Mean looking man in business office gritting teethLast week’s post and podcast examined the impact of mean people in our lives. This week, let’s discuss mean bosses.

When you face mean people in your family or community or workplace, you have three choices.

You can tolerate them by choosing to remain connected to them without proactively trying to change their behavior. You can insulate yourself from them by choosing to limit your exposure to them. Or, you can eliminate your exposure to these mean people by choosing to separate yourself from them. It will require time and energy on your part to ensure you never interact with those mean people but it may be worth it to you.

The stakes are bigger if you are a leader in your organization and find yourself engaged with mean bosses at work.

If you are a leader and these mean bosses are peers of yours or even direct reports of yours, the responsibility to address their behavior goes beyond personal sanity.

Now, it’s about the negative impact on the broader workplace team and even on your customers.

A recent New York Times article, No Time To Be Nice At Work, highlighted the negative impact that mean bosses have on engagement, service, and results.

Officevibe’s research found that employers spend USD$360 billion each year in health care costs as a result of bad bosses.

Mean bosses are bullies – and they bully others with remarkable frequency and intensity. The Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 survey established that 72 percent of US workers – 65 million of them – have been bullied, are currently being bullied, have witnessed bullying, or are aware of bullying in their organizations. 56 percent of all bullying in US workplaces is by bosses.

The worst news from this survey? 72 percent of employers do nothing to address this mean behavior. They believe “it doesn’t happen here” or “it’s a routine way of doing business” or “bullying is necessary to be competitive.”

What can leaders do with mean bosses in their workplace? Leaders have the same three choices available to address mean bosses.

They can tolerate them, with the resulting hits on engagement, service, and results. As noted, 72 percent of employers take this path.

They can insulate themselves from those mean bosses – with the same resulting hits on engagement, service, and results. Both toleration and insulation means the leaders are abdicating their responsibility to address mean bosses proactively.

The only appropriate choice is to eliminate mean boss behaviors by anyone in a position of authority in your workplace. This approach requires time and energy to make a stand: “Here is the behavior I have observed. It is inappropriate and must stop.”

This requires giving the mean bosses coaching to eliminate unwanted behaviors and to embrace desired behaviors. It requires giving them time to adapt their behaviors.

If, over the short haul, the mean bosses are unable to embrace desired behaviors, it requires setting them free – lovingly, kindly, and firmly helping them out of your organization.

Doing nothing only makes it worse. Doing nothing gives mean bosses tacit approval to continue behaving badly.

A safe, inspiring, productive workplace doesn’t happen by default – it happens only by design. Leaders, be intentional about workplace inspiration by crafting an organizational constitution that outlines performance standards and values expectations. Then, hold everyone accountable for results AND respectful behavior in every interaction.

What is your experience with mean bosses? Does your organization tolerate mean bosses? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Lane Erickson – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2015 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.

S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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