Bullies Grown Up

Many of us have seen the movie “Mean Girls” in which high school girls treat others that do not run in their social circle atrociously by bullying them and being downright mean.  When it comes to the workplace, many managers ignore this type of behavior and chalk it up to being a “personality conflict” because it is their belief  that bullying  could not exists because employees are grown ups– I am here to tell you the contrary.

I have seen bullying rise significantly in the workplace.  Sometimes, it is very obvious.   We see bullying when the bully boss publicly reproaches an employee in a meeting or a bully co-worker bosses around another employee. However, as in the schoolyard, most often bullying behaviors are so subtle they are not so easily recognizable except by those managers with a keen eye.   There is no set list of bullying behavior, but it includes constant unfair criticism like shouting at staff, making someone the butt of jokes, making offensive personal comments and setting someone up to fail by overloading them with work.

Many managers do not even label it bullying.  I constantly get reports from managers concerned about employees engaging in rumor mongering, sabotage, exclusion, and public ridicule (isn’t that considered bullying??).  Managers, often mislabel this by calling it “middle-school” behavior, feeling that those involved should just “work it out and get over it.”  Yet given that workplace bullying can have a direct impact on the bottom line by affecting productivity, wellness, attrition, attraction, and retention, this should not be the ideal response.  So how is bullying eliminated in the workplace? 

  1. Disrupt Bullying:  Managers can disrupt bullying by providing a safe, confidential place in which employees can talk about their experiences without fear of retaliation – whether from co-workers or managers.  A place such as reporting the behavior to Human Resources.
  2. Create Rules of Engagement:  Define expectations on how others interact and behave respectfully and that bullying will not be tolerated.  Have employees help create these rules for engagement so that they take ownership of the problem thereby creating a buy-in.
  3. Maintain Consistent Standards:  Managers need to hold themselves and their employees accountable for sustaining this commitment to stop bullying by maintaining consistent performance expectations and meaningful ongoing dialogue.  Do not assume that squashing a bullying problem once means it will stay squashed.

When management commits and aligns to a culture of trust, respect, and change, the conditions and environment for bullying are sharply diminished.  Have you seen bullying in the workplace?  I would like to hear your stories.

photo credit


About Patricia Knight
Hello and welcome. My name is Patricia Knight. Thank you for taking the time to view my blog. I’m a Human Resources professional who is currently pursing an MBA at the University of Nevada-Reno. I am an analytical, detail-oriented professional who believes that collaboration and negotiation are critical for successful employee relations between leadership and employees.

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