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Dear ReWorker: What If a High-Performing Executive Is Also a Bully?

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Dear ReWorker,

One of my employees, Katie, recently approached me with complaints about her manager, Holly. Katie told me Holly is abrasive, curses at employees in public and has gone through five administrative staff members in the past seven months because she's intimidating and disrespectful to her team. Holly is also a high revenue manager, so my boss is asking me to look the other way and ask Katie to resign if she is unhappy. I feel that if I do this I would be breaching my moral compass. What would you do?


Morally Conflicted


Dear Morally Conflicted,

It is both unethical and unproductive to continue to placate a bad manager by getting rid of her victims. Since you know that Holly has cycled through five of her subordinates in the last seven months, you can safely assume Katie is not the problem.

But keep this in mind: as an HR professional, you are not the final decision-maker on hiring or firing your staff, and your superiors can override whatever decision you make. Still, that doesn't mean you should ask Katie to resign — I certainly wouldn't.

Despite her being a "high performer," I'd insist on immediately re-training Holly or, if that doesn't work, even consider letting her go. Here's why:

High Turnover Adds Up

Holly is a high revenue manager, so you know she's making the company a lot of money. But just how much money is she losing with her bad behavior?

According to, the average administrative assistant salary in San Francisco is $51,611. Let's assume that this is the salary Holly's administrative staff members were making.

The Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates that every time an entry- or administrative-level employee calls it quits, your company loses 50 percent of their salary in turnover costs. In Holly's case, losing five people in seven months at $25,000 per person has already cost your company $125,000 in turnover costs. If this pattern continues for an entire year, that adds up to the loss of nine employees, resulting in $225,000 in turnover costs. These are all hidden costs because they aren't factored into Holly's department budget. Instead, they impact the recruitment team's budget.

Office Bullies Impact Morale

People like Holly not only impact a company monetarily, but they can also create stressful work environments. According to Arash Emamzadeh at , office bullies can cause a decline in the overall quality of work.

"People who are bullied are more likely to have reduced commitment to work, feel dissatisfied with their job, experience job insecurity, have a high rate of absenteeism and become recipients of disability pension," Emamzadeh said.

Take a look at the remaining staff on Holly's team. Are they happy and engaged? My bet is no. People who tolerate Holly may not be working at their full potential.

How much more could the company earn if Holly was less of a jerk?

Protecting a Bully Could Ruin Your Reputation

Any sexual harassment training will tell you that it's technically not illegal to be a jerk (as long as you are an equal opportunity jerk). But if the #MeToo movement has taught HR anything, it's that all victims have voices now. Katie or one of Holly's previous five staff members could easily post on Twitter, Facebook or even Medium about their Devil Wears Prada-esque boss. This could hurt your company' reputation—and rightfully so.

This story is not a new one. In January, 22 year old Olivia Brand's account of a horrible job interview with CEO of Web Applications UK, Craig Dean, went viral. Susan J. Fowler's 2017 account of her nightmare year at Uber turned the tech world upside down—and she simply posted it on her personal blog. If you do not take appropriate disciplinary action or confront Holly about her behavior, things could get messy.

If Holly continues her behavior, it will cost your company money, morale and possibly its reputation. Present the information you have to your manager and propose that Holly receive executive coaching immediately. This approach is cheaper than letting the problem sit. If your manager doesn't take your advice, you may need to decide whether you want to stay at a company that doesn't value its employees.

Sometimes, you need to walk away from something good for the sake of your own integrity. If that's the path you decide to take, your turnover costs will be just another casualty of Holly the high performer.

Your ReWorker,

Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady

Photo: Creative Commons

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