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Home | Got a Minute | Bullying and harassment | No. 92 – I’m the CEO but my staff are bullying me. What do I do?

No. 92 – I’m the CEO but my staff are bullying me. What do I do?

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1 February 2023

I am in an unusual situation where I am the CEO, and I am being bullied by two of my staff members. They are both smart, articulate and argumentative and I find myself having to have support staff for any meetings with them; it’s got to the point where I feel sick every day that I go to work. They undermine me publicly, tell me what work that they will and won’t do and have team meetings that I am excluded from. I have always been kind and considerate to all my staff, so this is a shock. It seems, as employees, that they have all the power and I have none.

You are the CEO – that means you do have the power to change the situation you are in. You can either remove yourself from the job if it is too stressful for you to handle, or else you can deal with one or both of the employees causing so many issues. The fact that you have to support other staff to work with them as well should be all you need to know to act. Being kind and considerate to staff is important for any leader, of course, but you also need to be able to act decisively when needed.

I would recommend you speak to your HR partner or whoever provides you with employment advice and let them know the inappropriate behaviour by two staff members has to end (and this may involve performance counselling and/or job loss); ask them to support you to do that as quickly as possible. There will be a process to go through and there will be a range of legal issues for you to consider.

However, it is imperative – and I really can’t emphasise this enough – it is imperative you act. Currently, you are not fulfilling your duties as CEO, and I am confident that others in your organisation see what is happening and are frustrated by your lack of action. Seek the support you need to improve the culture and if you are unable to do this, I would seriously consider whether the role of CEO is the right one for you.

I have been offered an outstanding new role but am on a two-month notice period with my current employer. The new company is keen to get me in for a handover before the person in the role now leaves. I can’t find anything in my current contract prohibiting this. Do you think it is OK for me to do a handover while employed at my existing company on my unpaid days off? And would this matter if I was paid for the handover?

The most important thing for you to do in this situation is be upfront with everyone. Let your new employer know you would like to help but need to make sure your current employer is comfortable with that. Ask your current employer whether they would be comfortable with you spending some unpaid leave at your new company to be given a handover of duties.

Unless it is a competitor business or something else that may make this a conflict of interest in some way, they may be understanding and agree. If for whatever reason they say no, I think you need to respect that and inform your new employer that unfortunately you won’t be able to start with them in any capacity until your official start date. Everyone will understand and this way you are being respectful and honest to all.

I have worked for myself for more than 10 years and have recently thought about heading back to regular paid employment as my children get older. I have applied for a number of positions and a) find it difficult to get in touch with the contact person in job advertisements to ask them questions and b) when I have been unsuccessful with an application, it is virtually impossible to get feedback. In an environment where we are constantly told there are skill shortages and labour resourcing difficulties, do you have any advice on how to overcome these two challenges?

I hear this complaint so often about online job searches as CVs disappear into the ether with little to no feedback on what might have gone wrong when the role doesn’t eventuate. It sounds like it may be worthwhile going and speaking with a recruiter or two and letting them know what areas of work you are qualified to do and the kinds of jobs you are interested in. You will be able to develop a relationship with a recruiter who will also be able to help provide you with feedback on your applications as well as any advice on the kinds of roles you might like to consider. They will also be able to understand your particular career history and help put that in context for a potential employer.

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