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Addressing Unintentional Employee Bullying in Small Business

Employee bullying can and should be avoided

Running a small business comes with its own set of challenges, and as a CEO, it's crucial to be mindful of the impact your leadership style can have on your team. Inadvertent bullying of employees is a common issue that can arise, often stemming from unintended behaviors. Let's explore four root causes and effective fixes to foster a healthier work environment.

Lack of Self-awareness

Root Cause: Many small business CEOs may inadvertently bully their employees due to a lack of self-awareness. Dismissive communication or high expectations can create a toxic atmosphere. Even behaviors you may think are positive or uplifting may not be received as such by your team.

Fix: Cultivate self-awareness through regular reflection and feedback. Encourage open communication with your team, seeking constructive input on your leadership style. This is an incredibly hard skill to master for many CEOs, as their hard work ethic and singular drive got them this far, didn’t it? Engaging in leadership development programs can enhance your awareness, help you refine your approach, and strengthen your humility muscle.

Unrealistic Expectations

Root Cause: CEOs may set unrealistic expectations, whether purposefully or not, leading to stress and anxiety among employees. When goals seem unattainable, it can create a sense of constant pressure and contribute to a negative work environment. The demands on a CEO are enormous, but the onus is on them to learn and know their limits as well as those of their team.

Fix: Set clear and realistic expectations for your team. Prioritize effective communication to ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. Foster a culture of collaboration and acknowledging achievements, no matter how small, to motivate your employees. Where possible, delegate certain tasks and projects to teams who can actually manage them effectively.

Micromanagement Tendencies

Root Cause: Small business CEOs often wear many hats, and the desire to maintain control can inadvertently lead to micromanagement. Constantly scrutinizing employees' work can be perceived as distrust, resulting in demotivation and stress. When I began working from home full-time, my wife’s first and clearest boundary was that I avoid this exact behavior. There is nothing more deflating than to have worked successfully in your workplace for years only to have an outside source try to tell you how to do every little thing.

Fix: Trust your team by empowering them with autonomy. Delegate responsibilities based on individual strengths and provide the necessary resources and support. Outsourcing executive coaching services can expedite the growth of those abilities. Sometimes that support comes by nurturing soft skills. Be sure your teams know that those are available, as well. Lastly, establish regular check-ins to stay informed without stifling creativity and productivity.

Ineffective Conflict Resolution

Root Cause: Unresolved conflicts can and will escalate if they are not addressed quickly and effectively. We have discussed how the dynamics of venture funding can add to your stress. After a depleting board meeting, CEOs could unintentionally contribute to bullying by ignoring or mishandling conflicts among team members by perpetuating that stress. Creating or working in a hostile work environment is the last thing anyone wants in the workplace. But many fall into this trap due to the lack of systems in place for these particular issues.

Fix: Develop a robust conflict resolution strategy. Encourage open communication and create a safe space for employees to express concerns. Implementing mediation or involving a neutral third party can help address conflicts before they escalate. The hardest fix? Lead by example, demonstrating healthy conflict resolution behaviors. This requires a healthy understanding of your limits and personal needs and being sure to care for them regularly, not just when there are fires to put out.

As a small business CEO, recognizing and addressing unintentional employee bullying is crucial for fostering a positive and productive workplace. Be a source for your company’s and employee’s success by cultivating self-awareness, setting realistic expectations, avoiding micromanagement, and implementing effective conflict resolution strategies. You can create an environment where you and your team feel valued and supported. Remember, small changes in leadership behavior can lead to significant positive impacts on your business and the professional and personal wellbeing of your employees.


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