5 Types of Bullies and How Owners Should Handle Them


Bullying is a real problem in business, and can become a major issue if it’s ignored or unchecked. It’s something that can happen in any business, which successful spa owners understand and, when necessary, take steps to overcome.

Regardless of who’s doing the bullying, at the end of the day it is the owner’s responsibility to have the backbone to stand up and protect her entire team—even if it means firing good individual performers and, on occasion, loyal clients.

In fact, if you don’t own your own business but would like to, and you don’t think your personality is strong enough to handle bullies face to face, you might want to rethink becoming an owner. If you don’t, you may well find yourself unable to control your business, having to constantly face disgruntled employees and feeling continuously frustrated.

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes

There are several different kinds of bullying, and it’s essential that you know how to deal with all of them.

1. Clients bullying employees. Part of your job as an owner is to protect your employees, and that includes protecting them from abusive clients. What that means in practice is that if you see—or hear about—a client who bullies a member of your team, you have to step in and let the customer know that she is upsetting your employees. And if the client continues to act that way, she should be asked to leave.

It isn’t easy to fire a client, but once you’ve done it, it sends a message to your employees that you’re a leader they can count on to look after them. It also shows any bullies on the team that if you’re willing to fire a client, you might be willing to fire them, as well.

2. Owners bullying employees. A skunk stinks from the head down and, if the owner is a bully, it sets the stage for the rest of the team to act the same way. And they will.

The most fertile place to look for good employees are at spas where the owner is a bully, because the good ones always want to escape. So, if you’re the bully, you need to realize that you’re the problem, and that if you don’t do something about it, your business will never reach its potential. If you don’t feel you can change—and doing so is hard—you can replace yourself with someone who’s better suited to dealing with your employees or you can sell the business. It’s not an easy choice, but as the leader, you’re the one who’s ultimately responsible for the spa’s success.

3. Managers or supervisors bullying employees. Like the owner’s role, management’s role is to show leadership, create controls and processes, motivate, educate and develop an environment in which every team member can succeed. If someone at the higher levels of your company is a bully, it usually means you have the wrong person in that position, and the sooner she is released the better.

4. Employees bullying each other. Owners and managers who allow their employees to bully other employees create a problem for the whole skin care facility. It shows managerial weakness, and an uncaring attitude toward the team that creates an environment where teamwork and safe working conditions are foreign concepts, dissatisfied employees are common and success is uncommon. As an owner or manager, it’s your responsibility to let bullies know that their conduct is unacceptable and, if they don’t change, they will be gone.

5. Employees bullying managers and owners. This happens a lot more often than you might think. Management is often under pressure to produce results and, because of that, they sometimes allow good producers to dictate how a business is operated.

But you can’t let the tail wag the dog and, if a spa is going to be successful in the long run, you must have the courage to push back. This is especially true of owners. As an owner, it’s essential that you remember it’s your spa, and what you want matters. And if your authority is challenged, you have to take swift and firm action.

Bill McBean is the author of The Facts of Business Life: What Every Successful Business Owner Knows That You Don’t (Wiley, 2012).

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