Monthly Archives: March 2009

Senators Urge Obama to Fire NASA Toxic Boss

Three US senators have asked President Obama to fire Robert Cobb, the NASA inspector general, for creating an abusive work environment.  An independent investigation found that Cobb “not only created a hostile work environment and mistreated subordinates, but also compromised numerous investigations due to ties to agency leadership.”


Complaints to the congressional committee that monitors NASA date back to January 2007.  In one letter, the committee’s chairman wrote that Cobb repeatedly cursed at employees and that he called his special agents “knuckle draggers.”  

Not surprisingly, a GAO “report last year found that the attrition rate of employees in Cobb’s office between 2003 and 2007 rose to almost 20 percent from 12 percent. The departures included nine of the 10 most senior audit managers.”

Cobb denied swearing at his employees and said that he is “passionate when people are insubordinate to my face.”

Source: Houston Chronicle

Kadant Executives Receive Bonuses, Workers Receive Layoff Notices

The executives of Kadant Inc, a Westford, MA-based paper production equipment manufacturer, announced that they paid themselves over $1.5 million in bonuses for 2008 just after announcing that they would be laying off 32 employees.  The irony of this is that the $1.5 million bonus amount could have roughtly covered most, if not all, of the salaries of the 32 laid off workers.

Chairman and CEO William Rainville received a $872,100 bonus on top of his $647,000 base salary.  Chief financial officer William O’Brien and chief operating officer Edward Sindoni both received $185,200 bonuses in addition to their $288,000 salaries.  Jonathan Painter, executive vice president, earned a $125,000 bonus in addition to his $240,000 in base salary.  Eric Langevin, senior vice president, took home $143,100 in bonus and $225,000 in base salary in 2008.

To make matters worse, it doesn’t even seem like these executives deserved bonuses in the first place.  In 2008, Kadant’s revenues decreased by 10%, the company suffered a net loss of $22.6 million, and the stock price dropped 54%.

The costs of working with jerks

A few months ago, popular author and blogger Seth Godin mentioned eBossWatch in an excellent post titled “Be careful of who you work for,” where he discussed the importance of evaluating the workplace environment of prospective employers, referring to the decision of where to work as one of the most important that we will make in our lifetimes.  As Seth reminds us, “Work for a bully and be prepared to be bullied.”

Many studies have documented the fact that toxic workplaces are hazardous to peoples’ physical health and emotional well being.  A 2007 Zogby survey on the effects of workplace bullying found that 45% of targeted individuals suffer stress-related health problems, including cardiovascular problems, anxiety, and depression.

Last week, Seth followed up with an additional post about the corrosive effects that jerks can have on the work environment and on the organization’s ability to function properly.  I agree with Seth that the proper course of action for companies is to fire any bullies, whether or not they may seem irreplaceable, as soon as their abusive behavior becomes apparent.  Unfortunately, many companies end up waiting until the work environment becomes seriously damaged and the company’s operations become negatively impacted before dismissing the workplace jerk.