Dismissal for poor performance

While the law allows employers to decide what the proper standards of performance are, the employer will, if taken to the CCMA, be required to prove the fairness of the dismissal.

Employers must therefore ensure that their performance management systems and practices are designed to enable the employer to prove at arbitration that:

• The employee knew what the required performance standard was;

• The standard was realistically achievable;

• The employee was given sufficient opportunity to achieve the standard; and

• It was the employee’s fault that he/she failed to achieve the standard.

How must the employer’s systems be geared to provide legal proof in these four areas?

Did the employee know what the performance standard was?

The employee’s signed employment contract or performance agreement must spell out that, for example, that he/she is required to make 10 sales per month, reach 2 million rand turnover per year, pack 100 boxes per month or make 3 widgets per hour.

Was the standard achievable?

The employer’s formal records of actual past performance of the employee and others who have done the same work must clearly show that the agreed standard (e.g. 10 sales per month) has regularly been achieved and that therefore the standard is achievable and fair.

In the case of White vs Medpro Pharmaceutica (2000, 10 BALR 1182) the employee failed to meet her targets in nine out of ten months. The CCMA nevertheless found her dismissal to be unfair because the employer had set targets that were not achievable in the CCMA’s view.

Has the employee been given sufficient opportunity to achieve the standard?

The employer’s records relating to the employee’s performance must clearly show that, for example, the employee:

a) Has been given sufficient work to do to provide the necessary practice to become proficient
b) Has the time to get the work done properly.

Was it the employee’s fault that the performance standard was not met?

The employer’s performance monitoring records must show that:

• The employer has consistently provided the employee with the necessary work materials, training and equipment;

• The market demand for employer’s product has not reduced; or

• That there were no other reasons beyond the employee’s control for the employee’s poor work performance.

In Robinson vs Sun Couriers (2003, 1 BALR 97) the CCMA found Robinson’s dismissal to be unfair because the employer had neither established the reason for the poor performance nor brought any proof that the poor performance was the employee’s fault.

Employers must therefore be able to prove that they have:

• Set targets that are provably reasonable;

• Adjusted targets when new circumstances dictate this;

• Given employees a real chance to achieve the desired performance level; and

• Removed all obstructions to the achievement of the standards.

Thus the format of a good performance control system would be as follows:

• Details of the quantity, quality and time frame requirements of each employee;
• Proof that these standards have been achieved regularly;
• The nature of the specific tasks that the employee has been given during each performance period, the number of hours that the employee has been given to perform those tasks;
• The availability to the employee of all resources in good order needed for successful completion of the work; and
• The contact details of a reputable expert in labour law and performance management.

By Ivan Israelstam, chief executive of Labour Law Management Consulting

The future of work could be in freelance

Today freelancers present 35% of the workforce in the United States, 16% in the European Union and – while South African figures are harder to determine – the number is thought to be about 10% and rising strongly.

Linda Trim, Director of FutureSpace, said: “The data shows that freelancing is on the rise worldwide.

“And that’s partly because of the ‘gig economy’, people working independently for companies like Uber which is a relentlessly evolving phenomenon.”

In OECD countries, studies show that freelancers individuals work chiefly in the services sector (50% of men and 70% of women). The remainder are everything from online assistants to architects, designers and photographers.

A recent study called “A snapshot of today’s on demand workforce” by software firm Xero, showed that the majority of freelancers in OECD countries are “slashers”, meaning that their contract work supplements another part-time or full-time position.

These additional earnings can vary considerably. Those who spend a few hours a month editing instruction manuals from home may earn a few hundred euros (R3 to R4k) a month. Freelance occupational therapists may pull in ten times that working full-time (R30 to R40k/month).

Said Trim: “Perhaps the most glamorous face of freelancing are the ‘creative classes’ an agile, connected, highly educated and globalised category of workers that specialise in communications, media, design, art and tech, among others sectors.

“They are architects, web designers, bloggers, consultants and the like, whose job it is to stay on top of trends.”

Freelancers constitute a diverse population of workers – their educational backgrounds, motivations, ambitions, needs, and willingness to work differ from one worker to the next.

“In addition to the rise if the gig economy, the search for freedom with income is another huge motivator. Freelancing is increasingly a choice that people make in order to escape the 9-to-5 workday.”

Trim added that many of the clients that have signed up at FutureSpace work for themselves and are developing their business or have worked for big businesses for years and are now independent consultants.

“We have also noticed that many large corporates are hiring freelancers and are wanting to use shared spaces like FutureSpace for specific projects or innovation drives rather than have them in the established where they will be exposed to how things have always been done.”

Trim noted however that full-time, company-based work is still the standard for employment in most countries, including South Africa.

“But with the rise of telecommuting and automation and the unlimited potential of crowdsourcing, it stands to reason that more and more firms will begin running, and even growing, their businesses with considerably fewer employees.

“This does not necessarily mean an increase in unemployment. Instead, it likely means more freelancers, who will form and reform around various projects in constant and evolving networks,” Trim concluded.

Many employers often find themselves in a predicament when employees resign without adhering to the notice periods stipulated in the contract of employment. In order to address the recourse available to employers, it is important to first look at what legislation prescribes for notice periods.

Notice periods

A reasonable notice period that either party in an employment relationship needs to abide by is derived from common law, however section 37 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 (BCEA) has specifically developed the common law and makes specific provision for notice periods. Depending on the length of service of the employee, notice periods range from one (1) week, two (2) weeks or one (1) month, however it is common for companies to provide for notice periods which differ from the BCEA or any other relevant legislation including collective agreements. This is permitted only if the notice periods are not less than the periods stipulated in the relevant legislation. An employee may not be required to give longer notice than the employer. It is important to note that there are provisions whereby the notice periods are waived and that include matters of a constructive dismissal.

Employer’s remedies

Employees who fail to give notice as per the stipulated notice period are in breach of contract and the employer has specific remedies to compel the employee to adhere to the contractual obligations.

Order for specific performance

The first recourse is for the employer to refer the matter to the High Court to request an order compelling the employee to comply with the conditions of the employment contract (order for specific performance). In terms of section 77A (e) of the BCEA, the court may use its discretion whether or not to grant or deny an order for specific performance in terms of the reasonableness of the matter.

The court indicated in Nationwide Airlines (Pty) Ltd v Roedinger & another [2006] JOL 17221 (W) that the applicant was entitled to enforce the three (3) month notice period against the respondent, as the respondent only gave one (1) month’s notice. The respondent was deemed a professional employee and entered into the employment relationship on his own accord. The respondent was fully aware of the conditions in the contract of employment and that the agreed notice period had not been forced on him. The court furthermore took into consideration the potential operational risk as flights might have to be cancelled due to the airline not having a replacement for the respondent, who was the only pilot qualified to pilot a particular Boeing, which would have resulted in a substantial financial loss for the business.

In contrast, in Santos Professional Football Club (Pty) Ltd v Igesund & another [2002] JOL 10021 (C), the head coach of the professional football team indicated that he would like to resign due to another competitive offer of employment he received. The team referred the matter to the High Court and sought relief in terms of an order for specific performance. They deemed it unfair for the coach to breach the conditions stipulated in the fixed term contract purely because he received a better offer of employment.

The High Court had to take into consideration whether the order would be viable and appropriate. It was found that the coach would not be as committed as he ought to be, should he be compelled to adhere to his contract. The coach’s dignity as well as the employment relationship between the coach and management were taken into consideration. It was found that the working relationship was irreparably broken, therefore a future working relationship would not be viable. In this case the order for specific performance was denied.

Claim for damages

The second remedy for the employer is to terminate the employee’s contract and to sue for damages. Claiming for damages is not as easy as employers might envisage it to be due to employers being required to physically prove that there was harm caused as a result of the employee not serving notice. Employers cannot simply rely on the mere fact that the employee was in breach of the employment contract.

In Rand Water v Stoop & another (2013) 34 ILJ 576 (LAC), the court found that where employees have breached their contract of employment by failing to act in good faith, in relations to section 77(3) of the BCEA, the Court may decide whether or not the employer may claim for damages incurred as a result of the breach of contract.

In Aaron’s Whale Rock Trust v Murray and Roberts Ltd and Another [1992] 3 All SA 390 (C), the court held:

“Where damages can be assessed with exact mathematical precision, a plaintiff is expected to adduce sufficient evidence to meet this requirement. Where, as is the case here, this cannot be done, the plaintiff must lead such evidence as is available to it (but of adequate sufficiency) so as to enable the Court to quantify his damages and to make an appropriate award in his favour. The Court must not be faced with an exercise in guesswork; what is required of a plaintiff is that he should put before the Court enough evidence from which it can, albeit with difficulty, compensate him by an award of money as a fair approximation of his mathematically unquantifiable loss.”

Withholding statutory payment

In practice, employers find it frustrating and costly as the financial implication of referring the matter to court equals more than the physical harm caused by the employee not serving notice. Therefore employers have been advised to include a clause in the employment contract to specifically indicate that should an employee fail to serve their full notice period, the employer is entitled to withhold final remuneration until the employee serves such notice. This will compel employees to return to abide by their contractual obligations.

In the two key judgments of Singh v Adam (2006) 27 ILJ 385 (LC) and 3M SA (Pty) Ltd v SA Commercial Catering & Allied Workers Union & Others (2001) 22 ILJ 1092 (LAC) it was specifically held that the employment contract is a reciprocal contract to which these provisions apply. The employer can therefore refuse to pay out any final payments until the employee has rendered proper performance.

It is evident that employers have various remedies in place regarding employees who are in breach of contract in terms of serving their notice period as per the employment contract. The remedies of applying for an order of performance and claiming for damages will result in costs incurred and may not necessarily be successful. Employers are therefore advised to include a clause in their employment contract whereby the employer may withhold the amount equal to the required notice from the employee’s final statutory payments until the employee serves notice as agreed in the contract of employment.

Source: LabourNet

Most annoying office habits revealed

A major study by Rubbermaid in Canada has revealed the most annoying breakroom habits of office workers.

Top of the list of annoying office behaviour is leaving a splattered microwave (37%), followed by dishes piled in the sink instead of being put in the dishwasher (28%), and co-workers heating up or eating foods with strong odours (21%).

More than 1000 Canadian office workers surveyed by Angus Reid Forum on behalf of Rubbermaid found that nearly two-thirds of respondents (62%) believe that men are the guilty parties and leave the most mess in the kitchen.

Junior employees and interns are also being blamed, with 65% and 56% of respondents respectively citing them as the mess-makers.

When asked whether they themselves have left a mess without tidying up after themselves, only one in 10 respondents (6%) admitted they had.

Of those surveyed, 68% stated they have never confronted a co-worker about leaving a messy kitchen, and only 15% have directly spoken to the person they believe committed a kitchen faux-pas. Other tactics used by workers to address a colleague include leaving a note posted in the kitchen (13%), sending an all-staff email and hoping the intended recipient gets the message (10%), leaving the suspected colleague an anonymous ‘post it’ note on their desk, and telling their boss or manager (both 2%).

Other survey findings include:

  • 44% of Canadians who work in offices with shared kitchens bring their lunch to work every day;
  • 29% of millennial respondents don’t bring a lunch to work so they don’t have to eat with colleagues, which they prefer not to do;
  • A third of female respondents (33%) have complained or gossiped about a co-worker who they believe leaves messes in the office kitchen; and
  • 57% of those who rarely or never bring their lunches to work cite that the office microwave has “more splatter stains than an episode of CSI”.

Source: Stationery News

Top 10 career-limiting moves

It is critical in today’s competitive job market that one is aware of pitfalls that one can avoid.

This list is all about the most common career-limiting moves:

  1. Lack of real insight or thought – the impact of this leads to situations that exist purely based on the fact some people fail to pay attention to how things work and their own behaviour.
  2. Confusing actions for results – employees get paid not to show up, but to actually get some type of results. Unfortunately some people think that simply just doing stuff is what it’s all about.
  3. Chronic absence or tardiness – if you are absent too much or late too much, you won’t be going anywhere because you will be viewed by management as undependable.
  4. Refusal to admit mistakes – we all make them. We’re supposed to learn from them. When you don’t admit a mistake, your employers not only know you’re clueless but they expect you to repeat it.
  5. Inappropriate computer use – it doesn’t matter if you view porn, check your Facebook page, or shop at work. If you’re wasting company resources it will catch up with you.
  6. Poor culture fit – if you don’t fit in, you can change, leave or get fired. There may be companies you just can’t adjust to; be smart and figure that out before it damages your career.
  7. Missing commitments – nothing will destroy trust faster than habitually not meeting your commitments. No one will want to work with you, and no one will want you to work for them.
  8. A sense of entitlement – people who think the company or boss owes them for simply breathing air at work can be sniffed out quickly. It’s a disagreeable quality. Everyone is expendable.
  9. Not thinking outside the box – if you can’t think outside the box or won’t do it because you’re too lazy, the boss will find someone who will. “Just” doing your job can be done by hundreds of other people.
  10. Bad-mouthing colleagues and management – you have to assume anything you gossip at work to someone you work with will be shared or spread. Most of the time the “code of silence” simply doesn’t exist, no matter how close your relationship is.

There is nothing on this list that is difficult to avoid. The people that tend to really kill their chances of going anywhere in their career simply do not think about their environment and the purpose of being employed.

Source: Key Players 

Why do women bully each other at work?

The bitches, as Shannon saw it, came in three varieties. She categorized them on her personal blog, in a post titled “Beware the Female BigLaw Partner.”

First was the “aggressive bitch”—a certain kind of high-ranking woman at the firm where she worked who didn’t think twice about “verbally assaulting anyone.” When one such partner’s name appeared on caller ID, Shannon told me, “we would just freak out.”

Next was the two-faced “passive-aggressive bitch,” whose “subtle, semi-rude emails” hinted that “you really shouldn’t leave before 6:30.” She was arguably worse than the aggressive bitch, because you might never know where you stand.

Last but not least, the “tuned-out, indifferent bitch,” Shannon wrote, “is so busy, both with work and family, that they don’t have time for anything … This partner is not trying to be mean, but hey, they got assignments at midnight when they were associates. So you will too.
“There obviously are exceptions,” she added. “But there aren’t many.”

Listen to the audio version of this article:Feature stories, read aloud: download the Audm app for your iPhone.

You would expect someone like Shannon, who asked that I use only her first name, to thrive in an elite law firm. When she graduated in the mid-2000s from the University of Pennsylvania Law School—having helped edit the constitutional-law journal and interned for a district-court judge—she had her pick of job offers. She knew that by going to a big firm she was signing on for punishing hours, but she had six-figure student loans to pay off and hoped her outgoing personality would win over bosses and potential mentors.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

The firm’s pace was as frenzied as she’d feared. Partners would assign projects late in the day, she said, sometimes forcing associates to work through the night only to announce in the morning that the assignment wasn’t needed after all. When Shannon wanted to leave at the early hour of 7 p.m., she would sneak out of her office, creep past the elevators, and take the stairs down to evade her bosses. She took up smoking to deal with the stress.
Early on, Shannon noticed a striking dynamic. Though her law-school class had been roughly split between the genders, the firm had very few female partners. This wasn’t unusual: At the time, just 17 percent of all law partners in the country were women, and they’ve only notched up a few percentage points since then. And, at least at her firm, no one seemed to like the handful of female partners. “They were known as bitchy, bossy, didn’t want to hear excuses,” Shannon told me.

She once spotted a female partner screaming at the employees at a taxi stand because the cars weren’t coming fast enough. Another would praise Shannon to her face, then dispatch a senior associate to tell her she was working too slowly. One time, Shannon emailed a female partner—one of the passive-aggressive variety—saying, “Attached is a revised list of issues and documents we need from the client. Let me know of anything I may have left off.”

“Here’s another example” of you not being confident, the partner responded, according to Shannon. “The ‘I may have left off’ language is not as much being solicitous of my ideas as it is suggesting a lack of confidence in the completeness of your list.”

Shannon admits that she can be a little sensitive, but she wasn’t the only one who noticed. “Almost every girl cried at some point,” she says. Some of the male partners could be curt, she said, but others were nice. Almost all of the female partners, on the other hand, were very tough.
Still, the senior women’s behavior made sense to her. They were slavishly devoted to their jobs, regularly working until nine or 10 at night. Making partner meant either not having children or hiring both day- and nighttime nannies to care for them. “There’s hostility among the women who have made it,” she said. “It’s like, ‘I gave this up. You’re going to have to give it up too.’ ”

After 16 months, Shannon decided she’d had enough. She left for a firm with gentler hours, and later took time off to be with her young children. She now says that if she were to return to a big firm, she’d be wary of working for a woman. A woman would judge her for stepping back from the workforce, she thinks: “Women seem to cut down women.”

Her screed against the female partners surprised me, since people don’t usually rail against historically marginalized groups on the record. When I reached out to other women to ask whether they’d had similar experiences, some were appalled by the question, as though I were Phyllis Schlafly calling from beyond the grave. But then they would say things like “Well, there was this one time …” and tales of female sabotage would spill forth. As I went about my dozens of interviews, I began to feel like a priest to whom women were confessing their sins against feminism.

Their stories formed a pattern of wanton meanness. Serena Palumbo, another lawyer, told me about the time she went home to Italy to renew her visa and returned to find that a female co-worker had told their boss “that my performance had been lackluster and that I was not focused.” Katrin Park, a communications director, told me that a female former manager reacted to a minor infraction by screaming, “How can I work when you’re so incompetent?!” A friend of mine, whom I’ll call Catherine, had a boss whose tone grew witheringly harsh just a few months into her job at a nonprofit. “This is a perfect example of how you run forward thoughtlessly, with no regard to anything I am saying,” the woman said in one email, before exploding at Catherine in all caps. Many women told me that men had undermined them as well, but it somehow felt different—worse—when it happened at the hands of a woman, a supposed ally.
Even a woman who had given my own career a boost joined the chorus. Susannah Breslin, a writer based in Florida, yanked me out of obscurity years ago by promoting my work on her blog. So I was a bit stunned when, for this story, she told me that she divides her past female managers into “Dragon Ladies” and “Softies Who Nice Their Way Upwards.” She’d rather work for men because, she says, they’re more forthright. “With women, I’m partly being judged on my abilities and partly being judged on whether or not I’m ‘a friend,’ or ‘nice,’ or ‘fun,’ ” she told me. “That’s some playground BS.”

Other women I interviewed, meanwhile, admitted that they had been tempted to snatch the Aeron chair out from under a female colleague. At a women’s networking happy hour, I met Abigail, a young financial controller at a consulting company who once caught herself resenting a co-worker for taking six weeks of maternity leave. “I consider myself very pro-woman and feminist,” Abigail said. Nevertheless, she confessed, “if I wasn’t so mindful of my reaction, I could have been like, ‘Maybe we should try to find a way to fire her.’ ”

Study participants said female bosses are “emotional,” “catty,” or “bitchy.”
Of course, these are just anecdotes. I also heard positive stories about female co-workers, including from prominent women in fields like foreign policy and journalism who described how other women had mentored them or acted as unofficial support groups. (I’ve been fortunate to have both of those experiences myself.) What’s more, research suggests that women actually make better managers than men, by certain measures.

Yet, fairly or not, many women seem to share Shannon’s fear that members of their gender tend to cut one another down. Large surveys by Pew and Gallup as well as several academic studies show that when women have a preference as to the gender of their bosses and colleagues, that preference is largely for men. A 2009 study published in the journal Gender in Management found, for example, that although women believe other women make good managers, “the female workers did not actually want to work for them.” The longer a woman had been in the workforce, the less likely she was to want a female boss.
In 2011, Kim Elsesser, a lecturer at UCLA, analyzed responses from more than 60,000 people and found that women—even those who were managers themselves—were more likely to want a male boss than a female one. The participants explained that female bosses are “emotional,” “catty,” or “bitchy.” (Men preferred male bosses too, but by a smaller margin than the female participants did.)

In a smaller survey of 142 law-firm secretaries—nearly all of whom were women—not one said she or he preferred working for a female partner, and only 3 percent indicated that they liked reporting to a female associate. (Nearly half had no preference.) “I avoid working for women because [they are] such a pain in the ass!” one woman said. In yet another study, women who reported to a female boss had more symptoms of distress, such as trouble sleeping and headaches, than those who worked for a man.

Some people find these studies literally incredible. (When the ABA Journal published an article about the legal-secretary survey, angry readers demanded a retraction. The journal wrote a follow-up piece about the controversy and issued a mild apology for the hurt feelings.) And indeed, it is hard to believe that women would hold a fierce bias against members of their own gender. Perhaps in part because it’s such a thorny topic, this phenomenon tends to be either dismissed (nothing to see here) or written off as inevitable (women are inherently catty). But in fact, psychologists have been attempting to explain it for decades—and the sum of their findings suggests that women aren’t the villains of this story.
Iwasn’t looking for bitchy behavior when I walked into an upscale restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., one night last fall, but it found me. I was there for a small get-together of female executives. Several of the women grimaced when I introduced myself as a journalist, so when I approached a cluster of them, I opened by saying that they didn’t have to be interviewed if they didn’t want to be.

At that, a middle-aged blonde in a leopard-print jacket looked at me and said, “When you go to your shrink, do you say, ‘Nobody likes me! Nobody wants to talk to me’?”

I blinked in disbelief, then asked her whether she had ever gotten pushback for her communication style.

The woman, Susan, said her brusqueness is actually an advantage at the financial-services firm where she works as an adviser, a very Mad Men–esque environment, as she described it. “I have a different way of communicating that’s more like a guy,” she said. “I played a lot of sports, and I expect us to knock around a bit and still be friends at the end of the game. Guys like me.”

The fratty environment doesn’t seem that great for other women in her office, though. Most of the financial advisers at her firm are men, but most of the assistants are women—a situation Susan called “a hotbed of badness.” “There’s a finite amount of space that these women get,” she said. “They’re in their little prison and they’re all eating each other up.”
As it turns out, researchers have competing theories as to why this happens—why women sometimes find themselves trapped and sniping at one another.

Joyce Benenson, a psychologist at Emmanuel College, in Boston, thinks women are evolutionarily predestined not to collaborate with women they are not related to. Her research suggests that women and girls are less willing than men and boys to cooperate with lower-status individuals of the same gender; more likely to dissolve same-gender friendships; and more willing to socially exclude one another. She points to a similar pattern in apes. Male chimpanzees groom one another more than females do, and frequently work together to hunt or patrol borders. Female chimps are much less likely to form coalitions, and have even been spotted forcing themselves between a female rival and her mate in the throes of copulation.

Benenson believes that women undermine one another because they have always had to compete for mates and for resources for their offspring. Helping another woman might give that woman an edge in the hot-Neanderthal dating market, or might give her children an advantage over your own, so you frostily snub her. Women “can gather around smiling and laughing, exchanging polite, intimate, and even warm conversation, while simultaneously destroying one another’s careers,” Benenson told me. “The contrast is jarring.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Benenson’s theory is controversial—so much so that she says she feels sidelined and “very isolated” in academia.*
If Benenson is right, women would have to struggle mightily to repair their poisonous dynamic, since it is biologically ingrained. But many other researchers think women aren’t hardwired to behave this way. Instead, they argue, bitchiness is a by-product of the modern workplace.

In the late 1980s, Robin Ely, then a graduate student in the Yale School of Management, set about trying to understand why women’s office interactions sometimes turn toxic. “My most difficult relationship at work had been with a woman,” Ely told me, “but women had also given me the most amazing support.” She didn’t buy either of the prevailing stereotypes about women—that they are nurturing earth mothers or manipulative traitors. Instead, her hypothesis was simply that “women, like all human beings, respond to the situation they’re in.”

To test this idea, Ely cracked open a law-firm directory and picked some male-dominated firms, where no more than 5 percent of partners were female, and some other firms where women were slightly better represented in the top ranks. Then she asked the female lawyers at both types of firms how they felt about their female colleagues.

No matter where they were, the attorneys endured a grueling work environment. But in the overwhelmingly male firms, competition between women was “acute, troubling, and personal,” Ely said. Compared with the women in firms where they were better represented, women in the male-dominated settings thought less of one another and offered weak support, if any. Female partners in those firms were “almost universally reviled,” Ely said. One young lawyer described her boss as “a manipulative bitch who has no legal talent.”
Perhaps the most enduring takeaway was this: Women in the male-dominated firms believed that only so many of them would make it into the senior ranks, and that they were vying with one another for those spots. Ely, who is now a business professor at Harvard, had hit upon a dynamic known as tokenism. When there appear to be few opportunities for women, research shows, women begin to view their gender as an impediment; they avoid joining forces, and sometimes turn on one another.

Think of the “cool girl” who casually notes, “All my friends are guys”—as though it just naturally happened that way. Or the overachiever who saves her harshest feedback for her female colleagues, while the men in the office get sports talk and fist bumps. Women like Susan, the financial adviser I met in Washington, “get along with men better,” as she put it, because it pays to get along with whoever’s at the top.

Around the same time Ely conducted her tokenism study, a Dutch psychologist named Naomi Ellemers was working as an assistant professor in Amsterdam and trying to understand the near-total absence of senior women in academia. Women then made up just 4 percent of all full professors in the Netherlands. Ellemers thought perhaps biased men were keeping women from advancing.

Ellemers put together a list of all the female professors in the country and mailed them (as well as a sample of male professors) a survey about their relationships with their colleagues. Her findings suggested that women were actually part of the problem. The female professors described themselves as just as “aggressive” and “dominant” as the men did; they felt unsupported by their female colleagues, and didn’t want to work with other women.
Eleven years later, Ellemers surveyed doctoral students and university faculty members in Amsterdam and Italy and found similar results. Although the junior men and women were in fact equally committed to their work, the female professors thought the younger women were less dedicated. Ellemers called these senior women—who coped with gender discrimination by emphasizing how different they were from other women—“queen bees,” repurposing a term first coined in the 1970s by researchers at the University of Michigan.

After these studies were published, Ellemers was disheartened to read news articles trumpeting them as proof that women are nasty by nature. “Some journalists are very happy to make headlines that women are catty to each other,” she told me ruefully. She thought about giving up on this line of research, but a student of hers, Belle Derks, persuaded her to keep probing.

Along with some of their other colleagues, Ellemers and Derks conducted a small study in 2011 for which they asked 63 Dutch policewomen—who are far outnumbered by their male colleagues—to recall a time they had experienced sexism at work. That reminder prompted many of the officers to emphasize the ways they’re not like other women and to downplay the prevalence of sexism. In other words, thinking about how bad it is to be a woman made certain officers not want to be seen as women. And it wasn’t just something women did: In another small study, when Derks and other researchers prompted Surinamese immigrants in the Netherlands to recall an instance of discrimination against their group, many expressed lower opinions of one another and behaved more stereotypically Dutch.
With that, Ellemers and Derks believed they had pinpointed the conditions in which queen bees emerge: when women are a marginalized group in the workplace, have made big sacrifices for their career, or are already predisposed to show little “gender identification”—camaraderie with other women. (Think of former Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer’s quote about another of her old jobs: “I’m not really a woman at Google; I’m a geek at Google.”) Women like this, Ellemers says, “learned the hard way that the way to succeed in the workplace is to make sure that people realize they are not like other women. It’s not something about these women. It is the way they have learned to survive in the organization.”

It’s worth noting that some of Ellemers and Derks’s findings are not very robust. But other researchers have since published work that echoes theirs. Michelle Duguid, a Cornell University management professor, has explored something called “favoritism threat,” or women’s concern that they’ll seem biased if they help one another. In a working paper, Duguid showed that “token” women who had helped other women in the past avoided doing so again when given the chance. In a separate study, she found that token women in “high prestige” settings were more reluctant to recruit female candidates to join their team than were women who worked in less prestigious settings or had more female colleagues.
Paul Sahre
As Joan C. Williams, a distinguished professor at the UC Hastings College of the Law, put it to me: “Women are people. If the only way to get ahead is to run like hell away from other women, some women are going to do that.” And research suggests that this kind of distancing occurs in minority groups as well, which means these dynamics may be doubly hard on women of color, since they face both gender and racial bias.
Even levelheaded, feminist women can exhibit elements of queen-bee behavior at times, and they don’t have to be in senior positions. The biggest issue I heard about is what’s known as “competitive threat,” which is when a woman fears that a female newcomer will outshine her. She might try to undermine her rival preemptively—as happened to one woman I interviewed, whose work friend spread rumors that she was promiscuous and unqualified. Or she might slam her rival with demeaning comments, as has happened to seven in 10 respondents to a 2016 survey of women working in the tech industry. “I had two female colleagues who suggested I try to look ‘less pretty’ to be taken more seriously,” a respondent wrote. “One suggested a breast reduction.”

This kind of behavior can take a toll. My friend Catherine had always been the most unflappable and cheerful in our group, but about six months into her stint with a queen bee, she began feeling like “a terrified puddle of a human being,” she said. She felt sick to her stomach and had trouble eating her lunch at work. “Whenever the phone rang, my legs would shake,” she said. “Anytime we were on a call and her voice came on, I shuddered.”

About 15 years ago, Margarita Rozenfeld, who is now a leadership coach in Washington, D.C., found herself reporting to a queen bee. Rozenfeld’s boss was just in her early 30s, but her clothes and demeanor made her seem much older. She had high expectations for everyone on the team, including Rozenfeld, and she would grumble when her subordinates didn’t exhibit the same relentless ambition she had.
One day on her way to work, Rozenfeld tripped on the parking-garage steps and twisted her ankle. It swelled as the day wore on, and she worried that it would get even worse. She wasn’t particularly busy, so she knocked on her boss’s door and asked whether she could leave early to see a doctor. Her boss asked Rozenfeld to come in and close the door.

“You know, I had high hopes for you,” Rozenfeld remembers her saying. Her boss questioned why “you feel like you can leave” when “things like this happen.”

“But I feel like I’m not going to be able to walk,” Rozenfeld said.

“I will tell you something about my career and how I got to be where I am today,” her boss continued. “Do you know how many times I worked with men who basically sexually harassed me? Did you know that man over there missed his kid’s high-school graduation because he was working on a proposal? And you have a sprained ankle and you think it’s okay to leave?”

As tears welled in her eyes, Rozenfeld realized that she was never going to be the kind of worker her boss wanted. Six months later, she quit.

Complicating all of this is that, well, bitchiness is in the eye of the beholder, and the term queen bee sometimes gets flung at women who are just trying to do their job. You could call it managing while female: Many studies have shown that people—men and women alike—can’t tolerate so much as a hint of toughness coming from a woman, even when she’s in charge.
The most notorious double standard is that women can’t break into important jobs unless they advocate for themselves and command respect. But they’re also reviled unless they act like chipper and self-deprecating team players, forever passing the credit along to others. Laurie Rudman, a social psychologist at Rutgers University, said the “poster woman” for this predicament is Hillary Clinton, who, according to surveys, was more popular when in office than when she was vying for office. Writing in The Boston Globe last summer, former Vermont Governor Madeleine May Kunin noted the dramatically lower behavior bar set for Donald Trump than for Clinton: “ ‘Boys will be boys,’ but girls must be goddesses.”

Rudman first witnessed this tendency when she was a grad student at the University of Minnesota, where she sat on a hiring committee for an open professor position. The female candidates touted their records by saying things like “I’m so fortunate I found so-and-so for my mentor,” Rudman told me. One male candidate, meanwhile, waltzed in, folded his arms, and declared, “I’m going to change the face of psychology within the next five years.” The committee picked the man.

“It’s very difficult for women to ask for power,” Rudman said. “If you stick your neck out and say ‘I’d like to be considered for this promotion,’ somebody’s revving up a chain saw in the background.”

When women do slip outside the lines and behave assertively, other women are sometimes the ones who blast them for it.
After Rudman earned her doctorate, she began researching why women can’t get away with behaving the way men do. Her work helps explain why male bosses can be frank, while female managers are stuck serving up compliment sandwiches to soften their criticism. In one of her experiments, women who doled out honest feedback were liked less and considered less hirable than similarly candid men. Other academics have argued that workers just don’t respect female bosses as much as male ones—which prompts the bosses to treat the workers worse, which causes the workers to think less of their bosses, and so forth.

Rudman found that some women’s disparagement of other women can be explained by what’s called “system justification,” a psychological concept in which long-oppressed groups, struggling to make sense of an unfair world, internalize negative stereotypes. Women simply don’t have the same status in American life that men do. So when people think, Who do I want to work with?, they subconsciously leap to the default, the historically revered—the man. Some women look around, see few women running things, and assume that there must be something wrong with women themselves.
Indeed, Kim Elsesser, the UCLA lecturer whose study unearthed a preference for male bosses, pointed out another interesting wrinkle in that study: Participants were biased against women only when they were asked about the gender they preferred to work for in general. “When participants were asked about their current bosses, the bias disappeared,” Elsesser said.

When women do slip outside the lines and behave assertively, other women are sometimes the ones who blast them for it. In one series of studies, Rudman asked participants to pick teammates for a round of computerized Jeopardy. They could choose among insecure and confident men and women. A cash prize was offered, so it behooved the participants to pick someone competent. But while the confident contestants of both genders were seen as more capable than the insecure ones, the female participants were nonetheless torn between the insecure woman and the confident one.

Rudman says that in general, research shows men are more biased against women at work than women themselves are. But in this case at least, the male participants didn’t hesitate to pick the confident woman over the insecure one, and had no preference between the confident man and the confident woman. Not a single female participant, on the other hand, chose the confident woman over the confident man. “I could not believe it!,” Rudman exclaimed, letting out a long “Wooooow.”
She saw this as a sign of what psychologists call the black-sheep effect, in which people are harder on rule-breaking members of their own group than they are on the deviants of other tribes. As Rudman told me this, I played a mental highlight reel of the various times in my life when a man had completely dropped the ball on a team project, and I’d excused him as either a nutty professor or a devilish rogue who couldn’t be bothered with tedious details. He was the mischievous Peter Pan to my businesslike Wendy: I’ll handle it myself, you scamp! If a woman behaved this way, though, I’d be more likely to draft a dozen never-sent emails asking her what her problem was.

Some writers and researchers argue that true queen bees are extremely rare, and that the concept has been co-opted by misogynists to show how awful women supposedly are. Even Carol Tavris, one of the social psychologists credited with coining the term queen bee, has been quoted rejecting the concept. “I hate it,” she told the Today show in 2013.

In 1974, Tavris had published an article in Psychology Today in which she and two colleagues, Graham Staines and Toby Epstein Jayaratne, wrote:

There is a group of antifeminist women who exemplify what we call the Queen Bee syndrome … The true Queen Bee has made it in the “man’s world” of work, while running a house and family with her left hand. “If I can do it without a whole movement to help me,” runs her attitude, “so can all those other women.”
When I called her at her home in Los Angeles, Tavris said that her theory had since been misinterpreted, carved into a cudgel for bashing women. If women are their own worst enemies, after all, why should people push for women’s workplace advancement? She regrets that giving “a catchy name” to a complex pattern of behavior helped launch queen-bee-ism as “a thing”—one that has endured despite all the gains working women have made since the 1970s. After publishing that paper, she moved on to examine other topics in psychology.
I could understand why Tavris would want to distance herself from this research—who wants to throw more chum to the internet’s sexist trolls? And given the complexity of the queen-bee phenomenon, its prevalence is impossible to determine. Still, queen bees are clearly a real thing, and ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Maybe by understanding its causes, we can finally start to address them.

The key point to remember, according to Naomi Ellemers and other researchers, is that queen-bee behavior arises under certain circumstances—like when a woman believes that the path to success is so narrow, she can barely squeeze through herself, let alone try to bring others along with her.

She glared at me and turned bright red. Then she screamed at me like I had never been screamed at before.
When I’d initially emailed Tavris for an interview, she had written back, “Your request makes me sad.” But as I described the experiences of the women I had interviewed, she acknowledged that in some contexts, women do sometimes bully one another—just as members of other discriminated-against groups would.

Toward the end of our conversation, Tavris complimented Ellemers’s research. How we behave at work depends on “how safe we feel at work,” she said. “Does our work give us a chance to thrive? Or are we feeling thwarted at every step?”

Ionce worked with a queen bee—a woman a couple of decades my senior. (She outranked me but wasn’t my supervisor.) Soon after I started, she and I were alone in our shared workspace. It was a busy day, but I needed to ask her a question about an internal process. I waited until late afternoon, then asked.
She glared at me and turned bright red. Then she screamed at me like I had never been screamed at before by someone I’m not related to. (Later, when I complained about her, my boss said, by way of explanation, that the office was a family-like environment.)

That was probably our worst encounter, but it wasn’t the only bad one. She would seethe at me for things beyond my control and complain about me to my boss. Once, I let out a sigh after a frustrating phone call, and she lambasted me for seeming entitled. Another co-worker overheard and told her to cool it.

“I’m sorry, but she had a tone!” she responded, like a baroness exasperated by the impertinent help.

I began to have stomachaches and cold sweats when I walked into work. Still, I couldn’t quite hate the woman. She was obviously miserable in her job, and every time I looked in her stress-deadened eyes, I saw a little of myself.

Is this the ghost of future Olga?, I sometimes wondered. Is this what happens when the totally normal, societally sanctioned choices you’ve made—work hard; have children; slave away for a promotion; go on a little vacation, not too long!; come back and work even harder—don’t add up to the life you envisioned? You said the right thing at the meeting, didn’t you? You helped on the important project. Why not you, then? It would be enraging.

The truth is, I too sometimes feel like the day is just too exhausting, that I cannot possibly handle one more thing with grace. I like to think I haven’t taken it out on my colleagues. But my queen bee had a rougher go of it than I did, climbing her way up before Lean In, before ’90s-style sensitivity training. She probably experienced the kind of sexism that doesn’t take a Sarah Lawrence degree to sniff out, the kind where your male equals call you “sweetie” or tell you, up front, that you don’t belong. I had to ask myself, How many years of treatment like that would it take for me to become mean like her? Ten years? Twenty? Or would it require only the right opportunity—like an unusually bad day, when no one else is around?
Curious to know what career gurus have to say about dealing with queen bees, I took a spin through some of the top-selling “getting ahead” books aimed at women. What I found was eye-opening, but not in the way I’d hoped.

For example, the 2014 “revised and updated” version of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, which was originally published in 2004, notes that women “often wind up making mountains out of molehills, much to the consternation of their male colleagues.” The authors of the 2006 book The Girl’s Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch) offer a long tale of woe from a woman with a bitchy boss, then write simply that if you (the boss) feel that you are a bitch, you should take an anger-management course. Problem solved.

In Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman, former CNN Vice President Gail Evans recommends avoiding workplace tension by not having any contact with colleagues outside the office. If an emotion somehow surfaces during work hours, a true executive-track gal stuffs it back down. “If you can’t help but become angry with a female co-worker,” Evans writes, “for the sake of the rest of us, keep it to yourself.”

Even when workplace bullying becomes severe, employment lawyers told me, women are less likely to sue for gender discrimination if their tormentor is another woman, since people tend to assume that women look out for one another. (One lawyer said that this is why companies often appoint members of “protected classes,” such as minorities and women, to human-resources roles. Having someone from one of these groups handle a firing can make it harder to sue for wrongful termination.)
Still, the answer can’t be to simply capitulate to queen bees, as some of the women I interviewed suggested. Even if you later quit, you only foist your awful boss on the next underling. At another women’s networking happy hour, I met a woman named Marie, who, when I asked whether she had ever clashed with a female boss, burst into knowing laughter. At a previous job as a defense-industry analyst, Marie had had two bosses, a man and a woman. She was assigned to cover Haiti when the 2010 earthquake struck, forcing her to work long, difficult hours. The male manager praised her, but the woman made her a target. When Marie forgot to close a quotation mark in a report, her female boss denounced her as a plagiarist and eventually pushed her out. Marie’s takeaway: “You should not outshine the boss.”

Nurses might have a better solution. Their profession is rife with female bullying, but a group of nurses has floated an idea in which hospitals would have financial incentives to eliminate staff infighting. According to this plan, levels of bullying would be measured, publicly reported, and factored into the payments hospitals get from the federal government for providing quality care.

Better support for working moms could help, too. From my reporting, it seemed that while having family-friendly policies was important, having a boss who bought into those policies mattered just as much. One woman I spoke with, for example, was technically allowed to work from home when her kids were sick, but her older female manager would make her feel bad about it every time, thus negating the point of the policy.

Employers could also make more of an effort to show talented women that they’re valued, since women who feel optimistic about their career prospects are less likely to tear one another down. “We need to change our society so that it becomes normative for women to see other women succeeding in all kinds of roles,” Laurie Rudman says. Indeed, industries that are new and therefore lack entrenched social roles tend to be where this type of change takes place.

Toward the end of our conversation, Rudman emphasized how important it is for high-achieving women to own their success rather than chalking it all up to mentors and luck, even if doing so comes with a price. Stereotypes about how female leaders should behave, Rudman said, will only change when enough of us defeat them. I felt like I was talking with the hip, feminist aunt I never had.

“Have you felt resistance to your success?” she asked me.

Occasionally, I said, thinking of a handful of times people had wondered, a little too pointedly, how I’d scored one career win or another.

And what, she asked, did I do about it?

“I said I just got lucky,” I replied, “or came up with some excuses.”

“YAAAAA!” she cried. “See? See? So do you think women should rethink that strategy? Should maybe women start being stronger in our confidence?”

I admitted that it was a good idea, but that “something is keeping me from acting in a more confident way, even though that would be good for women in general.”

“It would be good for women as a whole,” Rudman said. “But individual women have to be shot down first. And you don’t want to be one of those. And I don’t blame you.”

Someone has to be the first, though—to behave confidently, to risk knee-jerk bitterness from our colleagues as a result, and to not hold it against them. But it would be easier if we could do it as a hive.

By Olga Khazan for The Atlantic

Out with the 8-hour workday

The traditional 8-hour workday is an outdated, ineffective approach to work that actually diminishes productivity.

“It’s time for a change of thinking,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap.

She noted the 8-hour workday was a relic of the industrial revolution created in an effort to cut down on the number of hours of tough manual labor that workers were forced to endure on the factory floor.

“But like our ancestors, we’re expected to put in 8-hour days, working in long, continuous blocks of time, with few or no breaks. Most people even work right through their lunch hour.”

Trim notes that if people want to be as productive as possible, they need to let go of this Dickensian approach.

Here’s a better way:

Structure your day

A study recently conducted by the Draugiem Group, a social networking website, tracked employees’ work habits by measuring how much time people spent on various tasks and compared this to their productivity levels.

Said Trim: “They stumbled upon a fascinating finding: the length of the workday didn’t matter much. What mattered was how people structured their day. In particular, people who were strict about taking short breaks were far more productive than those who worked longer hours.”

The ideal work-to-break ratio was 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of rest. They didn’t check Facebook or get distracted by e-mails. When they felt fatigue after about an hour, they took short breaks, during which they completely separated themselves from their work.

The brain wants an hour on, 15 minutes off

People who have discovered this ‘magic’ productivity ratio tapped into a fundamental need of the human mind: the brain naturally functions in spurts of high energy (roughly an hour) followed by spurts of low energy (15–20 minutes).

“For most of us, this natural ebb and flow of energy leaves us wavering between focused periods of high energy followed by far less productive periods, when we tire and succumb to distractions,” Trim noted.

Instead of working for an hour or more and then trying to battle through distractions and fatigue, when your productivity begins to dip, take this as a sign that it’s time for a break.

Boss your workday

The 8-hour workday can only work well for you if you break your time into strategic intervals that aligns with your natural energy. Here are the best ways to do it:

Break your day into hourly intervals – We naturally plan what we need to accomplish by the end of the day, the week, or the month, but we’re far more effective when we focus on what we can accomplish right now. “Planning your day around hour-long intervals simplifies daunting tasks by breaking them into manageable chunks,” said Trim.

Respect your hour – The interval strategy only works because we use our peak energy levels to reach an extremely high level of focus for a relatively short amount of time. When you disrespect your hour by texting or checking e-mails you defeat the entire purpose of the approach.

Take real rest – Getting away from your computer, your phone, and your to-do list is essential to boosting your productivity. Breaks such as walking, reading, and chatting are the most effective forms of recharging because they take you away from your work. On a busy day, it might be tempting to think of dealing with e-mails or making phone calls as breaks, but they aren’t, so don’t give in to this line of thought.

The wrap

“Breaking your day down into chunks of work and rest that match your natural energy levels feels good, makes your workday go faster, and boosts your productivity,” Trim concludes.

What type of boss do you have?

According to Melanie Joy Douglas, contributing write at Monster, there are 21 different kinds of bosses.

So which one do you have?

  1. The martyr

    The martyr boss has done, does, and always will do anything for the good of the company. He has worked Christmas Day, with pneumonia, in a snowstorm. He walked to and from work for 5 weeks after his car accident, with both legs broken. He stays every night until 8 pm without extra pay. How do you compete? You don’t. You listen. He’ll probably be there way past retirement, so it’s best to learn how to deal with him early on.

  2. The screamer

    The screamer boss seems to think that he will get his way if he raises his voice to an unconscionable level: the higher the volume, the higher the commitment. How does a screamer end up a boss? Some clueless hiring managers equate screaming with managerial skill. All in all, screamers just want to know that they’re being heard, and they want recognition. If you can get along with your screamer boss, and gain his respect and trust, perhaps you can help guide him to lower tones.

  3. The fearmonger

    People do what a “fearsome” boss says because they’re afraid of him, which actually encourages further intimidation. He always has a threat, and he constantly follows through with that threat in order to keep his employees acquiescent. This boss has a high turnover rate as he fires employees to keep up the fear factor, and good employees leave him, refusing to work for such an ogre. A fearsome boss cannot last. Eventually, he will burn out every employee he has, and an organization’s bottom line cannot sustain the costs involved. Karma will get this one.

  4. The manipulator

    Also known as the Machiavellian boss, this type is extremely intelligent and one of the most dangerous. The manipulator boss is highly focused, very motivated, and always has a secret plan. He looks at people as a means to an end. The world is a giant pyramid and the apex is his. People he touches or runs over on the way to the top are casualties he writes off. If you work for a manipulator, watch your back. Your best bet is to be open and honest with him. Volunteer information. Your boss, who has long forgotten what truth is, will be left impressed by it.

  5. The bumbler

    The bumbler boss is the dunce of the bosses. The best way to deal with your bumbler boss is to help get him promoted. When bumblers are promoted, they are notorious for promoting the people underneath them. Besides, sooner than later, executives will see your boss for the dunce that he is, and he’ll be shipped off somewhere. Now of course, following this advice makes you somewhat of a manipulator, but if you can’t get out from under him, why not help you both climb up? You’re not responsible for what happens at the top.

  6. The clueless boss

    The clueless boss is not dumb – he’s just uneducated. Perhaps he just started with the company, is unfamiliar with the technology, or is temporarily out-of-touch due to personal problems. A clueless boss can be a good boss who is just off-track at the moment. The best way to deal with this type of boss is to teach him, and bring him up to speed. You’ll be surprised at how fast he comes around, and he’ll have you to thank!

  7. The old-schooler

    The old-schooler dwells on the good ol’ days, on “the way things used to be.” However, if he is so entrenched in the past, eventually he will stop being able to function in the present. An old-school boss, despite his resistance to move on, does have a great deal of information and can contribute to the best interests of your organization, as long as he is able to accept gradual amounts of change with guidance. Be patient, and try to remember that “new” is not necessarily better – it’s “different.” See if you can get him to that point.

  8. The God boss

    The god boss, a true megalomaniac, is about power. You’ll notice the engraved gold plate on his office door, desk, and chair proclaiming his rank. He might take outrageous liberties like having an employee clean out his car. When you question him, he’ll just point to the gold plates. Rest assured that his cloak of power hides great incompetence. How to get along with a god boss? Humour him. Follow his rules, and create the illusion you’re doing things his way. Remember, he’ll never control your mind.

  9. The Teflon boss

    This non-stick boss is especially prominent in public affairs. Any blame slides right off him. He does not give straight answers to straight questions. If something goes wrong, unparalleled documented evidence surfaces to prove he was somewhere else at the time. The non-stick boss is more of a nuisance than a danger. When
    dealing with him, it’s best to keep detailed accounts and records of your conversations.

  10. The ‘what boss?’

    The what boss? is always missing in action. He becomes harmless because he’s just never there. When he’s in the office, take advantage of his presence. You’ll feel miffed at the lack of justice – you slaving in your cubicle eight hours a day, five days a week for half his salary, while he’s out on the golf course… but remember – it could be much worse. You could have a screamer.

  11. The paranoid boss

    The paranoid boss is outright suspicious of everyone’s motives. Anything anyone does could be attempts to undermine him. This boss’ feelings of inadequacy will clearly end up interfering in what’s best for the company and his employees. What you can do? Reassure him, and always be honest and forthright.

  12. The world-on-their-shoulders boss

    Though this boss might present himself as tough, he can barely hide his inadequacies. He absorbs the world’s worries, and worries for the world. He frets about little details. He arrives at the office in the morning, flushed and frazzled, because he was lying awake the night before agonizing over numbers and orders. How to deal? Be gentle, but try to avoid much interaction if you can. The nervousness can be contagious.

  13. The buzzword boss

    The buzzword boss loves his designer clothes, cars, pen, and toothbrush. What he loves even more are those clichés he heard at the latest management seminar. Get your barf buckets ready folks, this boss adores the fact that, remarkably, there’s no “I” in team, that he can’t spell success without “u,” and that for him to assume would make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” Though not for the easily queasy, this boss is essentially harmless. Grin and bear it. And, if you can – teach him some new words on a regular basis.

  14. The buddy boss

    The buddy boss wants to be your friend, not your “superior.” He wants you to like him, and because friends stick up for friends, it might be a good investment to spend some time with him. However, be forewarned: hanging out with buddy boss during your work hours could have you working nights to keep up. The key here is balance.

  15. The two-minute boss

    The two-minute boss is a cross between a god boss and a world-on-his-shoulders boss. He impulsively demands control over situations (“What have you done when I was on vacation?”) and then cuts off your answer two minutes in because he doesn’t have time to discuss it. He frequently, yet randomly, asks you to write reports on your progress, but will rarely remember that he’s asked. The two-minute boss constantly gives the impression that he is way too busy to bother with details. His head is always somewhere else – somewhere more important. Working for this boss is an exercise in the art of speaking concisely. Try to fit everything you have to say in a two-minute timeframe, and see what happens.

  16. The patronising boss

    The patronising boss is an old-school martyr. Didn’t you know? – he built the company from the ground up! In fact, he made the chair you’re sitting in. You, as an underling, need his holiness’s guidance to see you through the most mundane and simple of tasks. His help, however, always leads to – you guessed it – trouble. How to deal with the King of Condescension? Try a little deflation. Ask him how is it that someone as knowledgeable and talented as him is working for this little company.

  17. The idiot

    The idiot boss is characterised by cluelessness and stupidity. It’s as if he just walked into the office yesterday and started running it. Your choices here can be limited. Doing nothing will leave you embittered, but what can you do when you can’t change an idiot? Well, you can change your reaction. The world is full of idiots in charge, but don’t let it get you down. Do your personal best, and realize that in some way, your boss serves a purpose. Figure out what it is.

  18. The lone wolf

    The lone wolf prefers to ride solo. He stays in his office or works from home, avoiding human contact, especially employee interaction. He could be a tech whiz who was promoted based on his outstanding hard skills, but he’s not necessarily a people person. The lone wolf boss leaves you on your own, so don’t expect teamwork or career goal discussions. Look to build your work and networking relationships elsewhere.

  19. The perfectionist

    The perfectionist is a micro-manager who likes to control all of your work. The behaviour is obsessive, and leaves you with very little trust in your own abilities. Over time, you’ll learn that nothing you do will ever be good enough for him. Instead of losing all motivation, learn to work for yourself and your own standards. At one point, sit down with your boss and ask him to explain his expectations (even put them in writing) so you both can “get on the same page.”

  20. The eccentric

    The eccentric boss has unrealistic expectations for his staff. He has a unique way of completing his work, and expects his employees to work in the same manner. He can be gentle, but often causes confusion around his expectations and explanations of projects. This boss is likely to play favourites (as he gravitates towards others with similar interests). The eccentric boss would most likely rather be doing something else, and sometimes this will show.

  21. The great boss

    Ahh, the great boss – the supportive motivator – the boss who treats everyone with fairness regardless of politics. He communicates, keeps an open door policy, and encourages others to follow suit. He leads by example, provides superior training, and a positive work environment. He has vision, is not afraid, and doesn’t scream. He coaches his staff, and when employees leave, they will talk about him for years to come.

By Melanie Joy Douglas for hiring.monster.com

After the landmark sexual harassment case involving Real Security was reported in 2003 I warned employers of the dire consequences if they do not take decisive preventive action. The automatically unfair dismissal claim was based on the fact that the employee was forced to resign because her employer allowed her to be discriminated against by the supervisor who sexually harassed her.

The Court cited section 60 of the EEA that says:

(1) “If it is alleged that an employee, while at work, contravened a provision of this Act, or engaged in any conduct that, if engaged in by the employee’s employer, would constitute a contravention of this Act, the alleged conduct must immediately be brought to the attention of the employer.

(2) The employer must consult all the relevant parties and must take all the necessary steps to eliminate the alleged conduct and comply with the provisions of this Act.

(3) If the employer fails to take the necessary steps and it is prove that the employee has contravened the relevant provisions, the employer must be deemed also to have contravened that provision.”

The Court awarded the employee compensation for unfair dismissal, unfair discrimination, medical expenses, pain, suffering and impairment of her dignity. In total she was awarded R82000,00 which equated to 41 months’ pay which is almost three and a half years’ pay.

Despite the warning that the outcome of this case sounded, employers are still not implementing measures to prevent sexual harassment and are obviously still losing cases in the Labour Court.

For example, in the recently decided case of Christian vs Colliers Properties (2005, 5 BLLR 479) Ms Christian was appointed as a typist by the employer. Two days after starting work the owner of the business asked her if she had a boyfriend and invited her to dinner. He also invited her to sit on his lap and kissed her on the neck. When she later objected to the owner’s conduct he asked her whether she was “in or out”. When she said that she was “not in” he asked her why he should allow her employment to continue. She was dismissed with two days pay and referred a sexual harassment dispute.

In a default judgement the Court decided that:

• The employee had been dismissed for refusing the owner’s advances

• This constituted an automatically unfair dismissal based on sexual discrimination

• Newly appointed employees are as deserving of protection from sexual harassment as are their longer serving colleagues

The employer had to pay the employee:

• 24 months’ remuneration in compensation

• Additional damages

• Interest on the amounts to be paid

• The employee’s legal costs

13 years after this case decision employers are still getting into trouble because they fail to utilise the best available labour law expertise to:

• Inculcate acceptance that a business can be ruined financially by allowing sexual harassment to occur

• Design a comprehensive sexual harassment policy

• Ensure that every owner, manager and employee understands the severe consequences of committing such acts

• Communicate to all concerned that such misconduct will result in severe penalties including possible dismissal

• Ensure that all employees feel entirely free to report sexual harassment.

• Train all employees in the abovelisted issues as well as in what constitutes sexual harassment, how to deal with it, where to report it and the company’s supportive policy towards sexual harassment victims

By lvan lsraelstam, chief executive of Labour Law Management Consulting

Customers from hell – part 3

Nobody likes dealing with miserable people, and in parts 1 and 2 of this series we looked at how important issues of self-image and self-esteem created unhappiness and obnoxious behaviour. I also discussed that there are serious consequences that both you and the unfortunate other party have to deal with when we are unable to resolve problems and complaints effectively. In this final article I want to share some more practical ideas for dealing with these.

In any “customer from hell” situation, we need to assume that you have made all efforts to deal reasonably with the unhappiness. An easy way to remember what to do is summarised in the acronym LESTER.

• Listen carefully to what the unhappy customer is complaining about
• Empathise with them
• Say sorry and apologise
• Thank them for bringing it to your attention, and for having the courage to complain rather than just bad-mouthing your business, defecting to a rival, or worse. And then, when they are calm
• Explore options and explain what you can do, and finally
• Rectify the problem with a win:win solution, (following up to make sure it was truly resolved.)

But we are not dealing with normal, unhappy customers and their complaints and problems in this article. We are discussing the emotional, irrational, illogical and unreasonable customers from hell that don’t respond to all of your efforts to help them. You must be able to protect yourself from such individuals, because of the awful effect that they have on you. That one person that you have to deal with makes you forget the other 99% of nice people that you deal with on a day-to-day basis. The terrible memories of this encounter will stay vividly in your mind for a very long time. It makes work very unpleasant, and is demoralising and demotivating for everyone involved. Most importantly, it starts eating away at your own confidence, esteem and self-worth.

There are a few choices that you have in dealing with these customers…

• Laugh it off: Not always easy, but remember it’s mostly their problem, not yours. Of course, they will do their best to get you caught up in their problem – and their dramas.

• Just accept their behaviour, and allow the abuse to continue. It may be that this customer from hell is too important to your business, or has too much power for you to deal with. I don’t like this option, however, because if you allow the abuse to continue, it will continue, and maybe get even worse. More importantly what about the effect that this has on you? If you have no choice, protect yourself from these individuals by talking to somebody, or by taking out your frustrations somehow. Remember that ships don’t sink because of the water around them… They sink because of the water that gets in them. Are you going to allow this to happen in your life, and allow things to weigh you down? Do anything to let it go. Alternatively, just laugh it off.

• Confront with equal aggression: also not a good choice most of the time, because they will not like it, and the resulting consequences may be even worse. Also, don’t forget that passive aggression where you come up with creative ways of taking revenge on them or putting them down, is just as bad as real aggression.

• Confront assertively, by interrupting them in a firm voice to say something like this: “Mr. Smith, I want to help you, but I can’t do that while you are aggressive/abusive/shouting at me. Will you allow me to do so?” This is particularly important when customers become abusive and threaten you, bully you, insult you or even get physically violent. You need to be able to “draw a line in the sand” so to speak, and to let them know that their behaviour is not acceptable.

• Put the ball in their court. You may want to try this out: tell them that you have now come to the point where you have exhausted all of your options. You have tried everything in your power to help them, and they have not responded. “What do you want me to do?” There are three possible answers to this question. First, they may tell you what they want, and it’s impossible for you to do that, so you are going to have to say “No.” Second, they may tell you what they want, and you are able to respond to that, in which case do it and move on. But there is also a third possibility: they don’t respond, because they can’t think of anything else that you can do. At this stage, they may come to the realization that you have done your best, but don’t expect them to readily admit that. But at least they may become more reasonable.

• Cut the anchor: let them go. This is a tricky one, and we suggest that you check it out with your manager first. But if the abuse is becoming too much for you to deal with, you could say something like: “Mr. Jones, I am uncomfortable with all of the swearing and insults that you are shouting at me. With the greatest respect to you, I am now going to walk away, (or put the telephone down. Goodbye” And then walk away or put the telephone down softly. (In fact, pass them onto your competitors!) Don’t wrestle with pigs. It will get you all muddy and the pigs will love it.
• Just keep trying to sort it out, whatever it takes. If you do manage to turn them around, and you keep trying everything you can to turn them around, you may find a customer for life. What often helps is if you in fact tell them that you will not give up on them, ever.

Some final thoughts

• It’s obvious that you need a really great sense of humour to be able to deal with these abusive customers, and, as one author put it, “A thick skin is a gift from God.”

• David may have fought Goliath – but he didn’t choose to wrestle him. Choose your battles carefully

• Don’t take things personally. Remember that what people say is more a reflection of them, their reality, not a reflection of you.

• Be kind to unkind people – they need it the most

I’d like to end off with a line from one of my favourite lines from the poem “If,” written by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs’, and blaming it on you…
Then yours is the earth and everything that’s on it.

By Aki Kalliatakis, managing partner of Leadership Launchpad

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