leadership, life lessons, management, motivation, training, work life

Schadenfreude? In This Economy?

Funny how I think I’m going to write about one thing, and end up going in another direction entirely.  Upon further reflection, if you knew how I drive this is probably not so surprising at all.  I adamantly believe that whatever direction I’m heading is north, think I’m going over underpasses and have been known to turn a map upside down when navigating a return trip from wherever.  I get lost a lot, though I’m perfectly comfortable asking for directions.  But, I digress….

A very dear friend of mine quit her job on Friday.  She enjoys a successful career, working at the senior levels of management.  On Friday she reached a limit that no one should have to push, so she packed up her office, provided her resignation and walked out the door.  I’m not going to spend too much time extolling my friend’s impressive qualifications and talents – her success is evident in the tenure, promotions and stellar reputation she has earned.  Besides, this isn’t a paean to her (though she deserves one), this is a cautionary tale.

Why’d she resign?  Because her boss – a V.P. who should have known better – was a bully.  This woman focused her energies on making other people feel really lousy.  For months she badgered, verbally lashed and demeaned her direct report – a senior manager.  Do I believe the karma truck is going to roll up this person’s driveway?  Oh yeah..I do.  It’s already in ‘drive’, for she can’t fill the vacancies she has, and now has one more opening in a critical space.  My hunch is that ultimately she will be ‘outed’ and invited to leave.  One has to have pretty strong ego needs to diminish the people you most need to build up – the ones who have your back and are carrying a  heavy workload on your behalf.  Greater is the pity that she will undoubtedly be packaged out with an impressive amount of money.

I don’t need to remind any of you about the potential legal implications of such behavior.  That’s a discussion for another day.  Apparently the V.P. enjoys this reputation she has earned and savours the unhappiness and unease that she engenders in others.  The sad irony is that she was vetted after joining the organization and people began wondering why such a hire was made.  What makes this even worse in my mind is that in the male-dominated environment where they both worked, this woman found her key to the executive washroom by belittling the efforts of another woman.  The examples of the daily exchanges, meetings and unrelenting personal criticisms could fill a very long tome describing various types of professional hell.

At the end of the day, my friend is fortunate.  She isn’t shackled by golden handcuffs and isn’t beholden to anyone.  She is taking some well-deserved time to restore, and ultimately wherever she goes, she’ll hit it out of the park.  This organization, however?  It’s too large to fold because of one really bad apple in its highest ranks (or two or three), and it would be naive to think so.  But the cost of irresponsible vetting, questionable accountability at the top and a weak professional value system will be high.  Whether it is realized in turnover, legal claims or diminished productivity – the impact of self-centered oversight is profound, expensive and long-lasting.  It’s too bad there isn’t a Hippocratic oath for supervisors at every level – “first, do no harm”.  It’s too bad that in some organizations, a person can thrive while fomenting unhappiness among those for whom she’s responsible, and climb the ladder in her Laboutins by stepping on toes and heads instead of the proper rungs.



14 thoughts on “Schadenfreude? In This Economy?”

  1. Darn!! You read my mind…With the recent appraisal in my current organization, I am going through something similar as your friend and on my way back I was (ams still) contemplating if I should quit my job. Wondering if it would be the right thing to do considering the recession **sigh**

    1. These are untenable positions to be in – and I’m sorry that you too are experiencing such stress. It’s a killer on so many levels. If the issues are performance-driven and fact-based – AND if feedback has been provided consistently, that’s one thing. But if this is the result of someone just needing to feel successful by bringing others down, that’s another. You’re in a tough spot and I’m sorry. I hope you can take the time you need to come to a decision that feels right for you. Good luck and let me know!

  2. Whoa! I like to be with people who see the best and bring out the best in others. I’m glad your friend stepped away from the negativity.

  3. After working in a hell-hole of negativity, I can truly say what a pleasure it is to be in an environment where one is appreciated. Once again, dear friend…you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    1. I am SO happy that you have landed where people appreciate your commitment and caring and tremendous sensitivity to your clients. You paid dues there were never yours to pay…

  4. I once worked for a boss who was quick to claim her direct reports’ successes as her own and to throw us under the bus if she messed up. Accountability was *not* a part of her vocabulary and I can tell ya I was *never* so happy as the day I walked out the door. Your friend sounds like a gifted individual–I’m sure she’ll land on her feet and sleep better at night. Life is just too short to subject yourself to such abuse day after day….

    1. Amen to that – I was talking with my son before I posted this (I was hesitating) and he reminded me how pervasive this kind of unkind and unprofessional behavior is in the workplace. It is just runs so counter to everything I believe to be right. You’re spot on – life is too short and for the most part, people work just so hard. For those who don’t – well, that’s for another day..:-) Hope you’re having a good one!

  5. There is a saying – “People leave their boss not the company”. It seems this is true more often than not, such a shame so many companies still allow poor people management to prevail.

  6. I’m glad she had the sense to leave. It seems easy to lose your perspective when that kind of behavior becomes the norm.

  7. Well Mimi dear, as you know, I decided to leave Corporate America for good because of the pervasiveness of this problem. And as you also know, not only am I now building my own company, but my professional life is now devoted to helping others become their own bosses. Because what you described has been happening since the beginning of time. But I think that things are particularly bad right now because of the economy. First, poor economic conditions cause job insecurity. People are so afraid of losing their own jobs that they feel the need to be too hard on others – oftentimes throwing their direct reports under the bus – in order to save their own skin. Second, most companies right now are asking their employees to “do more with less.” Fine if you started with a lot of folks who didn’t have much to do. Also fine if “more” is manageable. Not fine if “more” is the jobs of 3-5 other people who, like you, had plenty to do when they were employed at your company. As a result, expectations will never be met and goals will never be achieved. Hence, that relationship between the manager and the direct report deteriorates. So the direct report wants to leave. But then (my third point about the economy) the employee is afraid to leave because he/she doesn’t know how long it will be before he/she finds another job. The ones who put money away or have spouses who can support them in the interim will leave despite this, and either retire or start their own businesses. Also, those who have side businesses that can support them will leave. But the rest are stuck…for now. I think we will see a LOT of people walking out the door as soon as the economy picks up. I believe that eventually people will begin to feel more confident and leave because there will again be employers out there that will pay them a good salary for no more than 50 hours of work. So they can have a life outside of work. And get sufficient sleep. And exercise. And cook meals instead of relying on prepared foods and take-out menus. (OK, enough.) When this happens, I think that is when the karma truck will come around for the companies. No, they won’t fold, but they are going to have to spend a lot of money hiring recruiters to fill those empty chairs. (Note: that might be a good business to start right now!)

    1. Hi Heather, Thanks so much for reading my post! I agree with your comments about the pervasiveness of this problem, and certainly the economy adds another element to these untenable dynamics. I think the pressure of doing-more-with-less heightens stress and tension – two qualities which don’t mix well with efforts to be supportive and encouraging of direct reports. Ironically, it is during such times when supervisors have more opportunities to let their employees shine – and give them credit for their contributions – because they too are working to maximum capacity. Some of what you write, speaks to a ‘play hurt’ mentality; organizations which value people working to the point of lunacy rather than sincerely accepting a schedule reflective of a more balanced lifestyle. I’m not sure the uptick in the economy will result in more openings (though it will certainly support departures), for I think we are seeing a shrinkage in the labor force which will continue to drive smaller staff sizes. To me the larger question is one of accountability. When will senior managers be held accountable for behavior that is unacceptable? Interesting article in the Washington Post today about CEO comp and the measure of their worth..Good to hear from you!

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