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I am an electronic hardware designer and have never worked in HR. When you see a boss berate workers in front of others daily, in daily stand up meetings it makes me cringe whether I am the recipient or its somebody else.

I have been told that this is really unprofessional and is a No No in HR 101. My country is New Zealand where they do have employment contracts. The company is a generational family business which does not have a permanent HR department, but hires a company lawyer when needed. I do have co-workers that I can trust and have cracked jokes with them about can we have a day with no one liners. Well my Question is what is the best policy to de-escalate this? Better still what can be done?

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Fellow Kiwi here.

A Lot of people in NZ management especially those medium size companies that either don't have a formal HR department or the HR person is wearing other hats - often have a more... informal approach to Workplace professionalism (which I don't mind generally).

Which sometimes means that behaviors that in larger corporates with established processes, procedures and formal HR complaint lines can develop 'unique' workplace cultures - and sometimes this means that the line is blurry.

Assuming this is the case (e.g. an otherwise well-intentioned manager who gets a little carried away) - the best course would be to first start with the Manager in question. I had a scenario once where a manager that I liked ended a meeting with this line:

"Oh, and By the way, if I find anyone doing XYZ, it's grounds for instant dismissal" - it was out of the blue and there was zero context given and a couple of people were doing work tangentially related to XYZ (for legitimate work reasons) and were bricking themselves that it might look like they were doing something dodgy.

I spoke to the Manager privately and said 'I get what you meant, but it sounded like a threat and some of us who are doing the tangential tasks were concerned that you meant us' - he then cleared it up in the next meeting and apologised for the tone and the concern that comment had caused.

That's your first port of call - talking to them. If it's berating people in a stand-up meeting, I'd start by saying that you feel uncomfortable with her publicly chastising people and it would be more professional of them to have those conversations in a private setting with the person in question as per the old Axiom "Praise in Public, criticize in Private".

If they persist with this behavior, then talk with HR - essentially say the same thing - that this is making the team uncomfortable as you feel that these issues should be addressed in private, not in front of the team and that the tone used would be better if it was phrased from a constructive point of view, rather than the current manner of focusing on the negatives.

Then you go from there, if HR does nothing or is ineffective, go up the Management chain - if that doesn't work, you can look at raising a personal grievance and enter into mediation - bearing in mind though, that usually a personal grievance, despite what the law says, is rarely looked on favorably by a company.

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    There is no HR department per the original post, only a lawyer hired by the company on an as-needed basis. In the US, one might consult their own lawyer as to whether the behavior constitutes a hostile work environment (don't ask the lawyer being paid by the company!) after trying to clear things up with the manager directly, but that may work differently in NZ.
    – alroc
    Aug 20, 2023 at 12:48
  • In that case, assuming the direct talk failed, proceed to the next step -- an informal chat with the boss's boss about a way that their direct report can improve his (department's) productivity.
    – keshlam
    Aug 20, 2023 at 13:27
  • @alroc - No HR Department and a supposed lawyer that's on retainer - describes faaaaar too many NZ Companies. Note - you'll never hear or see the lawyer either. Aug 21, 2023 at 20:50

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