July 2005 - Bullying in the Workplace
Bullying in the Workplace
We receive many requests for information on how to deal with bullies. Most writers use the term "hostile workplace" and the majority of their complaints are about bosses.
Bullying is what many people today think when they hear "hostile workplace" or "hostile environment" — an environment where someone (or a group) is threatened, harassed, belittled, verbally abused or overly criticized. In other words, the workplace or environment is "hostile" to good productivity.
In the US, the legal definition currently of "hostile environment" is harassment related to gender discrimination (commonly called "sexual harassment"), so those who are being bullied have little legal recourse at present. [Note: We are not attorneys and are not giving legal advice.]. The UK is much more advanced than the US in their recognition of this problem and its negative impact on individuals and workplace productivity.
People usually feel trapped if the person harassing them is their boss. According to Tina Vanderwel, most bullies are supervisors or managers who use the power of their positions to control and intimidate their targets.
Last year, the state of Washington introduced The Workplace Bullying Bill (House Bill 1968 and Senate Bill 1968). The bills died before being passed this year. The discussion did raise the awareness of the subject to legislators and to the general public.
From an article by Tina Vanderwal for The Olympian on February 28, 2005:
According to the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute (WBTI), the top 10 bullying tactics include:
[Note: the WCTI uses the words"Target" for the person being bullied and "Perpetrator" for the bully.]
Bullybuster.net (for children) says, "If you think you are being bullied, you are." They define bullying as:
Bullying is defined this way by In-Equilibrium.co.uk:
Tim Field defines bullying this way: "Bullying is a compulsive need to displace aggression and is achieved by the expression of inadequacy (social, personal, interpersonal, behavioural, professional) by projection of that inadequacy onto others through control and subjugation (criticism, exclusion, isolation etc). Bullying is sustained by abdication of responsibility (denial, counter-accusation, pretence of victimhood) and perpetuated by a climate of fear, ignorance, indifference, silence, denial, disbelief, deception, evasion of accountability, tolerance and reward (eg promotion) for the bully."
A 1999 article (PDF) in a California Dept of Transportation newsletter describes bullying this way:
What are the top 10 acts of workplace bullies?
The WBTI notes different tactics chosen based on the bully’s gender:
a.) Men perpetrators were more likely (& showed a statistically significant greater likelihood) than women perpetrators to adopt the following tactics:
b.) Women perpetrators were more likely (with similar statistical significance) than men perpetrators to adopt the following tactics:
What it could mean: Clearly, men bullies chose tactics that ranged from the blatantly illegal through different forms of aggression to threats of physical force. Men are meaner.
The WBTI notes different tactics chosen based on the targets’ gender:
a.) Women targets were more likely (& showed a statistically significant greater likelihood) than men targets to be recipients of the following tactics:
b.) Men targets were more likely (& showed a statistically significant greater likelihood) than women targets to be recipients of the following tactics:
Bullying of any kind is a source of incredible stress for the victim/target of the bully. Some call it "psychological violence."
Because it is often done selectively, it may be tolerated or left to fester for some time before the issue becomes visible. If the victim engages in dialog with the bully or fights back, the victim may be seen as part of the problem.
According to WBTI’s 2003 research report (http://www.bullyinginstitute.org/home/twd/bb/res.html), 33% of the bullying situations resulted in the victim/target quitting their job. 37% of the them resulted in the victim/target being terminated. In only 13% of the situations was the bully terminated or transferred. See http://www.bullyinginstitute.org/home/twd/bb/res/stop.mov.
For astute managers, it is important to notice when an employee’s behavior changes. A good employee who becomes ill more than usual, withdraws or resists participating in activities they once enjoyed may be the victim of a bully. The manager who is well-skilled in human nature should investigate to determine the reason for the change.
Good employees should be valued and treated with respect at all times. Helping them when they may not know where to turn can restore their high productivity before they become unable to work due to workplace hostility.
In our experience, someone who is a bully will find a "victim" and pursue them until they completely crush the victim’s resistance, until the victim fights back or the bully finds another more interesting victim.
Some types of behavior — such as bullying, harassment, threats or intimidation — simply should not be tolerated in a workplace or business setting.
In an earlier newsletter article, we discussed dealing with difficult people, where one type is the "Do it my way or else." The worst offenders are the personality types of Warriors or Kings, who have a Goal of Dominance operating in the negative aspect of that personality trait — Dictatorship. The positive aspect of Dominance is Leadership. [See our Personality Game]
Fighting back might be a simple as telling the bully in no uncertain terms that you will not be harassed or intimidated by that person and by refusing to be victimized. This is much easier to say than to do in practice so you should have a good support system available to assist you in this effort. Let others know of the problem; don’t keep it to yourself.
Fighting back may consist of filing a lawsuit for harassment. This is a difficult challenge since most U.S. laws now only protect against harassment because of gender. Most situations of men bullying men and women bullying women won’t fall into gender harassment unless there is a sexual component to the harassment.
Fighting back might be reporting the unacceptable behavior to a supervisor, manager or the Human Resources/Personnel Department of your employer.
To help give you the skills to fight back, you may need to take assertive skills training. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, the majority of victims/targets of bullying are women. Both men and women can be bullies.
The WBTI 2003 Report on Abusive Workplaces provides very interesting information about the nature of bullying and we suggest that anyone interested in this subject read it thoroughly.
If you are a supervisor/manager who has a bully working for you, their inappropriate behavior will likely cause you major headaches in the form of complaints or worse from the person’s employees, co-workers and/or customers. It might even cost you a lawsuit or your own dismissal for particularly egregious incidents if you fail to protect the victims/targets of the bully’s bad behavior.
If you are a business owner or executive management, the bully’s bad behavior is already costing you lost productivity and might cost you your business reputation and serious legal penalties if a lawsuit is filed.
As a supervisor or manager your obligation is to prevent or correct bad behavior and the effects on your other employees. Failure to do so makes you part of the problem and could make you legally liable for the negative results of the bully’s behavior. Don’t let a bad situation get worse before taking action.
Some specific tips if you are being bullied:
If you are a bully, learn how to deal more effectively with people. Perhaps take some sensitivity training, communication skills training, leadership training or get individual counseling to modify your behavior. If you do not change your behavior, eventually you will wind up in serious trouble, perhaps being fired, fined or jailed for your inappropriate actions.
Setting appropriate workplace values and codes of conduct helps the organization encourage good behavior by all supervisors, managers and employees. Letting potential job applicants know your culture, values and expected conduct before they come to work helps prevent bullying incidents. If you do hire someone with bullying traits, quick action to correct their negative behavior shows that you really do mean what you say.
Employees must be empowered to report bullying incidents and they must be investigated promptly. Corrective action must be taken with the bully quickly and if the personnel action does not correct their bullying behavior, they must be let go.
Some specific tips for organizations:
People with the Dominance goal have the strongest likelihood to use the negative side of that trait: Dictatorship. Remember, the positive side of Dominance is Leadership.
Other personality traits and life experiences can temper or exaggerate the natural tendencies. Each person is different in how they use their personality traits so be careful about making generalizations.
Some famous people with
the Dominance Goal:
See our Personality Game for more information about the personality traits listed here.
Updated: September, 2018 - Many of the original links are now defunct so have been removed.
For children and schools:
Books - Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.
Related newsletter article:
Updated: September, 2018 - Many of the original links are now defunct so have been removed.
About our resource links: We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links. We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.
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Page updated: October 16, 2023
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