Men (and women) behaving badly… and how to deal with them

Paul
Simpson looks at the damage that wayward managers can do and provides some tips
on dealing with the tyrant at work

Let’s
face facts. Your company could have the most finely honed, up-to-date
legislation and directive-friendly HR policies in the world, but one line
manager behaving badly can undo almost all that good in an instant.

We’re
talking about the kind of results-oriented line manager who, by their crude
treatment of your employees, lands you all up before a tribunal, garnishing
unwelcome publicity in the national press. The cliché that no publicity is bad
publicity as long as they spell your name right simply doesn’t apply here.

It
costs you money

Brutal
management styles may also be costing your company money, a fact which may give
you leverage in trying to change the situation. Christine Pearson, a professor
of management at North Carolina University, interviewed 775 people who were
treated disrespectfully in the workplace and found that:


53 per cent lost work time worrying about their treatment


28 per cent lost time at work avoiding the person who had abused them verbally,
emotionally or physically


12 per cent changed jobs to avoid their colleague or manager


10 per cent spent less time at work.

So
what can you do about it?

The
trick, if there is one, comes in two parts:


recognising when a manager is letting your company down and behaving in an
inappropriate manner


deciding what you can (and should) do about it

Spotting
the problem

Be
realistic. Your corporate culture will have norms of behaviour built into it,
almost genetically. What may be regarded as decisive motivational leadership in
a sales or IT-related environment may, in another department or company be
regarded as an inappropriate and threatening style of management.

There
are many checklists of tell tale signs that a manager isn’t treating an
employee with respect yet many of the classic signs identified by psychologists
and experts could also apply to managers who don’t behave in a neanderthal
fashion.

Ten
tell-tale tendencies

Take
these 10 signs, identified by US husband-and-wife psychologists Gary and Ruth
Namie:


1. Talking about someone behind his/her back


2. Interrupting others while they are speaking or working


3. Flaunting status or authority; acting in a condescending manner


4. Belittling someone’s opinion to others


5. Failing to return phone calls or respond to memos


6. Giving others the silent treatment


7. Insults, yelling and shouting


8. Verbal forms of sexual harassment


9. Staring, dirty looks or other negative eye contact


10. Intentionally damning with faint praise

Most
of the managers in your company will have committed at least one (if not
several) of these sins. Damning with faint praise, for instance, is a
motivational technique used to good effect by many great football managers
(Bill Shankly and Brian Clough in particular). And interrupting others may not
be the sign of a bad boss, but a personality tic.

You
will have your own sense of the usual practice at your own company. If the bog
standard line manager at your firm commits all 10 of these sins on a daily
basis, your decision is easy. Resign.

Life’s
too short

Life
is too short for you to transform your company culture single-handedly, unless
your own bosses, especially your managing director, urgently want to change. Or
perhaps they have been forced by a bad tribunal hearing to recognise that they
must change. And even then, quite frankly, you need to be convinced about the
depth of their commitment to change.

It’s
crucial too to distinguish between legitimate criticism or comment on an
employee’s work and downright abuse. So while “your performance would be
improved by X amount if you did Y” is permissible, even if it might be
delivered in more forceful language, but comments like “it takes you eight
hours to do your job and I could do it in two” should set off alarm bells.
Nothing constructive is happening here, it’s just a manager insulting an
employee, abusing their status.

The
brute in action

Harvey
Hornstein, the US academic and author of the book Brutal Bosses, says the key
qualities that tell you when a boss has crossed the line are: deceit, constraint
(especially on employees’ lives outside of work), coercion, inequity (in
treatment or reward of employees), cruelty, and disregard. If an employer
starts interfering in a staff member’s private life (by trying to influence
their choice of friends for example) that should, in some ways, be seen as the
ultimate sign that something is very wrong.

Hornstein
summed up his own experience of working for such a boss: “Disagreement was
disrespect. If you were a rung below, you were lesser. Obedience, not judgement,
was required. Your duty was to be obedient and loyal. L’état, c’est moi.
Obedience to me is God’s will, and the will of nature.”

How
fast you spot such behaviour may depend on the willingness of employees to talk
(and their trust in HR) and how you measure employee performance, morale and
motivation.

Dealing
with the beast

You
will know what you need to do legally and procedurally to meet the kind of HR
standards you have set out for your own company. If you’ve decided that a
manager is behaving inappropriately, the temptation is to act immediately. But,
as always, politics has a role to play.

The
questions you need to answer:


Is the manager going to change?


Is the manager effective in terms of getting results?


Who’s supporting them?


Is the employee contributing to the problem?

Not
enough managers change, but some do. They may just be tough, demanding,
results-oriented bosses who are unaware of the effect they have on employees. A
training course, even just some friendly advice, may improve matters.

Effective
and coarse

The
manager’s effectiveness is a tricky issue. No matter how good a manager is at
getting results, if they’re guilty of, for example, verbal sexual harassment,
you need to act. However, while it may sound cynical, it is still easier to
handle brutal bosses who don’t get the job done.

If
the manager is effective, your job becomes a lot harder. It may be that the
same attributes which upset their employees are part of what got them their job.
Which brings you to the next question: who’s supporting them?

The
very boss your staff are complaining about may be the IT director’s protégé,
prized because he or she gets the job done. (And, by the way, although the
stereotypical image of a bad boss is of a middle-aged man, women aren’t immune
to this kind of behaviour: they’re just more likely to abuse staff verbally
than physically.) This doesn’t mean you should shrug your shoulders and let
them get on with it, but it does mean evidence will have to be even more
painstakingly collected and a consensus built more slowly.

The
more outrageous the behaviour, the easier it will be for you to act: even a
company star is unlikely to be excused for physically assaulting an employee
(although it can and does happen). But Hornstein says that you should be
careful: this kind of manager often has an instinct for smelling blood or
weakness.

Safety
in numbers

Obviously,
if umpteen employees complain that their boss is a duplicitous tyrant, the
issue should be clear-cut, but if it’s one against one, your job becomes
harder. You have to know that the employee has examined their own behaviour to
see if they might have contributed to the situation. You would hope they had,
at least, tried to talk to their manager about the problem although, given the
frequency with which this backfires, it shouldn’t be held against them if they
don’t.

It’s
important that employees can and do talk about these things, either with your
department or with a colleague.

The
instinctive reaction of many is to revert to a school playground mentality
where they refuse to do what they see as the equivalent of telling teacher. Yet
studies show that staff who try to deal with this kind of abuse by pretending
to be thick-skinned suffer most psychologically.

The
final solution

There
is plenty of advice about how to deal with brutal bosses, but no real easy
answers. Actually there’s one easy answer: if the brutal boss at your company
happens to be the managing director, start looking for another job now.

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