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02 2013

Bullying of HR Staff at Work

Syndicated from: balance-AND-results

There are just so many hours in a day to keep up of course. One book that slipped by from 2009 was Teresa Daniel’s Stop Bullying at Work: Strategies and Tools for HR and Legal Professionals. If I saw it at the time, I’d have passed over it as just technical advice we probably already know. Since it doesn’t seem to be publicly available in any handy libraries I wouldn’t dig further. This week it came to attention because the Connecticut SHRM chapter is having her present the findings which, they note, interestingly include information that HR professionals themselves are very often the targets of bullying and, in particular, it is due to their HR role. That’s something I hadn’t considered although I’ve certainly paid attention to books on toxic managers such as my old friend Peter Frost’s excellent 2003/2007 book Toxic Emotions at Work. Peter’s focus was on managers in general who handled toxic work situations to protect others and took the strain themselves. In fact he attributed the cancer that finally killed him to such a work assignment. Professor Daniel’s findings about how HR professionals often assume this role of toxic handling is outlined in her study summary available online. Essentially it shows HR people suffer bullying at about the average rate – pretty high: more than a third – but are somewhat unique in feeling that most of the time it’s because of their HR roles: that they come in conflict with the very managers they are trying to prevent hurting others or doing dumb things like firing people without adequate steps or justification. Perhaps even more interesting is how often the bullies justify their bad attitude toward HR by insisting HR just doesn’t understand the business, has no ‘business acumen’ or the like. Sound familiar? It appears a good many of these claims are due to the HR role of having to say no to such managers for valid reasons that they might accept from a lawyer (although I’ve often heard lawyers accused of not understanding business as well), but from HR it is definitely waving a red flag. Daniel’s, in both the study report and book, provides suggestions for HR to avoid these negative backlashes, but none of the advice suggests that HR can ever fully expect easy sailing from all quarters. Significantly, one of the major sources of bullying of HR is insecure managers who perceive HR as a threat. As I often observe, many, even most people don’t like to ask for help, which first of all means admitting they need it and they very much tend to dislike people they have to ask. So even HR’s most positive role view as those in an organization specifically hired to help everyone sets them up as potential targets. She goes on to note that it is the most engaged, loyal people who put up with bullying longest, feeling (in HR’s case) they are protecting or shielding others in many cases, or simply tolerating being brow-beaten for the good of the company. Her advice begins with ‘take a stand,’ advice I often give as well though it may mean risking actual job loss. My view has always been if they are that bad, you’d rather be fired anyway, so find a nice way of saying ‘stop’ and find out. You either come our stronger or you get a severance package of some sort (in most cases). Again I often say to audiences, ‘use power or lose it.’ If that means attempting to use it and losing it abruptly I still believe people are better off, but it has to be an individual choice. Daniel’s offers other good advice as well, including learning more about the business so the accusation doesn’t stick, but ultimately this the turning point is not tolerating bullying of yourself or anyone else. This goes far beyond just an immediate manager to the culture environment of the organization. If the culture tolerates bullying there isn’t much a single individual short of the CEO can do about it except try and accept failure gracefully and get out. That’s why strategically providing protection from reprisals, bullying, harassment and discrimination is such an important part of providing a safe environment where staff can express opinions and disagree. If those basics aren’t in place, every diverse viewpoint, so necessary to today’s major need for innovation, will be suppresses as well. So pushing for improved cultures and management behavior isn’t just a benefit for the company and business results as a whole, nor is it only the right thing just because it’s morally right, but it’s a personal benefit for HR managers and staff as well. Respect starts at home, like everything else. On a final note of just pure add-on, it would be interesting to know if this is better or worse for HR professionals in the military, for whom I was surprised to see a two-week program called Silver Scimitar was set up in the US – an odd name, but certainly more interesting than the usual HR conference title. In reports on it, everyone expresses surprise about just how similar HR problem are in all organizations – duh! Bookmark and share this post More »

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