Bully Bosses

Current OSU Anti-Bullying Policy

New contract language negotiated with OUS for the 2005-2007 contract (Letter of Agreement):

Inappropriate Workplace Conduct

  • The parties agree that issues relating to inappropriate workplace conduct by employees or supervisors not covered by Article 19, No Discrimination, are appropriate for discussion at bi-monthly meetings under Article 18-Grievance and Arbitration Procedure, Section 12, although such issues are not grievable under this Agreement.
  • Each university will periodically remind employees of available university resources for dealing with inappropriate workplace conduct by means such as memoranda or electronic mail.
  • The Union acknowledges the university’s right to deal directly with employees in resolving complaints of inappropriate workplace conduct, provided bargaining unit employees maintain their rights to grieve discipline under applicable provisions of the Agreement, pursuant to the grievance procedure.
  • The provisions of this Letter of Agreement are not subject to grievance or arbitration.

The language in the Letter of Agreement above was difficult to negotiate with OUS and have included in our contract. The bi-monthly meetings referred to are taking place and the first place for you to start seeking help with a “bully” boss is to contact your union organizer or steward.

Dealing with the Bully Boss A Bully Boss is not a leader; s/he is an intimidator who uses fear as a tool against an employee or a group of employees. Intimidation is wielded in both public and private settings to deliver humiliation and threats. Negative actions toward employees are used to enforce the authority of the Bully Boss. The Bully Boss is not to be confused with the authoritarian boss, who is a hard taskmaker and makes sure you get your job done.

Bully Bosses thrive in a variety of environments. These especially include those where the blame game gets played, in authoritarian and hierarchical workplaces, and when job security is shaky.

Can the Bully Boss be taken on? Absolutely! Here’s how.

Diagnose the Situation. Study the social interactions in the workgroup. When a group of employees has a Bully Boss, the boss will see each person as either a friend or an enemy. Most workers try to do their jobs without attracting undue attention to themselves; some will actively court the boss’ favor. One unlucky employee may be identified as a scapegoat. Scapegoat duty may rotate and change from time to time. Any employee can become the object of the Bully Boss’ attention, for any reason.

Don’t isolate yourself, if you are the unlucky designee! Following a berating, your strongest urge may be to go crawl in a hole, hide in the restroom, go home, or quit. Once you have your face under control and at the earliest possible moment, tell someone! This is not your personal terror; it is a group problem. You will feel better and will have empowered yourself.

Are you okay? These are some of the most appreciated words you can speak. If a member of your group has a “meeting” with the Bully Boss, be sure that someone checks in with that person afterwards. Don’t let him/her become isolated and wrapped up in personal terror.

Document! Write it down every time an incident occurs. Be sure to note dates, times, places and witnesses. Make a detailed journal.

Recruit others from the workgroup. Will members of your work group participate in trying to improve the situation? If not the group, will some of the group help out? If not some, will at least one help? Every workgroup has at least one person who is willing to step up and say, “this isn’t right.”

The next step is to identify what and where the vulnerable points are for your problem boss. Every Bully Boss is vulnerable. Maybe s/he is very sensitive to criticism from his/her own boss; maybe community pressure is an effective tool.

Humor is essential! Humor breaks down fear, and the Bully becomes a Buffoon when the fear is gone. Humor also devolves power and keeps the group in on the project. We know of one office where the employees have adopted the What Would Bugs Bunny Do? strategy. As it says in Bugs’ official biography at Warner Brothers, “No bully is too big, no hypocrite safe, no pompous adversary so powerful, that Bugs can’t joyfully whittle him down to kindling wood.”

Talk to each other. Keep in mind the Bully Boss is not one person’s problem; it’s a problem for everyone. If I am the scapegoat, it’s not my personal terror; it’s collective.

Outline a plan to apply pressure. Discuss possible actions with coworkers you can trust, or with someone from the Union. Don’t leap at a response — think it through carefully. Your job could be on the line!

Do not flinch, blink or back down once the plan has been implemented! Follow it through! You will know you have been successful when the Bully Boss is neutralized.

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