The Workplace Bully

…are always bad for business. The workplace bully is around because the company condones and rewards him or her.

According to Sarah Tracy, director of the Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University,

"There are a number of workplace cultures that encourage bullying because of high levels of competition."

Hello, I’m Yancey with vivid memories of Darrell towering over us in the fourth grade! He would line us up every morning and take our lunch money.

I remember going home and crying to my mother about it thinking I was going get sympathy. She cleaned my clock and said "Don’t you let that boy take your lunch money. I’ll call your teacher to make sure".

Now I had to decide who I was most afraid of Darrell or mom. Well I stood my ground, fought got beat up, but kept my lunch money. I never had any more problems with Darrell. Standing up to bullies in the workplace can be just as frightening for some bully victims. Bullying on the job can take many forms. These can include…

  • psychological abuse
  • physical abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • verbal and non verbal abuse
…and the bully may manipulate or destroy the victims work product. According to Wikipedia, workplace bullying, “is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker”. I would have to expand on that definition because I have personally witnessed employees bullying customers, vendors, visitors and other interested parties as well!

Bullies unfortunately, are a part of society in general.

The workplace bully

Office Bully

A lot of times office bullies use or pervert their power in the workplace. The bully tactics include…
  • degrading
  • humiliating
  • insulting
  • affronting
  • intimidating

…the “target” of their abuse. Many times this behavior is done in front of witnesses and destroys an individuals self esteem. In a bullying workplace trust is nonexistent especially when management allows or approves it.

When employees or supervisors are aware of workplace bullying and do nothing to correct it they share in the negative consequences. Witnesses should be empowered to report such behavior and organizations must punish the “bully”.

When there is an environment of distrust in the workplace, employees may not be willing to do their best. Studies show about a third of American workers have been exposed to work place bullies! My first day in local government as a data center computer operator was an amazing display of office bullying. The supervisor after my orientation made this statement. “_____ is going to be training you. He’s upset because I got this job and he didn’t.” I thought that was a very curious statement to make.

He then told me to go take a seat in the area of this individual to start my training. From that point on for fully nine months I was exposed to behaviors like this. “Excuse me __________, what does this system message mean?” The individual sitting four feet from me ignored me as if I didn’t exist.

A female co-worker said, “He does that to me all the time.” Have you told the supervisor about this, I asked. She said the supervisor was aware of it. The female coworker had been employed there about three months before I got there.

The department bully did everything he could to hinder our training and development. When the female co-worker and I would in essence train ourselves the bully would make comments to make us look stupid or incompetent. When asked about a specific job task he yelled, “That’s really complicated computer stuff, you wouldn’t understand it!” The bully, a white male made the statement to a person of diversity. Now the bully had crossed over into racial harassment territory. Again when management was given notice it did nothing to correct the situation.

workplace bully

Bullies In the Workplace

I was thoroughly amazed at the blatant level of arrogant indifference management displayed in response to this employee. I was to learn later, the employee had a history of bullying individuals in and outside the department. These included…

  • other employees
  • managers
  • vendors
  • sales people
  • elected office directors

Remember I’m talking about the local government of a mid-sized U.S. city! Never in my thirty plus years in the American workplace have I ever experienced and witnessed a greater example of what a bully in the workplace looks like! According to some researchers the following are most common tactics used by bullies in the workplace.

  • falsely accusing the target(s) of workplace mistakes
  • the silent treatment
  • yell at the target(s) with the intent to intimidate
  • make insults based on race, gender, disability, national origin,etc.
  • characterize the target as incompetent or unintelligent
  • trivialize the target(s) work product
  • demean the target(s) in front of others

The bully in my workplace has displayed all of these tactics and more!

Bully Types

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes in the workplace. In my opinion the greater the insecurity the greater the need for control. Workplace terrorists, my name for them, are all about control. They come in these basic types:

This kind of bully has to always talk over the target(s).

This type is great for slamming or trying to destroy the good work product of the target. He/she will also seek to undermine the reputation of the target as well

This classic office bully works in the shadows spreading ugly rumors and gossip about the target.

This bully loves to find fault with everything the target does no matter how trivial and will find something wrong with whatever the target suggests.

workplace bully

Bully Workplace Consequences

Several studies reveal that job bullying resulting in psychological, physical and emotional abuse happens in all types of companies and organizations. Employees who are targets of intense bullying can develop…

  • high levels of stress disorder
  • insomnia
  • strokes
  • migraine headaches
  • suicidal tendencies
  • low self esteem
  • depression
  • heightened risk of heart disease

A national poll conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute says 37 percent or 54 million American employees have or are being bullied in their employment. “Anything that affects 37 percent of the public is an epidemic. But, it’s a silent epidemic” according to Gary Namie Director of the Workplace Bullying Institute.

Suzy Fox of Loyola of Chicago’s Institute of Human Resources and Employment Relations states, “ since there aren’t laws to enforce anti-bullying workplaces, businesses should develop organizational policies that strictly outline behavior that is not acceptable in the office.” Fox further states, workplaces are “very similar to where we were with sexual harassment 15 years ago before there policies…and court decisions.”

Workplace bullying is also called mobbing which is being bullied by more than one person. Employees who have to witness a bully in action against a co-worker have increased levels of stress and low morale.

Since there are no federal laws against workplace bullying many companies do little or nothing about.

But, like sexual harassment handling bullies is getting more attention because it’s proving to be bad for business.

workplace bully

Dealing With Bullies

Because there are no laws in place, there is no clear definition of what workplace bullying is. That means it can be hard to distinguish from other behaviors such as retaliation, sexual and racial harassment. Harassment by definition is offensive or unwelcome conduct that adversely affects an individual’s condition of employment.

Harassment is linked to individuals in a protected class such as…

  • race
  • national origin
  • gender
  • disability
  • religion

In my opinion, the lines are blurred in the absence of a legally defined law concerning bullying in the workplace. I have witnessed and experienced individuals on the job who have exhibited various forms of harassment. These included race, age, sex and disability discrimination. My point is how can harassment and hostility be directed toward any individual whether in a protected class or not and not also meet the standard for being a bully?

Up to this point the federal government has no job bully laws. Businesses and organizations don’t have policies to prevent and punish it. According to Wikipedia the U.S. has yet to pass comprehensive workplace bullying legislation nor has any state government. However, as of October 2007 13 states have proposed legislation.

Corporate Bullying

Companies that have an environment encouraging bullying as an accepted business practice become corporate or institutional bullying. Some experts believe the constant growth of the economy over the last 20 years is partly to blame.

Employers promoted individuals into management positions who were not qualified with no interpersonal skills or training because these jobs were hard to fill.

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workplace bully

The Bully Boss

Businesses that encourage bully bosses have high employee absenteeism and turnover. Research also shows increased levels of stress and sick leave taken. Who can blame them? There have been many instances when I didn’t want to go to work because of the bully in my workplace. I was not intimidated, however the workplace had a poisonous negative atmosphere that was nurtured and condoned by management.

A bully boss is usually very aggressive and may use intimidating tactics such as…

  • temper tantrums
  • rant and rave
  • fire employees at the drop of a hat
  • violent physical attacks
  • throw objects
  • unjustified reprimands
  • negative evaluations or performance reviews

Many of these individuals are the owners and CEO’s of the business. That is why many of them stay around. Bully bosses will be friendly to the target in the beginning. However, once they have figured out the targets weaknesses then the attacks begin. The bully boss will influence co-workers against the target and find fault with everything the employee does.

Co-workers the bully boss recruits start feeling empathy for the bully against the employee being bullied. That’s when it becomes “mobbing”. Targets of bullying or mobbing are typically employees who are an asset to the company.

They usually have great attendance and do good work. That’s why it’s such a traumatic experience for them. The target has no idea why he/she is being attacked. Studies show that targets leave the company on average in about two years either by…

  • illness
  • quitting
  • going off!
  • being fired
  • suicide

Workplace bullying is not good business. Distinguishing a bully boss from tough high expectation managers is not easy. A tough boss has the intent of motivating the employee for top performance. The bully boss seeks to methodically undermine, teardown, wear down and run off the target employee(s). Why would any business or organization allow this?

workplace bully

How To Handle Bullies

Since workplace bullying is not yet illegal, employees who are targets don’t have much protection. However, there are some things you can do.

  • Learn more about it
  • Understand the bully wants to control you
  • Inform management (if bully boss go over his/her head)
  • Stay calm
  • Promote your good work

Other ways you can stand up to bullies involve keeping good records of detailing the pattern of bullying. This includes names, dates, times, places, what was done and said, witnesses, etc. Try to get the bully to create a paper trail for you. I have successfully used email that required a response to accomplish this.

Keep all documentation from the bully that you can use to prove accusations against you are false. If possible anytime you have contact with the bully try to make sure someone is around as a witness. Remember you are not the source of the problem the bully is. Take a few days off from work to help you stay calm and keep things in perspective.

You always have the option of seeking other employment as well. Some experts promote this as the best option. However, I disagree with the notion that running from job to job will get you away from the workplace bully. In my opinion all that does is give the bully in the workplace more power. It also creates an environment for employees to become victims of violence in the workplace. You always have the option of seeking legal guidance until laws are put in place to protect employees having to deal with the bully.

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