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As an employee it is obvious part of the contract that I do the job assigned to me by my boss, and in those terms he has control to a high degree over what I do, when I do it etc.

While it's accepted that this creates hierarchy in a workplace regarding decision making, I have an impression that oftentimes it also creates hierarchy in regards to respect, at least in some companies (such as mine). What I mean by that is as follows - obviously it's common sense that an employee should respect his boss, however there is also somewhat of an accepted stereotype of an angry boss yelling at his employees. While this is exaggeration I think it has it's grain of truth.

In my company when the boss is angry he starts being disrespectful, those might not be obvious things or explicitly offensive but they make me and other employees highly uncomfortable regardless. Things such as cutting a speaker off while expecting him to explain himself, speaking so loud that he is at the verge of screaming and other, more subtle body language behaviours.

I know that one obvious solution to that would be to change the job. However I wonder if there are other things one could do in such situations. That being said I have two questions regarding this outline of my workplace.

  1. Am I being too sensitive? - Is it something normal that happens and as long as I don't want to lose my job I should comply with such attitude from my boss?

  2. Would it be reasonable to speak up to my boss in font of other employees? - While being under fire from my boss in front of other employees, would it be acceptable to reply with something between the lines of "I'd ask you to speak to me in more respectful manner" or something similar? If not what would be the proper reaction to such behaviour?

I'm working in a European country (a member of the EU) in an office job.

  • 11
    It's important to know your country, because that boss behaviour could be barely legal in some countries. – Bebs Mar 5 at 10:12
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    @Bebs There is nothing in the description that is even remotely illegal in any country I've ever heard of. It seems to boil down to sometimes being angry and cutting people off while they are speaking. Lots of people do that, and not just bosses. – Jim Clay Mar 5 at 14:34
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    @JimClay, in France, repeated cowing, disparaging remarks, reprehensible behaviour could suffice to define harassment in work environment. With OP's third paragraph, with enough witnesses willing to talk, the guy goes down in France. – Bebs Mar 5 at 14:42
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    On the other hand, in France harassment is taken as a matter of course, to a much greater degree than I've ever seen in the US. It's an integral part of the work culture, no matter what the law says – George M Mar 5 at 17:55
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    I would be ashamed of my boss if they were to yell in anger. They just embarrassed themselves for loosing control over themselves and lost face. – MPS Mar 6 at 0:02
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The most important sentence in your question is probably:

obviously it's common sense that employee should respect his boss, however there is also somewhat of an accepted stereotype of an angry boss yelling at his employees.

This sentence implies that a boss doesn't need to respect his employees and I think that is exactly where the point of this question lies.

As an employee you might not make the decisions your boss does but you probably do work he can't or doesn't want to. If you decide to walk out the door, whose problem is it? Your boss's.

For example, my boss wouldn't be able to work with the software we use to organize data even if his life depended on it and I on the other hand am no good at selling my services to our customers. I respect his ability to write a vision of the future and sell that, he respect my technical abilities.

So there should always be mutual respect. If that is lost your boss apparently no longer likes the fact you work for him so why should you?

In a situation of mutual respect you can always stand up to your boss because there is no "standing up to", just a polite disagreement of viewpoints. Usually you as employee are supposed to yield due to the hierarchy of things but even here you can probably recognize that your boss has different priorities than you.

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To add to @Borgh's excellent answer, let me address the questions you asked:

Am I being too sensitive? No, definitely not. Your sensitivity and empathy made it possible for you to assess the situation and identify a problem in your workplace. This is a good thing.

Would it be reasonable to speak up to my boss in font of other employees? In my assessment, this would be the method of last resort. Don't do this unless you have tried other avenues or you are already on the way out. Rather address the problem in a private conversation with your boss. I know that this is hard, but it seems to be a necessary first step if you want to salvage this situation.

Try to be non-confrontational and see the issue from your boss's side. Maybe he does not know how his communication style affects you. Maybe he knows that this is an issue, but is unable to stop himself in the situation. Maybe he is just an asshole.

You should have a better idea about your situation after that conversation. Act accordingly.

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    Just curious, does this situation change in your mind at all if the Boss is the one dressing people down in front of the other employees? If he has decided to make public airing of grievances a public matter, isn't it fair if you do the same? – Mark Mar 5 at 13:36
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    @Mark I'd still think it is better to deescalate and bring this up in private conversation. Granted, this is not easy, and I would have a hard time following my own advise, but the object here is to find an optimal solution for all involved not doing what feels good in the moment. – Eigentime Mar 5 at 14:03
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    @Mark: One should not behave unprofessionally just because the other person does. Image it the other way around: If an employee publicly insults the boss, I'd expect a good boss to take the employee aside and discuss this with him in private. To reciprocate by scolding the employee in public would be extremely unprofessional. – Heinzi Mar 6 at 9:51
  • think there's a bit of a middle ground in how to stand up to your boss in these situations. agree that directly calling him out is not a good idea, but you don't need to let him walk all over you either. I would probably show some visible agitation, change my tone/raise my voice a bit, just be careful not to cross the line. you can make it obvious to everyone that you don't appreciate this in a more subtle way – aw04 Mar 6 at 15:05
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You're not being too sensitive

No one should have to endure abuse, whether physical or emotional. Unfortunately sometimes you can't leave a bad job, but if you can get away from an abusive boss, doing so is reasonable and what I would recommend.

Stand up for yourself, but do it passively

If you directly confront your boss, don't be surprised if they show you the door, and in some locales your actions would qualify as insubordination and justify your termination. However that doesn't mean you should let your boss just abuse you. Instead I recommend submitting to your boss' authority without submitting to their abuse. Meaning follow all orders (within the legal, moral, and ethical bounds of course), show your boss respect, but don't cringe in response to verbal abuse or threats^. Instead calmly and professionally set and maintain expectations and query your boss for their expectations.

For example, suppose your boss screams at you "You call this code! This is a pile of garbage!". This is a chance to set expectations. An appropriate reply would be "I'm always looking to improve; are you looking for changes to my coding style or organization, the performance of my code, or something else?". If your boss has a genuine complaint you may get some useful information and either improve your code or the alignment between your shared expectations. If your boss is just abusing you, they will simply find another way to take a jab at you, but you haven't lost anything by taking this approach.

As another example, suppose your boss is pressuring you to work 18 hour days to get a project done and you cannot do so for physical, mental, emotional, or relationship health reasons. It's appropriate to set expectations with your boss: "Boss, the success of project X is my top priority, but I want to let you know that we're Y days behind schedule and I'm at capacity. I can hit the target if we push feature Z to the next release or relax quality standards, or we can push back the current release; what would you like me to do?" Many bosses will unfortunately respond with "Just get it done!", at which point it's probably best to just disengage. Abuse is unfortunately considered a valid management style by some. However, you can stand up for yourself without taking the abuse. Then if you are someday fired (the abuser gets tired of not being able to push you around), it will be harder to show just cause for terminating you, and more importantly you will know that you didn't deserve it.

You might get pushed out, so it's best to look for the door yourself

If you do stand up for yourself, even if acting fully professionally, your boss may still push you out, so the best course of action is resist the abuse in a professional manner as stated above while looking for another position that takes you out from under the abusive boss.

^And never respond in kind--don't scream back and don't disrespect your boss. Remember, there is a power differential and treating your boss like they are treating you is likely to be considered insubordination, which is a fireable offense in many companies.

5

It's worth trying to assess whether the boss's anger is controlled or uncontrolled.

If they are deliberately choosing to be angry because they consider it an effective way of achieving results, then your best approach is to demonstrate that the anger is not achieving anything, simply by ignoring it. Whatever you do, don't reward the behaviour. You can even challenge it directly: "Well, first of all, I think we're more likely to solve this problem if we approach it calmly".

On the other hand, if they are angry because they are not in control of their emotions, then remember that you have the upper hand, because you're in control of your behaviour and they aren't. Speak gently; slow the pace of the conversation and reduce the volume. Suggest two courses of action and ask them to choose between them: "we could reduce the number of tests we run, or we could delay the release date, which do you think would be better?". If they're still shouting, suggest that you come back tomorrow with a proposed plan of action. Deflect unconstructive "blame" talk ("This is all your fault, you should never have chosen X") with constructive talk about what it's best to do next ("OK, do you think we should put more effort into getting X to work, or is it time we abandoned it and tried Y?").

  • Yes! I'd reduce this to rules: Don't make their problem your problem (either affecting you, or making you behave the same); when they talk, you stop (if they want information, let them stop filling the space - and then...); clarify what they want and work on the solution. – Stephen Mar 5 at 23:20
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Where is the line between being obedient and getting bullied by a boss

This varies hugely dependent on many factors, mostly locale, culture, and how easy it is to get another job in an industry. Also what protections are available in a locale for workers, and I mean pragmatic protections, not just legislated ones. Quite often protections are not enforced by authorities in many locales. So for example if you caught someone stealing and dragged them out by their hair and gave them a kick down the road without paying them it's technically not allowed, but in practice you'd be fine in some places in terms of legal repercussions.

If you live in a country with 80% unemployment then bosses pretty much do whatever they want and I've seen people take both verbal and physical abuse as a matter of course.

At the end of the day it's up to an individual whether they put up with it or not, if you're prepared to lose the job then standing up for yourself can be done in any locale.

  • +1 how easy it is to get another job in an industry, Hard truth. – user44522 Mar 6 at 20:12
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I would agree with Eigentime that public confrontation of disrespect would only be taken as insubordination and cause you nothing but trouble. Private discussion is in my experience also unlikely to get you anywhere, as bullies are usually perfectly aware of what they're doing and like it that way.

The main question here is - how does this boss fit in with general company culture (if your company is large enough to have several distinct departments)? If this is an outlier, then merely bringing his behavior to the attention of his peers/superiors (discreetly, preferably not by complaining about it directly) might solve your problem right there. But if he's The Boss, or his peers act the same, I'd also advise looking urgently for another position. It's never to your advantage to endure being disrespected.

1

I'd like to take a different approach to this. The answers so far seem to only agree with your side of the issue: that a boss should be respectful to his employees. I think this is true only if both sides are functioning as they should within an organization.

When your boss is upset, ask yourself if there's anything you could have done differently? Is a project late when it was promised earlier? When you "explain" things, are you being clear and to the point?

If, in the end, you are both assertive and honest in what you say and do, then at that point, you should dismiss what your boss is saying and simply look for a new employment.

Try to pay careful attention to what he is doing or when he's doing something next time. Sometimes it takes a second to step back, and take a moment to think about things away from the event before answering. Think about when your boss cuts off the speaker. Is he cutting it off at the moment someone is making an excuse or are they being honest in what they say? Is your boss raising his voice when he was told one thing but something else happened instead?

1

When you want to punch your boss in the face, your boss has gone too far.

If your boss makes working there uncomfortable because of the interactions you have, your boss has gone too far.

Dust off your resume and look for new work. Just make sure you inform your company of this behavior before you start working at your new job.

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