Bad bosses beware

MN whistleblower takes on issue of workplace bullying

Bad bosses beware
Thomas James

Joe Henry hated his boss so much, he would've preferred his old Army drill sergeant.

"A drill sergeant is consistently one way," he says. "You know you're going to get yelled at no matter what."

Henry, a barrel-chested man with military posture, joined the Army at age 18 and deployed with one of the first battalions to enter Iraq in March 2003. He served a seven-month tour locating weapons caches and maintaining communications lines. A fellow vet remembers Henry as a reliable soldier — steady under the sound of constant gunfire.

In order to help his client, Mitch Absey, right, attorney Steve Heikens, left, used some clever legal maneuvering
Hilary Stein
In order to help his client, Mitch Absey, right, attorney Steve Heikens, left, used some clever legal maneuvering
Stanford's Bob Sutton says he gets calls every day from beleaguered subordinates since writing Good Boss, Bad Boss
courtesy of Bob Sutton
Stanford's Bob Sutton says he gets calls every day from beleaguered subordinates since writing Good Boss, Bad Boss

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HOW GOOD IS YOUR BOSS?
Bob Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss put together two quizzes to help bosses assess themselves, and subordinates evaluate their current level of hell. Take the quiz! Are You A Certified Asshole? and How Good Is Your Boss?

For Henry, it turned out wartime was easier to handle than a job in satellite TV installation.

After he returned home, Henry began working as a manager for Dish Network. Six months into the job, his days began to start with the same strange ritual. He'd hit the alarm and lie there, wrestling with the urge to call in sick.

"If I make it to the weekend," he'd tell himself, "I'll buy myself a new shirt."

These little carrots would get him into his car and headed toward the office in Maplewood, but as he neared the low-slung industrial complex, the nausea would set in. There were days he thought he was going to throw up.

All this was over his boss, Marshall Hood.

"He'd get in your face. He'd point, he loved to shove the finger," Henry recalls. "You never knew what was going to set him off."


It is nearly impossible to successfully sue your boss for being a bully. While there are decades' worth of precedents on gender and race discrimination in the workplace, just being an all-around jerk is sanctioned boardroom behavior.

"The standard for outrageous conduct is so high that people lose those lawsuits," says Dr. Gary Namie, the director of the Workplace Bullying Institute. "Nothing is considered outrageous when committed by management."

A 2010 study commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute showed that 35 percent of adults said they'd experienced some form of "repeated, health harming abusive conduct committed by bosses and co-workers." Studies in Britain, Finland, and Sweden have all correlated bad bosses with an increased risk of heart disease. Workers' rights advocates argue that some recourse should exist since bosses can have a profound effect on their subordinates' careers and mental health, to say nothing of the propensity to go mad with power.

"When you put people in positions of authority, of management, if you look at the behavior, it's one of the best and most reliable ways to turn someone into a jerk," says Bob Sutton, a Stanford University professor of management science and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss.

Since there are no existing laws against workplace bullies, up until now it's been up to the lawyers. In 2007, an underperforming sales executive in Utah was waterboarded as a "team-building" exercise orchestrated by his overzealous boss, and he had to fight to the State Supreme Court to have his claim heard. An Indiana man sued after his boss, an open-heart surgeon, attacked him in the operating room and told him he was "finished." In 2008, the victim won $325,000 and media accounts dubbed it the first "workplace bullying" victory in U.S. history.

Despite the scant victories, Sutton believes the days of the feckless corporate boss-holes are numbered.

"You can see it as a part of the zeitgeist, of people being more sensitive about bullying with kids," he says. "It transfers to the workplace."


Mitch Absey had no idea, as he watched his wife take a twirl with Marshall Hood on the dance floor of a mutual co-worker's wedding in 2003, that in nine years they'd be facing off in a civil courtroom.

"He seemed like a nice kid," recalls Absey.

Dish Network is the second-largest satellite television provider in the country, but when it expanded to Minnesota in the late '90s, the first office felt like a mom-and-pop operation.

Hood was a stocky, bespectacled Georgia native who'd moved to Minnesota to marry a long-distance girlfriend. While they didn't have much in common, Absey and most of the employees at Dish became friends.

"We knew what we needed to do and we got the job done," says Shaun Sheridan, who started at Dish in 2001. "A lot of us would hang around and socialize, play ping pong, go to the bar."

Peter Beard, the groom from the 2003 nuptials, even had Hood in his wedding party.

"He was a fun guy to be around," says Beard. "He was friends with pretty much everybody."

At one time, Marco Esnaola and Hood held identical managerial positions, and Esnaola says he saw Hood as a level-headed boss — except once, after he got into a yelling match with a technician (Hood "respectfully declined" to comment for this story through his attorney).

"I brought him into the office. I told him if he ever wanted to become something more than a lead technician he had to never do that again," recalls Esnaola.

Hood ultimately proved him wrong. In 2004, as the business at Dish continued to thrive, Hood was offered leadership of the branch and the title of general manager. At the time, Absey says it seemed like a fine decision.

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23 comments
rightnow
rightnow

This article is more evidence that bullying is a national tragedy affecting young people across America and throughout Minnesota. We all need to take action against the source of bullying and let kids, parents, teachers, principals and politicians know that bullying is NOT okay. We all need to do something to make a difference. An amazing young singer-songwriter named Becca Levy is doing just that. She has started a music based anti bullying group called Right Now. Here’s a link to her video for a cover of “Right Now” by Van Halen. The purpose of the video is to promote awareness to kids using both music and the Internet. The video begins with a public service announcement and is full of statistics that people of all ages need to see. Becca lives in Washington, D.C. and just turned sixteen years old. Rightnowagainstbullying.com

Stacy Cole
Stacy Cole

When will people learn that you get more from people when you DON'T treat them like crap? SERIOUSLY.

Addie Price
Addie Price

Thank you so much for addressing this issue. It is so devastating and demeaning to be bullied by the person that holds your livelyhood in their hands. Hopefully this will empower people to stand up for themselves. Please take a look at my blog: http://addieprice.hubpages.com... I would love to know your thoughts on this.

Super Tech
Super Tech

If this isn't the pot calling the kettle black I don't know what is. All the technicians I know called him Mitch the Bitch. His rediculious Quality Control check was a exercise in petty B.S. and just plain stealing your paycheck. If he could find the any tiny reason to fail the install the contractor/ technician would not get paid for the hours of work they did installing the Dish System.(and it could be something as petty as not putting a sticker on a remote). We also had to pay for the cable wire, small parts and use your own vehicle/gas to do the job. You would actually lose money on the install if he chose to fail you for something very small. Last I checked 99 out of 100 is not a fail. It would be like getting a $100 traffic ticket every time you were 1 mile over the speed limit. The day I quit another tech said it was like living under a Nazi regime and thats what it felt like, we were scared all the time. As far as I am concerned they deserve each other.

Fargo Jones
Fargo Jones

Arg, trying to tweet article, got tricked into typing a comment here!

Crt1970 Ct
Crt1970 Ct

I started in 08 at the maplewood dns office. At the time Marshall seemed fairly stable but after only a few short months he started to play games. For instance if you had a good month he would act like your best friend. The next month if there was a lull in productivity he wouldnt even look at you let alone shake your hand. Marshall, I hope Mitch drained your accounts. The way you treat people proves you dont know the golden rule or karma or common courtesy or respect or etc. etc.

Laura Crawshaw, Ph.D., BCC
Laura Crawshaw, Ph.D., BCC

This very sad story reflects the suffering experienced by individuals who work under or with boss who engages in bullying behaviors. Marshall Hood appears to be a classic case study of what we at The Boss Whispering Institute encounter in the vast majority of abrasive leaders: any perceived threat to their competence provokes intense anxiety, and their response to this anxiety is aggression. As Hood states: “"I would say I would get frustrated with their lack of performance in certain areas.” and his solution was to demonstrate his “passion” through aggressive words and actions. They lack psychological insight, and if employers ask them to “ease up”, they are incapable of devising management strategies that don’t involve aggression. As one truly puzzled abrasive boss told me “How am I supposed to get the job done if I don’t kick some ass?”

At this stage in history, employers accept that it is their duty to provide a physically safe work place, and they do this by establishing safety policies and intervening when employees fail to follow those policies. The time has now come for employers to accept their duty to provide a psychologically safe workplace – a place where employees can come to work without fear of being subjected to bullying behaviors.

Why don’t employers already do this? The popular literature would have you believe it's because they’re all evil and uncaring. Through The Boss Whispering Institute’s research and work in the field of coaching abrasive leaders, we have found that more often than not employers don't know what to do. They are reluctant to fire a technically competent (but interpersonally incompetent) leader for a variety of reasons, including loss of valued expertise or revenue, or fear of litigation for terminating the individual. We’ve also found that many employers have confronted their abrasive leaders for unacceptable conduct , but to no avail, because abrasive leaders characteristically deny that they are abrasive. Over and over again we encounter employers who feel hopeless and helpless.

What to do about bad bosses? As we have learned in the fields of child or domestic abuse, legislation will not entirely solve the problem. Even if an abrasive boss ends up facing fines and termination, he or she will only go on to work somewhere else and cause further suffering. Employers are very familiar with handling performance problems by setting limits and consequences for unacceptable performance, and, when appropriate, offering resources such as technical training or specialized coaching. If performance then meets standards, fine. If not, termination is appropriate. Employers need help to understand that this same approach (setting limits and consequences and offering corrective help) can be applied to unacceptable interpersonal conduct. And if the conduct fails to improve, then it’s time to part ways and end the suffering.

Laura Crawshaw, Ph.D, BCCThe Boss Whispering Institute

Martin
Martin

I hope Mitch or Mr. Heikens reads this. I would like to point out the review that Mitch's replacement had received, which was higher than Mitch's. I think this might be a good part of Dish's appeal. The replacement received said review based upon his performance as a technician (installer) and therefore it cannot be compared to a performance score received (by Mitch in this case) as a quality assurance specialist. Just because this person had hit the marks in installation, it does not mean that Mitch was less suited to remain in that position.

Hope this helps. Good Luck!

Guest
Guest

Looking up Marshall Hood on LinkedIn, he was able to secure a VP of Operations position at Accurate Communication Solution since February 2011 (so it claimed on the LinkedIn profile anyway). ACS is probably a smaller outfit then a DishNetwork branch, but in the end what does this tell us? As time goes by will Marshall climb back into the corporate ladder? Will his behavior change?

Guest
Guest

Ironically, when the City Pages courier dropped these issues off at my work, my boss cut me a check for one week less of pay than he promised. When I went to get it cashed, it bounced. I called and asked why he wrote me a bad check, he got aggressive and threatened to fire me. ...Even worse? He advertises in your paper. He really hit it home this time!

L. Schultz
L. Schultz

I have worked in retail for most of my life, starting at age 16. I am now 43. I have had good and bad AND HORRIBLE bosses, ie the boss from hell. The worst ones make you think you are lower then the ground they walk on, you will never find a job except the one you currently have, you are nothing (with out them...), you are replaceable in a heart beat, you have no brain, you are not to think for yourself because that would be anarchy, you must conform to THEIR way of thinking-doing-etc. not ness. the company that they also work for, they take credit for your success, everything is for the benefit of the "store", your well being/your life/your thoughts do not count or amount to anything, there is no compromise it is THEIR way or the highway, it is good to be king/queen/God of this little world, when they fail it it is YOUR fault, on & on & on....I could tell you stories of abuse and abusive behavior towards myself and/or others from over the years that would make your hair fall out, often times your only recourse is to quit,start all over somewhere else or "they" will find a reason or a way to fire you-contrived or otherwise, which makes it difficult to find another job. You, the employe, CANNOT use them for references which they/the manager-boss hold over your head as well. You have no back up, recourse etc. and often times no access to human resources which is often in a different state or there might not be one at all. Your article is right, it is difficult to prove work place bullying when you are a "peon-employe" the "word" of the manager is law-is right-and is never to be questioned. Do you want to know what happened to the Nazi mentality? It is alive and well in the retail work place. Please don't get me wrong, I am not bitter at all because of it, I just have learned that that is the way it is and I don't take it personally. But I have seen it hurt so many people, especially the very young. AND in posting this i know it may hurt my potential for a job later on down the line.....

Anonymous.
Anonymous.

I'm going to clandestinely slip a copy of this week's edition into someone's inbox.

Finally the Truth
Finally the Truth

I have known Marshall for many years and the actions described in this article pale in comparison to the non-stop bully tactics he would employ when dealing directly with Dish subcontractors. Because of corrupt individuals like Marshall Hood, Dish has since completely re-structured their relationship with subcontractors to all but sever the tie between the local GM and subs. Subs now report directly to regional account managers instead. I worked directly with Mitch Absey on many occasions and he deserves a lot more than what was awarded, and Marshall should be banned from the industry instead of cowering under the umbrella of a local Minnesota subcontractor!

Guest
Guest

I worked for Marshal at the Maplewood Office from December of 2007 to September of 2008, I took the job as I was in between jobs in the IT field. As a Dish employee I came in did my job and had great numbers. When I finally found a Job back in the IT field I gave my 2 week notice to my direct supervisor James Kline, He told Marshal. For my remaining 2 weeks Marshal did not speak to me nor hardly looked at me. On my last day at the end of my shift I walked in to Marshal's office to say goodbye, shake his hand and thank him for the opportunity to work there, I did all 3 of those things the response I got to the Thank You was "Yep, goodbye" I remember thinking how unprofessional could this person be.

Kathleen Bartle
Kathleen Bartle

About time people made the link between verbal violence and threats and physical violence. Let's hope it's not overturned.

Betty
Betty

Sounds LikeCity of Minneapolis Regulatory Services - nothing has changed

Jeanhehn
Jeanhehn

Fantastic that he has paved the way for others. I wish I had that courage back when I worked for a he'll business. Great article!

Loberalgi
Loberalgi

I agree with Tired of Reinstalling, if Mitch failed you, you didn't do your job correctly. Mitch was a professional who took his job seriously. You didn't fail for a sticker, it was probably the six barrels you left in the line along with the sticker

Tired of REINSTALLING!
Tired of REINSTALLING!

Hey "super tech" Mitch did his job. If you had also done your job properly maybe he would'nt fail the job. Would'nt you rather protect your investment? As well as , ya know...take pride in your work?

Super Tech
Super Tech

maybe he treated the in house guys better and differently. I can tell you we had meetings with 20plus technicians just to talk about what we were going to do about Mitch, and we were not all wrong. It was common knowledge that you will be failed for the smallest thing. He was looking to fail you not pass you. I agree that some techs needed to be failed for the jobs they did but many did not deserve the fail. Like I said before it would be like a cop pulling you over for being 1 mile over the speed limit and giving you a $150 ticket. Mitch was a quality cop and we need that but lets not be petty. by the way he passed over 100 of my jobs but the 2 he failed were the sticker on remote and the other one was the through bolt on the dish needed about 1/4 turn. I guess if he could put a thumb nail between the dish and bolt it was a fail. The customer could have pulled off the sticker and you could have barely put a piece of paper between the dish and the bolt. My advise would be to lighten up. It is satellite tv not brian surgery.

Super Tech
Super Tech

Hey "Mitch's Little Bitch" did you read what I wrote? I suppose you would say that Marshall was just doing his job!!! Professionals can do their job without being petty and ridiculous. I was a quality manager for 2 years with Dish Network and if something needed a small adjustment I adjusted it. Sending a tech back and taking 2 hours of his time to drive there and do 10 seconds of work and drive 1 hour back home is insane. If it needed a reinstall I would understand but he failed me on only 2 out of around 2000 installs and they were both a matter of opinion, petty, and changed to his liking in 10 to 20 seconds. Karma is a bitch and so is...

 
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