Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bullying in the workplace

If you have never observed or personally experienced bullying in the workplace, you can count yourself among the lucky people here in this life. I have known several people (men and women) who have been the recipients of behavior from their bosses that was suggestive of bullying. It was more subtle than aggressive, perhaps in keeping with the Scandinavian mindset as opposed to the more aggressive American one, but I would call it bullying nonetheless.

The reason I was reminded of this topic is because I read about it recently in the coursework for an online mini-MBA program that I am currently enrolled in. This particular mini-MBA program, offered by Probana Business School, has six modules, all of which focus on different aspects of leadership. The current one, Module 4, has Value-based Leadership as its focus. The chapters in this module deal with cultural leadership, the ethics of leadership, Corporate Social Responsibility, stress management, and the workplace environment, among others.

I found the chapter on the workplace environment (physical and psychosocial) to be excellent from all standpoints. Not only is it well-written, but it is timely and important. The topic of bullying in the workplace was introduced and discussed extensively; it is apparently a large problem in many modern workplaces. Bullying can result from conflicts that become exacerbated, where it is difficult to identify a bully or a victim; the other type of bullying is termed predatory bullying—in this case there is no difficulty in identifying the bully and the victim. Predatory bullying seems to be most prevalent in workplaces. Bosses can bully their employees, and employees can bully each other. It does not have to be physical bullying; it can also be psychological bullying, which is often far more subtle and insidious. This type of bullying has only one goal, and that is to reduce the victim to a pile of rubble. You might wonder why some bosses go to the trouble of targeting certain employees for destruction. The answer is that they can; some evil-minded bosses can exploit the weaknesses they see in their employees. They exploit the imbalance of power because they can. They might bully those employees who are perceived to be more intelligent than they are, or who are not easy to control. Creative intelligent people tend to prefer to think for themselves; you’d think that would be attractive for most bosses, but sometimes it’s not. Many bosses prefer employees they can control, and it is often those employees who get promoted at the expense of the ones who are much less ‘manageable’.

I have mostly been witness to psychological bullying in the workplace—the type of bullying that can be subtle and insidious. It can take the form of joking about an employee in a meeting in front of others; the intent is to humiliate that person, while the boss comes off smelling like roses—how can you fault him or her for having a sense of humor? Surely employees can take a joke. Sometimes the information that is given to employees about the job at hand is incorrect or incomplete, such that they cannot do their job correctly. Some employees are routinely overlooked when it comes time for promotions or raises; this can be due to gender discrimination, age discrimination, or personal dislike on the part of management. Some employees are ‘frozen out’ by management--ignored or bypassed when it comes to new projects, denied specific opportunities for advancement, denied project leadership, etc. Still others are the recipients of vague, unclear communication on a continual basis, such that they are never really sure where they stand. Others are the victims of backbiting and gossip, which can often be quite cruel. All of it is designed to weaken and eventually annihilate the victim.

Regardless of who is doing the bullying, the cost to the workplace can be substantial, due to reduced productivity, loss of morale, and a negative and destructive workplace environment. Bullied employees experience fear, shock, hopelessness, serious psychological problems, stress disorders, and eventually go out on sick leave or quit. Management can simply not afford to ignore this problem, and if management is the problem, if some members of management are doing the bullying, then the bullies involved should be forced to resign, and then replaced by leaders with more emotional intelligence. 

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