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Coping with a Toxic Boss – “SAL THE SLAVE DRIVER”

Surviving the Toxic Workplace, by Linnda DurreBy Linnda Durre, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010.

As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I’ve analyzed, worked with, and consulted with many difficult bosses over the years.  In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, change negative situations to positive ones, and preserve your sanity.
 
In my twice-monthly column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. And remember – all of these toxic bosses in all of my columns can be of either gender.  Toxicity does not discriminate according to the sexes. The previous ones include: Dick the Dictator, Bashia the Backstabber, Sewell the Sexual Harasser, Carl the Control Freak, Paula the Passive Aggressive, Clayton the Clueless, Greta the Gossip, Susie the Sugar Coater, Ian the Idea Stealer, Al the Alcoholic, Nancy the Narcissist, Donald the Deal Maker, Vernon the Verbal Attacker, Bobby the Boss’s Relative, Cynthia the Silent Treatment Torturer, Phil the Philanderer, and Ned the Negligent.

This week is another difficult boss – Sal the Slave Driver, the boss you work so hard for and yet you can never please him, he never gives a compliment, and he wants your last drop of blood. In my book, Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day, published by McGraw Hill, I wrote about 12 different groups – 79 individual types – of toxic people who can populate an office. Although Sal wasn’t mentioned specifically in my book, he’d be included in “The Angry Ones.”
 
SITUATION
 
Sal the Slave Driver is similar to Dick the Dictator in many ways.  He’s dictatorial and it always has to be his way or the highway.  The difference is that Dick the Dictator usually operates out of his own ego, insecurity, and/or his enormous need to control, whereas Sal operates by the pressure of quotas that he must meet from his own standards and expectations as well as those from his superiors and the corporate culture. As a result, he has to make you meet the same or even higher quotas so he can look good to his boss, his superiors, and to the management, and win in the numbers.   This will give him raises, bonuses, and even promotions. Sal could care less about you.
 
Sal will rarely if ever give you a compliment.  He’s similar to the slave master in a galley cracking the whip, yelling, “Row faster! Row faster! Row faster!” except he’s screaming, “Sell more!” “Make more money!” “Increase the numbers!”  “Raise the stock price!” 
 
Sadly, he’s a black hole so you can never please Sal. Nothing is ever good enough and he never gives you a compliment. He constantly raises the high jump bar. You jump it at 7 feet; he raises the bar to 7 feet 3 inches.  It’s never enough for Sal.   You will never please him because he has to please the boss.
 
Even if Javier Sotomayor of Cuba, who holds the world record in the high jump at 8 feet and 1/2 inch (2.45 meters), worked for him, Sal would ask him to jump it at 8 feet 2 inches, then 8 feet 3 inches, etc. It’s a never ending game. Sal wants your last drop of blood.  He makes Dracula in Twilight look like the American Red Cross. You have to set limits or Sal will drain you dry like a vampire. 
 
When I worked for a publically traded company once, I had a boss like that. She was cold, without feeling, and would rarely give a compliment.  She frequently asked me to substitute for missing employees, and, wanting to help out and be a team player, I would usually say yes.  I did so many other nice things for that company, all for which I was never paid. 
 
So when I wanted acknowledgement for stepping in and rescuing her at the last minute, she’d never give it or even say “Thank you.” When I confronted her about it once, she said, “Well, you were paid, weren’t you?” To her, that meant she didn’t have to acknowledge people, compliment them or even say a polite “Thank you.”  No wonder she wasn’t well liked.  I think she was also threatened by my credentials and thought I was after her job – which was absolutely not true. The last thing I wanted or ever want was to be a paper pusher like her. 
 
So many people there felt it wasn’t a happy or pleasant place to work, and I had to agree with them.  It seemed that making money was more important than their staff. There was much animosity there.  And it wasn’t going to change. The majority of the good employees left or were fired.  It was a typical toxic corporation – money and stock prices were their gods.  I wrote countless memos to the president and executives and was very vocal in voicing them as well as writing them. They never took my recommendations.  The handwriting was on the wall.   I knew it was time to leave.
 
I left that institution because it was so toxic and for many, many other reasons. I was very glad that I did.  I later heard that my female boss was replaced in her post because her people skills were so poor.  They put her in a position where she would do the least damage and not have direct contact with supervising and/or managing people – a wise decision for sure.  I’m sure she’s still there because she was a total “company person,” in the worst sense of the word.  She was the female version of Sal the Slave Driver. 
 
EXPLANATION
 
Sal takes advantage of the fact that you need the job. He especially looks for responsible hard working people with families or people who are broke because he knows he has them by the short hairs.  He likes people who are financially dependent. He doesn’t want you to have other income because then he can’t control you.  I have always been in private practice, even when I was at the company I described above, so I had another income.  That nasty female boss knew that she couldn’t totally control me. 
 
Sal will use power trips over you in every possible way he can.  Sal usually has a sadistic streak in him, perhaps from child abuse he experienced from his mother and/or father or caregivers. And he passes his anger and abuse onto you from what he experienced as a child.  He can be extremely cruel.
 
On a company level, Sal may have a hidden bonus structure within his power to bestow upon you and benefit successful and compliant workers.  Be careful there aren’t strings attached.  Sal can reward you and them with money, trips, cars, days off, vacations, etc. when he gets his people to shine and outperform themselves every quarter.
This is your reinforcement to continue this stressful behavior.
 
So you exist to make Sal look good. If you can work without compliments, without appreciation, and without acknowledgements then you can exist in Sal’s department on Sal’s terms. If you can’t work that way, then leave and find a positive place to work or start your own company. It will not change.
 
Sal only really cares about the numbers – i.e. MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. 
 
Sal does NOT care about you, so when you have an emergency for family, sports events or recitals for your children, or sickness, don’t expect any favors, exceptions or understanding from Sal. The pressure from bosses like Sal can cause heart attacks, colitis, high blood pressure, migraines, back aches, neck aches, and other assorted physical ailments. So be sure to take care of your stress levels – go to the chiropractor, acupuncturist, nutritionist, and massage therapist. Take your vitamins, drink lots of water, eat properly, and get enough sleep because the stress from Sal is enormous.
 
In Sal’s world, the only day you don’t show up and perform at 100% is your own funeral. 
 
SOLUTION
 
The sad part is that the whole company, including his bosses and HR, is structured to reinforce the slave driver mentality, so it’s very difficult to get Sal to comply with a more humane work ethic because they will back him up, not you. You can go to HR and his boss – just be realistic that you may not get anything to change.  You can talk to him and if that doesn’t work, you will have to go to an attorney and threaten them with a law suit for hostile work environment.

If you do decide to have a conversation with him, be aware that Sal comes in two versions.
 
SAL TYPE #1 – You want to work at the company, you just want some compliments.
 
“Sal, I appreciate the loyalty you have for the company and your commitment to doing a great job. I understand the pressure that you are under.  You feel you have quotas to fill and you pass those quotas on to us here in the department.  There are times that your expectations are out of line with reality and with what I or any human being can deliver. I don’t mind working under pressure. What bothers me is the negative work environment, the lack of compliments, and that nothing is ever good enough for you.  You play a continuous game of “high jump” with me and everyone else in this department.  We jump over the bar at 6’2” and you raise it to 6’3” without ever saying what a great job we did. We would all jump through hoops for you if you could give us some acknowledgement, appreciation, and positive feedback of the good job that we’re all doing.   Without that, who wants to even come to work?  I would like you to give me a pat on the back every day as well as tell me what your expectations are so I can meet them, and if I can’t, then I will need to tell you. Thanks so much.”
 
OR
 
SAL TYPE #2 – The pressure is too great and it has to change to preserve your health and your sanity.  
 
“Sal, I appreciate the loyalty you have for the company and your commitment to doing a great job. I understand the pressure that you are under.  You feel you have quotas to fill and you pass those quotas on to us here in the department.  There are times that your expectations are out of line with reality and with what I or any human being can deliver.  The pressure is too much.  You constantly berate me and the other employees.  We would all jump through hoops for you if you could give us some acknowledgement, appreciation, and positive feedback of the good job that we’re all doing.   Without that, who wants to even come to work?  People have been getting sick, having health problems, and Robert even had a heart attack.  If it doesn’t stop, I’m going to have to get an attorney and threaten you with a law suit based on a hostile work environment.  I like the work, however, the pressure from you needs to stop.  I hope we can discuss how we can handle this amiably without a law suit, and I am prepared to file with the courts if it doesn’t.”
 
Stand up for yourself, be assertive, and remember: no one and no company like law suits. With the Internet, your every move is recorded for the world to see and no company wants to have a bad global reputation.

—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker, and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic and aired from Universal Orlando. She is the author of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill). The book’s website is: www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com

She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, Canada AM, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), and the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW.  She has written for Forbes, CareerBuilder, Monster, A&U Magazine, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com and 407-739-8620.

Coping with a Toxic Boss – “SAL THE SLAVE DRIVER”
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