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Managers are people too

A promotion doesn't thicken your skin - just ask this Safeway store manager
Workplace bullying

By Todd Humber

When you get promoted to a supervisory role, you don’t suddenly check your humanness at the door.

Many workers think of their bosses as cold and calculated fun regulators whose raison d’être is ensuring they punch in on time. Productivity and revenue are seemingly the only things that put smiles on the faces of these unfeeling automatons.

In some cases, maybe.

But don’t think a fancy new title thickens your skin. Climbing the org chart doesn’t suddenly make you immune to being hurt by the words of your direct reports and colleagues.

I was reminded of that while reading a case recently that I wrote up for publication in Canadian Employment Law Today. It involved the manager of Safeway grocery stores in Banff, Alta., and the neighbouring town of Canmore. One day, while at work, she received a call from one of her cashiers.

The cashier, who was at home, called to chat about a co-worker whose parent had passed away. A few minutes into the call, the manager told her she had to go — apparently giving a two-minute warning the call had to end. This isn’t surprising — we’re all swamped at work, and don’t always have time for a social call.

But in response, the worker offered the following advice to the manager: “Everyone in Banff hates you, and everyone in Canmore hates you too. I love you, but you gotta be nicer to people.”

Those words gutted the manager. She was shaken by them — she found them to be harsh, unnecessary and very personal. After thinking about the events, she cracked and contacted the HR department — outlining the situation and asking for something to be done about it.

“I am no less privy to protection against harassment as anyone else,” she wrote.

And she’s right. Bullying and harassment doesn’t just happen between co-workers, and it doesn’t always flow from the top down. Sometimes, the offending behaviour flows uphill — and the fact it can be called insubordination or insolence doesn’t make it any less hurtful.

An arbitrator ruled those words on their own were deserving of a one-day unpaid suspension. Hardly surprising, because that kind of language is completely inappropriate in any workplace.

And don’t trot out the argument that leaders need to have thicker skin, or that the slightly bigger paycheque somehow justifies the abuse.

In an era where we know empathetic leaders are the best ones — and where bullying and harassment are not only frowned upon but have been written into legislation — we can’t have that attitude anymore.

Managers are people, too. They deserve the same respect as their reports.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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