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Posted September 04, 2008 by

Companies self-destruct when bullies run amok!

I have vivid memories of being bullied when I was in the fourth grade. Darrell would line me and other classmates up each morning and extort our lunch money under threat of beating us to a pulp! Darrell had already missed about two grades and towered over everyone. We were thoroughly intimidated. Growing tired of watching other kids enjoying their lunches I came up with an idea. I’ll tell my mom about it and she will get him off my back!

Wrong! She gave me one of the worst thrashings of my life and said, “Don’t you let that boy take your lunch money. I’m going to call your teacher tomorrow to make sure you eat lunch.” Now I was really in a jam, I had to decide who I was more afraid of Mom or Darrell! I didn’t get an inch of sleep that night and the next morning went off to school hoping to hide from Darrell. Unfortunately, he caught me before the homework bell and proceeded to pound me for refusing to cough up my lunch money.
During the course of the fight I remember being cheered on by other victims of Darrell’s tyranny. Mercifully, the teachers arrived and saved me from further punishment. I looked at Darrell and to my amazement; I had actually bloodied his nose! As we were marched to the principal’s office, I was cheered and patted on the back by my classmates. I also got a lot of attention from the girls in my class. I explained to the principal about Darrell’s extortion racket and mom’s response. He sent me back to class and Darrell was suspended for a week. After that, I never had any more problems with Darrell. We in fact became good friends.
Unfortunately there are “Darrells and Darrellettes” in the workplace who are just as intimidating to fellow employees. Standing up to workplace bullies can be just as frightening for the victims. Workplace bullying can take on different forms such as

  • psychological abuse
  • physical abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • verbal and non verbal abuse
  • sabotage of the victims work product

According to Wikipedia workplace bullying, “is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker.” From my workplace experience, I have witnessed bullying of customers, vendors, visitors and other interested parties! Bullies in the workplace often take advantage of their power by…

  • humiliating
  • insulting
  • affronting and confronting
  • intimidating

…the “target” of their abuse. Many times this behavior is played out in front of witnesses to destroy the victim’s self esteem. When management allows bullying, trust in the workplace is nonexistent. Studies show that when there is an environment of distrust, employees tend to perform poorly. So bullying is bad for business. when employers are aware of bullying from employees and managers and do nothing to correct it, they share in the negative consequences. Workplace bullies come in all shapes, genders, races and sizes and have a great need for control. Here are the four basic types of workplace bullies.

  • Yellers, They always have to talk over the target(s).
  • Blockers, This type likes to undermine the reputation of the target and destroy work product.
  • Backstabbers, Self explanatory, they work in the shadows spreading ugly rumors and gossip aimed at the target.
  • Nitpickers, This bully lives to find fault with everything the victim does no matter how trivial. The bully will trash any suggestions by the target for improving workplace performance and efficiency as well.

A national poll conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute says 37 percent or 54 million American employees have been or are bullied at work. Gary Namie, director of the Institute says, “It’s a silent epidemic”. Workplace bullying is also called “mobbing” when two or more managers or employees gang up on a victim. Co-workers who witness bullying have increased levels of low morale and stress. Employees who are the targets exhibit…

  • insomnia
  • stroke
  • depression
  • migraine headaches
  • low self esteem
  • high levels of stress disorder
  • suicidal tendencies
  • greater risk of heart disease

Because there are no laws protecting employees from bullying there is no clear definition for it. That makes it hard to distinguish from other behaviors such as sexual and racial harassment. To this point, the federal government has no workplace bully laws. Businesses and organizations by and large don’t have policies to prevent it. However, several states have proposed legislation to provide employees some protection. There are some things employees can do to protect themselves.

  • learn more about it
  • stay calm
  • promote your good work
  • inform management of the problem(if the bully is the manager go over his/her head)
  • understand the bully is the problem not you

Keep good records detailing the bullies behavior over a period on time. This includes names, dates, times, places, witnesses, etc. Try to get the bully to create a paper trail for you. You would be amazed at how easy it is to get people behaving badly in the workplace to email their negative intent toward you. I have successfully used email that required a response to accomplish this. Keep all the documentation you receive from the bully that helps you prove his/her accusations against you are false. Finally, if possible always try to have one or more witnesses who aren’t intimidated or a part of the bullies “mob” around as witnesses to what is said and done.
Raising awareness and making a stand like the one I did against Darrell are the most effective ways to discourage and prevent workplace bullying. Seeking legal guidance is always an option as well until specific laws are passed to protect employees.

Employee Free Choice Act- To “At Will” or not To “At Will” That is the Question!

As a mediator of general civil and employment issues I have witnessed how the present predominant “At Will” doctrine has and is failing both employer and employee. It will also hinder college graduates and others entering the American workplace. This form of employment relationship is applying 19th century doctrine to the 21st century. There have been a few changes in the workplace since then.

I’m an employee who decided years ago that learning basic employee rights not only made sense but was mandatory particularly in an At Will environment. At-will simply put means an employee can be fired at any time, for any reason or no reason. The employee can also fire the employer for any or no reason. If the employer fires you, your employment with that organization is over. The burden of proving your termination not being justified is on you! If you are employed At Will, your employer does not need good cause to fire you. However, if you are terminated directly for any reason that violates laws protecting employees against discrimination or retaliation for reporting abuses, At Will doesn’t apply.

I have experienced and have seen how insidiously employers use At Will termination tactics. For example, Amy Employee is fired for alleged insubordination when in truth she was 55 years old and the company wanted a younger person in that position. Amy then files a complaint for age discrimination with the Human Rights Commission. The employer refutes her claim and because Amy like most employees did not educate herself about basic employee rights, now faces an uphill battle. Employers have legal teams that know the game very well. The district court gives a “summary judgment” in favor of the employer and now if Amy has legal representation will have to incur further cost to keep her complaint alive.

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Properly Preparing For an Interview Makes You Feel Brand New!

Poorly prepared job interviews spell bad news!

Not preparing for an interview is probably the number one mistake most job interviewees make! As a job applicant, you must learn the answers to job interview questions the employer may ask. “What are your goals?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” “Why are you the best person for the job?” These are some of the most frequent and tough interview questions asked. Preparing for interview questions is important but preparing for the interview process is critical to the applicants’ chances of getting the job.

However, before I offer my opinion on what the appropriate job seeker response to these three questions could be, my experience shows it is just as important to ask like kind questions of the employer. Would you like to know one of the most important of all job interview tips? The interview questions to ask the employer! This is another major consideration that many job seekers fail to properly plan for. Preparing for job interviews without asking the interviewer the appropriate questions tell him/her getting the job is not important. Another serious mistake job seekers make is assuming the interviewer is competent or properly trained in how to conduct job interviews!

The one thing that has been consistent is the inconsistency of job interview questions. Job seekers should understand that the person doing the interview may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. He or she may not have been adequately trained. Job interviewers routinely ask illegal or improper questions either out of ignorance or deliberately with the intent to discriminate against certain groups. That makes learning to give good job interview answers and asking good job interview questions so important. The questions asked at job interviews often hide what the job interviewer really wants or needs to know! One of the things in the job interview process for the applicant involves discovering what that is. As a job seeker, why am I being asked these interview questions?

For example, the interviewer asks, “Have you had challenges working in various cultural workplace settings?” From my experience, here is what the job interviewer is really asking. “Have you had trouble dealing with different racial groups?” When preparing for a job interview spend time investigating the business. You should learn about the company’s history and what it does for the industry. Review the company’s website and its about us page. I would be looking at how well it treated its employees with things like salaries, benefits and promotional opportunities. Ask the interviewer questions such as:

“What are the company’s goals?”
“Where does the company see itself in five, ten years?”
“Why is the company a good fit for you?”
“Why will the company be a good fit for me?”

Try to find out how well the company is doing financially. It would be to the job interviewee’s advantage to know if the company is going to be around for a while. You could do some research with the Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau. I would make inquiries with local, state and federal consumer advocacy groups for any complaints filed against the employer.

Is it on the verge of layoffs that could include the position applied for?
Is the business going to be sold in the near future?
Are their any bankruptcy issues?
Does the organization have a history of employment complaints on file with state and federal agencies?
Are there any employees that you know personally, who could give some insight into the “culture” of the organization and its management?

Interviewees are not just interviewing to get a job; they should interview the company and job to get them!

Now back to three of the most “infamous” job interview questions of all time!

Where do you see yourself in five years?
This is another one of my favorites. Personally, I think it is idiotic. However, many employers place a lot of importance on this question. They use it to judge whether this job is just a stepping-stone and a measure your level of commitment to it.
It is like guaranteeing the future. Who knows where they will be in five years. Again, stay focused on the qualifications you have for the job and your willingness to stay.

What are your goals?
This is another one of my favorites. I told the interviewer who was also the department director, “My goal is to end up on a beach in Tahiti” to which he laughed. After I was hired, the director told me that was the most honest answer he had heard in all the interviews for the position.
I am not recommending you respond with an answer like that. That answer could have just as easily backfired on me. Nevertheless, I remained focused on showing why my qualifications were the best match for the position based on my knowledge and experience.
Many employers put heavy emphasis on setting goals. So be prepared to demonstrate your goals for your job, life, family, etc. Remember, stay focused and tailor your answers to show you and your skills are the solution to the needs of the interviewer.

Why are you the best candidate for the position?
I always resist the temptation to say I’m the best of all candidates because I have no way of knowing the qualifications of the other job applicants. Instead, I focus on the specific requirements of the position. I then restate why my qualifications are an excellent fit for the needs of the interviewer.

In my opinion, there are no “right” answers to these three and many other job interview questions. However, there are proper answers that should address the job interviewers most wanted result. I believe that result is the path of least resistance. In my own experience as a manager, interviewing applicants has been quite stressful at times. Many managers and interviewers do not look forward to the job interview process. Most job interviewers want and need to hire the individual who is the best fit as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless, they may not always have the stamina and patience to reach that goal. For example, I know of an interviewer who met with a little over 200 hundred applicants for the same position over a period of about 2 months! Each one of the job interviews lasted on average about 45 minutes. The interviewer told me that she mentioned to an interviewee, “you are the last of over 200 hundred interviewed for this position.” Now imagine yourself as that last interviewee, here are some questions you may want to ask. This assuming the individual is competently trained and experienced of course!

How focused do you think the interviewer is going to be?
Will the interviewer be “desensitized”, looking through jaded filters from all the “noise” of the previous 200 hundred interviewees?
What effect could this have if you are in fact the best candidate for the position?
Will the evaluative skills of the interviewer be as precise and focused as when the first job applicant walked into the meeting room?

The sheer volume of 200 job applicants being interviewed by one person in a short period of time is probably the exception. However, interviewers do frequently meet with numerous applicants in a short period. Here is another often overlooked interview tip? The most qualified are not always the ones hired. I have been involved with job interviews where I knew I was not only overqualified but the most qualified. Yet I received the dreaded “Thanks but no thanks letter”. It would be interesting to see what statistical data there is to show the percentage of bad interview hires versus good hires.

The employment market is ever changing and becoming more competitive. For college graduates and job seekers starting a successful and rewarding employment experience begins with properly preparing for an interview and learning your basic employee rights.