The Office Bully: What's a Manager to Do? Part I
Pauline A. Salvucci, M.A.

Sometimes they resemble a pit bull on a bad hair day. Cross their path at the wrong time and you'll receive a tenacious bite in the form of a scalding tongue lashing. At other times their relentless criticism and carping feels more like a frustrated Chihuahua geared to sink its sharp teeth into the core of your self-esteem.

There's no doubt about it, the office bully's bite is hard. Besides adding to the stress and dread of co-workers and low morale, office bullies can cost their companies significant amounts of money. The hidden cost of ignoring the office bully's behavior may not be apparent at first, but eventually there may be telltale signs:

* Someone is sick and doesn't come to work on certain days.
* Someone else develops anxiety and sees a therapist.
* Another co-worker may simply leave the company.

This will cost time and money in advertising, interviewing and training, to say nothing of adding to the load of the other employees. And remember, if filed, lawsuits are expensive.

The office bully is the hidden cost of someone's not paying attention. That "someone" is the manager. You know the saying about hiding your head in the sand? Some managers adopt that motto as their management style. Others may actually be aware of the office bully's behavior and ignore it because the bully gets things done, and the manager supports that at any cost. In either situation, ignoring this problem is a sure fire way to float down the river of denial in the belief that those white water rapids ahead are as peaceful and calm as a child's wading pool. Wrong!

So, what's a manager to do? Don't managers have enough responsibility already? Isn't this just one more thing to contend with? If you don't give "it" any attention, maybe "it" will just wear itself out and disappear, won't it? Nope. People problems left unaddressed grow in direct proportion to any and all attempts to ignore them. That's a law of human nature. Ok, then, what does a manager do in the face of such contention?

First, take a breath. You can do this. Your head is out of the sand. You have acknowledged that something is wrong. Now you have to take action. Remember, a big part of your job is to effectively guide and model people's performance. Walk yourself through the following process before you say or do anything.


* Do you have a grip on who this employee is?

* Have you reviewed their progress over the past year?

* What kinds of goals have you set for them in their annual review? You did do an annual review, didn't you?

* What goals did the employee set for them self? Did they follow through?

* Have you followed up on their progress or perhaps lack thereof? Given any feedback or direction?

* Are they being sufficiently challenged or are they over challenged?

* Do they have the right resources, equipment and space needed to do their job well?

* Do you have the courage and conviction to put the cards on the table and let the employees know that bullying behavior isn't acceptable and that if not curtailed, it will have consequences?


* Make private time to meet and come prepared.

* Review the goals you and they set from their prior review.

* Ask them what they see happening in their work right now, and how they assess their present job performance.

* Have them define a problem they are experiencing and ask them how they can resolve it.

* Focus on the subjective performance issues, ie., work attitude, communication skills, collaboration, accountability. They are responsible for their behavior and attitudes.

* Determine specific present performance criteria related to employee's technical skills, alignment with department goals, timeliness/tardiness, accuracy, completeness and thoroughness.

* Listen for what's not being said.


Now you've got to pull this together and "manage in the moment". This is your most crucial and important challenge. Your role is to:

* Offer concrete honest feedback on employee performance.

* Be clear that improvement is expected and that continuing negative behavior will neither be accepted nor tolerated.

* Create an alliance with the employee to work on specific objectives.

* Highlight the balance between the employees's work performance, both technical and subjective, and their awareness of their job effectiveness.

* Expand the awareness of the employee's role in the company's culture.

* Schedule specific times for regular follow-ups.

Employees who have clear expectations of what acceptable behavior is, and know that accountability to address performance issues is a requirement, rather than an option, have a greater chance of success in meeting those expectations. The manager's role is to provide the criteria for the level of work performance required, and to monitor and support the employee's progress. People tend to respond positively to a win/win situation. The manager who can step up to the plate and present performance expectations accompanied by an attitude of accountability and support is on the road to offering the office bully a way out of the dog house.

Author's Bio: 

Pauline A. Salvucci, M.A. is a Business and Personal Coach with over 25 years experience in counseling, organizational development and training. Pauline coaches both individuals and small groups. She is the principal of The Coaching Connection.

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