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Stress at Work: Defining the Line Between Motivation and an Abusive Workplace, by Celeste Duke, Diversity Insight Blog


Regardless of whether you are a lawyer or legal professional, if you have been out there for a while, you have run into a “bad” boss. They are described in different ways – bully, perfectionist, bi-polar, belittling, and just plain unpleasant – but they are all accomplish at least one thing. They chase off good employees, and make an associates’ and staff’s miserable.

Many rules in a law office may not make sense to the uninitiated. Usually strict rules accompanied with micro-management are a red flag. New hires will likely inherit left over residue from a former employee who abused the rules so badly and frequently that management adopted more restrictive rules. It doesn’t matter that the bad apple is no longer there. New employees are stuck with jumping through the hoop actually designed for a former employee.

If you are interviewing and the office manager asks whether you mind working with difficult people, that is clearly a red flag. Ask why a position is open. Often, when all other things are equal, someone who works for a good boss rarely leaves a job.

If you have a boss who is truly making you miserable or has made it clear you are as far up the ladder as you will go, it doesn’t hurt to polish up your resume and stick your toe in the water. As a good friend once said that, when it comes to job hunting, you can always shop but you don’t have to buy.

If you have found that the nice prospective boss in the interview has turned into an extremely difficult tyrant, of course you have options. But, to be on the safe side, you may want to polish your resume and start putting out feelers. There is a difference between positive stress and the extremely destructive kind. Before this boss has destroyed any self-confidence you have left, get out of there.

Happily, not all attorney supervisors believe that intimidation and abusive behavior is the best way to encourage quality work and employees. Some people even thing that positive reinforcement, team work, and mutual respect and consideration actually improve employee performance and enhance the firm’s overall quality. What a concept! – CCE

In the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Blake is a trainer sent by corporate to motivate a sales team. In addition to offering helpful gems like the acronym ABC to remind the salesmen that they should ‘always be closing,’ he repeatedly berates them and calls them names while bragging about his own success. He tells the team about a new sales competition that week: First place gets a Cadillac, second place gets a set of steak knives, and third place gets fired.

We hope you have never had a boss like Blake, but it’s likely that you recognize shades of his character in past managers, coworkers, or even a current manager in your organization. You want managers to push employees to do good work and get the best results for the company, but it can be hard to know how far is too far. During his ‘motivational’ speech, Blake asks one salesman, ‘You think this is abuse?’ As it turns out, it just might be, and this could be a new frontier in employee claims.