Bullying Bosses, Disgruntled Employees & Other Sensitive Questions Answered

Maybe it’s the stress Valentine’s Day puts on working spouses. Perhaps it’s the anticipation of tax season. But, whatever the reason, employees are disenchanted by their bosses this month.

Among the top search terms this period are, “how to report your boss to HR,” “How to report a bullying boss,” “boss plays favorites,” and “advantages of being invisible.” The latter search query should make law firm managers very concerned for the mental health and morale of their employees.

So, as a new boss, it seems you should be concerned with making a good impression. Because, as it turns out, your employees are seeking out ways to file complaints about your favoritism, bullying, and other unprofessional behavior on the world wide web.

Of course, it’s likely this disgruntledness is due to inter-office misunderstanding. In fact, stress can be blinding when it comes to a person’s behavior—in periods of great stress, it’s hard to recognize when you’ve lost all rationality.

So, if you are an unhappy employee, take some time and try to identify the biggest source of your complaints. If you are an employer, ask yourself whether or not you’ve been exhibiting irrational workplace behavior.

Here are the top three complaints from employees about their employer (and visa versa), as well as a few ways to deal with them effectively.

1. You’re not a team player

For bosses, you’re not a team player if you play favorites. Each employee has a skillset available to serve the interests of the firm. If you think certain employees are less adept than others, perhaps it’s time to implement employee training programs to fill this gap in ability.

Data from a recent study, conducted by a leadership development consultancy and published by the Harvard Business Review Blog, confirms that there is such a thing as the boss’s favorites.

“And while, in any disagreement we inevitably find both parties bear part of the fault—that is, the disgruntled employees do certainly play some role in their own unhappiness—we consistently found in the analysis that their complaints were justified,” writes Joseph Folkman for the HBR Blog in the article, “Are You Creating Disgruntled Employees?

“Their managers were in fact treating the disgruntled employee differently than they treated their very satisfied employees.”

Bosses who play favorites should remember to encourage employees more often, take an interest in associate career development, and listen to and implement employee feedback.

Although employers sometimes play favorites, employees can be culpable of the same behavior. Employees who are not team players—such as associates who just happen to work exclusively with one partner or employees who refuse to work with certain attorneys—are detrimental to the efficiency and synergy of a firm.

As an employee, it’s important to socialize and work with a variety of people within the firm for both your professional development and your reputation. Even if you don’t get along personally with every senior associate, you never know what you’ll learn from them.

2. You play the blame game

Things go wrong. It happens.

However, how you react to failure can determine the extent and turnaround time of your recovery.

Employers who blame their associates are bad managers. As a leader, you are responsible for monitoring your subordinates. This means, not only checking their work, but also ensuring they’re adequately equipped for the task at hand.

Management is not a hierarchical chain of power. It’s a chain of support. This system allows more senior associates to mentor more junior ones. Senior associates, in turn, are mentored by law firm partners.

By maintaining positive relationships with your employees, and keeping in constant communication with them, you should limit the number of work product errors. And, when ones occur, it’s better for the firm if you make a plan for recovery than a plan for blame.

Employees can also be quick to play the blame game. Employees look to the protective shroud of management to relinquish all responsibility for their actions.

Instead of making excuses, make a list of what you learned from each mistake. This will show your boss that you’re a team player, motivated to improve, and not afraid to take responsibility for your actions.

As such, when your actions lead to success in the future, your boss will be more willing to let you shine—individually—and reward you for it.

3. You don’t ask questions

For law firm managers, it’s important to listen to te advice and feedback of your younger, newer associates. For associates, it’s important to listen carefully to instructions from your superiors.

However, it’s equally, if not more, important to ask questions.

Questions are a verbal cue that lets others know you were paying attention. When your boss assigns you a task, you should be asking “when is it due, how long should it be, and who do I work with?” Additionally, when employees come forward with complaints or suggestions, bosses should be asking, “When did this occur, what do you want to happen next, and how can I help?”

People who don’t ask questions are perceived as inattentive, uninterested, or complacent—traits that are unwelcome in the fast-paced, emotionally charged offices of law firms.

Furthermore, questions demonstrate an interest in the other party. As a boss, ask every employee about their job satisfaction level, career goals, or family. Combat favoritism by showing a universal interest in your subordinates.

Concerned that an employee in your practice lacks the computer skills to complete an assignment? Ask him, “do you need additional assistance on this work product?”

Think your boss is playing favorites? Instead of staying invisible, ask, “how can I get involved with the case matter you are working on?” When they welcome the extra hands, you may realize there’s no favoritism after all.

Quell this month’s complaints simply by asking the right questions.

And, for answers to everything else, read:

Still, here’s to hoping for a less snappish and more supportive March for both employees and their employers.

-WB

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