1. Business

Career Q&A: Stand up to bully

Published Sep. 17, 2016

Q: A colleague of mine, a fellow manager, is a bully. "Pamela" seems to delight in exposing her colleagues to public humiliation. Her boss and human resources have been told about this bullying behavior, but no action has been taken. They brush off all complaints by talking about how hard Pamela works. What can be done about this?

A: Employees of bullying bosses have reason to be anxious given their innately subordinate position. But when the aggressor is a peer, workers really need to grow a backbone. While Pamela may be rude, offensive and overbearing, she actually has no power to "bully" fellow managers.

Because bullying requires both a dominator and a victim, targets can break the cycle by refusing to adopt a passive role. So when Pamela becomes obnoxiously aggressive, her co-workers must defend themselves. A submissive reaction will only reward her intimidating tactics and continue the pattern.

When Pamela begins making inappropriate remarks, you could ignore her, change the subject or simply walk away. You might also stop her by calmly saying, "Those comments are not very helpful." If other managers share your concerns, that group could inform Pamela that they will no longer tolerate this unprofessional behavior.

The bottom line is that, instead of waiting for rescue from above, you need to take matters into your own hands. While management is clearly obligated to protect employees from abusive bosses, workers have both the power and the right to stand up for themselves.

Fundraising demands too much

Q: Every year, our department sponsors several fundraising activities for the company's favorite charity. Although I always give the suggested amount of money, I have never volunteered to work at these events.

Because the same people always offer to help, our manager recently said that everyone should take a more active role in fundraising. I don't believe that this forced participation is appropriate. What's your opinion?

A: While providing an opportunity for charitable giving is commendable, pressuring employees to donate money or time feels very much like an abuse of power. It's one thing to accept voluntary contributions for the community's United Way campaign, but quite another to compel support for the CEO's pet cause.

When managers imply that fundraising is a job requirement, they have inappropriately crossed the boundary between work and personal life. But since this is your current reality, you unfortunately must decide whether skipping these events will harm your career and whether that risk is worth taking.

Device may help her hear at meetings

Q: You recently published a question from a partially deaf reader who had difficulty understanding speakers at company events, especially when they walked away from the podium. I have a suggestion for solving that problem.

At the school where I work, teachers with hearing-impaired students use an FM device, similar to a microphone, that transmits their voice directly to the student's hearing aid. Perhaps this could also be used in employee meetings.

A: Thank you for passing along a very helpful suggestion. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, these "personal FM systems" are often used to improve hearing in public settings. Anyone considering such a device as a work accommodation should first consult with an appropriate medical professional.