August 21, 2020

A Bad Boss Needs to be Fired. Period. © Cici Mattiuzzi

There was a particular line from Kamala Harris’ VP acceptance speech that resonated with me, “I know a predator when I see one.”

I get really upset when I see someone being abused.

When I was fifteen, I babysat for two cute little boys for the summer. I took them to the park and to the swimming pool. My job was to make sure they had fun and were safe. When a much older boy - a teenager, who I knew well - teased and bullied one of them to tears, I jumped into action. I gave the bully what for and made clear he was dealing with me.

Pretty much, that has been my modus operandi. I grew up in a family of six kids and I knew what bullying was…

On a train in Via Reggio, Italy, I watched a pair of American backpackers create a scene. I was traveling with my husband and young daughter. As we boarded the train we observed the young woman sobbing as her boyfriend insisted in loud, harsh tones that she could not call home to speak to her mother. I was incensed. I could not believe the way he was bullying her. It was even more dramatic since it was such a public assault. It was making the whole train uncomfortable. I raised my voice across multiple seats and instructed the young woman to call her mother. I told her in no uncertain terms that she needed to get away from her boyfriend as soon as possible. I told her that if she didn’t he was going to ruin her life. I told her again to call her mother. She was being publicly humiliated by the person she should have been able to trust. As the aggressor got increasingly agitated, and tried to engage me, I just continued talking over him even louder. My husband knew I could handle it… As we disembarked the train, I got tight liped smiles and nods from the other passengers who were Italian women. Like me, they knew. To this day I often think about that young woman and hope that she left her abuser…

No one likes to see someone abused. It is painful to watch. I find it intolerable.

Early in my career as a career counselor, a boss was sexually harassing the interns. I went to the university president and said, “I don’t care what you do because I am leaving, but you should know what is going on… I can no longer watch it happen.” He said, “Don’t quit, take a leave for the summer and let's talk again before the fall semester begins.” When we met in the fall he asked me, “What are the chances you will return?” I said, “Slim to none, if I have to return to the campus career center.” He said, “What are the alternatives?” I gave him two possibilities, and he said, “Work it out.” That is how I became the founding Director of the College of Engineering and Computer Science Career Services Office. At 29, that was about as good as it gets!

It took a while, before the bad boss was removed permanently from his position of authority, but it eventually happened. One of the women being abused stood up for herself and sued.

There are bosses who just do not treat people well. There are companies with incompetent managers who ignore complaints. This is bad for morale and it is not good for the bottom line. It leads to employee dissatisfaction and high turnover. Lost talent and reduced productivity.

Later in my career I observed a fully tenured professor stalk, sexually harass and bully students repeatedly. He told women they didn’t belong in engineering and he physically destroyed the masters projects of international students. I wrote seven letters over 18 years reporting the harassment and abuse and was denied promotions for my efforts. There didn’t seem to be a mechanism or motivation for management to get rid of the problem. Then he assaulted me. I complained to no avail. When he threatened to shoot three people, including a pregnant woman, I filed a lawsuit. The bully/predator retired the day my lawsuit was served on the campus.

I strongly believe in karma. Eventually it catches up with bad players. Someone goes higher up the food chain and actually gets a response; someone sues; someone puts her story on the internet or tells her story to BuzzFeed or 60 Minutes. The possibilities are endless.

Sexual harassment, bullying, unequal pay for equal work, unethical business practices, gaslighting employee complaints; age, sex, race, pregnancy, disability discrimination...

Bad bosses and bad management are a plague. They reduce productivity and they make life miserable for the people caught in their wake. And they create huge liabilities.

It is really hard to complain. Let me say that again. It is really hard to complain. It is not an immediate reaction. We are wired to go along to get along.

Very few people actually file complaints of harassment. It takes nerves of steel and tremendous financial resources. And it takes a tremendous emotional toll on the victims and their families.

Most people try to ignore it. Who will believe them? At best, they just walk away, as I was once tempted to do. People tolerate a lot before they finally snap and decide - enough is enough.

People do not like being abused and they do not like to watch people being abused. Good employees have options. They leave. And they tell their story. There are companies with such bad reputations that they cannot attract top talent.

An account executive I know was given unrealistic and unattainable sales performance quotas after telling her boss she was pregnant. She turned around and quit, and immediately got an offer for a way better job. Just when the company needed her most ...

It is incredibly painful to give your all to a job and then have to tolerate a toxic work environment. I have coached a lot of people through a job change under less than favorable conditions. As a lifeguard in highschool and college I learned how to pick people up off of the bottom of the swimming pool and breathe life back into them.

People in uncomfortable situations have tremendous motivation to do whatever it takes to find a new job. They move a bit faster and with deliberateness. It is a huge relief to develop a plan of escape… to figure out how to leave a bad work environment. No one ever says, “I wish I could go back.”

Leopards do not change their spots. Tolerating bad behavior just encourages and empowers the predator.

Good companies recognize that their employees are their most valuable asset. A company that leaves toxic people in place after receiving multiple complaints is not a company that you want to work for.

A bad boss needs to be fired. Period.

Cici Mattiuzzi is the Author of The Serious Job Seeker and the founding director of the CSUS College of Engineering and Computer Science, Career Services Office.