Management Update: Act before it’s too late

Is your boss or a co-worker tormenting you at work? Are you being attacked verbally or psychologically? If so, you need to take steps to change your situation.

For example an employee in a hospital pharmacy, Carol kept pointing out problems to her boss that needed to be corrected. "Problems regarding medications in a hospital can translate to life and death issues for patients," Carol emphasises. "But, my boss just ignored me," says Carol. "She’d make hostile faces and growling noises whenever I’d try to open up a conversation about these issues." Carol’s boss, also a woman, is close to retirement. "My boss didn’t want to rock any boats or bother with changes," says Carol. "She’s eager to leave the hospital and move to her native place.

Carol is now in the process of telling on her boss through a formal grievance committee. Pulling her own hair out got tire- some to Carol, so she decided to confront the issue head-on.

Another such case is of June who teaches at a community college. Her boss, a man, has called her "stupid" and "inept" on many occasions. June has worked under this aggressive professor for years. "He’s mean to all female faculty members. But, they’re too afraid to confront him", avers she. "When one woman sued him last year" June explains, "the female instructors called to testify were so scared, they lied. They were petrified to tell the truth about this mean professor. As a result, the woman who sued lost the case.

If you’re in a hostile situation, define how to change what’s going on.

Changing a hostile work situation involves shifting a lot of gears. If you’re already stressed out about your situation, you need supportive people to lean on who will encourage you to tackle the problem in stages.

Try these tips:
Talk to a human resources professional outside of your work setting. Your goal is to speak with an objective listener about your situation. This helps you gain clarity on what to do next.

Document your problems. Write down times and dates you experienced hostility You might need this documentation later for a grievance or review board.

Speak with a human resources manager at your place of work. Instead of giving too much of the picture, ask lots of questions. Telling too much might mean your HR person will be forced to file paperwork even if you don’t wish to. For example, ask an HR manager to define a hostile work environment in legal terms. Let this person know that you are gathering information, so you can appropriately respond to your situation. But don’t give away too many details yet

Talk with an attorney You might desire to sue. If not, you might wish to file a formal grievance against your boss or coworker, your employer: or both.

June, mentioned above, talked with an HR firm that, unbeknownst to her, had been retained to do HR work for the college that employed her. "A friend of mine knew the owner of this independent HR firm and asked him to have lunch with me," says June.

The owner and another director at this firm were both appalled by the unkind treatment June’s professor/supervisor had levelled at her

"This HR firm suggested that Ifile formal grievance papers right away" says June. "Since I was asking for nothing more than fair treatment, they felt eager to help me gain cooperation from all parties concerned.

It’s always scary to confront a sensitive workplace situation. However, failing to deal with it means you will bear the brunt of the craziness by yourself. "I was close to a breakdown," says Carol. "All of the unsolved problems were wrecking my nervous system, but until my family stepped in to help, I was too chicken to speak up.

Carol’s aunt intervened one day when she saw Carol break down and cry in the hospital pharmacy Her aunt had stopped by to offer her a ride home.

With my permission, my aunt called my doctor to ask for help in gaining a personal leave," says Carol.

I also had to go through my employee assistance programme to get permission to take a few weeks off. However, after I was home for a week, I went back to the hospital to file a formal grievance against my boss and the hospital. I decided that fighting the situation made me stronger.

The sooner you face a hostile work situation, the better. The longer you allow the abuse or intolerable situation to go on, the weaker you will feel in fighting the whole situation. Addressing the problems sooner, rather than later, will mean you can confront the situation – one way or another – and get on with your life. Besides, if you fail to act, all of the tension and stress you feel will infiltrate your personal life. For example, your workplace tension might affect how you treat your spouse or children. A situation you don’t address might lead to problems that your loved ones will pay for

After all, how long can your family and friends listen to the problems if nothing changes? It’s best to find a way to strike back," Carol summarised. "A mean boss or co-worker shouldn’t have power over your life.

(Judi Hopson and Emma Hopson are authors of a stress management book for paramedics, firefighters and police, Burnout To Balance: EMS Stress. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)

Courtesy: McClatchy-Tribune (MCT) Information Services