Is “Winding Someone Up” Bullying?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about pestering and being written up secretly:

If people are constantly told to “wind someone up” to get a reaction is it bullying? It seems like the management are constantly telling other employees to wind someone up. Also, if you were being written up secretly can they do that?

Signed, No Bully

Dear No Bully:

Wind them up means to pester, bother or pick at someone until they break or react. So, yes, that is bullying. If there is someone higher than the level of managers who are telling people to do that, you should look for a way to let that level know.Such advice not only creates a miserable workplace but it also puts the company in a high liability situation. Further, that is the kind of thing that has caused workplace violence in many places. You don’t say why management is advising people to do that, but I can’t think of a reason it would ever be appropriate.

Your second question was about being written up secretly. There is no law or regulation about that. “Writing up” when it isn’t part of a formal reprimand usually means to keep documentation about problems. Keeping it secretly is not a good practice for trying to coach an employee to change or improve. The argument could also be made that most employees who commit a rules violation know what they are doing, so they should expect to have some sort of record made of it.

The problem occurs if management takes action on several things at once, but never talked to the employee. It can’t help but seem sneaky and punitive. Nearly always they will ask, “Why didn’t you do something the other times?”I hope your workplace is in the process of improving! But, I also hope you will do your part to help it improve. Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.