While researching my documentary on Workplace Bullying, I have often heard people say that it’s impossible to know whether or not a boss is actually a bully or just a tough manager. The definition and list of examples is often so vague and all encompassing that it’s really not unusual for this to be followed by something like, I mean I have to manage people and I suppose I could be considered a bully boss. Which, I suspect, gets to the root of the problem.
Finding the right words to convey that seemingly common actions in an office can be devastating when used to demean and humiliate. I recently came across a great series of FREE Powerpoints created by Acas [ http://www.acas.org.uk/elearning/ ] which has a section on bullying & harassment. Here are some things we all need to keep in mind when working with others:
Know your employees?
Do you know everything about the opinions, beliefs and lifestyles of your employees? As the answer to this question will inevitably be ‘no’, is it possible that you might be using language or expressing opinions that effectively amount to harassment?
Too much of a perfectionist?
Do you sometimes feel frustrated by your employees? Do you find yourself getting irritable at what you consider to be their lack of competence or initiative?
If so, are you, perhaps, a true perfectionist unable or unwilling to accept that not everybody will work to your exceptionally demanding standards?
Passion and commitment
If you are the owner/manager of a small business, are you perhaps failing to recognise that your employees can never share the passion or commitment that you will have?
Speed of learning
Are you an exceptionally fast learner who can pick up new skills and carry out new tasks with a minimum of effort?
Remember, this may not be true for all your employees. Perhaps you are forgetting to see a situation through the eyes of someone who needs a little more time to assimilate new information.
Is your organisation selling into a fast-paced, ever changing market? If so, are the requirements you have of your employees constantly shifting?
Is it possible that this could be creating an environment of fear and uncertainty?
Too much change?
Are you simply asking your employees to deal with too much change? Is it possible that they feel they spend their working lives in a permanent state of flux? Have you considered how unsettling this could be for some people?
Keeping the business afloat
If you are the owner/manager of a business, are you constantly struggling to bring in enough revenue to cover all your overheads?
If yes, is it possible that you are constantly communicating your concerns about this in a way that makes your employees just worry about job security?
Could you communicate this information in a way that emphasises a team-spirit and encourages a desire to work together to improve profits and job security?
Are you often tetchy and irritable during the working day?
Do you fly off the handle when faced with the smallest problem or challenge?
Are you inaccessible to your employees when they need a decision from you?
Are you constantly changing your mind?
Do you explain why decisions might need to change or do you simply communicate the change?
Just as your language and opinions could unwittingly be causing offence, so could your body language.
What distance do you stand or sit from employees? Might some of them consider that you stand or sit too close when giving instructions or explanations? Might some of your employees interpret this as being intimidating?
A touch on the arm
Do you sometimes touch people lightly on the arm or shoulder during conversation. You may feel this is a warm and friendly gesture. Is it possible that some employees may see this behaviour in a different light?
Do you avoid making eye contact with people during conversation or perhaps you make an effort to maintain eye contact. Your reasons for doing this are perfectly innocent. Could they be misinterpreted by someone else?