A former colleague invited me to lunch a few weeks back. She would buy lunch if I would help her figure out want to do with a workplace bully. She now works for a small IT firm that makes most of its business from designing agile solutions for its clients. She is a new manager of the key group from which all project teams are drawn.
The person she refers to as the bully, is the most creative, hardest working and driven member of her staff. He has a Ph.D. in computer sciences and is brilliant. The clients love his work, senior management view him as a money making machine. All the other team members express concern when they have to work on a project team with him. However, none have refused to do so yet, as they all like the pay bonuses they largely get from his work. Staff turnover is within the industry average. (The Solution continues below.)
The previous manager warned he caused friction and resentment in the office. He has been spoken to about caustic remarks and belittling comments to staff when they suggest ideas that he believes won’t work. Recently, a new team member who has joined the firm just a few months back came forward and complained about comments he made to her in a team meeting. Comments along the line that her ideas were “…lame and not well thought out”. She wants an apology and for him not to speak to her in that manner again.
My former colleague spoke to the accused. He did not deny what she claimed he said. He suggested the new person was too sensitive. He also added that he was getting tired of working at the firm and he would willingly offer his resignation as he had another offer he was considering. He stated if my colleague believed the situation was a big deal, he understood and he would provide his resignation.
As we chatted, we came up with three options for action:
- Accept his resignation and report the outcome to the complainant and senior management.
- Try to convince the accused his words hurt and embarrassed a colleague and it was reasonable to apologize. This is what the former manager had always tried to do.
- Tell the complainant that she may have been too sensitive and her other colleagues got used to the “bully” and she will too.
Are there other options we missed? Which option should we have chosen?
Three weeks later. I finally hear back from my colleague. She had worked through, in her mind, the ideas we had come up with during our lunch. She chatted with the complainant again following both our lunch and the conversation she had with the accused bully.
To her surprise, the complainant wished to no longer pursue her complaint. She said that the accused had come to her, said he was sorry for his comments and hoped there was no hard feelings. She said that she was willing to put the matter behind her and she was looking forward to working with the team including the accused bully. My colleagues asked her if she was sure about this disposition of her complaint and she said “Yes and I will give that to you in writing if you wish.” My colleague thought, now what should I do?”
A summary of her response to the situation follows. She raised the issue with her boss on the senior management team. She provided him the history as she knew it. Her boss asked her what was her recommendation.
She recommended that the matter not be dropped. She suggested that the accused bully be required to take appropriate training as recommended by the Human Resource department. She felt that he should be provided a letter of caution that future incidents of similar behaviour may lead to further discipline up to and including dismissal. She advised her senior manager that she would meet with the accused bully and let him know directly that the organization would not tolerate repetition of the behaviour. She would tell him the organization would regret it if he decided to tender his resignation, because they valued his contribution. But that was a cost they were willing to bear to insure all employees enjoyed a positive atmosphere in the workplace. The senior manager agreed with my colleague’s recommendation.
My colleague met first with the complainant and advised her the action senior management had approved. She then met with the accused bully and did the same. She was shocked by the response from each of them.
What should she have expected as a response from the complainant? From the accused bully?