Remembering Eddie Haskell

Why “two-faced” bullies rarely get caught.

Posted May 19, 2020

We’ve all known them. Those fellow employees who suck up to authority figures when they are present, but bully subordinates and peers when the boss is not looking.

Many years ago, I labeled this “the Eddie Haskell Effect,” based on the character Eddie Haskell, played expertly by Ken Osmond who recently passed, from the old Leave it to Beaver TV show. Eddie Haskell ingratiated himself to the parents but tormented and bullied the Beaver when the parents weren’t around.

The Eddie Haskell effect can be insidious in a workplace because these two-faced bullies can mistreat subordinates but never be caught. When the boss is looking, they are always on their best behavior.

I’ve encountered some of these “Eddie Haskells” in my own working life. I once had an office manager who was always nice, warm, and respectful to me—and I thought to everyone else. I come to find that she regularly abused and belittled her new direct report. It wasn’t until that individual found the courage to tell me that I was able to take action.

In elementary school, my youngest daughter was tormented by her own Eddie Haskell. She had often mentioned a girl at her school who was a nefarious bully. When I visited the campus on parent career day, a little girl greeted me warmly, "Hello, Mr. Riggio," she said sweetly. I noticed the look of disgust on my daughter's face. When I later commented on how polite she was, my daughter said, "Sure. She's like that to the adults, but she's the bully I've told you about."

How can people and organizations deal with the Eddie Haskells in the workplace? Here are some strategies:

1. Responsible leaders. Leaders in organizations have a responsibility to know what’s going on. They should be vigilant and observant of what is happening in the workplace, and make an effort to get to know each and every member of the team. Vigilant, responsible leaders will often uncover the Eddie Haskells and be able to intervene.

2. Responsible Human Resources professionals. Organizations who adopt an anti-bullying culture, with HR professionals who act on reports of bullying behavior – both overt and covert bullying – make it hard for the bullies to hide, and easy for targets of bullies to report them.

3. Subordinate appraisals of supervisors. Upward performance appraisals provide feedback to supervisors (and to their bosses) about supervisory performance and may allow detection of bullying behaviors.

4. Regular employee surveys. Anonymous employee surveys can contain questions that focus on bullying and other misbehavior by employees and managers.

5. Courageous followers. All too often, employees who witness bullying become bystanders – not wanting to get involved either due to apathy or for fear of the bully turning on them. Employees need to have the courage to report incidents of bullying and organizations have the responsibility to take action to prevent workplace bullying.

You can read more about workplace bullies and resources here.