Saturday, March 16, 2013

Workplace bullying

You might think that workplace bullying is on the decrease, but it’s not. I witness it, if not daily, at least weekly, in one form or another, as do others I know. Wikipedia’s presentation of workplace bullying ( lists categories of specific behaviors that describe this phenomenon quite well:

  • Threat to professional status – including belittling opinions, public professional humiliation, accusations regarding lack of effort, intimidating use of discipline or competence procedures
  • Threat to personal standing – including undermining personal integrity, destructive innuendo and sarcasm, making inappropriate jokes about target, persistent teasing, name calling, insults, intimidation
  • Isolation – including preventing access to opportunities, physical or social isolation, withholding necessary information, keeping the target out of the loop, ignoring or excluding
  • Overwork – including undue pressure, impossible deadlines, unnecessary disruptions
  • Destabilisation – including failure to acknowledge good work, allocation of meaningless tasks, removal of responsibility, repeated reminders of blunders, setting target up to fail, shifting goal posts without telling the target  

The behaviors I have been witness to mostly fall under the categories—Threat to personal standing and Isolation. I’m interested in discussing Threat to personal standing in this post today. The bullies use humor, sarcasm, and inappropriate jokes to belittle employees, mostly during meetings where other professionals are present. The intent is to diminish the personal and professional standing of the target in the eyes of those who are present at the meeting; there is absolutely no doubt about that. They may do this in a way that gets the people who are present at the meeting to laugh at the expense of the target, but it leaves a bad taste in their mouths afterward. Why is that? Because those who were present and who witnessed this bad behavior know that they have been privy to a power play—bully denigrating target. The target, usually an employee who works for the bully, is often clueless and cannot defend himself or herself. And even if the target is not clueless, he or she is reluctant to fight back in a meeting setting, mostly because these types of people are often civilized and professional, in contrast to the bully. But fighting back and causing a scene would probably be the best thing for all involved. In this way the bully would be exposed for the creep he or she really is, and the target at least is able to verbalize that he or she has been abused. The target risks of course being told that he or she is ‘too sensitive, takes things too personally, to get over it, suck it up’ and so on. But that is when he or she must stand strong and not buckle under the pressure applied by the bully to admit that the bully may be right. Because the bully is not right. The bully must not be allowed to create confusion in the minds of the target or the others present at a meeting.

What the targets have to understand is that they are true threats to the bully. The bullies envy them. They have something that the bully does not have and will never have—a professional approach to their work and a decency and civilized comportment that is sorely lacking in the bullies. Most bullies are stupid and crude people; I mean that quite seriously. Their crudeness may not be overtly manifest, but it’s there. They don’t like most people either because they are certain that they are better than most other people. They have ridden on the coattails of their (often smarter) employees for years, basking in the success that belongs (or should belong) to these other more competent individuals. They are often unhappy people in their personal lives; and we all know the old saying—that misery loves company. But these bullies take it one step further; they want to destroy the mental well-being of the people they envy. Their behavior should be blocked in a workplace setting; unfortunately that is often not the case. They are free to proceed with their belittling behavior because they sit in positions of power, or simply because they are obnoxious and difficult people who dominate the environments they find themselves in, where their peers (those of equal status and equal power level) merely smile in a bemused way at their behavior. In this way, they are free to continue to behave badly as long as no one stands up to them and says ‘stop’. More people should overcome their civilized natures and stand up to bullies. It won’t lead to politically correct meetings, nor should it. That’s the point. We need to abolish political correctness where it protects the bullies at the expense of their targets.  


  1. This is a complete accounting of just what bullies are and whom and why they target.

    Thanks :-)

  2. You're welcome, and thank you for commenting! :)