Help! I work for a tyrant

2007

I work for a sociopath. He is entertaining, persuasive, an expert in all areas, but he is also arrogant, domineering, a manipulator, a liar, and operates on paranoia.

His agenda is self-serving yet his position is the general manager. He has one personal confidant for all company decisions. This one individual is a young, inexperienced and an attractive women. She also has one agenda and that is to move to the top at all cost.

Between them, they have terminated about a dozen employees who have challenged their plans to run the show as a team of two despite the consequences.

Most of the employees have been with the company for many years and have a lot to contribute. Yet their concerns or input are not only dismissed they are taken as a threat or insult to the general manager. He will actually say, I am the General Manager and you are my subordinate.

His paranoia absorbs most of his time as he listen in on telephone calls and reviews emails or watch employees activities in the office. The other part of the time is spent behind closed doors with the young female confidant. It is believed they spend the time collaborating how to terminate their next victim.

The working conditions are not acceptable yet many of us have worked together for years and formed friendships. We also work for a company with goods benefits and a decent salary. That is very hard to replace.

What are the safest options for us to stop the bullying without being terminated? The last few who complained managed to bring some attention to Human Resources, however, the hired a coach who worked with the GM, befriended him, and basically told the employees we need to give him a chance. However, the GM shifted to revenge mode as soon as the coach left.

What do we do?

Ellen, Boston

Dan Bobinski's Answer:

Unfortunately, this is one of the most frustrating scenarios found in the workplace.

At first glance, you have three options:

1. Remain with the status quo.. Lay low, absorb the pain, and remain uncomfortable.

2. Go over his head. He's the general manager, not the CEO. In other words, he reports to somebody. Perhaps pressure could be brought to bear from above.

Caution: I don't recommend either of these first two options. I recommend option three:

3. Rethink your HR strategy. When HR brought in the coach, they did what they thought was right. Unfortunately, you're still experiencing the problem! So first things first: Document-document-document. The hardest part of this is staying totally objective, writing only what you observe, not what you interpret.

Also, make sure you document specifics. Laura Crawshaw, in her book Taming the Abrasive Manager, says this is a vital starting point.

I believe Crawshaw to be the best authority out there on dealing with abrasive managers, so if she says to document specifics, that's what you should do.

You say he listens in on telephone calls - this is too general. What calls does he listen in on and when does he do it? You say he's a manipulating liar. How? What happened?

Identify the specific behaviors of each incident. Example: "He raised his voice" instead of "he got upset."

By the way, I highly recommend Crawshaw's book. You might also get one for your HR department. Then they'll understand what you're dealing with and have a better understanding of what they can(and should)do.

Here's the key. Maintain professionalism and squelch all emotional display

Once the specifics have been collected, arrange them in an formal document, not just a collection of notes. Then, those who feel this man's behaviors are unacceptable should act as one and go see HR.

Here's the key: The group must maintain professionalism and squelch all emotional display. They must show total concern for the company's well-being, and above all, they must NOT threaten HR. Think of it as a low-key mass mutiny.

Start by saying how committed you are to the company's vision and mission, and emphasize that you all like working there – that you want to help the company reach its goals.

Be sure to thank HR for their effort of bringing in the coach, but then present your observations (remember, no emotional dialog!) I can't emphasize how important it is not to draw inferences or interpret the GM's behavior. It's imperative you remain factual and objective.

Re-emphasize that you like working there, and you believe the GM wants the company to succeed, too. But add that his behaviors are no longer tolerable; that it's becoming a hostile work environment.

Also state that some of the people who brought complaints before have been fired, and that you're very afraid there's going to be similar retaliation (do not use the word 'revenge').

If it's true, you should add that you're heard others express concern about retaliation – that people are afraid – and that you don't want any retaliation for bringing these concerns to HR.

In short, don't demand or threaten. You create the best chances for change if, as a group, you express your loyalty to the company, provide specific examples of intolerable behavior, and state that you're afraid of retaliation for doing so.

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About our Expert

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.

Older Comments

Hi Ellen,

I truly empathize. I was working for a tyrant too in the recent past who had a female confidant (not attractive though) but they'd plot and scheme together and spend hours on the phone catching up on the office gossip. Surprise turn when he fired her recently and then started to make my life hell. Mainly because she stood up to him and his brainwashing and said 'NO'. Absolute nut case. The turnover rate is extremely high in his department yet management will not take any action. He has degraded employees and humiliated them in public as well as listening in on our calls and snooping on us. Problem is I had a great position and really good salary. The point of enough-is-enough was when he called me up following a report I'd sent out and verbally abused me on the phone ... I demanded a meeting with the VP (his boss) and submitted my resignation on the basis of harrassment and bullying as well as a very toxic environment. Thankfully the VP chucked out my resignation and transferred me to a different department. His department is sinking and he has no employees to latch on to and cover up for him. I'm watching him crumble from my new position.

Hang in there and above all do not stay quiet ... speak up!

Jacinta Dubai

It's excellent advice, Ellen. Count yourself fortunate -- I recently changed jobs at an upper management level only to discover the CEO/Owner is the stereotype of the Office Bully. Unfortunately, my choices are limited and after trying six months worth of advice culled from some excellent sources, I find I am left with no alternative but to leave. Merry Christmas to me. :)

N Magnussen Arizona, USA

I had to leave a job last year due to a wacko boss who went on tirades off and on then would turn it all on me. It finally affected my health and I am now paying for it literally. I should have known-when I took the position they were going through employees like flies. I lasted a year, and thinking back amazed that I made it that far, since she was verbally abusive. Wishing you all the best

br

I understand your pain. Unfortunatly, I have no solution. I am in a similar situation only my boss IS human resources/controller. What a JOKE! I'm forever screwed and forever going to see a psychologist for all of this. I cannot believe the things some people get away with. I hate the system.

Heidi Michigan

Having seen bosses similar to those you all describe, I also empathize.

One point to remember is that no one has the right to abuse you, bosses have the right to comment on your work performance however you have to keep telling yourself that your feelings and integrity need to be respected and that they truly are sacrosanct. At the risk of sounding harsh, and I don't mean to be, 'we are all treated the way we allow ourselves to be treated'.

There are a couple of (now old) books that I read that helped me years ago by Wayne W. Dyer, 'Your Erroneous Zones' and 'Pulling Your Own Strings' which are an easy and worthwhile read if your are struggling with self determination... and a difficult boss!

Ric

Richard Townsned Beijing (for now)

I am in the same situation. HR did the same thing plus my boss ssupports the guy because of his ties to our client.

KEN

Folks,

Read 'Good Lessons From Bad Bosses' and 'When Good People Become Bad Bosses' on www.thejendra.com

Thejendra BS (Author) India

I know what you are going through. I have been working for the same company for 4 years while my boss was hired only 2 years ago replacing someone I really enjoyed working for. Ever since then it has been on-and-off hell. When he first started, I remember him talking to me more than the rest of my co-workers and always seeking me out to ask me questions about other workers (trying to dredge up gossip, which I did not participate in). To make a long story short, when I gently refused to play his game, he turned very nasty. Insinuating that I did nothing, heaping my desk with work enough for three people, cutting my hours, etc. I went to HR and told them what was going on and how toxic the work environment was. At one point he tried to corner me in the hall and intimidate me. In the end, I taked to the C.E.O and we all sat down for a meeting. I stated what had been happening along with a journal of how he had belittled me for taking days off (I'm disabled!) and micro-managed my every move, posted 'General Bulletins' that reffered only to me, and the like. During the meeting he outright lied! He claimed he did not know company policy and all his managerial errors were due to ignorance. It turns out he is good friends with the C.E.O. Thankfully, friendship doens't overwright policy. I ended up getting his probation as manager extended and a write-up in his file. He quieted down. This was about 9 months ago. He ahs since hired a female desk manager. Initally he hired her for a much lower title, but promoted her almost instantly. They have plotted to fire a lot of the workers and have suceeded several times. What made my situation difficult was I am the only one who seems to clash with this boss, however, several employees who have seniority have seen and noted his singling me out. All has been quiet for some time, however, when I returned from a vacation, he stared up again. Apparently in my absence he couldn't find anyone who was able to do my job, so now he is hositle again. I see this going to HR again. Either way, the best thing is to act as a group (I do have co-workers who have testified in my defense), be as emotionless as possible, and keep a good journal for when you go to HR. Be sure to document dates, times, and take photo-copies of anything you see him/her posting that could be percieved as hostile.

MR

Wow, why do people believe they have to be that way in order to effectively manage? I have been an assistant manager for over two years. We recently got a new District Manger who belittles my crew, my co-managers and me. Every call I get from her starts with her screaming and yelling at me over the phone. My nerves are shot. She couldnt get a hold of me via telephone one day so she sent me a text on my personal cell stating 'you either answer the phone or I am coming over there!'. She comes into my store and demands that my crew members call her Mam. She is a tyrant and a dictator. She had the guts one day to tell me that I am a selfish person. My crew loves to work with me because I am a good manager and NOT selfish. She refused to let me take time off this last week while I was sick with a bad cold and fever and I got worse because of it. No rest. I went to the doctor yesterday and he ordered 4 days off. Watch me get fired now.

"L" Somewhere in Washington

Thank you to all who have contributed to this page. Your experience has given me strength and solace. I made the mistake of challenging an authoritarian MD and faced 3 months of constant bullying culminating into a disciplinary sanction against me. The sanction was the wake up call that made me realise I had been bullied. I started to fight back guided by what I read here. The twist is that with a disciplinary sanction against me, I am suspect. Both the CEO and HR person handling my case believe my motivation is revenge. The truth is the MD generates 4 times more revenue than I do. I went to an employment lawyer who advised me to steer my case on the themes of Health & Safety and Employee Welfare at Work. It's working. I also got external authorities interested in the case ... I was once the hunted. I am now the hunter.

Marco Penne Williams Lea UK

Reading the article and comments has cheered me up and made helped me fee more empowered to deal with my current situation. My boss fits the profile of a psycho, he is convinced he is right, lacks empathy, and has been bullying me because I challenged him (he teaches management and HR - Doh). He has told me I am to move away from my current role and I have been given no choice, he has not followed any required procedures and now seems to be building a case to show that I am incompetent (I am not). I have had sleepless nights and have been a nervous wreck for the last three months. However I have now been taking steps to deal things, by focusing on the facts, collecting evidence, and not reacting but acting decisively. I have made an appointment with HR (not replied to my email yet, how long will I have to wait?) and have also made an appointment with staff counselling service, as this is psychically very hard to deal with. I like the old saying 'revenge is a dish best served cold'. I am not out for revenge but it is a reminder not to act when you are feeling angry or upset.

Margaret UK