Turn Down the Volume: No Yelling in the Workplace

If you’ve been in the workforce long enough, chances are you’ve come across a nasty boss at least once. There’s some who quietly abuse workers, while others make their discontentment known—loud and clear.

In an article yesterday, The Wall Street Journal asked if the yelling boss is a thing of the past in the story “When the Boss is a Screamer.” Human resource experts say, not quite, but small-business owners should raise their voice at employees at their own risk.

One reason to ditch the yelling is to avoid legal ramifications from employees, according to Diane Pfadenhauer, president of EPA Advisors.

“We always see yelling when people are under stress, and it is the making of a lawsuit,” Pfadenhauer said. “Small businesses often have less of an HR presence, and that is the stuff that always ends up in a suit—public humiliation.”

Another way to avoid situations escalating on the job is to have set job descriptions and policies for your employees, Pfadenhauer said. Doing this ahead of time and making them clear in an employee handbook will ensure your workers understand what is expected of them.

“Oftentimes the business owner will get annoyed at someone because they didn’t read their mind,” Pfadenhauer said. “But [the business owner] didn’t articulate what he or she wanted.”

In lawsuits Pfadenhauer said she sees such abuse and humiliation claims in lawsuits involving family businesses most often. These businesses may give opportunities to younger family members when they may not be mature enough to handle them, she said.

“They hire their children when they shouldn’t, or these young adults work for their parents where yelling has happened for years,” she said.

This makes hiring decisions all the more important, Pfadenhauer said.

Polly Wright, senior consultant at HR Consultants, Inc., said bosses who behave erratically and abuse their employees pass on that negativity to their corporate culture. Wright said she once worked in such an environment, and as a result of her boss yelling, employees would become frustrated and take that out on customers.

“There was a negative tone about the office,” she said. “The boss needs to realize that if they set that role, and it’s ok to scream and yell, that translates to your customers. Customers can hear you slamming down the phone and can feel you rolling your eyes at them. You can feel that [attitude] on the way your services are delivered to them, and that impacts all relationships.”

Also, firing off a nasty email, instant message or text to a worker doesn’t make it any better, Wright said. This has become more common over the past 15 years, with the advancing of technology, but the impact is similar.

“They might not be screaming at the top of their lungs, but they are still doing something to intimidate people,” she said. “It’s an issue of self control, and realizing you are setting the tone for your workplace.”

What’s more, this can make even your best employees frustrated and ready to move on, Wright said.

“People burn out more quickly in that environment,” she said. “You risk losing good talent.”

And, anytime you are ready to explode at your employees, the tried and true method of “sleep on it” is never a bad idea.

“That is the best policy, in general,” Pfadenhauer said. “Think about emails or conversations and what it would be like for another person to see or hear that. The problem is that people react too quickly.”