bullying

I Thought We Were Friends

Another update from the Jungle….

Rebecca is a real pain. She seems nice when people first meet her. But her former boss once compared her to a cancerous cell or a virus, spreading evil in the company. Abby agrees.

Rebecca was the first person to befriend her when Abby began working for the company. Abby was so grateful that it was several months before she realized that every encounter with Rebecca left her deeply depressed, often on the verge of tears. Abby is self-conscious about her weight and a speech impediment that causes her to slur words like Sylvester the cat. Rebecca has a way of drawing attention to Abby’s most sensitive characteristics.

Rebecca once begged Abby to walk with her to the coffee shop because Rebecca said she didn’t want to go alone. While waiting on her latte, Rebecca picked up a muffin for her breakfast. Suddenly, she turned to Abby and said “Here, this is too fattening. You eat it. I’ll get myself a banana.” Abby was so shocked she couldn’t explain that she had already eaten breakfast at home. She felt humiliated because the barista overheard Rebecca’s comment.

Rebecca often imitates Abby’s speech impediment, especially if there’s an audience. Abby’s told Rebecca to stop it because it is not nice to mock people. Rebecca says she’s just “picking at” Abby and doesn’t mean any harm. Rebecca also accuses Abby of being too sensitive. It all leaves Abby feeling like every misunderstanding is her fault.

After one humiliating episode, Abby is discovered crying in the bathroom by Michelle, the HR rep. Michelle is exasperated with Abby’s lachrymose acceptance of Rebecca’s special brand of “friendship.” But now that she’s seen Abby crying, Michelle knows she needs to take action. She meets with Rebecca to remind her of the company’s anti-bullying policy. Now Rebecca runs around telling everyone that Abby can’t take a joke.

What should Michelle do next?

  1. She could tell Abby to stand up for herself and stop being a victim.
  2. She could ignore the situation and hope it fixes itself, probably when Abby quits.
  3. She could confer with Rebecca’s supervisor about the next step in progressive discipline.

Bullying is becoming more subtle in the form of micro-aggressions.  Deciding when behavior crosses the invisible line between teasing and aggression is difficult because it all depends on reasonableness. What would a reasonable person think or feel in a similar situation? There are no easy answers but HR can help set workplace expectations of what is acceptable.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Sharing Sharon

Another update from the Jungle….

Difficult co-workers and employee relations

Do you have employees “holding court”?

Sharon is a middling performer, not great but not so bad that her job’s on the chopping block. She’s willing to work with any team to which she is assigned and she can be depended on to slog through some of the more tedious work.

Unfortunately for her co-workers, Sharon believes in sharing the details of her life. Her co-workers call her “Sharing Sharon”, as well as a few other names not fit for print here. Sharon’s co-workers know all about her marital problems, her son’s attention deficit disorder, and her teenaged daughter’s complicated love life. They also know about her cat’s litterbox problems and suffered for a week while Sharon agonized over her decision to put down her aging, sick dog.

Sharon cares about more than just her family, of course. One week she insists people should do more to save furry baby animals before all non-human species become extinct. Another week she explains that she’s reducing her carbon imprint by avoiding plastic water bottles.

Sharing Sharon’s oversharing is beginning to affect operations. One worker twisted her ankle when several employees imitated the running of the bulls to clear the break room to avoid Sharon. Several co-workers told the HR manager, Pam that they would rather quit the company, losing their 401(k) match than be stuck on another team with Sharon.

Pam has tried several times to give Sharon a hint that her personal life is better shared on Facebook with personal friends than with co-workers.  Sharon just doesn’t get it. The breaking point feared by Pam has now happened. Sharon was busy oversharing in a team meeting and the team leader was finally goaded beyond endurance. He yelled at Sharon to “shut up, already!”

Now Sharon is sitting in Pam’s office, sobbing and begging for Pam’s help.

How should Pam handle this situation?

  1. She can privately thank the team leader with a bottle of Gentleman Jack for saying what all of Sharon’s co-workers wanted to say but were afraid to.
  2. She can sympathize with Sharon’s distress but remind her (again) that personal lives shouldn’t be brought into the workplace.
  3. She can counsel the team leader regarding the company’s anti-bullying policy which prohibits derogatory comments to co-workers, sympathize with his exhausted patience, and encourage him to find less brutal ways to make his point in future.

In the actual situation, the co-workers continued to cringe and hide until their “Sharing Sharon” accepted a job at a competitor.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

 

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