Home Back Issues September 2013 Taming the workplace bully

Taming the workplace bully

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Articles - September 2013
Monday, August 19, 2013


0913 LWP OfficeSpaceUnlike sexual harassment and discrimination based on race, workplace bullying isn’t against the law. But bullies in the workplace are as common as their playground counterparts, and they can be a major financial and liability risk for employers.

What is it? “Workplace bullying is when an employee is being intimidated, threatened or unmercifully teased — when people are compromising an individual’s ability to do their work effectively,” says Judy Clark, founder and owner of HR Answers in Portland. “It is persistent and offensive, and designed to make the target feel vulnerable.” Bullying behavior runs the gamut, adds Tamsen Leachman, a partner with employment law firm Fisher & Phillips.

Leachman says perpetrators might take credit for other people’s work, or keep project and meeting information from their targets. Then there are behaviors that are “flat-out intimidating — like yelling and screaming.”

How common is it? When Leachman lectures on workplace bullying — for local and national audiences — about 60% of attendees say it’s a problem in their office. That number increases to 95% when participants are asked if they have worked in an environment where bullying was a problem.

Hierarchical workplaces such as health care and education tend to attract more bullies than collaborative organizations. The bottom line, according to Leachman: “It’s way more prevalent than sexual harassment.”

The risk to employers. Targets of workplace bullying tend to be valuable employees — they are bullied precisely because they are threatening to someone else. Victims often become distracted, work quality declines and many incur medical costs. “All of that costs the business money,” says Leachman.

Litigation is another concern. Although workplace bullying is not against the law, employees who leave a job because of workplace bullying usually file other claims, such as stress-related workers’ comp or harassment. “Targets are going to find a lawyer,” says Leachman, “and that lawyer will attach a claim to it.”

What to do about it. Workplace policies are expanding from a focus on harassment and discrimination to include positive and respectful work environments for everyone. “It’s about having a core ‘thou shalt not’ turned into: ‘What does everyone who works here have a right to expect?’” says Clark.

Instead of adopting a specific antibullying policy — “we already have a million policies” — Leachman suggests employers focus on their mission and value statements. “Look at your culture, your training for managers and supervisors, and make sure you are holding them accountable, letting them know this is who we are, and this is what we care about.”

Clark takes a harder stance. “Harassment is against the law; bullying is against policy,” she says. “Employees need to understand that violating policy has consequences, from poor performance reviews to termination.”



0 #1 Founder, The Boss Whispering InstituteGuest 2013-08-20 19:18:21
Dear Linda,

I am based in Portland and thought you might be interested in the work of the Boss Whispering Institute, which is dedicated to research and training in the field of coaching abrasive leaders. More information is available at www.bosswhispering.com. I am writing from Sydney, Australia where I spoke at their national HR conference yesterday.
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0 #2 Bullying can be passive-agressi veGuest 2013-09-18 17:02:12
I really appreciate this article. This topic needs to be brought to light.

I have learned that bullying can be passive-agressi ve and therefore difficult to recognize. it can be targeted at those with workplace power just as well as those without. It is not limited to the for-profit workplace. Manipulative and mean-spirited people don't usually come out and attack in a way that would make them look bad. They have learned to be subtle and sophisticated in their tactics. Just like school yard bullies, they may manipulate others to gang up on their target.

We must all learn to identify bullies and their tactics so that we can stand up to them whether they be adults or children. If you realize that you are being bullied or being used by a bully to perpetrate their agenda on someone else, you must extricate yourself at minimum. Hopefully you have the strength to confront the bully and alert others to your concerns.
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0 #3 Bullying BossGuest 2013-09-27 21:01:00
I am the target of work place bullying and it is being done by one of my bosses. I have brought it to the attention of my other three bosses and nothing has been done. Two of them tell me to just take a deep breath. I have taken so many deep breaths I'm light headed. What can I do? He with holds paperwork so I can't get my work done, he with holds time cards to try and make me late getting payroll out etc. I am at a total loss. I am looking for another job but I live in a somewhat rural area and jobs are difficult to come by
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0 #4 Bullying business as usual for DCSGuest 2013-10-03 19:09:18
I worked for two years for one of the most horrible yet produstive companies I have ever worked for. The bullying began at the top and trickled down through every employee. When I began, I was told don't bother saying hello or even making eye contact with any employee in the place for at least 6 months, most know you have a 90% chance of not surviving.

The company was DCS, it is a debt collection company, predominantly student loans.I watched at least one woman a day go into the rest room to throw up because of the stress. They made you partially responsible as a team of 8, so if you didn't make your borrowers pay, you didn't make goal, so your team didn't make goal. if you didn't personally make goal one month you were written up, two months reprimanded and written up and three months, FIRED. No way around it. They trained a dozen new employees a month to take the place of the fired ones.

The head man smoked, so he would go out in the back and smoke with the golden employees, who also smoked. One day I heard him comment, "If it was up to me you would have to smoke to work here" in order to get outside, you had to walk through a gauntlet of smokers... it was nasty.

The woman in the cubical beside me was a raging bully and would scream at me daily, sometimes standing and screaming in my face while I was on the phone with a borrower, she was never made to stop even though I addressed the issue with management several times, she was not made to stop, because she bullied borrowers into paying.

They still use the same tactics, though I don't know how the government allows it. Trust me, there is a reason they have licensed aliases....
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0 #5 bullyingGuest 2013-10-29 00:22:35
Im being bullyed by my dock boss I work at a dock in Newporrt oregon this strated about two month ago when HR and report her actions and the way she was treating me the promable is that the manger is her freind and brother her in from Canada. I try to work to work with manger but he wont do it say he does belive me . I found people who work here 4 year ago and said that she the reson why there not there . This fish company is big and you think they wpuld look in to but has not . On this Saturday I had a break down because she was yelling at me and then she strated to stare at me and saying thing Bicth and thing like that she even called Queen . she has the whole dock group against me , Today was even worst . Please if anyone has anything to say to help me please .
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-1 #6 RE: Taming the workplace bullyGuest 2013-10-29 18:27:35
The entire Republican party establishment is made up of bullies--and they are no longer subtle about it.
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