This year I was honored to be among the experts on the eBossWatch panel to determine the worst bosses of the year. The list included “three mayors, five judges, 19 law enforcement officers and officials, 12 restaurant bosses, and a venture capitalist…The states with the highest number of bad bosses on this year’s list are New York (13), Texas (11), California (11), New Mexico (5), Georgia (5), New Jersey (4), and Kentucky (4).” Many of these harassment cases had already been settled or won in court. But, at least for now, workplace bullying isn’t against the law in the U.S. While it’s often hard to detect, it’s no less devastating financially or emotionally and even the most well-meaning employees can suddenly find themselves at one end or the other of a pile on. Here are 10 simple ways you can stop making your co-worker or employee’s life hell in 2015:
1. Stop calling them “defensive.” In fact, having that label attached to the back of an employee should be a clue to any HR person that they are face-to-face with classic workplace bullying and the victim is getting smeared and blamed for the attacker’s behavior. One glance at a dictionary should tell you all you need to know about the situation: “de*fen*sive: adjective, serving to defend or protect <defensive fortifications>”, “devoted to resisting or preventing aggression or attack<defensive behavior>”.
2. Stop using the phrase “everybody knows” while gossiping about a co-worker. When it comes to ferreting out the truth, “Group Think” has a terrible reputation. Don’t care if your employees go after each other’s throats? Here’s an example that shows why Group Think should never be allowed to flourish in a company: “Many symptoms of groupthink can be seen in the events that lead up to the 2008 financial crisis. Wall Street CEOs believed their companies were too big and profitable to fail. Investors trusted portfolio managers who said credit default swaps based on risky mortgages would result in guaranteed returns. Unprecedented levels of leveraging were rationalized in light of soaring stock prices and wide profit margins. Bankers and homeowners assumed the housing boom would continue indefinitely, leading many people to sign for mortgages they could barely afford. Economists, accountants and regulators who expressed concerns about the situation were effectively threatened, marginalized or ignored.”[ communicationstudies.com ]
3. Quit it with the verbal abuse already (aka screaming, shouting) and then calling the victim “contentious” when they try to respond or stand up for themselves. This is just so wrong on so many levels. And, worst of all, don’t make it impossible for the target of your attack to leave the room in order to force them to witness your full fury. If you do encounter this behavior it’s wise to have the police on speed dial.
4. Quit encouraging situations that publicly humiliate co-workers.The average employee wasn’t hired to have their faults, perceived or real, publicly waved in their face for your amusement. I once worked for a boss who gave each employee an aromatherapy candle for Christmas – at a party no less – and explained that we should use them to work on our individual “faults” that were neatly penned on the label; ambition, negativity whatever. W-R-O-N-G, W-R-O-N-G, W-R-O-N-G.
5. There’s nothing worse than walking into a room that suddenly goes mute and everyone looks at you guiltily. If you have the time to throw a bashing party to destroy someone’s career behind their back you should plan in advance how to act if the person happens to show up. Or, best case scenario, get a life and quit destroying your co-worker’s mental health.
6. Don’t ever say: “We’ll give it to [fill in co-worker’s name]. I know they don’t have time to do it but it’ll be one more thing we can say they didn’t do and help move them out the door.” Honestly if you do say these types of things, and indeed some of you do, how the heck do you sleep at night?
7. Above all, stop ganging up, aka mobbing, your co-worker. See #1-6 to see how it starts and festers. Ken Westhues, the expert on this topic put it best: “Mobbing can be understood as the stressor to beat all stressors. It is an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker. Initiated most often by a person in a position of power or influence, mobbing is a desperate urge to crush and eliminate the target. The urge travels through the workplace like a virus, infecting one person after another. The target comes to be viewed as absolutely abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities, outside the circle of acceptance and respectability, deserving only of contempt. As the campaign proceeds, a steadily larger range of hostile ploys and communications comes to be seen as legitimate.”
Tragically, all too often, no matter how effectively a target fights back, they can never fully erase the stain of the attack to their reputation: “but if everybody said it – there must be some truth to it.” FYI: if you find yourself saying this hurtful phrase please check out #2 on this list.
8. Stop reminding us of Michael from the show The Office: “Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” Sound familiar? If so, it’s time to look in the mirror and do some reflection. At some point, while you demonstrably puff up your chest to display your power before speaking, even you must realize that what you are about to say will be totally ridiculous and sound eerily close to a screenwriter’s stereotypical version of a boss. BTW: any time you find yourself “puffing up your chest” before making a statement it’s a good idea to just shut your mouth and let someone else take over the meeting.
The Office did plan to take on the topic of workplace bullying their last season. The deleted clip was dead on in depicting the media’s favorite message, that bullying is “intentional”. Far closer to the truth, the dialog and interactions of the cast members showed that bullies are often clueless to their actions and their impact.
9. Stop telling your co-worker that you’re sorry their boss is an an abusive jerk and “I would quit if I were you.” From a purely selfish point of view it’s important to remember that once the current victim being targeted is gone all that venom may be directed YOUR way. For those with a bit more empathy, maybe your co-worker has bills and a family. Why should they be forced out of a job they love? And, where are they going to find a new one?
10. Stop doing things to make creating this list so ridiculously easy.
* If you haven’t already, click here to check out the eBosswatch list of America’s Worst Bosses for 2014