Professional Jeweler Archive: Abuse of Power

November 2000

Managing/People


Abuse of Power

Demeaning treatment and outlandish requests make workers run away


Want to get rid of an employee? Asking him to clean the bathrooms might do it. That was among the complaints readers of The Wall Street Journal said drove them to quit their jobs. More than 150 readers listed a variety of abusive treatment ranging from nitpicking expense accounts to throwing roadblocks in the way of job performance. Most could be considered offenses against respect and trust. Dis ’em and they’ll go.

Of course, jewelers who want to hold onto staff might examine The Journal readers’ horror stories as a reality check against their own behavior. In a tight labor market, no compensation package makes up for a boss’ mistreatment. Another company is always hiring.

Sometimes it’s just one thing, such as when Patti Tomins’ boss asked employees to cut costs by taking turns cleaning the office bathrooms. Tomins liked her job and coworkers at a Cleveland, OH, plastics start-up, but decided she’d had enough when assigned to swab stalls on the same day she was scheduled to meet with bankers and auditors about the company’s credit. (“How do you dress for that?” she asked.)

Going it Alone

Another executive got a bad feeling about his new employer on his first day at a Big Five professional-services company when his assigned mentor showed him to his office then simply walked away. He was treated like furniture. In a meeting, a partner pointed him out as a new hire and said “I don’t know if he’s any good. Somebody try him out and let me know.”

He lasted 18 months and remembers the contrast between his treatment and the company’s “almost hourly” lip service to goals such as ending gender, age and other biases.

Discourtesies

Then there was the $1.25 deducted from software developer Michael Scudder’s expense report. Scudder, who had endured 18-hour days and marathon road trips for his employer for more than two years, had a shirt laundered and added it to his expense report. His boss told him his trip was one day short of the minimum length required for such expenses. “That was that,” Scudder told The Journal. “I was outta there.”

Wendy Whitaker resisted having her days off cancelled at the last moment. She’d put up with it until her father became ill, but then insisted on her regular days off – without giving her reason – to help care for him. Her boss’ screaming, red-faced response was that she “owned” Whitaker and had the right to require her to work whenever she wanted. “At that moment, I knew for certain I would leave that company no matter what,” said Whitaker.

In addition to rampant discourtesy, many employees deal with bosses who seem actively engaged in preventing them from doing their jobs. A Pleasanton, CA, engineering manager walked away from a work team of more than 100 people that he’d trained, stock options and a generous pay package after the administrator refused to give him administrative staff or revenue-and-profit information to calculate bonuses and finish reports.

The good news? Good bosses can have the opposite effect. Bill Adams of Lancaster, PA, told of a boss who changed the date of an annual strategic-planning retreat so Adams wouldn’t have to miss his daughter’s high school graduation. “I was stunned,” said Adams, a manager at a manufacturing company. Now, he says, he will give his all to such bosses. “Pull an all-nighter in a crisis? Of course.”

– by Mark E. Dixon

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications