Category Archives: bullying

LGBT Employees Report Bullying

If you’re a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender employee, you’re 11 percent likelier to have been bullied in the workplace than your non-LGBT colleagues. That’s based on a new Careerbuilder survey out today which finds that two in five (40 percent) of LGBT workers say they’ve been subjected to bullying, compared to the national average of 29 percent for all workers. Of those, 56 percent say they’ve been bullied repeatedly.

What does this bullying look like? Sixty one percent said they’ve been falsely accused of mistakes they didn’t make, while 49 percent they were subjected to different standards or policies than other workers. Forty two percent said they were picked on for personal attributes such as race, gender or appearance, while 28 percent said belittling comments were made about their work during meetings.

The bullying of LGBT employees extracts an economic as well as a psychological toll. Consider a survey out earlier this year by the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which found that LGBT employees working in the tech sector reported instances of bullying and public humiliation (20 percent and 24 percent, respectively) at rates notably higher than non-LGBT employees (13 percent. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the LGBT survey respondents said bullying contributed to their decision to leave their company. In other words, an industry that’s already strapped for talent is losing more people thanks to the insensitive jerks in their midst.

Transgender employees face some of the most blatant instances of bullying. Rachael Booth, a Navy veteran and a transgender computer programmer, said her company forced her to carry a bright red sign whenever she had to use the bathroom at work and hang it on the bathroom door, she writes in the recently released book To My Trans Sisters. If someone was using the restroom, Booth had to wait around while holding the conspicuous sign, she writes.

Here’s hoping that experiences such as Booth’s will soon be a thing of the past. Companies have made great progress over the years in treating their LGBT employees as equals, as evidenced by the Human Rights Campaign’s Rainbow Awards. But as the Careerbuilder survey suggests, there’s more work to be done.

Communicating with Coaches

Norma Nielsen dove right into a serious topic to launch Day Two of the International Coach Federation’s ICF Converge 2017 meeting (held Aug. 23 – 26 at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.)

Nielsen, the learning and development manager at the Argus Group, has worked as an attorney, and she’s worked in HR. She’s also a certified professional coach, of course, and her presentation this morning focused on some of the ethical dilemmas she’s encountered in working with employees, their managers and the HR leaders at their organizations.

Some of the common quandaries that she and other internal coaches find themselves in, she said, revolve around maintaining boundaries and confidentiality, for example. When asked to share some of the ethical challenges they’ve faced, the coaches in the crowd spoke to their experience with such issues.

One coach, for instance, recalled a client company whose HR leader approached him in search of details on the coaching sessions he had conducted with various high performers in the organization. The exchange with HR, he said, left him uncomfortable, as he was bound to maintain confidentiality between himself and the individual employees he coaches.

“Keeping boundaries and confidentiality with [coaching clients] when HR comes in looking for ‘intel,’ ” said Nielsen, “can get tricky.”

While Nielsen’s presentation was aimed at professional coaches, some of the scenarios she outlined raised interesting questions for HR.

For example, coaches sometimes “feel pressure” from either line managers or HR leaders to provide information on an employee’s progress in an internal coaching program, which she says creates potential confidentiality issues.

Does HR have a claim to that type of information? What sort of information should coaches share with HR?

Nielsen also recalled a peer in the coaching profession whose coaching client admitted to being subjected to bullying and other unacceptable behavior at work, but didn’t want the coach to share that information with anyone within the organization. Nielsen herself acknowledged that she once coached an employee who admitted to bullying co-workers.

HR would no doubt want to be aware of such behavior taking place. Nielsen, and a handful of coaches in the audience, made mention of working with employee assistance programs in some instances, in an effort to help employees who might pose a risk to others or even themselves. In these kinds of situations, maintaining confidentiality is certainly paramount. But these and other ethical dilemmas that Nielsen shared this morning seem to underscore the need for HR to help establish guidelines and boundaries with internal coaches at the onset of the relationship.

When Toxic Workers Attack

The jerk at work is at it again: Whether it’s snide comments he’s making about a co-worker, goofing off while colleagues race to make a deadline or cracking racist jokes in the office parking lot, his (or her) toxic behavior is costing your organization productivity, money and talent.

A big part of the reason why toxic employees can wreak havoc in the workplace is that most of their colleagues feel there’s little they can do to address the behavior. A survey of 1,000 full-time employees in the U.S. finds that more than half (53 percent) say they handle toxic employees by ignoring them, while only 24 percent confront these individuals directly.

Employees may feel there’s little recourse other than to ignore co-workers who are annoying or worse because they lack faith in management’s ability or willingness to address the problem: Although 18 percent of the survey respondents say they complain to management about a toxic colleague, 41 percent say management does nothing about the situation once it’s alerted.

“These results clearly show a lack of action on behalf of employees, certainly due in part to an absence of conversation and confrontation skills,” says Stacey Engle, executive vice president of Fierce Inc., which conducted the survey. “Company leaders need to ensure that all employees are empowered with the tools to address these toxic individuals in a productive and ultimately successful way.”

What defines a toxic employee? Fierce’s survey finds a majority of respondents citing negative attitude, followed by laziness. Over half of respondents (54 percent) believe a negative peer, manager or company leader are equally detrimental to an organization. Through their behavior these employees raise stress levels and decrease morale and productivity, with 10 percent more women than men reporting that toxic employees increase their likelihood to seek employment elsewhere.

So what should management and HR do when confronted with a toxic employee? Most survey respondents (67 percent) are unsure whether the person should be fired, while just over a quarter (27 percent) believing the person should be fired. The best approach is to assess the situation first and then provide coaching, workplace dynamics expert Amy Gallo wrote last year in the Harvard Business Review. Georgetown University Professor Christine Porath told Gallo that meeting with the employee and trying to determine the source of their poor behavior — personal struggles, frustrations with co-workers, job unhappiness — and suggest resources to help address the root of the problem.

Toxic employees are often unaware of their effect on the workplace, Porath said. Use concrete examples to help them understand the impact of their behavior and why they need to address it, and help them create a plan for doing so, she said.  “What do you expect them to change? Strive for clearly defined, measurable goals,” said Porath.  “You’re giving them the chance to have a more positive impact on people.”

 

How Does Bullying Affect Bystanders?

In case you needed further evidence of workplace bullying’s toxic and far-reaching effects …

In a new study, a University of North Texas professor finds that an office bully’s boorishness not only distresses the employee on the receiving end of such behavior, but is harmful to those who witness it as well.

Michele Medina, an adjunct professor in the department of management at UNT’s College of Business, studied how exposure to an in-office bully influences interpersonal attitudes, including employees’ expectations for how colleagues should treat one another. Medina also analyzed how individuals react internally to seeing a co-worker targeted by an office tormenter, and how witnesses’ empathy affects these factors.

“When people react to events emotionally, it has a direct influence on their attitude or how they behave,” says Medina, in a UNT statement. “And that can spill over into work.”

For the study, Medina enlisted 300 participants to serve as bystanders to office bullying. These observers watched a faux employee training video that showed either an actor berating a co-worker or a benign exchange between colleagues.

Their reactions “say a lot,” notes Medina.

For example, witnesses who observed peer-on-peer bullying report believing that they might become a target for bad treatment at work. Study participants also said they would often be inclined to disassociate from the bully, while those with higher levels of empathy would be more likely to relate to co-workers who had been bullied. In addition, witnesses of the same gender as victims of bullying behavior said they are less likely to identify with the perpetrator.

These conclusions do say a lot. And little of it bodes well for workplaces where bullies are present—and going unchecked.

“There’s a price to pay,” says Medina. “Kids who are bullies tend to grow up to be adults who are bullies. It doesn’t necessarily go away. Understanding how bullying affects everyone at work, and which employees are most likely to be affected, allows companies and organizations to address all aspects of workplace bullying properly.”

Psychopaths in Silicon Valley

As we’ve written previously in HRE, psychopaths are more likely to be found in the C-suite than in the general population (according to research by psychologists Robert Hare and Paul Babiak, who found that while psychopaths make up 1 percent of the population at large, their numbers in the executive ranks could be as high as 4 percent). This week, a panel at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, examined the phenomenon of psychopathic CEOs in Silicon Valley — and why HR may be to blame for not holding them in check.

He’s charming and gregarious … but quite possibly a psychopath.

As reported in yesterday’s Guardian, a panel of psychologists, social scientists and venture capitalists discussed what they consider to be Silicon Valley’s high proportion of psychopathic CEOs. “Psychopath” doesn’t necessarily describe someone like Norman Bates — in fact, most are non-violent. However, their combination of remorselessness, callousness and lack of empathy — along with an uncanny ability to mask these traits with a veneer of charm and gregariousness — allows them to cause serious (non-physical) damage all the same, the experts said.

In fact, many of society’s most-successful people have traits that resemble psychopathy — including many successful presidents, said panelist Michael Woodworth, a forensic and clinical psychologist who’s studied psychopathic murderers in high-security prisons.

Psychopaths are often successful in start-up environments, said venture capitalist Bryan Stolle. “You have to have a tremendous amount of ego [and] self-deception to embark on a journey … you have to make sacrifices and give up things, including sometimes a marriage, family and friends. And you have to convince other people. So they are mostly very charismatic, charming and make you suspend the disbelief that something can’t be done.”

Psychopathic executives are classic manipulators of people, said social scientist Jeff Hancock. But when they don’t get their own way or things suddenly go wrong, their “mask of sanity falls off,” he said.

Often, HR tends to protect a psychopathic CEO, said Stolle, which only furthers the damage. “Because they are the founders and leaders, they tend to get protected by HR … this reinforces the behavior,” he said.

Company investors are also often at fault, because they’re willing to overlook bad behavior in order to protect their stake in the organization, said Stolle.

Having a psychopath in charge can hurt employee retention, said Hancock, citing FBI research which found that departments managed by psychopaths have lower productivity and morale (go figure!).

Hancock has developed software that’s designed to analyze written language for cues associated with psychopathy. Psychopaths tend to write in a way that’s “disfluent” and hard to understand, he said, and — because they’re more interested in themselves than others — tend to refer to other people a lot less than non-psychopaths.

Text-based communications are a good way to detect psychopaths, said Hancock. “Text-based communications improve your chances of not being manipulated, as they are verbally not very skilled. You can smoke them out in an online context.”

Uber’s Toxic Workplace Culture

A company director shouting a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a meeting. A manager groping female co-workers’ breasts during a company retreat. A manager threatening to beat an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat. All of these incidents — and more — are described in a fascinating front-page story on Uber’s workplace culture by New York Times reporter Mike Isaac, who based his story on interviews with 30 current and former employees of the ride-hailing service and reviews of internal emails, chat logs and tape-recorded meetings.

As you’ve probably heard, Uber found itself thrust into the spotlight after former employee Susan Fowler published a blog post last Sunday about her experiences working for the company. Fowler, an engineer, said she and other women were sexually harassed and discriminated against by her manager and little to nothing was done about it, even when she reported it to HR, because the manager was a “high performer.” (Fowler’s descriptions of her interactions with Uber’s HR department are particularly damning: For example, when she noted to an HR representative how few women were in her engineering department, the rep allegedly told her that she shouldn’t be surprised by the ratio of women in engineering because people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others.)

Fowler and other current and former Uber employees told Isaac that HR would excuse poor behavior by their bosses because the managers in question were top performers who benefited the health of the company. The company’s culture — set by Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick — emphasizes getting ahead at all costs, the sources told Isaac, even if it means undermining co-workers and supervisors. One group in particular that was shielded from accountability was “the A-Team,” the sources said, a group of executives close to Kalanick.

Since Fowler went public with her accusations, Kalanick has brought in former Attorney General Eric Holder and board member Arianna Huffington to conduct an independent investigation of the issues Fowler raised. He said the company would release a full diversity report shortly and that 15.1 percent of the engineering, product management and scientist roles at Uber were held by women and that that number “has not changed substantively in the last year.”

In a statement to the Times, Uber CHRO Liane Hornsey said “We are totally committed to healing wounds of the past and building a better workplace culture for everyone.”

Hornsey, who joined Uber in January (its former HR chief, Rene Atwood, left in July to join Twitter) and who will assist with the investigation, spent nine years as Google’s vice president of global people operations. Hopefully she’ll be able to put her experience and expertise to good use at a company that appears to sorely need it.

Techniques for Weeding Out Psychopaths

We’ve all known one or two in our careers, right? That toxic personality, be it a colleague or supervisor, who seems out to get 487132238 -- psychopathyou or others? Some call them bullies. Others call them psychopaths.

Well this report from JD Supra Business Advisor that appeared recently on the HR Grapevine site not only puts a label on these miserable folks, what JD Supra refers to as the “Dark Triad,” but suggests there are ways of weeding them out of your workforce.

While many companies use psychometric testing during the recruitment process, few test for indicators of social malevolence. But malevolence tests are out there, as even a simple Google search reveals.

So are bullies and other psychopathic souls, as this latest report from Slater and Gordon reveals. Specifically, it finds almost six in 10 people have witnessed or suffered bullying in the workplace, with more than two thirds of witnesses saying a colleague was subjected to a sustained period of harassment, and more than 37 percent saying they had been bullied themselves.

Assessment tools aimed specifically at identifying traits of both bullies and Dark Triad types are out there now, experts say, ranging from basic questionnaires to more sophisticated probes that necessitate administration by qualified clinicians under scientifically controlled conditions.

As the report states:

“The Dark Triad share a number of overlapping features including social malevolence, callousness, aggression, manipulative behavior, duplicity, a lack of empathy and a tendency toward self-promotion. Studies have shown a strong correlation between psychopathy and bullying behavior, and these studies have indicated that psychopaths are fairly well-represented in leadership positions.”

In fact, here’s a fairly well-circulated recent report about an HR manager who went “ballistic” on a female employee who called in sick and refused to reveal what her illness was.

Justine Turnbull, a Sydney, Australia-partner with employment law firm Seyfarth Shaw and one of the authors of the JD Supra report, didn’t have many specifics to offer about the assessment tools mentioned, but did share the following:

“Our main advice to HR professionals who want to detect this behavior early on is two-fold: Get independent professionals to do the psychometric testing rather than trying to assess yourself, link any requirements for testing to the inherent requirements of each role and ensure these requirements are spelled out in advance for all candidates.

“For example, an inherent requirement that links to the type of testing we’re talking about would be ‘ability to work in a team-based environment with colleagues at different levels.’ “

I reached out to Tish Squillaro and Timothy I. Thomas about this. They’re business consultants, leadership coaches and co-authors of a new book, HeadTrash 2, that looks at ways to deal with unruly people, both at work and at home.

They chose to share their words of wisdom together:

“… our focus is to give clients tools to identify and deal with ‘Dark Triad’ behaviors they may encounter [and to understand] that such behaviors in co-workers, bosses or subordinates are tied to the emotional baggage we call ‘HeadTrash.’ “

In their new book, they list seven types of such trash — anger, arrogance, control, fear, guilt, insecurity and paranoia. Coping tools they recommend include “using humor to diffuse anger, asking control freaks to delegate and drawing boundaries to stop guilt trips,” they say. Arrogance, they add, “is often tied to narcissistic tendencies, while anger is linked to frustration and is dangerous as it can manifest as intense fury, rage or even workplace violence.”

They go on:

“While human resource executives have many tools at their disposal to address these behaviors, it’s also important for employees to learn to identify and manage negative actions by others in the workplace. We believe by understanding the emotional triggers that may instigate this type of behavior, individuals can learn ways to navigate around them.”

I have no doubt these authors, and surely a host of other folks, would be willing to help you set up such a detection and navigation training program.

Playing the ‘Vacation Shame’ Game

Just when you thought it was safe to take a vacation …

According to new research, vacation shaming — or the concept of being made to feel a sense of shame or guilt from co-workers for taking a vacation — has apparently become a thing to discuss and fret over in the American workplace these days, particularly among millennials.

The nonscientific survey of 1,500 U.S. adults in the 2016 Alamo Family Vacation Survey — brought to you by the same folks who will gladly rent you a car during your next vacation! — finds more employed millennials (59 percent) reported feeling a sense of shame for taking or planning a vacation than those 35 or older (41 percent).

But before you start feeling pangs of empathy for these younger workers, it should be noted that shame is apparently a two-way street, according to the survey:

Employed millennials aren’t just more likely to feel vacation-shamed – they’re significantly more likely than older generations to say they also shame their co-workers (42 percent vs. 24 percent).

Plus, the survey finds millennials who have ever shamed their co-workers were significantly more likely than older generations to say they’re at least somewhat serious (42 percent vs. 22 percent).

While millennials were most likely to feel guilty about taking time off, Alamo’s research indicates that vacation shaming is affecting all generations. To wit, nearly half (47 percent) of all workers surveyed said they felt a sense of shame or guilt at their workplace for taking time off to go on a vacation. What’s more, two-fifths (42 percent) of those think their co-workers are seriously shaming them – not just joking.

Twenty-two percent of those employed individuals surveyed reported that feeling shame was at least somewhat likely to keep them from going on or planning a vacation.

“This year’s research indicates that vacation shaming is a real workplace issue that can, in some cases, discourage hard-working Americans from taking well-deserved time off with their families,” said Rob Connors, vice president of brand marketing for Alamo Rent A Car. “In addition, our survey shows employees continue to leave a large percentage of paid vacation days on the table.”

While the issue of vacation shaming among co-workers may actually be a minor one, HR leaders should note that 47 percent said they’ve felt the need to justify to their employer why they’re using their vacation days. So, apparently shaming isn’t just limited to co-workers, and that may just be the most shameful part of all of this.

Uncovering a Six-Year Ditch in Spain

If an employee doesn’t show up to work for six years and no one notices, was the employee really that essential in the first place?

City officials in Cadiz, Spain are left to ponder this existential riddle after determining that Joaquin Garcia—a 69-year-old civil servant who was thought to be supervising the construction of a water treatment plant—was AWOL from his job for more than half a decade before being found out.

As if that wasn’t wacky enough, the way in which this serial slacker’s ruse was eventually discovered is almost too good to be true.

As USA Today reports, the water company thought that Garcia’s position was within the purview of the Cadiz city council, while city officials were under the impression that Garcia reported to leadership at the water company.

Amid this confusion, it seems his extreme absenteeism somehow went almost completely undetected, and apparently didn’t faze those at the water company who happened to notice that Garcia hadn’t been to work in a really, really long time. One manager, for example, even admitted to “not having seen Garcia for years, despite having an office across from him,” according to the paper.

Still, seeing Garcia’s workspace sit unoccupied for years on end evidently didn’t alarm this co-worker (or any of Garcia’s other colleagues?) enough to raise any concerns.

No, the jig was only up when deputy mayor Jorge Blas arrived to present Garcia with an award for—of all things—his 20 years of “loyal and dedicated service” to the city in 2010.

Garcia, of course, was nowhere to be found.

“[I wondered], is he still there? Has he retired? Has he died? But the payroll showed he was still receiving a salary,” Blas recently told media outlets. “I called him up and asked him, ‘What did you do yesterday? The month before, the month before that? He didn’t know what to say.”

An investigation was launched in short order, revealing that Garcia hadn’t been to his office in at least six years and had done “absolutely no work” between 2007 and 2010, according to USA Today. Legal action was taken against him in 2010. The case only concluded last week, with Garcia being fined approximately $30,000.

Garcia, who retired in 2011, has written to the city’s mayor asking that the fine be waived, and has requested a review of the judgment, according to BBC News. Garcia also maintains that he didn’t simply stop coming to work, but was assigned to a post “where there was no work to do” after being bullied on the job for his socialist political leanings, the BBC reports.

Whatever precipitated Garcia’s … let’s call it an extended, unsanctioned vacation, the details uncovered by the subsequent investigation are almost inconceivable. It’s hard to imagine most companies allowing an employee—in this case, a supervisor!—to slip so far between the cracks that he or she could be virtually invisible for any period of time, let alone six years. But, if this far-flung story holds any lessons for the typical HR executive, maybe it’s as a cautionary (if highly improbable) tale that shows just what can happen when reporting structures are unclear and communication is lacking.

Bill Gates’ Ruthless Management Style of Yore

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 26JAN12 - William H. Gates III,  Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USA captured during the session 'Global Economic Crisis: Role and Challenges of the G20' at the Annual Meeting 2012 of the World Economic Forum at the congress centre in Davos, Switzerland, January 26, 2012. Photo by Sebastian Derungs
Bill Gates at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 26, 2012. Photo by Sebastian Derungs

These days Bill Gates is known primarily as the benevolent overseer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic vehicle through which the world’s richest man (estimated net worth: $56 billion) tackles poverty and disease and seeks to improve education. But back in the early days of Microsoft, Gates was known as a fearsome manager.

“I worked weekends, I didn’t really believe in vacations,” Gates recently told an interviewer for the BBC’s Desert Island Discs program, in which celebrities disclose which music and books they’d take with them to a desert island. This work-all-the-time mindset was applied to his employees, too: “I knew everybody’s license plate so I could look out at the parking lot and see, you know, when people come in.”

Peter Holley, a writer for the Washington Post, recently compiled some anecdotes about Gates’ old management style from people who worked with him. The stories suggest a man for whom work/life balance wasn’t just an afterthought, but a  totally alien concept. This is in stark contrast, of course, to the professed mindset of so many of today’s New Economy companies that are offering unlimited paid family leave, for example.

He cites Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who wrote a piece for Vanity Fair a few years ago about how Gates would “prowl” the parking lots on weekends to see who had come in to work. One employee put in 81 hours in one week finishing a project, only to be asked by Gates “What are you working on tomorrow?” When the employee replied that he was planning on taking the day off, Gates asked “Why would you want to do that?”

“He genuinely couldn’t understand it; he never seemed to need to recharge,” Allen writes.

Gates also had a harsh leadership style that included the frequent deployment of f-bombs, with one of his favorite sayings being “That’s the stupidest f—- thing I’ve ever heard!” writes Allen.

These days people with a management style like Gates’ are condemned as “toxic bosses.” But the sentiment is hardly universal. Holley notes that the authors of the book Primal Leadership described Gates’ style in a Harvard Business Review essay as “harsh” and yet, “Gates is the achievement-driven leader par excellence, in an organization that has cherry-picked highly talented and motivated people. His apparently harsh leadership style — baldly challenging employees to surpass their past performance — can be quite effective when employees are competent, motivated and need little direction — all characteristics of Microsoft’s engineers.”

Of course, Steve Jobs was another tech titan with a famously acerbic management style, one that reportedly left many people in tears (interestingly enough, Jobs himself also cried frequently, according to Walter Issacson’s biography Steve Jobs). Gates and Jobs are visionaries, the type who attract people willing to forgo things like having family time, or being treated with some semblance of respect, in the furtherance of building a company or product they believe will change the world (the promise of hefty stock options no doubt can make it a little more bearable, too). But visionaries don’t have to be nasty in order to get people to accomplish great things — and even Gates himself has acknowledged he’s changed and mellowed a lot in the intervening years. With the rise of social media, I would suspect it’s a bit harder to get away with a management style like that today and still be able to attract great candidates.