‘If you don’t like it, leave’: the abuse of power

‘If you don’t like it leave’, a common phrase used in workplaces by managers who have little or no respect for those they are paid to manage. If managers and colleagues cannot think of a better way of engaging with debate other than suggesting an employee leave, then the organisation needs to look at their competency and professional standards for managers. Telling an employee to leave is a way of undermining and devaluing them. Few would disagree. The phrase effectively dehumanises people and their contributions at work. It also puts a stop to innovation, timely process assessments and responsible staff development.

In the majority of workplace settings, most people do contribute and there should be space for employees to raise concerns, ask questions about progression, put forward suggestions about improvements to practices, without being silenced and threatened by being told to leave if they don’t like it.

So what is the solution?

The phrase, ‘If you don’t like it, leave,’ in all its variations, is a cowardly, bullying response.

It is almost always made by people when they have been caught out in unjust practice and behaviour. Or it is made by people when they want to hurt others and undermine confidence.

The phrase implies that asking for change is not permitted, that dissent is unwarranted and that diversity of thinking is not possible when they are around or in control. In the workplace it is often bullying behaviour which almost always emanates from people in positions of power who are content to use their privilege to violate the rights of others. It is also often used by those who have been caught out with ideas which are ridiculous, logically flawed and can’t garner legitimate support other than by using a tired, worn phrase occasionally loaded with xenophobia and not much else. We have come across this behaviour in some organisations we have been asked to observe.

So what can you do? You can walk away, stop wasting your time explaining or you can escalate (if it happens in the workplace) and keep escalating – organisations that support bullying behaviour and do nothing to challenge the culture that validates it, need to be called out so that others do not have to face the same problem. It is expensive in terms of time, poor work performance, sickness levels, turnover and perpetuating unhealthy workplace environments. So why isn’t more being done?


Experience, snap audits and observations suggest that if you call out senior people about bullying behaviour they use strategic incompetence – they’ll say they didn’t know, they weren’t aware, they lack understanding, there are communication issues, you are being overly sensitive or emotional. They use the same responses that you get from people who use racist language, who are homophobic and who perpetrate sexual harassment in the workplace.

So, if you really are going to confront the bullying behaviour and you are the target – you need to get support. Try wider national agencies. Bullying behaviour is so prevalent in workplaces that there are helplines dedicated to it.

Some references

Childhood, the brain and the cycle of bullying 2016

Workplace Bullying among Managers: A Multifactorial Perspective and Understanding
J. Antonio Ariza-Montes, Noel M. Muniz R., Antonio L. Leal-Rodríguez, Antonio G. Leal-Millán; Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Mar; 11(3): 2657–2682. Published online 2014 Mar 4. doi: 10.3390/ijerph110302657

Perversion at work: organising colleagues against one another, London School of Economics




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