After a nasty episode with a Director at our organization (I am not a director so there is a power imbalance here), I am considering asking our HR department to adopt a workplace bullying policy similar to the one SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) has in their archives of samples and templates.
I reviewed our employee manual and I saw that only legal, protected classes and categories are actionable by our organization — race, disability, gender, nationality, etc. There is no existing policy on bullying and uncivil behavior in general.
My question: will I be potentially seen as a troublemaker for daring to propose something like this? Will I be seen as the bad person despite the Director’s unnecessarily bullying and acrimonious behavior towards me? How best to proceed in this type of matter for an employee?
First, while bullying is very bad and should not be tolerated by any company, I’m always hesitant when someone says they are being bullied. You had “one episode” which probably wouldn’t qualify as bullying. Bullying is often defined as some using power or force to get you to do something. By the very nature of hierarchical business, a director asking you to do anything is exerting power over you, but it’s not bullying. I say this because a policy, while probably a good thing, may or may not help solve your problem.
But, that’s not your question. Your question is what will happen to you and your reputation if you bring this to HR’s attention? Now, of course, the answer to this is dependent on what type of HR department you have and how you wish to proceed. If you have a rational HR department, then suggesting you update the policy to bring it to SHRM standards should be no big deal.
If you have an irrational HR department, all bets are off. But, let’s assume rationality. So, here is what might happen.
1. You send an email to the HR business partner over your area. “Jane, I noticed that our bullying policy only prohibits bad behavior based on race, gender, etc. I know that SHRM recommends a broader policy. Is it possible to have our policy updated?”
2. Jane replies, “Thanks! I’ll look into it.”
3. You never hear from Jane again.
This is not because Jane is a bad person. It is not because Jane doesn’t agree with you. It is because, if this is a large organization, Jane’s job isn’t to develop policy. She can make a suggestion, but unless she really gets behind the cause it’s unlikely to go anywhere. If it’s a small organization, with a small HR department, Jane probably has 300 things on her plate and revising a policy is probably last on her list of things to do today.
Now, you can go to step 4, which is to follow up with Jane. If she starts to think it’s a really good idea, you might get somewhere. But if not? The end. But no harm is done to you or your reputation. You haven’t asked for something absurd and you haven’t been a jerk about it. (Bully the HR person in order to get an anti-bullying program is never a good idea.)
So, let’s try another option.
1. You send an email to the HR business partner over your area. “Jane, I wanted to tell you about a run-in I had with Director Steve. Steve wanted X done and when I tried to explain that we wouldn’t have the necessary data until Tuesday he screamed at me and threatened to write me up and questioned my parentage. I thought this ran afoul of our bullying policy, but when I double checked I learned that we have no policy prohibiting his behavior unless he was screaming at me because of my race or other immutable characteristics. I’d like to see our policy expanded to cover all inappropriate situations. Can you help?”
2. Jane replies, “Oh dear. Really? Steve did that? Well, that’s normal Steve. Just try to ignore him.” Because remember, you’ve acknowledged that his behavior isn’t against policy and (this next part is really important) HR isn’t independent. Jane has to deal with Steve too. And, in many cases, Steve is further up the hierarchy than Jane is.
3. You never hear from Jan again.
This is very common in this type of situations, because even though Jane would like to eliminate the bully director Steve, she’s seen his performance appraisal and the numbers for his department and he brings in results. If she brings this to Steve’s boss, it’s likely you’ll be blamed. Jane knows this, so she lets it go nowhere. If Steve is a low performer you have more of a chance.
3. (Alternate universe). Jane conducts an investigation and learns that Steve is a constant jerk. She speaks with Steve’s boss, who fires Steve and harmony is restored to the universe. But that policy? Not likely to get written. I mean, it can happen, but it’s not high on anybody’s list or it would already be policy.
So, is there any hope?
Of course! But, you need to go around HR (or get to the most senior HR person) and get a champion from a senior staff member who can make it Jane’s job to worry about this policy. If you know somebody in power who would be on your side, you can start there, recommending the new policy. Volunteer to do some of the legwork involved and get yourself assigned to a team (probably headed by Jane) that is focused on revising such policies.
What you have to be careful about is that you need to project that you’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do and not because Steve was mean to you. Like it or not, the latter will be seen as whining while the former will be seen as altruism.
To make a long story short (too late!) the chances of you suffering because of this are pretty slim as long as you present it as the right thing for the company to do and not as revenge on Steve. Just don’t expect quick results. Also, don’t expect that Steve will even think what he did would violate the new policy. He probably sees himself as being direct.