Four Solutions to Deal with Upward-Directed Bullying.

There are times when a management group is held hostage by one or two powerful individuals. These employees tend to address management using foul or belittling language, door slamming, stomping out of meetings, threatening emails (sometimes using authority they have gained through their position as union steward). Few organizations are willing to label the problem for what it is: a bullied management team. It’s a dirty little secret that no one is willing to speak about as such.

Often, by the time management realizes it has to take action, the situation has become entrenched and deeply damaging to the work environment. Still, following are four things you can do to help solve this problem:

  1. Call a spade a spade. Recognize the problem for what it is: it is a bullying situation which has resulted in management intimidation. This will enable you to take a decisive approach.
  2.  Get all leaders on board. Anyone in management whose people interface with the bully’s needs to be on board and share the determination to take action and get regular updates.
  3. Cut your losses. If you need to fire the person, go ahead and do it. The world will not collapse. And if it costs you money is severance or legal fees, it’s still worth every penny.
  4. Develop a comprehensive approach to solving the problem. Key to solving the problem is developing a multi-pronged approach that works on multiple levels. For example:
    • Re-commit to and begin implementing your core organizational values, which often include concepts like Respect, Integrity, Community or Diversity.  .
    • Create a new and stringent Respect-Harassment policy and roll it out with a big splash. Bring in harassment training for management and employees.
    • Appoint a strong direct manager that will be willing and able to execute the new approach fairly and determinedly.
    • Examine the undercurrent culture and how it helped create and enable the problem behaviour. You may be able to do this on your own or you may need the help of external expertise.
    • Create Team Operating Agreements where team members commit to consensual ways of treating each other. This is highly effective in mobilizing the silent, suffering majority who wants to see change.
    • Rethink your approach to union issues. In many cases, the bully abuses a union position he or she holds or is adept at misusing union-based tools to their advantage.  In these cases, a new union strategy is crucial to solving the problem.

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