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When the bully is the boss..

When the bully is the boss..

When I went to my friend’s house recently, I noticed a big fish tank with colorful, vibrant and active fish. It was breathtaking to see the bright colored plants along the unique assortment of fish swimming around. I then observed a fish relatively smaller in size sitting for quite some time near some bushy plants in the tank. Only when the food was dropped, the small fish would dart out to quickly get at the food and then quickly hurry its way back to hide behind the plant. I finally noticed what it was so afraid of - whenever the small fish came out for food one of the bigger fish would chase it away. 

On my way back home, my mind constantly went back to the behavior of those fish. I rang my friend after a week and learned that the small fish had floated up dead the very next day that I had visited my friend. I felt sad to know that a tiny fish was so scared and intimidated by the big one that it couldn’t muster the courage to fight back and eventually gave up its life. Yes, the big fish was a bully.  The bully was successful in instilling fear in the small fish. Though a sad story it made me realize that the ‘bully culture’ existed even in a fish tank. 

We have heard about bullying in the playground or classroom, but unfortunately, bullies exist at all workplaces and offices too. Whether it happens in the playground or the workplace, bullying can be enormously distressing and disturbing for anyone at the receiving end. Researchers at the University of Manitoba found that workplace bullying inflicts more harm on employees than sexual harassment.

Bullying usually involves repeated incidents or behavior that is intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person. If the bully happens to be the manager or the boss it is all the more difficult to deal with the ordeal without risking the job but at the same time, it’s imperative not to suffer in silence. But, when one cannot handle the mental harassment and when the act of bullying crosses a person’s threshold of bearing it, there are just three options: change the system, make peace with yourself or quit. Changing the system is not an easy task because many would not be in a position to do so, making peace with oneself is to silently cope with harassment and embrace depression, therefore many prefer to quit. 

Marcus Buckingham, a British author, is right in saying ‘People don’t leave companies; they leave bad managers’ in one of his books ‘First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently.’ I am sure it resonates with many of us. 

When we think of a job switch, we generally have a couple of options to choose from, especially the organization, culture, location, etc. but what we don’t get to choose is our boss, manager or our reporting authority. This is the catch. We accept the offer, join the organization and then realize that our work ethic is a complete mismatch with the work ethic of our boss. When the boss has a significant amount of control over the job it is all the more difficult to fight fire with fire. What do we do then? Some of us sulk yet persevere and many work counting days for the weekend and those who cannot face the brunt of this decide to move on. 

Moving on is not easy, especially if it is the job that one has always dreamt of and also the organization which one has always aspired to be associated with. The worst thing is to stay on and hope for things to work out. Unfortunately, there are very few of us who display untiring perseverance and relentless energy to endure that mental pressure. As we all know humans and animals have one thing in common i.e. the power to adjust … some may term that ability to adjust as resilience. It is the power to adjust which helps us to cling on to our jobs even though it may be draining us emotionally, physically and mentally. This could be emotionally taxing and may lead to misplaced anger, depression and anxiety. 

And when the job-related stress is affecting your well-being, especially due to someone hovering over your head and making your life difficult with repeated humiliations, threats, and harassment, it is not wise to display resilience and perseverance. 

But, when it comes to work-related stress, we behave like the six blind men who know what they are touching but fail to put together a picture of an elephant. Believe it or not, the elephant is in the room or just across your table or in the cubicle adjacent to your desk, staring at you, intimidating you, criticizing you and constantly breathing down your neck. The psychological hazards due to work-related stress can take a toll on our health and well-being. So, anything that costs you your inner peace is expensive, learn to let go.

Employees let go of their jobs or voluntarily quit because of many reasons but according to  James K. Harter, Gallup's chief scientist for workplace management, at least 75 percent of the reasons for costly voluntary turnover comes down to things that managers can influence. In other words, 75 percent of the reasons people quit is because of their manager. The bell is ringing loud, loud enough for the organizations to start rethinking their HR policies, employee turnover, and its causes.

Ironically, we seldom hear any manger questioning himself ‘Is it me why people are leaving?  Hardly any, because once they get themselves comfortably seated in that powerful manager’s chair they perceive themselves as infallible and suffer something akin to the Dunning-Kruger effect. They assume they’re not the problem, but that their employees are. 

This is alarming because employee turnover leads to financial and reputational costs if employees are leaving because of a bully. It is therefore important for management to keep their eyes and ears open lest the culture gets adversely affected. It is time to dust down and review HR policies, time to give extra care towards employee well-being and time to revisit the culture, structure and anti-harassment strategies.  And yes! If you want to win a race you have to take care of that Ferrari. You have to know when to hit the brakes, change oil or change tires.


Published in Republica on August 25, 2019