Have you ever had to deal with a bully at work? Someone who constantly undermined and ridiculed you, perhaps even tried to make you look incompetent? It may not have stopped there. The bully may have spread malicious gossip about you too, or attempted to sabotage your work. Bullies single a person out in the workplace and make their life unbearable. They operate differently from a mainly aggressive person who will harass almost everyone, except perhaps a few select individuals whom they favour. The bully tends to focus on one person, usually someone who is passive and is easy to humiliate to make the bully look powerful. They may also pick on someone they regard as a threat to their advancement. While the bully is generally at the same or higher level to the victim in the company hierarchy, anyone in an organisation regardless of status, age or gender can subject a person to this type of abuse.
Feel free to find more information at culturecodex. The bully will delight in using their aggressive tactics in front of other people and will often choose a very public place in which to abuse the victim. They will get a bigger audience if they put their victim down in a meeting or in the lunch room. Bullying can take many forms. For example, it may involve destructive personal comments; yelling at or criticising the victim so that others can hear; constantly finding fault and/or withholding praise; ostracizing the victim from the group (whether at a business function or in the office); making undue demands and micromanaging (if in authority); attempting to sully the victim’s reputation. The bully will stop at nothing to humiliate the victim. The individual at the receiving end of the abuse may over time be rendered incapable of functioning and fall into depression. Not only can the constant harassment have long-term repercussions for the victim, it can also create a toxic work environment, upset coworkers and even affect the company’s bottom line in lowered performance and absenteeism. If the victim decides to take legal action, the company may be faced with being required to pay him or her compensation.
Understand that while bullies appear in control and super confident, they may have a deep-seated injury within, which comes from childhood. They are often cowards at heart and may have been bullied themselves, verbally or physically abused or emotionally neglected. Their way of coping with their insecurities and low self-esteem, is to become domineering and aggressive. In reality they are kittens in lions’ clothing. This is why the bully will usually back down when challenged or confronted about his or her bullying behaviour.
So how can the bully in the workplace be dealt with effectively?
Let’s look at a couple of examples. In one case the bully was moved sideways and her role changed so that nobody reported to her. She was also given six months of counselling to help her address her behaviour and it was a long time before she was able to supervise anyone. Another bully was given strong verbal and written warnings when it was discovered he had subjected a junior coworker to three years of abuse. He had also revealed personal details of the young man’s private life to other staff. In this case, the bully was given an ultimatum; undergo regular counselling or risk dismissal. He agreed and in addition was given weekly supervision by a senior manager who had very good people skills. It was interesting that in both cases, management was able to trace a history of the bully picking on one person at a time.
What can a business do to deal with bullies?
1. Create a culture in the workplace of ‘no bullying will be tolerated here’. If bullies do surface, they will be brought to account earlier as victims will be more likely to report them, knowing they will have the support of their colleagues and management.
2. Establish guidelines and procedures, in line with current employment law, so that everyone in the company understands the reporting process, likely consequences for the bully and the support available for the victim.
3. Act quickly and decisively once a bully is identified. Always take complaints of bullying seriously. It has probably taken a long time and a lot of desperation for the victim to muster the courage to come to you.
4. Provide support for the victim and if necessary, organise or fund counselling for them.
5. If the bully is otherwise a valuable worker, it may be appropriate to allow them to continue working for the company. If they are willing to change their behaviour, offer them counselling. Review their role with the company. It is unwise to allow a bully to work closely with others until they are rehabilitated. Close supervision will be essential for quite some time.
6. Depending on the severity of the case, enlist the help of your human resources staff (if you have them), counselling services and obtain legal advice as necessary.