When company leaders don’t believe they need to change their bullying ways


I’m up against a brick wall. As the HR manager, I report to the COO of our company. Like the CEO and CFO, he’s a type-A, Darth Vader type. All three men are in their late 60s and extremely well-paid because our company is profitable.

The managers immediately under them are just like these three leaders. They’re highly productive, task-oriented and expect me to hire hardworking employees who’ll take orders. As you might expect, they place a high value on “getting the job done” and a low value on people skills. Worse, two of them are bullies. As a result, we have high turnover — for which I’m held accountable. I’m told I don’t hire the right employees.

I’ve tried everything to hire employees who will stay. I look for applicants who will work well under hierarchical managers, who have thick skin, who are compliant and will put up with a certain level of crap if they’re paid well. Despite this, we regularly lose key employees who walk out the door saying “Life’s too short,” and it’s getting increasingly expensive to replace them.

I’ve tried to explain to our leadership that it’s not the applicants we’re hiring, it’s the way our management treats employees that leads to turnover. I’ve pulled research from multiple internet sites as well as your books that document the negative consequences of bullying — including low morale and high turnover. Our leaders don’t agree with any of what I present because what they’ve done for years works well — for them. How do I prove to them what I know to be true: that they need to change their ways?


Here’s what I know from experience. A company’s leaders can discount internet-based research because “that’s not what it’s like in our company or for me.” Real data from the employees they currently or formerly supervised, particularly when they as leaders or managers are individually named, more often hits home.


If you haven’t already, exit-interview all the employees who’ve left in the last two years. Ask each former employee questions such as:

  1. When did you first decide to leave?
  2. Was there anything pivotal that led to your leaving?
  3. What could have been done to keep you?
  4. What impacted your desire to stay with our company?
  5. What did you like the best (or least) about your job or working at our company?
  6. What can you say about the quality or type of supervision or management you received?
  7. What words would you use to describe our company’s leaders?
  8. How would you rate morale at our company, and what leads you to give it that rating or makes it that way?
  9. If you could change anything at our company, what would you change?
  10. What would fix any of the areas you found problematic?
  11. What does your new employer do better?

Next, create a spreadsheet showing the real costs of recruiting replacement employees and the productivity loss that occurs when new hires need time to come up to speed.

Then, create a survey and provide it, along with a memo that explains how you’ll keep the results confidential, to all current employees. Ask questions similar to those you use in the exit interviews, along with:

  1. How does (company leader/manager) handle leadership and present himself/herself as a role model? Note: You’ll get the most convincing results if you name each leader/manager individually for questions 1 through 5.
  2. What can you say about how (company leader/manager) works with his/her employees and how s/he manages?
  3. How does (company leader/manager) communicate expectations and improvement-oriented information? How does s/he handle conflict?
  4. What do you wish (company leader/manager) would do differently?
  5. On an overall basis, how well does (company leader/manager) fulfill his/her role?
  6. On a scale of 0 to 7, what’s your morale?

Protect the employees who respond to the survey by summarizing the information and leaving out any phrases that might make the identity of the individuals who made the statements obvious. If what you believe is true, the negative impact of poor people interactions will surface.

Finally, despite the truth of what you present, your leaders may “shoot the messenger” — you. For that reason, you may want to develop your exit plan.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Navigating Conflict,” “Managing for Accountability,” “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully,” and Curry is president of Communication Works Inc. Send questions to her at or follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10.