For many years I found myself drawn to a particular type of leader. The direct, no nonsense business professional. I admired their fearless approach and how people were naturally drawn to them. I looked to these strong individuals to mentor me in the spa industry as I took on leadership roles myself. I emulated this fearless behavior thinking I would be successful. I even ignored the constant rumblings about this aggressive style of leadership from other staff members; until it happened to me. I owned up to fact that my interactions with these bullies were always negative, my training and direction minimal, and my job description constantly changing. I became professionally beat down. How did I let this happen? Was I a victim of the bullying everyone was talking about?
If your boss or owner is a bully, things may not get resolved quickly or at all but there are ways that you can protect yourself.
- Don’t get “thrown under the bus”. If your boss tells you to do something that you know is against company policy, document it. Start a paper trail such as an email that states: This confirms that you would like me to (whatever the task is) even though company policy states that (cite the policy). Unless you advise me that this is incorrect by (give a time), I will follow your instructions.
- Don’t take the bait. The worst thing you can do is be insubordinate. Stay calm, don’t react. These button pushers are waiting for you to do something so they can take disciplinary action. If you are asked to do something, if it's demeaning, do it (unless it's unsafe or illegal). Then document it.
- Keep track of targets. My bully boss seemed like she always had at least one person on her radar at all times. She would target them one-by-one with no proof or reason and then told me to fire them. While bullying isn’t illegal in any state there can be legal ramifications if the bully targets workers because of race, age, sex, religion, national origin, pregnancy, disability, or other protected categories.
- There is power in numbers. If you feel you are being picked on by your boss, you are allowed to discuss this with other co-workers; if you are not in a managerial position. The National Labor Relations Act protects most non-government employees against retaliation for these discussions with coworkers. If several individuals are being targeted, you can get together and write a complaint to HR signed by the bully's targets.
- Legally complain. If you plan to take action, try not to focus on unfair treatment but on illegal behavior. For example, if you figured out the bully is targeting a disabled employee, note all derogatory comments and disciplinary action related to the disability in a “Formal complaint of disability discrimination” and submit to HR.
- Don’t quit yet. If the bullying becomes intolerable, make a plan to leave. The idea of leaving can help to ease the stress of being bullied but don’t let the bully force you out of the job you need to support yourself and your family. Leave on your own terms, not the bully's.
- You’re worth it. Being the victim of a bully boss can make you question if you can do the job you love or were hired for. Would anyone else hire you? Will you fail there too? The answer is no. You were hired because of your skills and your only challenge is finding someone who will appreciate them!
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