What Constitutes Bullying?

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There is a big debate these days on what constitutes bullying. Is it the tone, the words, the actions or all or part of? I know when I first started as a manager in the 80’s I wouldn’t hesitate to say, I need this by 5 and didn’t think about if I should say please or thank you or even pay attention to my tone. I needed it by 5 and having a chit chat was not required in my view at the time. I am happy things have changed and that we are more inclusive and consultative with our teams. I also learned very quickly as a new manager that if you want people to work with you and not for you, you need to be inclusive. But not everyone got the memo.

Obviously inappropriate language is never acceptable. Making someone feel less than, name calling, or condescending language should not be part of a modern-day work place. However, every week people are asking me if I feel a certain situation is bullying. For example, Managers getting upset with staff because they were not available to answer their emails after hours. Managers berating staff because they objected to working out of hours. Managers teasing men who want to take parental leave and making women feel guilty if they take all their maternity leave. Managers still criticising staff in front of others and at meetings. Why is this still happening? Are managers so stressed that they have a short fuse and their staff are in the firing line? Is there not enough education in organisations about what is acceptable and what isn’t? Have budget cuts meant training has stopped?

My guess is stress plays a major part and the rest follows. Still, this is no excuse for bad behaviour. If you are a Manager, you must look at how you are being perceived to your staff. If you are not engaging them and treating them with respect, then the turnover in your area will be affected and this will have a domino effect on results. Companies have poured thousands of dollars into management training on how to get the best out of people so why am I still hearing this?  Were you on holiday when the course was given? Yes you! The person who expects staff to read emails and text messages on the weekend all the time. Did you not go to the session about having a work life balance? Not just for your staff, but for yourself as well. How productive are you and your staff working 24/7? You are putting your organisation at risk by having staff who are burnt out. Burnt out staff equals mistakes and lack of creativity.  What can’t wait? Your staff are talking about you and therefore this will get around to your boss and the boss’s boss and probably the external market.  You can’t treat people like they have no voice and if you do they will be silent to you, but loud behind your back. Is this what you want?

Tips for you as the Manager:

  • Don’t react to a situation immediately when someone annoys you. Take time to think about it and bring the person into a private area for a civil conversation. Remember you are their boss and should have an interest in them doing their best and liking their job. Be calm and discuss what has upset you and hear what they have to say.
  • Never make it personal. Language should only be about work – for example you wouldn’t say – what you did was really stupid and caused us to lose a client – instead you could say – Your error on the document meant the client was annoyed and decided to take their business elsewhere, could you explain what happened and what you are doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Be calm in your tone and listen to explanations and use this experience as a training session to move on in a positive way.
  • Expecting staff to look at their emails on the weekend should be the exception not the rule. The exception would be during a major project, tender or something that is only for a specific time. As a manager I would thank my staff for making themselves available and look at what I could do to compensate them in the future for the extra effort. Most companies want their employees to have a balance so if you are a manager going against the culture, I would recommend a rethink.
  • Staff have choices and don’t have to work for you. After all, the saying goes – “people leave their managers not their job”.

Tips for the employee:

  • Don’t accept anyone speaking to you in a demeaning or negative way. If someone calls you a name and you don’t feel confident to stand up for yourself, get support from a mentor/advocate or HR.  If you are confident to stand up for yourself there are ways to respond.
  • If you are in doubt about the treatment you are receiving, discuss it with someone you trust who has experience in managing people and get their views.
  • I personally would have the discussion with the person and bring how I feel to their attention.  For example, Mary, I was not happy with how you responded to me in the meeting today. You brushed my idea off and I felt you didn’t give it the consideration it deserved, could we have a chat about it over a coffee. Keep it light and business focussed. Remember you are all on the same team and should treat each other as team members.

There are so many examples that I could discuss which is why our next Deep Dive Session is on this specific subject and we will also have a special panel at our 2019 conference. As an industry we need to educate everyone as to what is acceptable and what isn’t. Take out the grey areas and move forward in a positive way to improve work place communication and behaviour.

Please join us at our upcoming Deep Dive Session in Melbourne and Sydney to continue the discussion. Please feel free to comment on this post and I will respond, let's have a discussion.

Regards Judith

Comments 1

  1. Heather Dawson

    Excellent article Judith – thank you! Great new book and resource I am reading on modern, authentic leadership: Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. Highly recommend all of her work. Thanks again for calling out a really important issue for all of us!

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