Legal Term For Demeaning Behavior?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about belittling:

What do you call an episode or the behavior of a retail store manager yelling and belittling an employee in front of customers and other employees?

Signed, Wondering

Dear Wondering:

Since you’re asking specifically about a retail business, my guess is that you or someone you know has been yelled at in that way. If so, your best approach, if you are filing a grievance or complaint to HR or higher management, is to describe the situation, including the specific words that were used. Trying to describe the episode with terms like “bullying” “demeaning”, “harassing, or whatever, may mean one thing to one person and something else to others. You also should give the complete context of the situation.Although it sounds very rude to yell at an employee in front of customers and other employees, the entire situation would have to be considered. For example, if the yelling went on for several minutes, that would be wrong as well as being embarrassing for everyone, no matter what the circumstances. However, let me give you an example when it might be understandable.

Let’s say an employee used very poor judgment or did something he or she knew was wrong and the manager said, loudly, “Kevin! Don’t do it that way! This makes the third time I’ve told you that! Step aside and let me take care of it, so I know it will be done right!” That might be considered belittling and yelling, but it would be least partially justified by the failure of the employee to heed previous warnings.So, when you write about it or talk to someone about it, to make a complaint, make sure you let them know exactly what happened. Also, let them know if this has happened before, if others have had similar problems and who those employees are, and if this is similar to other negative situations you’ve had with the manager. If this was a one-time thing, let them know that as well, because it would show that maybe things can be improved once this one problem is worked out

If the manager is generally approachable and this was an unusual situation, maybe you’ll be able to work through it and stay focused on your work. It may be that he already feels badly about his loss of temper and how badly he looked, as well as how badly he made you feel. If you think you can keep going in the job, your good attitude and willingness to move forward may pay off in a much better relationship. Best wishes with this.

Second Opinion: Most of the time only one of us workplace doctors replies to a question. However occasionally we workplace doctors intentionally offer a second opinion or in your case one of us does so thinking he/she has flagged it not realizing the other doctor has already answered it. That’s what happened in your case. Tina Rowe’s answer is more than adequate; however since I took the time to give my thoughts to it, I’m adding a second opinion: What do you call an episode or the behavior of a retail store manager yelling and belittling an employee in front of customers and other employees? Bad I call it ill manners and bad business.

You don’t indicate your role in this. Are you a customer, the employee who is belittled, or an observing coworker who is provoked by this incident? How might you fix it? That depends on your position and if this is just one blow up or a pattern of bad management. This kind of behavior is more than insulting an employee. Ill manners affect the business and such behavior should not occur again. Therefore, silence about it is a vote for it.

A belittled individual can assert her/himself, at the moment of the incident, “Please, Kim, [or whatever is your manager’s name] I apologize if I’ve made a mistake. Let’s do all we can now to help this customer.”Or afterward in private, “Kim, I was embarrassed that you criticized me in the presence of customers. I apologize for what I did or didn’t do that caused you to explode.That hurts me and you too. Customers won’t return to a business in which such ill behavior occurs.”Face saving is good business, and it is on-going good business. By this, I mean those who are adversely affected by ill manners in a store either have the courage to address this incident or they suffer the consequences of turning off customers and stressing employees.

Outbursts should be reserved for warning of harm; when a ceiling is falling or someone with a gun enters your store. Even belittling an employee with a soft voice hurts that person and those who observe it.What not to do and say in front of a customer may be taken for granted, but apparently what the manager should not do has not been spelled out at your store. Can this manager be taught that yelling at an employee, especially in the presence of customers is bad while saving her/his face? I think there is a way to do so if it is addressed firmly and privately, something that was not done by the manager when she/he belittled the employee in front of customers.

But inappropriate/appropriate behavior can also be a matter of discussion within a staff meeting. Not only is it the responsibility of a manager to put such a topic on the agenda, it also is the responsibility of all employees. Several sessions can address this just as does a sports team before and after a game talk about what we did wrong and what we need to work on. A staff and manager could collaboratively brainstorm on dos and don’ts of how we speak to and about one another and customers. The very act of spelling out do/don’t rules establishes norms and educate one another. They are as important as are rules about safety. Do these suggestions make sense? Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that is what you earn when responsibility for good manners is the rule and not the exception.

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.