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Bullying IS Harassment

We have all seen it. The manager who yells, screams, belittles, and is an overall bully to his/her employees and co-workers. In my career I have not seen many instances of overt sexual harassment – and it DOES exist, what I do see more often and in almost every organization is bullying, which can be a form of harassment.

In many cases, organizations don’t recognize bullying as harassment, but in many instances it is harassment and it does create a potential liability. Often the office bully is passive in his/her behavior. Below are 10 employee complaints and signs that may indicate you have a bully on your hands:

  1. You may hear complaints from employees who say they frequently feel as if they are being singled out and are being treated unfavorably. Complaints may include being left out of meetings, not recognized for their contributions, not given preferred assignments, not being allowed to take off time, or not being included in frequent lunches; which may make them feel like social pariahs. We have all seen it, the manager who hangs out with select employees socially and treats others differently – this is a concern.
  2. Complaints that another employee/manager is taking credit for a fellow employee’s accomplishments. I had a co-worker who was bypassed for a promotion because his manager took credit for a huge project that the co-worker had lead and the manager had no part in. This could be considered bullying.
  3. Complaints that an employee/manager frequently yells and screams at other employees. I have seen this up close and personal – it can be devastating and should never be tolerated. I actually learned that a manager was telling his employees to “yell back” to handle it – this is not a solution.
  4. You may have employees complaining that they are being treated differently than their co-workers. I once had an employee who was told by her manager that though her performance was excellent, she could not work from home because she didn’t have children, yet other employees with children were allowed to work from home. Another co-worker was told not to attend any meetings with a senior executive because the senior executive could not stand to see this employee. This is a huge liability waiting to happen.
  5. If you have complaints of employees/managers frequently swearing, sending political or offensive emails, etc., which creates a hostile or uncomfortable work environment – you have an issue on your hands. With the political season here this may well be prevalent at your workplace and you are unaware of it.
  6. You may have received employee complaints of being “thrown under the bus” or being blamed for issues in front of other employees. Haven’t we all seen this? I was once in a meeting where a manager made another employee cry. Even if there was a major issue with the employee’s work or conduct it should have been handled differently.
  7. You may also have employee complaints of being threatened to do “something” or else; or receiving threatening communications via email, in person, etc. I once had a co-worker receive an email from a senior executive that had “replied all” shaming the employee for something the senior executive completely misunderstood. At least in that circumstance there were many witnesses to the bullying behavior and plenty of documentation.
  8. If you are hearing concerns that a manager is constantly publically criticizing an employee’s behavior and/or work product, this might be an issue. Whether this is valid or perceived – there is a better way to provide feedback to the employee. I had a manager come to me about putting an employee on a performance improvement plan (PIP) and/or to receive coaching. At the end of our conversation, there really was no issue with the employee’s performance, but the manager seemed to just have a personal conflict with this employee. It turned out the manager needed the coaching.
  9. You may see frequent turn-over as well as unplanned absences in a specific department or division. When an organization sees more than 25 percent turnover without any massive organizational change or other organizational changes for the turnover this could be an indicator that there is an issue or a “problem child” creating havoc in the group or entire organization.
  10. Pitting employees against one another or speaking negatively about a direct report to another employee is a potential issue. Yes, everyone has a bad day and needs to vent, but there is a time and a place – possibly talking to Human Resources (HR)? The complaining manager could still be deemed as creating a hostile work environment and the behavior needs to be addressed.

Other signs to be aware of:

  • Isolating employees and not communicating with them or delegating work to them.
  • Teasing employees about their dress, accent, or other personal characteristics.
  • Retaliating or punishing an employee for minor issues.
  • Hindering an employee from changing departments or getting a promotion.
  • Forcing an employee to hire or utilize a service that is a personal friend or relative of the manager. The higher the person is in the organization (with more authority) the more often these situations can occur – this may happen over and over again if not addressed.
  • Threatening the employee for not releasing confidential information. True story – executives trying to force confidential information out of HR because of their position within the organization.

You may have seen many of these examples in isolation, but if you are frequently seeing any of these behaviors or you are receiving a number of these complaints you need to address the problem immediately.

How do you address this behavior? If you have had several complaints about a single employee or manager who exhibits any of the above behaviors it is best to address it before there is a legal issue on your hands. Start by sitting down with the employee, observing the employee in meetings, and/or talking with his/her manager. You may want to think about starting a formal investigation if the issue seems to be getting worse or is severe.

Think about putting the employee on a Performance Improvement Plan (Plan) or assign he/she a coach to address his/her management style or work ethic. Be careful here to warn the issue-employee that no retaliatory behavior will be tolerated and that his is a serious issue.

Think about a cultural assessment or team building sessions to open lines of communication and improve the productivity and overall health of the team or department.

Also, it is important to remind employees about your harassment policy. You may need to update your policy to include all forms of unlawful harassment. Think about hosting a training session around creating a respectful workplace.

If you need help with any of these aspects, PIPs, coaching, cultural assessments, investigations, and creating a respectful workplace, BlueFire can always help – this is our expertise!!!


Stephanie H. Nelson, MBA, CHHR, CPC, & Certified PREP Administrator

BlueFire HR Consulting

773-793-1362 or 773.270-5223

Twitter – @BlueFireHR



The Power of Great Teams

Creating a cohesive team is important in the workplace. If not all members of the team are on the same page, the work that needs to get done can be misinterpreted and cause confusion. Even if members of the team have been at the company for an extended period of time, it is still important to create new activities and situations for the team to bond.

When someone says there will be a “team-building” activity in the office, some people roll their eyes, having thought of past activities that they had to do. Many people’s experience with team-building activities are from school or a sports team where the activity is something along the lines of ‘share your greatest fear’ or ‘something no one knows about you’. These types of team-building activities don’t create a great team. Team members want to feel valued, and want activities where they can actually bond with other team members.

Generally getting a team to focus on a common goal is ideal to bond a team. Whether a large project where everyone has a part in achieving the common goal or simply hitting budget numbers – this bonds a team. In order to get a team to focus on this goal it is important to host a team-building day where all voices are heard, roles are outlined and understood, and finally all of you find a solution to the project at hand. Once a team gets through and accomplishes the project whether large are small they start to bond and forge an identify as a team.

Great team-work fosters creativity and learning. Not everyone has the same thought process or will come up with the same solution to a problem. Being able to discuss an issue with your team will help create new solutions and a different ways of combating the problem. Opening up to your teams builds trust within everyone, knowing you are all working together for a common goal.

Keep in mind that some of the best teams have both extroverts and introverts. Diversity in thought to a team is ideal to finding the best solutions. Many people have different personalities and each personality is essential to the success of the team. Introverts are observant of their surroundings and tend to process things more in their heads. They sometimes notice a small detail that an extrovert may not. Extroverts are great for generating ideas and discussions because they are open. Both introverts and extroverts benefit from each other in a team setting and help the team succeed.

One common method BlueFire HR uses is what we call “dotology”, this is a lean method that allows all voices to be heard, fosters creativity, and streamlines the process or method to creating a solution. This is also great for strategic planning, project planning, and goal setting. Call us to try it out.

If you are mid-year and there has been a variety of changes that have been made to the team, an easy team-building activity, is to simply plan a team lunch. Team lunches are a good way to get a break from the office during the work day, but also a way to get to know each other out of the office. The same goes for team happy hours or after hour activities. It is a way to speak about work or anything the team wants, but to connect on a different level than in the office. Volunteering is also an important way to bond a great team. Giving back to your community is an activity your employees can be proud of and can continue outside of the workplace.

Each team is different, but making sure everyone has a voice is the most important part to creating a great team. Many successful companies and leaders would not be where they are today if it weren’t for the power of great teams. Similar to a sports team, there isn’t one person who ensures the success of a team. In baseball for example, having an amazing pitcher will help with your success, but if the team can’t field or bat, then the team isn’t going very far in the season. Everyone needs to work together, even the players on the bench, to ensure the success of their team.

Laura Nelson, LEED GA – Business Analyst

BlueFire HR