Each month, “The Balance Sheet” provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that’s important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.
Q. Another supervisor told me that one of my best employees frequently bullies coworkers when I'm not around. My employee is so gentle; I find it hard to believe he’s a bully. Should I investigate or ignore this?
A. Ignoring this situation poses risks. If your employee engages in bullying behavior, it can harm morale and undermine team performance. Even worse, other employees may lose faith in your leadership if they think you’ve been duped into believing that this individual is gentle. This can breed cynicism and weaken your authority. Most supervisors eventually learn that when it comes to employees, appearances can deceive. A seemingly kind, thoughtful worker can come across as a demon to others. Investigate the matter by meeting privately with the employee, and then his coworkers, to gather information. Also, observe how this person interacts with his colleagues and look for evidence of intimidation or discord. You may want to visit BJC EAP to learn about the nature of bullying in the workplace and how to manage it.
Q. One of my employees has complained that a coworker of his is a bully. He cites numerous examples, but I am not so sure the complaints add up to much. Should I refer a bully to BJC EAP? Should I ignore these types of interpersonal issues?
A. You should listen to your employee’s complaints, keep a record of these discussions, investigate and correct inappropriate behavior brought to your attention by others. Also, make a supervisor referral to BJC EAP if your documentation supports it. Just as you would handle complaints of sexual harassment, establish a record of being proactive against bullying behavior rather than ignoring or dismissing it. Bullying continues to be a workplace issue. One growing threat is the call by legal advocacy groups to hold employers financially responsible for bullying behavior. Some of these groups are conducting research to determine the frequency of bullying behavior and gauge the interest employees have in suing their employers. These groups argue that bullying behavior frequently falls outside normal legal protections like those for discrimination, harassment and other employment rights violations.
Q. I have an employee who is a superstar performer, but acts like a bully toward a coworker. This coworker has not complained and does not appear to be upset by the behavior. They seem to get along quite well. Should I leave this situation alone and not be concerned? Can BJC EAP help?
A. Even though the bullying has not been reported, if you’ve observed it you should address it. Not all victims are reduced to visible anguish by bullies. Instead, they try to cope and suffer in silence. These employees can pay a big price in lost productivity and negative effects on their health. Ignoring your good judgment that a problem exists will jeopardize everyone concerned. Like sexual harassment, bullying is not always reported by victims despite their victimization, but if you know about it, you must address the problem immediately. Intervene and rely upon the reasonable standards of behavior and respect needed in the workplace as the basis for taking action. Act in accordance with your policies. Refer the bullying employee to the EAP. Afterward, talk with the victim about standards of conduct, and offer the EAP as a possible source of support.