Sinceof this blog series focused on advice from HR experts and employment lawyers on how an employee can deal with a bully boss, Part Two focuses on advice to the misbehaving boss and helpful tips for the company’s HR personnel and management team.
“Gracie75” wrote a comment in response to my September 2nd blog titled, “Co-worker Sabotage! How One Savvy Professional Turned a Dirty Trick Around.” She stated,
“The conclusion of this story is certainly a win-win for all. But what if the exact same thing occurred with Jane’s boss (as opposed to Tom) and the boss is taking every opportunity to publicly deface Jane because he has targeted Jane for termination?”
I scoured the U.S. in search of HR experts and employment lawyers who would weigh in on this situation of how to deal with a boss who is publicly defacing one of their employees, most probably because they’ve targeted the employee for termination. Now that you’ve read Part One on this blog topic and understand how to handle the situation if you’re the employee being targeted by your boss, let’s turn to the bully boss.
Across the board, all of the experts I contacted agreed managers should not conduct themselves in the manner described in the scenario. Unfortunately, most every expert indicated this behavior has become fairly commonplace in business today and that they are being forced to counsel more and more bad bosses on appropriate personnel management etiquette.
Why does this behavior occur? Fran Sepler, an HR Consultant in Minneapolis, says it’s often due to the manager’s skill deficit. “They wait until they’ve reached the end of their rope with an employee, perhaps for performance issues, perhaps for personality traits, and then seek HR’s assistance in managing the employee out the door. This is often facilitated by the administration of a Performance Improvement Plan, known in HR consulting circles as a ‘kiss of death’ and increased scrutiny and fault finding on the part of the manager until the employee quits or can be terminated for now well-documented deficiencies.” Adds Mona Leigh Bernhardt, an HR consultant out of Houston, “Often when a supervisor is unhappy with an employee’s performance, they intentionally or unintentionally vent their frustrations in the wrong places. This is typically a result of the supervisor’s inability to provide direct feedback to the employee due to fear of giving negative feedback or a misguided effort to demonstrate to the team what happens with individuals who do not perform well.”
If you are reading this article and realize your behavior sounds like that of the bully boss – shame on you! You should carefully read the advice listed below. If you or someone you know work for a bully boss, consider printing this article and giving it to them anonymously.
Advice to a bully boss
Your current behavior should be stopped: Public humiliation or defamation of an employee should be stopped immediately – it is not considered acceptable behavior in a business environment. As Amy Giustino, Regional Managing Director at Resources Global Professionals tells bully bosses, “You are a representative of the management team of the company and your management style could negatively impact the business.”
If your behavior is found to be unlawful: You and your behavior have become a detrimental liability to your company. Based on the findings, your company may take one of several approaches, which could include your immediate termination. Bullying someone based on their race, gender, nationality, or religion is against Federal and State civil rights laws. Many companies are implementing “zero tolerance bullying” policies and even employment lawyers working on the side of the company find bully bosses to be loathsome to deal with. “I warn the supervisor/misbehaving boss that they may be found individually/personally liable to the employee. On a practical side, I look them in the eye and tell them they are a jerk!” said Danielle Brewer, Deputy Chair of the Labor and Employment section of the Federal Bar Association.
If your behavior is found to be lawful: Your behavior might currently be classified as lawful (although inappropriate) but that might not hold true in the near future. New York recently passed a ‘healthy workplace’ bill and many states are following their lead. The bill allows employees “to sue for physical, psychological and/or economic harm due to abusive behavior, based on the belief that it protects public health,” states Doug Plazak, a partner specializing in employment law at Reid & Hellyer in California.
Obtain training in effective personnel management techniques: Targeting an employee with humiliation with the goal of termination is considered bullying. Sepler notes that, “the difference between actually managing performance and bullying is that the feedback given by a bully is not meant to assist the employee in improving performance, but to diminish the employees’ sense of competence and self-esteem.” Focus on learning techniques on how to give and receive feedback, make it your goal to hold performance discussions with employees on a regular basis (preferably monthly or quarterly, not annually), work with your direct reports to create individual development plans, ensure you’ve created an easy-to-understand strategic plan for your department and that each employee has clearly defined goals and expectations (aligned to the strategic plan) they need to achieve throughout each year.
Obtain training in effective communication: As Giustino comments, “Even if a boss is upset with an employee, the delivery and tone of feedback or a message needs to be professional and constructive – not destructive.” If you notice your communication style changes based on your level of anger, enroll in a course on anger management or other communication related courses.
Obtain 365-degree feedback: Work with your HR department to find a course or workshop that includes obtaining anonymous feedback from your entire team and then focuses on helping you change detrimental behaviors. One example is the five day “Principle-Centered Leadership WeekTM” workshop through FranklinCovey.
If you work in Human Resources or are on the management team of a company, here are things you need to consider when dealing with an employee complaint about a bully boss:
HR should perform a confidential, in-depth exploration into the situation from all sides: Regardless of whether the bully boss’ behavior turns out to be classified as unlawful or lawful, the behavior is detrimental to the company. In the case of unlawful findings, companies can be negatively impacted with lawsuits and unwanted press. Even in the case of lawful behavior findings, “bullying can poison the work environment, impact productivity, reduce morale, and skyrocket medical and workers compensation claims,” states employment lawyer Cathryn Dammel.
It is HR’s role to be impartial: According to Giustino, “It is HR’s responsibility to understand the facts and be an impartial party to help facilitate a resolution in a timely and confidential manner that protects both the company and the employee.” Giustino goes on to state that “HR professionals have a responsibility to see the big picture and truly be a business partner. Part of their role is to advise business leaders on risks within an organization and mitigate them. On the other hand, they also have responsibility to the employee, and managing people is never an exact science.”
Work in conjunction with an employment lawyer: HR should work with an assigned employment lawyer to review the situation and determine the best options for how to handle it, based on the findings. In certain cases, the situation can be handled in-house; in others, it will need the help of an employment lawyer. “Sometimes attorneys are more than laywers – we are counselors at law. This is an example where the role is more of a ‘counselor’ to the misbehaving boss. Many times, the bully boss knows the ‘right’ or ‘best’ thing to do – they just need someone to remind them. Sometimes, it takes a lawyer,” says Brewer.
Advise the bully boss of the risk of legal claim: If it turns out “the person being targeted is a member of a protected class, the manager would need to be advised of the personal and organizational risk of legal claims that can arise when someone is harassed in the workplace,” states Sepler. This is often done with both HR and the employment lawyer present with the bully boss.
Ensure policies exist to prevent workplace bullying: HR staff and management teams should ensure there are fair and proper practices in place that will not only prevent workplace bullying, but will help drive conflicts to appropriate resolution.
Ensure workplace training on the prevention and policies related to workplace bullying: Policies and procedures do no good if the workforce is not trained on them. Make sure all employees understand appropriate behavior from inappropriate behavior.
Make performance management training a priority for all company leaders and managers: “Managing performance well and honestly builds morale, creates accountability and reduces risks that management actions will be viewed as target or unlawful in any manner,” Sepler says. Adds David Gabor, a legal expert in employment law, “Proper training and supervision of managers is critical to the success of the organization. Importantly, if the employee is underperforming, document performance, follow appropriate standards within the organization and act without delay. All that delay causes is future problems. It is to the employer’s advantage to manage an underperforming or problem employee out of the organization prior to a complaint of discrimination.”
While workplace bullying can take place in even the best of companies, it is a behavior that can be stopped. But eliminating the behavior requires companies to change what is considered acceptable behavior in their culture. This can be done via implementing policies against bullying, ensuring procedures are in place for filing complaints, training all employees on the policies and procedures, and making performance management training a company priority. No one should have to go through the emotional turmoil of being bullied at work. Isn’t it about time we all took action to stop bullying?
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Thank you for the excellent resource and insight. Reading your book has been so helpful to me. What a blessing it is to find there are people who care and are passionate about helping. - reader feedback