low performers in my office are paraded around and forced to wear dunce caps

If you didn’t read Friday’s open thread, you missed out on this amazing story, which almost already wins Bad Boss of 2016 (but that can’t happen because it’s only February and that would demoralize all the other bad boss contenders out there, who are doing such good work toward the title too). Here it is in all of its horror and glory:

I need some advice on how to survive in a company that both praises and shames publicly.

I’ve been at this company of about 350 people for eight months. The floorplan is a giant square open office with manager/director/VP/executive offices lining the outer perimeter. Most everyone can hear what’s going on inside the square.

The way this company deals with both praises and mistakes is through public announcements. If you do something well, your manager or another higher up will come out onto the floor and stand at your desk and publicly declare what a great job you did. But if you make a mistake and do something wrong, you will get yelled at in front of all your coworkers. It’s distressing and really humiliating. There’s never any follow-up privately about why you made the mistake or how to prevent it; you just get yelled at and that’s that.

Performance is evaluated on a point system. At random times, the executives will send out a stack ranking of every employee’s point score. The top five are gathered and paraded around the office and each handed $200 in cash as a reward. The bottom five are also paraded around the office but are made to wear dunce caps (I wish I were making this up). The bottom five go on probation, and if they are still in the bottom five the next time the ranking goes out, they’re fired.

The last time the rankings went out, I was in the top five and got the money, but I still felt embarrassed being paraded around like that and being made an example of. People were congratulating me for days afterward, but I did NOT feel good or like I’d accomplished something.

I am searching for a new job, but based on the scarcity of jobs in my area and field, I don’t expect to find one soon. I am having a really hard time dealing with this toxic environment and am about ready to flip a table and storm out. Any advice on surviving until I’m able to quit?

And if you were wondering, they didn’t do any of this stuff when I was there for my job interviews.

Dunce caps!

Dunce caps.

No, seriously, dunce caps.

The only way to survive this and come out unscathed is to pretend that you’re a sociologist studying an alien life form and its behaviors and rituals, right before its planet’s sun is about to fail and destroy them all.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 371 comments… read them below }

    1. Ama*

      Yes. Alison’s advice is pretty good — or the thread from the other day when people were talking about pretending to be spies to get through a workday.

      Do they hire a lot of just out of college types? I can’t imagine people who have actually worked in normal offices thinking this is a)normal or b) a good idea.

      1. RVA Cat*

        No kidding. I can only think they not only hire people fresh out of college, but that they specifically recruit from fraternities/sororities for people who are used to hazing.

        1. Paige*

          Maybe fresh out of high school? I’m thinking that only because I would think (hope) that if you made it out of college you at least had some exposure to buttoned up environments and at least a passing understanding of harassment laws. Seems like the kind of office that thrives on people not having many other options, therefore, not *really* worthy of respect/being treated like adults. . You might be onto something with the frat boy vibe though.

          But my college was for lovable nerds, so what do I know?

          1. Anonsie*

            At one of my college internships, someone accidentally cataloged a teapot* as a sugar bowl and our manager rounded up all the possible suspects and made them sing & dance to I’m A Little Teapot with her since they “didn’t know what a teapot looked like.”

            *This is not continuing the chocolate teapots thing, it was actually a teapot in real life.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              When looking at antique dinnerware, many people do not know the intended use of many pieces. Eh, even professional dealers can’t always tell. It does not surprise me that someone could not identify a tea pot.

              1. Wendy Darling*

                I’ve seen some teapots you could have easily mistaken for a sugar bowl.

                (Also I sing I’m A Little Teapot to my dog because he is short and stout.)

              2. Anonsie*

                It was obviously a teapot, but the drop down for the tea set items in our cataloging system had teapot and sugar bowl next to each other and someone misclicked when doing data entry.

                This is how we discovered that she checked every single entry we all made. Worth noting that with six interns and a full year of entry this had been our first mistake ever, so this was a gloriously frivolous waste of her time.

                1. Paige*

                  Idiocy always travels in packs. In my experience, there is never just one absurd thing about an office or a bad manager. Glorious waster of time + insane concepts of discipline seem, sadly, perfect complements.

              1. Chalupa Batman*

                Yeah, I was absurdly amused to see “teapot” being used to refer to a literal teapot on this site.

                1. Snazzy Hat*

                  Hell will freeze over when someone gets paid to make chocolate teapots and has a concern about something at work.

            2. MT*


              In my first job out of college, I worked reception for a nonprofit that offered very nice, high-class dishes (there’s probably a fancier word) for sale in their gift shop as part of some sort of fundraising effort.

              This was the “receptionist helps with everything you can throw at her” sort of position, so it fell to me to stop what I was doing and assist those hoping to buy from the gift shop.

              Unfortunately, I came from a very different socioeconomic class than the people I assisted, and my concept of dishes was “plates, bowls, forks and knives.” I can’t count the number of demeaning encounters I had with fussy old ladies who were impatient when I didn’t immediately know what they meant by “the cheese platter,” “the serving plate,” “the Winter Solstice salad platter that we bring out every full moon,” etc.

              1. Tris Prior*

                haha! I had this issue when I worked over the holidays one year at a Crate & Barrel, where I got nearly no training. A lady came in wanting to know whether we had ramekins. I had NO bloody clue what a ramekin was and was mortified to have to ask my manager (who at least was nice about my ignorance).

              2. No Longer Passing By*

                If thus was part of your duties, why didn’t management save you from unnecessary embarrassment by training you on that stuff? Im drawing a parallel to the Devil Wears Prada, where the protagonist studied photos of event invitees so she’d know who was who. Some things you just won’t know if it’s not part of your normal frame of reference….

                1. No Longer Passing By*

                  Oops, wandered in from the poop in lunch bag story and forgot that this particular story was 1 month old.

            3. Pinkie Pie Chart*

              I’m a little teapot short and stout
              Here is my handle, here is my…other handle
              I’m not a teapot. I’m a sugar bowl!

              1. Meghan*

                We used to do this dance when we were very, very sleep deprived in college. Except the last line was “Oh &$%*, I’m a sugar bowl!”

                The more sleep deprived you were, the funnier it got.

        2. Bunny*

          Is this an investment banking firm? Or a management consultant firm? These are the only two places I can picture this being considered.

            1. JuniorMinion*

              Ex banker here… if you did this in banking anytime after oh about Gordon Gekko you would get hauled up to HR / your group head for mistreating Jr. folks. There are a lot of hours in banking and expectations around MDs who are inefficient, but I worked for a guy who apparently years ago used to yell at people on the floor and he was at some point told he would be fired if he continued.

              So yeah… echoing that this is pretty ridiculous behavior going on at OP’s office

          1. Meliora*

            My guess was telemarketing. My husband worked at a few places where the lowest performers would be summarily fired. Brutal.

      1. Fish Microwaver*

        At least the Duck Club members participate voluntarily. I’m sorry but I think we have a winner for Asshat boss of the year here.

        1. Snork Maiden*

          (Your username lends extra credence to your assertion here. When the unapologetic fish microwaver says you’re bad, you’re really bad!)

    1. Beti*

      Seriously. I’m paraphrasing a comment I read recently but someone who tries to put a dunce cap on my head better get good at doing things with one hand.

  1. De Minimis*

    That’s awful. I know of a similar case…

    In the city where I used to live, one company would spank their lowest performing salesperson with a paddle in front of their coworkers. A female employee who was paddled ended up suing, she won a large judgement if I remember correctly.

    1. De Minimis*

      Wow, I was looking it up, it was even worse than that, but I think the judgment was thrown out on appeal…

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Yes the news article I read said the jury was “given improper instructions as to what constitutes sexual harassment”. And they overturned the verdict.

        The news article paints a horrifying picture of what working there would have been like.

        1. sstabeler*

          to be fair, that isn’t actually wrong- while i’m 99% sure it’s illegal, it’s illegal because it’s corporal punishment. sexual harassment is specifically harassment because of your gender. ( in hsort, it’s an asshole move, but her gender was irrelevant)

    2. Laurel Gray*

      WHOA! So what happens if you know you are the lowest performer and so you show up in lingerie with garters or a naughty school girl uniform to take your spanking, do you get “written up” for violating the dress code too or more spanking? I found an article about the case and apparently eating baby food (I am particularly partial to Gerber’s peach cobbler myself) and wearing diapers were some of the alternatives to the workplace spanking. Sick sick sick.

      1. De Minimis*

        Apparently lots of younger employees, no oversight, no policies in place….

        The wrangling on appeal seems to be more due to legal technicalities [whether it’s considered sex discrimination or not…] I don’t know where it stands now.

        1. Observer*

          You mean it’s ok to physically assault your staff if it’s done on a gender neutral basis? That REALLY makes my head spin!

          1. De Minimis*

            I guess the argument was what happened wasn’t because she was a woman, so possibly not sex discrimination, but I assume still actionable as far as assault, emotional distress…not sure what the current status is, it may still be hung up in the courts.

            1. MT*

              That whole distinction is interesting to me. I get the reasoning behind it, we were trained on the fine points of it, but to me I don’t see how it doesn’t “count” as sexual harassment just because it isn’t specific to one gender or sexual orientation.

              Spanking an adult is a sexually-charged act – the entire humiliation aspect is because of its sexual connotations, right? How is that somehow different if you throw up your hands and say “Oh, but I sexually humiliate all of my employees equally.”

    3. Anon Accountant*

      I can’t even imagine who thinks this stuff up. What happens if an employee refuses to participate? What would happen if you refused to participate?

      How would you explain to a hiring manager “they fired me because I refused to participate in such lewd behavior”?

      1. AF*

        And what if the hiring manager had to call for a reference?! They probably would have no problem making up a horrible reason why they wouldn’t rehire the person. Saying they were fired for “poor performance” (although who wouldn’t perform poorly under those conditions?!) would look bad. Good lord.

      2. aebhel*

        I feel like that’s so bizarre that you couldn’t even tell a new hiring manager, because who would believe you?

    4. lowercase holly*

      how did they think that was ok?!?! my school did that in kindergarten, but it was quickly stopped in (public) schools because it is terrible.

    5. Random Citizen*

      WHAT!?!?!?!?!? This is horrifying!! I would run from the room and never come back, even if I had to live under a bridge. Never, never, EVER. I cannot fathom a worse work experience. SPANKING YOUR COWORKERS!?!? Who in the hell thinks this is anything other than utterly humiliating and _grossly_ inappropriate!? *shudders*

    6. PoB*

      I’m hearing the old guy from the retirement home on the Simpsons “Stuffed up your TPS reports? That’s a paddling”.

      Sorry to make light of this – that’s awful!

    7. Matt F*

      First prize is a Cadillac, second prize is a set of steak knives, third prize is a date with Mr. Pine.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        All mine were swears. In this kind of situation it takes me a few seconds to get through all the swears to the work-appropriate words, which is why when someone says something completely outrageous at work or a family gathering I have a tendency to sit there making a O_o face for a few seconds before I formulate a response.

  2. Mike C.*

    OP, in a few months when you aren’t in the top five anymore, you need to find a way to name and shame this company. Hamilton Nolan comes to mind, but I’m sure there are others.

    Holy crap, this is simply insane and incredibly cruel. I really, really hope this never escalates into something worse or potentially dangerous.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        If it is, then the new city motto needs to read: “Wilmington: A Place to Be(Little) Somebody.”

      2. Ann*

        And fair or not, that media coverage didn’t even seem to faze that nationally known nonprofit. They just brushed it off by saying that interviewees enjoyed it. No shame at all, and I imagine that many companies would react the same way (even if there was media coverage, which there probably wouldn’t be).

      3. Mike C.*

        That’s a good point, but I’m almost positive that I’ve seen him write about smaller organizations before. Either way, this sort of thing feels like it could go viral either way. Maybe with a surreptitious video.

        If nothing else, the way Gawker has set up their tip system, you’re electronically protected so your only risk is the time spent writing an email and going to the library to send it.

      4. Kat*

        Nah. A quick PR person could get this coverage no problem. I’d be happy to take a stab at it if the OP would want that :)

      5. Stranger than fiction*

        Ah man really? I was totally going to suggest the Op try to discretely record the parade on her phone and turn it in to the local news station’s investigative dept.

        1. Marty Gentillon*

          Even if you don’t name and shame them, anyone doing research on them needs to find out about this. I would recommend glassdoor, and any similar service.

      6. D*

        I knew I had heard of something like this before. Here’s a couple links where T-mobile made there employee’s wear dunce caps as well.

    1. LL*

      I wonder what would happen if OP just wrote an email to one of the saner/sympathetic senior managers at the company and said something like:

      “Now that I’ve been at Batshit Insane Corp. for several months and have had a chance to observe the culture here, I had some questions about the surprise office parades I wanted to address with you. Although I understand they are intended to motivate employees, I’m concerned that they actually do the opposite. Compelling people to wear a dunce cap might seem like it’s all in good fun, but I find it insulting as a professional, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many others at Batshit felt the same way. Even though I have been one of the top performers, it makes me uncomfortable to be a part of this. Would you mind sharing with me the reasoning behind this practice and your thoughts on options for employees who’d prefer not to participate?”

      I mean, all it might take is someone (politely) asking WTF? to spark a discussion among the higher-ups that the dunce caps are maybe a bad idea. OP should still look for another job, but I can’t see someone getting canned for approaching it this way.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s a discussion to do in-person, not in email (so you can control tone, have back and forth, etc.) — but otherwise, yes, people should be pushing back like this!

      2. TowerofJoy*

        They have to know though, right? That dunce caps are not normal for adults or you know, in the 21st century? And they just think they’re clever or something to keep doing it? I have a lot of trouble believing these are sane people who are just unawares.

        That said, I still think push back like this is necessary, so at the very least they can realize no one else finds this clever.

        1. LL*

          I have seen a lot of bad decisions made at the executive level where ONE person has a stupid idea but everyone else is too scared to say no or doesn’t care enough to rock the boat. Sometimes the original bad idea-haver isn’t even all that attached to it.

          It’s only when the consequences of that bad idea start hitting the fan or someone finally speaks up that change is made.

            1. LL*

              This is so interesting! I saw the Abilene paradox all the time at the C-level in the last company but never knew there was a term for it. Frankly I think this is way more common than groupthink when it comes to bad ideas at the executive level. Thank you!

    2. Paloma Pigeon*

      Yes, because my hunch is that a company that permits this sort of thing is not a company that I would consider a safe investment in either for-profit or non-profit worlds. It speaks volumes about their judgement and culture.

  3. Gene*

    This could only be made better if they took photos of the day’s dunces and posted them on the Wall of Shame behind the stools the dunces would have to sit in all day.

    1. Leslie Knope's Waffle*

      I once interviewed at a place that did something similar. I noticed the company’s Wall of Shame and Fame during my interview. It was one of the many dysfunctional things I noticed about this place (a nationally-known healthcare company).

      It was one of the few times I was happy to have never heard back after an in-person interview.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Nationally known health care company????!!!!!

        I guess caring about others has nothing to do with their work.

    2. Anonsie*

      This is our retention strategy on Skull Island– though only the top performers earn the right to stools. Everyone else is placed on a communal slackline.

  4. Big McLargeHuge*

    Every time someone in my organization says that we focus too much on production, I’m going to have to resist the urge to bring this email to their attention.

    It’s hilarious that someone thought this was a good idea. +1 for that manager.

  5. Mallory Janis Ian*

    Wow. I missed this in the open thread. But just by the fact that Alison called it out for its own discrete thread speaks volumes for its potential as a Worst Boss of 2016 candidate. It may not win, but I’m betting on it to at least place or show.

    1. Jennifer O*

      The sad fact is that, by the time December rolls around, we’ll have heard even worse stories – hard as it seems to believe. I’ve been on this site from the beginning, and many years there seemed to be a top contender for Worst Boss of the year in January/February, but they rarely “win” because there are always worse that come in later months. I (unfortunately) foresee that we’ll look back at the dunce cap manager and think, “Oh, wasn’t that a quaint way of being awful.”

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I know, it’s hard right now to imagine anything much worse (that people would actually do), but people’s ability to stoop to new (or all the same old) lows never ceases to amaze.

    1. CAA*

      That was going to be my suggestion as well. Please post this so that future candidates will know what goes on there, even if it doesn’t happen on interview days!

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      I was reading some very unfortunate things about glass door the other day. Apparently the employer can reject the review and glass door can reject it too if they feel you’re too negative or think you didn’t follow the (subjective) guidelines? Or they approve it and then take it down later :(
      I’ve been wanting to post about my employer for a couple years but now I’m not so sure

      1. TowerofJoy*

        Well glass door forces you to put up a review to continue viewing the site, so I have my doubts that all of those reviews are authentic anyway.

        1. Bowserkitty*

          I’ve got an account and never have been forced to leave a review for anything. I signed up many years ago so perhaps it’s different now?

          1. TowerofJoy*

            Before it would let me view the entire page for a company it forced me to write a review of a company I worked for, and denied me access until I did. I thought before that you didn’t have to, so you might be right that it wasn’t always that way.

      2. Bowserkitty*

        GlassDoor can definitely reject your review but I don’t think the employer can.

        When I was younger I tried posting something bitchy about the chain bakery I was at and they said it didn’t meet their standards. Hahaha…they were right; I can barely remember as it was probably 6-7 years ago but I remember how I thought!

        1. AnotherHRPro*

          The employer can not reject or approve postings. They only thing they can do, just like anyone who looks at the site, is to flag a posting as inappropriate. This does not remove it. It just notifies Glassdoor to review the posting to make sure it falls within their guidelines.

      3. hayling*

        Definitely not true! I am an admin for my company’s Glassdoor profile. We can flag a review if it’s factually untrue, but it’s up to Glassdoor to decide if they want to take it down. All we can really do is write a public reply. We have no idea who has written the reviews (although some people make it obvious by the content).

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Thanks for clarifying and it’s nice to hear from someone that handles this on the employers side.

      4. BRR*

        Glass door has issues but there’s not really a better alternative however companies cannot reject a review. I try to keep negative reviews short and just the fact. Almost not showing how horrendous certain things are so they sound more believable. Like my husbands company hires all the employees and temps with no timeline or goals to hit in order to be made a full time employee. This isn’t mentioned anywhere in the job postings and somehow wasn’t in any review. They just do it at the end of an interview like on the way out. I felt this needed to be known but didn’t get into the why, just that you’ll be hired as a temp and it’s not mentioned in the ads.

        1. BRR*

          Also I realize that is technically a false review as I never worked there but to me that’s a really important fact.

  6. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    I know what you mean about being paraded around! My seventh grade math teacher always gave a candy bar to the top scorer when he passed a test back. Only trouble was, it was ALWAYS me or this one other kid. I already had issues fitting in in seventh grade; getting labeled a teacher’s pet did not help. At the end of the year he gave a whole bag of candy to the student with the highest score on the final, and the highest grade overall in the class. Both were me. I was mortified and immediately passed the candy all around the room to try to make people not resent me.

    1. Clever Name*

      Ugh. As if junior high weren’t hard enough. If the teacher really wants to reward top students, they can do what a professor of mine did in college. He pulled me aside after class one day and spoke to me privately in his office and said that my grade in the class was so high that it was just about mathematically impossible for me to get anything other than an A in the class even if I bombed the final, so he’d excuse me from taking the final.

      1. Tomato Frog*

        Meaningful rewards!
        I had a professor reward me for high performance by having me do an oral instead of written exam. For me this was not a reward.

        1. Preux*

          I’ll be honest, that sounds almost like the prof suspected you of cheating and wanted to catch you out.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      Yes! Our biology teacher used to shuffle our seating around after every test and we’d have to sit in order of highest to lowest grade. It was not exactly good for morale.

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        ugh… That’s almost as bad as a teacher in my middle school. I wasn’t in his class, but the first day of class, my friends in his class told me that he told them, “I like paragraphs the way I like a woman’s skirt, long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep my attention.” As an adult, I can appreciate the sentiment, but it’s probably not the appropriate way to teach paragraph-writing to 12-13 yr-olds.

        1. TychaBrahe*

          No, that’s not appropriate at any age. It would not be appropriate in college. It would not be appropriate in the workplace. There is no reason for anyone who is not in a social relationship with someone to discuss that other person’s clothing choices.

          1. neverjaunty*

            And there is really no reason EVER for a teacher of any age to tell students of any age what that teacher finds sexually alluring. W.T.F.

        2. Cannoli*

          I remember a motivational speaker coming to my middle school and he mentioned his son in passing. During the Q&A time, a student asked what his son did and he said, “Well, I tell people he’s studying gynecology without a degree.”

        3. Lily in NYC*

          Yikes, that’s not cool. And I probably wouldn’t have even thought twice about it when I was a dumb kid. Oh, on our bdays, the entire class stood in a single file line with their legs spread wide. The birthday kid had to crawl through everyone’s legs on his/her hands and knees and everyone would spank his butt as he passed them. I look back and am like “How did this happen!!”. Answer: it was the 80s.

          1. april ludgate*

            My first grade teacher did “birthday spankings” and I’d totally forgotten about that until now. She would have the birthday kid up at the front of the room and spank them once for each year old they were and once more “for luck.” And this was in 1998/99, so I really have to wonder how she got away with doing that.

        4. JennyFair*

          My 6th grade teacher taught us ‘Dolly Parton Fractions’ instead of improper fractions, because they were ‘bigger on top than on bottom’. I think he misunderstood the context of ‘improper’.

          1. VX34*

            Actually, this was how I first learned it too.

            Female teacher, and she used Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example too. No gender bias!

          2. Tris Prior*

            I remember our high school calculus teacher drawing a graph of some mathematical function that has two curves of equal size and saying something like, “it’s like a brassiere! So sensual!” uh…..

        5. Tiffany*

          I had a teacher in school that told us the same thing! At the time I didn’t think it was inappropriate it, but being the mother of a 9 year old, I would be very unhappy if a teacher told my son that…at any age.

        6. Anon......*

          I had a teacher in high school who told the class he shaved his beard off because his wife complained it was scratching and irritating her legs.

          1. LBK*

            There have been some horrifying stories in this thread, but this one in particular just got a really hideous incredulity face from me. Good lord.

          2. The Strand*

            Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.

            In high school, I had two straight male teachers in their forties who were good friends and used to make innuendo-filled, but extremely silly comments about how they were supposedly sleeping together. “I love you but you need to stop farting in bed, Bob.” “I’ll stop farting in bed, if you stop eating crackers while I’m there, Bill.” I think it was their dingbat way of combating homophobia in the male students.

      2. Tau*

        …I thought it was bad that our maths teacher used to give back tests ordered by grade – starting with the lowest, so you’d be sitting there desperately hoping not to get yours next. Great sighs of relief sounded whenever he announced “And now the 2s” [grade] or whatever. But *seating order*?!

        …although, speaking of, I had friends at a well-known part of a well-known university where the accommodation is apparently divvied out by exam results. They told me that you could tell by where someone lived how well they did on last year’s exams. My jaw hit the floor when I heard that one.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          At my (small, private, liberal arts) college, we used to get exam results back by looking at the grade posting on the professor’s door. They all would distribute test grades by posting the class roster with the names ranked from highest to lowest score. I remember looking for my name and hoping that it was at least in the top ten. I work at a large public university now, and I don’t know if the lack of public grade posting is a sign of the more privacy-conscious times, or the difference between small private and large public.

          1. Liz*

            I had a professor who sometimes did this (when he felt like it. More often than not we just graded our own exams) but instead of names he used ID numbers or some other random form of ID that others in the class wouldn’t easily know. I also went to a very small liberal arts college (graduated Dec 2014, so this was recently)

              1. Judy*

                Most of my professors in the 80s at a large midwestern public university posted grades by the student ID number, especially any scantron tests. We certainly didn’t have a website to look at. I now can look daily at my kids grades in elementary school if I wish.

                1. JaneB*

                  At the InternationallyRenownedAncientUKUniversity where I did my degree, degree results were published in public. You had to walk down to the administrative buildings and look at this piece of paper displayed on a noticeboard on the main street of the town to find out how you’d done in your classes. And I’m not THAT old (sadly I have at least 20 years to go until I can draw my state pension, never mind actually afford to retire…)

                2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  My French professor said that when she was a girl, the results of people’s high school exams were published in the papers. So all the parents in town would look to see how their child did compared with the rest of their form and then speculate on who would go to a good university, etc.

            1. Elsajeni*

              Yeah, I had a professor within the last few years who posted grades publicly, but he assigned each student a Secret Code Name so we couldn’t be matched to our scores. The term I had him he used a list of vegetables. I believe I was Artichoke.

            2. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Yeah, ours weren’t even by ID number, just by name. We would all gather around the door and everyone would look for their name first, and then people would start calling out the names of the top-scoring students. Then they’d start calling out the names of the worst-scoring students. And we’d all stand there and analyze our standing in the class versus everyone else’s, and there’d be gossip and conjecture as to who had gotten their grade by hard study versus natural brilliance versus the professor just liking them (or “like” liking them, wink wink, nudge nudge). And then who was dumb and didn’t belong in the class, who had partied too much and was lucky they got even that high a grade, etc. etc.

            3. A grad student*

              I also had a professor who did this where I went to undergrad at a semi-large public university. During TA training at the large public university I’m attending for grad school, they told us that this violates FERPA. I always kind of liked it though, it was nice to know where you stood in the class

          2. Liz*

            It would be a breach of FERPA to post grades with any personally identifiable information, whether that’s name, SSN, student number or even anonymously but in alphabetical order. So if your school has – and wants to keep – federal funding, they won’t do it any more!

        2. Lily in NYC*

          Oh wow! That housing thing is awful. I studied abroad my junior year, and they put the students who were receiving financial aid in the two basement bedrooms and the wealthiest students got the nice rooms with the balconies. It was unspoken, but so blatantly obvious.

        3. Donna*

          Sounds like orchestra. You get to perform your chair audition in front of the class with your teacher glaring at you and then are seated according to your rank. And when you perform, everyone in the audience who has ever been in band or orchestra knows who the last chair is. Then of course, the other players in your section are encouraged to offer up their criticisms during sectionals to make you a “better” player.

          It’s lovely if you’re one of the top players, but if you’re mediocre, not so much.

          1. NotherName*

            When I was in orchestra, we did private auditions. Everyone took their turn going into a practice room and making a tape. Much, much lower stress.

            Of course, if you never practice your violin, you still end up in last chair sharing a music stand with your best friend, who also never practices, and goofing off. (Sometimes you and your friend switch seats depending on who did slightly less worse on the audition tape.)

            1. Gene*

              I was the only one who played Bass Trombone, so I was always last chair in the ‘Bone section. Or, as I preferred, first chair in the Bass Trombone section.

          2. BananaPants*

            High school band did auditions for first, second, and third chair on each wind and brass instrument. Being a talented flute player I went in as a freshman and unknowingly knocked a 3-year first chair out of her seat – cue her and her friends openly hating me for that entire year. I didn’t realize that it was a status thing and that I’d be expected to help the band teacher/conductor.

            I was first chair piccolo by default, because I was the only flute player who owned a piccolo.

            1. Honeybee*

              I was also the only flute player who owned a piccolo so I was first chair piccolo when we had selections that required a piccolo. I didn’t always play it, though – I was usually second- or third-chair flute (we had one girl who was almost always first chair and then a friend I switched seats with constantly). I think I was first chair flute for like two weeks one time when I got a piece I really liked and practiced it constantly. Lol.

              In our band it wasn’t so much a status, though, or at least not in a way that people would hate you if you consistently got first chair. And it didn’t really involve helping the conductor. The girl in my section who was first chair was genuinely really good but also really sweet, and would always be willing to help you learn or practice a new piece.

          3. Honeybee*

            Band was the first thing I thought of, too. We had chair challenges at the director’s whim, and you were instantly reorganized based on his judgment of how well you did compared to your classmates. Every one in every section did it, except for the lucky few who sat in a section with only one person (one of my friends played the bassoon and fell in that category). And then he would still call on you to play publicly just to keep it fair.

        4. Tris Prior*

          Did anyone else have a teacher where, after you swapped papers and “graded” your neighbor’s homework, he’d then read off everyone’s name and you’d have to announce, in front of the whole class, how many you got wrong? Man… that guy actually was an otherwise good teacher but I HATED it when he did that.

      3. SaraV*

        Usually, from first grade all the way through high school, we’d change seats after each quarter. After the first quarter of my freshman year algebra class, we changed seats. I think it was the next day that I figured out we were seated by our quarterly grades…highest in front to lowest in back.

        1. Elizabeth*

          I had one teacher who would shuffle us based upon our grades, with the highest & lowest performing together, on down to the point that the two whose grades put them in the middle shared a table. It didn’t phase the kid who was at the bottom, but I was mortified to be placed with him, as if my grades would magically rub off on him or something.

      4. BethRA*

        My 8th grad math teacher used to do that. At one point, he made the kid who scored the lowest – and had been doing so for several weeks – turn around and face the back of the room.

        I regret to this day that I never said anything.

        1. Mpls*

          My question is – what is the thought process going through the teacher’s head? How does this help the kid learn anything? They can’t see the board, likely isn’t paying attention because they are trying to avoid eye contact with the rest of the class and their brain is clouded with shame and resentment.

          1. Observer*

            What makes you think the teacher was trying to help the kid learn. If challenged, I’d be that the teacher would say that he was trying to “motivate” the “stupid lazy brat” to get his act together and do what he was supposed to do.

        2. Observer*

          This thread has to be one of the most depressing ones I’ve read here in a long time. So many awful teachers! But, this one really takes the cake. Another firing offense, in my opinion.

        3. Anonsie*

          My 6th grade math teacher decided I had difficulty with math because I was too easily distracted, and she made me sit at a separate desk in the front of the room next to hers but with my back facing the rest of the class. Like, as my regular seat. I could see the overhead but no other actual people, including her, and I wasn’t allowed to turn around at all. Did that most of the year.

    3. Mimmy*

      Sounds like my seventh grade math teacher. I’m a little fuzzy on the details since this was in the mid-80s, but I remember that just before the Christmas break, she was to give some sort of Bruce Springsteen memorabilia as a grand prize – I don’t remember if it was a raffle or if it was whoever had the highest grade overall (not just in math). It was inspired by the fact that his drummer had been one of her students a number of years prior. I thought it was really cool at the time.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        I don’t think this is bad at all – giving a prize to the “top” student is ok with me as long as the students who didn’t do well don’t get singled out.

    4. Leslie Knope's Waffle*

      I had a math teacher in high school who was unnecessarily vicious towards his students. Not only would he openly share your test scores with the class (as in “Joe got a 67% on the last algebra test”), he would insult them. I struggled mightily with math in high school, and he told me I would make an excellent trophy wife someday. :( Even though I’ve gotten much, much better with math (because of a truly excellent college professor I had who helped me with my math dyslexia-like problem), those words still hurt.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I remember all our grades in high school being announced publicly in front of the whole class. Most teachers would hand back tests by calling each student up to the desk by name and test score. Everyone knew what everyone else got on the test. I think there were a few teachers who didn’t do this, but they were in the minority of “extra-sensitive” teachers.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Yeah I was in a private boys’ school in high school where they did that.

        I pledged to God, and the moon, and the stars, that if I ever was out in the street and saw one of those teachers, I would land a 270 degree haymaker on his nose. Then when he got up, I’d suckerpunch him again, for one of my friends to whom he applied the same abuse.

        Twenty-five years after I left that miserable school (transferred to a public high) I saw him again. In a hardware store. He was rummaging through a bin of bolts five feet from me.

        There was my chance. But I thought – man, he’s a wretched piece of ****, I have a great life, and he’s not worth it. I spat on the floor, caught his attention and said “pathetic” and walked away. Just as well, although I could have justified a temporary insanity defense.

      3. E.R*

        We may have had the same math teacher. My high school math teacher ridiculed the poor performers too. He once mocked my wrong answer on a test in front of everyone. He also told me, after doing poorly on a test ” You know, E.R., life is like mountain climbing. You take one wrong step, and you’re dead.”

        Well no, that’s not true at all! I’ve made lots of mistakes in life and come out just fine.

        I’m also not terrible at math, I just needed extra help. But for a long time I thought I was hopeless at it because of him.

      4. Anonsie*

        I still think all the time about what the assistant principal said when I complained to her re: the weird desk situation with my math teacher above. She said I had an attitude problem and was going to end up in prison one day, and there was no helping me so she didn’t see the purpose in getting me into the math tutoring program or anything like that. It would just be a waste of resources.

        1. Ultraviolet*

          Perhaps by “prison” she meant “Skull Island.” She just chose not to mention that you’d be in charge.

          1. Anonsie*

            Perhaps she still had hope that her nightmares of my eventual rise to super villainy were unfounded.

            She was wrong >D

      5. Not So NewReader*

        I had a calc teacher that called us all by our last names. One day a week us women were not allowed to come to class so the guys could talk guy talk. There was only a couple of us and we were happy to be away from this chimpanzee.

        One day he presented a problem, it took most of the class to do the one problem. He made a mistake on the fourth line of the problem. He was making each student say the next line of the problem, going around the room in order. I could not get over the mistake in the fourth line. When it came my turn at about line number 28 of this problem, I said I had a question and I asked about it. He said “NewReader you are SOOOO stupid” in a classroom full of high school guys.

        As I was looking for a rock to crawl under, the guys rallied. The class brain told him I was right. Instead of laughing at me, they were laughing at him. It did help me to feel better about the group of students I was with, but I still don’t like calculus much. And I still do not have a kind word for the chimpanzee.

        1. A Non*

          ” One day a week us women were not allowed to come to class so the guys could talk guy talk.”

          W. T. Actual. F. Guys being free to say gross things is apparently more important than women getting an education?

          I’d be happy to get time away from that chimp too. And I’m glad the guys had your back.

      6. Elizabeth West*

        Oh math teachers. My personal hell. All were men. At least two were also coaches for the school sports teams (the boys’) and teachers who coached were addressed as such–as in not Mr. Winterbottom, but Coach Winterbottom. Me having a math LD put me squarely in the spotlight. Examples of their asshattery:

        –Coach Sexist Asshole would constantly make remarks about women being worse at math than men. I used to wish I were really good at it so I could show him up.

        –Coach Clueless did not realize I had an LD and would call me lazy in class. He also would make me come up to the board (everybody did this) and do problems in front of the entire class. Which I could not do. To this day, I don’t like writing on the board in front of people, even if I totally know what I’m doing. I think he was trying to motivate me, but he wuz doin it rong.

        –Mr. Incompetent New Teacher didn’t even try. He was too busy trying to survive his first year of teaching all the pranky douchecanoes in my class.

        I finally ended up being pulled completely out of class and had to do my math in the in-school suspension room every morning in the counselor’s office, with little to no help.

        The only math teacher I ever had who didn’t pull shit like this was the one in middle school. Everybody LOVED him. He knew I was having trouble and I’m not sure he realized why, but he never made a big deal out of it, and the only time I had to go to the boards in his class was on Fridays when he would section them off and let us draw on them. (Love you, Mr. Richards!)

        If any employer of mine tried to make me wear a dunce cap and parade around in front of everyone, they would get a flat No. If they gave me any shit at all, I would stand up, fold my arms, and say, “I think this is demeaning and pointless and I will not do it. You get nothing. Good DAY, sir!”

        1. Amy UK*

          I don’t really think it’s fair to call your new teacher Mr Incompetent. New teachers are by definition learning the ropes, and it doesn’t make them incompetent. In no other field will you consistently find that your ‘customers’ or ‘clients’ constantly and deliberately try to undermine and sabotage a new employee, and who can succeed so thoroughly. Even in retail, the assholes picking on you are brief interactions, not there in front of you for huge periods of your day, every day. And asshole students aren’t really a factor you can train for either- you do teaching practice, but when children are that stubborn and determined to be assholes, no training in the world will help.

          (You always have the asshole teachers who’d respond to that with “well I have no problems with that class”, forgetting that it’s the 20 years of teaching experience, the huge age gap between them and the students, and the teacher’s having been there long before the students were that makes the difference, not the new teacher being inherently useless.)

          It’s a shame he wasn’t able to help you, but I don’t think it’s fair to call a new employee in his situation ‘incompetent’ so much as ‘prevented from doing his job’.

    5. Rachael*

      I also hated being praised in front of everyone. I was a academic person who was picked on a lot and these “pats on the back” only made me a bigger target. I understand the concept, but I was almost tempted to make lower grades just to have it stop. (I never did that because then I would have to deal with my mom asking me why I made lower than an A. Catch-22! LOL)

    6. Temperance*

      Middle school is hard enough without that pressure. Something similar happened to me in college, but at that point, I liked being a high achiever. (The professor gave a speech about how the top grade was a 99.5, the next was an 81, and then everyone else was way below, and he wasn’t going to curve them because the 99.5 happened. He then LEFT THE ROOM for what felt like an hour, and the rest of the class went on a witch hunt to figure out who blew the curve. Meh.)

    7. TowerofJoy*

      Been there, only it was college. I managed to land in a class that was a requirement for my major that mostly just accumulated a bunch of kids who though the class was going to be easy. The professor that taught it that year was anything but. He held up my papers as examples of what they should all be doing, and told them they needed to talk to me if they wanted to start getting passing grades. It was awful. I didn’t want to be a free tutor and as a commuter student I just wanted to get my classes over with.

    8. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

      I went to Catholic school K-8 and from as far back as I can remember, after the teachers (nuns and laypeople) had graded your tests, they handed them back and THEN recorded the grades. Aloud. Via alphabetical order, ladies first and then gents, which is why 25 years later I remember every single female classmate alphabetically. Obviously, it would have been very time consuming to put all 30 students’ grades quietly into your gradebook by yourself. [I have been a teacher, yet I made this extra time myself, for much larger classes.]

      I especially remember the grade shaming, both for good grades (alienation and mockery from my classmates, but bonus mockery from a couple of the nuns who couldn’t change their class preparation to give me more challenging materials, and thus made me feel particularly great when they said things like “again?” for near-perfect scores or “why so low” if I got something like a 93) as well as for bad. There are 3 male peers I haven’t seen in all this time that I truly hope succeeded in higher education as well as life in general once they got out of that environment. How humiliating, this practice. How unnecessary and de-motivational.

      This dunce cap workplace seems to be stuck in that mindset. I am not an advocate to ‘give every kid a trophy’ but there is a wide range of possible disciplines and rehabilitations in life. There is no need to stoop so low from the get-go.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, it reminded me of my parochial school years also. There is all kinds of ways to torture kids without laying a hand on them. As adults we tend to have crystal clear memories of those events and it seemed to me like the dunce cap routine was trying to torture that inner child that most adults have. By tapping on memories of humiliation, the current humiliation compounds. I guess the bosses think that this is effective somehow, but I think they underestimate what they are creating here.

    9. Broke Law Student*

      I was in a pre-algebra class in 6th grade that was mostly (all?) otherwise 7th and 8th graders. The teacher would announce the top scorer for each test. It was usually me and I always felt humiliated because I already stuck out as the younger student who was very socially awkward…not a good method.

      1. Cath in Canada*

        I had a maths teacher in high school who was generally great, except that when she was returning graded tests to us, she’d walk around the classroom handing them out in order of how well you did. She usually started with the highest score, but sometimes mixed it up and started with the lowest – and she wouldn’t say in advance which way she was doing it that day. I was usually at or near the top and didn’t like it being publicly highlighted like that (the bullies in my school were not kind to kids who got top grades). Ugh.

    10. The Strand*

      You know, reading all these comments makes me think about how unfortunately, the idea of getting an “education” in “education” – learning how to teach people – is still considered to be such a joke. You know, the old saw “Those who can’t, teach”, etc.

      Many, if not most people who are professors, get little to no training on how to run a class.
      Many people who teach K-12, especially in science and math, do not have a degree in the area they’re teaching.
      Teachers aren’t paid well; if they go on strike, it’s supposedly because they’re greedy and not because they work a lot of unpaid overtime and pay out of pocket for the supplies they share with their students.
      Increasingly, most college classes are now taught by adjuncts who cobble together a living on $2-4k a class, teaching maybe, if they’re lucky, 10 to 16 classes a year.

      And then we see the consequences: teachers and professors whose behavior and actions have a far reaching impact on our lives, on how we view our abilities, who act like petty tyrants and complete blithering idiots.

      There really is something to the idea of teaching being a profession, one that has standards, and needs to be respected. Thank God for all the awesome teachers and professors who really do go the extra mile.

  7. finman*

    When you flip tables, don’t forget to keep your nose up. This helps to prevent you from lifting with your back. My guess is, workmans compensation doesn’t cover throwing out your back by flipping tables in anger. Also, be sure to come up with a good saying or speech as you do it. My personal favorite comes from Half Baked “F you, f you, f you, you’re cool, and f you, I’m out!”

    1. Murphy*

      Also be sure to have some glitter on you. I find a table flipping is never truly complete until you’ve tossed glitter into the faces of the people you’re walking out on. That shit sticks forever. It’s the herpes of the craft world, don’t you know.

      1. justsomeone*

        Noooo, once OP finds a new job, they should arrange to have Glitter Bomb letters sent to all the exes and VPs and leadership types that participate in this. Those things will get glitter EVERYWHERE.

        1. TowerofJoy*

          YES. But put them in letters that are thanking the company for the opportunity and their time – and be really confused if they don’t appreciate the gesture. Sadly, they would probably just want to find a way to incorporate glitter in the dunce cap parade.

        1. BananaPants*

          We have two young children and thanks to daycare craft projects, our dining room table has glitter permanently ground into the finish of the wood. We don’t even know WHERE it came from but it somehow gets everywhere.

          I think it’s brave as hell that the teachers use glitter in a room full of 2 year olds, but that’s just me.

      2. jamlady*

        I had a piece of glitter get stuck in my eye at work the other day! I was tearing up for hours. I had put up some decorations for nieces birthday party days before haha

        1. Murphy*

          I once rubbed my glitter covered hands on my husbands beard. He had to shave the beard off to get rid of the glitter. I still laugh about it (I love his beard, but come on, that’s just funny).

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Ha. Have you seen the trend of glitter beards? Google it up. It is seriously a thing. Or at least it was for about 15 minutes at the end of 2015; not sure if it still is.

            1. TowerofJoy*

              I think its interesting for magazine looks and what not, when everything is outrageous, but if someone just showed up at the bar like that….yikes.

          2. Elizabeth*

            Craft herpes. (Yes, the name is a thing.)

            I know a professional photographer who was glitter-bombed at one point. It was the very fine glitter that gets into everything. She very carefully handed her (high end) rig to a friend and immediately changed clothes. It was weeks before she could handle her equipment without fear of getting the glitter into the camera body.

        2. Anna*

          Amanda Palmer shot a video where a barrel of gold glitter was dumped on everyone. MONTHS later she tweeted that she was cleaning out her ears and a piece of glitter came out.

          1. Hlyssande*

            Try getting glittered with dreadlocks, which happened to my college roommate. She was still finding it years later.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            The only way this is acceptable is if they use that giant glitter that’s more like confetti. Then at least you can clean it up easily.

            There’s a scene in that hokey 1980s Frankenstein film The Bride (which I love) where the Baron and Eva are at a huge party, and during the festivities, a rain of glitter comes down from the ceiling. It’s very pretty, but I can’t imagine trying to deal with that afterward!

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Ooh! How about those “record a message” greeting cards? Just have to work on getting decent volume on them.

          1. Electron Whisperer*

            WTF!! I have seem some fairly dysfunctional work places, but OUCH!

            Take a couple of cheap battery powered smoke detectors, fit them with the cheapest, nastiest batteries you can find, and hide them around the bosses office (Stuck under desks, inside seldom used filing cabinets, above ceiling tiles, places like that)…..

            The intermittent, LOUD “BEEEEEEEP” the things make every few minutes once the battery goes flat to remind you to change it is next to impossible to accurately locate by ear and is insanely annoying, they will tear the place apart looking for the things.

            Regards, Dan.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Ha. I wonder if doing that would make them have the reaction that Andy did on The Office when Jim hid Andy’s cell phone in the ceiling and kept dialing it all day long. Andy finally flipped out and punched his fist through a wall.

      3. Ineloquent*

        A fun alternative is to arrange a party for the office, get a piñata, stuff it with the finest glitter money can buy, and insist that only the management team are allowed to hit it…

    2. Cannoli*

      I say this line randomly in my head at least twice a month. Usually it’s directed at people on the train.

  8. Lizabeth*

    And if you feel like making A BIG STINK:
    1. organize a walkout (it would have to be everybody that isn’t management) at the start of one of the shaming sessions
    2. Speak up at the end of a shaming session with the question “What precisely do you expect to accomplish by doing this to people?” Put them on the spot.
    3. I’m at a loss to come up with a third…

    1. AndersonDarling*

      #3. When your boss makes a mistake, go to their desk and yell about how terrible they are at their job.

    2. Meg Murry*

      Regularly print articles about the lawsuit against Yahoo for stack ranking to the printers nearest the bigwigs offices and leave them there? (Google search: Yahoo stack ranking lawsuit for articles)

      Then add “top 2% of employee performance ranking for last X quarters” or however the statistics work out to your resume, plus whatever achievements got you those excellent rankings, and then work on getting out!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The lawsuit isn’t really over stack-ranking though. It’s alleging that Yahoo used performance-based firings from stack-ranking to disguise the fact that they were really doing mass layoffs for cost cutting, and sneakily trying to get around the WARN Act (which requires 60 days notice for layoffs over a certain number of people). Stack-ranking on its own is perfectly legal.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          The articles about how stack ranking contributes to a toxic workspace would be more useful – there’s a *lot* of that, especially if you look for Microsoft.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Yes. You’d think that the fact that Jack Welch invented it would be enough to give anyone with half a brain pause as to whether it’s a good workplace practice. That aside, even Microsoft is moving away from it now because of how toxic and useless it is as a management tool.

  9. Laura*

    I too worked in a similar environment– although we weren’t actively shamed for underperforming, there was a lot of passive aggression that drove home the point. A few things I would recommend:

    1. Write a review on Glassdoor. I found it extremely cathartic, but don’t read too many– they could make you angrier.
    2. Become completely emotionally detached from your job. Pretend you have no emotions.
    3. Don’t let this disgusting kind of behavior get to you– you’re better than that.
    4. Look for new jobs every single day until you find a new position!
    5. Counseling might be beneficial. Ironically, your company may offer some sort of service to employees.

    1. OriginalYup*

      Based on your experience, is passive refusal to participate an option? I’m picturing a scenario where they come around with the dunce cap and the recipient calmly sets it on their desk and keeps working. When the organizer of the sh*tshow says, “Get up! Put on the cap! It’s time for the march of shame!”, the employee smiles and says, “Thanks, Bob! I have some reports to catch up on so I’m not on the bad list for next week.” and goes back to what they were doing.

      My theory is that a lot of the stuff is enforced by conformity and fear. I’m curious about what would happen if someone dropped the rope. (Yelling, of course, but maybe a crack in the foundation?)

      1. Calliope*

        This. What are they going to do, drag you kicking and screaming into the duncecap chorus line?

        I don’t get why they can’t let people keep their fricking dignity. What next? stocks in the center of the open floor plan? Ugh.

  10. The Other Dawn*

    People seriously act like this? Really??! The letters I see on here never cease to amaze me. (I’m not in any way saying this, or any other letter, is made up. I just cannot wrap my head around the fact that people actually act like this.)

    1. Jeanne*

      I can definitely believe there are terrible bosses humiliating people. But they seem to get more creative in their race to the bottom.

      1. DeadQuoteOlympics*

        Also surviving crazy wedding planning. “This is an interesting kinship ritual, this is an interesting kinship ritual, this is an….” just keep repeating it to yourself.

        OP, I highly recommend reading Barbara Pym’s Less than Angels” and “Euphoria” by Lucy Black to get in the proper anthropological frame of mind. And good luck, good grief!

          1. DeadQuoteOlympics*

            Okay, it’s LILY KING, which is right on the screen in front of me. Clearly I have missed my mid-afternoon caffeine infusion.

  11. Kyrielle*


    Oh my word how did ANYONE think that was a good idea and decide to DO IT?

    This is too juvenile even for most schools! O.o

    Alison, thank you for pulling this out of the open thread – where I missed it – and spotlighting it. This is awesome, in a horrifying sort of way, and definitely should be in the running for worst boss of 2016!

    1. Kyrielle*

      If this was a movie, someone would be given one of those dunce caps, sit down with it, write their resignation letter on the inside, and hand it back before walking out.

      Since it’s real life, I suspect they will just continue to suffer until they can make it out the door. :(

      Also, having now read the original thread, I think that the dunce hats being converted party hats makes it even worse. :(

  12. Brett*

    In the open thread, OP mentioned that they are a project manager at a B2C software company…

    OP, this means you have tons of transferable skills. Don’t just limit yourself to your field; you can find someone out there who will take a chance that you can put the skills you have to work in a different field. For one, there are a lot of B2B software companies adapting B2C style commerce. There is another job out there for you, just keep up the networking and you will find them.

    1. Argh!*

      Being a project manager in general is a very good skillset. Everybody has projects and all those projects need to be managed.

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    In the past few months, my boss berated me over email twice for something that I later proved I didn’t do.  The first time it happened, he ignored me.  The second time, I got a sheepish email that blamed another person but no apology.

    I’m curious how your employer deals with these situations because I’m not buying that every single time a worker is in the wrong.  Do your bosses re-parade the offender around the office and tell everyone that it was a mistake?  (I’m guessing not.) 

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      I once was written up for something I didn’t do. Someone else did it. I responded to the written reprimand, by writing a response – with hotel receipts, restaurant checks, gas station receipts, showing I was 2000 miles from the building, and on vacation, when somebody else botched a big job.

      I explained – those are not my initials on the run sheet – and I was away on vacation on that date. Rather than apologizing and stopping, (this was my manager’s manager), he ignored me and kept right on with the a$$-chewing.

      The letter of reprimand was a hoot. I replied – of course, before delivering my reply in writing to him, I had also registered-mail, return receipted it to our corporate human resources.

      No apology – but my manager’s manager’s manager (a director) suggested that the incident be expunged from my personnel file. “Nothin’ doing, bucko. I want that to stay in.” The director feigned surprise. I went on
      and explained crudely that while you are going to back him up to save face, he won’t dare do it again, he’s going think twice before messing with me again.

      I didn’t care about making him look stupid – well, … but , I wanted to work without having someone “out to get me”. There was another “dinner table story” – for another time – fended off by my immediate manager, but that also involved incidents that occurred when I was out on vacation. My immediate manager went to bat for me on that one.

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      I might add – if a manager did that once – publicly berated me but privately apologized – I warned him, I can accept your apology now. Don’t do it again, because I will do something to embarrass you back. Right then and there.

      Nothing ever happened again to me – my successor worked for another manager in that place, same thing – and also warned the manager that a repeat performance would result in harsh response. Manager did it three weeks later.

      She said “you ARE the weakest link… good-bye!” and walked out of a staff meeting.

      Of course, you have to be in a financial and professional situation where you can walk off a job.

      1. HardwoodFloors*

        This reply is to your post before this one. I too was blamed by a boss (who was out to get me) for something that was done incorrectly while I was on vacation!

        1. Cautionary tail*

          I was shamed for hacking a bigwig’s password protected file by showing her that she didn’t secure it and that no password was even needed to open the file.

          Rather than admit she screwed up when I tried to educate her on what she did and what she should have done, she blamed me for hacking the file.

          Years later I still cannot forgive her for the public shaming she did. Yes, bigwig in Washington DC, this means you.

    3. Buu*

      I had this happen to me, I could prove my boss was incorrectly blaming me for something and when I stood my ground and offered to go through my work and prove him wrong he squeeked out that it didn’t matter and I shouldn’t argue back.

      He stopped talking to me for a week after that.

  14. Liz*

    This is horrifying and ridiculous on all levels, but I have to ask… Where does one find dunce caps? Are they listed in office supply catalogs these days?

    OP, best of luck finding a new job SOON!

        1. Kyrielle*

          I know! And party hats are generally super-cheerful and celebratory, so they’re not just spotlighting but /spotlighting and mock-celebrating/ the lowest performers’ status. I don’t even.

          1. NotherName*

            Also, they went to the trouble of purchasing dunce caps, which could easily be made with materials found in the office… As could pirate hats. I recommend the OP make the latter and start marauding!

        2. fposte*

          And now I have peripheral questions. Who had to write on the caps? Did the marchers have to designate their own? If you wrote on a cap badly (“DUNTS”) did you have to add one for yourself?

          1. pieces of flair*

            Lol, that’s what I was wondering. Do they have some poor administrative assistant whose job includes decorating dunce caps? If she is in the bottom 5 one week, does she have to decorate her own?

      1. Gene*

        Somebody needs to find the dunce cap supply and surreptitiously replace them with similar hats, labeled DNUCE.

  15. Minion*

    What about just flat-out refusing to walk around with a dunce cap on? Has anyone ever tried that? If so, how did it work out?
    Or, for that matter, has anyone ever refused to do the victory lap? I’d love to know how either of those went down. I’d probably give in and do the things, even though it would be horrible, just because I’m so conflict averse, but I know people who would absolutely not participate even if it meant an immediate firing.

    1. Washington*

      I would really like for the person in the dunce cap to do a victory lap, Rocky-style, around the room. Or do a victory lap, Miss America style where they smile while trying not to cry and thank everyone as they walk around the room doing the regal wave.

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      I was wondering this myself. If all the employees just refused to get up and march around, stared stonily at the douchecanoes who are “organising” this… what would happen? It’s not like they use cattle prods to get people up and parading is it? I think if someone started a whisper campaign “next Public Shaming, let’s all just sit in our chairs and look at BadManager like he’s insane” it would be interesting to see how many people would do it. I bet there’s a lot who want to get off this un-merry-go-round.

  16. JMegan*

    Good lord. Do you work at the firm from Glengarry Glen Ross?

    I have no advice, other than the table flipping and dramatic exit. Best of luck to you, that place sounds like a hellhole.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Many years ago I worked at a place where you’d be belittled, yelled at, it was hell.

      Until we threatened to unionize. When we were asked “why are you doing this? Do you want to jeopardize your job?”

      My response was “No but I want to help you reduce turnover and make this a better place.” Boss = “you make me sick.” Me = “the sooner you throw up, the sooner you’ll feel better.”

  17. Sybil Fawlty*

    Noooooooooo oh I can’t even believe that. Just what on earth are they trying to accomplish?

    And now that I think of this, where on earth did they get the dunce caps? Is there a store for those? My brain hurts thinking about this.

  18. Mimmy*

    I’m sorry but this actually made me giggle. On what planet is this considered sane?!

    Quite honestly, while good performance should certainly be recognized, standing at the employee’s desk and announcing it to everyone would be embarrassing to me. Worse still is the parading around of the top 5 ranked performers! Makes me twitch just a little.

    1. Kiryn*

      I feel like publicly announcing the top people is just as bad as the dunce caps.

      One of my previous employers had an award ceremony on a monthly basis where people would be called up in front of the whole company and given silly hand-made awards and gift cards for doing a really great job, and then have to give a little impromptu speech.

      For someone like me, who works hard but is terrified of being in front of a lot of people, it actually had the opposite effect of what was intended: I wanted to avoid working too hard or being too awesome specifically so that they wouldn’t call my name. I’d have a serious anxiety attack every time they started to announce awards. I didn’t care about the $200. Make it a couple thousand and I might have considered whether it was worth the stress.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I don’t want to do it either. I feel uncomfortable being praised for something that is actually my job. It’s like I did it because I was trying to please. No, I did it so I’d get paid!

  19. anonanonanon*

    I read this comment in the open thread, and it is eerily similar to a company I used to work for. The public shaming, visible rankings, point systems, on-the-spot cash and other rewards and lack of valuable feedback or guidance is bringing back bad memories. Mandatory after-hours meetings and happy-hours meant that your work and social life totally revolved around the company. Management was paranoid, ultra-sensitive to perceived criticism or disloyalty, and encouraged (and rewarded) inappropriate behavior. It was awful.

    I lasted three years, did grad school at night and quit for a job in a totally new field. I survived by keeping my head down, doing good work (but not too good, because I didn’t want to me paraded around as a good example by the management I despised), and opting out of the culture as much as possible.

    Keep looking OP, once you’re gone you will look back and be amazed at how different life can be when you’re no longer in an environment like that.

  20. videogame Princess*

    What happens when they’ve lost so many workers that their bottom five are also their top five? My goodness. Someone will logistically ALWAYS have to be on the bottom five. Couldn’t they use more objective standards or are they just that dumb?

    1. fposte*

      This was what bothered me! I feel like there’s a big dunce puzzling over the staffing records: “What gives? No matter how much we purge the deadweight, we always have a bottom five!”

    2. Artemesia*

      I think what happens in toxic workplaces is that the TOP 5 move on and the place is increasingly filled with people who are incompetent or can’t move for some reason. Most ugly policies drive out those with options leaving those without. Some of those will be good employees, but many will be the dregs.

    3. JennyFair*

      I can answer this. At Gigantic Company, the theory was (and probably still is, although there has been some top-down action due to unhappy media attention) that if you kept stripping away the bottom 20%, you’d just continually improve the group as a whole, everyone would strive to improve, and the company would succeed beyond your wildest imagination.

      Which is an interesting theory but does not consider morale. And it also *depends* on the high turnover that this type of situation creates.

      1. RVA Cat*

        That’s kind of like a general trying to kill off their own soldiers – “because the ones who survive have to get better, amiright?”

      2. TootsNYC*

        I remember an HR person saying that to the company as a whole: “You should always be firing your bottom 20% of people.”

        I’m thinking, “Who wants to work someplace like that? Even if you’re not in the 20%–to be afraid that by being outdone by other people, you could end up out of the company? That’s sure not a good way to make people support one another on the job!”

        1. Tau*

          I am not a manager and may be missing some arcane mysteries here, but to me it seems like any business model that actively encourages your employees to sabotage each other is a bad business model.

  21. Lmgtfy*

    I’m curious how many people end up getting fired? Also, what happens when someone is fired – that’s got to be disruptive for day to day to suddenly be down a person or 5…

  22. Rat Racer*

    I really, really want to know what industry this is, because my own sector is so highly regulated and buttoned up that I can’t even wrap my brain around this.

    Is this like a crazy tech start-up run by a 23-year-old who won a jackpot of VC dollars? I can’t imagine a bank, a consulting firm, any non-profit, or academic institution allowing this to happen. (Not that this list is in anyway exhaustive, I’m just thinking through industries that seem highly unlikely).

    1. Traveller*

      There is a prominent local business man that famously runs policies like this. Firing the bottom 10% every month based on performance (not the dunce caps)

      He owns a large number of long standing & successful car dealerships. This policy is definitely in place amongst the sales team, not sure about other staff teams. Easy to see how that could happen. Creates a highly competitive (toxic!!) environment, and I guess car sales staff are easy to replace.

      1. DeLurkee*

        We must be in the same part of the world… I was just thinking about him. I’d heard his way touted as being very successful, but always suspected it would be awful and toxic for the people actually working there.

    2. Jeanne*

      I think it could happen in almost any industry. We think of those employees having common sense but not all do.

  23. Allison*

    Yeesh, the first paragraph alone reads like the opener of a dystopian short story.

    For real though, that’s messed up. If you’re in the bottom two twice you’re automatically fired? No coaching, no PIP, no attempt to find out why your numbers are so low? Doesn’t seem like they value employees as people, they just care about numbers, and that’s not a healthy approach to business. Get out NOW!

  24. Stephanie*

    Oh, OP. I feel for you. I work in a factory-like setting and screamy, in-your-face management is legion there. I’m mostly at a desk, but when I was on the floor, I hated getting yelled at for mistakes in front of everyone (or over the walkie-talkie). It was pretty demoralizing. When I was managing hourlies, I always told myself “Ok, no yelling. Talk to them like they’re adults who might just need some coaching if they mess up.”

    I also wonder, too, if these screamers (or people who do ridiculous things like dunce caps) realize these tactics lose their efficacy pretty quickly. People just get resentful. I remember one screamy boss I had, I just started tuning him out (because when you are constantly at a 10 emotionally, it’s hard to gage what actually is and isn’t a problem).

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Having worked for screamers, I learned that screamers believe that angry people work harder. So the screamers have no plan of stopping any time soon.

      You should have seen the puzzled looks on their faces, when I said angry people make more mistakes and do less work. They were shocked, I tell you, absolutely shocked.

        1. LTRFTR*

          Yep. Yelling is a trigger for me. As in, as soon as someone yells, my brain shuts off. Being in a customer service-y job, I’ve learned to just ask people to stop yelling three times, and if they don’t stop I either hang up the phone or call the police if they’re in my office. Doneski.

          Of course, I had a couple bosses who LOVED to yell for a while there. One also threw a calculator at a coworker once. That was when I said “f this place” and made no secret that I was applying elsewhere.

  25. 2 Cents*

    I didn’t know panopticons were still seen as a valid form of control (since people tend to go insane from the constant observation). This company is like a George Orwell novel brought to life.

  26. Case of the Mondays*

    I worked for a law firm that every week emailed around a list of all of the firm’s attorneys, the number of hours they billed that week, what percent of their goal that equaled, what they had billed for the year, what percent of the goal that equaled and so forth. It was the name, blame and shame list. I complained about it after I left and learned it is very common in law firms. My current firm just gives me my info. Not the rest of the firm’s.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Wow. I have never heard of this being done at a law firm, I mean, who has the time? That’s ridiculous.

      1. De Minimis*

        We did it in the accounting firm where I used to work—you could see everyone’s utilization rate for the year as far as billable hours and they also showed how many collections the senior level people managed to produce from each engagement.

        Only good part was that you realized that everyone had some kind of horrible metric they had to worry about, at every level…it wasn’t just lower level people.

  27. K.*

    What’s the turnover like here? Is it the only game in town? Does it have zero competition? Do they offer crazy good salaries and/or benefits?

    1. LL*

      To me, it sounds like a tech startup in the middle of nowhere (every city has at least one), and OP is someone with very specific tech skills who can’t easily find work within the area.

  28. Bowserkitty*

    Oh man, I would have missed this so thank you for sharing.

    I wish I had good advice for the OP but damn, I definitely do not…

  29. Adam's Off Ox*

    I’m guessing this is some kind of high-pressure-sales-oriented job like in Glengarry Glen Ross.

  30. Yep, me again*

    That’s wrong! So wrong, and nothing will ever make that right again.

    What is the name of this company? Jackwagons R Us?

    My last company bonused us in monopoly-type money. I thought THAT was degrading. (It still was, the ‘bank bucks’ could be cashed in for crap on a website and amounted to 15 cents on the dollar, so if I was given $25 ‘bank bucks’ for doing a stellar job, that was really just $3.75 and YES, they made you have to spend it on their online (overpriced) merchandise portal so you could be taxed on it too.)
    But they never made us wear dunce caps, nor threatened to fire you. They just, well, fired you when they needed to reduce headcount.

  31. I'm Not Phyllis*

    My. God. I did read most of Friday’s thread but somehow missed this? I think Alison’s advice on your original thread post would be the way to go. Any management team that thinks treating employees this way (and I am in SHOCK that such a team exists!) … I don’t hold out much hope for. Get out as fast as you can and don’t look back.

  32. JM in England*

    I don’t know about the US but here in the UK there is a Dignity at Work law. If this happened here, there would be definite grounds for a lawsuit against the employer.

    That said though, I remember a documentary series that sent undercover reporters into various jobs. In one program, it was as a real estate agent. In that office, whoever had the lowest sales figures had to wear a silly hat for a week…………….

    1. Lily*

      Yes, I was also wondering if the dunce hat wearers could not sue the company? probably for something like “offence” (not sure if calling people stupid is in this, but I guess)?

  33. AnotherHRPro*

    Keep your head down and keep looking for a new job in a non-crazy environment. You have my sympathies.

  34. Prismatic Professional*

    Nothing to add, but Alison – every time the ad at the top of the page restarts it automatically scrolls back up and I loose my place. Billy Bush visits the Elvis Duran Show, Chrome, USA

  35. Forrest*

    I once worked a place that used to have public shaming practices, until one of the people they sacked walked up to the roof of the building and did a swan dive 14 floors to the train line below. I’m not suggesting a very public suicide is the answer, but that risk is why there are workplace bullying laws (even in the US).
    First, if any of those people are of a “protected status” (i.e. based on race, gender, religion, age, country of origin, sexual preference, etc.) then prosecution is very easy to progress on a federal level. This applies even if there is a performance system in place if discrimination can be implied by distribution of the status groups in the top or bottom 5. The employer using the ‘dunce parade’ as psychological punishment to deter poor performance makes it easy to prove intent to cause psychological pain. The employee would have to prove psychological harm had taken place, also. (e.g. incitement of self harm, substance abuse, chronic depression).
    Finally, several states have raised bills making the above laws that can be prosecuted by simply “turning them in”, none (to my knowledge) have passed them yet. So, it’d have to be a civil case. If there are enough people impacted, however, raise it as a class action to spread the load. A company of 300 people won’t last long and it’s unlikely they have a quality legal team on staff to deal with these things. It could potentially tank them in the end.
    Have fun storming the castle!

    1. Jeanne*

      The suicide is very sad. But I am not aware of laws against bullying unless you are treated badly because you are in certain classes of people.

  36. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I don’t think you, yourself, can end this because you are at the high end of the list.
    However, I think I have a plan that would end this forever.

    1) The dunce cap wearers must agree to this in advance and be willing.

    2) Get a portable device with some good dance music on it.

    3) Have them line up for the parade as usual, when the parade starts, start the music.

    4)(This must be their choice, not anyone else’s.) Have them line dance around the room. I was even thinking of something with can-can type kicks, the kicks would make it harder for the bosses to get close to the dancers.

    5)Optionally, tell them to keep dancing even after the bosses say stop. Tell them to make it look like a party- lots of dancing, everyone smiling and so on.

    I bet the bosses will never have a dunce parade again.

    Heck, maybe they could bring noise makers and confetti.

    just a thought….

    1. UK Nerd*

      This may be the only situation in which a workplace conga line is called for. Having a few other employees prepped to join in could add to the fun.

      1. Hobbits! The Musical*

        Dang! That was going to be my suggestion too – do the advance chinese whisper thing, then have a hidden “boombox” with Tijuana Brass style conga music ready to rock… or OO!! the Mexican Hat Dance! If the shoe fits…

  37. Aswin Kini MK*

    @OP: I really feel sorry for you and the folks at your company.

    I guess the management wants to really “make people notice” on who their good/bad performers are. Eitherways this is easily one of the “worst management ideas ever”.

    The next closest “worst management” idea that I ever came across was a “Hall of Shame”. This was done at one of my companies, an MNC with 5000+ folks, who thought releasing the names of their worst performers in their intranet was a good idea to make them “perform well” in the future. And FYI, that company still exists and is doing good.

  38. Miss M*

    I’m wondering if anyone has filmed this happening. It’s definitely negative publicity and if made public, it’s a PR nightmare, for sure.

  39. Shami*

    Letter writers often ask Alison, “Is this legal”, and most of the time Alison has to say that even though inappropriate it’s not illegal.

    I’m definitely not in favour of unions. However, I think that there should be federal protection for employees.

    As someone said, if a teacher did this to students, the teacher would probably be fired.

    1. misspiggy*

      In the UK, where as it’s been noted we have legal protection against this kind of thing, most of the research, lobbying and legal action needed to change the law has been done through unions.

  40. fred*

    I know you get a lot of “is this legal” questions, but seriously: is this legal? How can this be legal?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Because for something to be illegal in the U.S., you need a specific law preventing it. There’s no law against your employer being a jerk or anything else that would otherwise be in play here.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Doesn’t look like it’s passed anywhere yet though. I wasn’t able to find the actual text of their proposed bill on their site — do you happen to know where to find it?

  41. Vicki*

    EVen without the dunce caps, the whole stacked ranking thing is Very Bad.

    “The bottom five go on probation, and if they are still in the bottom five the next time the ranking goes out, they’re fired.”

    So, now they’re fired. The next time the ranking ges out, a new 5 have to be on the bottom. You either have to hire fast or you star bleeding people. And who would want t work here?

    1. Grey*

      Exactly. You can have an entire staff of great employees. But once you start ranking them, you always have a “bottom five”. If you keep firing them, that candidate pool gets a bit shallower each time and your overall team gets weaker.

  42. JL*

    OP, as soon as you have found yourself a new job, try to deliberately get yourself in the bottom five. Then once it’s time for the dunce hat, take it, walk out of the building, and set fire to it. That should work just as effectively as a resignation letter.

    1. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

      ooh, I like that idea! And if OP manages to get into the top five again, they could do the same thing with the $200.

      Or immediately turn around and hand the lowest performer the $200, in front of the horrible boss.

  43. Racheon*

    … And adult human beings actually go along with this?? Nobody else in your office finds it strange? I’d have been fired the first time they tried to parade me around anywhere, no matter what the reason.

  44. Milton Waddams*

    Think of it this way — imagine Your Worst Co-Worker. The one that gets paraded around in the comments section here daily. The one that made you look for a new job, perhaps. Or even Your Worst Manager. Now imagine them marching through your office in a dunce cap after their boss’s boss finally finds out what happened. It may not be right, but the appeal is certainly understandable.

  45. Cheryl Becker*

    I’ve never understood this kind of thing. SOMEBODY always has to be in the bottom five, unless everyone gets exactly the same points. Even if everybody’s doing a fabulous job, somebody will always be the lowest, even if only by 1 point. Right?

  46. charisma*

    This sounds like the very definition of workplace bullying. There are some states that have already enacted laws against this, but it’s a process, similar to the process it took for sexual harassment to be addressed by law.

    Here is a link to some helpful info:

  47. OCID*

    Just quit and get a job at Wal-Mart or something while you live off your savings until another proper job comes in. Your dignity is worth far more than any amount of money they could give you.

  48. juh u*

    The dunce cap only stays on in training you have the Vogue to succeed in life that is a great weekend

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