The Center for Disease Control (CDC.gov) says that bullying is a major public health concern. Bullying is just as often physical or physical aggression as it is verbal or mental abuse.
Workplace bullies can verbally harass employees, text them, stalk them at work, overwhelm their email inboxes, leave notes on their cars, desks, and on their social media pages (electronic or cyberbullying), spread rumors about people causing social and professional rejection and isolation, corner people in the restroom, the elevator, or the break room, throw out their lunch or otherwise contaminate it to spite them, show up uninvited to places they go outside the workplace, and even slash their tires or attempt worse acts of physical violence, abuse, and aggression. None of these behaviors are conducive to high productivity in a workplace and all of these behaviors have the potential to be horrible insults to human dignity, leaving some people scarred and injured on the outside and on the inside. Yes, this crap is a major public health hazard.
Workplace violence, aggression, abuse, and bullying could sometimes be about sexual orientation or race or gender or national origin or could be more simply about competition for limited benefits or retaliation for some perceived slight such as receiving a promotion or something even less obvious such as a hairstyle or jealousy over the kind of car a person drives and the lifestyle they live. Imagine this kind of bullying: “I know my boss really likes you, but I’m going to keep a tight watch on everything you do, because I hate kiss-ups and teacher’s pets. So you just watch your back.”
One boss actually thought a certain amount of employee suspicion, tension, and bickering was good because “it kept everyone on their toes and made the employees focus their angers toward each other and not management.” As victims, witnesses, and bystanders to bullying, employees can often feel guilty with no outlet or reliable avenue for safely dealing with the problem without making things much worse. Affected people can even show symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Bullying is commonly any sort of mean, obnoxious, threatening, unfair, abusive, or intimidating behavior that tends to be persistent and is not just short term. However, a currently accepted popular definition is less important than the reality of what employees actually experience at work. Workplace Bullying may be too big for words to define as shown here in this link to a great Psychology Today article on the subject. Nonetheless, any good manager with proper training and a touch of common sense ought to know bullying when she or he sees it and so should you.
When any version of this crappy behavior is persistent and tolerated in the workplace, expect workers to show drops in productivity with higher turnover, take more sick days, and submit more health care claims. These adverse worker problems alone can often be the biggest drag on an organization’s budget, showing an inverse relationship to corporate profits and sustainability, not to mention corporate climate surveys. Shareholders, owners, and investors will often want to know specifics about these sorts of problems in the company because of their direct connection to the bottom line. How can someone say they are a great manager when a significant number of their employees are unhappy and feel threatened at work?
To continue this discussion, there is a need to work on a better understanding of bullying in the workplace while at the same time absorbing lessons learned and skills needed to deal with it appropriately no matter where people work and no matter what the inappropriate behavior looks like. Here are the key findings of workplacebullying.org’s 2014 Workplace Bullying Survey:
- 27% of employees have current or past direct experience with abusive conduct at work.
- 72% of the American public are aware of workplace bullying.
- Bosses are still the majority of the bullies.
- 72% of employers deny, discount, encourage, rationalize, or defend it.
- 93% of respondents support enactment of the Healthy Workplace Bill.
Just like playground bullies, workplace bullies can cause a substantial amount of stress to the people they target and to witnesses and bystanders too. It is a dangerous health hazard dealing with bullies at work; work, where people have to spend an inordinate amount our time each day, week, month, year. With workplace bullies…
- Do you immediately feel grateful for caller ID?
- Do you let their calls go to voicemail?
- Do you close the door to your office more?
- Do you take more breaks?
- Do you feel like you want to drink an adult beverage before dealing with him or her or them?
- Do you search job ads, looking for a way out?
- Do you lose sleep at night?
- Do you wish the bully would find a new job?
- Do you ask other managers if they would like to swap employees?
- Do you ask other managers if you can join their team?
- Do you take more leave than normal for you?
- Do you hesitate to schedule team meetings?
- Do you cringe at the thought of partnering with them on a project?
- Do you feel happier when that person calls in sick?
- Do you wish you could telework 100%?
- Do you experience any increased amounts of illnesses?
- Do you imbibe more than otherwise?
- Do you just wish someone would stand up to the bullies and make it right?
- Do you wish you could surround your individual workspace with sandbags, barbed-wire, and booby-traps?
Too often employees and supervisors cave in to workplace bullies because it’s just easier. People acquiesce from blatant intimidation, abuse, and coercion, possibly because of apathy dealing with tough situations. Workplace bullies are super aggressive about what they want and they make others work harder and feel like crap when other options are not in line with what the bully wants. Plus sometimes supervisors and other employees suffer from deficiencies in backbone and deficiencies in courage. If it were easy to deal with bullies, then there would be no need to talk or write about this. But what about deficiencies in corporate backbone and corporate courage?
Lost productivity? Randomly losing good employees? Drops in profits? Increased stress and drama at work? Increased liability from employee relations claims? Increased time spent dealing with problems with less time spent on production? Where on any corporate mission statement would all of this described?
Imagine this from a work experience: “Not only is he here ONLY thanks to Affirmative Action, but in three months he’s already filed a complaint. He should instead thank us for hiring him. The nerve of some people! I’ll take care of him.”
Does anyone honestly expect something like this help improve productivity? Are employees all more likely to be more productive when they go to work in a place where abject fear keeps the employees in line? Is Darth Vader the quintessential “get it done” manager? Is Genghis Khan the leader all should aspire to be? Is Adolph Hitler some sort of business genius? Is this what they teach in today’s business schools? NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO.
Recent news headlines focusing on complaints of abuse and bullying reported by Amazon.com employees highlight how common this is. Click this link to follow the Amazon.com bullying news storylines. Why do companies develop dysfunctional cultures like this? One reason is people see this behavior on TV and in the movies.
They see Donald Trump bullying the Republican field in the news and the debates and they cheer him and marvel at his “tell it like it is” attitude. They see Abby Lee Miller on Dance Moms and they applaud her track record, her winning results. There’s this American culture that celebrates cantankerous rebellious historical figures. There’s this fantasy ideology about big dogs, making or breaking people, and being a hard-nosed iron-fisted coach who knows what it takes to win. The confusing perceived culture says never let kindness come between you and victory. But all of this is Hollywood playing out some uncommon and unrealistic paradigm that works very well in the TV world, in fiction, but absolutely fails to deliver in the business world, especially today.
There’s no real science outside of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s that ever showed that chipping away at people’s human dignity is what will motivate them to produce their best work. That didn’t work for slavery, doesn’t work for sweatshops, and doesn’t work for prison chain gangs. It simply is not true, especially today in the typical workplace where employees bring a significant value of talent and human resources and have multiple options to go work somewhere else.
If people are a company’s number one asset, then the managers and executives should act like it more often and the workplace should say this in everything the company does from the ground up. The corporate culture that respects human capital will pay infinitely more dividends than the ones crushing spirits and acting like the workplace is a scene out of Glengarry Glen Ross, The Godfather, The Sopranos, or The Empire Strikes Back.
With bullying and also workplace bullying acknowledged as a major public health concern much like obesity, smoking, heart attacks, and violence against children, how long before someone can claim their workplace as a hazardous work environment to their insurance company? How long before working at a poorly funded and understaffed hospital is seen as a high or uncommon workplace risk? How long before the profession of high stakes sales becomes something that an insurance company refuses to underwrite? How long before who the CEO is can be used to calculate corporate risk, because some CEOs get it right, but a lot of CEOs get it wrong? Sooner puts the bullying fix closer at hand; the sooner, the better.