It’s barely two years since Massachusetts enacted the Harassment Prevention Order. Recently an attempt to hold Kingston Town Administrator Jim Thomas accountable for alleged abusive conduct fell short. But, Kingston Police Sgt Susan Munford, who made the charges, told the Kingston Reporter: “I’m glad I was heard, I’m glad the restraining order is behind me, and I’m glad he was advised to not have any further incidents with me,” she said. “That gives me peace of mind.” Employment Defense Attorney Denise Murphy advises employers to take precautions because this HPO may well be used in cases of workplace bullying. Here’s a reprint of her 2010 article on the topic: Continue reading
So, your boss is making you miserable and you’re in that space where you just can’t stop talking about what they did to you today? yesterday? tomorrow? Detail after humiliating detail? And, it’s just not fair and you’re mad and you can’t think of enough miserable adjectives to describe the truly despicable way you’ve been treated? And, now it’s late at night and you’re at the computer and you just want to tell the world? Here’s a sobering infographic I found on the Internet that let’s you see just who is checking out what you have to say. Continue reading
A recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) polled HR personnel about workplace bullying and how they respond to complaints. It’s clear that HR is aware of the problem. In fact, the vast majority of those polled believe it is the responsibility of HR to deal with it (only 1% feel there should be a special workplace bullying/workplace violence committee) and please keep in mind that about 27% of those taking part have been the targets of bullying themselves. Here are the results of the SHRM survey — note: respondents were allowed to choose more than one option: Continue reading
…The shootings came during an apparent counseling session between ICE supervisor Kevin Kozak and a lower-ranking supervisor, Agent Esequiel “Zeke” Garcia, where a third agent was in the room as a witness. During the hearing, Mr. Garcia allegedly drew his service weapon and shot Mr. Kozak six times. The third agent drew his weapon and killed Garcia… [February 18, 2012, CS Monitor]
During the 1990′s workplace shootings were prominently splashed across headlines in the mainstream news. In response the FBI joined together with prominent researchers and leaders in this area and adopted the four (4) types of workplace violence (WPV). One of those, type 3, was labeled worker-on-worker and research at the time already recognized the link between performance evaluations and tragic deadly shootings. At that same time a movement was underway by advocates to carve much of Type 3, which was often referred to at the time as “workplace aggression“ into it’s own niche area by advocates of “workplace bullying (WPB).”
In the struggle to combat workplace bullying it’s important to admit that we worker bees aren’t always perfect. Weak managers can quickly lose the respect of their team only to watch them spiral hopelessly out of control and even mob up on their leader. In the interesting Businessweek article below, Jeff Schmitt tells bosses how to “kick ass” without being psychologically abusive:
A guide to reading your employees the riot act: Time to lay down the law? Some points to consider before you do
“If I go down, you’re all going down with me.”
Our manager had finally crossed the line with this comment. She had delivered fire-and-brimstone speeches before. But this was different. Suddenly, she wasn’t Vince Lombardi Light, looking to get back to basics. Instead she had degenerated into a narcissistic despot who’d stoop to using us as human shields. She was passing the buck and covering herself. She may have considered it motivation. We saw it as a meltdown.
At some point, every manager must unload a kick-in-the-ass speech. Even the best teams get cocky and careless; they forget what’s important and what got them there. But here’s a reality check: If you have to deliver “The Speech,” you’re probably failing as a manager. Before you let loose with the grand oration, maybe you need a wake-up call. Sure, there’s truth in the adage about tearing people down to build them back up. But getting your team back on track requires more than threats and cursing. Want to really get their attention? Read the following recommendations.
1. Consider if The Speech is merited
Sure, you’re disappointed with performance. Before you go Knute Rockne, consider if the situation warrants an explosion … or coaching. Are you nearing a tipping point where financials or expectations dictate an intervention? Is there a broader motif, such as slow service, that could spill into critical areas such ascustomer retention? Should this diatribe be public and include everyone or could it be handled privately with certain members? Most important, what do you want to achieve? Bottom line: Weigh the offense against your options and the desired response.
2. Come with a plan
You’re probably tempted to graphically challenge their commitment and competence. But you’ll only look clumsy if you ad-lib The Speech. You want your team squirming, stomachs sinking, minds racing. That requires strategy: a bolo-punch opening, unassailable arguments, and a call to action that echoes for weeks. Even more, it demands rehearsing to get tone, pace, posture, and gestures just right. Fact is, you only get one or two speeches before your team tunes you out. Make this one count.
3. Don’t fly off the handle
A loose cannon. That’s how you’ll be labeled if you can’t control your emotions. They’ll snicker and lampoon you to everyone within earshot. Your anger, however genuine, must be calibrated for effect. Before you venture into the lion’s den, step back, breathe, and relax. Remember, an icy resolve often commands more attention than a rant. A pause can be as lethal as a pejorative.
4. Prep them
Surprise! Surprise! No, your speech shouldn’t come as a shock. In fact, it should hark back to previous fireside chats, where you focused on listening and understanding. Back then, you expected that your coaching would establish how important the task at hand was. But the time for such niceties has passed. A hands-on approach is needed. They can’t say they didn’t see it coming.
5. Cite specific examples
The Speech is no time for generalizations. Be specific: What actions and underlying sentiments are creating tensions and why are they unproductive and inappropriate? How has it affected customers and other departments? Of course, outline how these shenanigans have hit the radar of those above you — and what consequences will follow if they continue.
6. Keep it short
Your job is to shake them up and leave a lasting impression. The less said, the better. Let their imaginations run wild; it’ll keep your message on top. Don’t go off on tangents or pile on, either. It will only dilute your message. Cut quickly and deeply, then move on.
7. Set expectations
You’ve identified the problem. Now what? Start by leaving no ambiguity with the takeaways. Specify exactly what you expect, along with when and how. Don’t forget to spell out the repercussions for failing to meet these expectations. Hammer home that the time for second chances has long passed.
8. Monitor your own behavior
Their eyes will probably glaze over during your speech. Why? They’ve been mirroring your behavior. Is it any wonder you haven’t been getting through? Address it in your speech. Accept some blame and summarize how you’ll change. Then hold yourself as accountable as you hold your team for the result.
9. Rebuild bridges
You go to battle with the people you have, not necessarily the ones you want. Afterward, your team will make excuses and entertain mutiny. That’s why you need to quickly reel them back. Reach out, one by one, to tutor, praise, and motivate. You’ve shared what needed to be said. Now convey through action that there are no hard feelings. Don’t let them confuse you with the message.
10. Follow up
You’ve thrown down the gauntlet. But the weeks following The Speech will ultimately determine its success. That’s why you need to stay on the issue. Address it in interactions and meetings and constantly collect results. And when the time is right, celebrate. You may have devised the plan, but your team will ultimately win the battle.
Managmement Today [UK] gives advice on how to deal with BIG EGOS:
If you are their boss
This is your key responsibility – so don’t shirk it, even if they are your star performer. It is rare in business today that one person can do everything; you need the whole team to succeed. Tackle them directly, and in private. The key message is ‘You are great, and you could be even better’. Focus on the fact that this type of behaviour is hindering their promotion prospects.
If you are their colleague
Remember to have the right mindset – you are not trying to put them down, you are trying to help them to be more effective. Tackle them in private, and if you can get another colleague to come along too then that helps. You need to show them that it’s not just ‘you versus them’ but that there is a wider consensus within the team that things need to change. Focus on giving them alternative behaviour strategies.
If you are an underling
This isn’t your responsibility – but you can transform the working environment and your own reputation positively if you choose to tackle the big egos – remember David and Goliath. Strange as it may seem, it’s best to tackle them in a very public forum: our culture does not allow egotists to crush the little people, so you will get back up from others. Focus on how their behaviour is demoralising you and others – so the emphasis is not on them, but the effect it has on you. Try and have a word with one of their work colleagues beforehand so you know you have an instant ally.
We all want great strikers on our team who can get the ball in the back of the net at the critical time. We all accept that with some of these skills is bound to come a good dollop of personal ego, and we can cope with it most of the time. We also all have a duty to stand up to these egos when they get too big for their boots
Last May the Ventura County Grand Jury (CA) submitted their “Final Report on Bullying in the Workplace.” Free of divisive and accusatory rhetoric it neatly outlines the need and procedures necessary to start correcting the situation. Included in the report is a link to an online Sample Workplace Bullying Policy. The report includes discussion of overlaps with existing discrimination and workplace bullying policies:
“FI-02. Processes in place to report workplace behavior problems are not trusted by employees because the agency with the alleged bullying issue is allowed to investigate complaints using personnel within its own organization. This system risks the exposure of a complainant’s identity and reinforces employee perception that the investigation would not be conducted fairly. (FA-05, FA-06, FA-12).”
“The Grand Jury recommends that the Ventura County Board of Supervisors (BOS) issue a policy against bullying and collect data to identify the existence and extent of bullying in branches of County government. The CEO-HR should establish an independent process to report cases of bullying. This process should include a separate bullying hotline staffed by non-County personnel for documenting complaints. Investigations into bullying complaints should be coordinated by the CEO-HR. This should include direct oversight of all investigators and enforcement of restrictions that preclude investigators from handling complaints within their own departments”
Board Response and Changes
Equally fascinating is the Boards response [September 2011]. NB: While some have said there’s no “bite” in the Grand Jury’s ability to implement changes, this approach should mesh well with the goal of many advocates for anti-bullying legislation who claim they are against large settlements and are really fighting to put policies and procedures in place. The actions of the Board shows how quickly and cost effectively many of our workplaces can comply with needed changes. SEIU did a survey that found widespread bullying. Although it should be noted that their definition very broad. Here are some “highlights:”
Suzanne V. Benoit, LCSW, SPHR often writes about toxic employees and workplace bullying. She reveals a personal side in her recent post addressing Carol Kilner’s article Responding to Mental Illness in Your Workforce: Leading a Culture Change [PsychCentral]. I tweeted her right away for permission to repost:
HR Response to Mental Health in the Workplace
by Suzanne V. Benoit
I came to the practice of HR from a business background and then Clinical Social Work. My views on mental illness and HR arise from a very different place than my HR peers mostly because of my exposure to severe and chronic mental illness. The sigma Ms. Kivler discusses is very powerful indeed. Because of my experience, I am not afraid of individuals with mental illness. I know that these are fellow human beings with a variety of personal values and styles. I know that only a very small percentage of people with mental illness are violent. It’s just that when a person with mental illness commits a violent crime, the media, especially fringe media, bombard the general public with disturbing images and sensationalized information. I also know that most mental health issues in the workplace are mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorders which respond well to medical intervention.
Finally, I know that the mentally ill were not all raised in chaotic or abusive homes. I was raised in a lovely family by good parents (not perfect, but good enough) and had a brother who suffered from bipolar mood swings and psychoses from the age of 20 until his death at 48. The voices he heard told him that he, and not others around him, were bad. I know first hand that the essence of who he was as a person, was not the paranoid, odd behavior and religiosity my brother expressed, but it was the sweet, creative and sensitive individual who worked part-time while well on medication. He would never have harmed anyone.
The American workplace is in need of good information like the tips covered in Ms. Kivler’s article, particularly making information on mental health a part of wellness programs. If only employers could take this information and adopt it freely. I think it is possible but HIPAA presents a psychological and legal barrier to some of the actions suggested in the article. The discipline of HR tends to be generally risk averse. It doesnt’ make them mean or uncaring, just cautious. Let me explain this.
HR is naturally cautious
Employers are responsible for removing the appearance or fact of ADA discrimination. In addition, employers are required to protect the privacy of employee personal health information. To do this perfectly, employers would never want to know if someone has a mental illness. Once you know, you are open to accusations of misusing it in order to keep people from promotions or other employment opportunities. For this reason, medical benefits information or other employee-employer correspondence regarding the diagnosis of mental illness are kept in separate “medical files” and not in the personnel file to which supervisor’s have regular access. Employers must also try to prevent this information from being casually released and discussed amongst co-workers. As such, they may ask employees to refrain from discussing their conditions with their peers.
What is the right balance?
I believe that the answer is to emphasize compassion and inclusion a bit and loosen the mentality of “eliminating” risk to more a risk management posture. Ms. Kivler’s article is timely because presenteeism is an emerging HR issue. It’s like absenteeism in that productivity is negatively impacted. However in presenteeism, the employee is at work but distracted by stress and other matters. Mental illness appears to be one of the growing reasons for this distraction. I would conduct training as Ms. Kivler suggests – fold this into the wellness program. I would make sure that the HR department is a safe and informed place for any employee to go if he/she needed support for time off or accessing counseling benefits. This requires that HR staff be held to a high standard of listening, seeing this in the same nonjudmental way that they see say, diabetes, and well versed in the ways in which mental illness can affect employee performance.
I would make sure my performance evaluation system focuses strictly on what and how the employee performs the essential functions of the job and NOT extraneous and irrelevant information like: age, race or disability. I would encourage the company to sensitively approach employees whose performance seems to be impaired by a personal issue in the same way whether it is divorce, an ill relative or their own mental illness. I would ensure that these individuals receive referrals for EAP or mental health counseling. And finally, I would ensure that my HR staff are comfortable responding lawfully and respectfully to requests for accommodations for a bona fide disability whether it represents a physical or mental impairment.
Staff training and stereotypes
Part of the role of sexual harassment statutes is to prevent harassment in the workplace. The practical effect however, is staff training and development. Employers are comfortable conducting training about how employees should behave when they encounter harassment in the workplace. This means no sexual innuendo jokes, slang, etc. Ms. Kivler suggests that use of the word “mental” should be more comfortable (I agree 100%). I would add that we could also support employees to be more sensitive about comments that could be harmful: crazy, loony or even worse “lazy” as applied to those suffering from depression when they can’t get out of bed.
I am grateful to Carol A. Kivler for writing about this topic. It is timely and very important. I also look forward to @psychcentral’s thoughtful tweets each day on topics of individual mental health.
Suzanne V. Benoit, LCSW, SPHR is a human resource consultant and author providing strategies to improve workplace culture and quality business outcomes. Striving for corporate excellence means a no-compromise posture on workplace abuse and intimidation as well as creating supporting structures that reward candor, respect and accountability. Her book: “Toxic Employees: great companies resolve this problem, you can too!” provides details about the source, motives and tactics used by toxic employees and is used by managers struggling to shift negative dynamics in the workplace. Suzanne’s workshops on principled approaches to workplace challenges are “both entertaining and valuable” including tools for attendees’ immediate use. To contact Ms. Benoit can be please visit www.benoitconsulting.com.