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What to do when your boss makes you feel incompetent

Boss makes me feel incompetent. You do have rights. Employers must comply with the Fair work Act and discrimination laws. You can lodge a unfair dismissal claim if your dismissed in these circumstances

What to do when your boss makes you feel incompetent

When your boss makes you feel incompetent, it often seems like you are powerless to do anything. But it’s important to remember that if you are being bullied or harassed by your boss, you do have power. In this article, we outline the steps you can take to help stop your employer’s bullying and hold them accountable. If your employer makes you feel incompetent on a regular basis, read below to see how you can take action through the Fair Work Commission. And learn the types of behaviors that are considered workplace bullying.

If your boss makes you feel incompetent, you are definitely not alone. We receive many calls from workers who are experiencing the same situation. And there are many more who are in the same boat. Below, we share a real-life case of an employee whose boss made them feel incompetent on a regular basis.

Employee shares how his boss makes him feel incompetent

When your boss makes you feel incompetent by constantly devaluing your ideas and work, it can be incredibly demoralizing. This is precisely the situation that one 30-year-old man found himself in after four years of working with his 40-year-old female boss. In a Reddit post, he described how his boss makes him feel incompetent and dread turning up to work each day.

“I am afraid to come in to work every single day,” “I live every day like it could be my last.”

writes the worker.

Despite his fears, the worker loves his organisation and had great interactions with his co-workers. He had been hired full-time by his boss four years ago and had received “You Went Above and Beyond” on his performance appraisals for two years straight. However, after burning out and doing everything he could to perform well, his boss made him feel incompetent by giving him a “You Did Your Job” on his appraisal.

“I think we both know that this was how you performed,” the employer told the worker. When the worker disagreed, his employer gave him a furious look and said: “How dare you question me.” From that point on, the worker started questioning everything he did, wondering if it would be “good enough” or “right” in his boss’s mind.

Accusing and finger pointing. This a form of humiliation. To make you feel incompetent. Its a control mechanism by the employer. These are all the signs of a toxic workplace culture.

Employer repeatedly makes worker feel incompetent

As time went on, the worker continued to make small mistakes. And his boss would blow up at him, making him feel worse and worse. He eventually pursued volunteer work for leadership opportunities, which gave him the chance to organize an event with 20 staff members and 20,000 attendees. The worker did extremely well running the event, even winning a handful of awards. He then began helping others in the business on their projects, but when his boss found out he was doing so, she reacted angrily.

“She is furious,” said the worker when his boss found out. “Quite upset. Everyone I work with loves me, but she seems to hate me.”

The boss threatened to fire the worker. And she demanded to be copied on every email, wanted daily task check-ups sent to her, and attended all of his events. The worker made a complaint with HR, but they simply told him to “have a heart to heart with her.” But when he tried to do that, the boss told the worker that she “doesn’t care about how I feel.” “I’m afraid to do anything, in fear that it might be something she doesn’t like,” writes the worker. “I don’t know what to do. I hate this situation.”

Employee bullied by the pressure of work. Bullying can take various forms.

When your boss makes you feel incompetent – Is it bullying?

It’s possible that you are experiencing a similar situation as the worker in the previous story. When your boss makes you feel incompetent on a regular basis, this could meet the definition of workplace bullying. SafeWork Australia defines workplace bullying as “repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.”

This means that when your boss makes you feel incompetent, if it happens on a regular basis, it could be considered workplace bullying. That is to say that if your employer makes you feel incompetent on a single occasion, this would not qualify as bullying. However, you should not overlook such behaviour, as it may become regular and worse. Under Australia’s Occupational Health and Safety and anti-discrimination laws, your employer has a legal obligation to ensure workplace safety. This means that they need to ensure your health and wellbeing. If bullying occurs, your employer isn’t satisfying this obligation.

Employee being bullied. Invading the employees space, physically placing a hand on them can be all part of a “putdown” process.

What is unreasonable behaviour?

When it comes to what constitutes unreasonable behaviour, SafeWork Australia states that it is that which a reasonable person would deem as unreasonable. In the unfair dismissal case Amie Mac v Bank of Queensland Limited, the Fair Work Commission laid out a list of behaviors that could be considered unreasonable behaviour that equates to bullying. Such behaviors include:

  • Disrespect and humiliation.
  • Threats, terrorizing and intimidation.
  • Sarcasm, mocking and belittling.
  • Emotional abuse, victimisation and ostracism.
  • Innuendo or rumor mongering.
  • Malicious pranks and physical harassment.
  • Shouting and verbal abuse.
  • Conspiracy to harm, victim-blaming and discrimination.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) also provides a comprehensive list of behaviours that constitute workplace bullying. It must be remembered that actions taken by bosses might occasionally upset employees, whether it’s work allocation or a performance appraisal. But if carried out reasonably and lawfully, these actions do not count as bullying.

Some bullying or harassment actions in the workplace would be discrimintory. Your claim could see you obtain substanial damages.

When your boss makes you feel incompetent – What can you do?

Dealing with a boss who constantly makes you feel incompetent can give you a sense of worthlessness and often despair. But you have the power to hold your boss to account by taking action through the Fair Work Commission.

Before you do that, however, there are a number of ways you can deal with the situation:

  1. Don’t take it personally: Your boss’s behaviour is not a reflection of your abilities or worth as a person. It’s important to realise that your boss is likely dealing with her own issues, and you happen to be on the receiving end of their frustration.
  2. Talk to your boss: It’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your boss about how you are feeling. Explain that you are doing your best and want to improve. But you are not sure how to do that when you your ideas and work are being devalued. And you are constantly being made to feel incompetent.
  3. Document everything: Keep track of all the times your boss has made you feel incompetent and the bullying tactics they have used. Also make sure to document what you have done to try and stop your boss’s bullying behaviour. Having a detailed record of these instances will help you if you make a complaint.
  4. Seek support from co-workers: Having a good relationship with your co-workers can be a lifeline in difficult situations. Talk to your colleagues and see if they’ve experienced similar issues with your boss. They may have some insights or advice that can help you navigate the situation.
Workplace culture is important. Toxic workplaces need to be avoided. The Employer has to want to change.

Make a complaint

You can raise the fact that your boss repeatedly makes you feel incompetent to a senior manager or a human resources representative. It’s important to detail specific instances of when your boss made your feel incompetent, and the bullying tactics that they used. And remember, you have the right to make a complaint about bullying without being untreated unfairly as a result. If that occurs, that would amount to an adverse action and you could take your employer to Fair Work Commission by making a general protections claim.

Taking action through the Fair Work Commission when your boss makes you feel incompetent

It’s possible that talking to your employer or raising a complaint within your organisation won’t rectify your situation. In that case, you can apply for a stop bullying order through the Fair Work Commission. As an Australian employee, you have the right to apply for a stop bullying order if your boss has engaged in bullying tactics as outlined on the Fair Work Commission website.

It must be noted that the Fair Work Commission doesn’t have the power to impose fines or penalties on those who engage in workplace bullying. Nor can it order financial compensation to victims of bullying. The aim of a stop bullying order is to resolve the issue and help ensure a normal working relationship can be achieved.

How does a stop bullying order work?

The Fair Work Commission will action your stop bullying order within two weeks. It will then issue a copy of the application to your employer and your boss. A mediation session will then be arranged by the Fair Work Commission if that is appropriate.  

If the mediation sessions fails to resolve the bullying by your boss, the Fair Work Commission will facilitate a formal hearing with one of its representatives. During this hearing, your stop bullying application will be thoroughly examined and a conclusive ruling or directive can be issued.   If a conclusive ruling is made, a stop bullying order will be put in place. The type of order given can vary depending on several factors. This includes the nature of the bullying and the type of workplace it took place in. For instance, your boss may be directed to refrain from making certain comments that make you feel incompetent.

Bullied for being ill, for wanting to go home. This type of behaviour by the employer is unacceptable and discriminatory.

Can I go to the police?

You can contact the police if your boss’s bullying becomes violent or threatening. Depending on the nature of this behaviour, it could constitute a criminal offence. And in that case, and it is an urgent situation, you should call 000.

If your boss commits a criminal offence, but the situation is not urgent, you can call 131 444 (unless you are located in Victoria, where you must attend a local police station).

What to do if your boss’s bullying is discriminatory

When your boss makes you feel incompetent because of your race, religion, sex, illness or any other similar characteristic, this can be considered discrimination. If you have been discriminated at work, you can fight for your rights by making a  general protections claim with the Fair Work Commission.

By making such a claim, you can ensure your boss is held accountable for their actions. And you can possibly be awarded financial damages for the hurt, humiliation and distress you have suffered.

Are you a victim of workplace bullying?

When your employer makes you feel incompetent on a regular basis. And they do so by engaging in bullying tactics, you have the power to stand up for your rights. If you want to take action through the Fair Work Commission, we at A Whole New Approach can help. Feel harassed, or subjected to toxic workplace culture and have that frustrated or helpless feeling then give us a call.

We are Australia’s leading workplace mediators and have helped over 16,000 workers fight for their rights through the Fair Work Commission. As workplace relations experts, we can provide the guidance you need to make a stop bullying order. Or if you have experienced an adverse action, we can help you make a general protections claim.

Feel free to call our expert team on 1800 333 666 for a free and confidential conversation.

Ring us now. Get advice, know your rights

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