Performance Management or Workplace Bullying?

It’s surprising how often we see managers being accused of bullying when trying to manage employee performance.  There really should be no confusion between the two activities:

Performance management is about providing feedback, guidance and direction with the aim of improving performance.

Workplace bullying is generally considered to be repetitive, unreasonable behaviour that demoralises or threatens an employee / colleague / worker; private or public humiliation in connection with work; making insulting or offensive remarks and so on.

However, the distinction can become blurred in situations where a manager feels he/she needs to take a firm line.  In a common scenario the manager puts up with an employee’s poor performance for some time, perhaps not having the time or inclination to have the ‘difficult conversation’. Eventually the manager then has to deal with it, deciding to take ‘tough action’. This comes as a complete surprise to the employee, who reacts defensively and then complains that they are being bullied.

Managing performance is a reasonable management activity.  However, many managers are not trained and don’t feel equipped to have difficult conversations with their staff.  Research by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) suggests that 57% of Managers would do almost anything to avoid having a ‘difficult conversation’ with an employee and 52% would rather put up with a negative situation rather than tackle it.

This can be addressed by providing training to managers, to develop the confidence and skills they need to discuss employee performance in a constructive and objective way.  This combined with a structured performance management process with regular feedback sessions should prevent the shock delivery of bad news and subsequent accusations of bullying.  It also creates a communication channel for positive and regular recognition which will drive performance and increase employee engagement. 

If you are interested in hearing about how we can help support you with your people processes, documentation and training, please contact one of our team on Tel: 01484 851776.