In-house Issues: Double-down On The Put-down

I was reading an opinion piece in this week’s Sunday New York Times about the prevalence of the bullying of nurses by doctors and the detrimental impact it ultimately has on patient care. The author noted that while the offending doctors were in the minority and many of the instances were not blatantly abusive, the condescending nasty behaviors were damaging and corrosive enough to the entire industry’s culture and the self-esteem and confidence of the nurses that a number of studies of the phenomenon recommended swift and decisive action. The bottom line was that nurses who were the victims of this type of bullying were less inclined to inform or challenge the bully doctors on their errors and the bullying behavior tended to infect the entire organization with nurses picking on younger hires, residents abusing interns and on and on.

The parallels to the company/designer dynamic are hard to ignore. Actually in-house designers are in a worse position than the nurses as they’re vulnerable not only to the potential bullying by upper managers but, unlike their non-design peers, they may be victimized by their clients as well. As with the nurses, the offenses may not be blatant or practiced by a majority of clients or managers. They often show up as sarcastic quips, nasty tones, abrupt emails, unreasonable demands and lack of responsiveness to requests for support.

As subtle and seemingly acceptably benign as these behaviors may appear, along with the fact that the bully clients and managers are (hopefully) in the minority, they should absolutely not be tolerated. This issue is difficult to address, though, because designers, when they do attempt to confront this type of behavior are told that they’re not being a team player, they’re not practicing good customer service, the client could dump the in-house team in favor of an outside agency, the work still has to get done and (the ace in the hole) that they’re behaving like prima donnas. They should rest assured that they’re not.

When designers accept a job at a company, they are accepting the mandate that they perform their assigned functions to the best of their ability. What they are not signing on for is the requirement that they tolerate abuse in any of its blatant or more subtle guises. Actually, it is all designers’ responsibility to their company to challenge this type of behavior because of the overall negative impact it wreaks on the company’s efficiency and quality of work.

I’m not naïve enough to ignore the fact that nasty bosses and clients have been and are tolerated at all levels of the corporate hierarchy, but I am very clear that, just like in grade school, if bullying is not called out and confronted, it will persist and corrode, personal self esteem, corporate culture and the performance of everyone in the organization.

It is every designer’s right to be treated with respect and it is their duty to responsibly challenge abusive behavior by addressing it with the offender, their managers and their human resources department the moment it occurs.