We are unwrapping some posts from the Women of HR archives for you this holiday season. Relax, enjoy and let us know if there is a favorite of yours you'd like to see unwrapped and run again.
These days, the Peanuts character Lucy is a bully and they’re not going to allow it anymore.
At least, that’s the deal according to the administrators at my kids’ school system, who ditched the time-honored tradition of watching It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in the elementary schools during their Halloween parties because “Lucy is a bully.” I confess to doing some heavy eye-rolling at this decision. After all, Lucy’s been bossing people around since 1950. It’s Lucy for crying out loud; that’s how she rolls.
But consider the larger context of this decision: it’s not only our schools where the definition of “bully” has changed. The term “workplace bullying” is becoming commonplace and this has implications for both managers and human resource professionals. Employees are paying attention to bosses who retaliate, which is considered a form of bullying. According to an EEOC press release, in 2010 for the first time ever, retaliation surpassed race as the most frequently filed discrimination charge.
The Workplace Bullying Institute website defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:
- Verbal abuse
- Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
- Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done”
If using the definition above, most managers would absolve themselves of being a bully. They understand that blatant verbal abuse and aggressive behavior of any type is not acceptable managerial behavior. But what about those behaviors that might have been deemed OK in the past, but are now seen as
inappropriate? What about the Lucys out there who are navigating a changed boss/employee landscape? They are the self-described “tough” bosses. Their reaction to claims of bullying might be: “Geez, lighten up, I was just joking!” or “Tell them to quit whining”.
As a human resources professional, how do you help managers sort out the difference between being simply “tough” and being a bully? This is how I break it down:
A tough boss has employees’ best interests in mind. The tough boss challenges employees to think beyond their current capabilities, to go beyond what they thought they could do. Tough bosses have difficult conversations. They don’t shy away from poor performance; they address it immediately. The tough boss might not be “warm and fuzzy” but they are compassionate. The one thing a tough boss will never do is belittle their employees in any way.
If a manager’s actions create a sense of feeling belittled by the employee, then the manager has crossed the line into bullying. It may not have been intentional, but there it is.
In human resources, one of the most difficult tasks you face is that of ensuring your employees’ safety— and not the kind that you report with OSHA. It’s the lack of psychological safety that takes a hard-to-measure toll on your workforce. You can help your management staff see their role in providing this type of “safety” by helping them understand the evolving use of the word “bully.” Helping them stay focused on being a tough boss rather than a bully helps create the productive, non-toxic work environment all human resources professionals should strive for.
About the author: For 20+ years, Jennifer V. Miller has been helping professionals “master the people equation” to maximize their personal influence. A former HR generalist and training manager, she now advises executives on how to create positive, productive workplace environments. She is the founder and Managing Partner of SkillSource and blogs at The People Equation. You can connect with Jennifer on Twitter as @JenniferVMiller.
Photo credit: peanuts.wikia.com
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