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How to Handle An Abusive Boss

How Would You Handle an Abusive Boss?

While most employees try to be on their least offensive behavior for office life, I've had many bosses who've showed their true colors without any apparent apprehension for lashing out. I don't know if it's just a coincidence that the most memorable episodes are attributed to male bosses, and while I'm sure testosterone had something to do with the outbursts I also think once a certain place of power is achieved there's less of a filter for some people. I've experienced and witnessed interesting encounters with the boss-man at various jobs, ranging from a restaurant to an investment bank. Find out which was my most traumatic when you

One of my jobs as a college student was serving at an all-organic bistro that claimed you'd leave with a Zen state-of-mind. Out of curiosity I searched online to see if it's still open, and the answer is that yes, the doors are open except for Tuesday nights which are set aside as nights of "healing." Now with that stage set, do you think that pushing an employee was part of the Zen experience? Yep, you read that correctly — the owner physically pushed me because I didn't want to buy a customer's birthday dessert out of my own pocket. It wouldn't be a dessert on the house, he really thought it was appropriate for an employee to pay out-of-pocket and it wasn't a case where I needed to smooth something over with an upset customer.

Naturally, I was shocked and cried, and shortly after I quit that disastrous job. Its website says that its core values include "caring for the well being of others" and "combining individual empowerment with teamwork," but obviously things aren't always as they appear. I should have thrown in my apron much earlier, as I was often treated unfairly by the owner — the one time I approached him about it, he retorted that he was hard on me "because I could take it." Emotional and physical abuse are definitely not worth the paycheck, and in retrospect I'm not sure why I was so shocked about the pushing episode after enduring months of emotional abuse from my employer. Lesson learned.

Have any of you ever had to deal with an abusive employer? How did you deal with it?


Join The Conversation
burnsrunner burnsrunner 9 years
"I've experienced and witnessed interesting encounters with the boss-man at various jobs" is a comment I hear often. I myself have a "better than anyone else" boss. After browsing thru many books I came across Dealing With Divas by Shelly Anderson. I needed to hear about being responsible for my own life. I needed to laugh at the other similar stuff that had happened to other employees like myself realizing that it's not the end of the world, and it can and does get better. Now, I am recommending this book to all of my co-workers.
dameneko dameneko 9 years
i had a manager who consistently made unwelcome comments about what he believed my lifestyle was like, and once handed me a project spec, saying, "here, i masturbated this out"...EWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!! i finally spoke up and people above him actually listened. they too had participated in some of this demeaning locker-room talk and they realized how hurtful it was. the jerk ex-manager is still on the same team as me, but no longer a manager of people. sometimes being the only female on a team in a male-dominated profession really sucks. it is usually the less technically-inclined people who make the most insulting and demeaning comments about me. men and women. misogynistic women abound in my office for some reason -- do they do this to try to appeal to the frat boys? i don't know. i've become much better handing back abuse, but i shudder when i think of some of the things i put up with in the name of "being a nice girl"...never again!!
Teabiscuit Teabiscuit 9 years
So true freegracefrom and gigill. Oftentimes, I think there isn't a lot HR can or will do to reign in a tyrant, unfortunately. These nightmare bosses got into their positions of power somehow. In the case of my boss, he is extremely intelligent. He has delivered substantial results and made the company money. However, it's been at the expense of treating people like garbage, a fact that has conveniently gone over the heads of the powers that be since all of the people he reports to are located in our global headquarters miles away. He's no idiot and he knows how to make himself look good. He turns on the charm when he needs to. He has developed a big reputation and the moment his posting is changed to another country (supposedly soon), people will feel more free to share stories about him. His reputation will ultimately suffer, I think.
freegracefrom freegracefrom 9 years
When I tried to approach management about the issues (he was never around to see what was going on) he would take her side because of her seniority! Yeah, that's the thing about having a boss (as opposed to a coworker) that's abusive. You can't really tell her boss or human resources because more often than naught, they'll take her side. I've sought out advice on what to do about my situation and they all say that you basically have to just quit.
Brooklynbee Brooklynbee 9 years
I had an abusive boss... too many stories to tell here. But me and another lady really did all of her work while she took the credit - and we managed to quit at the same time. It then became apparent that the boss was inept, and she got fired. My boss now is great, though. :)
gigill gigill 9 years
I had a boss with a nickname "the dragon." She'd fill in for the director when he was away/ill and I always felt extreme dread whenever I knew she was filling in. Not only was she mean, rude and used a terrible tone of voice, she used to split hairs with me over the tiniest things (didn't do this with anyone else) and try to do my job! The worst bit? When I tried to approach management about the issues (he was never around to see what was going on) he would take her side because of her seniority! So glad I'm out of that environment.
freegracefrom freegracefrom 9 years
I'm in a pretty negative work environment right now with a boss that can be a real bully. I'm honestly afraid to get into too much detail because heaven only knows what she would do if word got around to her somehow. Since I started working here about five years ago, I watched two really lovely women with sweet personalities get yelled at and verbally abused over and over and over until they finally left of stress-related illnesses. I still keep in touch with both of them. One of the women went out on MLA several years ago and still has nightmares about when she worked here. When another woman came to work at our office, she started to get this same treatment and I couldn't watch that anymore and not do anything. So I stood up for this new woman and soon found myself within my boss's crosshairs. I've been in her probverbial sh*tlist ever since. Really, I think I got it worse because she used to like me and probably saw this as a betrayal of some sort. Deep down, I don't think she's a bad person. I think she's extremely confident and capable of great kindness/generosity. She was always very considerate to me up until that point. I don't know if it's a case of power going to her head or if she's unhappy and taking it out on anyone that lets her. Nobody's perfect, but I think if she keeps this up with all of her future employees, she'll pick on the wrong person someday and land both herself and the company in court. This is the first bad work experience I've ever had. I'm glad to have had so many positive work experiences in the past though, because if I had the thought that this is what employment was like everywhere.... I wouldn't make it.
Teabiscuit Teabiscuit 9 years
Bad boss stories make me cringe! It's shocking to hear that people get away with treating their staff so terribly. My current boss is a nightmare. He has raised his voice at me a few times in the past 6 months I've worked there. He's argumentative and combative; always has to have the last word; interrupts people. I think he truly believes his time is more important that others. More than that, he thinks he is more important than others. It's just so unnecessary. The biggest shame is that it has created such a feeling of ill will in the office. Everyone walks on eggshells and spends so much energy trying to tiptoe around him. One time he snapped at me over a request he had asked me to make. I made the request and brought him a confirmation. He yelled at me, "I said it should be xxx, NOT yyy.!" I knew he was wrong, but I was so shocked by how angry he got. I just paused, looked at him straight in the eyes, and as calmly as possible I said, "I'll go back and check again." Sure enough I was right and I was able to show him. I lost all respect for him after that though. I'm currently trying to line up another job as soon as possible so I can resign. There was a really interesting article about bad bosses on the cnn website recently. It really hit the nail on the head for me in articulating just what defines a bad boss.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 9 years
I have had a couple of nightmare bosses; One at Lerners (aka ny & company) who was a single mom, with a 5 year old son, she would PULL people off of the floor ask them to babysit and drive them to her house, come back and than expect me to cover for the girl who left. She was a alcoholic nymphomaniac, who called me names all the time, took 3 hour lunches, and used to give me all the worst hours (the 9-3 am resetting of the store for example) I had a boss at my current job who liked to joke around too much, and got really nosy and personal, she also used to YELL for me instead of calling me to her office, She was a 50 something year old divorcee who had no children so she was married to her job, but she hated that made for interesting work environment.
midtownmaryjane midtownmaryjane 9 years
I worked for the absolute worst company in the world!- a small, 5 person PR firm which was owned and run by a woman who was farrrrr too old to still be coming in to work every day. She was in her mid-70s and was the most abusive boss I've ever experienced. She would have these tantrums and scream at her employees (and her business partner, who was originally her receptionist and only became partner because everyone else quit). It was rather obvious she was becoming senile and that's where this aggression and confusion was coming from. She'd tell you to do one thing, and then convince herself she had said the opposite and then lash out and be verbally abusive. We were always completely over-worked and then dealing with her on top of it was like another full-time job. But because it was my first job out of college I wanted to stick it out for at least a year, and didn't completely realize that what I was being put through (not to mention the pennies i was being paid) was not acceptable! I would end up crying in the bathroom all the time. I have never felt so relieved as I did when I quit.
cageyme cageyme 9 years
I've had a couple of bosses (both women) who were nightmares. One job was just like the movie Office Space. I came in early one day to get some work done only to find my boss emptying my desk of my personal belongings because they were moving my desk to a remote corner. I had the worst computer in the department, my desk was propped up with a phone book, and my chair was broken. I tried to keep my cool and be pleasant, but I finally just quit on the spot. My boss was screaming at me as I handed her my keys and my time sheet, "I'll see to it that you'll never work on this campus again!" (It was at a university.) I just smiled and said, "OK." I cried after I left her office, but by the time I got to the parking lot I was dry-eyed and telling everybody I could find that I had just quit my job. I got quite a few "Way to go"s. My boss in a later job was literally a headcase. You could tell when she wasn't on her meds or she was hormonal. She definitely gave both women and the mentally ill a bad name. I tried to be cool and level-headed. It didn't work. When I gave my 2 weeks notice, she threatened to withhold my pay if I didn't complete certain projects before I left. I phoned up HR and they told me to ignore her. A couple of months later I heard through the grapevine that 3 more people, including another manager, quit directly because of her. Lessons I have learned: I will never put up with that kind of @#$% again. I need to look out for myself and my own mental health.
skigurl skigurl 9 years
i worked at a golf course, and i was late for a 5:45am shift because i thought i was scheduled for noon...i got a call at 6:30am and i jumped out of bed and made it to work in record time...but my boss gave me the silent treatment for 2 days until he finally called me into his office to get angry with me SILENT TREATMENT! he was a grown man!
bluebellknoll bluebellknoll 9 years
I've always worked for really small companies (2-13 people). I had one maniac boss...who would single out one person in the office to abuse. I dodged that bullet for almost 5 years but, of course, he finally started coming after me. By that time I was their extremely overworked operations I just up and quit in the middle of one of his tirades. It was the BEST FEELING EVER!
linb linb 9 years
I worked for my stepfather for a few years. He is stubborn, and it is a high-stress job. And of course I'm family so I knew this going in. He was never physical, just mean sometimes, and has spent a couple hundred dollars over the years buying flowers for me and my mom (she works there too) to apologize for getting angry with us.
j2e1n9 j2e1n9 9 years
I would find another job and then give the abusive boss about 3 minutes notice before I quit so he/she'd be screwed finding another person. Because who cares about burning bridges in this case, this is one bridge I'd be pouring the gasoline on.
krampalicious krampalicious 9 years
i've never been physically abused by a boss, but my last boss was mentally and emotionally abusive. he treated everyone like shit unless they went to the school he went to, ignored me for months at a time, and who hired me for a specific task and then refused to let me do my job properly. he was also borderline bipolar, and kept the whole office in fear of whether he was up or down on any given day. when i put in my two weeks' notice, he never spoke to me again. and i couldn't have been happier.
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
I took a job after being laid off, my supervisor was a senior vp, she seemed really professional at first. She told me her life story and how she made it in the workforce. It was all false, she liked to yell, belittle, tried to make others feel inferior, and if she forgot or didn't do anything she blames others. She would scream and blame everyone else for her mistakes. It was funny, I worked for her and the COO, the COO and president of the company use to make fun of her in meetings about her lack of technology skills. She didn't know how to turn on her cell phone after turning it off, the president had a good time telling that story. I stayed at the job for lack of prospects, it took a toll on my self esteem. I advise anyone in a situation with an abusive boss to start looking immediately, even if they report the information to HR (which depends on your bosses level - they may do nothing).
RosaDilia RosaDilia 9 years
Why put up with the crap. Before I quit, I'll make sure to have another job lined up.
killertomato killertomato 9 years
I worked for a dental practice in Atlanta where the controlling partner was a Scientologist and made me (and everyone else) take one of those Scientology "personality exams" as part of the interview process. He was so angry and abusive, we went through one receptionist per week, and they always stormed out crying, usually after he threw a vitrolic fit in front of the patients because people had cancelled their appointments or there weren't enough expensive procedures in the book. One time this guy got really angry with me, and you could tell he wanted to physically strike me, but he knew that would be over the line, so he started slapping himself in the face! Hard! That is not even the craziest place I have worked, but that guy was definitely the most abusive.
WhatTheFrockBlog WhatTheFrockBlog 9 years
As an adult, I've never had an abusive boss, but in high school I got hired at a clothing store in the mall where the manager was INSANE. She would scream, I mean shriek at employees right on the sales floor. Like, "HOW STUPID ARE YOU? I TOLD YOU TO ARRANGE THESE BY COLOR, NOT BY SIZE, YOU IDIOT!" After a week, I couldn't take it anymore but my mother wouldn't let me quit, so I just stopped going until I got fired. :rotfl: I found another job in the mall with a normal boss instead. If that happened to me as an adult, you bet your ass I'd be in HR filing a formal complaint within seconds.
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