Boss Lady

How to address workplace bullies


To address ethical concerns, organizations are now assigning Chief Ethics Officers, Chief Diversity Officers, and within some corporations, the combined role of Chief Ethics & Diversity Officer or Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer.  The ultimate purpose of the positions is to ensure the ethics and values of an enterprise are aligned and practiced.  Therefore, this article is about sharing successful tips on how to navigate workplace bullies, even if it is occurring with a supervisor, and how to utilize ethics officers.  Once source from a company in North America stated her supervisor was a departmental bully, so all of her staff, which were a few, were encountering the harsh treatment through the supervisors words and actions, providing uncertainty for the workers future careers.  Most bully’s in leadership in the workplace use words to bully others and sometimes actions by assigning extra work.  As a result, workplace programs need to be in place to protect and help employee’s, but when they are not, other options do exist.

Workplace leader’s who are bullies

Employees need to know how to address workplace bullies when the bully is a workplace leader.  Workers who are the recipient of leader bullies should contact human resources about the issue to make a formal report. A formal report should be made after an issue happens a third time. The first time is skeptical because you want to learn a person’s behaviors and the second time you want to confirm the persons actions to ensure you were not making assumptions or passing unlawful judgement or bias the first time.

Workplace bullies create toxic workplace cultures

Bullies who exist in workplaces likely bring bullying characteristics external to the workplace into the workplace, causing the workplace culture to become toxic.  A toxic workplace culture can be fixed.  A code of ethics (COE) or sometimes termed a statement of ethics (SOE) or code of conduct (COC) document must be in place, disseminated in new hire orientations, and the last page of the document signed and dated by employees, including leadership, to abide by.  The ethics or conduct documents should be reviewed by key people in the organization and disseminated in quarterly or annual company or department-wide meetings to ensure every employee has signed the SOE and not just new hires, to set company culture expectations.  The approach also helps set the tone for company values.  A SOE is typically 1-2 pages, sometimes three.

Advice for companies without a SOE

All companies, small, medium, large, and in between should have corporate governance documents to create and manage the reputation, culture, and values of the business.  If no SOE exists, a SOE or COE should be developed immediately, having all employees sign, top down in a firm.  Then a Chief Ethics Officer or similar official to work in human resources along side human resources staff to oversee the culture of the organization and any ethical issues should be appointed.  For multinational organizations a full compliance department should be established with the phone number and email address for the department listed in the comprehensive COE, which can be about 15-20 pages.  A SOE or COE can be constructed from reading other companies SOE or COE and tailoring content to fit your firm.

Career women at any stage of their career should look for all of this information before agreeing to work for a company, to know what to do if something unfavorable happens to them at work.  If only some of the information exists and you encounter a negative situation, use what ethical resources are available to stop the bullying.  Bullying allowed to carry on can turn into harassment and later possible lawsuits to the employer.

How Human Resources (HR) can stop bullying

Many HR departments do not do anything for some time, which was the case with the woman who worked at a firm in North America.  After a while one HR personnel told her to use “anointing oil and pray over her supervisor’s office”.  The advice could be legally discriminating.  Yet, formal reports should be made, HR should speak with the bully in a scheduled meeting, and HR should establish and take disciplinary action based on the number of times the inappropriate behaviors occurred.  Based on professional observation and personal experience, in organizations, HR departments can and have dealt with bully employee’s.  Employee’s who are bullies or generally problematic have been involuntarily terminated, moved to another job position in a different department, demoted, or moved to another city in a new job position to work with different staff altogether.  Human resources should be the key contact for each option.

Who should be involved if hr will not

If after several attempts of trying to get human resources personnel, a Chief Ethics Officer, or an ethics and compliance department involved in the bullying matter, if those tactics do not work, the Board of Directors (BoD) should be contacted.  From personal experience, the BOD was the last resource, but worked, before taking legal action.  Each BoD members contact information can be researched online and a formal letter written to each of them explaining what is happening and the outcome you are seeking.  Do not state what will happen if the BoD does not help you.  You do not want to seem threatening, but be prepared to ask a legal counsel for advice or formal help if the situation worsens and the BoD does not step in.

Resources for employees

To conclude, the ethics and compliance department or knowledge of if a Chief Ethics Officer exists should be told to employees and listed in all of the firms ethics, compliance, mission/vision/values collateral and on the company website in the corporate governance or corporate government documents section.  More often than not the website section is labeled corporate governance documents for public companies and private companies keep them offline, but in an HR department.  Contact information (email address and phone number) should be listed on the website as well.  Listed contact information for the legal department is necessary in larger organizations, like global and multinational companies.  Board of director information like email addresses is also listed on multinationals websites and in their proxy and annual statements to contact about organizational problems.  For smaller firms this information can be included in company collateral and discussed in meetings so bullying does not become a discrimination, harassment, or legal issue.

Three key tips and take-aways:

  • Before agreeing to work for an organization, research and identify company ethical and code of conduct documents to know what to do if you get in a bullying, harassment, or similar negative situation.
  • Do not let bullying cause you to fear your future career or create a problems on your current job. Take action immediately by documenting circumstances, confirm situations, and then seek formal help.
  • You could try speaking with the person or leader in your organization performing the bullying and ask them to stop, yet sometimes these kinds of circumstances, based on personal experience, are highly volatile. Get your HR department involved to have a higher level, human resources, company witness.  Human resources can also address the bully for you, working on your behalf.  It is their job.

These are just a few tips and take-aways that can help women further their career goals to ensure continued success and not get stuck when a negative person or situation tries to immobilize them.

About Kyla L. Tennin

Kyla L. Tennin, DM(c)(Hons), MBA, BA is the President and Global CEO for the conglomerate Lady Mirage Global, founded the enterprise, works with Fortune 100 and 500 corporations, and has worked with the firm for 15 years. Kyla’s career background is in the financial services industry at 3 banks and 1 alternative lending financial institution, in front office at brick-and-mortar branches and in back office in operations, consumer banking, and business banking. Prior to financial services, she worked for well known retail, hospitality, food & beverage, health care, and health insurance companies, completing practitioner doctorate courses and a 485 page dissertation on executives in multinational and global corporations with honors. Companies she worked “for” in the past in various sectors prepared her for businesses she now works “with” as clients. Lastly, Kyla is the recipient of over 30 organizational awards with the majority of them from the financial services industry as a consistent top performer for sales, product knowledge, business development, customer service, and quality assurance. You can find Kyla on Instagram and Facebook.

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