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During a meeting, my boss, also the founder and owner of this education-as-a-service startup, publicly (claimed to be for "transparency") criticized an employee because she refused to do tasks my boss asked for. By the limited context that my boss provided, it seems like she refused "immediately" and gave "excuses."

Some of his claims are: there is no workplace where employees ever refuse to do legal tasks their manager asks for; she doesn't want to contribute more than her responsibilities, so she won't be successful. Some troublesome wordings he called (yelled at) her included: "no common sense", "problems with EQ", etc. He was dismissive when she tried to explain her side. More information is filtered for brevity.

I can understand his perspective about quiet quitting, especially with a startup, but criticizing an employee with humiliating names in public is injustifiable and unprofessional. Private criticism and public sharing of advice/expectations could be alternative solutions.

To say I'm angry is an understatement. It doesn't relate to me directly, but it concerns me about where this business is heading and the tense (or toxic) environment. I have been thinking about my future should I make mistakes, and also I partially follow quiet-quitting. I was about to file a complaint to HR until I realize we don't really have an HR team dedicated to employees (only a team dedicated to customers). My objective is to improve the seemingly unhealthy environment, but I don't know where to start or if I should even attempt to do anything as nobody has a problem with what he did (only I voiced my opinion in the meeting, and it was dismissed).

Should this issue be addressed at all and if so, how to navigate this situation?

Update: There have been valuable solutions, and I appreciate them as I've had the time to reflect on this business. I filed an anonymous complaint but there have not been any follow-ups so it's unsure whether they have seen it or not. I will make my last attempt in discussing with one of the managers with whom I'm comfortable sharing my concerns. It's not easy to be mentally checked out of this job where I've been working since it was founded, but if there are no improvements, I'll wrap up my remaining work and prepare to leave at any time.

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  • 39
    You don't need us to answer this question for you. You need to leave this toxic boss. Prepare your exit. Secure a job elsewhere, then take the jump. I suppose you could try speaking with your boss, but I doubt that would change anything and that could potentially make you a target the next time around. Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 0:54
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    If downvoters can point out if this is off-topic or if there is something inappropriate with the question, it would help improve the question. I hate SE's downvotes and thus was cautious in posting questions, but I still fail to ask a good question.
    – Lacie
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 4:02
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    I voted to close this post because it doesn't look like a practical, answerable question to me but rather like an attempt to vent frustration. This is a Q&A website, not your personal support group.
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 10:20
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    @L.Dutch it's remote work. Employees are 100% Asian (including the boss).
    – Lacie
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 13:20
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    There is not one "asian" culture. What is normal in China will be different to what is normal in Japan, for example. Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 3:07

4 Answers 4

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You work at the company, so it's your business. Publicly berating an employee is disgusting and unprofessional. Expect to be treated in a disgusting and unprofessional way at some point in the future.

This kind of behaviour means you owe the company nothing, so focus your workday primarily on finding a better company. When you find one and signed a legally binding contract, you give notice.

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    This. I faced a very similar situation in which the boss/owner fired someone so loudly from his office in a ~15 person company that everyone heard. The boss later rehired the person as the two apparently smoothed over their differences. The damage was done, though, and I was out a few months later.
    – user83977
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 13:33
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    focus your workday primarily on finding a better company I can't agree with this because you ought to focus your workday on your work - it's in the contract you signed.
    – Allure
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 3:49
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    Allure, you should spend your workday on what is best for you. A good manager will make sure that what’s best for you and for the company is the same. In this case the boss has made sure they are completely opposite. That’s the bosses fault.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 12:16
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    If I spent my workday on "what is best for [me]" I'd spend every day sitting on a beach sipping a pina colada. When at work, do work. When off work, plan your exit. Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 17:06
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    @chessofnerd if I would go to a beach instead of work (disregarding vacations) I'd be fired. That wouldn't be best for me, but everybody's different I guess. Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 17:12
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I had something similar happening to me: 2 weeks before the release of the only product of the start-up I was working for, during testing I found a bug which basically sent down the drain the 8 months of validation done from my predecessor, turning a promising product with stellar validation results into a not working product.

The bug was fixed in a couple of days but now the validation had to be redone. Despite working with a 25% higher yield than my predecessor, there was no way I or the whole team of 6 engineers could cram 8 months' worth of testing into a bit more than a week.

One day during lunch time, since we used to eat with the whole staff of engineers and managers, the boss took the chance of publicly shaming and blaming me: "because of you we have no valid data supporting our release and you are being too slow in retesting everything".

After lunch I got the solidarity of all other engineers, as an immediate result the collective lunches stopped, and within few months 3 engineers, me included, left the company in the space of 1 week, to the point where the main investor in the start-up walked the floor asking the remaining engineers what was happening that the workforce was bleeding out.

The way I see it, there are two scenarios:

  1. If others have a problem with the founder's behavior, this can be a learning moment for the founder, but I am afraid that, due to objective imbalance in the relationship between the founder and the workforce, even stronger in a start-up, the lesson can be conveyed only by them seeing a significant leave of the employees. Look for a workplace with a healthier work atmosphere and, if there is an exit interview, mention there the reasons for leaving, with the appropriate modes. If other follow the same path, the founder might have the chance of working on their soft skills.

  2. If you are really the only one having a problem with the founder's behavior, then there is a mismatch between your values and the company values, which can be again solved by you switching to an employer better matching your values.

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    An acquaintance wrote his dissertation about the motivations of small business owners. He found they were about equally divided between three groups: Those who want to make money, those who want to make the world a better place, and those who want power to boss people around. I suspect the second group often makes more money than the third.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 12:20
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    @PlayerOne, fixing the bug turned the correlation between the output of the product and the golden standard from a straight line to a round cloud of points.
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 11:50
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I'm just going to note that it is possible this was a one-time burst of exasperated stupidity on the boss's part... and that there are limits in how much you can "manage upward".

Anonymously and calmly pointing out that such behavior is counterproductive because it demotivates everyone is worth trying. Getting one of his direct reports who was there to make the point one-on-one may be better, if they know him well enough that they are willing to do so.

I wouldn't bail after a single incident. Everyone has bad days. If it becomes an uncorrected pattern, though....

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Look for a safer (as in, safe space) company. This one is clearly not a fit for you, and you're not a fit for it either.

Because the boss is the founder and the owner, he has the right to run the company the way he wants, and you have no control. You can either accept and adapt, or leave. Since you're uncomfortable so much, vote by leaving, and let the free market and the free competition be the judges. If it is as bad as you imagine, skilled engineers will leave, and the boss will have no workforce left – I doubt they are held hostages.

But the thing is, you provide only one side of the story. That gives bias to e.g. this answer, now claiming "exasperated stupidity on the boss's part". Except we haven't heard from the boss. Until we hear from the boss, we can't rule out the employee did something of "exasperated stupidity". That would be only fair to consider, because you know, that happens too.

On one hand, the above shouldn't justify "screaming". On the other hand, Steve Jobs is said to have been a difficult boss. And what do you know, if it wasn't for him unrealistically pushing for his plan, we wouldn't have the iPhone, surely at the cost of stress and overtime all the way from engineering to manufacturing. Who knows what your boss is up to, maybe it's the next big something – again, we haven't heard from him.

My objective is to improve the seemingly unhealthy environment

Do you have to? Is it your job? Is this what you have been hired for? Is it in the contract you signed? Will that, or will that not distract you from doing the actual job you have been hired for?

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  • And the reason for the dv is..?
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 15:05
  • “You can either accept and adapt, or leave”. Or you can tell the boss that his action was rather stupid and just maybe he or she is capable of learning. If they are incapable, leaving or getting fired is the better solution in the long term.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 1, 2023 at 18:20

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