Bosses That Bully
Margaret is driving home after yet another bad day at work. Try as she might, she can’t stop the endless cycling of boss bullying. It goes like this: Her boss, Cynthia, assigns her a task. Before she can finish, Cynthia assigns her another. Margaret, overloaded with too much work, produces a less-than-perfect product. Cynthia criticizes her work in front of the rest of the team, assigns the first task to another employee – and gives Margaret two new tasks to accomplish in too-little time.
Stopped at a traffic light, she suddenly thinks, “It doesn’t have to be like this. Can’t I have a boss who…” But she can’t finish her thought. What would a “good” boss be like? The word “trustworthy” immediately springs to mind, but she can’t go any farther. She’s so accustomed to bosses that bully that she doesn’t know what a “trustworthy” boss would do.
Let’s see if we can help her. The “trustworthy” boss:
• Acts as a role model. She participates in the team’s work, sometimes by guiding others, sometimes by doing some of the work herself. While she doesn’t allow herself to get drawn in at the expense of her primary responsibility to lead the team, she is not above helping out when there’s a deadline, or if she sees another hand is needed.
• Listens and demonstrates what she hears her team members say by following through on their requests. When a team member says she needs a piece of equipment to perform her job, for example, the trustworthy boss goes to bat for her.
• Accepts feedback from team members even when the feedback is critical of her performance. She listens non-judgmentally.
• Makes changes based on criticism or other learning. She believes in and embodies an attitude of continuous improvement.
• Spends some time every day talking to team members in their own work environments–in their office, cubicle or on the factory floor. By doing that, she stays in touch with the work environment and the people doing the work.
• Encourages team members to share their opinions and ideas. She brings out the best in people.
• Facilitates discussion at team meetings, rather than using meetings as a way to advance her own views.
Knowing that no boss is perfect, what are your top three requirements for a boss? We accept bosses that bully because we can’t think of any other way things could be. Try this: jot down the characteristics of your boss in one column. Jot down the characteristics of your “ideal” boss in a column next to it. How closely do these lists match? By comparing the lists you can become more aware of what you need. The key here is to be aware of your top three needs in a boss. Likely they will have to do with character traits that you need in order to function well at work. If your boss fails the test in the top three, then you have to ask yourself: “Is this something I can talk to my boss about in order for it to change’” Or “Is this bullying behavior?”
Experts agree that one out of six people will be bullied in their lifetime. It is also noted that 25% of those being bullied will struggle to a great degree. If this is you, then re-read the definition of bullying here: Bullying is repeated, disrespectful behavior, which harms the target, by one or more people, for the bully’s gratification.
We are not suggesting you leave in the case of some difficulties that could be ironed out as there will always be difficulties as we work and know more people. We are simply saying that if this is bullying behaviour, and your top three needs are not being met in your boss-employee relationship, then you do have power to make a decision.
Valerie Cade, Founder
Workplace Bullying Expert, Speaker, and Author of
Bully Free at Work