Who’s responsible for an employee’s morale? Many people think it’s the manager’s responsibility. But I
say it depends.
For example, before Sarah became manager of her new team, she’d been warned that the group had
longstanding problems with low productivity and morale. Sarah rapidly discovered the warnings were
accurate. Her staff spent too much time at work complaining and dealing with emotional outbursts.
However, a careful analysis revealed the problem wasn’t the whole team. It began with one employee,
Penny. Penny was never pleased and was clear about whose fault it was.
Post #63 – BulliesBeGoneBlog Workplace Bullying and Harassment: Recognize Common Techniques Bullies Use
Post #156 – BulliesBeGoneBlog Stop Bullies: Ignore Their Excuses, Justifications
Post #9 – BulliesBeGoneBlog This unhappy employee created a hostile, bullying workplace
Post #14 – BulliesBeGoneBlog Top ten ways to create a hostile workplace
To read the rest of this article from The Memphis Business Journal, see:
Don’t allow an employee to bully workplace over ‘morale’ claims
Sometimes, managers can be unfair, arbitrary and bullying. But in this case, Penny, an employee, was the
bully. She had used her unhappiness to coerce previous managers to do what she wanted. She maintained
her power by never being satisfied.
Post #19 – BulliesBeGoneBlog Stop verbal abuse by a know-it-all-boss
Post #104 – BulliesBeGoneBlog Stop Toxic Coworkers and Other Bullies
Post #79 – BulliesBeGoneBlog You can’t Stop Bullying at Work with Employee Satisfaction Programs
Post #117 – BulliesBeGoneBlog Stop Bullies at Work: Control Freaks
Learn what Sarah did legally and what Penny decided to do in response.
Post #30 – BulliesBeGoneBlog Avoid litigation that will keep you awake at night
All tactics are situational. Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan
that fits you and your organization. The result will be eliminating the high cost of low attitudes.
BulliesBeGone Hire Ben
BulliesBeGone Books and CDs
What do you do after you’ve been hit hard and knocked down by life? What do you do after your dreams have been shattered? What do you do after you’ve been rejected or lost everything? What do you do when you’ve been defeated? What do you do when you realize you chose an abusive bully and you don’t know how to protect your kids? The wisdom of the ages, from all traditions and cultures, gives the same answer, even if the reasons are very different.
In “The Ghost and the Darkness,” Val Kilmer plays a British engineer trying to build a bridge across a river in Africa. Two lions, accurately named “The Ghost” and “The Darkness” begin stalking and killing the men building the bridge. The lions outsmart every attempt to trap and kill them.
Finally, Val Kilmer develops a brilliant plan to trap one of the lions in a railroad car. They do trap the lion but he escapes, burning down the car. Kilmer is devastated and defeated.
The killings mount until the workers start leaving. They hire a skilled hunter, Michael Douglas, who is also caustic and sarcastic. At the climax to the first half of the movie, when the hunter sees Kilmer’s dejection and hears of Kilmer’s failed plan, he says, “There’s an old saying in boxing, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get hit and knocked down. Then the plan goes out the window. What matters is what you do after you’ve been hit and knocked down. Do you stay down or do you get up and fight again?’”
There it is. Kilmer faces his plans in ashes and his life as a failure because the men will leave, the bridge will be abandoned and he’ll never get another job.
The tension comes to a head when Douglas has a plan but the lions outsmart him and kill all the wounded men in the hospital. Douglas, the great hunter, is devastated and defeated. In total, the lions killed over a hundred men.
Kilmer says to him, “There’s an old saying in boxing, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get hit and knocked down. Then the plan goes out the window. What matters is what you do after you’ve been hit and knocked down. Do you stay down or do you get up and fight again?’”
There it is; the point of the movie; the point for all of us in the real world. Will we be defeated by defeat, will we give up when we’re back to square-one, will we give up when life is unfair or too destructive for us or will we get up and fight again, build again?
We, who don’t face killer lions everyday, still do face risk and disaster everyday by:
Natural forces – tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, prolonged drought or flood.
Even the smaller failures growing up can seem like disaster – we fail a test or a course, we’re rejected or dumped by someone gorgeous or handsome, our secrets are spread over school or the internet, we don’t make a team we’d hoped for or counted on, we don’t get into the school of our choice, our parents don’t or can’t give us the latest stuff, the cool kids scorn us, we do something really embarrassing.
Our children face the same questions repeatedly: Will we be defeated by defeat; will we give up when we’re back to square-one; will we give up when life is unfair or too destructive for us or will we get up and fight again, build again?
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” Eleanor Roosevelt.
Notice, I ignored whether Douglas and Kilmer finally kill the lions. Yes that’s important to building the bridge and to the material parts of their lives. But that’s not important to the human spirits of Kilmer and Douglas being great because they’re undefeated by defeat; to them having the indomitable will to continue, no matter the obstacles and not knowing whether they’ll succeed. Okay; the factual resolution is that the Ghost and the Darkness are now preserved in the Field Museum in Chicago – and they did kill that many people.
“Strength comes not from physical capacity. It comes from indomitable will,” Gandhi.
Notice, I also ignored the historical implications of colonialism. Of course, that’s there, but that’s not the main point for my life.
The point is to use the movie to stimulate in me the greatest that I can be. There are thousands of heroes and heroines, real and fictional, who can remind us to get up off the floor when life has knocked us down. The point is to use everything I see and hear to inspire me to choose whether to live a selfish, shabby, sordid story or a great and worthy story; to chose to be the hero of my life.
“Glory is not in never having been knocked down. Glory is in rising up again, each time you are knocked down,” Vince Lombardi.
‘Tis the holiday season and kids’ expectations are high. They want what they want and they want it now!
We may want to draw new lines, cutting back because of the economy or because we’re just tired of their whining and complaining or because we think they’re on the path to become spoiled brats. But if we don’t please them, many kids will throw temper tantrums in public, as well as at home. They’ll scream that you’re unfair, that all the other kids get what they want, that their lives will be ruined if they don’t get what they want right now, that they won’t have a social life, that they’ll be picked on because they’re poor and that they hate you. Or if they’re very young, they’ll just scream.
They’ve made a list and they’ve checked it twice. They’ve kept score and know you’re embarrassed by the fuss and more likely to give in when they meltdown or get out of control or go ballistic in public.
They’re just like we were, if our parents let us be. If we’re distracted now, embarrassed or lack confidence, we’ll make exceptions when other people are around and we’ll give in. Of course, the kids will smell blood and up the ante.
The key is not to be embarrassed, distracted or self-judgmental. Be clear; if they don’t get what they want it really is not the end of the world. Don’t let their self-confidence and self-esteem depend on external stuff or other people’s opinions of them. Don’t take personally what they say. Do not care about or look at other people (including your parents) to see if they’re disturbed or disapproving. If you care what other people think, your children will know that they’ll eventually win. If you lose it; kids know that they will win eventually.
The rules don’t change in public, although your actions will be different in each different situation. Explain in private beforehand what you can afford and can’t afford, and what you think is appropriate and not appropriate. Be clear about the areas in which they have no choice and where their vote counts and where they have total control.
Normal children are supposed to learn how to manipulate you to get what they want; their job is to see if bullying works on you – where and when. Their job is to test you by pushing your boundaries to find out where they can get their way. Your task is to look at them lovingly when they’re throwing a stubborn fit because you can see how that determination, strength and perseverance will help them when they grow up. That doesn’t mean you give in to them. Your job is to stay calm and to assert your will to educate and socialize them whether they agree or not. You can give them your reasons in a way that makes it a statement of fact, not a matter for debate, not a matter they get to vote on.
Children just want to know the rules and boundaries. You help them feel secure when you’re consistent, calm, smiling, loving and firm.
Have a get-away plan before you go anywhere. You and your partner-spouse will have to agree beforehand. That may mean taking the kid for a walk or leaving early. If they lose it, you will have to get them away and do your best to calm them down. Don’t put them in situations where they get too hungry, tired or “wired” by too much input, sugar or caffeine. For some kids, a big lesson is that they’ll be removed while everyone else is having a fabulous time. Show them that their upset is definitely not contagious.
When the children are very young (pre-schoolers), long before you think they can understand language, you can calmly and firmly state, “If you behave like that, I won’t take you any more.” And then remove them. You’d be surprised: they understand your calm firmness long before you think they can. Often, you can distract them with whatever is around and interesting in the environment. If you train them now, you might be able to enjoy their polite and civil company when they’re teenagers.
Sometimes, with older kids, you can break them out of a fit by grading their performance. Just like you see in the Olympics, line everyone else up and give grades for the performance – a 6.9, an 8.7, a 9.2. With a loving smile and laugh, encourage them to do better, to shoot for a hissy-fit that’s worth a 9.9. Give them a big round of applause or a wave. Then go about your previous business. The more you’re enjoying yourself, the less they’ll push the tactic of throwing hissy-fits; the less they’ll think that negativity, anger, rage and explosions will get them what they want. By the way, boys will often stop any behavior you call a “hissy-fit.”
If you lose it once in a while, there will be no permanent damage. Of course there are a small percent of children who make the fight with you a matter of life-or-death for them. Calmly convince them that’s not a good use of their energy and they won’t win that fight until they’re 18 and leave home. If they continue that fight, they’re telling you they need serious help.
Sometimes we need to replay the horrible things that people did to us – whether it was once or repeatedly, whether they were the perpetrators or they stood by or even colluded and ignored the abuse and our pain. Sometime we need to get angry and vent and imagine all the ways we could retaliate and extract vengeance and justice. Sometimes we blame ourselves, wishing we could finally win their love and undo the hurt. During those times we typically say, “It’s not fair. Why me? Why don’t they understand and appreciate me? What did I do wrong?”
But in the end, whatever the specifics of our situations, we all know where we have to get to if we’re going to make the rest of our lives worth living.
By whatever process we use successfully, through whatever pain we have to endure, after we stop the harassment, bullying, abuse and torment inflicted upon us, we have two choices – to let our lives be destroyed by the rotten people who abused us or to move on somehow, to create families and lives worth living.
I’m not minimizing the damage and the pain or the time it may take, but throughout history, we see the same pattern in response to individual and cultural or societal horrors. Some people’s spirits are destroyed by what was done to them. Other people stay alive and vital.
Examples are all around of famous individuals who turned their backs on the perpetrators and moved on – Maya Angelou and Winston Churchill easily come to mind. There are also inspiring examples known only to our families. We must keep our eyes focused on the light at the end of the tunnel of pain – the light that reminds us to keep moving ahead despite the temporary discouragement, depression and despair.
What keeps most people stuck in the abyss of pain for years; long after they’re physically and fiscally capable of separating? Mostly, it’s a combination of:
Wanting the perpetrators to acknowledge what they did and to apologize or beg for our forgiveness. Or wanting vindication and revenge.
Championing their pain as different and greater than anyone else’s or saying that their hurt and pain was so bad that they’ve been damaged for the rest of their lives.
Wallowing in negative self-talk and self-abuse.
The results of this self-bullying victim talk are clear – stress, anxiety, self-doubt, guilt, shame, panic, low self-confidence and self-esteem; huge overreactions as if everything is a matter of life or death; a life ruled by the past, time wasted circling around the carcass of the past, chewing over the gristle of every past and present episode of abuse.
The light at the end of the tunnel is when our spirits rise and make us indomitable and invulnerable, determined and indefatigable; when:
We won’t be weighed down by the baggage of the past. We don’t have to please the perpetrators or excuse or justify our behavior to our abusers and we also don’t have to rebel any more just to prove that we’re independent. We stop sacrificing ourselves for further flagellation and spurning.
The voices of the past become irrelevant; we now make decisions directed by our own spirits.
We won’t be at the mercy of external events, especially the past. Instead we’ll create our own futures, no matter what.
This is the goal of all the talk, catharsis, coaching. We become our original, fiery selves – strong, brave and determined – and now skilled adults.
In this new state, the fear of failure or success is gone. We no longer view the world through the lens of “deserve, justify, punish or forgive.” The emotional motivation cycle – endless self-criticism and self analysis, and then criticism of the criticism, and then criticism of the criticism of the criticism – of the old victim side of us is gone.
We no longer have overwhelming emotional reactions to whatever happens. Mistakes are no longer life threatening. Failing at something is no longer a portent of a bleak future. Doing something wrong no longer consigns us to hell forever.
We ride through these ups and downs, buoyed by certain knowledge that we’ll keep plugging along, doing what we can, following our Heart’s Desire.
From here we can easily recognize other people who are still in the old place – underneath their franticness and self-flagellation, they look and sound like victims, not willing to do whatever it takes to protect themselves; attracting old and new predators. Predators also recognize easy targets.
From here we can see how boring the victim personality is. It’s all about their pain and problems, as if that’s really who they are. They’re still trying to squeeze love or justification from a stone. They still want to interact with scavengers.
In our new space, we’re interested and interesting, excited and exciting. We focus on what feeds our spirits; not on endless cud-chewing and psychoanalysis. We leave the predators behind and seek the families of our hearts and spirits.
The process of leaving the old, victim place usually includes many instantaneous epiphanies, as well as the time necessary to develop new habits through many ups and downs. But that’s merely a process to leave the old and to be completely comfortable in the new.
When we live in a state of inner freedom, we don’t forget the pain. We remember that abuse all our lives. We hold that memory sacred – but we don’t use the pain to motivate ourselves, we convert it to a source of strength and courage to create a new life, a life that’s built on the ashes of childhood dreams destroyed.
In this recession, lots of specific problems crop up that we moan and groan about. But habitual whiners and complainers want us to wallow in their negativity even in the best of times. In her article in the Financial Times, “Office moaners are something to groan about,” Emma Jacobs points out that habitual complainers can demoralize and depress any office.
The skill to critically foresee potential problems and try to solve them is totally different from an endless stream of hostility, negativity and victim-talk. Of course, good managers pay attention to comments from productive staff.
While occasional griping is a natural part of our lives, a Grump’s steady stream of bad attitudes coupled with attempts to prove that we should all feel as bad as he does, rapidly convert our sympathy into anger.
Negativity also promotes workplace divisiveness. Moaners ostracize anyone who won’t join in and their continued focus on what’s unfair or wrong leads co-workers to focus also on what’s wrong at work instead of finding solutions or staying productive.
Although most people moan and groan for a while in response to specific situations, typically, you’ll encounter three types of habitual moaners:
People who routinely feel discouraged, depressed and victimized, and just want to whine endlessly about how hard life is.
Co-workers who batter you with their views about how bad the world or the company is. You have to agree or you just don’t understand (“you fool”) or you’re one of the “oppressors.”
Behind this stealth bullying is the moaning bullies’ desire to control what correct behavior should be (“Those rotten people should do …) and their rules for how we should respond to what they see as major injustices.
Don’t hang out with negative people. Leave the break room or sweetly remove them from your cubicle or office while saying, “I have too much to do right now” and turn to do it, or “I have so many deadlines, would you do this for me” and give them a simple task.
Don’t debate with them. They don’t want to change their minds. Notice that if you win one debate, they rapidly come up with something else to moan about. Their goal is to moan, not solve problems.
Individually stand on your own ground. You might say, “You’re right but that’s not important enough to waste much time on,” or “you’re right but that’s part of life so I don’t get upset about it,” or “you’re right but that’s too big for me to do anything about at this moment so I’d rather focus on the things that lift my spirit and energy.”
At a workshop someone suggested what’s become my favorite. With a straight face say, “My therapist says I can’t have any discouraging talk for seven days straight, so do you have any happy or uplifting things to tell me?” This has worked every time.
Of course the same could be said about whiners, moaners and complainers at home. They’ll drag your energy down if you let them. As Henry Adams said, “Even the gayest of tempers succumbs at last to constant friction.” In your personal life, give whining complainers a chance to change or vote them off your island.
Adults who don’t understand why their teenagers are so demanding, nasty and surly.
Adults who want to stop bullying at work by managers and co-workers.
That question is usually asked in the context of, “I’m a nice person; I don’t deserve to be treated that way. Why is that person so nasty to me?”
The apparent perplexity behind the question comes from the idea that we’re supposed to get what we put out, not only in interactions with those we love, who also love us, but also in interactions with everyone in the world. As if, if we’re nice we’re supposed to be treated nicely in return. These people forget that bullies have different agendas and methods.
The hidden fears behind the question are:
“Maybe I have done something to deserve being harassed and abused; maybe it really is my fault.” Of course, people thinking this way are usually riddled by self-doubt and negative self-talk. Their hidden hope is, “If I knew what I’d done wrong, I could apologize, do what the bully wants, and then they’d treat me nicely.” Their hidden anger comes from deep knowledge, “I didn’t do anything wrong; how dare that bully treat me that way!”
“If the world is so unfair, it’s out of my control.” Of course, people thinking this way are afraid that they’re not strong enough to thrive in a world that’s dangerous, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Their hidden hope is that they could control the world if only they learned the magic secrets. Their hidden anger comes from the sense that, “I didn’t ask for this kind of world; I’m entitled to something better and more rational.”
Before I answer “Why do bullies keep abusing us,” let’s understand what bullying is about in a way that helps us stop bullies in their tracks. Distinguish between two questions:
Why do children try bullying tactics?
Why do they keep bullying as they grow up?
The way I look at it, babies and children naturally take or demand what they want; they naturally try bullying tactics. That’s necessary for their survival – babies must make us feed and change them whether we want to or not. Children’s survival-level job is to figure out how to get us to give them what they want.
Impulses to bully come up all the time, in all of us. It feels good to be a strong and powerful and simply take what we want. Unless kids are taught how to feel good or how to get what they want by other methods, they’ll continue bullying.
Parents train children how to get what they want; which means how to bully, manipulate, harass or abuse people, or how to negotiate with us to give them what they want. We train them to keep using bullying tactics or to try other methods.
There are three general reasons why children grow up and continue using bullying techniques.
Bullying is what they see – they see one or both parents bullying successfully or it’s the only tactic they know. Their parents and family don’t teach them not to bully and also don’t teach them better ways to get what they want.
They keep bullying because bullying succeeds – well-meaning parents, principals and teachers don’t say “No” and they don’t stop the bullying. Sometimes, we may let bullies succeed while we’re negotiating with them or because we’re too tired and worn down to be strong. You’ve seen parents teach children to get cookies, candy or toys by yelling loud enough, throwing hysterical fits or simply taking it from a younger or smaller kid.
There’s a small group of sociopaths and psychopaths who won’t be teachable in any reasonable length of time, if ever.
Many people say that “Children become bullies because they have low self-esteem. To make themselves feel better, they bully people who are weaker.” This is usually followed by the hope that, “If I understand why bullies bully, I’ll be able to teach bullies why bullying is wrong, and then they’ll stop bullying.” These people typically allow bullies to continue abusing their targets, while they educate, beg, bribe, appease or therapeutize bullies.
Instead, take the focus away from psychotherapy of bullies and focus on stopping bullying first. Teach your kids to protect themselves from kids who haven’t learned impulse control or to use other means to navigate in the world. After you stop the bullying, then you can spend all the time you want rehabilitating individual bullies. As you well know, rehabilitating bullies can take a long time; let’s protect target children and adults right now.
Educating bullies begins with stopping them. Their main motivation for learning new tactics is when the old methods no longer succeed.
I received a number of confidential responses to my blog post on “Top ten ways to create a hostile workplace.” One theme in many responses was about the question: “What should I do if leadership has changed and the new bosses want me gone so they can bring in their own people?”
That’s a situation I’ve also seen many times in my consulting.
What would you do?
Consider Jake. The new bosses want him gone so they can bring in people they know or people who will be beholden to them. Jake tries to prove to them that he’s a great manager, but they systematically undercut his authority. He used to get good evaluations, but his new bosses are very critical. They blame him for everything that goes wrong with his team. He’s the scapegoat.
Jake is furious. It’s unfair; they’re bullies and he’s being abused. He’s a good worker and he’s trying hard. He wants to meet them half way, but they don’t want to. Nothing he does convinces them he’s a good performer. He’s hurt, frustrated and angry. Jake wants to fight back, but when he acts on his anger, they write him up. It’s a hostile workplace.
I think Jake is beginning at the wrong place – how can I fight back and show them I’m good? How can I preserve my reputation with them? Jake can’t fight back by showing them that he’s a good manager, team leader and individual performer. He can’t preserve his reputation with them. They don’t care. He’s not an individual to them.
Of course it’s hard to be treated that way. One of the hardest things for us as Americans in our little slice of time is not to be treated as individuals. Jake is being treated as a class of people: He’s in the class of people called, “Hired by the old bosses and not one of our new people.” When you're treated that way, there's little you, as an individual, can do to change their minds. Unless you can get them to see you as an individual.
The new bosses criticize him as if he’s a problem employee. Jake takes their hostility personally. He returns their hostility and wants to prove himself. But he’s not a poor employee and it’s not personal, even though it has personal consequences for him.
When he takes it personally, he can’t think tactically and he makes it worse for himself. When he gets frustrated, hurt and angry, he acts out and gives them excuses they can document for getting rid of him rapidly. He gets poor evaluations and terminated before he finds another job.
I think that the place Jake has to begin is, “Who should I be/how should I look at it?” Here’s what I mean.
Amy is in the same position as Jake: the new bosses want to get rid of her and many other leaders in the company. Unlike Jake, she accepts that it’s not about her as an individual, even though it has individual consequences for her. With coaching, she doesn’t take it personally. She doesn’t like it any more than Jake does, but she can step back and plan her tactics thoughtfully. How can she defend herself?
First she asks if there’s anything she can do to become one of the new team. The answer is, “No.” She doesn’t like what’s happening, so she finds out if they’re violating any protected categories. Are they going after people on the basis of gender, age, race, religion, disabilities, etc? No, it’s the new broom sweeping clean.
She doesn’t want bad evaluations on her record, so she makes them an offer: “If you give me good evaluations, recommendations and severance while I look for another job, I’ll go quietly and gracefully in a shorter time than it will take you to force me out.” They agree. They just want her gone as soon as they can and with as little fuss as they can. With a good recommendation, Amy rapidly gets a better job as part of someone’s new team. The severance enables her to get double pay for a few months.
Notice Amy’s sequence:
Don’t take it personally and defend yourself by thinking tactically.
See if you have a legal grievance.
If the deck is stacked against you, plan to leave with good recommendations.
Bargain for time to get a better job with people who appreciate you.
Jake needs to change how he looks at it so that he can change his impossible goals - getting the bosses to see him as a worthy individual they should keep or leaving with them thinking he’s as good an employee as he really is. They don’t care about his feelings or the truth about how he’s performed. But they’d rather keep things civil and pleasant enough for them, and maybe squeeze a little work out of him or just squeeze him because they don't like the old team.
Amy is glad to be gone and happy at her new job. Jake is still bitter. That shows up when he interviews for new jobs.