Bitten off anyone’s head today?
A survey out recently says that almost half of workers feel ‘actively threatened’ by their boss (reported by CIPD and HR Management magazine) . The professions with the highest level of offenders were the Civil Service, doctors, scientists and retail. No doubt they all have harassment policies, so should we be surprised that staff feel threatened? Are the policies worthless? What is going on here? Are we going backwards instead of forwards?
The report says that one of the key factors is the pressure that bosses are under to get results in the current economic climate. This is understandable; stress can make us short tempered, unsympathetic and more likely to be wrapped up in our problems – but if we have responsibility for managing a team, is it excusable?
Unsurprisingly, being seen as threatening leads to decreased output, which will just make the situation worse. The more we intimidate or hack off our team, the less well they will perform. It’s a downward spiral, and the last thing needed when the pressure is on. Don’t take my word for it, there is a lot of research that shows that staff are motivated most, and more productive, when they have a good working relationship with their line manager. Let’s be clear, here – intimidation, whether deliberate or accidental – has no place in a healthy work relationship.
Time for some honest thinking.
Let’s look at both sides of the coin. Firstly, are you one of the culprits guilty of make staff feel threatened? Secondly, we’ll look at what to do if it’s your boss snapping your head off!
Do YOU scare people?
If you don’t have a relationship with open, truthful communication, the chances are you won’t know how you are perceived. Start by being honest with yourself:
- How has the pressure on you increased?
- Has this led to you behaviour towards others changing?
- Are your key relationships at work as strong as they could be?
These questions may be hard to answer, as stress tends to make us less aware of the impact we have on others, it tends to turn us inwards so that we focus on ourselves. Something else you can do is examine the evidence:
- Has anyone’s attitude towards you changed?
- How do your people react when you arrive?
- Do they seek out your company or make themselves scarce?
- What feedback have you had about your personal style?
The bottom line is this: If your staff feel threatened at work, you are shooting yourself in the foot. They will be less productive, making your life harder. If they are not motivated, committed and prepared to cheerfully go the extra mile, then things could be better. It might be fear, there may be other factors. If you’re the boss, it’s your job to know what is going on and to have a plan to improve the situation. If you haven’t had meaningful feedback recently, one tool you could consider is 360 feedback. Ask me if you would like to know how it can help.
The key is to refocus on what you want to achieve, and then think about the important relationships that you need to maintain to reach your goals. It will take time and effort to build or rebuild them, but the rewards will outstrip any investment. You will be running up that hill instead of trying to push sand up it.
What to do if your Boss makes you feel threatened
Maybe the shoe is on the other foot, and it’s you that feels threatened. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own wellbeing. It’s up to you to evaluate how bad the problem is, what part you play in the situation, and what you can do to make things different.
The place to start is a cold hard look at the evidence. What exactly is it that you are fearful of? Understanding the issue objectively is the key to unlocking solutions. Many of us are concerned about the changes the economic climate has brought, and worried about our jobs. Is it your Boss that is making you feel threatened, or are you projecting your fears, using the boss as a focus? In other words, are you being fair?
Let’s assume that it is your boss’s behaviour that makes you fearful. Here are some steps you can take:
- Read up any company policy that might be relevant, e.g. bullying, harassment
- Keep a log of anything your Boss says or does that you think is out of order
- Let your Boss know how you feel, giving specific examples. This is tough to do, but a stressed Boss may genuinely not know the impact they are having. You could consider inviting a third neutral person to be an impartial witness. Face to Face in the Workplace contains a lot of advice on how to approach difficult conversations.
- Talk to whoever is responsible for HR in your company for guidance and support.
- Change your attitude and stop taking it personally.
- Change your behaviour to break the rut that exists between you. You could try being more confident , decisive, or friendlier. See what difference it makes over time.
- Do some research on handling difficult people to give you new strategies.
- Find a coach or mentor to use as a sounding board and give an outside perspective.
- Start job hunting. We all deserve to be treated with respect. If it’s never going to happen, get out.
Only you can decide what is best to do in your situation. Remember this – You are not powerless. If something is affecting you negatively, it’s up to you to take action.
By the way….If you have managers that act in this way, sending them on a training course might not help, especially if they are unaware they have a problem. One to one coaching is often a better way to go, where they can explore their behaviour and alternatives in a safe environment. If it stops one person leaving because of them, or improves one relationship with a colleague, it will be money well spent! I am always happy to talk through options and approaches, so do get in touch if I can help. firstname.lastname@example.org. 0845 5197 571
By Julie Cooper
Author of Face to Face in the Workplace
“If you deal with people you need this book” Buy your copy here