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How to handle harsh colleagues when you work in banking

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Some bankers cross the line and behave like bullies.

Anyone working in the financial services arena knows that being a broker, trader, analyst or even C-suite executive is not for the meek. Trading floors, brokerage houses and other financial services firms are known for being rough-and-tumble environments where employees are rewarded well financially but pushed to limits unmatched in other fields. There is pressure on many levels, coupled with long hours and, often, individuals who use fear, intimidation and profane language to push employees to perform above and beyond.

From my perspective as a corporate trainer – and a guy once worked at a “soul-sucking” job that almost cost me my life – much of what goes on in such workplaces is harassment and, in many cases, outright bullying.

Workplace bullying is not OK

If you work in a place where there is a toxic culture of incivility, gossip and backstabbing, and if you and your coworkers are miserable to the point that work is affecting your health, your family, your productivity and even your faith in humanity, then there’s a chance that you are being bullied at the office. It’s a fact that too many people who work in the finance industry are in significant emotional and psychological pain due in large part to their jobs.

The question is not really whether or not this is happening, but what we as employees can do about it. In my mind, we have a responsibility to end generations of professional suffering and to begin a revolution in workplaces throughout Wall Street, the U.S. and ideally the world.

To those who are thinking about now that I’m a wuss, or that people should know what they’re getting into when they take a certain job – they should buck up or leave – there’s more to the story. This kind of behavior is costing financial services firms millions, if not billions, of dollars.

Every employee who leaves a job costs a company one and a half times that person’s former salary for replacement, retraining, changes in health insurance and more. In addition to the human aspect, there’s a significant financial incentive to act to retain talented employees.

Bullies are really cowards who seek power and control over other people because they think it will eliminate their fear. We need to work together to eliminate the bullies, so our workplaces can be healthy, exciting and productive environments and we can go home at night with a healthy outlook to provide support to our families with more than just our paychecks and bonuses. Believe me, there can be civility and mutual respect as we also hold people accountable and lead others effectively.

What you can do about workplace bullying

My suggestion is that employees mobilize and work together to lead this movement by systematically creating environments where toxic behaviors are unable to thrive. That includes being fully accountable, creating necessary boundaries, forging an unstoppable attitude, standing up to the most challenging colleagues and bosses, and finding as many people as possible who are willing to join us on this journey.

My motto, taken from an African proverb, is: If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. Being invisible – or apathetic – is not a solution. Instead of complaining (although I differentiate between complaining and some necessary venting), employees should take action to find solutions – albeit together.

Specifically, what should you do?

The first step would be to confront the bully or offensive person(s) with positive feedback. Instead of outright complaining, use productive language when stating your case.

Here’s an example of three possible responses to a common problem. (Spoiler alert: Number three is the correct course of action.)

A coworker criticizes you and/or your work in front of other colleagues or customers.

1)     Aggressive response: “I’m sick and tired of you trying to one-up me in front of other people. I swear, if you do it again, you’re going to have a real problem on your hands!”

2)     Psycho response: Make up false rumors about your coworker so his credibility will be irreparably damaged the next time he tries to speak to anyone about anything.

3)     Assertive response: Pull your coworker aside privately and say: “Keith, I feel that it damages my credibility when you expose my shortcomings and correct me in front of others. If there is something you feel the need to correct, I would appreciate it if you would do it privately. Can we agree to this going forward?”

If sound reasoning doesn’t work, band together with others. Document everything. Go to human resources or upper management with concrete evidence and documentation. Make a business case for your appeal to eliminate a bully or to change the tenor of the workplace.

My advice is that you should only quit your job when it’s clear that change is not happening and is unlikely to ever happen, especially if your health is being affected.

Shola Richards, a certified emotional intelligence practitioner, director of training at UCLA Health, the university’s system of hospitals and medical offices based in Los Angeles. He is the author of the book Making Work Work: The Positivity Solution to Any Work Environment and the blog The Positivity Solution.

Photo credit: hocus-focus/GettyImages

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