I work at a fairly small company, and I get along fairly well with most of my colleagues – with one notable exception.
One of my team members is an extremely talented individual, but he's impossible to work with. He frequently makes inappropriate and insulting jokes about co-workers, and some of his work contains subtle digs at members of our team.
Whenever I gently try to tell him that his comments aren't appreciated, he sarcastically thanks me for my contribution as a "junior employee," and suggests it's not my place to take issue with his behaviour. However, our manager seems hesitant to discipline him because he's seen as irreplaceable. Whenever I raise an issue about his behaviour, our manager says he'll talk to my co-worker, but nothing ever changes.
I like my job. I just want to be able to work without being insulted and demeaned by a man who is supposed to be my colleague, or at least have my manager stand up for me when it happens.
I'm not the only person he treats this way, and I feel that everyone's performance suffers as a result of this high-performer's inappropriate behaviour. What do I do?
THE FIRST ANSWER
The Integrity Group, Vancouver
I expect that a lot of readers will identify with your situation, where the office "golden one" gets away with all sorts of unacceptable behaviour. As you have already found, disrespectful behaviour won't spontaneously change or stop: Someone has to confront the offender, ideally an individual with authority or someone who has the support of management.
Companies sometimes have policies to protect employees from bullying behaviour, and if you work in B.C., Ontario, Quebec or Saskatchewan, there is legislation that employers must follow to remedy such behaviour. Whether or not you have an internal policy or legislation to back you up, you need to bring this employee's behaviour to the company's attention in a way that gets results.
Remember, it is easier for management to avoid the issue or procrastinate when only one person is complaining. Talk to your co-workers with a view to having everyone affected come forward to speak with not only your direct manager but to the next level of management as well. It is important that those complaining have specific examples of the disrespectful behaviour (dates, times, things said), which are critical to establishing a record that the offending employee must respond to.
If management sees that the performance of several members of your team is being affected, this employee will have to answer for and correct his behaviour.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Founder, Made You Think Coaching, Toronto
Bullying in the working world is just as rampant as it is among kids. We just disguise it better.
Since it sounds like you don't have faith in your boss to handle this situation, let's look at what is in your control.
People treat you how you let them, so don't react emotionally when he demeans you. That alone might take some of the "fun" out of it for him. You can also stand up to him respectfully. Asking "What are you trying to say exactly?" throws it back in his court and might catch him off-guard without sounding offensive. A more aggressive option would be to address it head on: "Are you trying to be demeaning, because that's how it appears to me."
But consider his relationship with your boss. Would your boss think it's easier to get rid of you rather than upset the high-performing, low-self-confidence brute?
It can also help to see who else feels this way about him. Perhaps together you can all stop taking his abuse.
It's definitely a tricky situation, so start with what feels right. Show respect at all times and never sink to his level. You're better than that.
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