Peers Run Rough-Shod Over Our Department!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about weak boss:

My boss allows one of his peers to run rough-shod over the employees in our department. She is not the type of person who swears but most of the attacks are personal and very upsetting. She interrupts people, blames others for her failures, changes her mind about decisions that have been agreed to and signed off on. The people in her department, from what I have heard, do not like working for her. One run in that I had occurred when my boss and I were discussing a project that I was managing for her area. I had put in hours of non-paid overtime so that we could keep to her deadline and all I was getting from her area were complaints. She happened to call while I was in his office and he put her on speaker phone.

I heard her complaining incessantly about me while my boss said nothing in support of me. After she hung up, she and one of her employees interrupted my meeting with my boss and continued to berate me. When I tried to explain, she interrupted me and I was not allowed to make my point. My boss did nothing to support me and then her employee started blaming me for the project not getting done. I started crying and walked out, then was later written up for unprofessional behavior. The next thing I heard is that this same manager told people in the building that I had a “melt down.’I let my boss and HR know that but decided that if I made more of a point of it, she’d just make it harder on me. What’s confusing is that her special interest area in nursing (yes, she’s a nurse) is psych/mental health. Does she know exactly what she’s doing? Why does management allow her to continue to do this? Should I complain to human resources?

Signed, Written Up

Dear Written Up:

It seems there are several issues involved that need to be handled–and I agree with you that you should consult internal resources about this. But, given all that has happened, you will likely need to approach it carefully and unemotionally. And, you will have to decide how far you are willing to go with this. You can’t do it half-heartedly, because you have already determined that your boss will not be supportive. So, you will have to go over his head and hit it hard when you take it on. Are you willing to do that? Do you have others who would support you if they were questioned about the overall situation? You know your organizational situation best–so you will know if HR is the best place to go to.

You may want to first consider your bosses boss, if you think that person would be receptive. Or, if there is a unit that handles internal investigations, they would be perfect. If you go to HR and they do not help in a short amount of time, consider contacting the attorneys that represent your organization and copy the chain of organization with that letter. That’s why I say you will need to decide how far you want to go. Be aware that you will stir up people–and those same people will still be there after this is over. That is fine if you are sure you will be protected from their anger–and I think you will be, once you have documented a concern. But you will certainly have to watch yourself to ensure that they have nothing else to use against you.

Keep in mind that your concern is not just about the woman you mention, it is about your boss as well. I don’t know what your relationship with him otherwise is, good or bad, but remember that if you go over his head, there will be no doubt that you are asking for an investigation about his lack of effectiveness as well. I think that is appropriate in this case. I just want you to be sure that you are clear on that. I recently was involved in a work place situation where the employee liked her boss very much and quickly regretted that her complaint would end up causing a great deal of problems for that person.

If you think your boss means well, but is simply weak about things, perhaps you would rather write to him directly to complain about the woman and her employees who spoke so inappropriately to you. Keep the tone as though you expect him to help you–not implying that he failed you in the meeting. It may be that he has had time to think about it and will come through for you. Emphasize that your concern is about more than the one meeting–it’s about her continued negative impact on you and others.

Whomever you write to, start by writing something for yourself, similar to what you mentioned in your message to us: Document specific situations where you felt you were treated discourteously and unprofessionally. Be specific about such things as interrupting you are others, raising her voice, speaking in a sarcastic or demeaning tone. Quote exactly, if you can, to fully illustrate your concerns. If there were witnesses, list those. Write down anything you can prove, that shows the situation as you see it. Get your facts together and see where you think you stand. You may find that the situation is worse than even you realized. Or, you may decide this was a bad situation but not likely to ever happen again and from which you can recover.Then, write a letter to your boss or HR or wherever you’ve decided to write, asking for an investigation of your concerns about a work place that is allowed to be unprofessional and disrespectful of others. Cite your examples, focusing on how all of that impacts on work. HR and others are much less likely to be concerned about how it makes you feel–although I think you should discuss that. But they will definitely be concerned about the impact on work. If this behavior has ever distracted you or others from a focus on work, hammer that home.

Sadly, HR people are not always very helpful about these types of situations because their main focus is administrative paperwork. But you may be fortunate to have an HR director who sees the seriousness of the issues. Start your letter with an overview paragraph saying you want an investigation of behavior that seems to run completely counter to everything the organization stands for. Then, tackle head-on the issue about someone saying you had a “melt-down.” If you heard of it, someone had to tell you and that someone must have witnessed it or heard about it some other way, so it’s safe to say it’s a rumor that will go around. Use some phrases that essentially say that you have heard this has been said about you and you want to clarify that first, there was no melt-down. You had an emotional reaction to the rudeness you endured, the fact that you felt your boss did not intervene to stop inappropriate behavior and the fact that your hours of unpaid overtime was apparently not appreciated by anyone. THEN, go further to say that now you find, because of her rudeness, the rudeness of other employees who followed her example and the fact that your boss did not intervene, your character is being maligned by others. Worse, the remarks that are being made refer to your mental state, which is harmful to your reputation and completely inappropriate. It leads you to believe that the people involved talked about the matter outside the office, which further concerns about how often that may have happened in the past and if it will continue in the future. If you have had good evaluations, mention those and say that your history would show that you do good work.

But no matter what your work is considered to be like, rudeness and abusive behavior should not be allowed to happen. If your work was not to the level it should be, your boss should have called in you in and counseled with you about it or taken some other action. But others should not have been part of that process. After you state your supporting arguments, add some questions which will put them in a position of answering them and by doing so will require them to look further into the situation. *What should you do to counteract the negative results of that situation? *How can you prevent a situation where you will have to deal with her when she is likely to react so inappropriately? *If she starts to yell or talk to you negatively in a way that is not appropriate or acts in a way that indicates she sees herself as your boss, what should you do to stop it right away? *How can you feel confident that your boss will intervene if this inappropriate behavior occurs in the future as it regularly has in the past? *How can all employees get relief from an environment that is disruptive because of the inconsistent and unpleasant behavior of one or two? *What can be done to protect you from further attacks in retaliation for your action of going to HR?Use the one strongest situation as representative of all the others–otherwise you will only get a response about the one incident. I believe your organization is large enough to have employee manuals and HR policies regarding respectful treatment and so forth. If you have some good citations, list those to support your belief that if someone higher up is aware of this, it won’t continue. Have someone review your letter to ensure that it presents you as reasonable and wanting to find a solution. It’s easy to sound emotional when things are as upsetting as this appears to be to you. Once you have that ready, and before you mail it, think through all of this carefully to ensure that you have not contributed to the negative environment by your own actions.

By that I mean: Do you have a history of emotional outbursts that could be used to show that you over-reacted to frustrated, but not inappropriate, tones of voice? Has your work been effective, or were they correct about some aspects of it? Have you been spoken to before about work issues, or had them reflected on evaluations? Why has nothing been said before now, if things are as bad as you think they are? If it is the one woman who seems so unreasonable and others don’t like to work for her, why would some of her employees verbally jump on you as well? Those are things that you will likely have to deal with anyway, so you may as well think about them now. I hope these thoughts will trigger thinking of your own that will allow you to get this handled, establish a more courteous environment, encourage someone to stop the ineffective behavior of the one boss and make your own boss take a stand, and help everyone feel more comfortable. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what develops with this. Speaking up in your own and the workplace’s behalf is what WEGO means.

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.