“Bullies in the workplace” is a common term, and sadly so many have experienced it that we all know what it means. However, I take exception to the term because it does not reflect the seriousness of the consequences it has on individuals and the businesses or organizations that do nothing about it. But I will use the term for the sake of this discussion.
Since well before I started my leadership consulting business, I heard so many stories of bully behavior at work. I had experienced it myself in both overtly hostile and passive aggressive forms. The last few years have given public exposure to many bully behaviours, toxic workplaces, and toxic bosses. So many had a pattern of behaviour long before making the news. Even in high offices where we assume people have power and courage to be ethical, a truly soulful style of leadership is missing. (Look at events in Canada’s military, the former Governor General’s Office and in the USA’s highest offices where bullies thrived and caused extreme harm.)
Why does this behaviour go unchecked and even rewarded?
Ideally this dysfunction would have been caught early and the person retrained or coached for a healthier leadership style or removed but certainly not promoted or given new power.
It is easy to shake our heads at what happened to someone else by someone else in some other place – but we also need to bring it closer to home. These kinds of behaviours exist in our own organizations, businesses, and institutions – even where you least expect it. And these abusers are often tolerated and promoted.
Leaders or supervisors of such people have the onus to be conscious and address the challenge before it causes more damage – damage to people and the very thriving of a business or organization. Unless there is a strong work culture of safety and truth-telling it is too difficult or dangerous for anyone lateral or lower in the food chain to speak up about what is happening. Cultures of social and psychological safety can be hard to find. It requires a level of emotional and spiritual intelligence that isn’t present enough. Yet.
It is a big reason why years ago I was motivated to offer leadership consulting and coaching for healthy team functioning in thriving ways. It is possible, but leaders and teams need to give it conscious attention and intention.Sometimes the workplace dysfunction isn’t so obvious as the overt verbal or physical abuse. Often it thrives in passive-aggressive form. Click To Tweet
Sometimes the workplace dysfunction isn’t so obvious as the overt verbal or physical abuse. Often it thrives in passive-aggressive form.
A Psychology Today article specifically describes some passive-aggressive bully styles:
Passive-aggressive or covert bullying is a less frequently mentioned form of bullying but is often the most insidious. Regular overt bullies can be spotted easily by their intimidating presence. A passive-aggressive covert bully can appear to act appropriately on the surface but acts subtly to undermine others.
Some examples of passive-aggressive bullying include negative gossip, negative joking at someone’s expense, sarcasm, condescending eye contact, facial expression or gestures, mimicking to ridicule, deliberately causing embarrassment and insecurity, the invisible treatment, social exclusion, professional isolation, and deliberately sabotaging someone’s well-being, happiness, and success.Be aware that this type of bullying can happen during remote work as well. Click To Tweet
Be aware that this type of bullying can happen during remote work as well. In fact, bully bosses can use remote work to amplify professional isolation and exclusion and they fly under the radar while developing in-groups and out-groups.
Long prior to COVID-19 remote workers struggled. An article in the Ottawa Sun cites a 2017 study by Harvard Business Review that polled 153 remote workers and found that 52% of them felt they were being excluded from important decisions and felt harassed, mistreated and ganged up on by colleagues.
In that article, Denise Koster says “Allies are being created between those who physically work onsite and those who are working remotely. Communication, the selective process of who receives certain information, and the sense of isolation is commonplace.”
Bullies create these behaviours and encourage others to replicate it through their own in-groups:
- Isolation of others
- Ridicule and sarcasm towards people’s ideas, beliefs or values
- Targeting others because of jealousy
- Creating gossip and insinuations
- Work sabotage/disempowering talented people
- Taking credit for other people’s work
- Institutional betrayal – inadequate internal skills and systems to address the abuser
- Gender harassment/discrimination
- Unethical financial actions and ostracizing others when challenged
- Electronic stalking
- Ignoring or critizing a team member’s ideas then using them and taking credit
- Blocking equitable opportunity for training or promotion
- Withholding information or purposefully giving the wrong information.
See this government link for more on this: https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/bullying.html
I remember one person speaking about a bully boss. She described her experience as feeling her boss had her foot on her neck all day. Interesting description. (Note also the pronoun; bullying is not perpetrated by only one gender.)
Bullying can thrive and is often rewarded in organizations when laissez-faire leadership, inadequate HR systems or other bosses whose own unhealthy style creates a model for others. It creates a workplace culture that is hard to fix. The problem with culture is that it becomes the unwritten rules and people are compelled to participate or tolerate – or leave.Bullies who are willing to be abusive in overt or covert ways, lack integrity and, in my opinion, may act in other unethical or fraudulent ways. Click To Tweet
Organizations that choose not to address it are at risk in many ways. Bullies who are willing to be abusive in overt or covert ways, lack integrity and, in my opinion, may act in other unethical or fraudulent ways. (That and many other risks are topics for another time.)
Do you recognize the above situations in your workplace? What is your work culture like? Are some of these so routine it seems like they belong?Values-based, progressive, emotionally and spiritually intelligent leaders would not create these conditions or allow them to occur. Click To Tweet
Values-based, progressive, emotionally and spiritually intelligent leaders would not create these conditions or allow them to occur.
Having leadership experience in both on-site and virtual work, I coach and consult leaders and teams on effective collaboration, teamwork, and co-creation for a higher purpose and mutually rewarding outcomes.
Here is a hint:
It is not the presence or absence of fancy remote technology nor the presence or absence of human beings in the same room; it is rather the heart and soul and intention of the leader.
Do you know leaders who want every voice heard and see the value in inclusive collaboration and co-creation? Or do you see leaders who are concerned about personal power and control regardless of whether it helps the higher goals?The best leaders will create cultures of empowerment and significance that contribute to possibility. Click To Tweet
The best leaders will create cultures of empowerment and significance that contribute to possibility. If that is the kind of leader you are, or desire to be, and want the same for your workplace I would love to support that! Click here for a conversation!
If you are experiencing a bully boss, have survived one or are recovering from one, I’d like to support you too. Please don’t stay isolated.
Rememeber to try to keep your light on. Darkness cannot overcome light.