July 23rd, 2014

Let’s Talk with Kalola: Screaming Mimi


Dear Kalola,

I began a job a few months ago as a bookkeeper for a medium size company. There are 8 bookkeepers in the company. There is one bookkeeper that is terrorizing everyone and the owner of the company is doing nothing about it. She screams, swears, throws things and decides what part of her job she is going to do. The best I can figure is the owner is afraid of her because he hasn’t fired her. Instead he takes her work and makes other people do it. If you approach her on a bad day to give her work that belongs to her, she will throw it at you and tell you she isn’t doing it. Then she will sit there sing real loud or start laughing like something you would see in a horror film. She is doing it on purpose. She has told me the owner isn’t going to fire her so she will do whatever she wants. I have seen her make another employee cry and I know people have quit because they can’t deal with her.

My concern is a safety issue, what if one day she really does flip out? what if someone gets serious hurt. Who is going to be held responsible? I don’t have patience for bullies and I can’t believe in the year 2014, we do not have laws to protect us from such treatment. I really hope pressure can be put on our elective officials to get things moving.

I really enjoy the work I do but I refuse to allow someone to treat me like garbage or throw things at me. Not sure what will happen when she thinks she can treat me like she does everyone else.

Linda


Dear Linda,


Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie write about bully types in their book, The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job. In their book, “Screaming Mimi” is described as follows:

“Stereotypical, but statistically rare. Chooses a public setting to showcase her or his attacks. Controls through fear and intimidation. Emotionally out of control. Impulsive. Explosive. Threat of physical violence becomes an issue. Wants to instill sense of dread. Overbearing. Self-centered, insensitive to needs of others. Very worried about being detected as an imposter. Bombast masks incompetence. Satisfies need for control by dictating the emotional climate in front of audiences who are expected to tremble as a result.”

He/she:

  • yells, screams, curses
  • barks out loud that “I AM THE BOSS!!!” and to “DO WHAT I TELL YOU!!!”
  • poisons workplace with angry outbursts, tantrums
  • intimidates through gestures: points fingers, slams things down, throws objects
  • crowds the Target’s personal space, moves close to threaten or to make the Target anxious, hovers over, sneaks up from behind to startle
  • constantly interrupts the Target during meetings and conversations
  • discounts and denies the Target’s thoughts or feelings
  • threatens job loss or punitive transfer
  • traps the Target by insisting that complaints go “up the chain of command,” starting with her (or him)

Suggestions: Do a little undercover research on your own. For example, what is the relationship between Screaming Mimi and the owner of the firm? Are they related? How long has she worked there? Has she always been a Screaming Mimi? Attempt to get to know the more senior co-workers in your group, that is, those workers that have a long history with the employer. Listen to conversations rather than ask a lot of questions or criticize. Limit your questions as too many questions or comments about the bully will bring attention to you. Lie low, listen, observe, investigate on your own without anyone knowing what you are doing. Get an overall view of the situation before attempting to tackle the bully. When the bully is having an outburst notice how your co-workers react.

If the bully has been employed for some time and has not been reprimanded for her disruptive actions or behavior to date then it is unlikely that anything will change. If this is the case, the best thing that you can do is to take care of yourself and find another job. The owner is not taking responsibility. Dividing up her work load to give to others is not the answer. It is one thing to pick up the slack for another worker who is temporarily ill or is temporarily out of the office but not to have to continually have others do her work. It is not fair to anyone in the office. Staying at this job will only become agony and cause resentment. It is not good for anyone’s health and well being to be around a raging bully on a day-to-day basis. We are all entitled to have a bad day but not when our bad day affects others.

Screaming, temper tantrums, throwing things, belligerent behavior are learned behaviors. Screaming Mimi has learned that she can get away with this behavior, and has likely been doing this all her life to get her way.

Document each incident that disrupts the workflow of the office. In your private notes that you make and keep at home indicate the date/time/location of what happened or what was said. Note if there were any witnesses. Don’t tell anyone that you are documenting. Also, make a list of workers who quit because of the bully.

Each of the bookkeepers has their own workload. Have you been asked by the owner to do the work that Screaming Mimi should be doing? Are you working overtime in order to do the work that Screaming Mimi has refused to do? Document each time you have had to work overtime in order to complete your own work as well as Screaming Mimi’s work.

If Screaming Mimi or the bully has threatened to hurt or harm you, report this to the police immediately. If she leaves threatening notes, save those notes. If she leaves threatening messages on your work phone/home phone/cell phone, don’t delete those messages. If you go to the police, ask for a police report and then obtain a copy of that report for your records. A copy of the police report can then be given to your employer and/or the HR department.

Do not make eye contact with Screaming Mimi when she is throwing a tantrum. Ignore her. Don’t engage her. Keep on doing your work and don’t look up to watch her. Or, you can calmly leave the room. If she throws something at you or anyone else, don’t pick it up. She is a drama queen who feeds off of the attention she gets. Don’t give her that attention. If you feel that it is unsafe to be in the same room, walk away to a safe location and report to HR or to the owner why you had to leave your desk. In the extreme case of workplace violence where your life or the lives of others may be in danger, call 9-1-1.

The U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as follows:

“Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers, and visitors.”

If you believe that your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). The call is free and confidential.

Keeping a bully in the workplace will cost the employer. The costs to the employer whether a worker or target has voluntarily left, been fired or involuntarily let go include costs to temporarily cover a worker’s duties such as over-time pay for other staff or temporary staff; replacement costs (i.e., advertising, search and agency fees, screening job applicants, interview and selection process, background checks, employment testing, etc.); training costs which might include orientation and on-the-job training; lost productivity; reduced morale; additional workload to other employees, etc. Increased costs to the employer for Workers’ Compensation insurance and employment practices liability insurance. Other costs include lost productivity when a worker calls in sick, reduced office morale, lost productivity due to the bully’s refusal to do work, and disruption of the work flow in the office due to the bully’s bad behavior.

No one wants to work with a bully. In your situation, the employer is not taking responsibility nor is the employer providing a safe workplace. The bully’s outbursts are disrupting the work flow of the office. No worker should have to duck to avoid being hit by a flying object that the bully has thrown. Threats, intimidation, tantrums and outbursts should not have to be tolerated in the workplace.

Never continue in a job you don’t enjoy. If you’re happy in what you’re doing, you’ll like yourself, you’ll have inner peace. And if you have that, along with physical health, you will have had more success than you could possibly imagine.” … Johnny Carson, American Comedian

Thank you for writing in and sharing your workplace story. It must be very difficult to get work done under the conditions that you describe. I am concerned about your health and well being as well as your safety on the job. Take good care of yourself.

Sincerely,

Kalola


**Click here to share your story with Kalola and to read more Let’s Talk articles.**

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 at 6:00 am and is filed under Let's Talk with Kalola. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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