Q: I like my job, but there are a couple of people there who get away with bullying others. While I haven't been directly targeted so far, I find it very stressful. I also feel like I should be doing something to help stop the behavior, even though these individuals are in a different work group (one is actually a fairly senior manager). What would you suggest?
Ned, 34, sales manager, challenging bullies
A: Bullying creates a toxic environment, and responsible firms adopt a zero-tolerance policy.
To start, it's concerning that this is tolerated, even at higher levels of the company. What does this tell you about the culture of the organization? If these folks are emulating the example of your executive team, this is clearly a red flag. And if senior leadership is being passive about it, it also doesn't bode well.
So spend some time thinking about the reasons to stay. You may be attuned to the stated organizational mission or be in a market with scarce opportunities; the reasons to like a job are legion. But be careful about staying in a setting that could eventually turn on you.
Then, recognizing that you are not in a position to single-handedly change the culture, there are steps you can take.
First, prepare yourself for raising your concerns so that you're acting from a position of strength. As you consider your options, how do you feel? Release any anxiety, and think through the worst things that could happen. As you identify them, you will likely feel the risks are not that great. Also acknowledge the leadership courage you will be displaying, and the cost on your self-concept as a decent human if you don't try to make a difference.
Next, think through the steps you could take. The most direct would be to intervene if you see an incident in progress, standing up for the person who is being bullied. Bullies depend on intimidation, so simply the act of calling them on it may help bring the behavior to an end. If they then turn on you, you will be ready for it from your inner preparation. And you will likely earn the appreciation of the people you are defending.
Another potential step is escalation. Assuming that you have witnessed events, you could speak to your boss about the behaviors you have observed and the negative effect on you. Stay away from speaking on another's behalf; it is not your place and simply becomes hearsay. However, overt behavior — yelling, verbal abuse, or humiliating behavior — that you are observing is fair game. You also may want to consider documenting it through your human resources department.
What if you haven't observed the events and have just heard about them? Then your best role would be to encourage the affected person to explore their options while providing moral support.
As this issue is raised more broadly, you will learn a lot from the company's response.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at email@example.com.