Bad Work Environment

Archived Q&A and Reviews


What to do when your boss is abusive

Jan 2012

I am hoping for advice about how to deal with my abusive boss. I have read many books on the subject, but I am hoping to reach out to all of you because heart felt advice is so much more strengthening.

First of all, let me say that I cannot just run out and quit. I have a family and we need the money and health benefits.Trust me,I'd jump at the chance to start a new job.My boss frequently yells and humiliates staff in front of others. For instance, she has told one employee in a meeting to stop talking after someone else asked her a direct question. She will also attend meetings on the behalf of staff and will not give the employee any information about the meeting. Employees from other sections will cancel meetings when they know she will attend.

Most disturbing for us who just try to do their job,is how she controls every aspect of projects.The interference is so great that vital parts get destroyed or relationships with outside vendors are destroyed.During heavy deadlines,she will assign more tasks or hold unrelated meetings that last for hours.People who stay after hours are never compensated for their time.Often, when you deliver what she has marked ''urgent,'' she will not even look at it for days/or weeks.When you turn something in to her,she will lose it and direct you to give her another copy.Often, she assigns urgent tasks to staff a few minutes before they leave or right before a previously scheduled appointment.

She frequently promises to hire more staff to help out.We have also noticed that new hires have no background or experience in the jobs they were hired for.The new employees just seem to be very docile and since they have no experience in the task they were hired for, they end up doing something else.

However, if I were to pick the worst thing she does it would be the way she speaks to staff.She will mock staff about their home life or finances.She has also insisted that people repeat exactly what she says in a very demeaning manner.I have seen her bring some people to tears by the way she has spoken to them.When this happens she does not relent,her attitude just seems to get sarcastic and more intimidating.She often speaks about denying employer mandated rights to employees, but the HR department usually takes care of these situations.

Reporting my boss to her superiors is also unrealistic because everyone knows about her abusive attitude and there has been no control over it for years. Staff are also very afraid to report her because her position. Help! Anon


My husband was in the same situation. we researched everything...there is no law against being an A%$^^*

He quit...he is 10 times happier. We have less money but it was well worth it. anon

This is a really tough one. There was an article on about this very topic a few weeks back. The upshot of the article was that the sanest - and most effective, in the long run - course of action is to (gasp!) stand up to the boss, politely but very firmly. Abusive bosses are basically bullies in adult disguise, and you are describing a really bad case, though I've seen a few worse in my corporate days. And you have to confront them, just as you do schoolyard bullies, and risk a conflict and possible fight. If you do not, the behavior will continue and get worse, and you will pay the price in terms of compromised health.

The article suggested such simple things as literally walking out of a meeting that goes on for hours. When asked why you are leaving, you state very decisively but politely that you had expected the meeting to end at a certain time, and that you now have other obligations to meet. Which is true!

But that risks a very serious possibility of firing, and the truth is that abusive people in a company have often positioned themselves well so as to not be expendable. They made friends in high places.

Here are a couple of articles,8599,2005358,00.html anon

I know the situation of which you speak; I think you need to assume it won't change. My guess, based on my own experience, is that you've got a bully with a personality disorder; higher-ups don't want to be bullied anymore than you do and are therefore unlikely to put themselves into the bull's eye by honest evaluation and firing/reassignment. This is the sort of person who will drain finances and kill souls with lawsuits and everyone knows that. You will need to leave, but until you can do that, do everything in your power to take care of yourself and to build your resilience and to lower the impact of this stress/cortisol on your mind and body. It helped me to take living through it as a personal project: I sort of set my own inquiry project around ''what can I learn to do to protect myself and my family from the stress this intractably crazy person causes?'' and I really did some great learning that has helped me with other (much milder!) crazies that came down the pike afterward. Behind the bluster is--more than likely--a terrorized child, so sometimes it can help to remember that and kind of soften into compassion--doesn't mean you deserve this treatment, but for me, it helped me to stop taking it personally, to believe I somehow caused the situation, or to feel ''on the hook'' somehow to fix it. Read up on resilience. Practice stress management. Work out. Develop a mantra to protect yourself in the moment (mine was: I didn't cause this, I don't deserve this and I can't fix this). Take care of yourself

Hostile Co-Worker

Feb 2002

I am a UC employee, and I am being targeted by a co-worker at my workplace. We have worked together for several years, and she has always been hostile to me. Occasionally she shows similar hostility to other employees, but most of it has been directed at me. Until recently, she has just been rude and unprofessional, but lately she has been making unfounded charges that potentially threaten my professional standing. Initially, our supervisor was sympathetic to me, agreeing that this employee was out of line, but now he is not being supportive. I have asked for help from his supervisor, who has also not been supportive. I have documented all this. I have asked my supervisor to avoid assigning us projects together, and he has ignored my request. Recently, he has begun pressuring me to do some additional projects together. Do I have any recourse? Anonymous, please

Since you are a UCB employee, you should take advantage of the UCB Staff Ombuds Office, which specializes in just the kind of problem you are having. My friend Margo Wesley has been at the Ombuds office for a while now, and she is a very smart, calm, and sensible person who would be the perfect person to consult with about a difficult work situation, and she is also extremely knowledgable about campus personnel policies. Did I mention she is nice too? I think you should make an appointment right away. Here's their web page: It says ''A confidential, informal, impartial, neutral and non-adversarial alternative for the resolution of work-related problems and concerns''. Their phone number is 642-7823 Good luck! Ginger

You didn't say what part of UC you work for, but UC Berkeley has a Staff Ombuds Office for issues like this. Their website is anonymous

If you have any form of Human Resources, you should start there. You have already started up the chain of command and seem to be getting nowhere. A hostile work environment is not something to be taken lightly. If your employers refuse to do anything about it, they can be held liable financially. Accommodations should be made for employees who are incompatible with others. Keep climbing up the chain of command. Sooner or later someone is going to have to deal with the issue or deal with the consequences. No one likes to sue their employer over these things, but sometimes it can't be avoided. Just make sure your documentation can stand on its own and you yourself are not doing anything to add to the situation. You don't want this turned back around on you. You didn't mention if you and your co-worker had similar seniority. That issue could come up as well. Good luck. It sounds like you are going to need it. marianne

Go immediately to the Staff Ombuds office on campus. It is great that you have documented the history of hostile behavior. The Staff Ombudsperson can do a few things for you: 1) listen objectively and give advice; 2) advise you of your rights and any possible action that you can take; and 3) offer to participate in mediation sessions to help calm the situation. The office is in its own little building on Bowditch Street, and your meeting is completely confidential. I went myself when, on maternity leave, I received a nasty and punitive performance evaluation from my supervisor without warning or discussion. Ultimately, I left that job, but the Ombuds office staff (I spoke with Margo Westley) were straightforward, incisive, but compassionate. Good luck. Anonymous

Well, my approach wouldn't work for most people. I'd ask you both to sit in a room and tell each other straight to your faces all the things you hate most about one another (with precise examples)and then you'd also have to come up with things that seem actually alright about the other person. At least you'd have something to go by, no matter how emotional. Since most people are obviously uncomfortable with this approach and you both would be too (it takes suppression of feelings to develop hostility), I'd recommend meeting with your Human Resources Director for your unit. Next step after that, based on your classification, would be your union representative or the Ombuds Office on campus. Be sure, before you enter in any of these conversations, that you know what your goals are and if they are realistic. Want peace with the co-worker, want to be separated from the co-worker? Whatever it is you want will probably require some adjustment on your part as well. Visualize the desired outcome and adjust your attitude and behavior accordingly. Anonymous

Your post could have easily been mine one year ago! Please run, do not walk, to the Staff Ombuds Office. The amazingly professional staff there are wonderful at helping you and your coworker work out problems of this kind. Their description is: ''A confidential, informal, impartial, neutral and non-adversarial alternative for the resolution of work-related problems and concerns''. Mediation is a tremendously valuable experience to undertake; I learned a lot by going through it. Their number is 642-7823, and their web page is at I would also recommend talking to someone at CARE Services for Faculty and Staff, a program that offers free confidential counseling, consultation, and referral for UC Berkeley faculty and staff, at 643-7754. The pain that a hostile work environment can inflict on the rest of your life can be immense. Having someone to talk to is extremely helpful.

We at UC Berkeley are blessed to have such free resources so easily available. However, mediation is an alternative that everyone should consider in such a situation. After having complained for months about my work problems to so many people, I was surprised that no one suggested mediation; once someone did, it made so much sense. More people need to know about how helpful professional mediation can be! Good luck to you, Anonymous

Try the Staff Ombuds Office - I saw Margo Wesley speaking recently & was very impressed with her. Good luck! Anonymous

I'd like to add one more perspective on this, having dealt with a related situation. I work in a large organization-we don't have an Ombud Office, which sounds like an excellent resource. We do have some un-obvious resources for things like this. In my situation, I demanded that some very obvious and inappropriate hostile behavior stop, and I spoke to my superiors about it. Unfortunately, my superiors are a little more conflict-averse than I anticipated, and a little more clueless than I could have imagined, and the result was very negative for me in the short term. Although I persisted, since I knew clearly that what I was saying was correct, and in the long term some improvements were made to the organization, I ended up being the sacrificial lamb, so to speak. We improved the situation for the better, but I ended up with the label of ''troublemaker.'' I don't believe that any Ombud office, or the equivalent in our office, can avoid that, because it was my superiors who have that perception. And there were implications for my position, which I am hopefully overcoming now. If I had it to do over again, I would approach it as a ''here's a positive idea for improving our overall effectiveness'' type thing, with a smile on my face. That way, I wouldn't have to suffer the consequences of someone else's bad behavior. I considered the legal remedies (lawsuits, unions), but unfortunately, most hostile situations are more subtle than can be proven effectively, and the other person is generally ''innocent till proven guilty.'' Which leaves the possibility that you will be permanently labeled a troublemaker, even if you win, PLUS you have to go through the headache of inflaming all that conflict. Remember that the main point is to come up with a solution that works for you, and doesn't cause you more damage. In my case, the hostile employee has considerably more power and influence than me (and this often seems to be the case in these situations, as sometimes those people are conciously or unconciously trying to prove you unworthy so they can get ahead). Even if that person is repeating this hostile behavior in a widespread way, sometimes the people who have the power to change it just don't get it, and you can't change it. (and despite all the facts, you can still look like a whiner, while the other person looks like a winner, particularly if they've got the advantage, and the hostilities are not obvious to other people, or not experienced by those who have the power to stop it). So my advice is to consider the ramifications of your actions for yourself, and find a solution that sounds like it will work for everybody. Don't tolerate hostile behavior, but work toward the solution. And if it becomes apparent that you can't change the organization, then make plans to move on to a healthier environment. Even making the short-term plans for a solution will help you feel like you are taking care of yourself. anonymous

To the employee seeking help. If you are in a group covered by a union contract, contact your union. If you are not sure about your status go to which has links to all the campus unions. If you are not represented get in touch with the staff ombudsperson. Good luck. margy