How to address inappropriate workplace conduct

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Q: I might have to leave a job I love.  I love my job, my colleagues and my work.  I even love my boss.  However, there is a manager, in another department, who is targeting me.  He has made my life hell and it seems like it is now almost a sport for him.  He screams at me during meetings and criticizes my comments in a meeting.  He tears down my accomplishments.  Once he said “A monkey could do what you are doing for us, at a fraction of the cost.”  Some others have noticed this behavior but turned a blind eye.  I have seen him to do it others too, though not as aggressively as he does it with me.  His comments are not sexual so I don’t think I can complain.  He is downright mean.  My hair is falling out.  I have sleep problems.  I can’t concentrate if he is around.  What does someone do in this situation?

A: I am sorry.  I am sorry that you are working within an organization where this behavior is tolerated. I am sorry that this person targets you.  From what you have described, it sounds like he is bullying you.  We think of children when we envision bullies, but unfortunately, adults can be bullies too.

Most workplaces have policies in place to prevent this conduct.  If you have an employee handbook, look for a policy that may cover this type of behavior.  It may be an anti-bullying policy.  Or it may be included in a code of conduct policy.  It also could be part of a respectful workplace policy.  In most of these types of policies, an individual is identified as the “go to” person if an employee has a concern about an infraction with this policy.  The person may be your supervisor, your Human Resources office or the person who handles compliance issues within your company.  Employees are counseled every day for inappropriate workplace behaviors.  His behavior probably does not meet the definition of sexual harassment, however that does not mean it is acceptable.  Your employer can still discipline him.  Most of our clients are striving to build a respectful workplace.

Prior to reporting your concern, jot down some notes.  Your notes should summarize your concerns, as well as examples of his inappropriate behavior.  If you can recall, list other coworkers, who may have observed this behavior.  Sometimes, during stressful moments, it is helpful to have notes in front of us to ensure that we raise all of our concerns and don’t forget important details.  When your notes are complete, contact the person who is responsible for ensuring compliance with the policy.  Request a face-to-face meeting.  You may be asked to complete a complaint form or something similar.

During the meeting, use your notes to guide you but try to maintain eye contact with the company representative.  Explain your concerns and provide a few examples.  After you have shared your concerns, ask about the next steps in the process if the next steps haven’t been shared with you.  Thank the person for their time and request a business card.

Hopefully this person takes your complaint seriously.  In my experience, these complaints are rarely isolated incidents.  Often there is a pattern of conduct (or misconduct).  It is important to raise your concern.  Your employer will have to decide how to address the behavior.  I have seen a range of responses from employers.  Some employers will hire a coach for this person while others will discipline this manager.  Often managers are held to a higher standard of professional conduct.

It would be shame for your company to lose you as an employee, just because a manager is unable to behave like a professional.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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