kept in contact with very few former coworkers and bosses over the years. However, literally none of my bosses or anyone familiar with my work remains in the old companies. I am just a dusty HR file. I work in the chemical sector where mergers and corp reorgs within multi-billion dollar international companies are the norm. The last 3 companies I worked for no longer even exist as such. How do I convince prospective employers that my experience is no less “real” because these companies are no longer there as such?

  36. I just left a really bad situation; kind of my own fault for walking into it, as I learned during my interview process that two others before me had been in this job but were let go in less than a year, because things “didn’t work out,” and “each thought he / she was the smartest person in the room.” Neither lasted more than a couple months.

    They put me through a case study interview, which apparently I aced, as an offer was tendered the day after the interview. In need of work, I accepted it.

    Funny how in the space of 45 days I went from a “brilliant, strategic thinker” to a “complete and total idiot with no leadership skills or original thought.” It was one person in particular who led the charge to hire me, and then led the charge to have me dismissed. Turns out this person had run off a team of junior folks – more than once – I can’t imagine what the turnover costs were.

    Fortunately they decided (at my 60 day review) that things weren’t working out, and I was let go. I say “fortunately” because I didn’t really want to resign, but knew I was going to have to if things didn’t improve. I stayed on for two weeks to finish things up. No word from my manager (who let me go over the phone – classy, no?) was given about my dismissal until my very last day, when an email went out an hour before close of business.

    I emptied my office over those two weeks and got things wrapped up. And the person who had me dismissed? Avoided me like the plague. Would not talk or look at me. So I stuck around, kept my door open, and smiled and talked to everyone. When they found out I was going (and who was responsible) I had lots of visitors – others with horrible stories about how this one person berated others, was rude, didn’t lead the team and instead forced long hours and lots of repeat work – because things were never done “right”. Even HR knows there’s a problem, but won’t do anything about it because the client LOVES this person. That’s because the client doesn’t have to work with this person.

    What a crazy place. I’m glad I’m out, but I’m also feeling beat down and tired.

    You know what they say, though – fall down seven times, get up eight. :-)

  37. RE: HR buzzwords and complaints— myself and 9 other members of our 13 person team used these words with HR and requested to file complaints. Those complaints were simply put through the paper shredder as soon as we left the office and nothing was ever done. HR will NOT take complaints that could hurt the company. This was at a multi-billion dollar company that operates in 170+ countries, not a mom-and-pop. They chose to keep the toxic boss and replace everyone that complained.

  38. Excellent article. I strongly recommend the book “The Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout. Some call them psychopaths and others call them sociopaths, but either way it’s essentially a person with no conscience who never takes responsibility for anything they say or do to people. There are numerous other “symptoms” that seem to fit the manager in this person’s experience. And here’s the kicker: one in 25 people are believed to be sociopaths.

    As neighbors, family members, colleagues, or bosses (to name just a few), a sociopath can make a person’s life a living hell. This book helped me deal with a terrible experience I had with a person who had a leadership role in an organization I was very involved with. It helped me deal with what, thankfully, turned out to be a short-term acquaintance. Yes, he left in less than a year, but not before doing considerable damage to the group. I wish I’d read that book before rather than after.

  39. @Hank – a hostile workplace complaint needs a component of discrimination, protected class membership. In some of these examples that does not appear to be present. Some employers have more generous policies than the law requires but short of that there may not be a legal complaint.

    These situations are just terrible and I’m glad for those of you who have escaped from them.
    Erica

  40. “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work” by Dr. Paul Babiak and Dr. Robert Hare is an excellent read on this topic. They provided clear examples why the corporate world attracted, and in some cases rewarded, psychopathic behavior.

    Authors’ book site: http://www.snakesinsuits.com/

  41. Anne – thanks for jogging the memory banks on that book ‘The Sociopath Next door”

    Spoiler alert – the scariest thing about these types is not the ability to make your work life hell, but the ability to stay in these high level jobs and leave without getting burned, and move on to the next set of victims.

    1 in 20 is about right, in my experience.

    In all cases, from my best business mentor (RIP) “HR is not your friend”

  42. @EEDR:

    If the complaints were of the nature of “my boss is a jerk” then yes, HR may “file 13” the complaints if that is the culture of the company. If your complaints were “they are encouraging a hostile work environment” then failing to investigate is a federal violation under several statutes – the fact that so many of you complained could have elevated this to a class action issue. A lawyer should have been consulted.

    @Erica:

    I’m sorry, but no discrimination component is necessary for a “hostile workplace” complaint. A hostile work environment exists when an employee experiences workplace harassment and fears going to work because of the offensive, intimidating, or oppressive atmosphere generated by the harasser.

    Successful court cases have ranged from “nudie” posters in the unisex bathroom to persistent audible foul language to excessive colognes offending someone with respiratory sensitivities. None of these rose to a discriminatory or Title IX issue, yet were won on the basis of workplace harassment.

  43. @Hank,
    I’m not a lawyer but it looks to me like there always has to be a protected class angle. The examples you give probably relate back to gender and disability. See here for example: http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/harassment.cfm <<>>

    Or here:
    http://humanresources.about.com/od/workplace-discrimination/g/hostile-work-environment.htm <<>>

    Or are we talking about something different? Erica

  44. The quotes from the links got cut, probably because of the type of brackets I used. Here is the quote from the second link – A hostile work environment is created by a boss or coworker whose actions, communication, or behavior make doing your job impossible. This means that the behavior altered the terms, conditions, and/or reasonable expectations of a comfortable work environment for employees. Additionally, the behavior, actions or communication must be discriminatory in nature.

  45. The EEOC link has this quote: Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

  46. @EEDR: You should read this: http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/crocs30yourfriends.htm
    Losing touch with your peers is a costly mistake.

    That aside, when an employer asks for references, provide them – the ones you choose. If they want to contact “the employer” (this means HR), there’s not much you can do to stop them. Many will do it with or without permission, so assume the contact will be made. This is why it’s important to obtain copies of your personnel files and keep them on file yourself, so you know what’s in them. HR is not supposed to share anything but basics: when you worked there, title, etc. If HR does something that interferes with your ability to get a job, you need do talk to a lawyer.

    The key is to present excellent references of your own. Don’t think just in terms of old bosses; think about customers, consultants, vendors, people who knew your work. If you have none of these, then I’m sorry to say you’re probably out of luck. It’s important to stay in touch with people. But start by using the good references you do have – and press them on the prospective employer.

    As for HR shredding complaints, you need to file them concurrently with your state’s department of labor and the federal government. Make sure to put prominent CC’s on the copies you hand to personnel. They’ll get the message.

  47. I used to think that I had the natural ability to parachute into any town in the nation and within a week be working for the worst boss in town.

    It’s a gift. And will provide much fuel when I start writing about it.

    However, sick bosses can make you sick as well. I learned this the hard way while working for the guy who mixed religion and work (“I can trust you if you go to Our Lady of Perpetual Motion Parish every Sunday …” etc. I know I’ve told that tale.)

    One bright sunny winter’s day my wife felt it necessary to run me over to the local ER because she was sure I was having a heart attack. Ended up being cathed that day and recovered enough to go to work a few days later. I got a copy of the report, which said that, while not having a heart attack, I was showing clear symptoms of workplace stress that looked like a heart attack.

    So did the owner of the company, who was also the plan administrator for the self-administered health plan. He was royally pissed, huffed about “workplace stress” and fired me over the so-called “trust” issue a few days later.

    About the time of our first unemployment compensation hearing (he thought my not belonging to Our Lady Parish and being a heretic Lutheran was “cause”) I was feeling better, breathing better, the doctors found no symptoms. I was able to take my win gracefully.

  48. Nic continued to make a point that if someone in his profession filed EEOC claims or other such complaints with HR, such a person would be considered a wimp and not suitable for the industry.

    This begs the Argument from Incredulity: That is, “Really?” Nic works in an industry where people who stand up for their rights >before< it's considered "extreme" are ridiculed? Isn't that a toxic culture by definition?

    Here's a test of your HR department: Go in one day out of the blue and ask, in your most innocent voice, "If I needed to file a harassment complaint, what process would I go through?" and see how they react…

  49. Thanks so much for that article and your response. You made me feel so justified, that is wasn’t me. I have had three psychopath bosses in my last two jobs, one of whom was a former student intern whom I mentored. I would question myself except that before such a run of bad luck I had a successful career as a writer and publicist where I was respected by everyone with whom I worked. In addition, everyone I worked with in both jobs detested all these bosses. I am now in transition job-wise and too afraid I’ll get stuck with another looney.

  50. @Fran. hang in there. Ah you’re a writer. So write a novel about what you know well. whackjob bosses. perhaps a composite of those you’ve had the “pleasure” of working with.
    I’ve had bosses with their quirks, and one who was an alcoholic that would help build my character, but nothing like you’ve had.
    My son has though. You can think of them as “shards of glass” or a “box of snakes” I was hoping someday he’d get a good boss, so he’d not get some distorted view of management. He did finally and so will you

  51. Glad to see people take matters into their own hands and take charge instead of stewing/thinking there’s no way out. Nothing is worse than the shear dread of going to work because of somebody else. Always take the high road when dealing with jerks because like your education, no one can take away your dignity.

  52. @Michael It isn’t my circle alone, it is the unspoken reality not just of my social circle and business but business in general that I have ever experienced or worked in that the s*** disturber is a problem. It appears to me today more than ever too many people over-blow small issues (or even create them) looking for a payoff.

    I feel HR has no business receiving or dealing with complaints. HR has in my view a limited job there I would never go to HR, what a complete waste of my time, for a serious problem.

    Early in my career (second job) I had a major (and I mean very serious) problem arise details of which I am not at liberty to go into here. I did not approach HR people I went straight to C-level management and everything was swiftly handled discreetly.

  53. I was trying to decide which psychopathic boss to post about and one of them sent me a LinkedIn invite yesterday after 6 years of no contact!

    I went from one psycho boss to another. I spent four years at a company where I had an incredibly abusive boss. I was the scapegoat for all of his problems.

    It only took me nine months to escape the second situation, a boss who treated all employees cruelly, including physically attacking them. She was mentally ill beyond belief – if she did not own the company with her husband, she would not have a job. Because of an imaginary auto-immune disorder, she would only eat hempseeds and vitamins.

    Her methods did not work on me, but I couldn’t stand watching the way she treated other people or the way she screamed at her husband, whose office was next to mine.

    If you stay in a situation like this long enough, over time you are beaten down to the point where you believe you are as worthless as the person treats you.
    I also think that if you have one psycho boss, you are liable to fall into the same trap again. I think it’s very similar to people who keep falling for the same type of abusive dating partners.

    What I have learned from my two situations is that getting out ASAP is the best solution. I knew within two weeks that I was in a bad situation with my last job. I should have left immediately, not dragged it out another nine months.

  54. @Michael I have to agree with Nic on this one. It’s not that managers ridicule those employees who “stand up for their rights”; it’s that managers fear that such people might be trying to scam or threaten the company. It just makes them nervous. Dealing with abusive and bullying people in the workplace is always a dicey political situation, and filing formal complaints – especially anything outside the company such as EEOC, etc. – is the equivalent of pulling out a gun in the middle of an argument. Things are just going to be very different between everone after that. This is what makes whistleblowers unemployable – no one trusts them.

    Nic’s rule is a good one “play be the rules of the game, or find another game”. If the company culture doesn’t tolerate bullying, you can work in the system politically to fix the problem. If it does, then the culture is broken and you need to leave.

    I’ve worked as an engineer across several industries in both R&D and manufacturing in the automotive, medical device, and consumer products industries. Early in my career, I had a string of horrible bosses. I was young and green and the experiences devastated me emotionally for a while, but I recovered and realized that I felt I had to endure such abuse because I needed the paycheck. I wasn’t poor or even struggling, but my lifestyle required the pay. So I made a few adjustments, live a much simpler life now, and as a result, I can financially walk away from any job at any time if I have to.

    This has made it much easier to brush off bullies in the first place. Since I know they have no real hold over me, it’s far easier to just not take them seriously now. Plus, I find that I do much better work when I work without fear. I do what I do because I love my work and I love being really good at it.

    The best thing to do when you are in any abusive relationship is to change or end the relationship as soon as you identify that it is going south. Either confront the abuser or end your relationship with the abuser. The longer you wait, the more they will consume your soul, and you will gradually become someone you don’t want to be.

  55. @Erica:

    “I’m not a lawyer but it looks to me like there always has to be a protected class angle”

    Just saw your reply. I completely agree that IF you wish to complain to EEOC, you generally MUST have a protected class / Title IX issue that holds water. Go for it if that is the case. Particularly if you wish to handle it OUTSIDE the company regs.

    My point was that one can file a hostile workplace complaint, NOT EEOC ACTIONABLE, based on the criteria I listed above. Such a complaint obliges all companies to respond according to established labor law guidelines, particularly allowing anonymity, mandating an investigation, and most importantly no firing of the complainant while the investigation is ongoing.

    Such complaints could involve yelling & screaming, cursing, off-color jokes (in presence of a male OR female), bullying by a boss OR coworker, and even overpowering colognes from coworkers or bosses if one has sensitivity. None of these issues are Title IX discriminatory and need no protected class to file. IF your company ignores the labor law guidelines, you have them slam-dunked liable in a labor lawsuit, albeit not involving EEOC.

  56. @Steve: “Snakes” was excellent – read it a couple of years ago – many bankers fall into this reptilian category – for those with short/no memories: 2008

  57. The conservative estimate is that between 30 to 60 percent of workers have been bullied and/or have witnessed bullying.

    The financial costs of this kind of toxic behavior is enormous to organizations since it is linked to people making mistakes, higher absenteeism and turn-over, disengagement, accidents, higher incidents of stress-related illnesses, increased likelihood of retaliation (law suits, employee theft, sabotage,…), workplace violence and other negative outcomes that I am forgetting to list.

    So if you are asked why you are leaving your present employer, instead of bringing up all the unpleasantness, you can say “I have a concern that they are not as fiscally responsible as they can be” and you would be speaking the truth.

  58. I agree that HR is not your friend, the first thing they do is try to discredit the person who comes to them for help. They can’t help it, it is steeped into their mentality.

  59. I had a feeling the word would be brought up in this thread. If one phrase or word makes me cringe, it is this what I see as overblown and over-hyped word “bullying” as if no has ever been picked on in history as if this is something new and unique to the past ten years. Yes, if there is a severe issue worth addressing, then address it, but the idea that anyone who is looked at the wrong way or spoken to in a stern manner more than once that they may perceive as being “picked on” appear to jump on this bandwagon.

    The problem I have with this is that I see lately everyone appears to think they are special, not worthy of criticism, not wrong in any situation, and oh yes a “victim” whereas in most cases I feel that may well not be the case.

    In my view, no one will ever learn to stick up for themselves and handle life not just job in most situations if a vast majority of typical life situations are thrown into these PC type victim categories.

  60. @Nic

    No.

    Historically, bullying has not been part of the public or professorial discourse is because since time immemorial outsized abusive bullying personality traits have been lauded, brushed aside or given a pass by parents, teachers, school administrators, managers, police, CEOs and basically anyone in authority.

    Unfortunately, this generation has to reap the terrible harvest of generations of bullies.

    So the bullies and their enablers don’t like it when anyone who is “picked on” points the bony finger of indignation at a bully and calls a spade a spade for the first time, it is just too bad. The principal could have escorted the bully from the schoolyard, never to return, but he gave him or her a pass. The foreman could have escorted the bully from the plant, never to return, but he gave him or her a pass. No more passes.

    You can’t fix a bully, the recidivism rate is at or near 100%. So why do we wast the effort trying, and moreover, why do we waste the effort of everyone involved by putting them in charge? And why do we even spend a minute wondering “why” when the evening news brings a tale of some poor downtrodden wage slave pulling out a rifle/sidearm/knife/machete/bomb at the workplace and sending the bully to join the choir down below?

    If we could also, please remove the following bully-enabling phrases from our collective lexicon, this country, and the workplace wold be a much better place:

    suck it up
    man up
    get with the program
    sucks to be you
    (actually the list is endless, but you get my drift)

    Smile, gang. There ARE better managers out there, really!

  61. Sorry Nic, unfortunately the “B” word has replaced the “H” word (harassment) in recent years. How else would you describe the scene described in the original post?

    Surely it isn’t sound management practice. What possible motivation would a supervisor have to behave that way?

    It’s called bullying because the same playground dynamics apply.

  62. @Suzanne C The scene in the original post in my opinion is neither B nor H.

    That situation to me appears simply as an example of one level-headed person being confronted by someone not qualified for the job, along with potentially other issues.

  63. Do psychopathic former professors count? And the biggest ironic thing of it all she is/was a clinical psychologist. To be blunt, she straight out bullied me on my “happy decent background”. She even was received and granted associate professorship. And the scariest thing of all, the school knows she had run ins with students in the past. Can’t give the school but the city is Chicago. Her real name even sums up and says it all about who she is as a person. Wish I could say what it rhymed with but I don’t want to further rant on this psychopath on Nick ‘ s blog.

  64. @Nic: If the scene in the original story were not either B or H, I’d never have published it. This was one of the most brazen examples of bullying and harassment I’ve ever seen. The “qualifications” and “other issues” of the manager in this story are irrelevant.

    What matters is the behavior. Yelling at an employee over the P.A. system (The P stands for Public) for all to hear is bullying with a B. It’s intended to demonstrate the boss’s power to the Public that’s listening – and to intimidate everyone. Such behavior is intended to embarrass and intimidate the employee, and to make the employee’s co-workers believe the employee did something so terrible that it warranted over-the-top behavior by the manager.

    Sorry, Nic, but although we must all be prepared to deal with arrogant, rude people, that doesn’t mean it’s merely “PC” to indict the aggressors. I think you’re rationalizing a clear case of bullying and harassment in the interest of avoiding over-use of the complaint. That’s how bullies get stronger.

    Having said that, we also know that “victims” can turn into aggressors by making false claims. But that’s not the point of this Q&A at all.

  65. @Nic Don’t be sorry, we all have our opinions on the matter.

  66. Wait; you mean this is NOT normal behavior?

    http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Employee-Review-Aydin-Displays-Inc-RVW139023.htm

    And “John Seefeldt” was referring to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania — where the term “civil servant” has been an oxymoron for at least one generation. It’s a pervasive attitude: no Pennsylvania-government employee has ever made a mistake, and no Pennsylvania-government employee has ever committed a malicious act (sic). I call it “Pennsylvania’s war with itself.” But I digress.

  67. Ironic, but not surprising to me, is this article below that passed my desk a moment ago. It is about a production that I find timely and a warning (for those into social media and doing such things) it mentions a number of issues and potential follow-ups, including what was discussed here, cyber-bullying.

    “‘Selfie’ explores online addiction, embarrassment”

    http://news.yahoo.com/selfie-explores-online-addiction-embarrassment-074215015.html

  68. Thank you, Don, for responding to my post. You have no idea how healing your words were. It may have seemed like a small gesture to you, but it spoke volumes to me. May God bless and keep you for your kindness.

  69. @Fran
    thanks for the nice words.

  70. Like others here, I had a hard time deciding about which psychopath boss to write before deciding that two of my bosses at my last job deserve the honor. Both were nuts, and few incidents stand out from too many incidents. One day my boss marched into my office, announced that she had “things for me to do” and that I’d better plan to stay until well into the evening to get everything done. I worked by myself, knew which tasks had to get done, the deadlines, etc., so I had no idea what she meant. I asked her what she needed me to do, and she screamed at me so the entire 2nd floor could hear her, told me that I was lazy, that none of the paperwork for the upcoming fall semester was done. I was puzzled because I had done it nearly three months ago. I pulled up my sent file and retrieved the emails I’d sent her over four months ago, with the list of courses I planned to offer, her approval of my list, the email I sent her later confirming that the paperwork was done and I’d hand-delivered to CE. I pulled the signed receipt from CE of the list of paperwork I delivered (CE often lost paperwork, hence my getting them to sign a receipt for it), and I pulled the photocopies for the file, including the paperwork for the course that she was to be jointly teaching, as well as the payroll paperwork (hers, too, which she signed and dated). I politely told her that my program was all squared away for the fall semester, and handed her the copies and printed out emails as proof. She was furious. She looked at it, and instead of apologizing or god forbid, thanking me for being on top of it, threw it me and then berated me. When she came up for air, I asked her, “You’re upset with me and you’re yelling at me for doing my job?” She didn’t reply, but stormed out, slamming my door, then slamming her door.

    Other incidents with her included her giving me a tssk that should have gone to a colleague in another dept. When I mentioned it (“oh, this needs to go to Scott”), she screamed at me that my job was to do whatever she wanted, and if she told me to clean her bathroom at home, that is what I would do. She also noticed that had a neat desk (I don’t like working in a messy office), and said that because my desk was neat, I didn’t have enough to do. From that point on, I kept piles of papers which I called projects. When she was looking to dump tasks, I’d gesture to one or more of the piles, and assume a busy, stressed out look.

  71. Thankfully, I never had an abusive boss when I worked in the corporate world, but I have talked to a number who have.

    Consequently, I suggest that one’s first sight of a manager engaging in less than professional behaviour to anyone should be taken as a very strong signal to immediately start your next job search. Don’t wait till you become the abuser’s target; no job is worth the psychic damage an abusive boss can inflict.

  72. I have worked in similar work environments. One with state government in Midwest, which is heavily political; thank the Lord I let after my political appointment ended and I have not looked back. However, I work for the federal government on an intermittent basis and travel a lot for the type of work that I do. Unfortunately, there are jerks within the organization that I have encountered that affect employees moral because they do not know how to manage effectively with insults, etc. Right now, I am working with a jerk that is on a real power trip and has no respect for anyone, he is not a part of the orgination that I work for but a counterpart we work closely with to reach our goal. He crosses boundaries, etc. I have reported the behavior for each incident and know he is put on warn for his actions and behavior towards me. I do not give this person an inch to do what he is doing, which is a violation of protocols and policies. When my commitment on this assignment is fulfilled, I am leaving this assignment immediately like my other cohorts. Nick is correct DO NOT keep company with jerks; save your sanity and leave ASAP.

  73. If you like your job, and really want to keep it. Then just kill your bully-who is usually your supervisor. I wish I had, I really do. It is really simple. Do not wait, because then you will become a suspect. If people see you being bullied and you talk about it with your co-workers, then they will tell that to the police. Trust nobody! Murder is usually associated with motive, unless you are a serial killer, which you probably aren’t. They are pretty rare. No motive, then the police won’t come after you. Trust me. Do it as soon as the first day. These people need to die. They don’t need to live.

  74. I am in the same position as others. I work in a very small company; I have seniority and a new CFO was hired. A total of 10 people was fired/resigned within months. I am the new target for this looney. I had an above average review last year to now I need approvement in every aspect of my job performance. I was told that a new person will start within a week and I am to report to them but, also it is expected for me to trained them (from the person who needs improvement). This new person has no experience in our industry but, will report to the CFO. I do know the writing is on the wall that they want me gone because, I do not personality of a “stepford wife”, where I can be a “Yes woman” to this CFO who does not know the service we provide and know that I am well experienced. She is a BULLY. I worked for 10 years at this company, I have covered others work while they were on vacation. I was denied my requested time off to spend with relatives who were staying with me because I am the only one who train the new person and can deal with the clients. I have to go into work tomorrow (I am an older single women with bills) with the view that this is only short-term because I have been sending resumes out like crazy.

  75. I am so stressed. We have no HR department; and even if we did, as others stated, it would be useless. The CEO has become one of her stepford wives. Other employees has complained but, we have no where to go but “leave”. I already see that the way the company is being ruled; it is just a matter of time before others see the damage that the person has done to the company.

  76. Looking for advice here.. i faced this classic situation of a psychopathic boss. Was bullied, called names constantly (Compared to a dog) – all because i made the mistake of networking with my regional colleagues, which made my boss think i was scouting for another role. He then kept faking my performance reviews and deliberately understating my performance, this was to ensure my pay remained at a fixed level and made up for a raise i receieved a year before because he had to make a counteroffer to retain me. So by fixing my ratings, he ensured I’d not be easily able to get roles outside his team and also not receive any pay raises – first time he did it, and gave me a bad rating, i just sucked it up and worked far harder. Only to realize after six months, that in his personal conversations with me, he was taking malicious pleasure in seeing me be silent and not speak up. Conversations got increasingly vicious, with his face lighting up each time he felt he could insult me and i would be silent.

    In my defense, I am managing the expenses of two old parents and my aged nanny whom I wished to meet – I couldn’t. I cancelled my trip because of my boss’s antics and then she passed away. Something I regret – a stupid thing on my part, wish I had the courage to say good riddance to him and walk when i could. Long story short, I have finally managed to walk off and get in the process of finding new roles elsewhere. But I am worried about handling my exit interviews I was so distraught immediately after my resignation that I actually spoke to a few of my colleagues and mentioned how toxically I was treated.

    But putting it on paper – does that mitigate my bad ratings which this man cynically exploited to ensure i couldn’t get references elsewhere within the organization, or does it actually assist me in presenting the other side of the case. He is powerful, i am in a small industry, he will bad mouth me when he can (I am sure of it).

    He kept threatening me of all sorts of vindictive measures – he’d put me on a performance plan etc. But when I go and see my HR site, that’s not there. I suspect it was all a con in order to have me get afraid and threatened enough to leave. I only wish I had recorded the conversations. So, what advice would you folks have for me? Be PC in my exit interview and get a copy of my HR file to see what this man tried. Anything else..

  77. Hi there,
    I just read the article and was “happy” to see that I am not the only one has gone through this. I quit my job at the end of this january with no new job waiting for me. My manager is a psychopath too (a hyena) and I too quit after she got angry at me. She asked me about a task and I said I hadn’t had time to do it – but I said it in front somebody from another department – after that she took me aside and said that is was unacceptable etc and only after that did i get a chance to say why: I have too much work too do. And then she accused me of being a bad communicator when I mentioned it several times and she the day before she had just dumped the responsibility of a whole project on me and o new co worker that had just been there 2 weeks – and said that I was “in charge” of the new co worker (who I had already been training by myself for 2 weeks). I should mention that there are 3 other people on the team and that a new manager had started working there 2 days earlier to help my manager. This all happened on a friday and the next monday I quit. It was the last straw. There are so may other things that have happened over the 3 years that I have worked there (not just to me). Apart from getting a letter of recommendation, no one who should care (HR, uppermanagement) has talked to me about quiting (even when i handed in my resignation letter to my manager’s manager knowing that i did not have a new job).I know for a fact that I am not the only who has problems with how upper management totally ignores signs and outright complaints. I am leaving a toxic enviroment much like a someone would leave an abusive home.
    My advice to AKS’s post: I experienced that bad review thing as well and not getting a pay raise after being called into the board room to basically get intimated by my manager and her boss (the deputy ceo) and the head of HR for standing my ground regarding pay for overtime. Hopefully you did manage to get a copy of your HR file. Like the letter writer said “a person’s mental well-being is more important than almost anything else. There is no excuse for how you were treated and nor is it reasonable that you would be in anyway responsible for coming up with excuses for such behaviour. And I am very sorry to hear that it went so far that you did not get to see your nanny before she passed. You are a human being and there is only so much you can put with. FM! Proud of you for leaving them and I hope that you have found a new job where you can work with fellow human beings instead of hyena’s. (Never work with jerks!)

  78. I would absolutely consider my boss a psychopath, after reading this article I couldn’t not. My boss since day one has disparaged my work, he has put me down and made no attempt to train me. My first week training was done by someone whose position was threatened by me and I was shown nothing. He continued to put me down and cause me to leave daily in tears. Until one day in January, my fiancé left me high and dry while I was in a hospital no less. It was a I love you but I’m not in love with you thing. Well I came back to work 2 days later and was still upset, I have a boss whom makes my life as awful as possible and the love of my life is gone. So thinking maybe I can get some sort of mercy, I asked the man for extra work to get me by and let me drown myself in my work. His response, you should have plenty of work, and I can see why she left you. Well I left work about an hour later because I wasn’t feeling well and thoughts of hurting myself because of what he said, HR did nothing and my requests for transfer were denied multiple times since I have returned from leave of absence from my illness. I am have a job interview in a week and I am praying it works out well. I know now what a psychopathic boss is, I am a volunteer firefighter and dealt with all forms of life, I’ve never dealt with a supervisor and company that just doesn’t care. A question I have for anyone that may answer, if I do get this new job (I am praying) would it be acceptable to leave with very little to no notice? I am not an overly sensitive person but this man and my co workers make me feel like I am on an island to myself.

    • @Nathan: You should do as you see fit. Respect at work goes two ways. The only reason in an unhappy work situation for giving notice is to encourage your employer to give you decent references in the future. In this case, it doesn’t sound like you’re going to get good references from these people, so why suffer longer than you must? Line up good reference from elsewhere in the future and get on with your life. And remember: Never work with jerks. I wish you the best.

  79. Dear Nathan,
    Never mind the boss and the co workers. FM! I am the girl A who wrote just before you. I have found a new job. I started 2 weeks ago. So I was wondering about this page and found what you wrote. You owe those F’rs nothing nada zero. Put the “enough notice” worry aside. I gave my psycho boss plenty of notice and you what – the abuse just got worse. Her rage and bullying git worse. Maybe because I was leaving anyways and she had “carte blanche”. My boss also gave a bad reference when a potential employer called her after I had already left. What I am trying to say is: If they dont care about you now they are certainly not going to care more once you tell them you are leaving.It will give them an excuse to go bat shit crazy and the longer you are exposed to it, the worse it is for you. So get away from those Fr’s as soon as you can. Try not to feel quilty about hurting their feelings, or leaving them hanging.It is okay and not selfish to practice some self care and do what is best for your well being. It is a good thing that you are trying to get a different job and when you get it, just leave. The whole process (the stress, the psychological abuse, the damage to your personal life and reputation )is hard enough without carrying the weight and responsibility of these AOl’s on your back. I feel sad that people can be so shitty but remember that it is their garbage. You could hurt your self a 1000 times and they would still be shitty people filled with garbage. They deserve each other. But you deserve better. You just need to find better people to work with and spend time with.You are already “on about it” by looking for different work. I hope you get that job and I wish you the best of luck finding other opportunities.

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