Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

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Federal Coach: Readers advice on workplace bullying

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

I received many responses to my “Bullying at work” column, including some excellent advice on how to put an end to workplace bulling. Here’s what one reader had to say.
“The optimal solution is a cultural one within the organization and the society. We have to find a way to say that workplace bullying is simply not acceptable. Often employers deny that bullying is going on in their organization despite evidence to the contrary…           

Engaging in discussions about this problem is one way to help more folks become aware of the problem. The process of trying to pass Healthy Workplace Bills in statehouses is another way to raise the issue to enable cultural change. Often the process of passing laws is the catalyst for change in public opinion on a topic. We hope that is true of workplace bullying.” - Retired federal employee
A number of federal employees shared their personal stories on the effects of bullying. Here’s one comment that reinforces the fact that bullying cannot be condoned in the workplace.

“I have been bullied and lived to tell the tale. Two years ago, seven of us in one federal branch (a majority of the branch employees) filed a bullying/harassment complaint within my federal agency. To make a long story short, the manager is still there and the majority of us are gone. The bottom line seemed to be that he had ingratiated himself enough with superiors (doing their job and making them beholding to him) so that there was no way he was going to be removed…The damage that was done to the employees’ psyche and self-confidence and performance appraisals is beyond words. This man has been abusing selected employees for many years and will surely continue.”  - Former federal employee
This next comment explains the extent to which bullying can have serious consequences on morale and worker productivity. It comes from a reader who says she was bullied for more than ten years.

“Yes, I was bullied. For 10 years. (And so were the majority of my colleagues in the division.)

I was repeatedly belittled, humiliated in front of colleagues and contractors, and told I didn’t know what I was doing. Everything possible was done to make it as difficult as possible for me to do my job.  As a result of the bullying, I lost my assignment (which I loved) and was essentially given tasks that had nothing to do with my background, experience, or expertise. I was pretty much a glorified secretary – underutilized and overpaid.
But I was hardly alone. Quite a few of my colleagues were gotten rid of, at least temporarily, by being sent to work in other places. All at government expense.” - Former federal worker
Another reader shared the tactics she used to stop her bullying problem.

“Twice in the last month, my manager has aimed angry outbursts at our staff — one time humiliating me in front of others. Each time, I talked to him privately and told him that it was unacceptable to me. I proceeded more or less as you said, focusing on how it made me feel. I asked him to consider creating the possibility of treating employees in a professional manner, with respect, and that if he has an issue with me, to discuss it with me privately, in a way that doesn’t leave me feeling diminished. He did apologize. It’s quite possible that he is not fully aware of the impact of his behavior.” – Federal Coach  reader
This reader shared her thoughts on the origins of workplace bullying

“The bullying problem is growing and going to become worse because we are now seeing so much of it through the elementary, middle, and high schools. This means that our children are receiving "on the job" training now in how to do bullying and why it works...they are not being taught a better skill set for managing and negotiating.”  – Federal Coach reader
Are there other problem workplace issues, like bullying, that you or your colleagues are experiencing on the job? Please send your thoughts to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Mar 26, 2012 at 4:02 PM

Reader comments

Mon, Apr 16, 2012

Other than miraculously appointing worthwhile managers, the only thing that will help is if the federal agencies implement Unit Climate Assessment programs, which is something the AF does. A third-party organization will anonymously survey the members of a particular unit, especially on morale and mission. I believe the unit's chain of command also gets this report, and that poor UCA results have meant commander replacement. Unfortunately, the civilian side of the coin is disgustingly entrenched and political, so the entire Tammany Hall 19th century OPM system would have to be thrown out. No solutions, other than to, uh, get Anderson Cooper in there. HR? Yeh, they're civilian employees, too.

Fri, Mar 30, 2012

Unfortunately, bullying is a "character flaw" and most likely could fit into a "mental illness" category. The people who bully R like "alcoholics", it has become an permitted, unconcious, controlling behavior. Same principal as a child having temper tantrums,never dealt with so they stop. Amazing that such "folks" make it to the managerial ranks, out of sight, out of mind? No one has the right to impact another humanbeing in such a way. In someone's home, "shame on them", in a public workplace..."SHAME ON THE GOVERNMENT FOR ALLOWING SUCH INSIDIOUS BEHAVIOR"! Yes, the world is becoming more and more "complacent" when it comes to standing up for "what is right". Always the same excuse, "I can't do anything about that".....yeah, guess you can't?!

Wed, Mar 28, 2012

I was a high-performing fed employee, getting all sorts of awards the first 18 years of my career. Then my branch head retired and an associate branch head moved up. He asked me to apply for the associate branch head position; I did so and was selected. The first year was good, but the next 3 years were hell, as he verbally abused me and a few others, using us as scapegoats for all that was going wrong in his work & home life. He was selective in who he abused, making it hard for the rest of the branch or his superiors to believe he was such a bully. Oddly, he didn't bully the poor performers but took out his anger on some of the best in the branch. I and the others still received awards & accolades from other groups within and outside the agency. I finally left the position; the other victims left our group or even the agency completely. Unfortunately my self-esteem & confidence were at a lifetime low and it has taken 9 years to regain some sense of my self-worth. It is amazing what havoc a bully can wreak and how much it can cost the federal government.

Wed, Mar 28, 2012

There are too many peole out there who think their poop is chocolate ice cream. Byllying has to stop and it has to stop at an early age. Schools AND parents need to stop it. Of course, if the parent is the bully, then it is harder for the child. Children learn what they live.

Tue, Mar 27, 2012 Washington DC

One way to address bullying is by making HRM offices pro-active. If HRM managers are getting multiple complaints about a manager then they should 1) notify that managers superior and 2) check back to verify and record what that superior did about it if anything. A simple step for a superior to take is to conduct a 360 degree evaluation on the accused bully. This would help verify whether the mal-conduct is verified by more than one or two people and if it is affecting the work groups morale and performance.

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