The Fine Line Between Bullying and Strong Management

There’s a growing interest in the UK about management styles. Many organisations want their senior staff to exhibit a strong management approach. But this can easily spill over into employees being bullied at work. Not all managers realise this. They take the view that they are being abrupt and tough out of necessity. A bullying manager being left unchecked risks the company falling foul of employment law.

a distressed worker being shouted at by a bullying manager

Bullying Managers & Employment Law

Workplaces and managers with an aggressive management style might be unaware that employers have a duty of care to ensure worker safety. It’s important to understand that this extends to protecting the mental health of workers. Failure to address a bullying management style could result in an employee feeling they had no alternative but to resign. They may then be in a position to claim constructuve dismissal at tribunal and seek compensation.

Reduced Staff Retention

Apart from the potential for legal action, can feel harassed and treated badly. They become demoralised. They start looking for employment elsewhere resulting in high staff turnover. A lot of consultants and trainers are now focusing on this problem. They offer advice to managers on identifying the fine line between bullying and strong management.

What is a Bullying Manager?

Surveys show that most people believe they know what constitutes bullying or strong management. This clarity, however, isn’t necessarily objective. Personal circumstances and opinions often dictate what people believe.

An objective definition of bullying is the use of superior influence or strength to intimidate. The purpose of this intimidation is to force someone to do something.

At work, a manager has a position of superior influence over his or her staff. The definition of a bullying manager is one who abuses this position to intimidate staff.

Examples of Bullying by a Manager

  • Making threats.
  • Handing out Physical and Verbal Abuse.
  • Humiliating people in front of others.
  • Refusing to listen to staff concerns.

These forms of bullying are obvious and aggressive. There are also many subtler forms of bullying. Among these are:

  • Ignoring people for promotion.
  • Needlessly reviewing someone’s work.
  • Addressing people by their job title or grade rather than by name.
  • Sending intimidating or hurtful emails or text messages. This form of bullying is know as Cyber Bullying.

What is Strong Management?

In contrast, strong management is direct and clear. Managers explain what they want done. They listen to staff feedback even if they don’t act on it. Strong managers have no need to make threats or to intimidate. They expect staff to meet reasonable demands and to do their jobs.

With strong managers, staff know where they stand. Staff may not like what is happening; but they understand why it is happening.

Management Styles in Practise

These definitions of bullying and strong management work well in theory. In practice, there’s a problem. The attitudes of managers and staff can blur the line between bullying and strong management. In these circumstances, consultants and trainers propose ways of tackling bullying by encouraging strong management.

Workplace Culture

The main responsibility for a strong management style, for instance, lies with the head of an organisation. The chief executive, or his or her equivalent, must lead by example. This example must create respect in the workplace. For any chief executive who wants to create a culture of strong management, respect is the most effective tool. By encouraging respect in every area of work, a chief executive can eliminate much day-to-day bullying. But openness must accompany respect. Managers need to use an open style of communication. They must explain to staff why they have to do things in a certain way.

This doesn’t mean that managers needn’t be firm with staff. In fact, it is easier to be firm when staff fully understand a situation.

The other key proposal from consultants and trainers is confrontation. Everyone who is aware of bullying must confront it.

This can be difficult for staff to do and managers must therefore take the lead. They should look out for bullying behaviour among their colleagues. They must then address this behaviour head-on and insist that their organisations are no place for bullies.

Further Reading

12 thoughts on “The Fine Line Between Bullying and Strong Management

  1. Karen Wilkinson says:

    My son is 16 and has been an apprentice plumber for 6 months now. It is completely usual for him to be away from home for 13-16hrs 5 days a week. He is working really hard and we are proud, but, he is exhausted. His boss, the owner is a horrible bully, won’t let him take breaks (or anything longer than 15mins a day) won’t let him make time to eat and is constantly belittling and putting down, going so far as to say ‘if you see me outside work, don’t talk to me’ He also says ‘plenty of time for breaks on the dole queue’ when he asks for a break, and if he takes a day sick, he’ll sack him.
    Our son is determined to do well and not to give in or give up but I’m getting quite upset at his treatment. I know the hours are illegal for his age but I keep being told by others, he’s doing what it takes to succeed and ‘it’s good for him’
    His options, where we live in a rural area, are limited.

  2. Nata says:

    Hello I am Natalja Kogaja, I was working at Cod Beck Estate, Dalton YO7 3HR chemical factory. Worked 3 years without disciplinary letters, no one day was without possible reason. Manager M.Nolan kicked out without any proves and not fairly. I became familiar with your site and I want to underline that in my situation ‘The Fire hine Between Bullying and Strong Management. Discrimination category: -disabled staff -discrimination at work Please help me in my problem and stop please this chaos of manager M.Nolan by relationship to people

  3. Anon says:

    Something needs to be done about the toxic bullying culture at HMRC. My partner has been left utterly suicidal due to their relentless psychological violence when working for them. If a government department like HMRC disregards the laws which are designed to protect people, how does that set an example to other employers? They believe themselves so above the law that they also attempted to cover it all up. It’s not right, hence I am sharing the story to raise awareness.

  4. Windy says:

    Strong and fair mangers are consistent with everyone. They have no favourites or change the rules to suit. They follow policy and work with staff. They take responsibility not pass it down and will work through personality issues because they understand not everyone gets on or shares the same visions. No I in team yet a team is full of individuals who have different motivators and personalities??. There are bullies at all levels usually involving groups who are long in service, resistant to change and who feel they are owed. Don’t let them away with. 1 year ago my staff through rumours thought I was the devil. A year later, I have a great team, same staff. Be honest and transparent, works for me.

  5. Dimples says:

    I have a practice manager who thinks it is ok to shout at me in front of patients, slamming doors and banging things around. She actual embarrasses me quite abit and I feel she is very unprofessional. But it is not only her that bullies me, it’s my boss as well as they are very similar. In fact both of them have called me a bully in the past because I did not agree with what another member of staff had said about me. I have been constantly attacked by them both. Recently it has got worse as I have had to ask for some desk improvements because my job has given me neck problems, to which I now have to have an operation for and they have had to make some changes which they have not liked. They argue between themselves all the time and I just wait for it to be directed towards me, which it always is due to my practice manager getting angry with my boss. My boss has recently said he has a file on me and the things I have done wrong and he has recently approached members of staff to see how they feel about me and the result is not good. What!! Is this even illegal?? One member is hoping to be promoted to manager when my manager retires so would say anything to please them. She has not told the truth on a number of occasions so I don’t really have much to do with her and the other has just left and needs a good reference for another job. These are the only 2 that were approached. I get on with everyone else but my boss says no one likes me. He said the nurse that left had a birthday party and I was not invited so this proves it but 4 other members of staff were not invited. There is only 9 of us. I am confused about all this. I have recently lost my closest friend, my dad and have been told my demeanour during his illness was really bad but no patients sure any difference in my behaviour. I was told I had to take his funeral day and the time off around this period, which I obviously needed, as leave. I have found out other staff members get £50 on their birthday but I don’t. Surely all this is not right. Patients love me, I bring the practice in lots of money, I have never had a patient complain, even during my father’s short illness time, I am rarely off sick, I always cover when others are off and am always laughing and bantering with the patients. I am constantly calming upset patients, techinians, repair guys etc who are either unhappy with my boss or unhappy with how my practice manager has spoken to them. I feel sick, my bladder hurts, I can’t sleep and my chest hurts, all this starts on Sunday afternoon when I think about going into work Monday. The only reason I stay is the pay is good but does that give two people the right to treat me badly? I have been threatened with being sacked I don’t know how many times and have been called a liar but things are never actally explained to me in a proper meeting just shouted to me in a back room and I can never have any input. I don’t think they can sack me as there is no legal reason, and this is

  6. Pixallie says:

    I recetnly quit my accommodation job because of the things that were going on in my workplace. One of my supervisor broke health and safety rules and does not keep conversations confidential. She uses bad language and comes up with nasty punishments if someone forgets to do something or the room isnt done perfectly to satisfy her. One day she crossed the line after getting a complaint about someone because of sheets on the bed not being done tight enough she threatened all staff that if they leave the room without doing their bed perfectly she will fire them also at the end of her vulgar speech she said “get out of my sight before i kill ye all’ in an angry irritated voice. I quit my job and i don’t want to leave it this way as when i talked to my employer it doesnt seem like her threatening us is a big problem to him.

  7. ZoomText10 says:

    I currently work for Caterplus in the UK and I have been bullied by two smiling, unpleasant individuals within the past year. By a manager, other times by the head cook. My advice to anyone is to stand your ground, specifically if you work your socks off while they attempt to shift your designated free days. People like this are utterly clueless and expect you to not plan your personal life. Leaving will happen and what a relief it will be.

  8. nelly says:

    My manager is a bullie she constant slaggs all her workers off she breaks private conversation with other staff when its personal when can I do to stop it please

  9. tjc93 says:

    I have currently started with a fairly big company which i will not name, but after our training two team leaders were chosen one is lovely good with the team and good with customers the other is obnoxious and big headed but the way he deals with complaints is unnecessary and handles majority of complaints with the statement that the staff need retraining or aren’t up to scratch even though he has had the same training as us is this classed as bullying at work ? he also makes irrelevant jokes to other team members about certain team members about there work ethic but never faces them to work on or clarify the problems.

  10. sormay says:

    Im a manager of a restaurant I’m a strong person and confident in what I do, Ive joined a team who have been working badly in the restaurant for many years, and have changed alot in the restaurant, the old staff members dont like it, I like things done a certain way, but the staff members pick it up wrong and one member claimed I was bullying her, even though she came back, things arent getting any better, and i feel that i am always fighting for myself, is this the difference of strong management and bullying?

  11. loni says:

    good day; I am working part time. I have noticed; The last couple of schedules I have not been considered any days off. Because of the industry I work in I can and may be called off on any given day. When I look at the schedule I am the only one who has not been given any designated days off. I find this difficult to plan appointments and my personal life. Is this a norm? I woill appreciate any answeres. Thank-you

  12. Babyblu says:

    Strong management, who thought this little escape route up. Typical stiff upper lip from the united kindom. This is so sad. There is a policy that states there should be no doubt in anyones mind that bullying in any shape or forum will not be tolerated. My policy and there is no manager getting away with using that line. Management models need to be reviewed as only bad managers would have to implement strong management. I should say strong management techniques are bullying. End bullying now.

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