How to Handle a Workplace Bully

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We have talked about how to identify a workplace bully.  Now, how do you handle the bully that you encounter? Bullies, in general, prey on people’s insecurities and emotional nature.  The key is to remain calm and portray an air of confidence.

Don’t respond to emotionally criticism or offer explanations

Although this sounds counterproductive, the bully will often make outlandish claims in order to reel you into a fighting match.  You don’t want to give them fuel for their fire.  Instead of defending yourself in an emotional manner, simply state the facts.  “I don’t believe that happened” or “that is not how I recall the events” When your reply emotionally you let the bully know that he/she has gotten to you.

Do ask them to clarify and to speak slowly

The bully depends on being able to throw out accusations at record speed without anyone actually questioning them.  When forced to slow down, repeat themselves or offer actual facts, the bully will often feel deflated.

Document

If the bully is really out of line, no one deserves to be harassed.  Document the conversations, the way someone looked, what was said, threats made, etc..  All of this will be necessary if you ever have to claim a hostile work environment which will require that you have multiple examples. 

If you happen to be in a state that is a single consent recording state, record.  It is legal for you to record any verbal exchanges you have with the bully to be used when you make a formal complaint.

Teach People how to Treat you

In other words, don’t teach people that you are someone who will allow unprofessional behavior to occur without consequences.  If someone is yelling at you, calmly state “ I am not going to allow you to yell at me. We can continue this conversation when you have been able to calm down” and walk out of the room. 

Use your Allies

Everyone in business needs allies. Build them early and spend time reinforcing those bonds. They will serve as a double check that you are not doing anything to instigate this behavior and help provide support the next time the person is out of line.

Unfortunately, bullies are found in all walks of life and at all ages.  Educating yourself, in advance, on how to handle a situation before it occurs is one of the best ways to be proactive and ensure that you will look back on the situation, proud of how you handled yourself.

The Workplace Bully

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The word bully conjures up many images.  Perhaps, an elementary or middle school playground and physical intimidation. Maybe, in the technological age in which we live, bullies, the cowards they are, hiding behind social media and conducting their campaigns with anonymity but no less vengeance.  Seldom, though, when we hear the word bully, do our thoughts turn immediately to the workplace. And yet, bullies exist in the workplace as well. These bullies are a bit more calculating than their schoolyard counterparts. Not often will you find a workplace bully who comes up and pushes you to ground.  Instead, these types of bullies take great care to plant the seeds that they hope will 1) lead you to fall in line with their own selfish initiatives or 2) lead to your demise.

The most effective bullies employ a skillful blend of charm and aggression that can carry them to the top of their profession.  The below are the basics of how most bullies operate:

Intimidates through verbal aggression and spreads rumors

This verbal aggression could be directed at you in an angry voice but could also be something more insidious said about you that is intended to plant a seed of doubt in someone’s mind.  Bullies will often use words such as “obviously” and “you can’t possibly think…” to undermine your credibility and have you second guessing yourself.

Play Mind Games to distort the thinking of others

They keep people off-balance through half-truths, hearsay and misstatements. Their distorted version of events is intended to obscure and confuse the truth.  The only truth the bully is interested in is their own that will further their personal initiatives.

Blames Others

It is a very rare bully that will utter the words “I was wrong”.  In their mind, it is always someone else’s fault and there is no one quicker to point it out than a workplace bully.  They will often claim that they understood all along that the path being pursued was incorrect.

Disguises their true intentions

A bully puts on a good act to gain your trust and respect. They never reveal their true intentions, which are self-serving and at most times harmful to others. They conceal their innermost attitudes and emotions, which are self-absorbed and disrespectful of others. They maintain an image of strength, vision and leadership, and thus avoid exposing their underhanded, manipulative nature.

Pretends to Care

The bully will pretend to care about the employees and the workplace, but their actions will speak louder than words.  The bully will make suggestions and want you to carry out actions that are not in line with a strong employee culture built on trust.

Bullies have no place whether it be on the playground, on social media or in the workplace.  It is imperative that Human Resources be vigilant in identifying and addressing bullying behavior before the ramifications of high turnover or stress related disabilities start to take their toll.

The Employee Experience

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There are a multitude of ways, and just as many reasons,  to design a positive and unique employee experience. Developing a strategy to create an employee experience should takes into account the physical environment your employees work in, the tools and technologies that enable their productivity and learning to achieve their best at work. All of this is part of continuously evolving our employee capabilities. The Future Workplace and Beyond.com study entitled “The Active Job Seeker Dilemma” found that 83% of HR leaders said “employee experience” is either important or very important to their organization’s success, and they are investing more in training (56%), improving their work spaces (51%), and giving more rewards (47%). 

Companies are also forced to focus on creating a compelling employee experience as the war for talent heats up. With unemployment rates at less than 2% for 25+ year olds with college degrees, the experience you are offering becomes more important than ever.  Mercer predicts that 90% of employers anticipate more competition for talent, especially in India, North America and Asia. So, making the workplace an experience allows companies to embed their culture and values in the workplace and use this to their advantage.

Branding

Define your employment brand. Just like a company brand that helps customers understand who you are, how you act, and how you differentiate, companies also have an employment brand, whether it is conscious or not. It’s best if your employment brand is created consciously. Define your employee brand and deliver on your promise. Be sure that if your recruiters are promising a fun-filled work environment, the new employees won’t find drudgery and old technology awaiting them.

Work Space design

Most workplaces are “designed mostly for extroverts and their need for lots of stimulation.” Introverts are highly talented individuals with a very different set of needs and characteristics. So, companies should ask, “How can we accommodate both our introverts and our extroverts in our work spaces?”  Spaces should be designed to allow employees a choice of where and how they work. Some may choose high cube walls, where they can recoup form the pressures of interacting with others all day. Others may choose a very open environment where they are bombarded by noise, chatter and stimulation.  Both types of employees have much to offer but will be more highly engaged if allowed to meet their individual needs.

Free to Share

Gallup’s data revealed that just three in 10 U.S. workers strongly agree that at work, their opinions seem to count and matter. However, they found that by moving that ratio to six in 10 employees, organizations could realize a 27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents and a 12% increase in productivity.  Reason enough to conduct regular Pulse Surveys on a variety of topics, ensuring that you feed back the results and the follow up action plan.

 

Trust in Leadership

Little else matters to employees if they don’t trust their leadership and the leadership of the company.  In the old adage “actions speak louder than words” we need to say what we do and do what we say. Trust is built a little at a time over a long period of time yet can be destroyed very rapidly.  Employees know when you truly care about them and their lives in and out of work.

There is no magic to creating an employee experience.  It’s all about understanding what your employees want and need and then finding a way to consistently deliver.

The (Dismal) Effectiveness of the Old-Fashioned Interview

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I refer to it as the old-fashioned interview because it is about as useful as were the old fashioned typewriters compared to today’s computers. Never mind the fact that it is a dismal predictor of future success on the job, it is still in use. The good news is that there are alternatives, although they are not yet widely used.

The Worst Predictors

 

Unstructured interviews

In general, unstructured interviews, those in which the interviewer is left to their own accord to ask whatever questions come to mind, can explain only about 14 percent of an employee’s future performance.  Yet, the interviews taking place today could largely be categorized as unstructured interviews.  Rarely is the interviewer prepared in advance for the types of questions they will ask or are the consistent across multiple candidates for the same position.

Reference Checks

Refence checks fair a little worse and can only explain approximately 7% of on the job performance.  Yet, how many of us still conduct reference checks only to be told that they employee was wonderful, never missed a day of work and that they would be re-hired.  Only a few times have I heard a voice on the other end of the line tell me something negative about an applicant. In those cases, I always wonder what that candidates less favorable reviewers would say about them if these are the best they could come up with.

Years of Work Experience

By far, the least predictive of success, coming in at explaining only 3% of performance is our concern with the numbers of years of experience an applicant has.  We somehow make the leap that someone who has been in an occupation for 15 years is better and worth more than someone who has been in the same occupation for only 5 years.  That may be true if the more senior applicant has shown significant career progression, but the inverse may actually be true if both applicants have been in the same job and neither have experienced career progression.

 

The Best Predictors

 

The Work Sample

While not all jobs easily lend themselves to work sample test, these are, not surprisingly, the best predictors of future success coming in at 29%.  While management jobs are notoriously difficult to give a work sample test to, there are many types of positions including finance, accounting, call centers that readily lend themselves to these types of tests.

Cognitive Tests

While there is some reluctance to give what people think of as IQ tests to candidates, these cognitive tests are the second-best predictor of performance coming in at 26%.  They actually don’t measure IQ as much as they measure the thought process that the candidate uses, their ability to solve issues and how quickly they can think and process information.  They are predictive because general cognitive ability includes the capacity to learn and the combination of raw intelligence and learning ability will make most people successful in most jobs.

Structured Interviews

In a tie with the Cognitive tests are structured interviews at 26%.  These structured interviews can be either behavioral where the candidate is asked to describe a past achievement in a certain area or situational where the candidate is given a hypothetical, but related scenario and asked how they would respond.

Given the above data, think about how you might re-structure your interviewing processes to give your company the best chance of hiring candidates that will experience success on the job.

 

Personalization of Employee Health Management

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Employers have long understood that focusing on employee’s health has a multitude of benefits for employees and employers alike.  Health insurance companies touted health and wellness initiatives by offering employee newsletters which didn’t hesitate to point out the distinct correlation between obesity and the greater propensity for all sorts of diseases.  Some offered seminars where employees could ask questions about a particular health issue. Still others went a step farther and held full blown health fairs with vendors across a broad range of areas from clinics to yoga to healthy eating.  Although each initiative may have met with marginal success, they lacked the aspect of real personalization.

In walks wearables.  Wearables, as the name so implies, are devices that are worn by the individuals.  Fitbit is a perfect example.  Having just acquired Twine Health, they are taking aim at helping consumers/employees manage chronic conditions such as diabetes  or hypertension, make lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation and weight loss and allowing all the parties involved in someone’s health, including providers, coaches and families, to collaborate on care plans.

More employees are expecting their benefits offerings to be personalized to their experience and a wearable could easily set a framework to allow that personalization.

The touted benefits of an employer focus on health and wellness are many:

 

Reduced absenteeism

It seems logical enough.  Healthy employees tend to be unexpectedly absent less than their unhealthy counterparts. The Wellness Council of America estimates that 100 million workdays are lost to workers’ lower back problems each year. A company fitness program that includes weight loss and muscle strengthening can reduce instances of lower back injuries. Fewer doctor visits and fewer sick days make for a more productive employee population.

 

Lower health insurance costs

According to the American Journal of Health Promotion, a study of nearly 950,000 individuals showed  decreased hospitalization costs, length of stay and admissions for those engaged in a comprehensive wellness program.

 

Lower turnover as employees feel cared for by their employer

Sometimes just showing you care is enough to reap the rewards of engagement among your employee population.  Higher engagement yields lower turnover. For example, the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award winners report a significantly lower turnover rate than the national rate of 38 percent, as well as a 73 percent employee satisfaction rate. HBR reports that 70% of employee participants reported that their company’s offering is an indicator that their employer cares about them. The real differentiator between successful and failed wellness programs may be whether they deliver on the emotional level as well as the physical.

Wearables offer an opportunity to take employee health and wellness to a new level.  One where programs, advice and reminders are personalized to each individual employee. According to ABI Research, 13 million wearable devices will be integrated into corporate-wellness plans over the next five years. Encouraging employees to use wearable fitness devices, such as Jawbone’s UP 24 activity tracker, Nike’s FuelBands or Fitbits, to track their movement, sleep and eating habits and share their accomplishments with their colleagues can motivate your entire office to lead a healthier life, resulting in less sick days, lower health insurance premiums and higher productivity.

Should we hit the Easy Button?

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It’s a question worth pondering.  Is easy indeed always better? The fast, intuitive response might be a resounding “YES”, but given more thought would you change your mind?  While easy gets the job done, does it leave us with the same level and sense of satisfaction of overcoming a challenge, something that was hard, something that, because it didn’t kill us, made is stronger?  Do we need to feel a sense of accomplishment at overcoming something that was not easy, in order to grow as human beings?

In the words of Margaret Thatcher “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.”  And, I might add, exceedingly well in spite of it being exceedingly hard.

Perhaps that is because the level of accomplishment that leads to success and promotes self-esteem requires that you do estimable things.  Taking the easy way out does not result in these feelings and does nothing to further predict your ability to undertake great endeavors in the future.  This is part of the reason that colleges would rather see a student who takes Calculus and gets a “C” than a student who takes Pottery and gets an “A”. It is because undertaking something that is hard is a better predictor of success than simply achieving something easy.  

A look at accomplished individuals who regularly win awards and medals shows that they are driven by the effort rather than the result. It is the striving rather than the reward that is long-lived.  The striving, the risk taking, the hard won spoils of war are what build self-esteem, not the awards and trophies that are handed out to both teams, win or lose. 

Self-esteem feels good because it calls on the emotion of pride. Pride in turn arises from one’s sense of confidence and capability. Esteem and related emotions instill a sense of success and the confidence that you can accomplish whatever you set out to do.

So, are we cheating ourselves when we take the easy way out?  When we cut corners just to get to the result faster? Are we telling our selves that the result is all that matters?  I think “yes”. I think striving to do our absolute best against formidable odds, even if we take a few missteps along the way, is better than taking the easy way out.  It yields accomplishment rather than simply achievement, it builds self-confidence, and it forms a habit that is a predictor of success for the rest of your life

Technology Startups and the Case for HR Leaders

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Technology start-ups may not be on every corner these days, but depending on your location, they are still prevalent.   The economy is doing well, the DOW crested 26,000 and the VC community has money to spend and to invest in promising series A startups. Entrepreneurs and founders who are fortunate enough to pitch an idea and retain an investment go about the arduous process of actually building a team to grow the business. They strive to build a team of dynamic, qualified and adaptable people. However, the labor market is tight and there is a significant amount of competition for these individuals.  The best and the brightest.  And not only do they have to attract them, they have to retain them.

Few startup companies have the resources or the desire to invest in a senior level Human Resources.  They are normally very focused on hiring the development team and maybe a Operations or Marketing resource, but almost never HR.  Below are a few reasons it makes sense, however, to consider a senior level HR resource, whether regular employee or consultant, earlier rather than later

 

Entrepreneurs and developers often lack the experience handling people 

Tech tends to attract a very young workforce and it’s not unusual to find an average age in the late 20’s to early 30’s.  They lack experience in hiring, training, and retaining people. This is a skill set possessed by seasoned HR leaders who are experienced in multiple industries. An HR resource can ensure that you bring the best talent on board and that you retain that talent through the critical phases.  Nothing halts a software company faster than losing their lead architect.

 

Business Strategies

As new age-ish as it sounds, it is important to develop vision and mission statements focusing on the company’s core philosophies up front.  Getting everyone aligned and moving in the same direction is critical to getting out in front of the competition. An experienced HR leader who has experience synchronizing the overall organizational goals can be of great help in formulating strong business strategies. 

 

Neutral Third Party

It is not unusual to run into divergent views in a startup.  How to execute a business plan, which direction to go, how much money to spend on what are all potential pitfalls.  A neutral HR leader will be able to organize a meeting of the minds and prevent valuable time from being wasted arguing about who is right. 

 

Keep the energy up

HR leaders should be responsible for energizing the organization.  Providing ways for employees to stay engaged, whether it be all night hack-a-thons, nerf gun wars or contest.  It’s easy to be energized in the beginning before the product or process hits multiple snags, but in order to be successful and come to the other side, you need someone to keep that energy flowing right through a profitable exit or IPO.

Although it sounds cliché, people are truly any organizations biggest asset and getting it right from the start will pay huge dividends in the end.  An experienced HR leader, as an employee or consultant, can save startup organizations from a multitude of woes from expensive hiring and firing mistakes, to poor retention to lack of management of change initiatives.

Some of the Best Things are Free

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That statement is never more accurate than when talking about employee satisfaction.  Employers often create employee surveys to discover ways to boost employee satisfaction and retain employees.  They think of programs with hefty price tags including, incentive pay, additional benefits, and perquisites. When reviewing results of such surveys, many employers are concerned they won’t be able to respond to employee needs/asks that surface. However, they may be missing existing internal satisfiers that are already in place but are not being utilized. In some cases, attention to current programs and opportunities can reap great rewards and be real opportunities for employee satisfaction.

Career growth and even professional relationships are often motivators of satisfaction and engagement. One of the reasons employees leave a company is career growth opportunities.  Career growth does not have to be the typical upwardly mobile, vertical track, but can be horizontal growth as well.  Many employees would relish the opportunity to become more involved in a different part the business.  A reason employee stay is the relationships made in the workplace. One survey showed 25 percent of departing employees revealed that they would have stayed in their position with the company if they had a more respectful and connected relationship with their direct manager.  Employees are human beings who want to feel that others care about them and that includes their direct supervisor.

Employees want to learn and experience healthy professional relationships. Management must connect with workers both professionally and personally, and, depending on the work atmosphere and nature of the company, create a fun work environment.  Initiating conversations about things outside of work is one way managers can show an interest in their employees’ lives. Other things managers can do to build employee satisfaction are:

  • Allow employees to use and demonstrate their strengths. Everyone wants to be valued and make a difference. Know where to place each employee for the greatest results. Ask what an employee wants to do in the company and look for opportunities to create the experience.
  • Ensure employees understand the goals of the business and how the work they are doing impacts those goals.  Make sure they understand how they fit into the big picture. Individuals on a team create winning scenarios when everyone knows their role and the rules of the game.
  • Enhance communication. Really listen to your employees. Ask what is and is not working and take action to explore where the company can and cannot implement idea changers. Have managers meet with employees on a regular basis and report on performance, engagement, and employee feedback.
  • Consider stay interviews to understand engagement and exit interviews to understand turnover better. Especially for your HiPo’s, conducting regular stay interviews pays off with better engagement and less risk of them turning elsewhere.
  • Create a learning environment. Foster internal opportunities to learn from one another and expand upon existing skills. Implement programs like “a Day in the Life” where you employees get up to eight (8) hours a year to shadow someone in a job that they would like to know more about.  While this may cause a hiccup on that particular day, future projects led by a well-rounded work teams will create greater quality, be more productive and come up with winning solutions faster.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it costs thousands of dollars to ensure that your employees rank high in satisfaction.  Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of thought and a lot of care.  

Workplace Giving

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There are a number of ways that employers can support employees in their desire to give back, especially during the holiday period.  Employers themselves, can, of course, contribute to a charity directly, but, in the spirit of engagement, it is more special to allow employees a say over how the dollars or donations are being distributed.  Some employees will want to give to a specific charity that supports a cause near and dear to them.  Others will want to give to a specific person who they know is in need over the holidays.  Below is a description of the many ways that employers can facilitate the spirit of giving.

Workplace Giving through Deductions

If you work for a company, organization or the federal government, chances are you’ve had the opportunity to participate in a workplace giving program. Workplace giving is an easy and efficient way to make tax-deductible donations to the charities you care about with donations taken directly out of your paycheck. 

This type of giving can be set up through payroll and can be a one-time gift or can be set up as per paycheck deductions of either a percentage or dollar amount.  Many organizations will choose to match, at least to some degree, the dollars that employees contribute.

Employer Provided Donations

Some employers give their employees each a certain amount that they may contribute to any charity or person of their choosing.  The employers only ask, in return, is that the employee share what they choose to use the dollars for.  This can yield especially heartwarming stories of how the employee “spent” the money and what the surprised recipient’s reaction was.  Sharing these throughout an organization can spur others to think about ways they can actively better the life of another.

Non-cash Donations

Certainly not all contributions need to be in cash.  Opportunities abound over the holiday period for employees to bring in food for food drives.  Numbers of organizations will welcome the extra set of hands if groups of employees are available to help sort, shelve and package food items for delivery.  Some services, such as Meals on Wheels will allow the delivery of the food baskets also.

There are wonderful opportunities to make a child’s holiday bright be buying an extra gift or two as you are shopping for others on your list, to brighten a deserving child’s holiday.  Large organizations such as the Marines run annual campaigns like Toys for Tots, but smaller neighborhood organizations run gift drives as well.

Organizations may choose to set up an Angel Tree where an employee picks the name of a family or child and on the back is a description of the wants/needs of that family.  Companies can provide ornaments to replace each card that is chosen until the whole tree is filled with beautiful ornaments, a reflection of what has been given back.  

These are just a few ways that each and everyone one of us can feel what the true meaning of the holidays is all about- giving freely of our time and love to those around us.  

Pulse Surveys

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Pulse Surveys can be called many different name, employee satisfaction surveys, employee engagement surveys, employee experience surveys, etc.  One of the reasons I like PULSE, is because they are truly designed to measure the pulse of the employees and of the organization, as a whole, at a given point in time.  Not all employees who take them are satisfied or necessarily dissatisfied, nor are they engaged or disengaged.  However, all employees have an opinion, and when give a chance to air it, usually do not disappoint.

Pulse surveys take on three primary forms- Annual Surveys, which may measure a broad level of employee satisfaction, Weekly check ins that might tackle a topic or two and Reaction Surveys, which measure the employees reactions to a certain initiative.

 

Annual Employee Surveys

Annual Employee Surveys are common amongst employers pursuing an Employer of Choice philosophy.  They provide management with the knowledge and tools to build positive employee relations and a corresponding positive work environment. Employee attitudes, burnout tendencies, engagement, loyalty and workplace environment are key indicators for employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity.

Effective businesses focus on creating and reinforcing employee satisfaction to get the most out of their human capital. Properly constructed employee satisfaction surveys provide the insights that are foundational to creating and reinforcing productive work environments. These surveys can address topics such as compensation, workload, perceptions of management, flexibility of schedules, teamwork, appropriate resources, etc.

 

Weekly Check-ins

Weekly Check-ins provide management insight into a particular topic or issue that is important in the near term.  Frequently organization will adopt Guiding Principles or Corporate Values and choose to focus their efforts around one of these initiatives per quarter.  Guiding Principles are principles that guide an organization throughout its life in all circumstances, irrespective of changes in its goals, strategies, type of work, or the top management.  These can be quick questions, maybe just one or two, that give an organization directional guidance on that particular topic.  These can also be useful for a department when you don’t necessarily want to check in with the organization in its entirety.

 

Reaction Surveys

Reactions surveys are just that.  They test the reaction of employees to a specific initiative.  You may have rolled out copious communications on a a particular initiative and yes, when it goes live, you hear a rumbling through the grape vine that not everyone is happy, there are misunderstandings.  Reaction surveys give everyone an anonymous voice.  Both Survey Monkey and CustomInsight offer employers a free vehicle to use to create these surveys and analyze the data collected.

In all cases, once you have collected and analyzed the data, give the feedback and have a plan of action to present an implement.  Collecting data and not acting on it is worse than not collecting the data in the first place. Use this as an opportunity to show your employees that you really do care and you will be rewarded with their honest thoughts and opinions going forward, helping you, as an employer, to create a truly great place to work.