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Workplace Bully and Verbal Abuse Equals Hostile Work Environment

Updated on May 20, 2015
donotfear profile image

Annette Sharp holds a BAAS in Behavioral Science from Texas A&M. She is a counselor and motivator with an empathetic heart.

All right, already!!  Give me a break..!!
All right, already!! Give me a break..!!

How Using The Scare Tactic To Motivate Employees Is Counterproductive and Causes a Hostile Work Environment

I'm going to give you my view on the matter in plain and simple English. Bluntly, I'd like to point out that this is one of the primary causes of the decline in customer retention, customer service, and repeat business: the "berating" and "beating down" of the employees by the boss; the 'scare tactic' used to motivate employees to produce.

A Hostile Work Environment For Employees

This is a subject that's been bugging me for a long time. I can't get over how some businesses are still using this strategy. Especially sales oriented companies. I was in sales and customer service for over 25 years and I've seen it all: bad management, negative reinforcement, poor customer service, verbal bashing, and lack of validation from management. Whatever way you look at it, it's ALL counterproductive.

Is Verbally Bashing Your Employee Really Going to Stimulate Customer Relationship Marketing?

The practice that really irks me is negative verbal bashing in the workplace. I heard of a manager who was not above berating an employee in front of others, and even in front of the customers!. This manager had no respect for employees as people. Job performance was recognized by an "atta boy", followed by "But......". It was a passive-aggressive attempt to demoralize. When a situation arose that made it necessary to justify or defend a particular business related decision, the employees were interrogated to the point of humiliation. Once their incumbency was confirmed "correct", this manager would acknowledge the action as positive, then immediately follow the positive affirmation with a negative! "Yes, but you......", (meaning ‘yes you made the right decision but you didn't ..blah blah blah)...' It created a demoralizing environment for those working there, to say the least.

Can you see how this affected customer retention?

The employees were often at odds with each other and the atmosphere was negatively charged. Everyone walked around on pins and needles waiting for the next eruption. In addition, the attitude spilled over into the manager's treatment of patrons. There were repeated customer complaints against the manager regarding attitude, lack of tactful customer service, and blatant rudeness. Many of the complaints were reported to the employees. In other words, instead of going to the top (human resources at the corporate office), the disgruntled customers usually came to the clerks with their grievance. When they were advised to report the incident to home office, they never followed through. The result? Declining customer retention and employee dissatisfaction.

Negative Motivators DO NOT Produce Customer Service Quality!

Here's another one:

If your sales aren't what they want it to be, you'll be fired. In other words, Sell, or else! The old "ultimatum" motivator. Believe it or not, this is workplace bullying! Do you really believe this type of pressure is going to give your employee the right attitude to stimulate good customer service and help customer retention?

Don't threaten to 'take something away' if they don't produce. Example: "Team, if you don't meet your quota by this Friday everyone must work through the weekend, or else..."

Whatever happened to , "We work as a team to meet quota. Let me show you how we can work together to achieve our quotas". I had a manager tell me 'Sell or you're fired' on the day I was hired. (Hired, not fired). I brushed it off as a possible "misunderstanding of meanings". Sure, it was a sales job, hourly wage plus commission. But you don't come at a new employee that way if you expect them to produce! And, get a load of this: this little sales manager was fresh out of college with a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration (I guess that qualified him/her to manage a sales team, duh!), with NO PRIOR SALES experience, other than what she/he received in training. Training for what? The Sales Manager position! This manager turned out to be verbally abusive, as well as incompetent. His demeaning comments disrupted the whole office. I left the company after 6 months when I developed extreme abdominal pains, stress, and paranoia to the point of borderline schizophrenia. The manager was fired a year later. For what? Inability to meet sales standards for the branch!

Don't Use Your Employee to Cover Your Screw-Ups!

Here's another example of a manager who inflicts the "passive aggressive" form of bullying. They ask you to cover blunders in order to save his or her butt. They may point the finger at you to upper management. This is the "management role model" that's supposed to motivate employees to produce? The manager has already ruined your credibility by convincing upper management it was your doing on some major blunders. You were the company "Patsy". And, of course, this affected your work attitude and caused a decline in customer retention. Bingo, the trickle-down affect!

How Do You Treat Your Employees?

Using the "scare tactic" on your employees to stimulate production is subliminal bashing. Actually, it's rather blatant. I want to stress how counterproductive and devaluing it is for employees, as well as the cost to your business to be subjected to this negative type of "motivation".

The root of hostile work environment starts within the management circle and the treatment of the employees. I understand why the quality of customer service and customer retention has decreased so much for some businesses: using the "scare tactic" to motivate your employees doesn't work! Bad management and negative reinforcement have both contributed to the the decline in good customer service.

Have you experienced the 'scare tactic' from a boss to get you to produce?

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    • profile image

      Undercover Revealed 

      3 years ago

      Undercover lawyer, you are just like HR. I've got you figured out. You listen to all the above stories and say I am sorry. Start looking for another job. This is HR's view. An employee has no legal recourse you. I beg the differ. With documentation of employee harassment one can sue. This is affecting ones livelihood. Employee yoy are being harassed because they have someone else in mind to do the job you have been doing for years. I have a relative and friend who sued the company and got big bucks from them. Seek legal help. Get all the dirt on them you can cover yourself. Don't leave anything in the computer because they can erase it out. Undercover boss you are just nosing around for the big companies and probably paid uncover by a cooperation. These are my thoughts.

    • donotfear profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Thomas 

      7 years ago from Northeast Texas


      You are so right about this. And once you've endured it for years, it affects you. The effects can bleed over into a future job you have. It causes a defensive spirit, so we carry that over to the next job. Great contribution here and good luck on your Phd.

    • ladysonoma profile image


      7 years ago

      When I was younger, some of the crappy jobs I held, had bullies, including the managers. They would curse and yell, and threaten bodily harm, sometimes.

      I never got verbal lashings, thank goodness. There were a few times people tried to intimidate me, and they failed.

      For some reason, I've always had a way of confronting people that makes them stand down. I'm working on a PhD in communications, now, because of it. I would have chosen psychology, but communications is an interesting blend of psychology, sociology, cultural influence and media.

      I wish I could say, "Stand up to office bullies," but, it really is just like grade school playground, sometimes, lol.

      Do we really ever escape? Doesn't feel like it, sometimes.

    • donotfear profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Thomas 

      7 years ago from Northeast Texas

      nosetothegrindstone, yes! Please keep me posted. I encourage you to keep up the good fight of faith on this one. No matter what happens, the force behind the intimidation will eventually get what is coming to them. Bless you.

      P.S. You need join Hubpages and start writing about this!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you donotfear. Yes, I have begun documenting incidents and saving emails and making sure I have my back covered. Dedication and time does not mean much anymore unfortunately. I will certainly keep you posted. Best to you.

    • donotfear profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Thomas 

      7 years ago from Northeast Texas

      nosetothegrindstone: Wow, you are being totally intimidated by the HR department. Who died and made them king? the fact that you've been there 29 years says it all. If it's close to retirement time, maybe they're trying to give you the 'left foot of fellowship'. If I were you I would document all the unfair bullying that's taking place. Just in case. I'm sorry you are going through this. You aren't alone. I hope you have a resume ready....good luck to you, you deserve much better than this!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have been employed as a secretary at a law firm for 29 years. Throughout those years I've worked diligently and given more than 100% and I take my job seriously -- it's my nature. During the past couple of years I have noticed that firm policies, instituted by HR, have been changing and the respect we once received is all but non-existent anymore. For example, among the many new "policies" instituted, I (as well as all firm staff) must get permission from HR if my boss wants me in 5:00 a.m. or if I need to work late. I must give a detailed explanation as to why I have worked outside my normal work hours (please note that no overtime has been charged and no one was inconvenienced. Also note that it is the client that pays for any necessary overtime work, not the firm). Not only that, but now my word is not good enough as HR will then confirm what I told them by contacting the requesting attorney directly to see if I am telling the truth. Demoralizing. One time I was contacted by HR because I worked an extra 20 minutes in order to finish a job that same day instead of carrying it over to the next day (again no overtime charged and certainly no one inconvenienced) and HR requested an explanation as to why I worked outside my normal work hours (please note that at this time, no one is working overtime (and getting paid for it) due to the economy).

      Once the CEO and I got into a conversation about how we both noticed that the evening cleaning staff was leaving every office and conference room light on each night until the morning staff arrived to turn it all off. The CEO asked HR to look into it and I suddenly find myself called down to HR, told to shut the door, and was then asked why I was trying to play some sort of "sick joke on the firm". This came out of nowhere and there was absolutely no reason -- I was dumbfounded and shocked. Why I got called down and accused of playing a "sick joke" goes way beyond anyone's imagination. The CEO had to step in and tell HR to back off and that I had done nothing wrong (he was pissed). What a waste of time, energy and money. Oh, and I never got an apology from HR either -- it was just treated as though the incident never occurred.

      I do not understand this type of corporate intimidation and see no benefit to it aside from demoralizing and intimidating the firm's employees. As it now stands, firm morale is extremely low and everyone is afraid of losing their job. I understand that many companies now are using these same tactics.

      I'm wondering if HR personnel are trying desperately to save their jobs my micro-managing everyone to death.

      Oh, and we use to have an automated reporting system for employees to report their absence or delay to work -- now a live HR person answers the phone directly -- even when you call at 5:00 a.m. (!) in the morning as I did once to report my absence and to use one of my carry-over vacation days or else loose it (I did not take my allotted vacation days that year and had to carry over into the next year. As an aside, I have never used, in all my 29 years there, all my yearly sick or vacation time and usually have to store half my unused sick time into a bank and carry over a week's vacation). Yet when I called to report an absence (snow day, kids home from school), HR not only answered the phone at 5:00 in the morning, but was extremely displeased. I have never abused my time, so there was no need for this -- that is intimidation. Yes, I understand that some employees do abuse their time, and I also know that HR knows who these people are, but I can honestly say that for the most part, most firm employees respect it. But now things are different with the economy and all and corporate is taking the ball and running with it. I just want to go into work, do my best and go home -- I don't want to have to be made to feel as though I'm some type of substandard employee always looking for a way to get over. I don't like feeling that I could look my job at a moment's notice. I use to enjoy going to work and with the way it made me feel good when I did good work. I also want to note here that any and all technical advancements and upgrades the firm has done throughout the years, I have absolutely kept up with. No more "thank you," no more "job well done." Only the negative is focused on and we are all afraid to say anything for fear of losing our job. Anyone else experiencing this with their company/firm?

      Anyway, I feel better now that I have gotten all this off my chest. Back to the grindstone tomorrow.... :(

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Oh I wish I was Superwoman and what I used to make it would take me 2 life times to save $100,000. People are so judgemental , they like to think they can do it all. Some people make mistakes, when they go back to school and work at the same time their bosses are just not flexible. I had to hide my disabilty, but they could tell I was different. Everytime I would ask for them to be a little more flexible so "I could do it all, they would retaliate against me, and I was afraid to look for another job,because they would give me a bad reference.I put up insults, accusations, and so eventually I dropped out of school because I did not qualify for more grants and they cut my hours anyways. They caused a poor work environment and worsened my family problems. What some people consider excuses for not doing what you supposed towhen life goes wrong is a load of crap. I don't expect rewards or being told I'm doing a good job. I just don't expect, alienation,, threats, accusations, and lies told about me so I live in fear everyday. It caused to have a nervous breakdown. There are people who have done all the right things with degrees, who are no better off than I am now, now people are judging them for being on unemployment and giving up.

    • donotfear profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Thomas 

      8 years ago from Northeast Texas

      Don West: You have an interesting observation and looks like you have a plan, as well. I'm sorry the 'college route' didn't work out for you, and yes, you are correct, college isn't for everyone. A person must WANT the education, not just need the piece of paper with 'degree' written on it to get the job you want. But remember, knowledge it worth a lot.

      I can see how an inability to complete college can land someone in a situation described in my hub. But realistic goal setting is the key to success, without constant bashing from someone 'above you' who, like you said, doesn't know their butt from a hole in the head.

      Great input.

    • DonDWest profile image


      8 years ago from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

      Although I'm much younger than you, yet I understand where you're coming from. You may want to have a look at this:

      I'm starting to come to the conclusion that management is completely irrelevant for anyone (excuse my lack of better words) who knows their head from their butt.

      In many ways I blame the modern college caste system. It's oppressive, it destroys economic freedom, human individuality and creativity. Jobs that shouldn't require college degrees are not only demanding that you have a college degree, but a master's degree along with it.

      I'm of the opinion that college should be strictly for advanced professionals such as doctors, lawyers and dentists. In other words, only 10% of the population at most needs to go to college, not the 60% we have today. Heaven forbid if you're not college material like me, what on earth can you do? You're usually stuck in ill-suited sales/customer service positions where you can never aspire to get anywhere because the kid from college by default gets the gold. *sigh*

      My advice to people ten years younger than myself is to learn from my mistakes and swallow your pride. If you're not college material, don't try, try, and try again only to drop out three times like I did. It's a waste of time and money.

      Instead, you have to do the following:

      1. Take the crap job

      2. Do it for four years

      3. Live with your parents

      4. Save up to 80% of your income

      5. Invest that income while saving

      6. Hopefully you should then have 70k to 100k in the bank, use that to make your own company.

      Your parents will most likely be apprehensive to such a plan, they'll hull your butt through college. So unfortunately, whether you want to or not, you may have to learn the hard way. Only now in my late 20's have my parents come to the realization that I may be right and are supporting me. People are stubborn that way. If only I could have followed this plan when I was 18 instead of living out on my own small paycheck to small paycheck while struggling and failing with night college classes...

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      it's all fear.

      they are weak little creatures. in my own experience, i have had great leaders show me how to get to the other side of a day or a challenge. and, it was what i learned from their behavior, my father in particular, that taught me "bullying" was not the way to motivate people. the best thing i can do, as a leader or a follower, is to work hard and work efficient--in other words, "by example".

      i went to work in manhattan, as an apprentice in a union, and within a year i was a foreman. one thing i noticed was the ego trips so many people bring to work everyday. no one knew i was an apprentice, they just assumed i was a mechanic. in fact, one day i sent another apprentice to a different floor with instructions. when he got there, the mechanic went crazy on him, screaming: " an apprentice doesn't tell me what to do!!" and came up to my floor to have words with the kid and me. i stood there smiling, i was an apprentice--

      the point is,

      ego only gets in the way. and those that try to motivate with fear are approaching things with the "ego" in the center priority spot.

      --i have drawn out the best in others on many occasions, and it happened with a smile on my face and sweat roll'n off my brow....

      never yell, unless safety is on the line-

      or, it's really, really noisy.

      :O )~

    • donotfear profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Thomas 

      9 years ago from Northeast Texas

      foreignpress: You hit the nail on the head. It irks me to no end when I come in contact with a clerk or salesperson who doesn't give a crap. It's aggravating & makes me want to blow. I'd like to have my own reality show about busting bad customer service people. Anyhow, if the attitude isn't right, neither will the service. When employees don't care, it's time for the managers to boot them out the door.

    • profile image


      9 years ago from Denver

      Yes, indeed, I have seen much of the above. But I have also seen blatant incompetence and a cavalier attitude by employees. Like the employees who played grab-ass instead of taking my money; or the employees who treated me (the customer) like trash even though I had said nothing to deserve it; or five employees who stood around talking to each other while ignoring me (I put the merchandise down and walked out). I'm seeing many employees who have little education, few social skills, and a seriously bad attitude. It's almost an epidemic. Much of the problem starts at the corporate level. That's where wage scale, employee perks (like insurance) and sales quotas are determined. Still, managers have to deal with employees who are brain dead GED dropouts. The problem I always had was motivation. How do managers motivate when employees don't care?

    • GNelson profile image


      9 years ago from Florida

      You are right on with this hub. Service is gone and if you don't sell, you are gone too. If you sell a mirror to a blind man, you get promoted.

    • donotfear profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Thomas 

      10 years ago from Northeast Texas

      Wow, you have endured a lot! I wish there was some way you could leave. Remember, it won't hurt to be looking for something else. Man, what a difficult situation! I feel your pain. Your day will come...

    • Miss Markayla profile image

      Miss Markayla 

      10 years ago from Indiana

      OHHHHHH I have definitely suffered anxiety, I wish I hadn't let all of it bother me as bad as I did. I just recently came to the realization that I do give it my all--> ALMOST everyday-->HAHA! But believe me, even my bad days are probably 50% more productive than most of my fellow employees good days. So if I am giving it my all, then that is good enough. If it's not good enough to them, well then good luck finding someone that does what I do.

      I'm actually in a situation right now, our company was bought by a new group of owners back at the beginning of the year. And my immediate boss, who knows nothing about computers, was all of a sudden expected to know how to work on spreadsheets and produce all of his work on the computer. My boss, when this happened had never even sent an email before! So I have covered for him by doing all of his work on the computer. So now, his numbers are up, things look great, our store is hitting all of it's numbers....and he looks like the hero. And he gets the paycheck that is $200.00 more a week, and bonuses. The owners don't know that I am doing all of this work, and I am starting to resent my boss because he takes all of the credit. One of the owners even told us in a meeting, to get more production out of our employees, we should tell them what is expected, and if we get any "lip" from them, then we should tell them, "Hey, just do it and get it done, or your replacement will."

      And I'm just doing my best to deal with everything, because the whole point in me doing all of this was to keep my boss from losing his job. He was put in the "produce or die" situation, and I didn't think it was fair to him. Well now, all I can do is walk around mad most of the time because I have so much on my plate, and he just gets to go home...stress free. (He is the store manager, and I am the office manager by the way) So, I got my paycheck today, and I received almost 2 months of retro pay for a raise that I was late getting, and so my paycheck was only about $20.00 less than my boss's, and when he saw it, he acted kind of like it was just crazy that I made almost as much as him, even though!!!!!He tells me everyday how I should be the one getting the bigger paycheck??? Talk about frustrating! I am just going to continue to give it my all, in the hopes that one day God will get me back for caring about someone enough to take on the amount of stress that I have, just so they didn't lose their job. God takes care of it all, in his own time, and that is really the only comfort that I have left, that keeps the anxiety level down. I know exactly what you mean about getting out before cracking....I have wanted to leave numerous times for the sake of my sanity. But I have just 1 more year of paying $125.00 a week in daycare for my son, and I need the money that I make at this place to pay for it. It's not so easy for a woman to go out and get paid the amount of money after being at a place for that long, as it is for a man. But just as your name says, and the bible says it too...Do Not Fear. I trust that completely. And I will not fear other men anymore. I do believe that when people that are in an "authority" position, use the authority to make others fear them, they are going against what God meant for them to do. We should only fear him, not people. We are supposed to be helping each other, not trying to harm each other. And the mental harm caused by the "scare tactic" is un-called for. They will get what is coming to them. I have to believe that. Thanks for your feedback!

    • donotfear profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Thomas 

      10 years ago from Northeast Texas

      Miss Markayla: Thank you for your comment. It seems that you're comfortable with the arrangement and I'm grateful for you that you're able to stay on with this company without suffering any anxiety over it. I just wish I had been able to brush it off so easy! Fortunatly for me, I left before I cracked and completed my degree before changing professions completely. Good luck to you in your career!

    • Miss Markayla profile image

      Miss Markayla 

      10 years ago from Indiana

      I loved reading this. I am going through the "scare tactic" right now myself. I don't let them bother me though. We all bleed just the same, and if they get rid of me (I have been at this place for 12 years)then I will just wait for the next door to open. Thanks for writing this.

    • donotfear profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Thomas 

      10 years ago from Northeast Texas

      You're right on, Veronica. Sometimes managers are put in the position to 'get em to produce or else' frame of mind and it creates stress and pressure like you wouldn't believe if it's not done right. Remember the old saying:


    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      I really enjoyed reading this. I've been on both sides of the management buisness. I've been the one directed what to do, and the one directing others. Sadly, at times it's the managers superiors that put them in a position where they feel that it's either do or die, so they will treat their employees any kind of way. I've had managers like that before, and when I began managing, I was determined not to be that way. It's hard on both ends, but it in no way condones bad treatment. Thanks for the informative hub!

    • donotfear profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Thomas 

      10 years ago from Northeast Texas

      Thank you very much, breakfastpop. You nailed it....intimidation doesn't work. If anything, it creates insecurity.

    • breakfastpop profile image


      10 years ago

      Dear donotfear,

      This tactic is grounded in ignorance. The most successful business are those that treat their employees with respect. I will tell you that this sort of intimidation exists in the medical field. When dealing with an HMO or an health organization that runs a doctor's office, instead of the doctors, the same intimidation occurs. Doctors are threatened with losing money if they don't see a specified number of patients. Can you imagine how things would be under a government run plan? Great HUB!

    • donotfear profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Thomas 

      10 years ago from Northeast Texas

      You're not alone. It happens everywhere and nobody wants to talk about it.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I always thought it was just me who saw that! I have worked many jobs with the same kind of management BS. If you dont do this you're wrote up, etc, but yet they couldn't figure out why employees morale is at an all time low.

      Berating someone on the job doesn't get the best results. I dont know what 'SKOOL' teaches these tactics but whoever teaches it should be FIRED.


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