“That’s just how you motivate staff to perform and it is how I was taught when I started working," Brian Teely fumed as he walked back to the farm after lunch with his wife.
Brian had an issue with his worker Max. He had high hopes when he hired this supposed, “Second in Charge”. After a few short weeks, it was clear Max was not up to the job, leaving Brian worried he would be frustrated for most of the season.
Brian looked down at Max and worked hard not to let anger spill over on a regular basis. He just wanted to yell at him and tell him exactly what he thought but he always held it in as he recalled his wife's words. It wasn't the first time she said,
"You should really be more careful with what you say and how you talk to your team or you are just going to chase all the good ones away, end up doing all the work, and we will never see you....just like the last two seasons."
Oh the things he’d love to growl at Max. Things like:
.... “Ugh. Another mistake that will cost us money!” ....
.... “We are under financial pressure as it is, without that kind of stupidity!”....
.... “I don’t know how many times I have to tell him to be careful and he still makes mistakes!” ....
However, instead of yelling Brian had simply started to take responsibility away from Max -- to give him space, learn the skills he needed, and decrease the chance of his mistakes costing the farm money.
Brian didn't talk to Max about it. He just did it. It seemed the logical thing to do, and he figured Max would get the idea. Also, at least the job got done properly if he did it himself.
Brian Loses It
Brian tried to hold in his frustrations but it wasn't long into the season when he completely lost it.
Max had been late with the herd to the cowshed and this put everyone late for the day. He had forgotten to change the gates, so he mixed up the herd. Then, to top it off, he left the backing gate on and it had knocked one of the cows over on the yard! Brian was exhausted, furious, and stressed. He was trying to help the cow up when he realised Max was just standing there. Looking. Doing nothing. Instead of wondering if Max needed instruction or felt too guilty to act, Brian exploded.
The blood boiled, the verbal filter evaporated, and Brian let Max have it.
Brian was so angry, he didn't even know what he said. It wasn’t until after lunch (and more coaching by Brian’s wife) that Brian finally calmed down enough to start thinking properly again.
Even then, the anger was still there, simmering away. It was hard for Brian not to pick at whatever Max was doing. Even when Max did a job well, Brian said nothing. He didn’t believe Max had done enough to make up for all the mistakes to earn compliments.
Soon Brian couldn't even handle Max being around him.
Now when any small mistake was made, Brian let him know -- usually with no shortage of colourful language. He would let something slide with the rest of the team, but Brian didn’t let any mistake of Max's go without a comment to point it out. He told himself,
“That’s just how you improve staff performance. Tell them where they are going wrong, it’s just the basics.”
To get it off his chest, Brian would share every mistake, make "Maddening Max" jokes, and complain to the other staff -- sometimes even when Max was in the room. Brian didn't even notice when the staff started mimicking him. The team didn't know why they did it, it just became a bonding joke. It was "just a little fun". Also, blaming Max soon became an easy target to hide their own mistakes from their temperamental boss.
Brian eventually threatened Max with a poor reference hoping it would scare him into quality work.
Without knowing it, Brian was soon giving Max all of the undesirable jobs. In his mind he justified it saying, “It's all he can really handle without making a mistake.”
If he was honest with himself? It was really a way to vent his frustration.
Brian didn't know any better. It was the way he had been treated by employers when he was younger, so it seemed normal. If you made mistakes, you got punished with the crap jobs.
Things have changed since Brian started working and the law now defines Brian’s behaviour -- and his teams -- as ‘Workplace Bullying’.
Are you a Brian?
Are you an Accidental Bully? Like Brian, it can happen over time and you may not even know it.