Upon chatting with friends across many industries and professions, I’ve observed that every year people tend to be working harder with more stress than the year prior. As a result, what ends up happening is people are more likely to take out their frustrations by complaining, mistreating others, or having a meltdown. In some cases, all of the above end up happening. Everyone has their own ways to deal with workplace stress, and I’ll address this in a future post, but today I wanted to examine the Golden Rule, which is, one should do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
In times of stress, people are more likely to stray away from the Golden Rule. They are upset, and they want to let it out. Throughout my many conversations, the trend that I’ve observed is that people will often take out their frustrations not on the person they are frustrated with, but instead on someone that they view as their office punching bag. This personal punching bag is often younger, lower in rank, or in another department than the person delivering the blows. By using a personal punching bag, the aggressor is more likely to get away with their behavior. They know what they are doing is wrong, or they would have brought their behavior to the person they are mad at (their manager, a peer, or an executive). As far as I’m concerned, this type of work behavior is 100% unacceptable. If you are going to yell at someone at work, can it at least be directed towards the person you’re actually mad at? However, since I can’t eradicate office bullies, I will offer some suggestions for how to deal with this.
As an individual contributor, you can promise yourself that you will not be a silent witness. If you see someone being mistreated, you can take a stand. This can be done by telling the person being mistreated that the behavior you’ve witnessed is unacceptable, unwarranted, and does not align with your company values. You can talk to the abuser (if you feel comfortable doing so) and let them know that their behavior makes them looks bad, and that you don’t agree with it. You can also follow up with that person’s manager and surface the behavior you witnessed. This is not being a rat, this is being a good corporate citizen, and looking out for the best interests and well being of your colleagues.
As a manager, you can ensure that your employees are treated with respect. What does this mean? If you hear or witness someone on your team being mistreated, ridiculed, or insulted you will put a stop to it. First, by apologizing to your employee for how they were treated, and next by telling them that you’ll take action and ensure this will not happen again. Bonus points for managers that can also get the aggressor to apologize. People managers need to instill trust in their employees. I think the number one way to do this is by creating an environment where your team knows that you have their back, and you will defend them if they are mistreated. My husband, Ian recently wrote an article about people management. He gets it! I’m proud to say I’m married to someone that people admire as a manager, respect as a leader, and someone that always does the right thing for his employees.
As an executive, this is on you. Company culture starts at the top; everything from charitable activities, to office lunches, humor, energy, and values. Therefore as an executive, if you observe people being mistreated and do nothing about it, that becomes your company culture. If your company’s culture is: it’s ok to yell at someone if you have a bad day, it’s ok to belittled someone in a meeting if you have tough MBOs, then you need to realize your company is no longer a desirable workplace.
Ok, now get’s to the tough part. What if you realize you mistreated someone at work? The first step is to apologize. And, do so sincerely. As far as I’m concerned, the words, “I’m sorry” are two of the most powerful and underused words in the English language. So, find the person, let them know that you’re sorry, that you made a mistake, your behavior was wrong, and that it won’t happen again. Ask them if you can do anything for them, and give them a chance to speak. When you apologize sincerely, people will respect you for owning it. Your colleagues realize that people make mistakes, are under stress, and that the corporate world can be cutthroat. Your colleagues will also most likely forgive you if you apologize. And often times, positive relationships can be formed, and rocky relationships can be overcome, if you treat people with respect.
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