In a few weeks we will all be celebrating National Bosses Day – a good time to reflect on the phenomena known as the Bully Boss! Of course, this holiday in mid October is more an affectation of the greeting card companies than an act of congress. And since the number one reason employees leave their jobs is unresolved conflict with a supervisor, one wonders just how many bosses will be getting flowers on October 16th. Bosses have been bullying employees since the beginning of work but this “management style” takes its toll on workers and the organization. Intimidated employees are not loyal and productive. Pure employee frustration sprouts Bad Boss Contest websites where a “can you top this” race ensues with bad boss stories posted and winners selected. Or employees can take the “Is Your Boss a Psycho” quiz to see just how bad things are. While these sites relieve stress with a bit of humor, they do nothing to stem the practice.
One of the main reasons bullying continues in the workplace is that workers are intimidated and threatened with their livelihood and won’t speak up for themselves. But the most egregious reason it continues is that organizations tolerate it. On the surface bullying bosses may be good producers or they keep a work team in order. Bullying can humiliate and degrade but it also gets results. What does it matter that employees are sick and dejected if they produce?
Stories we hear from HR managers support this theory. Bad behavior is tolerated until it gets to a certain level and then the EAP is called to help a supervisor manage his or her anger. Here are some examples we’ve run into:
Sally a sales supervisor, blew up at a client last week stomping her feet using language that was insulting and intimidating. When asked if this was rare, the manager said, “No, Sally is a great employee a top producer. She is like that all the time with her team, but never a customer…we can’t put up with this”
Harold lambasted and ridiculed an employee in front of her work team. When she walked away to compose her self, Harold followed her into the ladies room and continued screaming about her incompetence…the CEO heard the exchange. “Was this out of character for Harold?” we asked. “No” HR said, “Harold has a long history of volatile behavior but this is the first time he followed anyone into the rest room. We think he crossed the line”
Chris works long hours often staying past 8:00 PM. He penalizes any employee on his team that leaves the office before he does. Employees who leave to attend to their personal lives are scorned for days and given the silent treatment. Their questions are not answered and their work criticized. If employees leave, Chris stays later the next day. Management thinks Chris has a dedicated team, when complaints of intimidation were lodged; the EAP was called in to help team members learn to work more collaboratively.
Pat told his employees that he kept a shot gun in the trunk of his car. If things got out of hand or employees complained about their work, he could always get the gun and take care of things. Several employees complained but HR didn’t really think Pat was serious, they were checking with the EAP to see if this was illegal!
Consistent progressive discipline with abusive and volatile bosses is essential. Employees can also learn ways to deal with ongoing harassment. But management must step up and take responsibility for colluding with and condoning bully behavior. The message sent to the organization is that the individual is expendable and dehumanizing behavior is tolerated.
There are all kinds of economical reasons to address this pervasive problem but creating an environment where human respect and decency is paramount is the only important one.