Motivating Employees By Screaming


From original questioner:

I'm admittedly chuckling at my subject/ title. But in all serious... I'm curious about viewpoints here.

So some people have a people/motivation focused attitude towards human resource management. Some people are perhaps a little oldschool and like to scare their staff into good behavior....

Where do you stand and why?

From contributor An

No screaming. At 44 yrs old and running the business for 20, I used to be less patient and hot tempered in my younger days. It doesnt work IMO - just annoys everyone involved.

I have two employees now. I prefer to talk plain and simple and to the point - wether I am giving praise, or explaining what I dont like.

They know when I am not pleased - and it doesnt require any yelling to get the point across..

From contributor D.

Without question, I say this must be decided on a case by case basis. Yell at some, they will rebel, be demotivated, yell back, or perhaps even quit or swing at you. Others, will not do a damn thing UNLESS they are yelled at! I treat each associate different depending on what motivates them. There is no "One answer fits all" here.

It's also important to point out that there is different types of screaming. Some screaming is Productive, Fun, and keeps an upswing, high energy level around the shop. Other screaming can be insulting, demeaning, and demotivating.

Good luck figuring out all the personality types. -DM

From contributor mi

In my younger days, I yelled a lot and threw things at times. It was unhealthy for me and stupid behavior, and not good for my employees either. It does not justify my behavior, but I was hiring some real knuckle heads along with a few really good employees. Never had any quit over this, often if I was yelling, somebody was probably fixing to be fired, and for good reason.
Over time I learned to understand that ultimately, I was the main source of my own frustrations. My poor hiring decisions brought me workers who were not trained and often not capable of doing quality work. After I downsized the business, I began the practice of hiring much better people, or not hiring at all. I also do not take work that we don't have the ability to produce on time, or the facility and equipment to do the quality of work expected by the customer. I don't remember the last time I yelled at anyone, and life is much better now. Anger will destroy your health, and never makes anything better.

From contributor Ji

I had a reputation for being a T total hardass for several years. i could/would sort the slackers out in a matter of hours.
If a guy could work with me for more than 2 days he would likely be with me for years.
I had one guy working for me, really a decent cabinet guy, but Lord at the personal drama he could bring to the job- screwbally family relationships, always being "victimized" by police, utility co, bank, car lot, CPS, and on and on.
The victimization and family drama often had him calling in as no show, IF he bothered to call at all.
I allowed him to keep me in COMPLETE turmoil for almost eight years (I realize it is completely MY FAULT it went that long)- the happiest day of my life was the day he quit after I reprimanded him. I REALLY set it off on him.
I haven't allowed myself to go there for almost two years-it is completely unnecessary. I'm happier with myself and so are my new guys.
If it takes yelling your doing it wrong or absolutely have the wrong kind of people. Do yourself and them a huge favor- CHANGE ONE OR THE OTHER

From contributor Me

I'm often getting an impression that the more agressive type of behaviour is more common in younger/newer managers. And I fully get it. Management is hard. And yes it pays more, but my goodness does it ever demand a lot. But I think using aggression in states of desperation may be a bit of a trap, some sort of a self perpetuated cycle of frustration.

Saw a very good article on the subject if anyone is interested:

From contributor Da

In the 80's, I worked for an owner that liked to go out on the shop floor - 20 man shop - and chuckle it up with a few guys. He would then come in my glass-walled office and direct me who to fire before noon. He was good cop, I was bad cop. He would fire just to scare everyone else. He once fired the whole company on a Friday afternoon, and then announced he would be hiring Monday morning - at 20% lower wages. They almost all showed up, and took back 'their' jobs.

Then my next shop experience was my own, with the usual assortments of knuckleheads, pretenders, and decent people. I was a hot head there, blaming the stress of ownership on my bad behavior. In fact 15 years later, I hear stories about me yelling (?!?) at so and so. At least they agreed that the receiver of my wrath had earned it. I always did wait until I was irrational before I fired someone. It does make for colorful recollection.

Later years have found me describing myself as a production enabler - one who's task it is to make the job flow better, faster, smoother, whatever. I only raise my voice for rants on external stimuli like terrible craft that gets accepted, clueless customers, etc. I see myself as as a shop equal, ready to adapt my methods for the better ideas that may come from others.

The wisdom of age would be wasted on the young, eh?

From contributor mi

I received a lot wisdom from others in my youth, but yes, I certainly ignored most of it. Time and experience has helped correct much of that, at a high cost. Reflection does make me realize that much of my management methods were learned from other hotheads, often from their yelling at me, and other employees for our poor performance. It is funny, I often think I would like to be able to now apologize to some of my previous employers for the PIA I could be at times. Most are gone or passed away now.
I will say that I have learned to see certain behaviors and characteristics in people rather quickly, and will not let the bad ones in the door here. And I am no longer bashful or slow to fire someone who sneaks those traits by me. While unpleasant going through the hothead phase, if you make it through those years, it does make for better and wiser managers.

From contributor Ji

YES! I scream.

Moving a dining table we just refinished to be re-assembled before delivery and one of the guys thumps the edge into a cart. I scream.

But, it is always so overly-dramatic over-the-top screaming that it flops over into humor. I get over being pissed, they get it that it MATTERS to pay F'ING attention. And we get on fixing things.

I get it - crap happens. But I want them to get it that taking care minimizes crap. I want to express and defuse the stress on all sides.

So sometimes a good scream gets everything out. I suspect some days they want to scream at me. The first one that does immediately goes to the top of my list.

From contributor Me

"the beatings will continue until morale improves" ;)

From contributor Pa

I use to, but not anymore. Besides it would be crazy to continue to yell at them since they all have quit.

From contributor Pa

Never, and I've been a boss since I was 23. Find different ways to work off stress. Screaming is immature, unprofessional, and the employees you want to keep will be the first to leave.

From contributor Ec

Pat -- You're a funny guy. Seriously. I'm not sure everyone here appreciates your brand of dry humor.

Paul -- While you and I certainly disagree politically, you're absolutely right on this -- it is immature and totally unprofessional and nobody worth a tinker's dam is likely to tolerate that sort of behavior from an owner, at least not for long.

I've never known any business owner who acts that way, although there have been a few Fortune500 CEOs over the years who have gained that reputation, pretty much all of whom are also famous for not having the loyalty or respect of their employees.

Over a couple of decades, the only serious confrontation I've ever had with my employees in any business was in a meeting of all hands. 30+ people, about 20 of whom were the object of my very controlled wrath -- my salesmen (this was in the managed futures business in 1980.) All of the secretaries and other support people were there because I wanted EVERYONE to understand what the deal was.

I routinely spent over 50K/month generating leads at no cost to the salesmen, mostly by attending multi-day monetary/investment conferences as an exhibitor all over the U.S and places like London and Hong Kong.

I noticed that most of my sales guys were loading their daily call sheets with calls to existing customers or old prospects. This was manual entry -- pre-PC, (And before I got a 60K "mini-computer" that had a CPU that sat in a box that was about 18 cubic feet. The dang 12" 10MB hard drive wouldn't boot on winter weekends because the building turned the heat down.)

Maybe 7 or 8 of these guys were so fat and happy that they made no calls at all to any prospects, new or old.

This tendency of good salesman to stack arms is understandable. I know, I've got 20+ years of sales experience in 3 businesses I've owned. Anyway, I had 3 or 4 guys routinely making 30K+/month. At a 30% commission rate on the gross revenue their accounts generated for me. They're cool, money's great, who needs to work on new business?

And all of these guys' job was simply to open new accounts, all trading was done by me according to my proprietary system and rules. The average guys were making 10K/month. Some of them acted as if that was big money. What? Me make calls? Easier to fake it and just talk to people I already know.

After a month or so of watching all these guys get progressively lazier, when the evidence was incontrovertible across the board I called the meeting.

I simply told everyone in very measured tones that I was aware of what was going on, that I was not happy that I was spending serious money on leads that weren't being properly worked or worked at all, that there were a lot of people out there who would give their left arm and their first-born to be provided with no-cost, high-quality sales leads, that I expected everyone to try to do their very best to maximize their income and finally that anyone playing any version of the load-the-call-sheet game in the future would be summarily fired. There would be no second chances -- this WAS their second chance.

No shouting. No screaming. No yelling. No swearing. Just a calm statement of facts, without singling anyone out for any criticism.

This was all met with dead silence, as all of the sales guys were guilty of this behavior to some degree.

Anyone have any questions? Not a peep.

OK, meeting adjourned, let's go to work and make some money!

The problem disappeared.

Later, one of them told me he wanted to sink through the floor because he thought I had been talking about him. And he wasn't even anywhere near the worst offender. He was one of the younger guys and I felt bad that he had felt so bad. So, I took him out to dinner and we talked about how he was doing and what he could do better and I explained the problem in more detail, with the expectation that those words would also probably spread.

I never had to fire any of them for slacking on prospect calls. They all became veritable prospect follow-up machines.

From contributor Pa

I would contend that the yelling follows a loss of control.

All loss of control follows a violation or non existent policy.

Control = Prediction

Prediction = Policy

If you think about it you entire business experience is the accumulation of policy.

In Econ's case he put in a policy that you will follow up leads or you will no longer work here.

I think one of the primary policies in any business should be a metric for all jobs. To do otherwise is like trying to fly a 747 without any gauges, which might not turn out well.

Not to go crazy on it as it is much harder to create a metric for an individual production employee than you might think especially when you tie bonuses to it.

I think a lot of this stems from America's top down/Henry Ford policy. Excessive centralized policy making doesn't work. (I have seen a really good example of this somewhere, but I can't remember where at the moment.) IOW ideas dreamed up in the Ivory Tower usually are divorced from reality.

On the other hand I don't entirely agree with the bottom of policy that Lean espouses. I love the idea of constant improvement and the respect for worker that it engenders.

I think you need both top down and bottom up. The production metrics are useful but if you become outraged at what is on a piece of paper, I recommend that you go do the job yourself to see what is really going on, more often than not you will have an epiphany followed by an "oh".

On the other hand don't discount the bad apple, who unchecked, causes more anger that you realize, until you get rid of the bad apple.

But I suppose at the end of the day Dave has it right in that a lot of the yelling goes away with age and experience.

From contributor Da

Paul Downs is absolutely right.

From contributor Je

No, cuz there's no one else to yell at besides myself.... seriously there's a time to admonish, but if you yell at them, as soon a you leave they'll go back to what they were doing before.

From contributor Ca

I like to keep my benches clean. I have reasons for this. I believe in a 5-S approach to everything we do.

I had a kid one time who, according to him, was the star pupil at the local woodworking college. Inasmuch as I have hired a half dozen "star" pupils from this school over the years I have come to conclude that the teachers take each student aside and whisper this in their ear. (I think it has something to do with keeping the tuition rolling in.)

Anyway since this kid couldn't pound his way out of a wet paper bag I figured he could at least mitigate for this weakness by not hobbling himself unnecessarily. For some reason, however, I couldn't seem to get the 5S program to stick with him. I would constantly have to remind him to pick up after himself. I figured I have enough on my plate to not also have to manage his bench so about the sixth time this became an issue I took him aside and explained very calmly the following litany:

If you are going to use the tool again fairly soon it is okay to leave it where it is. If you're done with the tool or the scrap I want it put in it's ultimate resting spot at that time.
There is a mathematical reason for this.

Travel distance and time associated with putting something away is exactly the same whether this happens now or at the end of the day. There is no benefit conferred by delay. There is an upside, however, to performing this part of the 5S now rather than later. By keeping the area clean and sorting the things we are working on from the things we are not working on, and the tools we are working with from the tools we aren't working with we become more nimble and prepared to respond to ad hoc demands on our resources. For example, If a customer comes in with a door under their arm they have a place to put it. etc. etc.

I then, just as quietly and calmly, told him that the next time we had to have this little chat I was going to fire him on the spot and he could collect his coat and lunchbox and leave the building immediately.

I never had to yell at all. All I had to do was explain the policy and outline the consequences. The problem went away. Unfortunately he never did develop enough competence or speed to make himself useful. He was, however, able to list his training in Lean Manufacturing principles on his resume. He ended up getting hired by Boeing. I can't say for sure but I would guess those keywords had something to do with him getting his foot in the door.

From contributor Je

I once worked for an employee who swears at you, calls you dumb, and repeatedly tells you to get the f?*! out as a first warning for any situation he does not favor!

From contributor La

I've never been a screamer. Always tried to use logic to get what I wanted from someone. Doesn't always work. I used to wait too long before I let someone go. Always hated to do it. But finally figured out I wasn't capable of helping them when I failed after several tries. It was time for them to get a government job.
A long time ago I had a smart girl friend. One day she said "you really p!!s me off because you win every argument." Why? "Because you cheat and use logic."
Doesn't work with everyone but a logical explanation often does.

From contributor Pa


Are you the one responsible for the swelling of the number of workers in government?

And making sure that they do not use logic?

From contributor ca


Just be grateful you don't get ALL the government you pay for.

From contributor Pa

Grateful is not the first word that comes to mind, but sure lets go with that.

From contributor ca

And if you think the "invisible hand" of the marketplace is more efficient than government try buying something from the Apple store.

From contributor Pa

I used to buy from Apple but that was 20 years ago. Since then I voted with my feet and went to other products that IMO had more value.Which of course illustrates the beauty of the invisible hand. Rather than being frustrated I suggest you consider using it to your best advantage.

At any rate I will take the invisible hand over the iron fist any day.

From contributor Me

Larry, I really wish the whole world could just function on logic. It would be humanity's only chance to tackle everything important sitting over a table with a beer, pleasantly.

From contributor Pa

BTW taking a course in logic would be the most practical thing you ever do.

From contributor Me

Haha, Pat, I have!! Natural deductive logic. Was the only one in the course that took it for fun and not because it was a course requirement ( I loved to blow student loans on intellectual whims. Still paying btw lol).

And I LOVED it. Still use it :) You took it too? Where you in philosophy?

From contributor Pa

Why else would I say it?

From contributor sc

I enjoyed reading everyone's answers, great forum.
i have taken a lot of leadership courses and i personally don't think yelling ever works, and if it does, it will only be for a short period of time.
it was mentioned earlier in the forum that different people are motivated in different ways. In a lot of the leadership courses, it is taught that the different generations have to be motivated in different ways. there are the baby boomers, gen x's and gen y's. The baby boomers would be more likely to respond to yelling and screaming, where as the gen y's need to be treated kinder and gentler, they have a ton of entitlement and need to know why they are being asked to do something. The gen x's are somewhere in between. It is very important to do your home work when hiring an employee and then get to know them after they are hired. Treat them the way you would like to be treated.
Being a great leader is not always easy, basically you need to get all your employees to respect you, and respect can never be demanded, only earned.

From contributor ji

Econ 101
What was it you were selling? To woodworking ears those are huge #'s.........

From contributor Pa

@ jim: it was financial products. There's no way anyone could pay a 30% commission on woodworking. FWIW, I pay my salesman a salary + a 2% commission on payments received.

From contributor Me

Another note on yelling... I've noticed that when you get yelled at, you are more busy thinking about how much of an awful person that person is than what you actually did wrong.

From contributor Ec

jim, Paul is correct, it was a financial product -- managed futures accounts, as noted above.

COMPLETELY different business than woodworking.

No raw materials, other than some client capital, which occupies the space of a checkbook.
No machinery or production process, other than an effective mathematical, automatic trading system.
No installation, other than a signed set of account forms.

We were just the adviser with a power of attorney to trade the account -- the broker held customer funds and generated confirms, etc.

It was a performance business. 20% of profits (I gave customers the first 100% on the house as an incentive to open an account and try us out.)

Perform or die.

Since the handful of original customers had about 1,400% (no, that's not a typo) gains after 8 months, and the average customer was up about 500% after 4 months, it wasn't too hard to open new accounts.

Minimum 25K, which would be close to 100K in 2015 dollars. These were metals accounts -- gold and silver. Some here probably don't remember the '79-'80 run in gold from 125 to 850 or silver from 5 to 50. Bunker Hunt, anyone? Those were the days. And the following collapse. We made money in both directions on both the rise and the decline -- nothing ever goes in a straight line, either up or down.

And the performance was generated with leverage that was never more than 3:1, very conservative in the futures markets where 20:1 was and remains routinely available. I shudder to think about what the results would have been at 6:1 or 8:1 or 10:1. But, being somewhat risk-averse is generally good policy. Leverage is always a two-edged sword. Using (relatively) low levels of leverage was a sales point.

Am I boring you yet? Most people's eyes will have glazed over by this point.

Anyway, my reps got 30% of whatever fees I charged their customer's accounts. Why on Earth would you slack off for even a minute, never mind a month or two?

As a sales rep, you had essentially 6% (30% of 20%) of the upside on all of the money in your customer's accounts beyond the first 100%. With zero downside if no money was made. With no investment on the part of the sales rep beyond being willing to make sales calls.

Do the math. A 100% gain (often done in a month) on 10 million of customer money with 20% performance fees is about 2 million. The 10 or 12 salesmen collectively got paid 600K, give or take.

The rest was mine. I won't bore you with the minor fees that paid the overhead, but it's obvious why I wanted these guys on the phones until their ears fell off.

What amazed me was that these guys would coast and ignore the very prospects (expensive to me, but at no direct cost to them) which gave them an extraordinary income.

Maybe it's just human nature. Or maybe bad hiring by me. Whatever it is, one way or another, people seem to get fat and happy and ease off instead of maximizing, no matter how much money is involved.

I've noticed this tendency in other much less lucrative businesses both before and after the managed futures business.

But, no matter how lazy or incompetent people may be I don't think yelling at anyone ever accomplishes anything.

Turn the incompetents into free-agents who can waste the time of some other employer. Try to motivate the lazy. If that doesn't work (and usually it doesn't, although it did in the rare case of my commodity guys) fire them, too. Pleasantly.

I only yell at myself.

From contributor Ra

Screamers get old and tend to be ignored. I once had a boss that was very quiet, but when he did speak it was always soft and well thought out, Everyone listened. When he was really pissed he would leave and go for coffee, when he came back he would have a short well thought out discussion and problems were solved. A very professional person, I enjoyed my time there. Screamers are tagged as Assholes.

From contributor Pa

"Since the handful of original customers had about 1,400% (no, that's not a typo) gains after 8 months, and the average customer was up about 500% after 4 months, it wasn't too hard to open new accounts"

I don't want to jump to conclusions but I'm guessing that the FIRE sector is more profitable than cabinetmaking?

"And the performance was generated with leverage that was never more than 3:1"

I'm a thinking Goldman Sachs would fire you on the spot for anything that wasn't leveraged at least 40 to 1?

From contributor Ec

FIRE more profitable?

Yup, probably in general. But, feast or famine, like everything else.

As for Goldman, if you're the GS exec who makes a wrong 40:1 call, you'll soon be unemployed.

40:1 is ridiculous and never something any rational individual should engage in.

From contributor Pa

Why not uncle Ben and uncle Henry had them covered. What were they leveraged on the derivatives in housing that they had in 2007?

From contributor Ec

Not enough to prevent GS from going from 250 to 50 in '08. They have yet to recover the old high.