A Boss’s Ripple Effect…on Employee Retention

I wish you could have been there, sitting in my office as a fly on the wall. You’d hear story after story of courageous people who want to make sense of difficulties in their lives in order to be their best in both their personal and professional lives.

Before I coached leaders to strengthen organizational health, I worked with leaders of families to strengthen family relationships. As a Licensed Family Therapist, I had the privilege of working with people from all walks of life. They wanted to gain self-awareness and move beyond unproductive behaviors. Many times, the focus of therapy was the client’s desire to learn how to deal with the stress and impact of difficult work situations, specifically a difficult boss.

Last month, we started the blog series “A Boss’s Ripple Effect…on Business Culture”. Today’s blog is part two in the blog series and addresses a Boss’s Ripple Effect…on Employee Retention.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Paul’s demeanor and posture spoke before he even spoke a word. He appeared beaten down and diminished in spite of his six-foot frame.

He came to therapy to decide whether to stay at his current job or leave. He wasn’t a quitter and he believed he could rise above the challenges he faced. He wanted to figure out a way to have a better relationship with his boss who consistantly belittled Paul’s work. While Paul was open to ways to improve, his boss’ attitude and behavior was the real problem. Paul shared examples of yelling tirades from his boss, derogatory comments about his work, even at times calling him names. Time and time again, Paul made changes to improve based on feedback from his boss, but his changes continued to be met with criticism. Prior to starting therapy, Paul had already tried talking with his boss about his approach. It was a risky move, but he thought having a direct conversation might make a difference. His boss took no ownership for his destructive behavior and responded with defensiveness and more criticism.

The final straw that brought Paul into therapy, was when his boss refused to take responsibility and used Paul as someone to blame.

“I was thrown under the bus during a conference call with my boss, the big boss, and myself. The big boss wasn’t happy that I had hired a couple new positions that my boss had approved. During the call, he stayed quiet, never said a word that it was his directive. I took the blame, but my respect for my boss is now nil and he has no credibility in my eyes.”

The Physical Impact of an Abrasive Boss on Employees

Paul wasn’t sleeping, had lost weight, and always felt on edge. He didn’t like the person he was becoming outside of the office. His wife shared concerns of how the stress from his boss made Paul more irritable towards her and their children.

Just as a parent’s behavior leaves imprints on their kids, a boss’s behavior leaves imprints on their employees. While a boss provides leadership and direction, your role is also to create a psychologically safe work culture. It should be an environment where people are treated with dignity and respect. When people don’t feel safe, their thinking skills are sidelined. They have difficulty concentrating and processing information. They’re less creative and avoid speaking up about problems.

A Boss’s Missed Opportunity to Help Employees Function at Their Best!

As a boss, you have an incredible opportunity to foster your employee’s best thinking and their contribution to your organization. When people aren’t afraid of being yelled at, called names, or being publicly humiliated, they’re better able to focus, have healthy disagreements, and take calculated risks. Even if mistakes are made, the focus is on learning and how to apply that learning as you move forward. That’s how kids, employees, and people in general function at their best!

Paul eventually decided to leave the company. According to Christine Porath, author of Mastering Incivility – A Manifesto for the Workplace, one in eight people end up leaving their job due to working in an uncivil environment. Losing good employees is an outcome of organizations that allow an abrasive management style. After making attempts to improve, talking with his boss, and taking the heat for his boss’ decision, Paul decided working for an abrasive boss wasn’t worth the toll on his health, marriage, and family.

In my next blog, I will recall my own experience of working with a boss who led his employees the opposite way of Paul’s boss, in a way that benefited his employees and the organization. Send us an email or give us a call if you can relate to Paul and want to explore the next best steps for you and your family.

Workplace Conflict Expert Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT, works with executive leaders and team managers who want to stop divisive behaviors, resolve conflict, and build the team trust needed to create a healthy work culture.  Contact Bonnie to help your employees get along and bring teams together.

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