Employee Relations, Rants and Raves, Workplace Communication

No, Being an A-Hole Doesn’t Make You an “Effective” Leader


Nearly one in five Americans report that they’ve been the victim of workplace bullying at some point during their career. While you may be picturing a stereotypical schoolyard bully handing out wedgies and stealing lunch money, today’s adult bullies can be found scattered throughout the workplacefrom the rank and file all the way up through the C-Suite.

After Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar recently announced her candidacy for president, stories of her being a monster towards staffers began to create waves in the headlines. While critics were quick to condemn her behavior (which allegedly included binder-throwing and having outgoing employees’ offers rescinded), some of her biggest supporters rushed to defend Klobuchardownplaying the severity of her alleged actions and reframing them to paint her as ‘a tough, but effective leader who consistently achieves results’. When we fail to condemn the behavior of a popular or successful contributor, we’ve succumbed to normalizing this behavior as acceptable for the workplace.

Employee Relations professionals are likely familiar with phrases such as “equal-opportunity offender” and “It’s not illegal for your boss to be an a-hole”; while it’s correct that illegal discrimination often factors in one or more protected classes,  it’s no excuse to stand idly by when employees report being tormented. While more than half of US States have already enacted anti-bullying laws, it still makes sense to voluntarily establish clear expectations surrounding business conduct and adopt an internal anti-bullying policy.

So why exactly should your organization take a zero-tolerance stance on bullying in the workplace?:

  1. It’s the Right Thing to Do Obviously.
  2. Loss of Productivity Employees who are victims of repeated workplace bullying are more likely to call out sick and often experience negative health symptoms such as anxiety and loss of focus, resulting in a possible decline in performance.
  3. Decreased Morale While bullies tend to single out individual victims, if the situation is not promptly addressed the negative impacts can amplify and quickly spread across teams.
  4. Retention Issues Leaving behind an abusive boss or co-worker can often appeal as a better alternative than going through the perceived hassle of reporting the offending behavior. Not only does high turnover affect productivity and morale, a company’s reputation can quickly go south when it becomes apparent that employees are fleeing en masse, making it increasingly difficult to attract new talent.
  5. It’s Basic Human Decency I can’t believe that it’s 2019 and I really still have to say this.

While we certainly don’t expect that you’ll be exchanging friendship bracelets with all of your coworkers, we’re a stronger workforce when we speak up and speak out against all forms of workplace harassment and bullying.


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