07 June 2009

SOLUTIONS - Assertive action needed to confront bullies in workplace

Q. Our manager yells at us and frequently says that if we don't like it here, we should quit. He knows full well that it would be extremely difficult for us to find other jobs, and he almost seems to enjoy this fact. We never hear a compliment, but he is very quick to criticize. How should we deal with him?

A. Your manager's threats and ridiculous advice qualify him for the bully category, but this does not mean that you have to qualify for the victim category. You are simply his targets.

If you take no action at all, your manager is likely to continue and even intensify his outrageous antics. As a result, one option is for a group of you to meet with him, express your feelings about his specific behaviors and clearly indicate that you want them to stop. Bullies tend to back away from strong and assertive opponents.

If he continues his harangues, your next option is to speak with his manager. Most companies are operating much leaner today and senior management is not particularly enthusiastic about employees at any level who are interfering with the focus, performance, and productivity of others, while creating possible liability for the company.

Your working relationship with your fellow employees is particularly important now, and the guidance and support that you provide each other can help all of you get through difficult times with a difficult manager. It is definitely risky to consider quitting, but perhaps your actions will cause your manager to quit his bullying behaviors.

Q. Our manager just told us that he is bringing in an expert on grammar to help all of us with our writing. Although our jobs include writing e-mail to other employees and to customers, I know that we are able to get our messages across, and it seems silly for us to sit in grammar lessons when we have work to do. What do you think?

A. Most managers would not jump at the opportunity to implement grammar training unless they found significant problems in the employees' written communications. Although you mentioned that you are able to get your messages across, your manager probably believes that you and your co-workers will be able to do so more effectively and efficiently with improved grammatical skills.

There is no question that people are able to communicate with each other in spite of astounding grammatical errors. However, even if employee communication is effective most of the time, that still means that there are communication errors at least some of the time. If improved grammatical skills can prevent such errors and the costs that accompany them, then such training is clearly worthwhile.

And further, even if your customers are able to understand grammatically-challenged messages from you or your fellow employees, such messages actually send unwritten messages about your company, especially in terms of the quality of work, concern for detail and interest in keeping errors to a minimum. If you approach this type of training with an open mind and positive expectations, you are highly likely to enjoy it and enjoy the benefits that it offers.

Q. I like to collect funny slogans and put them on the wall of my cubicle. I change them often, and employees like to come by my cubicle for a laugh. The other day, my manager told me to take them all down because one of them had a sexual connotation. I think this is an overreaction. I'll take down the one in question, but I'm inclined to leave the others up. What do you think?

A. You may like funny slogans, but ignoring a directive from your manager is not exactly funny.

For starters, it definitely makes sense for you to take down the arguably sexually offensive slogan. Most employers have zero tolerance for any behaviors or actions that could arguably form the basis of a sexual harassment claim. It sounds like the slogan in question has the possibility of creating a hostile environment.

As for the other slogans, you should take them down at this point for one reason, namely the directive from your manager.

Ken Lloyd is an Encino-based management consultant, coach, and author who specializes in organizational behavior. He is the author of "Jerks at Work: How to Deal With People Problems and Problem People." Write to him at lloydonjob@gmail.com.

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