Politeía Digest

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

WSJ: When the Boss Is a Screamer

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No one forgets a screamer—a boss who yells at workers, leaving them feeling powerless and constantly on edge, and sometimes reduced to tears when the explosion comes.

It is a figure Andrew Cornell vows not to become. He sometimes feels like yelling when employees at his manufacturing company don’t meet his expectations. But he bites his tongue. “Yelling is a vestige of a past time, and I always regret it,” says Mr. Cornell, chief executive of Cornell Iron Works in Mountaintop, Pa. Instead, he holds short, frequent meetings with employees having problems, rather than “waiting until the end, throwing a nuclear bomb and leaving blood all over the wall.”

Yelling isn’t tolerated in most workplaces any more, even though offices are as tense and fraught with conflict as ever. Sue Shellenbarger explains why on Lunch Break. Photo: Getty Images.

Indeed, the yelling boss appears to be quietly disappearing from the workplace. The new consensus among managers is that yelling alarms people, drives them away rather than inspiring them, and hurts the quality of their work. Some bosses also fear triggering a harassment lawsuit or winding up as the star of a co-worker’s cellphone videotape gone viral.

While underlings may work hard for difficult bosses, hoping for a shred of praise, few employees do their best work amid yelling. Verbal aggression tends to impair victims’ working memory, reducing their ability to understand instructions and perform such basic tasks as operating a computer, according to several studies of cellphone-company employees and engineering students published earlier this year in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Workers who fielded complaints from hostile, aggressive customers were less likely even to remember what the complaint was about, compared with workers who dealt with calm customers.

The workplace has become more civil, by many measures. When Lucinda Maine, chief executive of an Alexandria, Va., professional association, was dealing with family problems recently, “I did yell at some of my vice presidents. It’s better than yelling at the receptionist, but yelling is never appropriate,” she says. She quickly apologized to each one, then held an executive-team meeting to share what she had learned: Keeping emotions in check at work when you’re under stress at home takes “emotional intelligence,” she says.

But how we fight at work now isn’t always healthy. There is still plenty of anger and frustration. Managers spend about 25% of their time resolving conflicts, research shows. The “not-so-good part” of the no-yelling trend “is that people are pushing things under the carpet,” causing frustrations to seep out in other ways, says Jack Lampl, president of the A.K. Rice Institute for the Study of Social Systems in Rainier, Wash. One favorite way of venting, angry email, “serves as a relief valve, but tends to inflame conflict. It takes a very corrosive role in the workplace, for gossiping and undermining others,” he says.

Melanie Brooks, the editor of Bangor Metro magazine, was annoyed last year when a writer failed to finish an assignment on time, forcing her to complete the job herself and miss a work event she’d been expected to attend. She fired off an angry email: “I got the missing information, but it nearly KILLED me. This is your job, not mine,” she wrote, adding that she didn’t want it to happen again. Read more in The Wall Street Journal

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Written by Theophyle

August 18, 2012 at 8:36 am

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