The issue of throwing someone or being thrown under the bus is not new especially in a business environment. It is a subject I have addressed in years past via an e-book written on this very subject. And yet, during the past two years we have been living and working in a world heavily impacted by COVID. That IS new and as such this has expanded the potential and actual occurrence of this unpleasant experience.
Generally, in business, bullying of this nature is manifested in a couple of ways. On one hand it is done by a ‘boss’ who takes credit for work accomplished by one of her/his reports. Or, secondly, it can also be levied by a co-worker who wants to have recognition for work done by someone else. As such, in either case, they are willing to claim work as their own often to achieve some advancement and recognition. Interestingly, this occurs at times of both scarce and excess job availability. In both situations it often has to do with a person wanting to avoid responsibility for their own failures and inadequacies by taking credit for the work of another.
The intention here is to explore new ways in which the tendency to do this to others has been increased in the past two years. The struggle to adapt to the changed workplace be it office or home has clearly contributed to new ways that many are and/or feel ‘thrown’.
Characteristics of leaders inclined to send others under the bus
To throw someone under the bus may be defined as “to betray or sacrifice a person, particularly for the sake of one’s own advancement. Or, as a means of safeguarding one’s own interests. (Merriam-Webster) It definitely is not something that anyone seeks to have happen to them. It is something that others use to demonstrate their power, self-perceived superiority and unwittingly, their insecurity. So, the question has always been what makes another inclined to do this. Here are key goals of this individual that have been a challenge in this COVID world:
- The drive for power over others Isn’t the ability to see the employee or team an easier way to demonstrate as the person in charge? That individual’s presence is always around when in the office.
Remotely? Requires new creative ways to convey one’s authority and that has required new learning that has proven a struggle for some to learn and do.
- The drive to create and win some competition … for advancement and recognition
It’s easy to convey one’s position and one’s achievements when surrounded by others on the team. Both visual and verbal communication are natural.
Remotely? This requires one to devise new communication methods in both directions to convey one’s contribution to achievements and be rightfully recognized for them.
- The view of their responsibility as being in control of other reports
Control when working together under one roof provides a visual presence that supports the recognition of a leader responsible for overseeing their group.
Remotely? The likes of zoom and/or phone conversations require one to convey their same leadership responsibility. And these tools are comparatively impersonal and distant.
Characteristics of employees who have experienced an increase in seeing the underside of a bus
With COVID came significant changes in work routines. Going to an office became and remains either not yet existent or has re-emerged on a reduced basis. Surveys reveal that even a few years from now, remote work is destined to play at least a part of the employee’s routine. The things that have and are impacting performance and thus make some targets of bus throwers include:
- A question of trust
This person gets a keen sense that they are reporting to someone who simply doesn’t trust them. How could they be working with the same dedication and effort remotely. This employee becomes easier to blame for perceived failure in completing projects or meeting deadlines, actual or imagined.
- Added responsibilities associated with working from home especially when there are children involved.
The employee has had to learn how to juggle all responsibilities in the remote environment. This means that although they are determined to complete all expected work, it is often intermingled with real and needed interruptions. This feeds the ‘boss’s’ concern and has provided a scapegoat to blame when something doesn’t happen as needed or intended.
- A redefinition of a good and loyal employee as one available at any and all times during the day … regardless of time of day.
Expecting employees to perform their job remotely without a concern for other responsibilities is a frequent and expressed complaint voiced by employees. And any resistance to being available as such has been interpreted as a disloyal team member. Once again, this person is an easier target on whom blame can be placed for failures encountered.
- Different living circumstances between and among employees that create distension between and among them
Someone working remotely and juggling added responsibilities has challenges that don’t compare to a co-worker who lives alone or without child responsibilities. Thus, the latter just knows they are working harder and making a better contribution. As such they have used this to shine a negative light on the other person.
Things that have contributed to sending others under the bus in this COVID world
The past two years have introduced several unfamiliar aspects related to managing or being managed. Here are some key realities:
- Absence makes allows the imagination to run wild
If I can’t see you then I don’t know what you are doing during the workday and my skepticism just tells me that you can’t be putting in a full day’s effort. With such lack of trust the boss is expecting that one will not be as productive as they should be. Of course, the amount of work can be seen however, a ‘boss’ just knows that someone working remotely can’t be as productive as they were. Where’s the bus?
- The boss must learn how to successfully lead with fully or partially remote teams
As effective and successful as a leader has been in their role pre-COVID, a majority have had no or limited experience in leading people who are scattered. Unfortunately, when a bump is encountered in expected work, it has sometimes resulted in someone being blamed. Again, Where’s the bus?
- Staff reductions created by employer or employee
These have led leaders to expect more from those who remain and some of this has been accompanied by a reduction in compensation. Thus, the employee feels taken advantage of and rather than appreciation is given blame for not being accepting of this. This bus feels extremely heavy.
Here’s the reality with which many must deal. COVID emerged and those impacted had little or no experience in how to effectively deal with or manage the changes that were forced upon so many on both ends of the work spectrum. Transitioning to working remotely or leading a remote team brought with it a lot of growing pains. Unfortunately, the learning curve has had many experience the likes of being thrown under the bus.
To say that we are well past the height of the problem would be a misstatement as it has always been said that we will and are emerging into a ‘new’ normal. It is one that has new ways in which work is completed, by whom and in varying work environments. Hopefully, as more realize and accept this, they will also have learned methods to lead effectively in such an environment. As an employee, one will have learned how to communicate her/his needs, have them recognized and respected. This person will also have been able to demonstrate their value through the contributions they make to the desired success. In no way am I suggesting that progress and learning has not taken place. However, current research clearly indicates that we’re not settled into this evolving new normal. Throwing others under the bus is messy. Of course, keeping our streets clean is a great goal!
P.S. The e-book previously written on this issue is entitled ‘Being Thrown Under the Bus’. Clicking on this link will take you to it.