What Happens When the Bully Is a Co-owner? (Part II of II)


What Happens When the Bully Is a Co-owner? (Part II of II)

In this second of a two-part series, I’m outlining some of the strategies I would recommend to business owners who find themselves in a position where, from the behaviour of one of their co-owners, their business could be facing a complaint of workplace bullying.

Please read Part I, to follow the true story of Mandy (employee) and Joseph (joint business owner and alleged bully).

Understanding the seriousness of bullying complaints, I would start by questioning, to comprehend from their perspective, what’s been happening. Depending on the situation, I could do this:

  • with each owner and then present a summary to all owners to hear and discuss; or
  • with all owners at once; or
  • a combination of the above.

If the owners were willing, I could also speak with some employees to help me understand the situation from both perspectives.

Next, I would also ask the business owners for statistics on their staff turnover. People leave a business for various reasons; to relocate, to develop their career, to study or because something is wrong at work. Having a small number of staff and a high turnover can mean there is something wrong with how staff believe they are being treated at work.

Then I would emphasise the implications a high staff turnover due to bullying, or perceived bullying can have on the reputation of their Small Business. For example, they will find it harder to attract great staff; after all, who would willingly want to work at a place where they know they are going to be bullied?

And in this day and age, where some people feel compelled to ‘out’ inappropriate behaviours through social media, the impact of such as message (true or not) to potential clients would be a branding nightmare to manage. Business owners might be able to pay people to work for them, but they will find it hard (and expensive) to pay people to buy their product or service if their reputation has been damaged in this way.

The cost of continually replacing employees eats into business profits as money is spent on having to constantly train people who are not yet 100% productive and costs will also need to be allocated to either a recruiter to source new employees or to an existing employee, who is taken away from their business-as-usual duties, to manage the recruitment process.

Once I am comfortable the owners are aware of the gravity of this situation, I would also let them know their employees have rights to go to the Fair Work Commission and the first the owners hear of it may be through a formal letter from the Commission. (The Commission does recommend employees speak with their employer first, but it’s not mandatory.)

If something as serious as how people are being treated hasn’t been addressed before now among the owners, I consider that they may not have the skills to have this type of conversation with each other. There could, of course, be other factors in play, such as one owner may have contributed most of the funds, and therefore is considered to hold a higher position than others. Again, this I something I would need to consider during my discovery of the issues.

Throughout my recommendations, I would be highlighting the legislation and their requirement as owners, to follow it, regardless of ‘personality clashes’ or other reasons with employees. I would also be able to offer and model, strategies on how to have conversations with people in a respectful manner.

As Small Business owners, we are under the same bullying laws as the big end of town and we, like them, have no option but to rise and meet this challenge of managing staff well. We’re not going to get on with every employee we hire, but we can ensure their experience of working with us provides another avenue to tell the world, and in particular our potential clients, how great our business is.

Now, do you need to address your business partner’s behaviours?

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