my coworkers resent that my boss no longer yells at me

A reader writes:

During the interview for my current job at a small family-owned company, I was informed that one of the people I would be working with, Bob, had a strong personality and was challenging to work with. What I wasn’t told is that Bob is the owner’s husband. One of the reasons he’s difficult to work with is because he yells a lot.

This has become a daily occurrence at my job. Bob enters the room where everyone is working and singles out an employee he thinks looks idle (his words) and asks them to do something unrelated to the company. This includes tasks like finding a new golf partner because the old one canceled a game, making reservations for tomorrow at a nearly impossible-to-book restaurant, or calling his doctor claiming he needs an appointment urgently.

The big issue arises if the unfortunate chosen employee asks any follow-up questions (like the reservation time or which golf partner to call first). Bob will respond by shouting that he’s the owner of the company (even though he’s not familiar with the day-to-day operations), and he’ll continue yelling for a few minutes. It’s terrible. One of the employees left in tears and never returned to work. They’ve tried hiring someone specifically to deal with Bob, but no one has lasted more than a month.

For weeks, I watched Bob’s outbursts from the sidelines. But this week, in a moment when I was handling something urgent that would cost the company money if not completed by the end of the day, Bob chose me as his target. He asked me to drop everything I was doing and find a quote for some gadget he saw in an ad. I said no. And predictably, he started yelling.

Believe me when I say I’m not a confrontational person. I never raise my voice, especially not in the workplace. I can’t explain how it happened, but I stood up (I’m a tall woman, nearly as tall as Bob) and shouted back. I explained, in a raised voice, that I was in the middle of task X and if I didn’t finish it by the end of the day, we’d lose money. But if he wanted the company to lose money while I did his research, that was fine.

Then, the unexpected happened. Bob returned to a normal and professional tone of voice and said it was okay; I could continue with task X, and when I finished, I could do the research for him. Since then, Bob hasn’t yelled at me. Even if he’s shouting at another employee, he pauses mid-sentence, addresses me in a normal voice before yelling at someone else.

However, my coworkers are now resentful because I no longer receive Bob’s outbursts. They spend their days making jokes about how I’m Bob’s favorite (I suggested they stand up to him too), that I should offer to do everything he asks (no thanks), and last Friday, when I mentioned needing a drink after a stressful week, a colleague pointed out that their week was even more stressful due to Bob’s shouting and that I shouldn’t join them so they could vent about Bob without me.

I’m actively looking for a new job to get away from Bob and my coworkers. But until that happens, do you have any advice on how to ease my coworkers’ resentment because I’m no longer the target of Bob’s outbursts? The job was already stressful before, but now that my coworkers won’t stop making comments about my “luck” in being Bob’s favorite, it’s become unbearable. Any ideas to improve this situation would be greatly appreciated.

P.S. The company has only 10 employees, and the closest thing we have to a Human Resources department is the company owner, who is also Bob’s wife.

Before we can get into your question, I first have to say: what a mess. It’s not okay for anyone to be yelling in an office, let alone repeatedly (daily!) and let alone because a colleague declined to do personal, non-work tasks for them. Does the company owner know her husband behaves like this? Is she around to see it? The whole thing is abusive and unacceptable, and ultimately as the owner she’s as responsible for it as her insufferable husband is.

But to your question. I’m not surprised that Bob backed down when you stood up to him and that he now treats you with more respect. That’s a common pattern for office bullies — not 100% of the time, but often. Abusive jerks like Bob pick on people who they think have less power and no choice but to take it (see also: people who are rude to waiters) and so when someone stands up to them, that shakes up that power equation in their mind, making them more likely to shift their bullying to targets who don’t give them a hard time. (Again, not always. And we certainly shouldn’t blame people who don’t feel safe standing up to bullies. But sometimes it does work.)

It’s sad that your coworkers saw you stand up to Bob and now resent you for no longer being his target! It’s a sign of how sick your office’s culture is that you’re getting the blame for escaping, rather than Bob getting the blame for being an asshole.

You can’t heal that sick system; you don’t have the power to do that. You can offer to help your coworkers strategize on how to deal with Bob themselves. (If you do, keep in mind that it might not be as simple as “yell back” for all of them; it’s possible you have characteristics that made Bob back off and which they lack, or that they’ll just never feel safe doing that, and that’s their call to make.)

It might even make sense to point out to the most sensible among them, “We’ve all been wanting someone to stand up to Bob for years and it really sucks that when I finally did it, I’m getting flack for it. Can we step back and agree the problem here is Bob, no matter who he does or doesn’t target?”

Also — has anyone tried talking to the owner? Yes, she’s Bob’s wife, but that doesn’t mean she’ll definitely be okay with him terrorizing her staff.

{ 205 comments… read them below }

  1. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I may be wrong but I’m reading “They’ve tried hiring someone specifically to deal with Bob, but no one has lasted more than a month” as “the wife knows this is a problem”. In a company this size they couldn’t get him an assistant or anything without her knowing.

    1. That's True*

      And an employee walked off the job in tears! Bob is a bully and his wife has decided she values enabling him more than her business.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        And/or she is also intimidated and bullied by him; I wouldn’t be surprised if he “works” there specifically to to keep her under his thumb.

        Not saying this is definitely the case, at all, but it’s certainly a possibility. The fact that when the LW was hired she wasn’t told up front “Bully Bob is married to the owner” says that this broken stair has had an entire house of bees built around it.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I hadn’t considered this, but you may very well be right. In that kind of situation, I’d expect him to insist to be the co-owner officially, rather than being below her in the org chart. Still worth considering, though.

          1. OP tired of yells...*

            I’m not sure where Bob would stand in the hierarchy. He doesn’t have any direct reports and has his own office. When I started, the owner said that Bob does client acquisition, but considering that every time he needs to make a call or send an email, he instructs someone else to do it for him, I’m not sure what he does for the rest of the day.

            But he acts like he’s the owner of the business. And his wife doesn’t intervene unless it’s very, very detrimental to the business.

            1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              Argh. Bob’s awful. The owner’s awful. Your traumatized coworkers suck, too, because they’re bullying you. They’re in an awful situation, but they have choices.

              It’s probably worth trying to remind the coworkers that Bob is the problem, not the fact that he is not yelling at you. Or asking them “why are you being weird to me when Bob’s the one who’s yelling at you?”

            2. feathersflight*

              It could be they want to keep it legally as a woman-owned small business. That can open some doors, especially if there’s any chance of government funding/contracts.

      2. OMG, Bees!*

        Honestly, it would be cathartic if everyone walked away and quit effective immediately, citing Bob as the reason why. May be the only was to get the message to the owner how bad the situation is. But I know reality doesn’t work out that way.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Or agreeing as a group that anytime Bob yells, they all stop working on whatever they’re doing until he stops / until 15 minutes after he stops. Obviously, this plan is not without risk, though. And it has to be everybody.

    2. Antilles*

      In a company this size, there’s also no way that she’s unaware of Bob “shouting and yelling for minutes” on a daily basis. She must have overheard this at some point (probably many times).

      1. Chase*

        For any employees willing to stick it out, this seems like a “turn on recording app anytime Bob walks into the room” scenario (pending local laws)

    3. And the Skeletons Are ... Part of It*

      I’d also be surprised if someone was married to this kind of lout/buffoon and had no idea. No one’s THAT good an actor for long enough to hide their character from someone they married!

      1. Mister_L*

        Unfortunately there are plenty of examples of people being able to keep the mask up until they had their partner legally tied to them.

        1. Risky Biscuits*

          Yes, but they usually drop the mask once that happens; if they’ve been married for a while, it would be hard to keep up; I think that’s what Skeletons was saying.

    4. KtheP*

      I read this more as “they tried hiring a sweet, smily girl child in high school as his part time assistant and it’s her first job”.

      I also cry when I am frustrated. It has no standing in either my professional or personal life, just tears until I can decide whether I am frustrated, sad, or angry. Always fear when I cry. Because it probably means I’m going to decide to Take Your Job.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      I would read this as not only does the wife know this is a problem but she’s using the employees as whipping boys/children to keep Bob from yelling at her.

      I hope the OP finds a new job, like, yesterday.

    6. OP HERE!!!!!*

      Bob shouts at his wife too, though never to the extent he does with some of the older employees.

      When Bob’s wife witnesses him yelling at an employee, she waits until Bob leaves and tells him that since Bob served in the army, he’s used to giving orders through shouting, and it’s not personal. She says that asserting oneself is how you succeed in life.

      Strangely, Bob never raises his voice in places where an important client might hear. It’s always with people he thinks can’t fight back.

      1. Czhorat*

        The last sentence summed it up.

        In the military you don’t get far if you yell at your superiors. In life you won’t get far if you yell at an important client, at law enforcement officers, or anyone else with some kind of power over you.

        Bob isn’t out of control. He’s just a bully.

        1. Antilles*

          Exactly. It’s simply a justification so she doesn’t have to admit the reality that he’s a rude jerk.

      2. not nice, don't care*

        Bob isn’t in the army any more. Shouting at someone is absolutely personal. I wonder if Bob’s attacks on employees ever make anyone fearful enough to involve the police. Bob could use a little practice following orders, esp if it leads to expensive and embarrassing interactions with law enforcement.

      3. GreenDoor*

        This is the lamest excuse ever. My grandfather was a Marine drill seargent for 20 years and he could still speak kindly and gently when dealing with even the most difficult people. This is gross that she’d portray military folks as a bunch of mean ogres.

        1. Rob*

          The name choice here is particularly apt. Bob Ross was rather famously a drill sergeant who specifically made a point to present as softly as he did in his PBS show because he didn’t enjoy treating people like that.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            And during his time in the Army, he had a pet squirrel named Pea Pod!

            Just further proof that being a bully is the opposite of being effective.

        2. Angstrom*

          Exactly. The “movie” drill instructor behavior is theatrics, use for a specific purpose, and can be turned on or off as needed. Anyone who can’t control their behavior doesn’t last long in the military.

      4. Observer*

        When Bob’s wife witnesses him yelling at an employee, she waits until Bob leaves and tells him that since Bob served in the army, he’s used to giving orders through shouting, and it’s not personal. She says that asserting oneself is how you succeed in life.

        So she’s a bully who only respects bullies. Nice person to work for.

        Strangely, Bob never raises his voice in places where an important client might hear. It’s always with people he thinks can’t fight back.

        Of course.

      5. Tiger Snake*

        A very long time ago, I read a book about abusers. In it, it contained a story about a woman who talked about how her husband would lose his temper and throw/break things. But it wasn’t his fault, he had his own trauma that meant he couldn’t control his temper.

        The woman’s therapist asked her is her husband had ever broken any of his things while he was angry.
        And she thought at told the therapist; no. He only ever broke her things.

        The therapist pointed out that this mean he was not out of control. There was helping himself. He had the ability to get angry without breaking things. He chose to break her things. This woman’s husband was in control and he chose that course of action, even when he knew the consequences. He chose to not break his things because he valued his things. He chose to break her things because he he did not care of value her at all.

        And Bob is choosing to yell at people.

        1. Peggy*

          Yes, I know someone who acts like this, the yelling, bullying, name calling, put downs etc. They only do it to their partner. Not to friends, family,strangers etc. Same idea,they can control this, but choose to abuse.

        2. Ellie*

          Choosing to yell at people who have no power and who he believes will not yell back. That’s particularly awful. And apparently he includes his own wife in that category.

      6. Ex-prof*

        /bangs head on keyboard/

        Maybe she means that you should all start shouting at people so that you can succeed in life?

      7. Zarniwoop*

        Does she never address that he’s shouting about getting employees to do non-work things for him?

        1. OP tired of yells...*

          When I started, the wife said we should do ‘little favors’ for Bob because he’s super busy. She just forgot to mention that any response other than ‘I’ll drop everything right now to do it’ would set off a series of yells…

          1. Trace*

            I was hoping this hadnt been made so explicit. I’d actually ask the owner to clarify to all if “little favors” for Bob (ie anything he tells someone to do) take priority on the actual work for clients.

            My workplace doesn’t have a Bob (thank god!), but we do have a manager who tries to assign work to people who don’t report to her. As a group, we say, “I can do that–when my actual manager tells me to. Go talk to him!” That way the actual boss would have to deal with the unreasonable behavior.

      8. Peanut Hamper*

        Also ex-military and this is not how we do things. We literally depend on each other for our lives and this is not how you forge those kinds of relationships.

        Bob is an ass and his wife is woefullly misinformed. Or bullied herself. Or just doesn’t care. Or is also a bully.

        Ugh. Life is not the movies.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          I remember in the series Band of Brothers, where they have this terrible training CO who is an insecure bully, and also so woefully bad at basic tactical skills it’s clear he’s going to get every single one of them killed three minutes after they land in Europe. The platoon bonds over how awful he is, but they certainly don’t respect him, and in fact risk going to prison to go over his head to the camp brass and say that we absolutely cannot follow this man into combat.

      9. sulky-anne*

        Yikes, what an awful situation for you. It sounds like a classic crabs in a bucket scenario. They’re all so habituated to Toxic Bob that instead of recognizing how messed up he is, they turn their aggression on a safer target. It’s probably not much consolation, but at least you can be glad that you’re able to see the terrible work environment for what it is. If you keep reiterating to your coworkers that no one deserves what Bob is doing to them, maybe some of them will come around.

      10. Office Gumby*

        Yeah, but the thing is Bob is no longer in the army. He’s participating in civilian life. Civvie life, civvie rules. You can’t go around yelling at civilian employees in a civilian job under a civilian contract as if you’re a Staff Sergeant.

        He can not, should not be yelling at anyone as a “motivational” method in a civilian environment. No reasoning, no excuse justifies this.

        I’ve been in similar situations and I’ve gone to the appropriate boss and said, this behaviour is inappropriate in a civvie environment and must stop. (Whether or not it worked, I don’t know. However, a month later, said “staff sergeant” left “for a better-paying job”.)

        1. Pet Jack*

          Actual military people are not encouraged to scream at other people either. You need to band together and trust each other when your lives are at stake. This post-military person was just a jerk and used it as an excuse.

      11. goddessoftransitory*

        I would guess that actual military personnel don’t go around screaming in peoples’ faces on the regular, either. Bob’s wife may be nominally running a business, but apparently her real career is Making Excuses for the Inexcusable.

      12. I&I*

        Bob sounds like that loathsome specimen, the ideological bully.

        In his mind, subordinates are lazy animals that won’t go unless you beat them. He singles out an example to make every day because in his mind, nothing would get done if he didn’t keep everyone intimidated. And he probably has ‘evidence’: things always do get done, and he always yells, so the yelling must be why, right??

        So now he respects OP because they showed they were prepared to fight to work; in his rationale, this ‘proves’ they don’t need to be shouted at. In his chimp mind, OP promoted themselves to the rank of the shouters rather than the shoutees. Leaders yell, followers need yelling at.

        Sounds like his wife shares this ideology. They are bad at running a business.

        1. OP tired of yells...*

          You described Bob so well that for a moment, you knew him.

          He’s always saying how everyone could work harder. If your start time is at nine, a good employee would arrive at eight-thirty so that by nine, they’re already ‘in the work spirit.’

          And his wife tries to justify him every time. ‘He’s been in the military,’ ‘He’s stressed,’ ‘He just wanted to emphasize the importance of that call’…

      13. SJ*

        OP I would highly recommend the book Why Does He Do That – Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men to you and your coworkers as a touchpoint on why this is happening and what options you all may have to protect your internal peace even as parts of the external situation are out of your control. Good luck to you all.

      14. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Unless Bob was actually a DI at boot camp, or had to shout over jet engines or artillery fire, the military did NOT teach him to yell at subordinates. That’s Hollywood nonsense.

      15. LadyVet*

        Also, the Army isn’t all yelling. We maybe yelled in formation, but for the most part conversations happen at normal levels.

    7. Observer*

      In a company this size they couldn’t get him an assistant or anything without her knowing.

      Exactly. Wife knows. She’s not going to do anything about it.

      OP, get out. I know you know this, but I just want to validate it.

    8. Ex-prof*

      Same. Also, my dream of winning the lottery so that I can hire someone to deal with my Impossible Relative is receiving a real shake-up.

  2. NameRequired*

    Good on you for standing up to Bob. It’s a shame that instead of seeing an example of a solution your coworkers saw a scapegoat.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Crab bucket. Sadly I’d give pretty good odds for this outcome in a dysfunctional environment where everyone has previously dealt with the problem by keeping their heads down and mouths shut.

      1. pope suburban*

        Yep. I worked with a Bob at a similarly-sized company and it was the same kind of thing. The guy enjoyed getting an emotional reaction; he didn’t want action or a resolution, he wanted to see someone cry. Unfortunately for him, I’m the kind of person who’d rather have a filling done without anesthetic than give him anything he wants, so I dealt with his screaming by not reacting- specifically, by watching Supernanny and imagining he was the four year-old he was acting like. He stopped tormenting me after a couple weeks, but kept doing it to everyone else. I told them what I was doing but they didn’t implement that and I had to learn to let it go. The place was incredibly dysfunctional even beyond that, and the inside staff had all been hired right out of school, with only retail/restaurant work experience. I was the only person there who’d ever had an office job before, so I was the only one with anything resembling professional norms in place. It still warped me pretty badly, but not to the point where shouting was something I’d ever do or tolerate, so…thank god for small mercies.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          The place was incredibly dysfunctional even beyond that.
          So often when Bob is tap dancing on your desk waving his giant “I’m The Problem” finger, it turns out that he was not in fact the only problem. Just the only one who had added flashing lights and a soundtrack.

          1. pope suburban*

            You’re right. You’re so, so right. And Bob wasn’t even the worst of it there, necessarily. He was the longest-tenured and best-protected by our cowardly (and deeply sexist) CEO, but he was far from the only serious problem. We had a technician who cheated on his licensure exam, stole at least $4,000 (This is what I proved with receipts; the real total was much higher), threatened other employees, sexually harassed me, and nearly burned down a multimillion-dollar house. We had employees who’d go to strip clubs on the clock- the reason I was forbidden to turn tracking on the company phones, no less! We didn’t have a background-check program despite being a company that sent unsupervised technicians into homes, until after I went toe-to-toe with the CEO when we had to dismiss a habitual and still-active sex offender. The CEO was often rude to inside staff, who were all female, and regarded us all as useless overhead, despite the business needing design, accounting, and contracts staff to exist. That place was a nightmare and a half, and in the balance, Bob wasn’t so bad because at least I was able to neutralize him with minimal effort.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      Exactly. Bob is responsible for Bob’s behavior, not you, OP.

      I don’t know how the company can function with the systemic issues you describe here. “How dare you ask a clarifying question about the non-work task I demanded you drop all work for” is bizarre.

      1. Phony Genius*

        With most bully bosses, they’re like, “If I say ‘Jump,’ you say ‘How high?'” But this guy is more like, “If I say ‘Jump,” don’t say ‘How high?’ Just jump to the exact height that I want, and you’d better know what it is!”

        Put another way, some bullies bully people because they want to get their way, and it works. A next level bully, like Bob, will deliberately make sure you can’t succeed just so he can bully you more. This type of bully likes the bullying itself more than the “end product.”

        1. Your local password resetter*

          He’s one of those mindreader people who expects you to somehow figure out what he wants, so he doesn’t have to put any effort in.

          1. Zweisatz*

            What he wants is to emotionally unload on a person with less relative power. The “cause” for his outbreaks is a red herring. He yells because he wants to and finds it satisfying and his audience can’t leave.

            As for the OP, this means there truly is no win condition. Not for his wife, nor OP’s colleagues nor OP. Everybody is swimming in the same toxic sludge and the only way to win is to leave.

            So I guess my advice is to do whatever helps to keep you emotionally and physically healthy until you can leave.

            1. RVA Cat*

              Bob wants to be a medieval lord torturing his peasants, except he’d be expected to *work* when his queen sent him to war.

        2. OP tired of yells...*

          Bob thinks so highly of himself that he defines a good employee as someone who has memorized all his preferences and goes to great lengths to please him.

          It’s as if he says ‘jump,’ the employee should know that on Thursday mornings, Bob likes them to jump from height x, but if it’s Thursday afternoons, Bob prefers height y.

    3. Rainy*

      I’ve had this happen. I had a manager who was, by nature, a micromanager and I found out after about two years of breaking her in that the same shit she’d tried on me, she had been successfully bullying other members of my team with. The teammates who were being bullied felt helpless, didn’t want to talk about it with anyone, and in one case, thought that she was going to be fired at any moment until she was invited to a meeting with her skip-level (when she thought she WAS going to be fired, or put on a PIP) who just wanted to catch up and find out what was going on with her work and was astonished to hear that any of this was happening.

      I, one of nature’s push-back-ers, had experienced what were in retrospect a few tentative feelers about how receptive I’d be to being bullied, and was either completely unaware that that was what was happening until later (I am Bad At Subtext), or pushed back. My teammate talked about it with me finally, and when she realized that none of that had happened to me, decided that it was favouritism and spent the next couple of years being angry at me for not letting myself be bullied like she was. Awkward, but also definitely a her problem.

      The most confusing part of all of this to me is that if she’d said something while it was happening, I’d’ve been happy to help, whether that was referring her to resources in our organization that I’d used myself, giving her pep talks, talking to our manager, hyping her up even more in team meetings, but she decided that I sucked for having a backbone and took at least some of her frustration and anger out on me.

        1. Rainy*

          Yeah, the favouritism stuff was particularly annoying because it always happened in public, and it would come about for things as random as “Rainy got her preference of shifts for Major Event, it must be favouritism” when it was really “Rainy actually checks her email regularly.” Or “Rainy was able to adjust her summer schedule before I was, it must be favouritism” when it was actually “Rainy is constantly in danger of losing large amounts of PTO at the end of the fiscal year (which is summer) and so she has to plan her summer schedule early and carefully”.

  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP has shown her coworkers The Way, but none of them will follow it. All OP can do is shrug and go about her business.

    1. Bird Lady*

      To be fair, not everyone may have the same capacity to stand up and yell back at their boss. At a former job, we all had to deal with a raging sexist. Many of my colleagues learned that to get him to do his job in cross department collaborations, you had to flirt with him and ask him “to do the special thing, that he does so well, which is…” Essentially, they had showed me The Way.

      And I just couldn’t do it. I’m a middle-aged professional woman and my husband’s family has deep ties in the community. I felt that not only did it undermine my professionalism and my reputation for treating everyone fairly, but that as a married woman it was inappropriate to even have the perception of flirting with a single man – especially because a friend of the family could walk through the doors at any moment.

      1. Smithy*

        In addition to this – while the “yelling back” may be a good part of it – I think it’s also very possible it included the combination of the OP’s height/stature as well as the specific task being completed at the time.

        It’s clear that Bob’s wife let’s this behavior continue if her staff is just being generically verbally abused, but I’d bet that Bob is well aware of where the actual red lines are – and those red lines likely include things that would lose the business money. For the other staff who are smaller and don’t have the same scope of work, yelling back may 100% not feel like an option.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          And possibly the LW’s role as well. I don’t know if this played any part, obviously, but it is possible the LW is either very good at their job or has a role that would be hard to replace or is otherwise valuable to the company and that somebody considered more expendable might not find it as easy to stand up to Bob without repercussions.

          The fact that Bob can stop yelling and speak politely to her makes it seem like this is a deliberate ploy to get his own way, so I can well imagine him adapting based on what he thinks will benefit him.

        2. RedinSC*

          ^^ This, really, having the solid reason to push back, we’ll LOSE MONEY, not just, you suck, Bob, but a business reason had a lot to do with things.

        3. connie*

          As a 5’3″ woman, I can assure that the shock of getting pushback from someone young and small looking is as effective as the shame of getting pushback from someone larger.

          1. Smithy*

            I had a boss who was 5 feet tall when she stood on tip toe, and she could yell in a way to make buildings tremble. In no way am I denying the power that can come from the small (or young.)

            But the reality of the situation with the OP, with Bob, with the coworkers – that’s more what I’m referring to. It may have just been the surprise, that no one had ever stood up to him before, and simply being caught off guard was impressive.

            However, the next person who does it, it’s not the same and escalates or goes sideways. Especially someone who already doesn’t feel comfortable or empowered to do so – their way of pushing back might devolve into using physical violence or slurs/profanity that wildly escalate the situation. Or they start intensely crying in a way that deeply embarrasses them and doesn’t impact Bob at all.

            Bob is being unprofessional and leaving those in this office with less than ideal opportunities to respond. And their coping mechanisms are devolving into survival strategies that aren’t great. So I’m not so surprised they’re not choosing to speak back.

          2. OP tired of yells...*

            I didn’t mean to say that short people can’t be impressive when shouting. It was more in the sense that Bob’s preferred way of shouting is to stand in the way of the exit while shouting at a seated employee. Maybe the change in perspective helped, or perhaps it was the yelling, or maybe it’s hearing someone say ‘no’ for the first time. I really don’t know which decisive factor stopped the shouting.

            1. TeaCoziesRUs*

              I’ve seen pissy bullies quail when they’re yelling at me… and I slowly get up. To every inch of my nearly 6 foot frame… not trying to hide any of my nearly 300 pounds. I also have RBF. I have yet to say a word, and they’re backing down like the yappy chihuahuas they’re trying to emulate.

              There are very few perks, especially in a retail economy where one can be fat OR tall but never both, to my stature. I’ll take them where I can.

              My short friends have full permission to borrow my personality when they need to stand up for themselves, too. :)

      2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        Sure, they might not be able to stand up to him. But they are choosing to be assholes to her because she did. That’s a separate problem they do have control over.

        I see this as taking in that bullying and then turning around and dumping it on LW – they themselves are now bullying her, so they can all feel better about their own shame in not standing up to him too. And also because she has to be punished – she’s getting away clean, can’t let that happen.

        1. OP HERE!!!!!*

          I think you hit the nail on the head.

          I don’t have any crucial role in the company, and he’s interrupted tasks that would surely cost the company more money. But that was never mentioned to him before, at least in the months I’ve been working here.

          I don’t want my coworkers to get into a shouting match; I just want them to leave me alone instead of making me feel guilty for standing up for myself.

          1. learnedthehardway*

            I think you’re going to have to stand up to your coworkers, as well. I like Alison’s script for this – point out that the problem is Bob and that they’re being very self-defeating by bullying you over standing up to him.

          2. Smithy*

            OP, you 100% are being treated poorly and unfairly by your coworkers.

            Unfortunately, the owner has found that she can allow her husband to treat her staff poorly, and then however her staff choose to behave afterwards isn’t negatively affecting her enough to make her change. However, she has essentially let this human chaos cyclone to run through and is taking no responsibility for the outcome.

            All of this to say, under bad work conditions, it’s really normal for people to adopt terrible coping mechanisms. It’s not your fault and you don’t have to like your coworkers for how they’re treating you. My suggestion to this one still is to try the honey over vinegar approach. It’s to tell them that they don’t deserve to be yelled at. They may still need time to vent about Bob away from you, but acknowledging how much that kind of treatment hurts might be more disarming.

            Every really bad place I’ve worked at, somehow there ends up being the most conflict among staff members at the same level – when the reality is that usually senior staff are primarily at fault. And it can be very painful to be suffering and feel like someone isn’t helping you out. Not that you need to ask Bob to start yelling at you again to make it fair, but just saying telling your coworkers that you recognize how they are being treated as wrong might help smooth some of the edges.

      3. Lana Kane*

        They may not the capacity, that is true, but it doesn’t mean they have to actively resent OP for having it. They should be resenting Bob for putting them in that situation.

      4. OP tired of yells...*

        I know it’s not fair. I don’t even know how I found the courage to yell at him since I’m extremely introverted. I’m just getting bitter that in addition to hearing Bob’s yells every day (even though they’re not directed at me), I also have to deal with my colleagues’ jokes. I just wish for a way to be left alone

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Start wearing earbuds or noise-cancelling headphones? Regular earbuds can reduce the volume of the sound and also might be a cue to the colleagues not to talk to you.

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          It sounds like you’re a Rosa Parks: the quiet kind who you don’t usually even notice, but then when you get annoyed, you dish it out. It’s mostly unexpected, so people take notice and your outburst proves very effective.

          In your shoes, as an introvert who won’t allow bosses to walk all over me, I would point out as Alison suggested, that they should be angry with Bob not me. I would also say “all you have to do is shout back at him just like I did”. Which of course may not work for those who’ve been meekly doing his bidding all this while, but that’s not your fault is it.

    2. The Rafters*

      I had to work in the same office as the bully. He tried crap on me but I shot back at him. It took only twice before he backed down for good. What helped though is that I was funded differently than others in the office, had a different HR reporting structure, etc., so he actually had very little control over what happened to me or my career, as opposed to most of my coworkers. What worked for this OP may not work for the rest of her colleagues.

    3. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, I’m glad it worked for OP, but it seems unfair to tell everyone else they have to get into a near-physical altercation with this aggressive guy; a lot of people aren’t capable of that, and it shouldn’t be expected/required. I have plenty of friends who wouldn’t be able to keep from crying/having a panic attack if they were told they “just” had to do this (they also wouldn’t take well to being yelled at, but they would probably just freeze/fawn until it stopped). It’s not a requirement of an office job and it’s inappropriate to act like it should be.

      1. Jelly*

        But they are being aggressive to LW *because* she stood up to Bob. If they can do that, they can stand up to Bob themselves, but instead they choose to “stand up to” the LW.

        Where should the sympathy for the other employees be, exactly?

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          The sympathy for the other coworkers should be under the comment that says “OP has shown her coworkers The Way, but none of them will follow it.” The coworkers are indisputably bullying OP, but that doesn’t make Bob’s abuse of them their fault, and not shouting back at Bob definitely and especially doesn’t make it their fault.

          1. Jelly*

            Hm..I don’t anyone is arguing fault. But if they have the energy to bully OP, they also have the energy to advocate for themselves to Bob. But they don’t. Willfully.

            If anything, though, if we’re going to discuss fault, it’s not the OP’s fault that co-workers choose to bully her. So, it’s difficult to find sympathy for them. They’re Bob except they don’t yell.

      2. Despachito*

        As it was said, they may not have control over this but they absolutely do have control over what they are doing to OP.

        This company is warped beyond repair. OP, get out ASAP, and meanwhile observe the people there like you would in a zoo.

      3. Rainy*

        Everyone has to find their own way forward with Bob, but they don’t have to *blame LW for putting the fear into Bob*.

        If it’s unfair to tell someone to stand up to their bully, it’s significantly MORE unfair to tell the person who did stand up to the bully that now they have to suffer for it.

      4. Zweisatz*

        I find it funny that, just like OP’s office, this comment section is litigating how specifically OP’s coworkers should react to Bob to “fix” this when this is besides the point.
        The central issue is there’s an abusive person in the office, nobody should have to put up with him, but short of the staff staging a collective walkout or the boss putting her foot down this situation won’t improve. The staff needs to leave.

    4. Hrodvitnir*

      Even if they were capable of it, and I’d say most people aren’t, it’s probably too late. Once the expectation is set that they’ll take his yelling, at the very least he would ramp up in an extinction burst. There’s no planet on which everyone (most of whom will not be nearly his height) standing up to him would make him stop. That’s not how people with free reign to bully work: he can respect a small number of people, not everyone. :/

  4. Antilles*

    Bob is nothing but an overgrown middle schooler. This is straight schoolyard stuff where stopping it isn’t about actually winning the fight overall, just so long as you’re willing to stand up and deliver one good hit that he remembers.
    Unfortunately, the fact this has gone on long enough for them to be warning people during interviews tells me that while you might be able to protect yourself by (metaphorically) punching back, the owner/HR/spouse is absolutely not going to actually change anything.

  5. Phony Genius*

    Sounds like the old “Teacher’s Pet” scenario. Where the students blame the “teacher’s pet” and not the teacher for playing favorites.

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Or, you know, ignorant people call someone a “teacher’s pet” for being intelligent, diligent, and responsible. Maybe it’s not playing favorites but just asking the person to do something who you know you can rely on to get sh!t done.

      I swear, this is so old and tired. As someone who was NOT a teacher’s pet but was a teacher, I’m here to tell you it’s this, not having “favorites.” And it’s the same way as a leader in my work life, too. I don’t have pets, I have reliable employees.

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        100% this. Want to be the boss’s (or teacher’s) favorite? Do your job well and don’t be a jerk.

        1. Observer*

          100% this. Want to be the boss’s (or teacher’s) favorite? Do your job well and don’t be a jerk

          No. I mean, sure with GOOD teachers and REASONABLE bosses, that’s true. But with Bob? No.

          Let’s be clear here. Bob is not not abusing the LW because she’s good at her job, but because he thinks she’s just as big of a bully as he is. And he’s abusing the rest of the staff because *he can* not because they are bad at their jobs.

          Don’t get me wrong – The LW did nothing wrong and the rest of the staff are acting like trash. But none of the has anything to do with Bob and Boss’ behavior. Bob is being abusive and Boss is enabling it because they are a pair of jerks. And if he ever decides to yell more at someone or “favor” someone else, it won’t be about who is doing their well or not.

          1. Caliente Papillon*

            Eh, I don’t think he thinks LW is as big of a bully but rather that she stands up for herself. That’s what bullies don’t like.

            1. Observer*

              Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

              The point here is not about what the OP is doing, but that Bob’s behavior has nothing to do with how good or bad the performance of staff is. It is *completely* about how much of a jerk he is and what he can get away with.

              Claiming – as the comment I was responding to did – that the way to be the boss’ favorite is to be good at your job simply does not fly in this scenario.

              1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

                Nah, my point was to not use a crappy outdated term like “teacher’s pet.” The comment everyone is repelyingto literally has zero to do with the letter.

  6. Goldenrod*

    Yeah, well done, OP! Bob is a jackass and so are your co-workers. All you can do is laugh inwardly at them until you get the heck out of there.

    I recommend the book “The Asshole Survival Guide” which provides a ton of practical strategies for surviving just these kinds of situations, while you are looking for other jobs.

    I also have experienced versions of this, and it’s so telling – the few times I pushed back on my former terrible boss, and gave it right back to her, she looked terrified and backed down immediately. I didn’t do it often because I feared long-term retaliation. But it’s amazing how cowardly most bullies truly are.

    I think you are handling your situation perfectly. It’s not your fault that your co-workers blame you – they’ve been stuck in a weird situation for too long, and have clearly lost all sense of perspective. Good luck with that job search!!

  7. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    I like the idea of pointing out that Bob is the problem not her.
    But its easier to be angry at OP for not getting yelled at than being angry at Bob. OP can’t fire them. They know Bob can, even if he doesn’t have that specific power, that he can badmouth them to the person who can fire them.

    But this comes down to the place sucks and isn’t going to change. I know you are job searching. All I can suggest is that until you do get a job, spend more time on your hobbies. Then you won’t care as much about your coworkers because you will be concentrating on what you enjoy.

  8. Ellis Bell*

    “I was informed that one of the people I would be working with, Bob, had a strong personality and was challenging to work with” …….. This is where I go: “Thanks for your time but I don’t think it makes sense to continue talking!” Seriously though OP, I’ve done what you did with a shouty boss, AND it worked, but I wouldn’t necessarily be telling others to copy your example (only because you already gave them the most powerful example possible in live action). If they felt capable of it, they’d do it. Some people can come from an abusively shouty background (whereas my family was like passionate and jokey shouting where it was all love, and so I’ve never been intimidated by shouting but my experience isn’t everyone’s). People might also need the job a lot more than you do, people may have put up with the culture too long to do a u-turn now. They absolutely shouldn’t be making it your issue or blaming you, but instead of telling them to stand up to a company owner I would just say something like they shouldn’t have to put up with it, and that you sympathise. While job hunting!

    1. Smithy*

      This is really good advice. I worked for an extreme shouter for 3.5 years, and I actually got a lot happier at work when I stopped trying to match her intensity entirely. Would just let her yell herself out.

      Whenever I tried to “stand up for myself”, I ended up getting more emotional in the sense of wanting to cry rather than retort back. So it was just easier to let her yell for however long it was going to take, say whatever needed to be said pragmatically, and then go back to work. The OP’s coworkers being irritated at her isn’t great, but this is clearly a dysfunctional workplace and people regularly develop bad coping mechanisms in those places. But I do think that the best way for the OP to survive it, is more to repeat that no one deserves to be treated like that at work. That’s universally true. Whereas, someone else might try to yell back at Bob – and quite frankly because they’re just not the OP and do it differently, it could backfire in 101 different ways.

    2. Sloanicota*

      Ha, I remember an interview where all the questions kept circling back to “working with challenging personalities.” I … did not take that job.

  9. OhNoYouDidn't*

    I really, really, really hope we get a followup to this one. Everybody there sounds whacked. Bob’s an a$$ but your coworkers seem like jerks, too. My guess is they’re jealous of you because you’re the only one with the cajones to stand up to him.

        1. Reality Check*

          It I had to bet on it, I’d say total wimp. Guys like this, IME, display their aggression at work because the partner won’t put up with it, at home, anyway.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        I wonder if she isn’t aware of the full extent of things. Like, she’s hearing reports and is aware of what’s happening with staff morale, but she hasn’t seen one of his rampages in person and therefore thinks everyone’s overreacting because “he’s not like that at home” or whatever. In OP’s place I might consider subtly recording him the next 3-4 times he goes on a rampage (once won’t be enough) and then gathering all her coworkers and presenting the evidence to her jointly.

  10. Lady Blerd*

    I had a similar situation at work. A manager was mad that an expense he put hadn’t been handled in due time by my office, something I completely understood as being our fault. He sent us an angry email, saying among other things that if we weren’t “sitting on our a**”, we would have done the job correctly. Just like OP, I don’t know how it happened but I pushed back, even quoting him in my rebuttal. And same thing, he never was a problem after that. I wouldd hear about his many other meltdowns with others, I was no never on the receiving end. I am very lucky because I replied in writing and he could have easily sent that to my supervisors. Then again I CCed mine when I wrote back so he was awared.

    All this to say that yes, sometimes you have to reply in kind to some bullies to get them to back down. But I am not surprised that the others choose to be mad at OP instead of Bob’s wife who isn’t reigning in her partner, they know what they have to do: push back or quit but they’re doing neither, probably for good reason in some cases but that is not OP’s fault. I don’t have any advice to OP then to keep pointing out that clearly he’s all bark with no bite and that they can push back but I can already see them saying they’re not like OP and all other kinds of excuses.

    1. Reality Check*

      Agree with you completely. I have stood up to the bullies like OP, and for me at least, it works. But I’ve never had – that I am aware of – coworkers get mad at me because of it. Usually they compliment me in private (wow, that was great! we were silently cheering you on!)But rarely, if ever, do they do anything other than continue tolerating the abuse.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I think of it as a high risk / high reward type thing. A certain percentage of bullies probably do back down if confronted, but a smaller-yet-not-insignificant percent totally go into the red zone if they feel challenged, and I’m not always in a space where I’m willing to deal with that. It’s likely an 80/20 kind of thing, but in that 20% bucket the outcome is really bad.

      1. Reality Check*

        I have some rules I go by when I Have Finally Had Enough: keep all emotions out of it. Just state your case. Never insult the other party or make it personal. Verbally agree when they make a valid point. There are other rules I use, but these 3, I believe, go a long way toward keeping the situation from spiraling out of control. This also has the huge advantage of my coming across as sane and rational.

      2. WS*

        Yes. I’m the person who gets to deal with terrible customers at my workplace because I will stand up to them and remain calm and clear. 80% of the time this works fine. 20% of the time it does not, and that 20% is usually older white men.

  11. i drink too much coffee*

    I’ve worked in a place somewhat similar to this, but not quite to this degree. The owner of a small place I used to work for was a delightful, albeit picky, guy, whose equally picky wife was not equally delightful. If you caught her in a bad mood, you might end up crying at the end. After a couple of years I started standing up more to her, usually more in defense of newer employees than myself as I had been holding more of a management role by then. Every once in awhile the actual owner would have a talk with her and she’d back off for awhile, then get right back to it.

    I thought I was in for it one day when I was the only manager on staff when everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. And she showed up in the middle of the shitshow and started getting in the way. I basically yelled at her and told her she either needed to help with X specific task, or leave, because I had work to do.

    I wasn’t proud of it, but the next day the owner came up to me and actually praised me for it… odd place. lol

  12. Managing to get by*

    I was in the same situation when I was in my 20s. I told an abusive sales exec to fuck off, loudly enough that the whole office heard. this was in a small “family” business. I got called into HR and was certain I’d be getting fired. Instead the HR manager said “well, we could have handled this better, but at least we didn’t cry”. Apparently he had made every other assistant cry.

    So they didn’t mind if I handled him, but leadership didn’t have the guts to step up and tell him to fix his behavior. I got similar treatment from the other assistants, why could I “get away with insubordination” when they just took the abuse and cried. It sucked.

    I don’t have any advice for OP except to get another job.

  13. Csethiro Ceredin*

    Good for OP for sticking up to this asshat. Hopefully her colleagues can hear her when she says it should be Bob they are mad at, not her. And hopefully she can escape the apparent hellmouth.

    But I appreciated Alison saying this might not work for everyone, even if they tried; sometimes some element like age, race, how ‘professional’ they think you sound, gender presentation, or whatever will make all the difference. We know Bob is not reasonable.

    1. LawBee*

      Height, too. Many areas in life are easier for the tall. (I wouldn’t know, I’m barely 5’3, haha)

      1. Csethiro Ceredin*

        You’re right. I’m 5’11” and there have been times that just standing up or stepping closer so my height is apparent has made a visible difference.

        It shouldn’t work, because I am skinny and nerdy and uncoordinated and not exactly channelling John Wick, but sometimes it has.

  14. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

    I would say, “Why do you think I’m his favorite?”
    Whatever they say, you could answer, “do you remember when that changed?”
    If they don’t, recount it. If they do, say, “why can’t you do the same thing?”

    Basically what Alison says, but you really might need to hold their hand and walk them through it. This kind of dysfunction breeds cognitive dissonance and a kind of purposeful ignorance of reality. So breaking it into simple blocks that lead to the conclusion “YOU CAN ALSO STAND UP TO HIM” might help.

  15. CommanderBanana*

    This sort of workplace is what I always think about when people start talking about how great small family businesses are. Sure they are – for the family.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Not even that, sometimes. I work with a client who is difficult. Not a bully in the sense of deliberately being mean to anyone, but someone who wants what they want and can’t articulate what they want, who forgets to give you important project details, and who gets frustrated when they don’t get what they want. He has communications issues, let’s put it that way. His kids work in the business, and they seem pretty anxious around him.

      Me – I found a way to work effectively with him. But most people could not.

    2. zuzu*

      I will never, ever work for a family business again and I will never, ever live in an owner-occupied building again.

      1. zuzu*

        The family business (husband was the principal of a law firm and the wife was the office manager) was the only job I ever left without notice, and they tried to withhold my last paycheck. The last straw was when they put in place a new benefit plan but decided the legally-mandated contribution they had to give me in order to give themselves the same level of contribution under the plan was too much and they wanted to make arrangements with me to give a portion of my pay back to them. I played overwhelmed (just finished a big brief) and asked to have a call with the wife and the outside benefits manager after I got a little rest. Since it was before smartphones, I borrowed some recording equipment from a friend of mine who was a p.i. and those two idiots just laid the whole, illegal scheme out to me as if they were doing me a favor.

        Did I mention the husband was a big-shit white collar criminal lawyer (I was on the civil side) and a former AUSA?

        As for the apartment: after my FRUIT BOWL of all things went missing right off my kitchen table and my neighbors filled me in about the mysterious thefts they’d been having, I demanded to see the basement the super was always poking around in. Y’all, the basement of this 16-unit brownstone apartment building was FILLED front to back, floor-to-ceiling with random shit stolen out of tenants’ apartments over the years. I changed my locks and didn’t give them a key, and both my landlady and super were at my door and windows for the rest of my tenancy, trying the knob, peeking in, looking for excuses to get in. The only time I let my landlady in was when my pipes were almost fully rusted shut and I demanded an outside plumber. Took two hours to get through all the rust.

  16. Jelly*

    I like Alison’s advice, but I wouldn’t bother helping those who remain. Do your job, get another, then run like the wind and don’t ever look back, OP.

    Good for you for standing up to Bob.

  17. mcm*

    I wonder if it would help/work if OP pushed collective action when people commented on her being “Bob’s favorite.” Like something along the lines of, “yes, I’m personally glad that he’s no longer yelling at me, but it’s not okay that he’s allowed to yell at anyone. If folks felt like taking this complaint to [Bob’s wife] as a group, I would definitely join in.” It sounds like saying, “you could also yell back,” is not going to work with this group, but maybe saying “I’m ready to act if y’all are” would prompt them to actually do something.
    Then again, maybe not! This group seems determined to place responsibility everywhere but where it belongs.

    1. SomeWords*

      The risk in trusting one’s co-workers in this scenario is sizable. LW could end up being the only one who talks, while everyone else sits looking at the floor, not even nodding. This would be after they were the ones to suggest a group meeting in the first place.

      Yup, still bitter, many years later.

    2. OP HERE!!!!!*

      There are rumors that a few years back, one of the employees tried to sue Bob for hearing loss, and his wife threatened to fire anyone who supported the lawsuit. It happened long before I started working here, so I don’t know how much truth there is in that information

  18. HigherEdEscapee*

    In another lifetime I had a boss like Bob. He’d creep up behind the women in his department (he only hired women in their 20’s) scream at them, and then walk out. This was in an open office plan with other departments sharing the space. On the day that I just couldn’t take it anymore he told me I’d be moving to a part of the office closer to his private office where the rest of my department sat. (A desk had opened up, imagine that.) Crying was a regular part of the day for those of us in the department and hiding in the ladies room was the only way to get away from him.

    Ultimately, I left when I was supposed to be packing up my desk to move. It was so bad that I packed up my desk, wrote up a letter of immediate resignation, and handed it to the receptionist on my way out the door. I had nothing lined up, but my mental health was so damaged that I couldn’t stay in that environment one moment longer. I had a screaming message from him on my voicemail by the time I got home.

    All of this is to say, OP, that you have to do what is best for you. If your colleagues are so enmeshed in the culture, mine were, but they were terrified and scared to do absolutely anything, you can’t help or change them. Do what you have to do for yourself and get out of there. Most likely the CEO knows what’s up. Leadership certainly did where I worked and they just didn’t care.

    Good luck.

  19. And the Skeletons Are ... Part of It*

    So, obviously, Bob is an awful person and the source of this problem. But major side-eye to your sheep-brained coworkers. How deep in the sauce of a sick environment do you have to be to observe what happened when you stood up to Bob, and:
    a) not think to try it yourself;
    b) resent OP for stopping the abuse
    c) not even appreciate in the abstract that Bob got some pushback for once.

    I know people can be irrational when cowed, but they’re still partially responsible for what a wet-paper-towel response they’re giving to this situation.

    Hope you find a new job soon! And leave a DETAILED Glassdoor review.

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      It seems pretty clear from their response that they had themselves convinced they were trapped and there was nothing they could do. They were powerless. Now LW has shown them they’ve been lying to themselves and they could have stood up to him all along.

      But the cognitive dissonance is so strong that instead of stopping to think, “Oh, we could also do this now!” they’re angry at LW for causing the cognitive dissonance. Like they’re so invested in believing in their own lack of agency that they are still committed to it even now – hence, “gee, must be nice for you!” I assume there’s also some sunk cost fallacy – nobody wants to face that they’ve been putting up with this for years when they didn’t have to. Easier to blame the newbie.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        That’s a very interesting insight into human psychology – a depressing one, but it explains a lot.

      2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

        That’s very insightful. And it makes me wonder if “hey, you could stand up to him too!” might not be the best framing.

        If you have the energy, LW, maybe a more conspiratorial, collaborative framing, like focusing on what was different for you on that day than it has been for them, why it changed for you that day (eg this particular project you were working on was worth lots of money, so he had to listen), to help them identify moments where they might be able to stand up to him.

        But starting as though accepting the premise that it would have been essentially impossible up until now for them.

        Setting out what was different for you and reminding them you didn’t stand up for yourself for a long time either might help them feel less threatened/sunk cost about it.

        To be clear, they’re wildly unreasonable and you shouldn’t have to manage their emotions this way. But it is such an unusual situation, maybe worth considering, while job hunting of course.

        I really hope these employees all get access to some good therapy because it sounds like this environment has seriously impacted their judgement, ability to feel safe, their perception… the whole thing is really sad.

  20. Jelly*

    I had a co-worker who bullied everyone, and boss was too timid to do anything about it. I and the person who held the role before me left over it.

    Sometimes, as Alison has noted, you decide you can’t take it anymore, and are able to take advantage of going elsewhere, because that ish is so not worth it.

    Good luck, OP.

  21. World Weary*

    Years ago I worked at an abusive firm and was home sick with the flu. This was before streaming, and I only had basic cable, so I watched a repeat of self-help guru John Bradshaw discussing abusive workplaces. He said that abusive workplaces almost always have employees that have worked there 10 or more years, and these employees often grew up in abusive families and play the same role in the firm that they played as a child. As he named and explained each of the roles (he used different terms like star, scapegoat, and invisible child), I could name employees at my firm that were treated this way. Not going to name my own role, so don’t ask…

    I also realized that I would rather be sick than work.

    I found the paper and began responding to want ads and had a better job in a few months.

    1. chocolate lover*

      This is the second time in 2 days I’ve seen someone refer to Bradshaw and now I think I need to look into him.

    2. Generic Name*

      Wow, this really resonates. It describes my last company perfectly. I was there over 10 years, but I managed to escape. They were shocked when I left. I didn’t have the strength to leave my abusive workplace until I was out of an abusive marriage.

    3. kiki*

      I’ve also noticed that having a lot of long-term employees can be both a green flag or a red flag. It’s easy to assume that a workplace with lots of long-term employees means that it’s a really great place to work and people don’t want to leave. But it can just as easily mean that the working environment is so bad that it retains people who feel like they can’t leave and don’t know what it’s like to work at a functional organization.

  22. merida*

    Oh wow, from a purely psychological/sociological perspective this is a fascinating case study on power struggles…

    But from the perspective of a fellow human who just wants to work with decent people who don’t yell – UGH I sympathize!

    OP, does the company owner/Bob’s wife also act as your manager? (If you have a separate manager talk to that person too!) Regardless of who you go to in the company, I think someone in charge needs to hear the reality check that until the Bob situation is fixed in some way, they’re going to have high turnover of good employees. If the wife really doesn’t care about that then… well, that would be enlightening.

    But good for you for standing up for yourself! You got guts! Take care of yourself, OP.

    1. merida*

      Oh, one other idea… I’m assuming since it’s family-owned this doesn’t apply but I’ll mention anyway just in case… any chance there’s a board of directors that you can take a complaint to?

  23. Sparkles McFadden*

    You are doing everything right, LW, but you cannot do anything about or for your coworkers. They are feeling powerless and they are taking it out on you. They don’t want to (or feel unable to) confront Bob, so they are doing the next best thing: Harassing the person who stood up to Bob. It’s safe for them to be mad at you, so that’s what they’re doing.

    Best of luck finding a new gig without Bob!

  24. undercaffeinated*

    Be a shame if some video of Bob’s tantrums got leaked to social media. Since OP is looking for a job anyway.

    Not saying they should but sounds like the nuclear option might be called for

  25. Delphine*

    There’s a clear and obvious culprit here, but instead of recognizing that culprit as the source of the problem, your company and your coworkers are all busy finding ways to work around the culprit and resenting people who stand up for themselves! I want to be fascinated by this, but mostly it makes me feel like I’m out of my gourd.

  26. LCH*

    huh. i had a boss like this. she was known for yelling. the first time she tried it out on me, i just reacted very calmly and let her yell. and she never did again (with me). bullies be bullying.

  27. birb*

    This is exactly what I do with my dad when he has meltdowns like this due to what I believe is (in his case) PDA autistic meltdowns. They happen pretty much any time he experiences cognitive dissonance of any sort. He thought something would be easy, he realized it was complex, he feels dumb and now he’s embarrassed? Meltdown. The food he ordered didn’t taste like he made it up in his head? Meltdown. Brought him an unsolicited treat, and it wasn’t what he’d have personally selected? Meltdown. Minor delay, inconvenience, or mental friction? Meltdown.

    Sometimes yelling back is the ONLY thing that works, and I’m so glad OP did! You showed him that yelling at you WILL NOT make him feel in control again, and will lead to even more big bad feels.

    The other option: I mostly fully ignore the fact that he’s screaming and respond with a super bored flat tone and neutral statements, or I agree with him flatly and slowly about whatever he’s saying then lean in to it: He calls me stupid? “Yes. I am stupid. And I did this intentionally to hurt you with malice and contempt. I am wicked and hateful.” It confuses him at first then shocks him back to reality. He’ll sort of taper off, maybe two or three more automatic grumbles, then he’s quiet. He sometimes even apologizes after a couple of minutes!

    My toxic trait is for enough money, I’d definitely take a job managing bob’s emotional outbursts if he needs a babysitter.

    1. fleapot*

      It’s not clear to me whether or not your father has an autism diagnosis, and I’m not sure it matters much: his behaviour is plainly unacceptable regardless of his neurology.

      I would like to suggest, though, that it’s potentially pathologizing and harmful to attribute this behaviour to autism and/or to characterize this it as typical of autistic people.

      I’m autistic. I work very, very hard to treat people respectfully even when I’m in serious distress. On the rare occasions when I raise my voice during a meltdown, I don’t need to be shocked back to reality. I might have to remove myself from the situation before I can articulate an apology, but I’m immediately ashamed. Not just contrite or apologetic: ashamed.

      I’m a little queasy about the implication that yelling at a distressed autistic person is equivalent to managing the outbursts of a calculated bully like Bob, or that having a meltdown is equivalent to the kind of abusive power trip that OP describes. In my experience, an autistic person is far less likely to be the workplace Bob than they are to be Bob’s preferred target.

      I hope that your relationship with your father gets easier.

      1. birb*

        I apologize for my thoughtlessness and for being unclear. I also have PDA profile autism, and his presents so wildly different from mine that for me it was an “aha” that his abusive outbursts are a symptom of a meltdown, and also that his are explosive while mine are implosive, but that they have similar root causes. The IMMEDIATE deep deep shame and self loathing is actually what tipped me off! It also unfortunately makes ME feel guilty and sorry for him even when he’s being awful… I can tell he hates himself deeply in that moment. I used to worry that I was secretly “like him” because things affect me that don’t affect anyone else. PDA is stupid and I hate it, it’s like you’re at war with your brain at all times, but recently starting Low Dose Naltrexone has helped a LOT). It is also not at all an excuse for what he does, but it took understanding it for me to be able to help, OR de-escalate at all.

        I also want to clarify that I don’t in any way think the way he acts during a meltdown is ok or even normal for a person with the PDA profile. They are absolutely abusive, and I work with a ton of PDA kids and have never had one EVER come close to the behavior my dad displays. his are also very much shaped by being a parentified child who was abused when he didn’t predict and control his siblings and the needs of his parents from a young age. Knowing that has made me able to empathize with him and understand WHY his first second and third response to any kind of cognitive dissonance is so big. Since then I’ve been able to predict triggers, communicate with him in a way that massively, massively reduces the severity and duration. It is rare to have to yell over him to get a word in now. I do see the irony there, though.

      2. birb*

        Also, further clarification – The yelling is ABSOLUTELY only a last ditch effort to get him to hear me anything at all over his own screaming, which at that point is very fast and very loud and with 0 breaks. It is really jarring, as he is otherwise a very reserved, whisper quiet person.

        I will yell “I am trying to help!” or “This isn’t your fault!” or just “It hurts me when you yell” because he’s just fully unable to stop in that moment and he can’t hear me over him.

    2. fleapot*

      In my experience, an autistic person is far less likely to be the office Bob than they are to be Bob’s preferred target.

      For what it’s worth.

      1. birb*

        PDA is SUPER tricky, REALLY hard for people to put their experience into words (especially kids who go nonverbal when upset, which gets characterized as “pouting”) and is commonly misdiagnosed as ODD or just being “contrary” or bad, or choosing to not obey orders.

  28. I should really pick a name*

    I was informed that one of the people I would be working with, Bob, had a strong personality and was challenging to work with

    I feel like when they say that, they should be asked to define EXACTLY what that means, and if they don’t (and you don’t need the job) it’s time to walk away.

    Some people like a challenge, but it’s only fair that they be fully informed about the nature of the challenge.

    1. The Original K.*

      Yeah, I’d for sure be asking for specifics. I don’t tolerate being yelled at and I’m of the belief that unless you work somewhere where you must shout to be heard, like a trading floor, or someone is in imminent danger, yelling doesn’t belong at work.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, I agree. My parents didn’t yell at me as a kid unless I was in imminent danger, and as a parent I don’t yell at my son unless he’s in imminent danger (which hasn’t happened often because he’s a sensible teenager and he wasn’t physically andventurous when he was younger, either). At least not unless I’m mentally overwrought, and in that case I apologize when it happens.

        So I don’t have any PTSD to deal with, but I still think that yelling doesn’t belong at work.

  29. Atomic Tangerine*

    OP I was so relieved when I got to the part where you’re actively seeking new employment because OMG OMG OMG HOUSE OF BEES. I hope you find something post-haste.

  30. jellied brains*

    I’m sorry, LW. You and all the other employees deserve better.

    Family owned businesses are the WORST.

    Very early on in my career, I worked for one and it was an absolute shit show. It was a business run by 3 siblings, none of which were business or people minded. The brother was a big blustering bully who singled me out for some reason. After a year or so of his constant shouting, threats, and on a couple of occasions, mild physical assault (read: nothing I could prove because there were no marks), I lost my shit and told him to fuck off and go bully someone else.

    He deflated like the diarha filled balloon he was and didn’t bother me again.

    I wish I could say he got his comeuppance, but I don’t think he ever did.

  31. chocolate lover*

    Years ago, I had a boss who would yell and scream at people. Because of an abusive childhood home, I found it particularly distressing while others had an easier time letting it roll off their backs. She didn’t scream at me specifically, I think partly it was due to her knowing some of my background and leaving me alone, but on at least one occasion I explicitly told her that her screaming at a colleague in a meeting publicly the way she did was absolutely unacceptable. She tried to defend herself and I continued to call her out and say it wasn’t ok. The “second in command” also tried to talk to boss on several occasions and just got brushed off. None of us went to anyone higher because we didn’t think they would care or do anything, so we just put up with it.

    One day I walked into the office and she was flipping out on a coworker in a way I had never seen before, even for her. That was the day I decided to leave and I moved into another role in the same organization less than 5 months later. Thankfully we weren’t required to notify our current manager that we’re applying to other positions if you’ve been there more than a year. That boss would have made it unpleasant if I didn’t get the other role.

  32. Sally Rhubarb*

    Places like that warp your brain. Yes the coworkers are taking it out on the LW when they should be telling Bob where to stick it, but they probably feel like they simply can’t do that.

    Confronting a bully can be scary. Confronting a bully who is 1) an adult male & 2) holds all the power is even scarier. Let’s not insult the coworkers for being in such a toxic work environment, they no longer feel safe.

    1. CSRoadWarrior*

      It really does warp your brain. As well as your sense of a normal workplace. It’s really sad because I have seen it happen in real life.

      But no. It is absolutely NOT normal. No sane workplace would tolerate Bob’s behavior or how OP is getting treated from the coworkers.

    2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      You’re leaving out the part where the coworkers are now being bullies to the LW. Your sympathies should not only be with the coworkers. They don’t have to take it out on her. Your hand-waving of that behavior is not okay.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        “Yes the coworkers are taking it out on the LW when they should be telling Bob where to stick it,” I don’t think SR is completely hand-waving that.

        Someone above opined that the coworkers are having a big chunk of cognitive dissonance–“Bob yells at everyone and has for years” vs “Bob doesn’t yell at LW” is happening, and it hurts their brain. They got used to Bob yelling, and there was no dissonance. Now there is, and the dissonance is uncomfortable–so they’re going after who they perceive is causing the discomfort.

  33. Tupac Coachella*

    I’ve always said unreasonable people respect unreasonableness. I know someone who has made it through not one but TWO complete nightmare bosses with yelling matches. In reasonable workplaces, they solve issues without ever resorting to yelling. But with those bosses, the only time they listen is when they perceive someone as being as “strong” and “passionate” as they are. It sounds like OP managed to actually stand up to Bob in a professional way. OP is a giant among humans, and should also run as soon as the opportunity presents itself, because they deserve better.

    1. OP HERE!!!!*

      “Strong” and “passionate” are the exact words Bob’s wife uses to describe him after a shouting match.

      1. AFac*

        Honestly, were I Bob’s wife, I’d put some serious thought into how he’s been warping my sense of normal, both in the office and at home.

        Hopefully, there’s someone in her personal life who can assist should she decide she needs things to change.

  34. Sara without an H*

    Hi, LW —

    1. You did the right thing. Absolutely.

    2. You work in a crab bucket.

    Keep job searching — there’s a lot of good stuff in the AAM archives that will help you. And send us an update when you find something.

    Good luck!

  35. WurstManager*

    The letter writer did the right thing in standing up for themself and they gave the right advice to co-workers about doing the same. Every situation is different and it’s understandable that people are hesitant or afraid to stand up to a workforce bully but the co-workers are aware that by yelling back they may be able to make the behavior stop. Another tactic would be to band together so that if someone is being yelled at everyone else steps in to defend them and tell the yeller to stop.

  36. KellifromCanada*

    OP, would you consider, the next time Bob starts yelling at one of your co-workers, standing up and telling him to stop? It worked when you did it for yourself, so you might have a chance of shutting him down. I have a Bob in my professional past and, even though I hate confrontation, I was able to shut my Bob down when he yelled at my co-workers. On the other hand, he wasn’t in the position to fire me at that moment due to workload issues, so it wasn’t really a risk for me. Don’t try it if you think it will get you fired before you have another job lined up. Good luck!

    1. Lobstermans*

      OP, DO NOT DO THIS. Never get between a codependent enabler and an abuser. They will both turn on you instantaneously.

    2. OP HERE!!!!*

      I’ve thought about asking him not to shout in general, but I’m afraid it might just make things worse when I’m not in the office. Plus, he might be yelling at someone, then turn and ask me a question in a completely normal tone and go back to shouting at the person. It might be selfish, but all I want is to be left alone until I find another job.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Totally fair. If you think about it and decide you want to deploy this tactic — maybe on your very last day there? It’s not fish filets spelling out I QUIT, but it’s not nothing either.

        It’s not like you’re going to get a good reference from this place anyway.

      2. KellifromCanada*

        Yes, right, you’ve got to do what’s in your comfort zone, and you’re the only one here who knows Bob. I was lucky enough to be able to manage my Bob, but the circumstances were likely different.

  37. H.Regalis*

    LW – This is bullshit and I can 100% see people acting this way.

    In their heads, maybe they think of it as, “That’s just the way Bob is. He can’t help it,” as a way of coping with his bullying horseshit; but then you come along and stand up to him, and now they see that he has a choice in how he acts . . . and then they get mad at you.

    I don’t know if there’s anything you can do to make them stop resenting you, but you didn’t do anything wrong by standing up to Bob.

  38. CSRoadWarrior*

    Ouch. As someone who has been yelled at by not one, but two different bosses (both former jobs now, thankfully), I completely feel for OP. OP also mentioned that one employee left in tears and never came back. I had a very similar situation with the second boss some years ago. It was horrific.

    But yes, this is a mess. And at this point, it is not just the boss. It has become toxic with the coworkers resenting and hating on OP.

    I really hope OP gets a job offer soon and leaves this toxic workplace.

  39. Quinalla*

    Ugh, this is rough OP. I would definitely try pointing out that Bob is the problem here and them picking on you for your current run of “luck” (I agree he likely backed down because you stood up to him and I also agree not everyone may feel safe doing so or get the same results) is putting the blame on the wrong person. Glad you are already job searching!!

    I would also try approaching the owner. Even if it already has been done, try to put the problem in her lap again/more. See if she will stand up to him if you call on her for backup? Like if he starts giving people his BS/petty assignments, say “I need to run that by owner first, hang on Bob!” and then go get her/call her and let her deal with him. Even if she is wishy washy about backing you up, if she has to deal with it every day, maybe she’ll do something!

  40. Mango Freak*

    I’m so tempted to suggest that OP just yell at her coworkers to knock it off. Since apparently they like enabling yellers.

    But of course I would never do that. Would I?

  41. thelettermegan*

    I’m wondering if it would help if the owner clarified the hierarchy. If there’s someone who’s responsible for dishing out tasks, that person could push back on Bob just as OP did, but for everyone else.

    Bob may be able to bully an assistant, but if there’s someone there who actually outranks him on the org chart, he might have to back down to their authority.

    Or maybe just use that mindset when presenting to the owner – pointing out that the yelling is one thing if he were giving actual order to actually idle employees, but these made-up personal tasks being shouted at people while they are working is disruptive to the business, as well as disruptive mentally with the way they are delivered.

    Another method might be to have everyone lay out everything all the time: If people constantly say things like “I don’t have time for anything today, I’m on the ABC account.” and “I’m behind on the XYZ account because Bob shouted at me to call his Grandma on her birthday,” maybe the message will finally be heard.

    Oh and maybe you could have everyone just shout these statements all the time when Bob is around so he can really hear how he’s messing up the culture.

  42. Harried HR*

    I once worked at a place where a manager decided that I was spawn of satan and decided to make my life a living hell. One day he was at my desk berating me as usual and I was mid Payroll processing. I stood up walked to the Big Boss’ office and handed them my keys. They sputtered “You Can’t Leave – what about Payroll ?? ” My response…. I Can’t Stay and be yelled at on the daily” Big Boss…why don’t you go run some errands and come back in a hour and let me see what I can do. So I left sat in a Starbucks called DH and we agreed that if I needed to leave I could….I returned to the office and Big Boss sat me down and asked me to give him 2 weeks and if at the end of the 2 weeks I was willing to stay he would give me a raise and I still wanted to leave I would get 2 weeks Severance… I stayed the A$$hole NEVER said a word to me for the rest of my time there… Win Win :-)

    1. Harried HR*

      My point being that the Coworkers have some power here, if it is timed correctly and presented to the Owner that Important Thing can’t be done without Me and I won’t do Important Thing if Bully keeps Bullying

  43. LucyGoosy*

    Yeah so…is it possible the owner doesn’t know her husband is doing this? It seems ridiculous but…in my professional life I’ve seen instances where wild, out of control things were happening and no one told the appropriate managers because it was just assumed that they already knew and had chosen not to take action.

  44. Lucy*

    Someone once said to me, when I complained about being subjected to an unreasonable lecture, “it’s only a lecture if you don’t argue back.” That’s obviously ridiculous (and pretty victim-blamey!), but I think it gives some insight into the Bobs of the world.

  45. Ms. Murchison*

    I have this (admittedly unrealistic) wish that the next time he yells at someone, everyone will stop in their tracks, that employee will yell back “stop yelling at me!” and another employee will yell “stop yelling at all of us!” and a third will yell “if you ever yell at any of us again, we’re all quitting!” With everyone staring at Bob while it happens. And then if he does yell again, everyone walk out en masse.
    One person might not feel comfortable or safe yelling back, but if it’s a choreographed plan, agreed upon by the entire staff? Strength in numbers.
    Good luck, LW.

  46. Raida*

    Bob is a bully.

    Some bullies are vindictive, sh#tty people – not most though!

    Most, when you show that they cannot be an ars#hole to them, will leave you alone and be surprisingly pleasant to deal with.

    I’ve experienced this a few times
    – an owner that spoke to people like they were stupid failures only did it to me once, because I talked back to him in the same tone and said the failure was due to him not giving good enough instructions.
    – an older coworker that would just start talking to me at the cafe while I was taking orders stopped after I snapped my fingers in her face (rude!) and held up a finger. She waited for me to finish, turn, lower my hand, and never did it again.

    I should not HAVE to be rude to be treated politely, professionally or with civility.

    But I have seen bullies not even try it on with me because they’re able to identify that it’s not going to work.

    You did the right thing.
    You should make written complaints to the owner.
    The owner *should* be controlling Bob in that if it isn’t a work task then he is not to use business resources for it – but they won’t since they know how he behaves already.

    So in the end, you should leave. It won’t get better. The owner is the only one who can do it and they won’t

  47. Michelle Smith*

    I’m so sorry OP. I hope you can update us once you escape (or sooner if you’re able to find a way to get them to stop the commentary).

  48. Peanut Hamper*

    Bob sucks. Your coworkers suck (because they are afraid, and also probably exhausted). Your job sucks. Your company sucks. Your company’s owner sucks (if she’s aware of this, although with only ten people I find it hard to believe she’s not).

    I’m sorry I don’t have any suggestions. It took me three years to get out of a situation like that. But you have my sympathy and I wish you the best of luck in finding a new job. Trust me, there are better positions out there.

  49. MissDisplaced*

    Oh, I sympathize OP! I was in a Bully Boss situation some years ago, only my “Bob” was the owner and his girlfriend worked there too.

    Same thing. He’d pick people out from day to day to yell at, and wanted his employees to do a lot of his personal non-work shit. I hated it and blew up at him one day, and boy it got heated. Strangely, he didn’t fire me and got a bit pleasanter after. Still had to do his silly research though!

  50. Mimi*

    What if everyone acted together? As soon as Bob started to yell, everyone could leave their work station and stand up, walk over to wherever Bob is, and stand beside the person he’s yelling at. No one would say anything, they would just stand and stare at Bob. No one would return to their desks until the yelling stopped. (Maybe one person would need to say that). Would solidarity work? Would the team members do it? even if two or three people did it, including OP, perhaps that would change the dynamic. All work stops if there’s yelling.

  51. Just Thinkin' Here*

    I’m sure the owner is aware of her husband’s behavior, but may not understand the overall impact of the ongoing issue. If you can get the other 9 employees together, the next time Bob starts yelling, you all stand up, grab your stuff and head home. Rinse, repeat. She’ll soon figure out that there a real cost to her husband’s abuse. This is verbal abuse and shouldn’t be tolerated. She can either deal with her husband or hire 9 new people.

  52. i like hound dogs*

    I feel so stressed out reading this letter. I can’t even imagine how fried your nerves must be by the end of the day.

    I don’t have any advice but I hope things get better for you.

    My former upstairs neighbor used to bully my husband — once she dumped a bucket of water on his head from her balcony because she didn’t like that we were grilling (grills were allowed). I got out our lease and marched my 5’2 self up to her apartment and told her she better never pull that shit again. She didn’t have much to say and her adult son just stood there listening to me ream her out like he knew I was right. She never bothered us again. It was so surprising, honestly.

    Later we found out her husband had been stealing from neighbors’ apartments. Lucky for us he never got into ours.

  53. Just Tired*

    Coworkers: *pointed comments*

    OP: Wow, that’s some great Bullying Energy you’ve got going there. But if you want to take Bob’s place, you’ll have to yell a little louder. …Or, y’know, not take your shame and embarrassment for not standing up for yourselves out on ME.

    I honestly think OP should tell everyone who is making snide comments to grow a spine or shut up. I understand not everyone feels they can risk defending themselves but that does mean you should be able to bully someone who does.

  54. Pureoaknut*

    Someone should record him and show the boss.
    I’d love to hear a follow up if the writer can do so in the future.

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