The Flogging Will Continue Until Morale Improves

I played in a regional bridge tournament recently and stopped in my tracks when a man walked by wearing a T-shirt that said: “The flogging will continue until morale improves.”  I laughed, but it wasn’t really funny.  Flogging employees doesn’t happen anymore, but verbal abuse and unreasonable demands are all too common in many companies. (Unfortunately, punishment by flogging is still prevalent in less civilized societies).

The company shall remain nameless, but I once worked for a CEO who would simply phone senior executives with the command “get over here.”  No hi, how are you.  Oh, and he once threw an ash tray in a meeting.  Don’t think this doesn’t happen anymore.  With the bad economy, some companies are getting away with mistreating employees, who need to hold onto their jobs.  But things will get better in time, and then employees will flee.

Arrogance Doesn’t Cut it Anymore

In a Business Week in an article entitled  “Twelve Signs Arrogance is Running Your Company” leadership expert Alaina Love with Purpose Linked Consulting recounted the story of Joe, who astonished the CEO of his company by resigning because his cautions about the company’s direction fell on deaf ears.  Joe was a key player and nobody wanted him to leave so they brought in Love to try to talk him out of it.  As Love writes in her bylined article, “The significance of Joe’s impending departure was enormous, I realized. He’d grown up in the company, starting first in sales and eventually working his way up to a leadership position in marketing. Losing him would mean a tough blow for the organization, one from which recovery would be difficult and lengthy, if not impossible. With him would go years of irreplaceable institutional wisdom and history.”

Joe’s Reason for Leaving

He told Love, “We’re not positioning ourselves for ongoing success, and I just don’t think this way of operating is sustainable. I’ve done everything I can to convince leadership we should adopt a different approach, but they’re not listening. They won’t even sit down long enough to learn about the suggestions I have for changing things.”

Employee engagement has become the new mantra for forward-thinking companies, but, alas, too many CEOs take the position of Joe’s.  “We don’t need somebody around here who doesn’t embrace our way of doing things,” the CEO said to Love.  In other words, it’s my way or the highway.

How shortsighted.  As I’ve written before, the economy is bad now so employees are staying put.  But in time the job market will improve and those companies that value their employees will be rewarded by their loyalty.  Companies like Joe’s will experience an exodus of employees who don’t want any more floggings.

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  1. Jeannette:

    I came to the same conclusion you did years ago with regard to an abusive company I recently retired from:

    “..the economy is bad now so employees are staying put. But in time the job market will improve and those companies that value their employees will be rewarded by their loyalty. Companies like Joe’s will experience an exodus of employees who don’t want any more floggings.”

    But five to seven years later the people are still there. And this includes the time previous to the recession. Why? Perhaps they are in a comfort zone or simply from the fear of failure and lack of confidence. Financial and family responsibilities weigh heavily in those decisions.

    People also witnessed the last in, first out of job changers…..they moved to a better spot (perhaps), but when the downturn hit, they were the first let go. I myself persisted in a toxic environment caused by a corporate take over for seven years. My excuses to myself were health issues and two major operations and after recovery I did not want to start all over again so close to my targeted retirement.

    I think the real problem is that not many have a Plan B they work on while working in an adverse environment. Instead of planning their future to be in their own hands, they merely stay status quo hoping for the best, or jump to another greener pasture. As we all know the grass is not greener in most cases.

    I wrote a blog article myself to end last year (and begin the new year) where I referenced this quote: “If you have a crisis where the adverse consequences are immediately clear, then people understand that they have to do something. When the consequences will be felt 20 or 30 year in the future, the temptation is that we kick the can down the road.” Most people just kick the can, even for shorter outlooks.

    I hope you do not mind my adding a link to it here: http://bit.ly/eWiLiq

    Michael

    • Michael – thanks for taking the time for such a thoughtful reply. It’s true that some people will continue to hang on even after the economy improves. But I think that the Gen Y and Gen X crowd are much more willing to take risks. And they are young enough so that if the new job doesn’t work out, there is time to recover and move on.

  2. You’ve got that right Jeannette. How awful to endure an arrogant supervisor or any kind of abuse in the workplace. Anyone who has worked anywhere probably has at least one story to tell. “Controlling People,” is a fantastic book by Patricia Evans which gives excellent tips to anyone dealing with a power freak. Let’s just say this book turns the whole power and control game on its side. Check it out if you have the chance.

  3. Thanks for your comments. Catherine, I will check out that book (and hope that some CEOs will read it, too). Another way of putting it, Keyuri, is to deliver bad news verbally, but in private, and good news on paper for the record.

  4. Reading this article is a great reminder of how lucky I am to be self-employed. That is exactly how the corporate world is and unfortunately many non-profits are beginning to treat their employees the same way.

  5. Employers do forget that the tide will turn when there is a shortage of people like a few years ago.

    Having worked for a number of large companies i have found, CEOs, or even managers, when they treat others or fail to listen is that they are not always confident of their own abilities and this could be one reason why the CEO of the company reacted as he did.

  6. I think it also depends on the employees and environment. Sometimes you need to be forceful and sometimes you need to be understanding and encouraging.

  7. Yes, that’s why small companies and entrepreneurs are fueling any growth we’re having right now. Many people are forced to go into business when they can’t find a job but many others feel it’s time to move on from corporate life.

  8. Jeannette, I think we must have worked at the same company – the “nameless” one – but I don’t remember you from there :). My “nameless” company was run by a man who liked to lead by intimidation and fear. He verbally-abused all his employees and seemed to enjoy humiliating them. Teamwork was most definitely not applicable there – everyone was too busy trying to protect/defend themselves there wasn’t any room for playing as a team. It was a horrid work environment. For whatever reason, I wasn’t intimidated. There were a few of us who used to laugh about the degrading emails we received because they really were ridiculous and totally unproductive. I would walk into the COO’s office with my hands over my head saying “can you see the tire tracks” LOL. For others though, this was not funny. They were younger and greatly affected by the way they were treated. I agree with Susan. I think that those that manage in these types of ways are definitely insecure and need to build themselves up by being a bully. Definitely NOT the way to run a company!

  9. Julie — I sympathize with your experience. Leadership by fear and intimidation just won’t cut it anymore with Gen Y and Gen X. They are risk takers and demand a more collaborative environment. Let’s hope the “bad” bosses slowly wither away!

  10. Yes, it’s unfortunate that some people are in a financial situation where they need to grin and bear it — at least for the time being. But I still contend that people will flee when the job market opens up.

  11. Agree with you completely Jeannette. It’s lamentable and true leaders wouldn’t resort to that kind of behaviour. But unfortunately there are too many managers in leading positions so “the flogging” will continue in your part of of the world for quite some time due to the high employment.

    In countries where flogging is still used as punishment it’s normal for CEOs to scream and shout. Keep in mind that those CEOs are not less educated, intelligent, smart, sophisticated or what have you than their American counterparts. They behave that way because they can simple as that. And that’s what’s going on in the US right now. People are people and the fact that we are Western doesn’t make us different. Remember the looting that took place during hurricane Katrina? Who would have thought people would behave like that in a Western country…

  12. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Catarina. It’s true that we live in a civilized world where not everyone is civilized. I just try to avoid them.

  13. The first people out the door will be the most capable because they are the most marketable. I worked at a company where they purchased another company and named that CEO as my boss. He did not get it and could not make a decision. We nicknamed him indecision because it rhymed with his last name.

    I found another opportunity. My bosses boss called me in to talk about my leaving. He asked if there was a way that I would stay. I told him not if I had to keep working for the same person. Bottom line is I left and not that long after that manager went out on disability and never came back.

    Rob