Bullies Abound

Joe Sherren
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Bullying doesn’t end in the schoolyard. Many adults are victims of bullying bosses or co-workers. Why? Because, most bullies are still not challenged or provided self esteem counseling.

Research shows that people who feel insecure about their own abilities, or have suffered a blow to their self-worth, are more likely to engage in bullying, possibly in an attempt to feel better about themselves.

 A number of studies are saying that workplaces are growing more toxic. The Ottawa-based Canada Safety Council reports that one in six employees has been bullied.

So many companies are placing bullying in the same family as sexual harassment or discrimination; Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan have made workplace bullying illegal.

A 2010 study by the U.S.-based Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found 35 per cent of U.S. employees have been bullied, with 58 per cent of victims being female. Women were found to suffer most at the hands of other women. Nearly 80 per cent of female victims say their abuser was another female. Remember the movie “The Devil Wears Prada”?

Bullying is characterized as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behavior, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.

Bullying may be by an individual, against an individual (often by someone in a position of authority such as a manager or supervisor) or involve groups of people. It may be obvious or it may be insidious.

I want to be clear — some practices that may not seem fair to certain (underperforming) individuals is not bullying. Companies need to run efficiently so things like job realignments, transfers, demotions, and appropriate disciplinary actions are not bullying, as long as they are carried out professionally and within ethical and legal guidelines.

What every manager should know is that bullying will affect the overall well-being of an organization. It often results in increased absenteeism, higher turnover, increased stress, and more participation in employee assistance programs (EAPs).

There is increased risk for accidents, decreased productivity, and a decrease in morale. This often results in a decrease in customer service. We also find it is harder for those companies to recruit top talent.

An important component of any prevention program is management commitment, which is communicated through written policy. Management and employees should work together to create a violence prevention program that applies to all stakeholders. It should clearly outline examples of unacceptable behaviour and articulate the organization’s position on workplace bullying.

Most importantly, it must state the consequences when an individual violates the code of behavior. Some organizations with whom I work outline a confidential process by which employees can report incidents and to whom, and how they protect reporting employees.

Valerie Cade, a Calgary-based speaker and author of the book Bully Free at Work, says “Canada is seen as a leader in attacking workplace bullying, but many companies still don’t know how to handle it.”

Ms. Cade encourages companies to establish a “disrespectful workplace” policy detailing behaviours a company won’t tolerate. “Then you can hold people accountable for bullying,” she says.

Here are other suggestions to consider:

— Incorporate assessments into the hiring process: No matter how great a resume may look, avoid hiring those who may be prone to overly aggressive behaviors.

— Start at the top: Senior management must make it clear that bullying under any circumstances isn’t acceptable.

— Review every claim: Assuming a bullying complaint is just a conflict between two people who should sort it out between themselves may actually be supporting the aggressor.

— Proceed with caution: Take all bullying allegations seriously, but don’t assume they’re all true. Bullies have been known to set up a victim to bring a claim against them, hoping the organization will take action against that person.

— Collect evidence: Interview workers (privately) who may have witnessed the activity.

One of the best things an organization can do is address bullying in their employee orientation program and new manager training curriculum. My question for managers this week: “What is your organization doing formally, especially during this festive holiday season, to eliminate all forms of bullying in your organization?”

Joseph Sherren, CSP, HoF, PEI’s Management Effectiveness Expert, has spoken to more than 4,000 audiences in over 25 countries worldwide. For information on our workshops and speaking, contact us at www.gatewayleadership.com or (902) 437-6998

Organizations: Workplace Bullying Institute, Canada Safety Council

Geographic location: U.S., Ottawa, Ontario Quebec Saskatchewan Canada

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Recent comments

  • don
    December 15, 2012 - 10:27

    gee it sounds like our government on PEI. the leader was a bully in school as they say and grew up to be a BIG bully.

    • LA
      December 15, 2012 - 20:40

      Like you'd know. Quit connecting politics to every subject under the sun, anyway. From what I've read of your comments, you are definitely one. All mouth and no knowledge.