There's a fratboy in the house of nerds
December 29, 2011 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Please help me wrest an amazing company from the clutches of one overgrown frat boy.

I started working for a small company last summer. We do what I think is amazing work, we all get along really well, and we're becoming a large part of the development/UX scene in our region. But there's one nagging problem that we all (except for two of us) agree is holding us back and will until it's gone: this guy who has convinced everyone he's our "co-founder". We'll call him "Chad". I read this thread and was following the story all day beforehand. That guy, his language, his bullying, and his abysmal typing are nearly identical to this guy. He's somehow ingratiated himself to our founder and claims to be a business development person. The deals he secures all either fall through, or end up being nightmares. A short list:
  • He tries to insert himself into project management with disastrous results
  • Calls clients and refers to them as "bro" (not kidding)
  • At every company function or lunch, he's borderline abusive and flippant to wait staff. This is a big one because we do an inordinate amount of public facing stuff now, and there are eight of us who have to run damage control
  • He worked night and day to fire a co-worker who's only real crime, while not necessarily being suited for this line of work, was that she was "ugly" and a "stupid bitch"
  • Has on more than one occasion padded billing to the point that it was insanely obvious to the client
  • Has on more than one occasion lied about project deliverables (editing out ones he thought would take too long) to try and maximize profits on a job. When the client started calling about the undelivered parts of the job (the parts we were never told about), he started repeating the phrase "out of scope" (which he picked up from us) and stopped taking their calls.
  • Last week, he put me in some kind of wrestling headlock (WTF?) at the table where several of us were working. I had to punch him to get him to let me go, and it made everyone (especially me!) really uncomfortable. This isn't the first instance of that sort of frat house/horseplay bullshit
  • We've had several meetings about the company's future where we tried to talk about this. But our founder—who is the shy genius type—just doesn't want to hear about Chad and his bad behavior. For our founder Chad performs the important task of being in the public eye, which is something he's shown to be either unwilling or unable to do due to his painful shyness. I respect the hell out of our founder. He has built an amazing place for us all to work, and what's more he's bringing a fresh mentality to a city the desperately needs to learn entrepreneurship. Chad, for his part, probably thinks he's doing great. He finds himself in the local media as the mouthpiece of this movement, and it makes him feel vindicated. But the fact remains that he has zero acumen, zero understanding of the work we're doing, and zero skills as a PM or business development manager. His saving grace is his ability to blather on aimlessly at parties when our founder needs to go home and recharge his introvert batteries. So, as I said we've tried to reason with our founder. I've tried talking to Chad about modifying his behavior. I've tried pointing out that he serves no real value, and that if the founder needs someone to talk to clients I'm happy to step in, as is any one else. But, no dice. How do I handle this? I *really* don't want to leave this company. I've even had lots of fruitful offers, but I'm loyal to this place and what it's accomplishing. This job is also the result of a roundabout five year search (and three other shitty jobs), and has been like a family to me while I weather a divorce. For example, every person I work with called to make sure I had somewhere to be for Christmas and one even brought gifts. These are amazing people forced to work with a giant frat boy that we can't seem to shake. Outside of driving him to the country and leaving him in a field full of Axe body spray and Heineken, what can we do to forge ahead?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Hang on a second -- the guy put you in a headlock and your founder doesn't want to deal with that?

File a formal H.R. Grievance against Chad for assault. Seriously. Tell the other guy that you mean business.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:44 AM on December 29, 2011 [12 favorites]

Doing a bad job is something the founder will have to fire him for. If you don't like the results, leave. But things like calling a coworker ugly and a stupid bitch, and putting you in a headlock? That's a hostile work environment and a lawsuit if it's not handled properly _if you report it_.
posted by bfranklin at 8:47 AM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Last week, he put me in some kind of wrestling headlock (WTF?) at the table where several of us were working.

So, basically, this is assault. You go to your Shy Genius type and you tell him that Chad assaulted you. Don't talk about how Chad is a shitty dude or a bad employee or anything else. Dude physically harassed and assaulted you, that's the be-all end-all. This is literally the textbook definition of a hostile work environment.

Then you officially (in writing, with a paper trail, and so on) tell HR or Shy Genius that you will absolutely not tolerate working in this sort of environment and while you might not want to press charges, someone, eventually, will. HR or Shy Genius should realize that the company will go right down the toilet because of the payout from the inevitable lawsuit Chad will incur upon the company. If they don't think this is an issue, you're working for a company that is going to die an unnatural death one way or another, regardless of how amazing it is.
posted by griphus at 8:47 AM on December 29, 2011 [19 favorites]

"We've tried to reason with our founder." It sounds like at least 5 of 7 employees agree with you. If you all feel that strongly, and reason hasn't worked, then you could all explain that either Chad goes or almost all of the rest of you do. Even if the founder finds him valuable, it would make the decision easy for the founder. And if he's as shy as you say, he might just not want to face the conflict of firing someone. But he might welcome the opportunity to say to Chad, "Hey, I wish you could stay but the other guys won't let you."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:48 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, if anyone in my company put me in a headlock while on the job and nobody within the company would take action, I'd sue the pants off of all of them.
posted by xingcat at 8:49 AM on December 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

Besides ASSAULT WTF, document specific things that have happened because of him doing his job badly. Like, "he lied to customer A and now they don't do business with us any more." Bring that to HR and the management. Between literally hostile workplace behaviors and poor performance, if they don't get rid of him then you need to get out because the company as an organization is hell-bent on suicide.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:53 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Take that list of above things, and divide it in two. Make a list of things that he's done to clients, and make a list of things he's done to employees (including yourself). Throw all the evidence you can find in a huge folder and take it up to the Boss. Show him in painful detail every step of how Chad's ruining his company. Make it clear that he understands that it's not just the inner office politics (headlocks/stupid bitch), but that this is hitting the clientele, and that if not checked, it's gonna dry up the company's revenue stream. Money always talks, and Shy Guy will have to wake up and smell the napalm.
posted by deezil at 8:53 AM on December 29, 2011

You and the other employees need to approach the founder together and say "Chad or us." Then follow through. If you love working with these folks, consider partnering with them. The shy genius can become a partner if he likes - it sounds like it might fit his personality better than being a leader.
posted by letitrain at 8:53 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

In addition to "List of lawsuit-worthy shit Chad has pulled," you should also present Shy Genius with a plan for how you and your colleagues will do the public-facing stuff that Chad has been doing, and do it better.
posted by rtha at 9:01 AM on December 29, 2011 [10 favorites]

He put you in a headlock? Yes, that is assault. And Chad could at the least, run the company into the ground, or at worst, cause a lawsuit which could ruin Founder's career (and if he's introverted, sensitive, and shy, he's likely not going to handle the stress and awfulness of a lawsuit very well).

Do you have an HR department (small companies sometimes don't)? Can you approach the founder directly, with documentation on Chad's bad/illegal behavior, as other posters have suggested? Or perhaps could you document the hell out of Chad's shenanigans, get a consultation with a lawyer (one experienced in HR and employment law) and have the lawyer give a frank talk with Founder? Having a lawyer say "This is serious business and Chad could ruin you" might be the wake-up call that Founder needs.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:02 AM on December 29, 2011

I agree with everything said above. I'd also add, if Chad touches you or anyone else in that way again, you can call the police and ask that he be arrested for assault. Perhaps that would be a wake-up call for him or for the company founder that this isn't just a minor personality conflict.
posted by decathecting at 9:09 AM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Physical abuse can't be tolerated. Nor should it be. It would never have been tolerated in any company I have ever worked for, either small firm or corporation. You have witnesses. File suit. Short of that, yes, confront Shy Genius with your assenting co-workers and give him the "Him or us" speech.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:21 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

You need to decide if this is too much for you to handle to have this job. And if it is too much, start looking for other work.

There is some reason that Founder is putting trust in Chad and unless you have a super tight relationship with Founder that you can show him what's up, nothing is going to change. (I've been in work environments where people are placed into leadership roles for their cool factor and not because of their work ability too.)

And in my experience, people are hesitant to rock the boat if most everything else is okay.

So, if you have a decent relationship with 'real' founder (and you think that you can risk it), I'd approach him and say:

"Look, Chad is problematic. It is to the point where some employees are considering leaving the company. In my opinion, Chad's behavior towards employees and clients is going to eventually cost you your business.
I think that you've built an outstanding company and that we do great work. I think that people really enjoy many of the aspects of working here. But I want you know how that this may not last too much longer."
posted by k8t at 9:32 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

No employer likes being put in the "him or us" position. No matter how valuable you all are, the boss will pick the person who didn't put him/her on the spot. Chad seems to have won the PR game, and the boss probably likes that.

And the headlock--why didn't you scream and drop to the floor in agony at the time? Trying to press assault charges now will make you look bad and not get you anywhere, even if everyone says they'll back you up.

Find another job. You're not going to win this.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:36 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your problem isn't Chad, your problem is the boss letting him get away with this stuff. Focus on the latter, not the former.

Since he's an introvert, you'll probably do better inviting him out to dinner for some one on one time. Approach him more as a friend/boss than a BOSS and founder of the company.

I respect the hell out of our founder.

Dude didn't fix a situation that lead to you being assaulted and he's not going to discipline Chad. I'm not sure why you respect someone who clearly doesn't respect you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:40 AM on December 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

A lot of you guys have probably not worked at a tech startup. People get away with a lot of dumb shit at startups. My advice is to first update your resume. Then I'd talk to an employment lawyer. Then I'd collect all the documentation you have and present it to the lawyer and get his professional opinion, before going to your boss and demanding action. There's a decent chance that if you present it as 'me or him', you may not like the answer. Talk to a layer first.
posted by empath at 10:12 AM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

If your startup was like mine, I'm almost certain that you don't have an HR department.

Maybe you should spearhead getting one, and then file a complaint with it once it is established.

In my case, which was eerily similar, I just quit. So did just about everybody else.
posted by kpmcguire at 10:18 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think this is going to change until the company eventually goes out of business, and "Chad" goes on to a similar gig at the next company, as the Chads of the world always do. Unless everyone else is willing to back an effort to boot Chad, I'd look for work elsewhere.
posted by maxwelton at 10:19 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Calm and reasonable--do as deezil said, all of you take your documentation to the Big Guy and explain the situation. Make sure your co-workers will be with you. Nothing worse than being the only one standing in a puddle of crap. Don't go into detail about the headlock business, but mention that Mr. Charming's lack of boundaries could get out of hand with a customer or a rep, and this could impact the company.

If Big Guy doesn't take care of this, then be prepared to walk. Eventually the company will go into the toilet, with or without you, and the customer loss of confidence in the company (and thus in your work by association) will not do you any good.

And the headlock--why didn't you scream and drop to the floor in agony at the time? Trying to press assault charges now will make you look bad and not get you anywhere, even if everyone says they'll back you up.

Did it once, no doubt will do it again. Scream like a stuck pig for some witnesses, and feel free to call cops the next time.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:32 AM on December 29, 2011

I respect the hell out of our founder.

Dude didn't fix a situation that lead to you being assaulted and he's not going to discipline Chad. I'm not sure why you respect someone who clearly doesn't respect you.
Following up on this, I've seen the non-confrontational shy genius type in charge before. What happens is that they hate conflict and expect everyone else to work these things out between themselves, and they don't want to be bothered with it. He doesn't really care about your personal happiness-- he just wants your work to get done and doesn't want company problems to bother him. If you don't want to do your work and deal with Chad, he probably figures there is someone else who would do your job while dealing with Chad, and is sort of annoyed that you're bothering him with all of the Chad-related issues.

The best I think you can hope for is the possibility that the founder might be willing to find Chad another job. Other than that, you can treat the job as a worthwhile experience but one that was just temporary until you moved on and make plans to find something else.
posted by deanc at 10:45 AM on December 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

I think Ideefixe and some of the more recent comments have it right. Unfortunately, you will not win this fight, unless Chad somehow blows himself up.

Now you might think, can I see Chad blowing himself up in the eyes of the founder, in a short enough time span that you can grin and bear it until then. I wouldn't count on it, but you will know better.

Clearly, the boss prefers Chad to you. You are playing tough odds if you try to convince the boss to fire or sanction Chad. Founding bosses are generally preoccupied with other issues, and the last thing they want is to deal with what he may consider HR issues. Forced to choose between you and Chad, he will take the path of least resistance and let you go, or do nothing. His attachment to Chad could very well be highly irrational and illogical... but irrational and emotional convictions are the hardest things to overturn.

You might get a better result by ganging up with everyone else and confronting the boss, but some people might overestimate how effective that could be. I think more likely that you still lose, as the boss will find the easy way out by slapping Chad on the wrist. Then what? You are labeled the problem employee in the boss's mind. Not a good result.

All these are difficult choices to make when you're distressed. I think the best approach is this - you have a job you largely enjoy. You are presumably doing well enough in your current position, and you are attractive to prospective employers. Continue to do a good job, and consider yourself to be in a paid job-hunting mode. Meet people through your job interactions, prepare your resume, and look around knowing you have a good job in a tough economy. That sounds good, if artificial.
posted by ccl6yl at 11:17 AM on December 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

Letitrain made my suggestion. Get together a posse, walk into Shy Genius' office, and say "either Chad leaves or all of us leave."
posted by adamrice at 4:37 PM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a boss in the past who kept someone like this on payroll for more than twenty years just to keep everybody else a little off-balance. He refused to respond to complaints about the Chad, and just ignored any rough-housing and foolishness. It was his "non-confrontational" way of maintaining what he perceived as control. In reality, it is extremely passive-aggressive behavior.

Our Chad met his waterloo when he tried to grab one of the newer girls in a rough-housing manner, and she instinctively whipped around and stabbed him in the neck with a pencil about two inches deep. I'm sure your Chad will meet a similar fate - they almost always do. Just be prepared to support whomever stabs him in the neck with a folder of ignored complaints about an inch thick, and let the lawyers do the rest.

I share this because I hope you find a reasonable resolution before it comes to something like this, because it was a legal mess of epic proportion and it destroyed the company anyway.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 8:06 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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