In the past, in several columns, I have written extensively about corporate bullying. This piece is slightly different, in the sense, that it deals with converting bullying tactics to actual shaming and humiliating colleagues, during the course of everyday work. It is not about the mindset, it is about aggressive and demeaning behaviour.
As customary with me, I was flipping channels, because there is a limit to bearing with all that is said in political talk shows, I hit upon an Indian soap, where the scene, froze my fingers on the remote… The scene was… A senior doctor, who by looks itself, seemed a male version of Dicken’s Miss Havisham, was berating a group of young interns, who were part of the residency programme, insultingly, he says, “I tolerate no nonsense. I don’t like people who smile a lot.” The barrage goes on… He then picks up on a newly-wed intern, who he had earlier seen, at the car park, being dropped off by her husband, who passionately hugs her a goodbye, an act that didn’t seem to go down well, with him, starts barking at the intern in public, before mates and patients,” keep your passions at home, and also lock your emotions at home,” and, further shames her in language, that is best left to imagination. The prompt for this article comes from that scene. Amazingly and astonishingly, that’s also the case at some of the best corporates and businesses, in our land of pure.
It is quite common for the supervisors and managers to publicly and privately (rarely, though) to take colleagues on guilt trips, provide great amounts of fodder to feel embarrassed and are never shy to humiliate. No good reasons can justify conduct unbecoming. This is done blatantly with no regrets or remorse.
Under the guise of seeking perfect results, managers feel that they can get away with showing off temper in public and also feel nobody minds the use of vulgar language to demonstrate their dissatisfaction. The foul and despicable four letter word is used in a manner that the audience cannot determine, whether it is applicable to the subject at hand or the person associated with that particular assignment. That’s the murder they commit, for which no accountability can be exercised, because the use is in the vacuum of generalised response. Another matter, it remains, unjustifiable.
The culture of seeking perfection, at work, is a fallacious thought to pursue. We live in a world of imperfections in every facet of life. It is the presence of human imperfections that prompts creative activity, to plug the gaps; with each new and successive discovery to plug a gap, emerge new gaps that require identification and resolution. That’s the cycle of human progress. Hence, perfectionists have either no place or have a short shelf life.
Only small minds use sarcasm and taunts to manage colleagues. I had a colleague at an overseas location, who would send every other day to his direct senior reports, yellow post notes, with cutting remarks like, “I called at 9:00am, there was no response from your extension” and even worse comments were, “was the lunch good, for it lasted very long”. These notes were delivered at the tables in person by the secretary. However, since I have used this as an example here, in fairness to him, when I pointed out the huge damage he was causing to them, the institution and his own reputation, he ceased sending those dreaded notes.
Micromanagement is a format of harassment. If this was a major flaw in any leader/manager, it assumed devilish proportions, with the onset of the pandemic. Most employees across all geographies felt during working from home that the tendency of breathing down the neck all the time, by their supervisors, rose to new heights or more appropriately fell to the lowest depths of indiscretions and in considerations, the expectation was to be available 24 hours of the day….at the beck and call of the boss.
The respect for personal space and time has now become totally smudged by the demand of the Covid-19 measures, relating to working from home. The expectations to join a video-conference at the drop of the hat has become the norm. This is the newest form of managers’ intimidation.
Subtle humiliation is achieved by the use of the tool of procrastination. It is used for every day work, to undo the timeline set for the completion of projects by colleagues, is a common malady. The managers would not meet their reports, who can be eager to share and seek endorsement of mid-course achievements; or alternatively to seek confirmation that they are trudging along the right course of action. Some with a heightened sense of arrogance and sadism, resort to not making themselves accessible to their reports. They remain aloof. They refuse to take calls. Some swing to the extreme of isolating colleagues from the rest, by just failing, deliberately of course, to acknowledge the presence of the victim. The managers also indulge in concealment of information that may be of relevance to the staff. Sharing knowledge is not their forte who victimise their subordinates.
Humiliation tactics are as plenty as the fertility of human imagination. Narrated by a witness, in an international financial institutions (circa 1995/1996), the majestic manager would normally come to office past 10.30am, after having a swim and breakfast at a five star hotel… One particular day, upon entering his “Royal Court”, he summoned the office boy, and while he stood there in utter respect, the manager rubbed his index finger on the pen stand…. Furiously he said, is this the way my office should be cleaned. The office boy offered to bring in the cleaning boy. His royalty couldn’t take it anymore, by which time, quite a few senior staff had arrived into the court (cabin), he thundered in the presence of all, to the poor office boy, take off your shirt, right now and clean the desk. The office boy did. The senior staff submitted to the royal edict without fuss and left for their work stations. True, but gruesome.
In my view the worst form of managerial intimidation is to abuse the annual appraisal excercise. Mean leaders/managers strike back at their staff, for any past misdemeanours of challenges they may have thrown back to them, by rating them low on the performance scale.
Yet another formula to insult, is to make colleagues wait. Such managers are bad time keepers, and in the process they play havoc with the time schedule of colleagues. Some do it for reasons of inflated ego.
Screaming bosses/supervisors induct toxicity of very high proportions in the cultural environment, both, the in-house culture and the society’s culture. Most working people bring their homes (personal issues) to their offices and also simultaneously, take their offices (work issues) to their homes, so in a manner there is a silent transfer taking place of the behavioural responses. The influence over time starts to reflect and begins to manifest itself in the cultural environment of the society, at large. The family bears the brunt of a bad day at the office. It is a human condition to make an outburst of what may be brewing as a negative tendency, which is deliberately contained; these emotions ultimately erupt like a volcano. The lava generated by the operating environment, which must remain restricted to office, unleashes and regrettably flows in the direction of the homes.
Good office conditions ensure peaceful homes and peaceful homes ensure high productivity. However, this is conveniently forgotten. The frictions lead to disharmony and impairment of relationships at both places, work and home.
“He only does it to annoy, because he knows it teases” (Alice in the Wonderland). Despite the multi-code of conduct and behaviour adopted by many institutions, the conduct of this type of leadership, is invariably present…. Unfortunately, there no Queenberry rules of polite and acceptable behaviour in the corporate or government sector.
A politician from the Subcontinent had once remarked, profoundly, about the base nature of humans, said: “I am amazed on how one human derives extreme pleasure at the insult of a fellow human. This is a spectacle at some offices too; if the leader is barking upon a coworker, the others by silence, can either be cursing him for the despicable behaviour or could be celebrating within themselves this shaming of a colleague.”
Envy and jealousy many a times drive humans to respond very strangely. A human mind can conceive the worst and terrible forms of torture and pain. If such a mind resides within the constitution of a leader, it should be of no surprise to any, if the normal day-to-day behaviour is uncouth and downright, socially repulsive., besides being morally outrageous.
The audacity of how far a leader/manager can go in shaming a colleague is directly proportional to the limit assigned by the recipient of such a behaviour. A leader with these characteristics would never offer a mea culpa to the victims of tongue lashing; nothing is said or done to propitiate to the damage caused. To avoid being a victim, learn to use the divinely blessed spine…stand up to the corporate bully.
(The writer is a senior banker)