I’m sure we have all had jobs working for a stern boss, or alongside an unpleasant coworker. If you haven’t ever encountered such a personality, I am interested to know where you have worked, and whether they are hiring. Even in the most polished of organizations, not everyone is friendly, or shares the same sense of professional etiquette. Fortunately, we have a system of laws which protect employees from unwarranted behavior of others based on age, race, sex, creed, religion, color or national origin.
But there is a gap in the law. What if an employee experiences a persistent pattern of mistreatment in the workplace that is not based on one of the aforementioned “protected classes?” What if the tactics of oppression include a consistent refusal to constructively solve problems, selectively holding a target’s work to higher or ever-changing standards, or subtle but consistent belittlement and humiliation? How do we address a situation where the perpetrator of this aggression operates within the established rules and policies of their organization, never crossing the official line of prohibited discrimination?
The word “bully” has become somewhat of a buzzword in management lore. The schoolyard term appropriately encapsulates the familiar, yet somehow ambiguous passive-aggressive behavior, many feared and battled as children. Unfortunately, the juvenile connotation also leads to doubt that such a thing could occur in professional settings. Unfortunately workplace bullying does occur, and it’s qualitatively different than a firm manager or unsociable coworker.
Recently the Board of Supervisors adopted a respectful workplace policy. Briefly summarized, the county promotes and values a respectful work environment, and expects that the business of the county will be carried out in the most efficient and courteous manner. The policy includes specific procedures for reporting incidents of disrespectful behavior, requires an investigation of the circumstances, and prescribes prompt remedial action if a violation is substantiated. The Board of Supervisors has also initiated the first ever workplace culture survey. Working with an outside law firm specializing in human resource issues, we are confidentially seeking input from employees about their workplace environments.
Being a workplace bully and treating others with disrespect is not illegal. However, these proactive steps from the Board of Supervisors are a clear indication to any potential perpetrators that their behavior is not welcome, and will not be tolerated. Regardless of rank or title, county leaders will not allow anyone collecting a paycheck from the El Dorado County taxpayers to create hostility in the workplace at any level. Bullying behavior does not have to be illegal to have serious consequences for the health of an organization.
And that’s why El Dorado County employees, residents and businesses should be encouraged by the Board of Supervisors firm insistence on a positive workplace culture. Not only is bullying qualitatively different from dealing with a difficult coworker, it is quantitatively different. When persistent mistreatment occurs in a public organization it costs you, the taxpayer money through high turnover, increased leave usage, and reduced efficiency.
While protecting employees from aggression is the “right thing to do,” it is also the financially prudent course.
In short, bullying is more than a buzzword. It is a pervasive threat to the well-being of individuals, and the organization in which they work. I look forward to assisting the Board of Supervisors effort to build a positive culture, and eradicate bullying and other forms of disrespect as we fully implement the respectful workplace policy and investigate causes of workplace dissatisfaction. Bullying will not be tolerated.
Terri Daly is chief administrative officer for El Dorado County.