Our department has a very high turnover rate from people leaving after being repeatedly yelled at and demeaned by our boss. This is causing more strain on the remaining members due to unfinished projects, losing people, etc.

Besides the obvious 'change your job', is there any way to alleviate this situation? I want the boss to realise that he's harming his own team and change, but he either doesn't care or doesn't know. If for example HR was an option, how would that be approached? If I was to go talk to him, what can I say.

  • 4
    What size of company is this? Is the boss also the owner? Jul 30 '20 at 9:50
  • 1
    @MatthewGaiser Its a large company with multiple departments, he is the head and on the board.
    – notsure
    Jul 30 '20 at 10:15
  • What does “boss” mean? Manager? Company owner?
    – gnasher729
    Jul 30 '20 at 11:37
  • 1
    "Large company with multiple departments". Does your company have an ethics/compliance hotline or any other kind of anonymous reporting structure? Jul 30 '20 at 13:40

"A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still"

If your boss doesn't care, then no amount of begging, pleading, or cajoling will get anywhere with him, and even if you could force a change, it wouldn't turn out well for you, as you'd create a scheming bad boss, instead of just a bad boss.

Your best bet would be to quantify the cost of his behavior, and then lead him down the right path with the Socratic method of teaching.

Wow Boss, we lost 5 people so far this year. How much do you think it will cost to bring new people up to speed?

Hey Bosss, this turnover is costing us X in lost productivity. What do you think is causing this?

Hey Boss, If morale is so low that we are losing people, should we do something to correct course?

Hey Boss, do you think there is anything you can do to boost morale?

Not those words, of course, but the idea is to plant the seeds of change in his head, and let him come to his own conclusions, and change course himself. If he cares at all, he will, if he does not, you have not directly confronted him.

This approach is most likely to work because any ideas for positive change that come will come from his own mind, which he will not push back against.

What should we do

tends to get better results than

You should do this

Another approach that works is to simply ask for help.

Hey Boss, can I get your help on something? We keep losing people, and it is hurting our productivity. Can you help me figure out ways to retain them?

You cannot beat a confrontational person by being confrontational. They have far more practice. This is a kind of verbal jujitsu, taking his energy and redirecting it towards a positive goal.

Try it, at the very worst, you will be no worse off than you are now.

  • 2
    I think this is a good answer for bosses that are ignorant rather than actively malicious, but I'm not expecting it to be effective with someone who is enjoying yelling at their subordinates.
    – D. SM
    Jul 30 '20 at 15:14
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    @D.SM which is why I included "If your boss doesn't care, then no amount of begging, pleading, or cajoling will get anywhere with him" Jul 30 '20 at 15:55

Alison, at Ask A Manager always has good advice, such as this one: Bosses who yell.

While considering what she has written (don't take it personally; others recognize it is happening; talking to the boss; escalating it), I recommend two additional strategies as part of that.

  • Document it when he yells and the negative consequences. That will be useful when talking to HR.
  • Stop caring so much. This is a bit dangerous, because you don't want to become a bad worker who doesn't care. But if things are late because there aren't people to do the work, don't work extra - let the boss feel the pain of having too few people. When he yells at you, be willing to just walk away and say you'll come back when he's in a better mood. Don't work harder when he yells. Do a good job at what you do, but don't do any more than that. Save your emotional energy for looking for another job.

One way to do the second is to pretend you're a scientist looking at a odd new life form that yells. Look at him in curiosity, but don't take the yelling to heart. That protects you from being dragged down.

  • 2
    You mean like he is a yell-o-fish.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 30 '20 at 18:21
  • I've read her articles. not impressed Aug 12 '20 at 13:28

Support the rest of your team

You can do this by:

  • helping others to complete projects when they are facing upcoming deadlines or pressure from management
  • complimenting on the work they do well
  • expressing empathy for difficult situations they face, both in and outside of the workplace

This behavior is contagious; those team members will reciprocate and perpetuate to the rest of your team. When the team is supportive, it can completely mitigate the derogatory interaction with your boss. And who knows, it may make your boss change his tune, too.


Document his behaviour, quantify the costs to the business, and go to someone with power to to make a change.

Simply put, his behaviour is causing damage to the business through increased turnover, as well potentially exposing the business to hostile workplace lawsuits. Both of these are things that can be monetarily quantified; hiring new employees costs money, and so does training them. The risk of a lawsuit can be calculated by multiplying the probability that one might occur with the costs of hiring lawyers to defend yourselves in court.

As a result, I would recommend documenting these occurrences (focusing purely on what happened, and leaving emotions or assumptions out of it), calculating the business costs of your boss’s poor behaviour, and then going to someone empowered to make a change. This might be your union representative, your boss’s boss, or even your company’s HR department.


How to deal with an abusive boss

The best way is to leave the company, but if you would like to stick it out then there are some things that you can try.

First off, let them know that they are being abusive. If the boss starts yelling at you, you need to immediately tell him something like:

Please speak to me in a normal tone of voice, your yelling is not necessary and not appreciated.

If your boss is demeaning, you need to immediately let them know that their behavior is unprofessional and ask them to stop speaking to you in such a manner

These responses may make him more upset, but if you ( and your colleagues ) don't speak up then the boss will never even think that something may be wrong with their behavior. Just be prepared for the boss to retaliate in some way and understand that despite your best efforts the boss may never change.

If you would like to go the route of speaking to HR, then you and your colleagues should document all incidents for a period of time and all of you should approach HR together to make your collective case. Once again, this is something that will ultimately come back to the boss and he may end up behaving worse than previously.

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