When warnings aren’t enough

I keep hearing alarming stories about bullying behaviour and despite warnings the person gets moved sideways, left where they are or even promoted to where they don’t have to interact with colleagues!

In one situation, an abusive and aggressive boss has had ten separate complaints filed against him from those that report to him yet he still maintains his position as manager of a large team. How can this be allowed to continue?

Many companies and organisations have procedures in place for situations where someone crosses the line, and this procedure usually begins with a warning. But where is the follow up? What happens when people slip back into habits that caused angst in the first place?

I thought they get fired! Apparently not, in many cases.

The policy needs to include follow up

It can be incredibly hard to change human behaviour, and most of us would think that a warning regarding how we conduct ourselves in an office would be enough to make us think carefully about how we treat people.

Nonetheless, people are extremely resistant to change, as a rule. Change is uncomfortable and much more difficult than just continuing on as things are. With the knowledge that people will resist change, and will often revert to old habits unless new ones are rewarded or enforced, every bullying or harassment complaint needs to be followed up over a period of time. But how many organisations have this process in place? I suspect very few.

He said, she said

The difficult part about mediating disputes is that there are often two views of a situation. When people present different versions of events, how can you possibly decide who has transgressed? And what do you do if both people are contributing to a negative situation?

Things are never easy, and it can be difficult to maintain objectivity, particularly if someone has formed a reputation. Despite the difficulties, it is so important that you do something. If there is discontent in the office, there is a high chance of it festering and becoming worse over time.

When to escalate?

Warnings should only ever be a first step, and they should always include something along the lines of “if this situation occurs again then the following punishments or consequences will follow”. If an organisation wants to instil a particular set of values then it needs to enforce these standards every time there is a transgression.

In the case mentioned above, there is no repercussion for the person that is causing so much angst in the team. There is no clear reason to change – it is the way he has always operated and, in effect, he keeps getting away with it.

And what happens if you don’t?

When there is a leadership problem that is left unattended then the motivation levels of those in the office will continue to wane. As this happens, productivity and overall happiness within the organisation will drop. People start to wonder why they should bother complaining or striving when unacceptable behaviour is allowed to continue.

Please, I ask that if you are in an organisation (even in defence services!) where there is a person that is negatively affecting everyone around them that you act on it. Whether you address the issue directly with the person, or via an established process, this kind of behaviour needs to be stopped.

We spend most of our waking lives working, so everything should be done to make sure that there aren’t unnecessary barriers to safety and happiness.

Eve Ash has produced videos such as Eliminating Workplace Bullying, Bullying and Harassment, and two new COMEDY approaches to serious topics: Breaking Bullying and Ensuring A Respectful Workplace. Seven Dimensions has a wide range of resources, including the popular legal series Duty of Care.


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