Bullying bosses get corporate comeuppance

Cruel execs intimidate and demean employees at highly regarded company -- until their bad behavior hits the bottom line

Most of us can agree there are -- or should be -- consequences for bad behavior. Although not often the case in the corporate world, karma, justice, fate, what have you occasionally kicks in. I witnessed a form of payback when I was a senior network admin at a company where the owners figured their clout allowed them to bully their employees without effect to themselves -- not so.

This well-known design firm received a high number of applicants for a networking job, and I was thrilled when I was hired for the position. The company had a strong presence in the United States and Asia and wanted to expand even more; it was my job to help the business reach that goal.

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About a week into the job, I started meeting with the co-owners to plan for the expansion. They needed to hire more people, and I was called in to upgrade and make their IT systems more scalable. I felt the plans were coming together nicely, and the co-owners and I worked well with one another. The future seemed bright.

But as I became better acquainted with my colleagues, I began to learn about a dark side to the company culture. I heard rumors that the co-owners and some senior managers were not only tough to work for, but were also known to yell at and belittle their subordinates. I hadn't witnessed any of this behavior -- they'd always seemed professional to me -- so I wasn't sure what to make of the information.

Then I noticed other peculiarities. Staff from the IT help desk would appear visibly shaken when an owner or certain senior managers called. People would go on vacation but still be expected to answer the phone, so most didn't take much time off.

Most alarming, though, was the fact that employees were quitting their jobs frequently. Because so many people wanted to work for the company, the positions were filled again quickly, but it was hard to ignore the high turnover rate. I continued hearing rumors about bullying, even from people I'd gotten to know fairly well and trusted, but it took six months for me to realize the severity of the situation.

On that day, I happened to be in the restroom when I heard some yelling outside the door. In a loud and demeaning way, one person was telling another how worthless and disappointing they and their performance were. The tirade continued. Finally, the yelling stopped. The verbal dressing-down had made my hair stand on end.

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