What to do when the boss treats everyone badly

Question:

My immediate supervisor, “Alex,” is nasty, narcissistic and treats all employees like scum. He screams at, threatens and lies to us. Our department loses a good employee every month, so we have a revolving door of new employees. There are only two of us who’ve been here for more than 15 months.

Other employees and I have gone to human resources to complain without receiving help. The problem — Alex is handsome, extraordinarily charming and has the HR director eating out of his hand. Not only do we not get help, but she doesn’t believe a word we say. We’re told we’re the ones who need to change, that we have a problem with authority.

I’d quit in a heartbeat, except if I do, I’ll leave my co-worker behind. She can’t quit. She’s older and was on the job market for four months before she got this job. Also, although it wasn’t her fault, she held her prior two jobs for only a year each. She’s afraid a third short-term job on her resume will make it almost impossible for her to get another job. She’s also afraid if she starts to look for a new job, our supervisor will hear about it and fire her.

I took the situation to the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission. They said it was clearly a hostile work environment, but since Alex treated all employees badly, it wasn’t a complaint they could take on and resolve, which made absolutely no sense to me.

So, I need to stay and fight. Over the last year, I’ve grown to care for my co-worker and she’s someone who’s always had a rough time. She completely lacks the ability to stand up to Alex’s bad treatment, and when he screams at her, she goes home crying and can’t sleep all night. I’m different. I stand up to Alex, and he backs off when he knows he’s pushed me too far.

What can I do?

Answer:

Can you convince the HR director to look at this situation with fresh eyes?  Right now, your director sees Alex’s charming persona. What if you taped his screams and threats and played them for your HR director? She might change her opinion and realize she’s been fooled.

Can you seek help from your CEO? The turnover you’ve described is enough to get any CEO’s attention and your supervisor and HR manager might have hid the numbers of exiting employees from the CEO. Put together the facts, and ask for a private meeting with your CEO. As a minimum, ask that your CEO conducts exit interviews with the multiple employees who’ve fled your workplace. What your CEO learns may lead to action.

Can you teach your co-worker to do what you now do so she can learn to stand up to Alex and others who treat vulnerable individuals poorly? If so, and she learns how to make Alex back off, you’ll have given her a priceless gift, and one that allows you to leave, knowing you’ve left her able to handle Alex.

Finally, regulatory agencies that address discrimination focus on hostile workplace environments in which supervisors or others target employees due to their membership in a protected category. Your situation appears to be one in which you work for a supervisor who treats everyone badly — which means you need to get your HR manager or CEO to take action — or vote with your feet.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com

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