ARE YOU A WORK­PLACE BULLY? AND, IF YOU ARE, WHO WOULD TELL YOU?

And, if you are, who would tell you?

NZ Business - - CONTENTS - By An­nie Gray.

Are you a bully? Chances are if your be­hav­iour is abra­sive, ag­gres­sive or in­tim­i­dat­ing, you prob­a­bly don’t even re­alise it. And the higher you rise in an or­gan­i­sa­tion the harder it is to get that trusted, timely feed­back. By An­nie Gray.

Are you a bully? Chances are if your be­hav­iour is abra­sive, ag­gres­sive or in­tim­i­dat­ing, you prob­a­bly don't even re­alise it. And the higher you rise in an or­gan­i­sa­tion the harder it is to get that trusted, timely feed­back.

E xec­u­tive lead­er­ship coach and a fa­cil­i­ta­tor spe­cial­is­ing in work­place con­flict, Yvonne Treen of Ri­passo Group, has some com­fort­ing words for the bul­lies amongst us.

She says 99 per­cent of the time peo­ple with abra­sive be­hav­iour have good in­ten­tions, they are not aware of the ef­fect they are hav­ing and they are not act­ing in a malev­o­lent way. It’s about their be­hav­iour de­ci­sions.

And these peo­ple are of­ten sur­prised and dis­tressed when told of the work­place per­cep­tions about them.

While there is plenty of lit­er­a­ture defin­ing dif­fer­ent types of bul­ly­ing be­hav­iour, Treen dis­agrees with this ap­proach. She says that la­belling some­one a bully as though it is a clin­i­cal psy­cho­log­i­cal fact is the wrong way to go. She sees it as more re­spon­si­ble to dis­cuss some­one’s abra­sive be­hav­iour or con­duct and the im­pact of that be­hav­iour on the per­son they are tar­get­ing.

She says of­ten the per­son with the abra­sive be­hav­iour has high stan­dards and drives them­selves just as hard as they drive their tar­get, or the per­son they are bul­ly­ing. But they are driv­ing them to per­form in ways that is not help­ful to that tar­get per­son.

“A com­mon as­sump­tion about an abra­sive leader is that they are aware of their be­hav­iour. Peo­ple as­sume their be­hav­iour is malev­o­lent and once a bully al­ways a bully – which are all com­mon mis­con­cep­tions.”

In her ex­pe­ri­ence across many work­places some­one with abra­sive be­hav­iour does not have very high emo­tional in­tel­li­gence. “If you can’t read your­self very well you tend not to be able to read other peo­ple as well. They do not have a very so­phis­ti­cated aware­ness but there can be a long term im­pact of their abra­sive be­hav­iour on the per­son they are tar­get­ing.”

The abra­sive be­hav­iour comes from be­ing con­cerned about do­ing things prop­erly. These peo­ple have a lim­ited tool box for get­ting things done.

But, she says, they can work through a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme and in­ten­sive coach­ing pro­grammes which get them to see what other peo­ple see of their

be­hav­iour. “They are of­ten re­ally sur­prised and dis­tressed.”

So are there CEOs who could be termed bul­lies?

Treen says if you asked around ev­ery­body can talk about the foibles of their CEO.

“My ques­tion for those at CE level is, who gives them feed­back? Even if you have stan­dard 360 de­gree as­sess­ments and en­gage­ment sur­veys, abra­sive be­hav­iour is gran­u­lar – it’s of­ten in the tone of voice, body lan­guage, eye con­tact.

“The higher up the lead­er­ship tree the less likely the per­son is to get frank and timely feed­back, which can be prob­lem­atic for CEOs.”

She adds that some­times it can be quite a small be­hav­iour that is seen as abra­sive be­cause it is mag­ni­fied by the po­si­tion the leader holds.

One se­nior man­ager she worked with had the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing a cold fish, some­what ar­ro­gant and un­car­ing. But some of it arose from the fact he went to work ear­lier than ev­ery­one else and didn’t do the meet and greet when staff ar­rived (the so­cial glue). So he’d come out of his of­fice al­ready well into the day’s work and some­what pre­oc­cu­pied with what he had to do. With­out mak­ing any so­cial con­nec­tion with his staff he was seen as dis­tant, re­mote and ar­ro­gant. So what is a leader to do? Treen says if you don’t have a high trust re­la­tion­ship in­ter­nally ask­ing for feed­back might not get you any real an­swers.

“Who in your or­gan­i­sa­tion is not afraid to give you feed­back? If you don’t have some­one you may need to go out­side to find some­one to ask the ques­tion of.

“We are all a work in progress … and if you don’t ask the ques­tion, how do you know you are fine? What are peo­ple say­ing about you when they have left the or­gan­i­sa­tion? What are your direct re­ports say­ing?"

She says at CE level a leader may not know how they are per­ceived.

It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that “we mea­sure our­selves by our in­tent and we mea­sure oth­ers by their be­hav­iour”.

Lead­ers can be mor­ti­fied at be­ing seen as abra­sive and it can be a defin­ing mo­ment for them. “The point I would make is that as a CEO you de­serve to know.”

Not all in­ter­ven­tions work – such as send­ing some­one on a com­mu­ni­ca­tions course and hop­ing they will change, or pro­vid­ing coun­selling with­out get­ting in­for­ma­tion about what oth­ers find prob­lem­atic about their be­hav­iour. One gen­eral man­ager she worked with had fallen out with his/her boss very badly. The CEO put the GM for­ward for coun­selling but their key take­out from this was that “I was a bit of a bully, but so was my boss.” The GM’s be­hav­iour did not change be­cause it was not ex­plic­itly ad­dressed and this per­son did not take own­er­ship.

So what de­fines bul­ly­ing be­hav­iour? Dr Be­van Cat­ley, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the Healthy Work Group in the School of Man­age­ment at Massey Busi­ness School says there are lots of terms that float about such as bul­ly­ing, ha­rass­ment, abuse, work­place ag­gres­sion. But guide­lines from Work­safe New Zealand give the def­i­ni­tion as: “Work­place bul­ly­ing is: re­peated and un­rea­son­able be­hav­iour di­rected to­wards a worker or a group of work­ers that can lead to phys­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal harm.”

Cat­ley says the word ‘re­peated’ is at the crux of what bul­ly­ing is com­pared to other work­place is­sues. He thinks there is a much bet­ter un­der­stand­ing in terms of aware­ness and the clar­ity of the def­i­ni­tion in the guide­lines from Work­safe is help­ful.

And work­place bul­ly­ing is no small is­sue. Re­cent re­search by Diver­sity Works New Zealand says that bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment are rated as im­por­tant is­sues in more than a third of New Zealand work­places. Al­most 36 per­cent of re­spon­dents to an April New Zealand Diver­sity Sur­vey iden­ti­fied bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment as a sig­nif­i­cant is­sue, up from 26 per­cent in Oc­to­ber 2016.

Diver­sity Works chief ex­ec­u­tive Bev Cas­sidy-Macken­zie says or­gan­i­sa­tions across New Zealand are be­com­ing more aware of the busi­ness ben­e­fits of cre­at­ing an inclusive work­place cul­ture, but al­low­ing bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment to con­tinue unchecked will un­der­mine their ef­forts in this area, she says.

Just un­der 30 per­cent of re­spon­dents to the Diver­sity Sur­vey re­ported that their or­gan­i­sa­tion had recorded in­ci­dents of bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment in the past 12 months. Re­port­ing oc­curred more fre­quently in public-sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tions (37 per­cent) com­pared with 23 per­cent in pri­vate-sec­tor work­places. Large or­gan­i­sa­tions were more likely to have recorded in­ci­dents (45 per­cent) than medium-sized (38 per­cent) or small or­gan­i­sa­tions (nine per­cent).

In turn Cat­ley says a team of re­searchers from Massey Univer­sity’s Healthy Work Group along with col­leagues from Waikato, Auck­land and AUT ex­am­ined the preva­lence of bul­ly­ing in New Zealand and in a 2011 study of 1700 em­ploy­ees drawn from four in­dus­try sec­tors, al­most 18 per­cent met the def­i­ni­tion of be­ing bul­lied at work. In a later 2016 study of 800 re­spon­dents drawn from the gen­eral work­ing pop­u­la­tion, 15 per­cent met the def­i­ni­tion.

Work­safe New Zealand’s Best Prac­tice Guide­lines high­light a bevy of per­sonal and task re­lated at­tacks that are ex­am­ples of bul­ly­ing be­hav­iour such as be­lit­tling re­marks; un­der­min­ing in­tegrity; lies be­ing told; judg­ment ques­tioned; opin­ions marginalised. Or the per­son might be given un­achiev­able tasks; impossible dead­lines; un­man­age­able work­loads; mean­ing­less tasks. They might be ig­nored or in­for­ma­tion might be with­held; mes­sages not be passed on and calls not re­turned. See www.work­safe.govt.nz.

Treen says she is usu­ally called in to an or­gan­i­sa­tion be­cause a man­ager’s be­hav­iour has been prob­lem­atic for some time and/or be­cause some­one has made a for­mal com­plaint.

In most cases the or­gan­i­sa­tion al­ready knows about this per­son but typ­i­cally they choose not to do some­thing with­out a com­plaint be­ing laid.

One per­son she worked with had been em­ployed to im­prove a team's re­sults and would go into the of­fice all busi­ness, ask­ing about KPIs and say­ing the team’s re­sults

“Lead­ers can be mor­ti­fied by be­ing seen as abra­sive and it can be a defin­ing mo­ment for them.”

were not good enough.

Peo­ple found him un­pleas­ant to work with and when he was re­layed this feed­back he was shocked. His man­ager’s brief was to im­prove the re­sults as a mat­ter of ur­gency and ad­dress non-per­for­mance.

“When he saw the im­pact of his threat­en­ing lead­er­ship style and re­alised peo­ple dis­liked him, were dis­tressed by him and fear­ful of him he was ready and able to change that be­hav­iour.”

She agrees that per­haps there a few peo­ple who are a nasty piece of work as such, but the bulk of peo­ple who have abra­sive con­duct are emo­tion­ally un­aware and while their tac­tics may get re­sults in the short term, it can cause long term dam­age.

But the at­tributes of some of these abra­sive man­agers can also make them valu­able em­ploy­ees in that they drive them­selves and have a high work ethic and high per­for­mance. So some or­gan­i­sa­tions look the other way but fail to con­sider the im­pact on the over­all work­place cul­ture. The prob­lems hap­pen when they get pro­moted with­out train­ing or sup­port and don’t learn other strate­gies to lead their teams.

When she presents to or­gan­i­sa­tions on bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment is­sues, ev­ery­one nods be­cause they all know some­one in their or­gan­i­sa­tion who is abra­sive or they have left an or­gan­i­sa­tion be­cause of it.

Treen orig­i­nally worked in in­dus­trial re­la­tions and hav­ing be­ing pro­moted in­ter­nally with­out any coach­ing or men­tor­ing she can see a time, at one stage, when she “wasn’t a par­tic­u­larly nice man­ager”.

If there are work­place is­sues due to a leader’s abra­sive be­hav­iour, Treen be­lieves in­for­mal work­place me­di­a­tion or work­place con­fer­enc­ing are al­ter­na­tives to for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tions or dis­ci­plinary ac­tion. This is par­tic­u­larly use­ful in those in­stances where no­body wants to make a for­mal com­plaint but ev­ery­one knows there is an is­sue.

She says or­gan­i­sa­tions need to ad­dress bad be­hav­iour at an early stage be­fore the it rum­bles along for a cou­ple of years. They of­ten know there is a prob­lem. “What is needed is for be­hav­iour change to oc­cur and poli­cies and re­port­ing pro­ce­dures do not make that sort of change.”

What you ac­cept is what you ap­prove of. She refers to a case where the em­ployee went for ad­vice about how to han­dle a per­son in an­other team who was very ag­gres­sive and was told to only ap­proach them when that per­son was in a good mood. “That’s clas­sic. Ev­ery­one knows what they are like, but the or­gan­i­sa­tion is ac­cept­ing and ap­prov­ing of that bad be­hav­iour."

Bul­ly­ing can have long term con­se­quences if an or­gan­i­sa­tion doesn’t take ac­tion – it is known that in ex­treme cases tar­gets can end up with some­thing akin to post trau­matic stress dis­or­der as a re­sult of long term ex­po­sure to work­place bul­ly­ing or ha­rass­ment. Or­gan­i­sa­tions have a duty of care to iden­tify and ad­dress this.

Asked about bul­ly­ing by CEOs, Be­van Cat­ley at Massey says he likes to as­sume that one of the skills of peo­ple in se­nior man­age­ment po­si­tions is self-aware­ness. He sees self-re­flec­tion of your lead­er­ship style as a key com­pe­tence of se­nior man­agers.

“The ultimate test is: Would I want to be treated like that?”

He says while there is no New Zealand re­search on CEO level bul­ly­ing, it is pretty clear it can hap­pen at any level, whether su­per­vi­sor to su­per­vi­sor, peer to peer, cus­tomers to em­ployer – whereever you have peo­ple, so thus there are bound to be some CEOS who op­er­ate as bul­lies.

Cat­ley said prob­lems across an or­gan­i­sa­tion stem from busi­nesses not tak­ing com­plaints or con­cerns se­ri­ously and the be­hav­iour con­tin­ues and is turned into some­thing more se­ri­ous which might re­sult in a per­sonal griev­ance claim.

And bul­ly­ing can be very sub­tle. His ad­vice to any­one in that po­si­tion is to doc­u­ment ev­ery­thing and es­tab­lish a pat­tern of un­rea­son­able be­hav­iour.

So what can hap­pen? You name it, says Cat­ley, “never un­der­es­ti­mate peo­ple’s abil­ity to be cruel and un­kind”.

He points to Vic­to­ria’s 2011 an­tibul­ly­ing leg­is­la­tion, known as Brodie’s Law, which made se­ri­ous bul­ly­ing a crime pun­ish­able by up to 10 years in jail. The law was in­tro­duced af­ter the tragic sui­cide of a young woman, Brodie Pan­lock, who was sub­jected to re­lent­less bul­ly­ing in her work­place.

While there are a good num­ber of cases in the em­ploy­ment court, Cat­ley be­lieves these may be the tip of the ice­berg and many go through me­di­a­tion and are set­tled out of court.

So what is a CEO to do to pre­vent bul­ly­ing in the work­place?

Cat­ley says get your work­place cul­ture right so bad be­hav­iours will not be tol­er­ated. You need a cul­ture of fair­ness and of re­ward­ing good be­hav­iour. If your or­gan­i­sa­tion is healthy there will not be the op­por­tu­nity to bully.

He says you need a clear frame­work where be­hav­iour ex­pec­ta­tions are clear, the way be­hav­iour is re­in­forced is con­sis­tent and all parts of sys­tems are in align­ment so you are re­ward­ing de­sir­able be­hav­iour.

Cas­sidy-Macken­zie told Man­age­ment she is not sur­prised at their sur­vey re­sults not­ing that now pro­ce­dures are there for bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment it is eas­ier for peo­ple to re­port it. It’s not just that it’s a le­gal re­quire­ment, but peo­ple are com­ing for­ward now. In the past they ig­nored the bul­ly­ing or waited for it to pass, now they know they want a safe en­vi­ron­ment to work.

“From our per­spec­tive, we are trying to work for an inclusive en­vi­ron­ment where peo­ple can be their whole self and this high­lights is­sues around bul­ly­ing.

“Com­pa­nies are re­al­is­ing they have to cre­ate a more inclusive en­vi­ron­ment to get ac­cess to this tal­ent pool. They have to be smarter about how they are build­ing an inclusive en­vi­ron­ment and a safe place to work. They have strate­gies around pro­cesses that staff can use to re­port and feed into.”

She says five years ago Diver­sity Works New Zealand of­fered work­shops on ha­rass­ment but no­body regis­tered. But when they of­fered a cus­tomised work­shop in an or­gan­i­sa­tion’s of­fice, there was a very good up­take. No­body wanted any­one else to know that their or­gan­i­sa­tion had a prob­lem in this area.

To­day they have very good up­take for their reg­u­lar bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment work­shops.

“The higher up the lead­er­ship tree the less likely the per­son is to get frank and timely feed­back.”

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