Working at a Startup: Identifying the Office Bully

Life at Fonolo | 3 minute read

Working At A Startup Part 4The other day, I was in an impromptu meeting with one of my colleagues when Shai hovered over my shoulder, anxious to have his blog post edited – right away.

Jokingly, we called him a hoverer, chastised him about being a micromanager (which he’s not) and had a really good laugh. All day we took jabs at one another – ok, I took jabs at everyone – about being bullies. The reality is, we have a family vibe at Fonolo, so our teasing is comparable to how siblings would act – it’s all out of love.

But it got me thinking.  In a small startup, we were able to make light of this one instance of hovering but employees in larger organizations don’t have that liberty.

Despite Shai walking around, fearlessly waving his finger gun, he’s not even close to being an office bully – but what if he was? How do employees recognize the office bully, better yet, how do they deal with those delicate situations?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing different types of office bullies, what ‘they’ might look like at a startup and large organization and how to handle the situation. Understanding your work ethic and personality type, the comparison might prove to be helpful if you’re weighing the startup vs. large organization options.

Let’s get started with …

The Hoverer:

Someone who lingers over your shoulder and watches your every click. They’re intent on getting a job done and will watch your every move until the task is completed. Their claustrophobic behavior can a) be misunderstood, b) smother you to the point of quitting or c) keep you in check because you’re a slacker.

a) Misunderstood

Start-ups don’t have the time or resources to waste on dead beats. If you have a ‘hoverer’ at your desk, there’s probably urgency behind their behavior.  Recognize and respect the reason behind their hovering, make ‘light’ of the situation but get busy with what needs to be done. Be mindful that stress can be misunderstood for hovering. If the behavior is uncharacteristic, make a mental note to exercise some empathy and if it continues – call them out on it and explain your work style.

b) Smothering

Constant hovering typically stems from being a control freak and a need to micromanage. If you’re diligent with your deadlines and have a hoverer watching over you, you’re most likely dealing with an ego-driven individual. Results are important but so is the need to be left alone to get your work done – in peace.  Excessive smothering can drive you to be reclusive, not share your fabulous ideas and opinions, lash out and/or quit – none of these results are ideal.

c) Slacker

If you’re a slacker, you need the hoverer to survive. Otherwise, you’ll never learn the importance of hard work and will be sentenced to live in your parent’s house for the rest of your adult years.

Summon the Courage, Get Respect

Thankfully, it’s easier to tackle the hoverer at a startup because of the casual atmosphere. Typically, there is no formal HR department to lean on, so issues should be resolved in a quick and friendly manner. These environments are too small for tension, egos and attitude – toxic traits that can quickly cause friction and awkwardness. It’s easy enough (and important for office harmony) to have a casual one-on-one with your hoverer, let them know how their behavior is making you feel and ask them to give you some space.

Larger organizations are trickier because of corporate politics, your career path and fear of losing your job. Your first reaction might be to ‘ignore it’ but over time and in extreme cases, it can wreak havoc on your productivity and emotional stability. If confronting your hoverer isn’t an option, reach out to HR, however, be aware of departmental allies. You could be walking into an episode of Survivor.

In an effort to create your happy workspace, you have to summon the courage and speak up. Be firm (but calm) without being aggressive. Confidence will function like kryptonite against a hoverer and they’ll eventually back down and show some respect.

My blog series: ‘Working at a Startup’, discusses the pros and cons in comparison to larger organizations – pay attention, there might be some gold nuggets of wisdom that will save your hide in tough times. Come back next week, I’ll be discussing, ‘The Taskmaster’.  As always, feel free to share your thoughts in our comment section.

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