Breaking The Cycle Of Employee Disrespect

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Dear Susan: My dilemma – I work many long hours/long days and am presently driving 130 miles RT to work. My Boss requires that I am at work by 0800MT in order to appease my staff (they do not know/nor care that I work 12-14 hours/day). I am used to flex-time and am trying desperately to adapt. Due to traffic, etc., there have been times I have been late but always call. My Boss is concerned about what my employees think or believe about my occasional tardiness.

Background on my employees – three of my in-house employees have been extremely rude and disrespectful towards me – even to the point of talking back and/or screaming at me. When I have spoken to them AND my Boss about it (I have an extremely controlling, Micro Managing Boss due to people who have held my position in the past), it has gone absolutely nowhere. I and one of my other Management employees agree we have NEVER – in our 20+ years in Corporate America, worked for a company which allows such blatant disrespect, bordering on insubordination. My Management employee has also experienced the same rudeness and disrespect, and is even thinking of leaving the company because of it. I do not want to lose this person as this person is a valuable asset to my team.

My response to accountability to my employees is that that are accountable to me – not me to them. As long as MY boss knows I am working the hours I am working and sees the fruits of my labor, I do not see a problem (this has ALWAYS been policy with companies I have worked for in the past). Additionally, if/when I am tardy – I do not believe it should be deducted from my 5 annual personal days allowed for sick days, doctor’s appts., etc.

I will accept whatever constructive criticism you offer, as I would like to stay with this company, but not under the present conditions.

Your assistance is greatly appreciated.


Dear Marianne,

You’re welcome. I’m pleased to provide this service. It sounds like you have a big job there, and not much help.

If I’m reading it right, you want to know what you can do about the hours problem, the micro-managing boss, and the disrespectful employees?


Some years ago, I worked in a law firm. 5 of us were interviewed and assessed the same morning, and the first thing they did was hand us a piece of paper. The first words on it were: “Greetings: Since you have chosen to work in a conservative environment” It went on to address the strict dress code, the hours, etc. Two of us were hired. A month later, the second one came to me, upset they wouldn’t let her wear pants. I didn’t get’ it. On that sheet of paper, the first thing they stuck in our face, it was written: thou shalt not wear pants (if female) and she had signed it, as had I, now dutifully not wearing pants.

Point #1: She didn’t have a leg to stand on. A deal’s a deal.

Or is it? One of the things I hear people stressing about more all the time, particularly in the multicultural arena, is this issue: Is a contract iron-clad and the end; or is it just the beginning, intended to be negotiated constantly?

Point #2: Your best chance at negotiating anything is when you’re being hired (as the law firm knew), and in today’s economy, we’re sometimes so glad we’ve been hired we ignore things, or gloss over things that are important to us and will cause us misery later on. The “hours” would be one of those things.

After that, you need to jump on it the first time it comes up. Know the legal doctrine of “laches”? It’s based on the principle that if you let it happen, failing to assert rights over time and circumstances, it’s considered consent.

Your chances of convincing your employer to change his (I’ll use he’) position now? Not good. Part of emotional intelligence is reality-testing. Why should your boss change on this? To please you? Is he that kind of guy?

Point #3: The start of the work day is a highly emotional issue. I was in a board meeting once where two people almost came to blows, one of them yelling, “You act like it’s some kind of character flaw if someone works 10 am to 7 pm instead of 8 am to 4 pm.” It polarizes people as much as the left-brained, right-brained thing – “he’s too detail-oriented” v. “she’s too scattered.” Each side thinks their way is right, the way it should be, and the only way it can be. EQ means being able to understand the other person’s point of view. Someone must be (1) able and (2) willing to do this. Is he? Are you?

If you are planning to try and win this battle, consider the following:

Learned optimism, an EQ competency essential for any performance situation: Regardless of my statement that your chances are slim, if you decide to negotiate, do it 100%, assuming you can (learned optimism) and expect the best.

The “reason”. I don’t think “the employees” is the reason, I think it’s the rationalization. In other words, a thought to cover a feeling. This is an emotional thing, a cultural thing, maybe even a power thing, then rationalized by “setting an example to the employees.” Nevertheless, he’s the boss, and the boss may not always be right, but he’s always the boss.

Therefore, approach it emotionally – but with emotional intelligence. In other words, I could send you out to search for data and facts (the benefits of flex-time, what large corporations allow it and why, natural biorhythms, a survey of other people in positions such as yours, a happy worker is a better worker), and there’s plenty of it out there, but I don’t think this battle will be won on that front.

Appeal to his heart. Let’s hope he has one.

Use your intuition. Is your boss the kind of person who can be (1) convinced by reason, facts and data, (2) convinced by appropriate yet emotional appeals, (3) convinced by a combination of both, (4) convinced at all? You have to spend some time figuring out what your boss is about – What are his values? What’s important to him? If he wants data, go find it. If not, take another tact.


How would you take another tact? Try something different. Let things cool down for a while. Then choose a good day when the boss is in a good mood and has some time, preferably right after you’ve done something outstanding. Then go in and have a talk, some authentic communication. Maybe even take him out to lunch – get away from the scene of the crime.

Prepare yourself emotionally first. Aim for an attitude of detached curiosity tempered with learned optimism. Curiosity is not compatible with either fear, anger, or rigidity. Talk about the feelings involved. Also tell him what’s in it for him. By the way, what is in it for him? Bring in what data you have, but deal with it at the feelings level. You’re finding it very difficult, you understand he has feelings about it, and you’d like to talk about it. Really wonder why he feels the way he does and ask questions.

Help him do a reality-check by countering fantasies with requests for specific, behavioral examples, i.e., are the employees acting differently because of your tardiness?

If you get into a logical argument about it, he can counter with “that’s the policy here” and you’ll be dead-ended. Rigidity wins. How can you argue with “it’s the rule”? After all, he isn’t really obligated to explain his policies or to bend them for anyone, and to bend them for someone is, well, illegal, isn’t it?

You must have your Personal Power before you go in there. You must decide under what circumstances you’re willing to remain there. You have to be prepared for the response, spoken or implied, that he doesn’t care it makes you miserable and isn’t going to change.

I have a client who went in for such a meeting, pointing out her boss’ degrading and intimidating ways of conducting meetings with her and how it made her feel, and how it affected her productivity and the bottom line, and the response was, “Look, I put up with this for 20 years in the military. Now it’s your turn.” She repeated back, as we know to do in close communication, “So you’re saying that you’re intentionally intimidating me and trying to make this as difficult as possible, and that you intend to keep doing this?” His response, “Bingo.”

What do you do if this occurs? Breathe deeply. Don’t get “hijacked.” Now you have information. Take some time to get into your neocortex and reflect upon this question: “Do I really want to work for someone like this?” My suggestion: Get your resume ready and prepare to leave gracefully.

Two groups are particularly adamant about this sort of thing: the ex-military, and family-owned businesses. The former, because they really think the world will end if everyone isn’t at their desk at 0800MT, and the latter, because they’re a self-contained culture without much outside influence, there’s little turnover at the top, no Board to answer to, and most likely they have a history of doing things their way, which is their privilege. Most families are, after all, autocratic.

I think it’s worth one last shot, unless you know in your heart (intuition) it’s useless.


Negotiate at the beginning when you have the advantage; after that, you lose leverage. Check out assumptions early on, much as you’d prefer to ride on the high of the new job, good salary, and fantasies, because if you don’t, you end up in a position like this. You say you are “used to” flex-time. Your boss is “not used to” flex-time. You’re talking about assumptions. Assumptions lead to what we have here, a dilemma.

Self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Know what matters to you going in to a new situation. If flex-time is very important to you, you need to check that out immediately. Save yourself some grief by not going into denial.

Salary is rarely the most important thing to employees. We think it is, but we feel it differently. Most of us at one time in our lives take a job “for the money,” knowing instinctively that many other things are wrong about it, and thereby learn what money can buy.

Can he dock you time for being tardy? At the bottom, that’s a legal matter, isn’t it?


1) You describe your boss as extremely controlling and micro-managing, “due to people who have held my position in the past.” Use your intuition, your “gut feeling.” Is it too late, or can you still point out gently – and your tone of voice matters far more than the words you choose – that you aren’t XXX and that you’d like to be considered in a fresh light? “Let’s turn the page” “That’s history ” Humor is often helpful, too; not sarcasm, mind you, but humor. And once won’t do it. He’s got the connection formed in his brain, the neural-connections, that allowing X results in Y, and you’ll have to spend some time working on this, and proving it otherwise. What you want to do is open his mind to the possibility of different outcomes and then be sure the outcomes are different.

2) Use your creativity – generate options and alternatives. What else could you do? Are there any other outcomes that would work? I have a client whose boss “doesn’t believe in raises.” (I’m not making that up.) So she set about constructing all sorts of perks that amount to raises, because she wanted to keep the job but also her self-respect. She now gets a massage once a week, lunch with a guest once a week at The Club on the boss’ tab, box seats at the symphony and an extra week’s vacation. The boss got to “win”, no raise, and she got some stuff that matters to her.

3) Disrespect bordering on insubordination. Something is seriously wrong here. The other valuable employee is thinking of leaving, and so, it seems, are you. There comes a point, sometimes, when you look around and say, “These people are rude and disrespectful (or incompetent, or unethical, whatever), “What am I doing here?” From what you say, it appears this is long-standing, and therefore the culture, i.e., “how we do things here.” Be aware that emotions are contagious, and so is culture.

4) Use your intuition. Is this situation salvageable and is it worth the effort? If you’ve never seen it so bad in your combined years of experience, hear what you’re saying.


Could this be changed by introducing an EQ culture into this business?

Probably. Most people would prefer an authentic, respectful atmosphere, and just fall into the habit of disrespect. But could you convince your boss of this? People change when they feel a need to or when forced by higher authorities. Is your boss in any pain over any of this? If not, why would he consider something like this which would take time and money and be an inconvenience to him personally? Is morale low? Is there high turnover? Is productivity down? Is the bottom line descending? Is there a lot of absenteeism and stress-related illness? If so, marshal your case. There’s plenty of evidence that EQ makes a positive impact on all the aforementioned – check out www.eiconsortium.org.

If you have the autonomy to instigate this on your own, then do it. Studies show optimism (an EQ competency) to be highly correlated with sales success (Seligman). Also, at least in family-owned businesses, raising the EQ level of the whole office affects the bottom line (Bar-on) while raising the EQ of just one person does not.

In sum, your options are to change the circumstances, to learn to tolerate them, or to leave. If you want to change this – which would probably do the company a lot of good, not to mention you – consider bringing in an EQ coach from the outside who’s skilled in this area. Consider at each point what you want. Consider also if the energy it would take to change any of this is worth the outcome to you, personally, and assess your chances realistically. I would not offer myself up as the sacrificial lamb.


Is it a bad influence on the employees if the manager comes in late? Sometimes. Personally, I think it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and a matter of trust and respect in an office. I consulted in an office where the director never came in before 11 a.m., and often left before 5 p.m., and all employees were at their stations at 0800MT and remained there til closing time.


It’s a possibility that part of the disrespect they’re showing is due to the tension they detect between you and the boss over this issue. They sense the power struggle and you’re getting disrespect because they want you to stand up to him. They’re thinking “she’s the manager, why does she put up with this?”

This is an explanation of group dynamics, not a call to action. It’s your consequences, not theirs. In an emotional situation such as this, rely on your Integrated Self, stay centered, and act with Intentionality – being accountable to yourself for your motives. In an unhappy office that lacks authentic communication, people act-out in different ways trying to get something to change.

I wish you luck with this difficult situation. Take care of yourself and consider the stress this is putting you under. You have to decide what you want and then go for it, which means you have to be willing to leave this job if a win-win scenario can’t be achieved.

P.S. There are no mistakes, only learning experiences. To gain resilience, process this event. What cues (of the micro-managing sort) did you miss initially? What instincts did you override? You have to learn how to look in the horse’s mouth.

Warm regards,
Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach

Susan Dunn, MA, Marketing Coach,
http://www.webstrategies.cc. Marketing consultation,
implementation, website review, SEO optimization, article
writing and submission, help with ebooks and other
strategies. Susan is the author or How to Write an eBook
and Market It on the Internet. Mailto:sdunn@susandunn.cc
for information and free ezine. Specify Checklist.

Breaking The Cycle Of Employee Disrespect
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About Susan Dunn
Susan Dunn, MA, Marketing Coach, http://www.webstrategies.cc. Marketing consultation, implementation, website review, SEO optimization, article writing and submission, help with ebooks and other strategies. Susan is the author or How to Write an eBook and Market It on the Internet. Mailto:sdunn@susandunn.cc for information and free ezine. Specify Checklist. WebProNews Writer
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