As a manager, you may already have experience supervising team members who bully others with behavior that is intimidating, humiliating, or just downright mean. But what can you do if the bully who’s dragging down the workplace is a fellow manager? The bully might belittle or embarrass her own charges. Or perhaps the workplace bully berates his own colleagues.
No matter what the situation, one thing is clear: companies can’t afford to ignore the workplace bully, regardless of what his or her title might be. More than one-third of U.S. workers (35%) reported they had been bullied and another 15% had witnessed bullying, according to a 2010 Workplace Bullying Institute/Zogby survey. The consequences of these negative behaviors are steep, and range from creating worker anxiety to increasing employee turnover.
So how can a manager protect the employees and the company from a fellow manager who is a workplace bully?
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- Talk to company HR professionals or another relevant third party. No one wants to be a tattletale, especially if the person you’re complaining about is a supervisory peer. But speaking with a relevant third party, whether it’s the HR manager or the company VP, is the first step in dealing with this type of workplace bully. Remember, it’s not enough to say simply “Bob is being a jerk.” Give the problem the best chance for attention and resolution by providing details about what you observed and why you have concerns about the behavior.
- Discuss your observations with the person in question. Not every company has on-site HR staff or an objective third party. If that’s the case, you might consider approaching the workplace bully in private. Tell the colleague what behaviors you observed and that you’re concerned about the effect it has on morale, productivity, and a healthy work environment. Remind the manager that employees who feel bullied at work could potentially bring costly and time-consuming legal action against an employer.
- Become an anti-bullying advocate. Perhaps bullying awareness hasn’t become a priority in your company yet. One way to create a healthier workplace is to spearhead an anti-bullying program. From developing anti-bullying polices to implementing bully awareness education, you can be the catalyst for preventing future negative behavior and building a healthy and productive work environment.
A workplace bully is bad enough. When that bully is a manager, however, the toxic effects can and will be multiplied. If you recognize bullying behavior in a fellow supervisor or manager, it’s time to take action to protect the employees and the company.
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While you make some great points in your article, including the need for employers to take workplace conflict seriously, and recommending two excellent books, I would caution your readers to think twice or three times before speaking up to HR or the person causing the conflict. It is tricky to speak up and I advise my clients to think very carefully about their goals and be prepared for outcomes that they did not expect. Most often employers, even well-meaning employers, will mishandle complaints because they do not understand the real causes of the conflict. And, if one is confronting a “real bully” then speaking with them will make things worse.
Thank you for your perspective. I agree with you that it’s important for anyone faced with this issue to weigh all of their options. I do think that for an employer, it’s also imperative that they be part of the solution, (and in some cases, employers may be held accountable for not acting when they are aware that there is an issue). Someone well trained within the organization such as an HR professional should be expected to know that complaints must be thoroughly investigated before acting and not just react in a knee jerk type of way. I agree that this just makes matters worse. If there is not someone on board within an organization with experience in handling difficult employee relations issues, the company needs to hire someone who is trained to expertly handle these types of issues so that the employees needs are being met. I appreciate your comment! What do others think?
Well what do i think….. Kathleen is right to warn about confrontation with a bully. Going above the managers head is also wrought with peril. Until there is legal recourse for psychological harassment at work . The best thing you can do is get out before the bully has destroyed your health and reputation.
oh and document! document! document!
You are dealing with emotionally dysfunctional people who bully adults at work.
Bullying of any form is definitely an issue, but when the bully is an adult and your boss, it takes an already complicated issue to a new level. Jim, you make interesting points; thanks for sharing. Is there anyone who has personally had this experience and was able to address it and has had a positive outcome that might help others in similar situations? An employment law perspective would be interesting to hear also.
Laura Evenson says
I work for a small agency with the Adminstrator as the bully. He has been there as long as the agency was opened 20+ years. There is a Board of Directors that do not want to intervene. Six employees out of 12 quit and found other jobs within the first three years I was hired. I have been there five years now and the dysfunction worsens. There is no HR department. Where can I go to report the bullying? Its emotional abuse, and he has been confronted, but continues to forge ahead with is negative attitude.
It’s unfortunate that you are suffering through this and that the Board of Directors is not intervening. Your options depend on a number of factors but you have two avenues that I’d recommend looking into. First, (I’m assuming that you are in the U.S.), contact the Department of Labor,(DOL). There is a toll free number that you can call. You’ll need to determine through talking with them whether you have rights to file a complaint through one of the agencies under the DOL. The DOL can best direct you to the right agency, or refer you to the best resource outside of the DOL based on more details surrounding your situation and where you live. The toll free number to the National office is 1-866-487-2365.
If the DOL is not the right place based on the details that they will gather during your conversation, you may find that your next option will be to hire an employment lawyer and file a suit against the individual/company. There are many employment lawyers that specialize in what might be considered workplace harassment, based on your description. A lawyer will ask you whether or not you have tried to rectify the situation through the highest channels in the organization, and what the outcome was, whether you have documentation that shows that you have tried to address your concerns directly with the person involved and what transpired during these interactions, the dates when the issues occurred, frequency of occurrence, whether there are witnesses, etc.
The bottom line is that no one should have to put up with bullying in the workplace, and it sounds like you’ve tried to address it internally. I do wish you the best, and please don’t forget to document these occurrences. It’s critically important whether you are working with the DOL, another agency, or a lawyer.