The Bully Boss Archives

Being Bully-Boss’ed? – The 57 Signs . . . Is It Happening to You?

Published on July 17th, 2018 by Alan L. Sklover

“I find in most circumstances people leave bosses,
not companies.”

– John Rampton

ACTUAL CASE HISTORIES: Over the past two years, Nike has terminated five senior executives for being bully bosses – four men and one woman. One of those terminated had been identified as the probable next CEO. A rising tide of bullying at Nike resulted, too, in the CEO calling a “town hall” meeting of all 35,000 Nike employees, at which the CEO apologized for letting it get so out of control, and promised not to let it happen again.

From recent press accounts and a rising number of lawsuits, the incidence of bully bossing seems to be on the rise. It may be that so many managers feel under so much pressure to do so much with so little. It may be a reflection of a seemingly rising incivility throughout society. No matter the cause, workplace bullying seems to have become more common, and is a widely discussed phenomenon.

While employees bear the brunt of workplace bullying, employers are coming to recognize that they are victims of bully bossing, too, as it results in depressed morale, increased law suits, significant distraction, loss of valuable human talent and diminished retention of key employees. Oh, it also poses real risk to very significant reputational damage to brand, which is perhaps the “Achilles heel” of every organization, especially those with great investment into brand development and management.

And, too, it seems “something big” may also be changing: “I’ve been bully boss’ed” is, to many, the new “me-too movement.”

If you think how you are being treated by your own manager may constitute bully bossing, this list of the “57 Signs” may help you in two ways: First, it represents something of a “checklist of abuses” against which you can measure your own treatment so you can draw your own conclusions. Second, if you do conclude that you are, indeed, dealing with a workplace bully boss, this list may assist you in addressing the problem by identifying to Management, HR and even the bully boss, himself or herself, with specificity, the elements of the problem.

LESSON TO LEARN: Two questions often arise in workplace bullying situations:

The first question is: “Do I have just a very tough boss, or has he/she crossed the line to represent a true ‘bully boss?’”

The second question is: “If I am being bully-bossed, how can I address that subject, with the most effective manner and yet, if possible, avoid retaliation?”

Well, as I often tell my clients, “Specificity yields credibility.” By being able to identify what is going on, you can help yourself answer both of those questions. Specificity is necessary to identify a problem – like a blood test or x-ray does for a physician. And, too, specificity may indicate to the physician where to apply the medicine or other treatment, how long it should be applied, and what are the indications of improvement? Well, the same holds true for any problem, including bullying at work: the more specific, the more effective will likely be the diagnosis and treatment.

The list below helps you understand whether you are, indeed, being bullied. It can also help you spot the many ways in which workplace bullying often shows itself. While it is not entirely exhaustive, it does contain most of what we all mean by workplace bullying. And, too, it can assist in your standing up to it.

One thing to keep in mind: bully bossing does not need to be intentional. In fact, many bully bosses are not even vaguely aware of what they do. As they have done it so many times before, without being called out on it, they think it is “normal” managing, which it is not.

This is why it is being said, more and more, “Bully Bossed is the new MeToo Movement.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO: To help make a conclusion about whether you are being bully bossed, and to also help you report it to others, here is a list of 57 signs of bully bossing. Of course, associated issues should be considered, including (a) how often the activity takes place, (b) its intensity, (c) its effects on you, (d) how long it has been taking place, and (e) whether it has continued after you have taken reasonable steps to stop it.
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Your Complaint Labeled “Baseless”? Consider an “Investigation Push Back Letter”

Published on July 25th, 2017 by Alan L. Sklover

“ To err is human.
To blame it on someone else shows management potential.”

– Unknown

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Gary, 44, was a staff writer for an online entertainment industry blogsite. Most of his writing in recent years was about trends in subscriptions to live streaming music. His special expertise was in data collection and analysis to spot trends, and he was widely known as an expert in that area.

Gary’s analysis of live-streaming subscriptions lead him to the firm conclusion that certain of the largest live streaming music companies – indeed, the largest ones in the music industry – were losing more and more subscription customers to their smaller, more focused, and nimble competitors. When he wrote a significant article about this trend, his editor refused to publish it, claiming that it was replete with illogical assumptions on Gary’s part. This had never happened to Gary before in his 20 or so years as an entertainment industry writer.

Separately, two colleagues approached Gary in confidence, and shared with him that the blogsite’s editor had admitted to them that she declined to post his article because she was afraid of backlash – in the form of less advertising – from the larger streaming services, who were the blogsite’s “bread and butter.” They even shared an email in which the editor claimed to have been pressured to do so by the blogsite’s owners.

Gary then submitted to Human Resources a formal complaint of breach of his contract provision that forbade editorial decisions being made on financial considerations, and also that this was a breach of ethics and company policy. A two-week “investigation” by the blog site’s outside lawyers concluded only that “We did not find that anything improper has taken place,” despite the emails, the witnesses, and the circumstances that clearly showed otherwise.

Only after Gary brought the situation to the attention of the company’s CEO and Board of Directors did real progress toward addressing the problem begin to take shape.

LESSON TO LEARN: The most important lesson my mother taught me is that, “Without accountability, you really can’t expect responsibility.” Let’s face it: if failure to pay your taxes was not illegal, and no one checked whether or not you did, would you really do so? (As a lawyer, I must advise you that you need not answer that.)

Let’s all simply accept the reality that the same thing happens at work: many managers will not do the “right thing” if no one will hold them accountable for their failures to do so. And that is why they often hire “investigators,” not to determine the truth but to protect themselves from it.

Over my 35 years as an advocate for employees, many times I’ve helped clients file claims or complaints with their employers’ HR department, compliance department, and legal department of wrongful behavior against them by means of (a) discrimination, (b) harassment, (c) hostility, (d) retaliation, (e) dishonesty, (f) fraud (especially regarding Performance Improvement Plans), (g) threats of violence, and other misconduct by their managers or colleagues. In past years, some of those investigations found that the complaints were fully justified; other times, it was concluded that there was no basis for the complaint. The reasons given for not finding a basis for the complaint were often shared, and included (i) a misunderstanding of what was said or done, (ii) the alleged “offense” was only a very minor transgression, and (ii) the alleged “offense” may have taken place, but it was done in error, that is, without wrongful intention.

Increasingly, however, employers’ investigators – whether Human Resources, in-house Legal Staff, Employee Relations, or external investigators, such as law firms – never, ever seem to find any wrongdoing. It’s as if we now live and work in a “world of angels.”

That is because “investigators” are almost always tasked not with determining the truth, but rather with three specific objectives, namely, to:

    1. Gauge Risk: To gauge the amount of risk posed by the complaining employee and his or her complaint, to both senior management, personally, and the organization or company;

    2. Diminish Risk: To frustrate the employee’s efforts to exercise his or her legal rights, determine the truth, protect themselves, and hold the “guilty” persons accountable for their wrongdoing, misconduct or negligence; and

    3. Divert Accountability: To ensure that no one – and most of all members of senior management – are not held accountable for wrongdoing, what we call brought into the “zone of accountability.” Said a bit differently, making sure that “the buck” does not stop on anyone’s desk.

And, it is close to never these days that investigators are willing to share the reasons “nothing wrong was found,” because that, itself, would raise a risk. This is so even when they are presented with such strong evidence of wrongdoing as, for examples, (a) incriminating emails, (b) damaging documents, (c) credible witnesses, (d) damning circumstances, and even (e) admissions of wrongdoing.

Sound a bit paranoid? Well, consider that Wells Fargo Bank internal and external investigators “investigated” internal wrongdoing for five years and fired over 5,000 of their branch personnel for opening up non-existent accounts, but found not a single thing wrong, in error, or even questionable about the conduct of senior management who both (a) directed, coordinated and collected bonuses of tens of millions of dollars as a result, and (b) were not even criticized, until Congress had open hearings about it and exposed this gross dishonesty and rank hypocrisy.

The ultimate issue is this: “Who is investigating the investigators?” The “secret” to truly resolving this dilemma is to make “someone in authority” accountable for what has taken place, and that “someone in authority” is almost always your employer’s senior-most management. When they are brought into the “Zone of Accountability,” you have significantly more leverage, which can be put to significantly better effect.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: These are the several steps you should consider taking in order to get past, over and beyond such “blindness to wrongdoing” on the part of “investigators” of any complaint you file at work:
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Self-Help Action Plan 1: “Totally Frazzled from Work? Here’s What You Can Do”

Published on December 9th, 2015 by Alan L. Sklover


SkloverWorkingWisdom™ – Self-Help Action Plan 1

“Totally Frazzled from Work?
Here’s What You Can Do”

A Plan for Addressing Extreme Exhaustion
and Possible Need for Time Off

© 2015 Alan L. Sklover

Employees often report that their job duties – and the way they are being treated at work – have been made them feel exhausted, drained, frustrated, bullied, confused and near debilitated. They report feeling hopeless, anxious, depressed, and unable to work, sleep, eat or think straight. If this describes you, you probably need to do something about it. It is for people in this situation that we have prepared this Self-Help Plan of Action 1, entitled “Totally Frazzled from Work? Here’s What You Can Do.”

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Don’t worry about a bully boss’s “sensitivity.”

Published on March 17th, 2015 by Alan L. Sklover

Question: I am facing a situation that I need a bit of help with. For four years, I have put up with my boss’s undermining me publicly and privately, giving me the worst assignments and shortest deadlines, and his dishonest performance reviews. Feedback from my internal clients and my objective metrics are all quite, quite good. But he is constantly on me for alleged “mistakes,” “poor judgment” and claims of “disappointing” him.

Several of my colleagues have expressed to me that they feel quite bad about the way I am treated. It is my belief that good work should determine your treatment and success at work. That has managed to maintain me for years, but my last evaluation was almost horrible, and what is happening at work has gotten to me, and even affected my children.

So, finally, I filed a written complaint with HR, using one of your templates. I was honest, I gave names, dates and quoted him. And I think I showed that things he said in my last review were false.

My boss and his boss called me into a room today and told me that they were both “hurt” and “upset,” that I shouldn’t have made such “accusations,” My boss’s boss said that he was “uncomfortable” with this situation. Any suggestions?

Name and City Withheld

Answer: Dear Blog Visitor: I want to share these four things with you:
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“After a Complaint, the Employer’s Legal Duties to Separate and Protect.”

Published on July 10th, 2014 by Alan L Sklover

Question: Dear Alan: I am a school central office administrator who wrote a formal bullying/harassment complaint to the School Board against our Superintendent. As a result, the School Board held a special meeting and unanimously decided to hire an Outside Investigator to investigate my complaint.

I took sick leave for a week after filing the complaint due to stress, but now would like to return to work if possible. However, the School Board did not put the Superintendent on administrative leave while the investigation is being conducted.

So, when I go back to work he will still be in a position to bully me, retaliate against me, and make life miserable for me. He is a serial bully and I either had to live with it or do something. I do not want to put myself in a precarious position where things can get worse.

What is your advice on this matter? Request that the Superintendent be put on leave? Request to work from home? Take medical leave?

I love your website and have learned lots from it. Thanks for your help.

Layton, Utah

Answer: Dear Belinda: The School Board is doing one half of what the law says it must do. It would be wise to remind it of the second half of its legal responsibilities to you:

1. After receiving a complaint of bullying, harassment, discrimination, hostility or the like, an employer has two legal duties: (a) first, to Separate and Protect, and then (b) second, to Investigate. When an employer is in receipt of a complaint about another employee, the law provides that the employer has two legal duties to the person who submitted the complaint. The first duty – and truly the most important of the two – is to separate the parties to protect the complainant from further possible harm by either (a) more bullying or (b) retaliation for having filed the complaint. It cannot simply wait until it is certain of what took place to fulfill its primary duty to you, that is, to protect you.

Just in case you haven’t yet put your complaint into writing, we offer a Model Complaint of Discrimination, Harassment or Hostility you can adapt to your own facts, events and circumstances. “What to Say and How to Say It.”™ To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly! 

2. There are many different ways an employer can fulfill its legal duties to “Separate and Protect.” Here are just a few of the ways an employer can fulfill its duty to “Separate and Protect”: (a) change the duties of one or both of the parties to avoid direct contact; (b) change the location of employment of one or both of the parties to avoid direct contact; (c) change the days and times of employment of one or both of the parties to avoid direct contact; (d) place one or both of the parties on leave of absence to avoid direct contact; (e) require that all communications between the parties be supervised; (f) require that all communications between the parties be in writing; or (g) devise some other means of both “separating and protecting.”

3. It is not the employee’s decision to make, but the employer’s decision to make, regarding which way or ways “separating and protecting” should be accomplished. Because it is the employer’s duty to fulfill, it is the employer’s job to determine which way or ways it should be accomplished. In fact, it is important that the employer make this decision, because if additional abuse by either (a) continuation of the initial bullying, harassment, discrimination or hostility, or (b) retaliation, takes place, it is the employer who will be solely responsible for any damages that ensue.

4. That said, there is nothing wrong with the employee – or his/her physician or therapist – requesting that one or more measures be used to “separate and protect.” You and your physician and/or therapist know you best, and know what you believe would be best to avoid what you refer to as “the precarious position where things could get worse.” First, if you are seeing a physician or therapist to help you deal with this bullying, I suggest that the physician or therapist might be the one to best guide you in this choice.

Any suggestion from you to the School Board on this subject should be (a) in writing, (b) quite respectful, (c) clear in that your suggested measures are suggestions, only, and not demands, and (d) clear in how your suggestions would, in your mind, best accomplish the task at hand: protecting you from further bullying and possible retaliation.

5. Like all important communication regarding workplace issues, your communications with the School Board should be in writing and sent in a “verifiable manner.” As I always say in this context, “Say it with your fingers, not with your lips.” When you communicate by spoken words, exactly what you say, what you didn’t say, and exactly how you said what you said, is not often remembered correctly, or can be mischaracterized, and often a subject of later debate.

However, if you “say” it in writing, and you send it in a “verifiable manner” such as email, UPS or FedEx, then these issues will not likely arise, because you have created a solid “record” or “history” of what was said, by whom, to whom, when and in what way. That memorialization of communication is a critical part of successful navigation and negotiation at work.

I strongly recommend that you write to the School Board, remind its members of their “duties to separate and protect,” and consider suggesting the way or ways you think it would best do just that.

We offer a Model Memo for Requesting Protection from Further Abuse and/or Retaliation after Filing a Complaint. It shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.” To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email, Instantly

Belinda, your concern is real and your thought about taking a step to address it is both wise and brave. I hope this confirms that you are on the “right track,” and helps you travel down that path. My hat is off to you for having the courage to stand up to a bully boss. Bravo!!

My Best to You,
Al Sklover

P.S.: If things don’t work out, do not despair and do not resign. Instead, consider a “Model Involuntary Resignation.” It shows you “What to Say and How to Say It,™” To obtain a copy just [click here.] “What to Say and How to Say It”™ 24 Hours a Day. Delivered Instantly by Email – Instantly. 

Repairing the World,
One Empowered – and Productive – Employee at a Time™

© 2014, Alan L. Sklover All Rights Reserved. Commercial Use Prohibited.

Alan L. Sklover

Alan L. Sklover

Employment Attorney
and Career Strategist
for over 35 years

Job Security and Career Success now depend on knowing how to navigate and negotiate to gain the most for your skills, time and efforts. Learn the trade secrets and 'uncommon common sense' of Attorney Alan L. Sklover, the leading authority on "Negotiating for Yourself at Work™".

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