DIY

Bullying in the workplace – Do you tolerate it?


Just lately I have been noticing that the more I do the more pressure I receive to do even more.

It's summer holiday time so we field engineers are somewhat thin on the ground and the number of urgent calls seems to be increasing.

A major UK bank has a large corporate account with us and they feel that I should be available 24/7 exclusively for them. If only I had the time!

I have not had a call there for some months when I got a call from the corporate account manager, asking when I was going in to sort out all the problems, they were concerned that the customer was going to withdraw from the contract and were seeking to lay the blame at my door.

I checked my job queue and could see no calls for them so I asked what the problem was.

“Don’t you know? They’ve been complaining at high level about the machine, they want it out.”

I remember that when I recommended they have a new machine my suggestion for the kind they needed was overruled in favour of the more expensive but less suitable model.

My fears had come home to roost.

I explained that, for the kind of work they did, the machine was the wrong choice and there was little I could do, other than recommend that it should be swapped out. As this would impinge on budgets there is little chance of it being done, so I am afraid that the situation will remain unresolved.

Then the threats started:

“If we lose this contract we will take a dim view.”

“We will have to speak to your manager.”

“Nobody else has this kind of trouble.” (This is rubbish; most people with this kind of machine have the same trouble)

I’m not responsible for the design or specification of the equipment, just for installing it and fixing it. I dislike the fact that the pressure is put on me to find solutions for the insoluble.

With this in mind I undertook some research.

Apparently it is OK to refuse a job, it is OK to tell someone that their attitude makes me uncomfortable and it is OK to have feelings.

People are more important than contracts, money, shareholder value, anything. Yes, we have to try to provide the service that the customer pays for, but unpleasantness does not achieve anything.

7 comments
gpellett
gpellett

Not any more. My family worked hard to get our finances healthy enough to avoid the underlying control tactic here -- threats to your livelihood to force you to cover and fix their mistakes. Once you don't have to worry about having enough savings to pay the next months??? bills, you can laugh at those bullies. Not all customers are profitable; phase out the bad ones and build a good reputation via your good customers. If your problem is bullying bosses, remind them that you are a valuable asset that helps complete their work and earn company profits. You can do that for another company if they want to be stupid. If you say this in a calm but pointed manner then you will either earn their respect or their wrath, but at least you can live with yourself. Just try to avoid loud confrontations, at least until you have an escape plan.

Pat.Dobrowski
Pat.Dobrowski

This appears to be politics. No one wants to accept the blame and they want someone else to fix the issue for free. If someone else fixes it for free, then it could not be their fault. This goes on all of the time. It is a big pain, but it is reality and best to get your management's support by laying out the facts and coming to agreement on what to propose. Best to get your ducks in a row and present it to the customer. If multiple people in your organization are giving the customer different ideas, it will just keep the waters muddied and the customer unhappy.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

A client flexing their (real or imaginary) muscle?? Heaven forbid - a client made the wrong decision and now blames every one else. Jees, hold the press. That's surely never happened before. Bullying, to me, is a continual personal threat against a person or persons, by others within their own company. Just like at school. That's abhorrent and needs a total no-tolerance policy, with referrals to the police if actual assault is suspected. Now, if the thread asked how to handle a client when they act rudely in the heat of the battle, that would be a different story. But let's be serious. A client acting irrationally, forgetting they were given the correct advice, blaming someone else and threatening to take their business somewhere else ????? That's called the job. If you seriously think that this is bullying then perhaps a non-client-facing role would be better.

Tig2
Tig2

But my perspective is somewhat different. If you have made the best recommendation to the customer and that customer has disregarded your input, you have done your job. The issue here is that you have documented your input to the client as well as their choice. You, in a field role, only know about the things that your are tasked to. Manage those things consistently and well. Take good notes. But I am certain that you do. When I am faced by an unpleasant customer- twice a week in my world- I simply state the facts. "If we lose this contract, we will take a dim view." Why are we in danger of losing this contract? I understand that the customer is upset. Shouldn't we be managing that experience? "We will have to speak with your manager." Of course you should. Let's call him right now so that I can take the action items that he assigns me and work with you to find resolution. "Nobody else had this kind of trouble" My recommendation to you spelled this kind of trouble. How can we manage these issues now that you have committed to this path? In short (too late) you are a valuable resource. Speak back clearly, calmly, and concisely. I have had a manager back me into a corner while he shouted at me. I told him that if he didn't back off, we would have our first meeting with HR and he would lose. I don't have to be treated poorly.

binarypc
binarypc

It's not that uncommon. And right now, with some companies attempting to move everything they can out of the UK and the US, (in an attempt to reap more revenue and lower people expenses,) the silent undertones of threat abound. If you can't work all these extra hours..., if you can't get the job done in so many days..., if you don't do everything we want for free...., you know where your job will go. The reality is that there are a lot of good and experienced IT personell available in these markets, however someone at the top is willing to sacrifice comprehension, quality and customer respect to get cheap labor.... and to quote a manager I once knew... "It's less costly for them to fail 10 times in country x, than it is for us to succeed the first time here." That right there tells you how concerned some companies are about you as a person. Frankly, I don't know what the right answer is for it. Maybe I never will.

JosiahB
JosiahB

I have very little to say on the topic in hand, I've just never heard that "ducks in a row" line and thought it was cool. Seriously though, Pats right rude or difficult customers should receive nothing more than a slap in the face with a cold hard dose of the facts. You gave your advice and recommendations and they ignored them, now they are having problems, that would be not even close to your fault and attempts to blame you or use you as a scape goat are just plain wrong.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

... with the exception of the last point, where I would have personally gone straight to HR even when he backed off. Handling an upset client is a series of skills that anyone can learn, particularly if they listen to experience such as yours. Unfortunately, the habit of a lot of IT businesses is that the youngest and least experienced people are often put in the basic support roles - the 'bottom of the ladder', so to speak. In turn, they are on the coal face when the client explodes and usually are not given all the skills necessary to handle the situation. I have always thought it an interesting conundrum.

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