Short answer … NO! It is not ok. At least it’s not ok if your boss loses his temper all the time. Once in a while, well … we are human after all. And being in charge can be maddening.
Of course, there are some people who scream as a way of communicating. A friend of mine worked in an auto repair shop where the boss yelled a lot. I asked my friend how she could stand it. She just smiled and said “It’s just like my Italian family at home. He’s not really mad at me. It’s just how he talks.” For her, it was ok.
Now for the longer answer
First, if your boss loses his temper, you have to choose whether or not you can live with this behavior. While you’d think a boss would feel bad about this and want to change (and of course some do and can), for other bosses this is just their SOP (standard operating procedure.)
I’ve known bosses who say “Look. That’s who I am. Get over it.” And I’ve also known a few who think of it as a method of motivating and even toughening employees.
Well, fear certainly can motivate people – especially in the short term. But in the long run when a boss loses his temper often, that is not an effective management technique. The staff begins to withhold more and more creativity and settle into that gray place where they just do the work. And hope not to be screamed at.
Even if the boss mixes it with praise and rewards, in the end, people still prefer to avoid the pain. And something big is lost, both for productivity and job satisfaction. It also can take a heavy toll on employee mental and physical health.
Your choices if boss loses temper
If this is really unsettling for you and you find yourself feeling stressed out way too often — or you simply prefer not to be in this kind of environment — you may have no choice. It might be time to polish up that resume and move on.
But what if you need to stay – or want to?
While there may be some situations where the behavior is part of an overall pattern of abuse or discrimination, unless company policy explicitly forbids screaming at employees (don’t count on it) your boss can pretty much get away with it.
Are there other options to try?
First and foremost, do not be afraid to at least sit down with your boss and let him know gently and respectfully that you don’t enjoy being yelled at. And that you would prefer if he could talk to you at another time when he’s calmer. I know this is hard — especially with a scary boss — but it happened to me once. Here’s my story.
I was in charge of a huge project and we were under tight deadline. We were in a large meeting discussing the design of a major component of the project. To my surprise, without even a heads up, my boss was trying to change the project design right there in the meeting. I tried to move it back in the direction we’d all agreed upon.
Next thing I knew, I was being yelled at by a master yeller who wanted to make sure the design went his way – even though he had never given me any advance notice this attack was coming. He decided right there in that meeting to undo what we’d been working on. And he didn’t want me to get in the way.
“I want you to shut up!”
Those are the words he snarled at me. And I was leading the meeting! Understandably I was upset by these kinds of tactics where a boss loses his temper to get his way. Like a little child having a temper tantrum — but his was used to bully me, and I wasn’t having any of it.
After he had cooled off (me too), I met with him privately and told him calmly and respectfully that I do not want to be screamed at again. Especially in public as was his SOP with everyone. And even though my boss terrified people in our department — as well as in the rest of the company — he actually listened, looked sheepish, and never again blew his top at me. Our working relationship improved greatly after that.
Did I stay or did I go?
Oh … I still wound up leaving the job when the project was done. But for the rest of the time I was there, at least things were better for me. Interestingly enough, despite the public knowledge of my success, not one other person even tried to sit down with him and address the issue.
Intimidation is a powerful tool for controlling behavior. But not a tool that keeps the workplace humming. Or keeps employee minds open to new ideas and suggestions.
What else might help?
If a performance issue is the trigger, you can try to figure out what sets them off. And then specifically ask your boss how you can improve. It’s important to let them know you want to do well and will try your best. And again, it helps just to let them know that you really would like to find a way for the two of you to work together without the yelling.
While it probably won’t stop an uncontrollable behavior, and change takes time, awareness might help them learn to back off a bit. You could even ask if there is something you could do — some signal or word — that would help when they start yelling. You’d be surprised how many bosses may be open to at least talking about this.
And yes … I know there are those who aren’t open at all, since the uncontrolled temper is about a controlling personality. One who may not appreciate any challenge. But considering how all this is affecting you — and maybe eventually your health — it’s sure worth a shot.
Finding strength in numbers
If others would like to join you, a few of you (not too many) might want to ask your boss for a meeting to discuss something. Then, again gently, address the times when your boss loses his temper as directly as possible — with everyone contributing. But NOT attacking.
Together let your boss know that you understand why he might need to blow his stack sometimes. And ask him how you can work together to try to bring down the volume a bit.
If it’s really awful and there is someone higher up you all can talk to without looking like you’re trying to gang up on your boss, maybe they can help. I know one situation where a person’s boss was making her very uncomfortable. And so she spoke to her boss’s boss in confidence.
She asked him to address it as a group concern (not singling her out), which he did. But he also approached her boss more as a peer, and not a boss. It worked. After that, her boss made an effort to change what he’d been doing. Awareness matters. Of course, you have to be careful with this if you have a boss who will take it out on you.
Why I haven’t mentioned HR
If you know someone in HR you trust, asking their advice might be a good idea. But in many situations, if the boss is liked by the company, HR may not be your best ally. And may even leak your concerns directly to the boss. I, that case, it would be better to have gone to him first.
Then again, if the behavior is threatening or intolerable, and your boss won’t even listen to your concerns, then HR may be worth trying. In a large enough company, they could even help you look for a transfer.
Boss still erupts like Vesuvius!
If you tried your best and boss loses his temper without letting up, then it’s important to look at what else you can do. Since you can’t change a person’s basic behavior unless the person is willing to participate in the change, you might need to think about how you handle the screaming when it happens.
This is not a time to try to talk or argue — that just feeds the anger. Just listen. It’s like a fit. Listen respectfully, let the yelling pass, and get away as soon as possible. Save any talking for calmer times. This is especially true if your boss is a bully!
Still, no one should have to put up with a boss who screams all the time. Even if you made a mistake, you don’t deserve to be yelled at. In this case, it’s your boss who’s the problem, not you.
And if all else fails, revisit the idea of leaving. Maybe other can live like that, but you have a right to be treated with respect. And NOT to be screamed at all the time.
[Article updated in 2020]
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.
More articles to help
And just in case you do need to leave