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Bullying boss is responsibility of HR

Q. I am the top HR person at a company run by a terrible leader, who happens to be my boss. He yells, swears, and uses threatening language as “motivation.” He behaves like this with senior leaders, or when meeting with junior level employees. I can’t stand it anymore. Others have encouraged me to speak to him, but is that my responsibility? Should I talk to him and risk being fired, or just quit?

A. If a leader behaves in that manner, it is the responsibility of human resources and every senior executive to encourage him or her to change behavior. Such behavior presents a legal liability to the organization as it could be perceived as creating a hostile work environment. It has a negative impact on every person involved in the business.

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I recognize you feel you are putting your job on the line. You probably are. But as the top HR person, it is your responsibility to bring this behavior to his attention. If you have a board of directors, approach the chairman. Discuss positive leadership qualities your boss has and the need for a conversation with him. Offer a solution. Perhaps this behavior can change with the help of an executive coach.

The chairman should have the conversation with your boss, but if he or she chooses not to, it is up to you. Let the chairman know your job is at risk and you will return for support as needed. Document everything. Draft a resume, too. Chances are you won’t want to stay unless your boss changes.

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Arrange a meeting. Have real examples of his bullying behavior and address the impact this has. If you can quantify the costs, such as unwanted turnover, do so. Propose the coaching solution, showing him you are acting as a trusted adviser to ensure his success and longevity.

He may not agree with you. But you will have served the organization by confronting this issue.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
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