The Importance of Treating People with Dignity and Respect

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We are aware that all employees should be treated with dignity and respect and that bullying and harassment is detrimental to both morale and team dynamics and should never be tolerated.  However, if you are being bullied, it is not always easy to know what action to take.  All employers need to demonstrate a duty of care to everyone who works for them but, sadly, this is not always the case.

Being Bullied

Emilee is a 35 year old, London accountant who enjoys her work. She appears to be a self-confident, efficient and outgoing person who you would not think could be easily bullied.    However, the opposite is the case.  She told me that her boss, John, only speaks to her in order to criticize her work and, otherwise, completely ignores her from one day to the next.  Never is there any word about what she has actually achieved.  To date, she has done her best to ignore this attitude because good jobs such as hers are not easy to come by and she is committed to her work. However, a few weeks ago, Emilee could finally take no more intimidation and she arrived at my consultancy room, in tears.

She told me that the previous day, her boss had deliberately humiliated her in front of the entire office by shouting at her and telling her that her work was appalling and that she was inefficient and useless.  Everyone was embarrassed and upset by his comments.

What could Emilee do in this situation? She wants to keep her job but she cannot handle her boss’s attitude and behaviour.  She knows that if she left then she would probably be without a job for some weeks and meanwhile she would still have the rent to pay on her flat.

She feels trapped and the situation is now affecting her health.  Emilee says she cannot remember the last time she slept through the night without thinking about the conditions at work and the hurtful attitude of her boss.

So we considered what options might be available to her if she stayed in her job and how would she feel if she left ?  And then what would she do if she left?

My role was to try to ensure that she was able to cope with her anger and frustration when the root of the problem lay with the actions of a bullying boss.  The company for whom she works is relatively small and consequently there is no HR department. One of her colleagues takes on this role temporarily when needed, but is not an HR professional.

In this situation, there really is no alternative but for Emilee to request a meeting with John, in private, in order to tell him that she finds his constant criticism unfounded and hurtful and that if he has a problem with her work, then perhaps he would like to detail his comments in writing or in a formal one-to-one performance review rather than making allegations about her work in front of her colleagues. Emilee must stress that she is open to a meaningful dialogue about her performance but feels that it should be constructive, not destructive.

If this informal way of dealing with the situation fails, then Emilee will need to make a formal complaint using the organisation’s published grievance procedure or, in the absence of any formal procedures, to send a written letter to a senior executive of the company. To enable this process to be successful, she would be advised to keep a written record of the events in the office as they happen and of the conversations that she has had with John about her work.

Managing workplace bullying is always difficult but deciding to leave the employment should be a last resort, so always try to:

  • Confront the bully and let them know how you feel [you may need to practice what you are going to say in advance of this conversation]
  • Document all conversations and events, making sure you note location, date and time together with any witnesses
  • If informal discussions fail, then put your concerns formally in writing to a senior executive of the company

Dignity and respect at work are essential otherwise organisations can often lose valuable talent, and the bully will continue with their intimidation of other staff!

Key Points

  • Bullying damages both employee and employer
  • Victims must keep a written record of all intimidation
  • Losing talented staff through bullying, is very expensive!

Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News.

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