In-house Issues: The Client Pink Slip

Last week, in this column, I wrote about the realities of workplace bullying and noted that in-house designers are particularly vulnerable because of the client/designer dynamic. Knowing that many organizations tolerate and ignore the abuse that clients can inflict on their designer colleagues, I’d like to suggest, when confronted with a bully client, that you take radical action to get your managers’ and HR’s attention – FIRE YOUR CLIENT.

If outside agencies, when confronted with a client whose demands and behaviors damage their business, can resign that client, then why can’t an in-house team? The key is to capture the costs of the inflicted damage, both in financial, morale (and moral) terms. If you position your arguments for taking this action from the perspective of serving the best interests of the company, then you can base a subsequent conversation (which will surely come) on a premise that will be less about blame and more about finding solutions. Simply put, the primary argument should be predicated on the assumption that you have multiple clients and that the bully client has become such a drain on your team that he or she is diverting your resources away from your other responsible clients.

This “break glass in case of emergency” approach should only be attempted after all other options and channels for airing grievances have been exhausted and should be handled as objectively as possible. My recommendation would be to craft an email stating that your department is no longer going to be servicing the offending client, list the offenses and then, most importantly, clearly point out the negative impact that the offenses have had on you, your team and the company. Refrain from using inflammatory language and keep the email as concise as possible. Send it to your manager and HR and cc the client.

Firing a client is, of course, a contentious act, in and of itself, no matter how carefully you approach it. That fact alone should be enough to deter any in-house designer from taking this route in any but the most extreme circumstances. But, if all else has failed, it may be appropriate as the alternative of tolerating abusive or irresponsible behavior is the worse of the 2 options.