“What is the best course of action to stop bullying and hostility?”

Question: My wife was recently subjected to a meeting where four senior management people basically subjected three 50-year-old women to a “beat up.” This is a major corporation in the U.S. The bosses did do some things to hide the reality of the situation, such as inviting 20-something employees into the meeting, and calling the women afterwards and telling them the meeting was not directed at them.

Shortly after the meeting, my wife was put on a “verbal” warning, though delivered by email. My wife admits that her performance has been below the standards they have set, however others in the same situation have been told to reach 90% of their plan, while my wife has been told she has to reach 100%.

There are many other examples of hostility by management in this corporation, including telling the employees that it is their intent to make employees “uncomfortable.” I have been a senior manager for more than 30 years and the management being displayed here is both professional and illegal in my opinion. I have told my wife that going to the EEOC is not a good career move, and her being terminated in these conditions is not a good career move, either.

What is the best course of action for her to stop the behavior and hostility from her managers, and to gain time to find employment elsewhere? In the end, that is all we want.

Washington, D.C.

Answer: Dear Ron: Your question is so very common these days. Here are my thoughts:   

1. Like many bugs, bullies are the most frightened by “exposure to the light.” Like so many bugs, bullies prefer to do their bullying “in the dark.” In my experience, there is one thing that bullies fear more than anything else: being exposed for what they are, especially to their superiors. I think most people would agree with this. And, too, bullies fear hearing people say, in front of others, “You do not make me fearful, you bully.”

For these reasons, it is almost always my first preference that victims of bullying at work by “bully bosses” or “bully colleagues” send detailed descriptions of the bullying behavior to senior-most company executives, with copies to several members of senior-most management, and perhaps even the Board of Directors, with a copy sent simultaneously to the bully himself or herself.

Such a report of bullying behavior should include dates, times and witnesses, and correctly label it as wrongdoing at work, a violation of corporate policies against hostility and harassment. Such reports should also include a request that the bully or bullies be properly stopped in their misbehavior and harshly disciplined for the described misconduct. And, too, the report of bullying should include a reminder of senior-most management’s duty to protect employees from bully managers or be held accountable, themselves.

2. The problem is that too many people are afraid of retaliation by the bully. Bullies get away with their bullying in large part because so many people are afraid of even worse bullying if they make a complaint to senior management. “I am afraid it will only get worse” is what I so often hear.

It’s self-fulfilling: the fear of bullies only makes them that much more fearful. And showing you are not fearful of bullies leads to less reasons to fear them. Getting over the fear of confronting a bully is the first and greatest hurdle to dealing with them.  That said, as explained below, sometimes you can “confront” a bully anonymously.

3. To help, we offer assistance (a) with our newsletters, (b) our video, and (c) with a model letter, too. The best course of action is set forth in three places on our blogsite: 

First, we have a newsletter entitled “12 Ideas for Dealing with the Boss from Hell.” In the “Bullying and Hostility” section of our Resource Center, we offer many other articles to read on overcoming bullying and hostility. To review them [click here].  

Second, we offer a video on YouTube entitled “Bully Boss? – 6 Steps to Beat the Beast.”

Third, we have available a Model Letter entitled “Anonymous Report of Bully Boss Behavior,” for those who are concerned about potential retaliation. To obtain a copy, just [click here].

Ron, the first step in getting a company’s management to reign in the misconduct of bullies is to tell them in a way they cannot ignore. It takes courage, and it takes some initiative, but without employees taking the first steps, we will never rid ourselves of the scourge of bullying at work.

I hope and pray this helps your wife, as well as other blog readers who are facing the same thing she is.  

Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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