Corporate America, pay attention. Billions of dollars of revenue are lost annually in the American economy because of mean, nasty and brutish bosses. Outrageous claim? I didn’t make it up. See the resources referenced at the bottom of this post that document that because of nasty bosses, people are stressed out. Stressed out people take days off, sometimes referred to as a “mental health” day. Stressed out people are less creative, less competent to solve problems, and get sick more often. Stressed out people quit their jobs. All of this loss of creativity, loss of competence, sick leave and turnover costs companies a lot of money.
Recent polls show that only 32% of employees feel engaged in the workplace. The other 68% of employees are either doing the minimum and giving no discretionary effort or doing less than the minimum because they have essentially “quit on the job” but are still sitting at their desks and taking a paycheck.
Legal claims for harassment and hostile work environment are at an all-time high. This should concern every human resources manager and every executive in the c-suite and below. The cost to an employee of bringing a lawsuit is a filing fee of a mere $450 dollars for a federal case and less than that for a state court case. Most employees do not bring a lawsuit until after they have endured unnecessary verbal abuse for months, or even years, and after they have repeatedly complained. As an employment lawyer and executive coach, I can tell you that the majority of the legal claims I have defended companies, and the U.S. government, from were legally frivolous, but were much more expensive to defend than $450 dollars. Employees bring claims and lawsuits when they are fed up and there are plenty of plaintiff’s attorneys who will take these cases on the premise that “most cases settle,” which is true.
Even employees who don’t bring lawsuits cost their companies lost revenue as a result of decreased productivity in the form of slow downs, time spent talking with their co-workers about their latest experience of abuse, co-worker distraction and absenteeism.
Usually, if a boss is mean and they are not good at their job overall, they are out the door. The problem is that many mean bosses are tolerated because they are very good at the technical aspects of their position and drive business. I often hear things like, “that’s just the way he is,” referring to the mean boss. Or, “you can’t teach an old dog a new trick.”
Both are false. People, including nasty bosses, can learn new ways of handling their stress and frustrations that don’t break glass. They can learn time management and delegation skills. They can be inspired to make personal changes in how they behave which affects not only their work life, but their personal life. It is especially motivating for a boss to learn that their old ways of treating their teams and peers won’t be tolerated anymore, even if they are good at the technical part of their jobs. The executives who manage a mean boss, supported by human resources, need to draw a line in the sand and end the suffering. This means constructive confrontation, a la the feedback sandwich: “you’re really good at your job, but you need to improve your people skills. Here’s a coach to support you make some changes.” With supportive coaching and training, managers who have strong personalities can learn to channel their more assertive tendencies during communications and during meetings into more effective leadership styles. The benefits of this approach far outweigh the risks and it will improve the workplace environment. Their employees and peers deserve nothing less.
L. Kay Wilson is an employment lawyer turned executive/management coach. She is the founder of Charm School for Mavericks which focuses on transforming people with powerful personalities into effective leaders. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .