Bullying in the workplace is a serious issue for HR

Don’t touch the bullies!

In many organisations bullies are a protected species. Most bullies are very visible, and many people know where to find nice examples. But the implicit signs are clear: “Don’t touch the bullies!”.

Recently I read “She Said“, by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and “Super Pumped – The Battle for Uber” by Mike Isaac. Both books feature super bullies (Harvey Weinstein and Travis Kalanick). Interesting: in both books the HR professionals in the organisations do not play any role. HR is absent. The legal departments play a role, but also a very dubious one, as their main focus is on avoiding issues and protecting the bully. I won’t claim that I have played any heroic role in dealing with bully issues during my career (never as serious as Weinstein and Kalanick). Most of the time I only dealt with the issue when it became unavoidable.

Some examples (some happened a long time ago, some are more recent). The question for you: how would you deal with the situation?

Some examples of bullying

Can you ask the midget to come to my office?

One of my old bosses gave everybody a nickname. He never used the nickname in their face, but always when they were not there. The not so tall IT assistant he called “the midget””: “Can you ask the midget to come to my office?”. The older payroll manager was addressed with ” The shrivelled ovary”. When she once left his office crying after a reprimand, he said to me: “Don’t take notice of her, shrivelled ovaries are always crying..”. When the new HR business partner said to him she did not like these kind of remarks, he said it was all meant as a joke. And from that day she was called “the priest”.

I have proof on camera!

In this organisation there was a clean desk policy. This manager (male again) would go around the office, after working hours, with his camera to video the desks of the people who had not left a clean desk. He would send the video by e-mail to these employees, with the text “last warning!”.

clean desk

Preparation time is not working time

A big call centre in The Netherlands. It takes employees about 15 minutes to set-up their computer, as they have to log in to various systems. Preparation time is not considered to be working time, they only get paid when they start receiving calls (and they better start on time!).

I am so sorry, I did’t mean to get angry…

In this large multinational the project manager of the internal audit department has difficulty to cope with stress. When deadlines approach, he frequently shouts to junior members in his team, in meetings or by phone. The shouting is so loud, that it can be heard by others in the office. Afterwards he sometimes (not always) apologies. “I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to get angry..”. Everybody knows how the project manager is behaving, but because he is very successful in finalising projects on time, and as he is popular with senior management (“He gets things done”) he is kept in his position. He only has difficulty to find new internal candidates for his team.

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