Hi Lifehacker, I need some advice regarding a workplace bully — who happens to be the wife of the boss. She recently verbally abused a staff member for being sick for three days last week and generally acts like she can do whatever she wants without regard for other people. I don't believe anyone in the company including the boss are confident enough to confront her about her actions as she is quite outspoken.
I do have the option to contact the silent owners but I'm not sure how much they would care. Something needs to happen because this person is destroying the company. Any ideas? Thanks, Bully Thinking
Workplace bully picture from Shutterstock
Bullies often rely on no reaction, so you're definitely better off speaking out. Don't let the fact that the bully is married to your boss stop you. If anything, this should galvanize your HR department to act — especially in light of the recent GitHub controversy.
If the company is run professionally, your concerns about workplace bullying will be treated with the gravity they deserve. Try and convince a few colleagues to complain at the same time. (The guy who received a bollocking for being sick sounds like a good candidate.) A united front isn't really something that management can ignore; just be sure to broach the topic with co-workers you can actually trust.
Alternatively, it might be possible to make the bully see the error of her ways by actively drawing attention to inappropriate behavior as soon as it occurs.
According to this Harvard Business report, some workplace bullies aren't aware of what they are doing — the "bullying" might have more to do with a daily repetitive act instead of an actual intent to do harm. Making a bully pay attention to his/her actions, then, can be as simple as disrupting their routine:
Current research in neuroscience supports the concept the "neurons that fire together, wire together" — that is, behaviours repeatedly practiced get more entrenched over time and become unconscious habits. Deliberate interruption sets the stage for change. Leaders can disrupt bullying by providing a safe, confidential space in which employees can talk about their experiences without fear of retaliation — whether from co-workers or management.
The next time the boss' wife flies off the handle, politely but firmly explain that yelling at staff is uncalled for and unprofessional. If she responds with further victimisation, you then have cause to take it higher up.
On a final note, sometimes leaving an intolerable workplace beats sticking around. If nothing is working it might be time to dust off your resume and find a new job. Life is rarely 100 per cent fair — all you can do it suck it up and move on.
See also: How To Work With A Boss You Hate
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