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Don’t Be Afraid of the Office Bully Monster


We are entering that cherished time of they year…

Halloween moving through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years is a time where office parties and progressively bad behavior seem to be overlooked underneath the haze of holiday cheer. There is nothing like spiked apple cider, rum cake and that mysterious red punch at the party to make colleague and supervisor overlook their better senses.

Employees who are new to their career might find this to be an invitation to join in the “reindeer games,” without considering the consequences when they sober up the next day.  Take a page from Lance, the new assistant director who got a bit comfortable with his boss at a party.

With the apple bob at lunch and spicy cider mixture that somehow got spiked, the office staff was at ease in an environment that was typically tense and rigid.  Lance was thrilled with the holiday cheer as his first year under his boss, Artie, was less than something to celebrate.  Lance noticed that the rest of the staff was at ease too, maybe this was the end to the yelling and manipulative behavior that had been the norm for his department.  Maybe Lance could finally relax.

Artie and Lance had a chance to chat over the apple cider.

Artie had let his hair down, discussed his own insecurities with upper management and with a buzz, confided in Lance about fears of losing respect at the top.  Lance felt comfortable and joined in, sharing his own insecurities with his low grade point average in college, feeling unaccomplished with his quest of grad school, and his lack luster relationship with on-again-off-again girlfriend.  For about 90 minutes, though induced by alcohol, they were civil human beings for a change.  As the office party came to an end, the staff took their last nibbles at cookies and caramel corn, then returned to a relatively productive afternoon on the job.  All seemed well.

The next day, Lance reported to work to find that things were “back to normal.”  No one made eye contact with each other.  There was a muffled tirade coming from Artie’s office. As Lance settled in, his cube mate remarked, “ the ogre is back…!”

Artie quickly came around the corner and berated Lance for being 15 minutes late.  He reminded Lance that “this is why he couldn’t make the cut in grad school…” and that “… no woman would stick with him given his tardiness..”  Lance was demoralized.  All the things he had shared over spiced cider was coming back to haunt him publically.  He was powerless to respond, and saw no relief from the terror which returned to the office.

Lance was caught in what he saw as an impossible situation.  Without other support, he couldn’t imagine his next steps, let alone how to get to the end of the day.  Advice to all employees, don’t be afraid of self-advocacy in regard to office bullying, however be careful in your tactics.

1. Keep a diary with dates and clear examples of harassment and bullying.  Keep this diary, supporting emails about your performance and performance appraisals at home. Know however, employees don’t have a right to harbor proprietary information about the job.

2. Find out about the history of bullying in the office.  Had others complained? What was the result? Did HR support the target or the bully? This information will determine next steps.

3. Quietly look for another job.  Keep in mind that announcing a job hunt is actionable and can motivate an organization to terminate you.  Don’t trust anyone in a toxic environment about your own plans to leave.

4. If the evidence supports a complaint, take records to HR about specific instances of bullying.  Consider ways to couch the problem as a “what’s in it for them.” Show HR how the bully is hurting the organization, which is their main concern. Is the bully boss coercing staff to break the rules, overlook policy, or engage in other behavior that can hurt the organization?

5. If the bullying is occurring within a Title VII protected class (target is bullied because of race, gender, religion, pregnancy, genetic information etc) this can be an EEO charge where retaliation from the employer for reporting is against the law.

A few things to remember…

If the boss was a bully before the office party, he or she will continue after the office party once everyone sobers up.  Don’t let your guard down just because it is the holidays.  Further, don’t be afraid to learn your rights and strategize on how to advocate for yourself.  Studies show that people who maintain a spiritual grounding and locus of control for their futures can weather the storm of a bully.

To learn more about her upcoming book on workplace bullying, the costs of higher education and the solutions and recommendations to higher education leadership also revealed through this study, visit Dr. Leah Hollis and Patricia Berkly, LLC at www.diversitytrainingconsultants.com   Bully in the Ivory Tower  is available on Amazon.com.

Leah Hollis, Ed.D. is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.


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4 Responses to "Don’t Be Afraid of the Office Bully Monster"

  1. Layla says:

    WOW- cool article. I didnt think about this. I always love the holidays, but I guess once a bully always a bully. Thanks for the info!

  2. Levi says:

    Thank you Dr. H. I have been working for years and find the holiday times is a time that people “act out” only to regret it later. Careful about drinking with colleagues… careful about sharing secrets. This article is right on time… best

  3. jeffrey says:

    Excellent and well worth the read. The topic rarely discussed, and only as a whisper. We need to refocus on sttudents and not egos. Thank you please continue your research.

  4. Lawrence says:

    Interesting read. If you could put to video it would make an excellent training module for HR professionals in education, department chairs, deans and other administrtors.

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