What is Bullying?  What is Harassment?  What is Accountability?

I begin this blog post with those questions, because in today’s contemporary work environment employees are beginning to blur the lines regarding their definition of bullying and harassment…in my experience as an HR consultant and a private investigator who investigates these types of allegations, some things are definitely changing in the U.S. with these definitions.

I recently had a conversation with a senior Employee Relations VP who works for one of our larger, global clients.  She said, “Natalie, what we’re dealing with is a population of employees who just don’t want to be held accountable.  The moment that a supervisor discusses their productivity (especially if they work remotely) they get extremely defensive and then after the call with the manager, their next step is to contact Employee Relations to lodge a complaint. And, the complaint is usually bullying or harassment or both.  Then, when we launch an investigation, we identify the manager’s conduct as being completely in line with our company policies.  Managers are required to MANAGE and unfortunately what we are seeing is that some employees just see managers managing as “bullying” or “harassment.”

This VP and I had a good time talking shop on our call, and I shared with her that I am seeing this trend too. And, I shared with her that I recently discussed this on my HR Investigations podcast. (Episode 6).  This trend isn’t just with the employees who are earlier on in their careers, such as Gen Zs. However, there is a greater number of these complaints that are being lodged by those who are earlier on in their careers vs. the more seasoned employees.  Why?

Well, in my experience, it starts actually with parenting.  If you have a significant number of employees who had parents who over-indulged them (entitled…), caved in to their demands (but MOM, I HAVE to have a new PHONE!!) to avoid the conflict and brooding of an angry teenager…well, parents have molded and shaped their kids into a state of fragility.  What I mean by fragility is that they have a significant difficulty with coping skills and, especially now, with so much remote work they are struggling with managing relationships in the virtual space.  So much is lost in context with just text messages that are 140 characters or less…  So, what is the solution?

Well, here are a few: organizational policies that clearly define bullying and harassment, better talent acquisition and vetting of candidates–especially managers, created a more strategic orientation and on boarding program that provides conflict management training, and do a much better job of training HR and Employee Relations managers.  What I’m talking about when I am referring to training for HR and ER managers is specifically training on how to conduct internal investigations AND how to tell the darn difference between bullying, harassment, and a supervisor who is simply holding others accountable.  In other words, HR and ER professionals need to have a clear understanding of the performance management expectations and methodology and the must possess skills in how to properly question employees at the intake of complaints.

If you are looking for some solutions to these types of organizational issues, please check out my podcast at HR-investigations.com/podcast

Also, just go to my Events page at HR-investigations.com to see my upcoming continuing education training classes.  However, for registration of 2 or more people, please contact me directly to learn about registration discounts and for information about training for a group, either in-person or virtual.

Until next time…

Natalie Ivey, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, PI
President & CEO
Results Performance Consulting & Investigations