Question:

Last week, two employees who work for another supervisor came to me for help. Their supervisor, “Mitch,” has a lot of power and is protected by our CEO.

I’ve always stayed out of Mitch’s way. Over the years, I’ve learned that department heads who tangle with Mitch pay for it when their departments need help from his department. I don’t like watching what happens to those who get on Mitch’s wrong side, but I’ve told myself that those battles aren’t my concern.

I’ve never let Mitch know I can’t stand him. Because his department funnels information to and supports mine, I need his goodwill to do my job.

I’m aware his department had a high level of turnover. I know his employees don’t like him. I’ve heard lots of rumors but have always told myself what happens in a peer’s department isn’t anything I can anything about.

Then these two employees knocked on my door. They painted a picture of mistreatment, bullying, and retaliation that was far worse that I’d imagined.

I suggested they seek help from our HR department. They told me they and others had gone to HR, but what resulted was that HR talked to Mitch, and then Mitch retaliated. These two employees swore me to confidentiality.

I decided to visit HR. Without outing the employees, I asked the HR officer about Mitch. It was clear she was intimidated by him.

The employees’ visit weighs on my mind. I’m not sure what to do. It’s not my fight, but I feel I need to do something. What do I do?

Answer:

If it’s not your fight, whose is it? The HR officer who’s intimidated? The employees who are fearful and whose only option has been to vote with their feet out the door? Or yours, a department head who’s heard rumors, who’s seen and hated what happens to your peers who get on Mitch’s bad side and who can arrange a meeting with your chief executive officer?

These two employees have sought you out. They’ve trusted you. They’ve painted a picture for you of what is going on.

If you remain on the sidelines, you send a message to these two and others that you, like the HR manager, offer no help. Your inaction says to these employees that they are on their own and need to put up with bad treatment or quit. You allow Mitch to poison his department and drive employees away.

By intervening, you tell employees with less power than you that care. Ask for a meeting with your chief executive officer. Tell him what you’ve noticed. Tell him what you’ve seen Mitch do to department heads who cross him. Ask if he’s noticed the turnover. Let him know what you’ve heard from rumors, however, do not out the two employees who came to you unless they agree to it.

In my book, Beating the Workplace Bully: a tactical guide to taking charge, I reported that three to four out of every ten people have been bullied. Regrettably, those who witness bullying don’t act to fix the situation because they believe it’s not their place or fear being caught in the crossfire.

Those at senior levels in organizations often don’t see the problem until the situation explodes because many bullies kiss up and kick down and laterally. Also, a bullying manager can produce great bottom-line results. Further, bullied employees hesitate to speak up, fearing they’ll lose their jobs or experience other retaliation if they voice concerns.

If your CEO takes what you say seriously, he has options for assessing and addressing this situation. He can institute an employee survey or 360 reviews for all department heads, giving employees a safe forum for describing how Mitch leads, communicates and handles those with viewpoints other than his own.

What can you do? You can help.

Chapters 22, 23, 25 and 26 of Beating the Workplace Bully https://amzn.to/3msclOW offer more concrete strategies. Chapter 2, “You Can Run, but You Can’t Hide: Bullies Don’t Go Away on their Own” and 5, “It’s Your Choice: to confront or not,” offer more practical solutions. And if you’d like two funny stories for turning the tables on bullies, here’s a 70-second video, https://bit.ly/3pXbPdO

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4 thoughts on “Is It Time You Acted?

  1. This company is a “dysfunctional family” and the writer is just as much at fault as Mitch. Throughout my life, I have noticed fewer and fewer people are willing to get involved. A few times I have had to intervene to save a life and in one instance several lives. In every instance there were others who could have assisted me; not one stepped forward. It is very disheartening to realize how few individuals or groups will step up to the plate when needed……

  2. Too often, the top management has no guts, likes the results of the bullier and does not want to get in the way of them, or themselves are bullies. Or they may offer to help, do their own investigation, talk to the people who work for the bullier and are themselves fearful of being retaliated against–so they don’t back up the allegations–and then say they could find nothing and drop it. An anonymous 360 review, as you suggest might help, but it really must be anonymous.

    1. Completely agreed. The strategies I use to ensure anonymity/confidentiality include: providing a summary in my words, so recognizable turns of phrases aren’t included; interviewing enough individuals to get a good basis of understanding, and including only core themes mentioned by two or more individuals.

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