Category Archives: #WorkCulture
Last week I discussed how to identify a bully in your workplace.
Many people responded to my post and wanted to know how to address these individuals in their organization. This is a relevant topic as a Forbes article last year shows an increase of almost 20% in the rise of workplace bullying from 2008 to 2019.
So while next week I’ll post about how leaders should deal with bullies on their team, this week we’ll discuss how to confront bullying from a boss or peer.
Workplace bullies exhibit behaviors that seek to manipulate in order to maintain control or advantage over one or more persons. It’s a form of emotional and psychological abuse that keeps the recipient off balance and threatened into submission, therefore keeping a power over those individuals and exercising the perpetrator’s leverage to exalt themselves financially, status-wise, or emotionally, among other rationales.
Toxic behaviors from workplace bullies will always continue to exist in an organization if they are allowed and tolerated. People will generally continue to practice abusive and bullying behaviors, both overt and subversive, as long as they can get their narcissistic supply from those they subjugate.
That’s why it’s imperative to take steps to remedy workplace bullying by confronting it.
- Recognize It. Christine Hammond at PsychCentral calls this “See It” when confronting an emotionally abusive person. Which is what workplace bullying is, according to the law firm Eisenberg & Baum. Bullying and other forms of psychological abuse tend to make the recipient doubt themselves and if the behavior is actually happening. Look hard at your circumstances to understand what is truly going. Then take the next steps to action.
- (If comfortable addressing it to the bully, the it’s necessary to approach them to help them Remedy The Behavior. If you’re not comfortable, then going to the steps that start with Record It would be next.)
- Reveal It To The Bully. If comfortable, this step is really helping the bully understand their actions impact on you as well as helping you establish boundaries for workplace behavior. Let them know what they say and do and ask them what their thoughts are. See if they have an awareness of their actions.
- Redraw Lines and Expectations. If the conversation seems amenable, inform them how you feel and what you cannot accept. Use the company’s core values to underscore your position if necessary. Here you will need to establish boundaries for co-existing in the workplace and being able to accomplish your respective jobs. Your goal here is to Reclaim Value for yourself by letting the bully know how their actions won’t be tolerated and that you do not deserve and will not allow yourself to be treated in such a manner.
- (If it continues – more overtly or subtly – or they are in denial of their actions, or if you are not comfortable approaching them, then start to involve other people in the following way to Report It):
- Record It. You will need to record and journal every incident – verbal, written and observed – to have an objective case to present to your HR department. Emails, texts and written statements from those who have observed what you’ve experienced will be necessary to support what is going on. VeryWellMind emphasizes to keep your records relevant without any embellishment or emotions or assumptions.
- Reinforce Your Allies. A study by the Workplace Bullying institute in 2017 reveals that 63% of employees are aware of such abusive behavior in their organization. Most likely, one or more of your co-workers have been witness, if not also targeted, to the bullying. If you know someone who has witnessed such actions towards you, ask what they observed and thought of the situation. If they had a similar response to you about it, ask if they would write a statement. You may be surprised at how many other people are also the recipient of the bully’s misdeeds.
- Report It. MarketWatch talks about how to avoid confrontation and go to HR in this step. Have a discussion with your human resources personnel. Do not go into the meeting expecting the bully to be terminated, as HR will usually get the information and seek to have an individual change their performance with coaching and other assistance. US News and World Report discusses that HR’s role in workplace bully issues is to “cause a change in behavior” first. Your allies may also feel comfortable to reveal their experiences as well. Keep HR informed of any subsequent behaviors, good and bad, that result from your reporting the issue.
- (If you have done these steps and there is no improvement, or the company ceases to act objectively, then you will need to Resort To the following recourse actions):
- Remove Yourself. There may be a real chance that you have to separate from the company if the bully did not change, retaliated, or the company has not taken steps to resolve (which is unfortunately and typically the case if the bully is a higher level of leadership or generates great performance metrics, sales or public image). You have already established boundaries in taking these steps to address the issue in the first place. Now you will have to draw those on your own terms by leaving the organization.
- Retain Legal Counsel. Keep in mind while workplace bullying is not (yet) an illegal and criminal action, if the results violate certain labor laws or rights for protected groups, or if it caused you verified loss to health (physical and mental), professional trajectory, financial loss and reputation, you may be able to seek legal action according to Eisenberg & Baum.
- Remain Confident That You Did The Right Thing. Someone recovering from being rocked from workplace bullying will go through doubts and cycles of PTSD that will make one naturally question if they did the right thing. The answer is simple: Whenever you confront a legitimate bully or abusive individual and take a stand for what’s right and yourself, you will always do the right thing.
And one other piece of advice, again from Sherri Gordon at VeryWellMind – Remember To Take Care Of Yourself. One site’s studies show the enormous physical toll that bullying can take on the recipient. Other studies have likewise shown as much as a 59% increase in heart attacks and stroke from being subject to these actions.
Taking care of yourself in getting a physical exam from a physician, counselling, as well as taking some personal time can go a long ways to restore your health and happiness.
Workplace bullying only continues when it’s tolerated. By confronting it and exposing it for what it is, we can change heads and hearts to respect each other and make our workplaces richer and safer for all.
Workplace bullying might seem like a trite expression to describe a situation where an employee can’t handle pressure or reprimands from their boss. Unfortunately that thought eviscerates the recipient and allows the perpetrator to continue on their behavior.
Workplace bullying is real and its affects on the mental and emotional state of people at work should never be minimized or ignored. It creates toxic cultures, high turnover and increased medical costs, not to mention the potential for lawsuits. This Lexis Nexis article shows how bullying behaviors have a financially negative impact on an organization.
Workplace bullying is a subset of emotional abuse, a “power over” control system that also exerts control through a variety of means:
- Emotional abuse in the form of putdowns, name calling, guilt and mind games (either public or private)
- Intimidation, threats and coercion that could threaten reprimands, firing, getting in someone’s face, over-assertiveness and yelling
- Economic control in the form of passed over promotions, withheld bonuses/pay/benefits or threatening demotions and pay cuts
- Other abuse may come in the forms of racial slurs, innuendo or fostering a “good ol’ boys” exclusivity just to name a few
What’s interesting is that many states have declared that emotional abuse and these other behaviors in a home relationship context falls under domestic abuse, which is a crime. While not technically seen as a crime in the workplace at large, it exists to a great degree. In fact, the Workplace Bullying Institute is gaining ground on passing legislation to address this type of toxic behavior from a legal and criminal perspective.
1 in 5 adults in American are the subject of workplace bullying, which equates to about 60 million workers. And according to Monster and Forbes, this number may actually be higher than 40% and rising. While the majority of perpetrators are men and the recipients female or minorities, there is a rising trend of workplace bullying committed by people of all genders, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. A recent study in the UK confirmed 70% of female executives have been bullied by females.
As with every failing in human beings, it’s not an issue bucketed to one demographic of individuals. Simply stated, it’s an issue that comes from the heart of an individual who chooses to exert control in their role to gain a supply of narcissism, power and/or economic advantage over a person or group of people.
As bullies come in many forms, here are a the more common manifestations of a workplace bully to help us identify these perpetrators:
- Overt bullies are those that are very upfront and public. They are the screamers, the intimidators and the control grabbers. They seek to have the last word, put people down in public and squelch certain people’s ability to thrive. They simply want everyone to know who is in control.
- The passive-aggressive bully is more subversive. They do their work in private many times but also can make a public confrontation that seems like they’re just being a strong leader at a given time. They can force someone to do their dirty work for them so their hands are clean from any wrongdoing. They give off-handed remarks and nitpick, sometimes using micro-managing techniques.
- The direct and dominant bully is more elusive. Their strong personality might seem like “that’s just who they are” because they don’t really yell or show the typical aggressive or passive aggressive modes. But they control and bully by being domineering, especially when they don’t get their way. These may be the people who are constantly submitting complaints, going to HR, looking to change policy. They may also align with upper leadership to gain favor and execute their schemes. Because of their tactics, most people back off but this aggression is tolerated too often as a misunderstood personality quirk.
For context, we need to understand that these are not just one-off behaviors. We need to be discerning to understand the difference between a pattern of behavior and certain spikes due to stress. After all, every human being can show an ability to exhibit these behaviors from time to time.
But when a pattern is defined, that’s when the next steps come in. Bullies need to be confronted in a constructive way, and Sherri Gordon’s article in VeryWellMind is a terrific starting resource.
Behaviors of bullies may or may not be corrected, that’s up to the individual’s willingness to be self-aware. Our obligation is to carefully identify it, address it and help the individual weed it out of their heart. If not, then they need to be weeded out of the organization.
Back in the 1950s there was developed a simple, yet effective, description of the psychological needs that drive an individual.
It’s called “The Needs Wheel”.
I was introduced to this concept when reading a book by Hyrum Smith, founder of the Franklin Planner and later Franklin Covey. His book “The 10 Natural Laws Of Successful Time And Life Management” devoted the fifth law to a life model based on the Needs Wheel.
The Needs Wheel was developed by Dr. Murray Banks and about a decade after Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was published. It simplified the basic needs that drive human behavior into 4 core needs:
- The need to LIVE
- The need to LOVE AND BE LOVED
- The need to FEEL IMPORTANT
- The need to experience VARIETY
The observational theory behind the needs wheel is that while all four needs are essential to any person, each individual has a weighted need that draws more attention than the other needs. As long as all four needs on the wheel are being met, the person’s life rolls along.
So when too much of a core need is not being met, the individual is off balance. The wheel goes flat and their life gets stuck in trying to compensate. All focuses and energies go towards meeting that need.
And if that particular need is out of proportion to everything else in their life, the need becomes all consuming, dominating the individual and quite possibly everyone in who they come in contact with.
While this is true for individuals, such as leaders, consider the impact to an organization. If the needs across the company are fairly evenly distributed among leadership, things can assume to roll nicely along. But if the organization as a whole has a need not being met among it’s leaders, such as the need to feel important, then the company is destined for a cultural collision.
That’s why a balanced approached to having people in your organization that have personalities and needs in alignment with your core values is essential to a healthy corporate body. Consider what can happen to a company if particularly the leadership:
- Has an overwhelming desire to live, to survive. Tough financial times would mean employees were not safe but the executives’ salaries and bonuses were.
- Collectively needed to love and be loved. There could be a passive leadership model that would enable poor employee behaviors and not help with a proper balance of accountability.
- Were out of balance in feeling important. Workplace bullying, passive-aggressive behaviors and overt drive to make their numbers look the best in the company could create a toxic culture.
- Wanted to experience variety over all else. Strategic planning might occur every other month, new initiatives arise and nothing gets moved forward because of chasing the newest, shiniest trend.
The balance of any organization is hiring based on behaviors that match company core values, but also assessing needs to each individual. Keeping a tapestry of balance in any organization, large or small, is a challenging task at best. What gets difficult is when the majority of leadership (and employee behaviors as well) are skewed towards filling a need that can derail the mission and create a cultural collision.
Be mindful of the balance of your people throughout your entire organization. Finds ways to meet the needs in placement of roles, team dynamics, job fulfillment and professional development.
Understand how to keep your organization’s needs wheel rolling so you don’t get stuck with a flat on the way to achieving your purpose.