“Can’t take further abuse, and can’t complain or leave. Any ideas?”

Question: I’ve been working for an officer of a very large corporation for many, many years. It’s almost like a marriage, with good days and bad days.

He has very serious personal issues right now, and takes his anger out on me. This makes my blood pressure situation worse, which causes me to call in sick every once in a while, which only makes him worse.

If I file a complaint, I am certain they will get rid of me without even talking with him. They protect their officers, so that isn’t even an option. I’ve tried to talk with him, and he won’t even give me time to talk with him on work issues. My last resort was to email him to get answers to legitimate work issues, even though we sit right near each other. He answered me verbally and walked away.

I’m between a rock and a hard place. I have only two years until I can retire at age 62. If I transfer I will take a big cut in pay, but I don’t want to lose my health either. This to me is abusive behavior.

What do you suggest?

Queens, New York

Answer: Dear JJ:   

From what you describe, you are caught between a really big “rock” and a really tough “hard place.” On the one hand, you can’t jeopardize your health. On the other hand, you can’t jeopardize your retirement. One of my most popular newsletters is entitled “12 Ideas for Dealing with the Boss from Hell.” I think there are several ideas in that newsletter that you may find helpful in your difficult situation. You can link to that article if you simply [click here].

In addition to those ideas, you might consider these:   

1. Take regular steps to reduce your own stress. You can’t control your boss, but you can affect how much he affects you. Ways you can do this might include exercise, prayer, individual or group counseling, meditation, walking, yoga, massages, relaxation techniques, or other steps that can help reduce the effects that such stress puts on your body and mind. You may also consider a process called “visualization,” which might be described as pretending you are not at the office, but rather on a quiet beach or country setting. Though these are simply “coping” mechanisms, there’s nothing wrong with “mere coping.” JJ, I am older than you are, and I have found yoga to be extremely helpful in this regard, especially the deep, rhythmic breathing I have learned in yoga.

2. Start focusing on your retirement; it’s another potentially effective coping mechanism. A second coping mechanism may be to take your mind from the present, and start placing it in your future. I don’t know what you plan to do once you retire, but if it’s a move to, say, Arizona, start collecting information and brochures about the move. If you would like to open a Bed-and-Breakfast in New Hampshire, plan weekend trips to New England to start your thinking. I think this might just make your situation a bit easier to cope with.

3. Review your employer’s policies regarding disability. While it doesn’t seem like you are disabled, I am concerned that the effects of your high blood pressure might lead you to that. You should find out what alternatives are in place regarding both short-term disability and long-term disability, in case the need arises.

4. Also review your employer’s policy regarding FMLA leaves of absence. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) provides that your employer must give you up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, during each year, if your medical or psychological health, or that of a family member, requires it in the opinion of your health care provider. Some companies – perhaps yours – pay employees during this time, or at least let them use accrued vacation time to get paid during this period. The really good thing about FMLA is that it guarantees you your job back – or a substantially similar one – upon your return. This time off might just be what you need, now or in the future.

5. Please consider a “Pre-Emptive Anti-Retaliation Letter” (“PEARL”) to the Board of Directors. JJ, I know you are certain that, if you file any kind of complaint, you will be retaliated against. You wrote “They protect their officers, so that’s not even an option.” What I call a “PEARL” is not really a complaint against a manager, executive or officer. Rather, it is a request for “Respite from Abuse without Retaliation.” Said differently, you are not asking the Board of Directors to take action against your boss. Rather, you are asking the Board of Directors to “Save my Life, but Don’t Kill my Career, Retirement or Reputation.” Such a letter puts the dilemma into the laps of the members of the Board of Directors, who could then suffer personally – legally and/or reputation-wise –  if you then suffer retaliation. This is a very hard thing for you to do, I know that, but then again, I don’t want you to lose your health, either.

A “Pre-Emptive Anti-Retaliation Letter” (or “PEARL”) would describe the situation, a bit more in depth and with more specifics than how you described it above, and would describe your “rock and hard place” without seeming too critical or complaining about your boss. In fact, what you wrote above was, to my mind, rather empathetic toward him, as you acknowledged that “he has very serious personal issues right now.” Considering the circumstances, that was a very nice and respectful thing to point out.

In bypassing Human Resources, and other officers and Senior Management, you are likely going to make any of their potential retaliation most unlikely. Rather, you would more likely be protecting yourself, at least for the next two or so years. I know you are skeptical, and I know it is easier for me to suggest than for you to live through, but I have seen this work, several times, especially in large corporate employers, like yours.

If you would like to obtain a Model “PEARL” Letter for your adaptation and use, simply [click here].

I hope this is helpful to you, and that things get better for you. No one deserves such abusive, hostile behavior. Stay healthy. You are in my prayers.

Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.