A prob­lem with author­ity

Workplace bul­ly­ing is even worse when your boss is be­hind it

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

RE­CENTLY, I re­ceived sev­eral re­quests for as­sis­tance on the deeply trou­bling hu­man-re­source is­sue of bul­ly­ing in the workplace. Worse yet, the boss is the per­son do­ing the bul­ly­ing.

These dis­tress­ing sit­u­a­tions prompted me to read a re­cent re­port pub­lished by the U.S.-based Workplace Bul­ly­ing In­sti­tute. Its 2014 sur­vey found at least 20 per cent of work­ers re­ported they were be­ing bul­lied, while 23 per cent of other work­ers were aware of bul­ly­ing and 21 per cent re­ported wit­ness­ing bul­ly­ing in their workplace.

In­ter­est­ingly, the re­port says men most of­ten tar­get women, while women most of­ten tar­get other women. Women tar­gets of bul­ly­ing were also at a higher risk of los­ing their jobs. For ex­am­ple, the sur­vey found 65 per cent of bul­ly­ing vic­tims are driven out of their workplace.

Sim­i­lar to the com­plaints I’ve re­cently re­ceived, 56 per cent of all bul­lies were se­nior-rank­ing lead­ers who abused their author­ity. This leaves em­ploy­ees with chal­lenges in terms of how to deal with the sit­u­a­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, 75 per cent of em­ploy­ers were found to con­done bul­ly­ing, with only 20 per cent will­ing to take ac­tion in spite of the risk of em­ployee turnover, hu­man-rights com­plaints and the po­ten­tial risk of hefty fi­nan­cial penal­ties.

The bul­ly­ing com­plaints I’ve re­ceived in the past month in­clude ver­bal abuse, in­tim­i­da­tion, ques­tion­ing one’s com­mit­ment and tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise, un­der­min­ing work ac­com­plish­ments and pre­vent­ing em­ployee suc­cess. Other sit­u­a­tions in­volve a tar­geted em­ployee be­ing dis­missed from meet­ings they would nor­mally at­tend, us­ing worker re­la­tion­ships to iso­late the tar­geted em­ploy­ees and spread­ing hurt­ful ru­mours.

The com­plaints in­volve a boss play­ing favourites by over­rid­ing com­pany poli­cies and pro­ce­dures to give spe­cial treat­ment in ex­change for loy­alty, which re­sults in in­creased isolation for tar­geted em­ploy­ees. There is a wide range of bully be­hav­iour — from play­ing the role of Mr. Nice Guy, who covertly un­der­mines the tar­geted em­ployee, to At­tila the Hun, who is feared for overt and con­stant threats.

Most of the re­quests for ad­vice I have re­ceived re­cently are about how to sur­vive a bul­ly­ing sit­u­a­tion. There is no stan­dard an­swer be­cause bul­ly­ing is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, if not dan­ger­ous, for an em­ployee to con­front. Keep in mind only about 20 per cent of or­ga­ni­za­tions are will­ing to take ac­tion, and when they do the ac­tion is typ­i­cally to re­lease the tar­get from their job.

So what do em­ploy­ees tar­geted by a boss’s bul­ly­ing do? There are at least three choices, in­clud­ing de­vel­op­ing strate­gies to sur­vive, seek­ing help and/or fil­ing a com­plaint, and mov­ing to a more pos­i­tive workplace. De­vel­op­ing sur­vival skills

This choice of strat­egy is most of­ten used by em­ploy­ees who be­lieve they have much to lose by leav­ing their or­ga­ni­za­tion, es­pe­cially when a pen­sion is at risk. Keep­ing in mind bul­ly­ing is not about the em­ployee’s skills and ex­per­tise, it is all about the need for power, dom­i­nance and con­trol. If this case, the best sur­vival skill to de­velop is learn­ing how to com­part­men­tal­ize work prob­lems and sep­a­rate work and home.

You can also ad­dress the is­sue by speak­ing to your boss. Your mes­sage must be strate­gi­cally de­vel­oped, pre­sented in a pos­i­tive man­ner, and fo­cused on what you can do for the or­ga­ni­za­tion and what you can do to make the boss look good. How­ever, this does not guar­an­tee a so­lu­tion. Con­tinue mak­ing at­tempts to win the boss over, but be wary if your per­sonal health starts to suf­fer. When this hap­pens, it is time to leave.

Dur­ing this time, be sure to main­tain a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude, avoid gos­sip­ing with any­one about your sit­u­a­tion, and look af­ter yourself by med­i­tat­ing, writ­ing in a jour­nal, read­ing self-help books, seek­ing stress coun­selling and, of course, up­dat­ing your re­sumé. Seek help

It is im­por­tant you fol­low your or­ga­ni­za­tion’s com­plaint pol­icy. Be sure to doc­u­ment ev­ery in­ci­dent: the time, date, wit­nesses and spe­cific de­scrip­tions of the bul­ly­ing. Con­sult with your hu­man re­sources man­ager, and if that is not suc­cess­ful, seek out al­ter­na­tives such as rep­re­sen­ta­tion from a union or your pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tion. Seek out govern­ment agencies such as the Man­i­toba Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, but keep in mind, while some de­part­ments over­see leg­is­la­tion, they don’t have the power of in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Fi­nally, con­sult an ex­pert on ha­rass­ment and bul­ly­ing to get spe­cific ad­vice or pro­fes­sional in­ter­ven­tion. Exit the or­ga­ni­za­tion

The time to exit an or­ga­ni­za­tion is when your own health be­gins to de­te­ri­o­rate. There is sim­ply no sub­sti­tute for your health. You need your health for your next job. When you let yourself get ex­tremely stressed over your sit­u­a­tion, you will not be in any shape to ap­ply for a new job. You lose your con­cen­tra­tion, you may have heart pal­pi­ta­tions and you may lose en­ergy. If you let things slide too long, you may need to take time off to re­cu­per­ate. Some­times you can ne­go­ti­ate a set­tle­ment to exit the or­ga­ni­za­tion, but be sure to ask for ca­reer-tran­si­tion ser­vices to help you get back into the work­force.

It is dis­con­cert­ing to once again learn bul­ly­ing is in the workplace — and es­pe­cially that bul­ly­ing by one’s boss is con­tin­u­ing to thrive in the workplace. As the Workplace Bul­ly­ing In­sti­tute’s sur­vey demon­strates, or­ga­ni­za­tions are more likely to re­move the vic­tim than dis­ci­pline the boss. While this strat­egy demon­strates faulty think­ing, the boss is of­ten a hard-driv­ing pro­fes­sional who continues to meet the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s fi­nan­cial goals and ob­jec­tives. It is dif­fi­cult for an or­ga­ni­za­tion to in­ter­fere when they also rely on these pow­er­ful fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tions.

Bul­ly­ing de­stroys em­ployee morale and cre­ates a hos­tile work cul­ture. If this is the case, or­ga­ni­za­tions will en­counter high em­ployee ab­sen­teeism, high em­ployee turnover, low em­ployee pro­duc­tiv­ity and a de­cline in prof­itabil­ity. If or­ga­ni­za­tional lead­ers and boards of di­rec­tors get even a hint of these is­sues, it’s time to look in the mir­ror, iden­tify the causes and find so­lu­tions.

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