How bul­lies can steer busi­ness into toxic turns

The Sunday Times - - Business - Gary Martin

WHEN we think of bul­ly­ing we are of­ten taken back to our school days, when stu­dents were preyed upon by what ap­peared to be lawless so­cial preda­tors.

Those who ex­pe­ri­enced bul­ly­ing were of­ten glad to see the end of their school days, wrongly as­sum­ing it meant the end of be­ing bul­lied.

But un­for­tu­nately, that as­sump­tion has proven to be wrong for many. They en­tered the work­force and found a new type of prob­lem — the work­place bully.

At a sim­plis­tic level, not­ing that the con­cept is of­ten com­pli­cated, work­place bul­ly­ing refers to any on­go­ing work­place be­hav­iour that is threat­en­ing or harm­ful to the ex­tent that it cre­ates a risk to an em­ployee’s health and safety. Such be­hav­iours can be di­rected to­wards an in­di­vid­ual or a group of col­leagues.

Key work­place bul­ly­ing be­hav­iours can in­clude on­go­ing and re­peated abu­sive be­hav­iour (in­clud­ing of­fen­sive lan­guage and yelling), be­lit­tling, vic­tim­i­sa­tion and spread­ing ma­li­cious ru­mours.

More sub­tle bul­ly­ing in­cludes with­hold­ing in­for­ma­tion that is needed for ef­fec­tive work per­for­mance, deny­ing ac­cess to re­quired in­for­ma­tion or tools to per­form du­ties and, in the case of a man­ager, set­ting tasks that are un­rea­son­able or be­yond an em­ployee’s skill level.

Not all be­hav­iour that makes an em­ployee feel up­set is nec­es­sar­ily work­place bul­ly­ing. Man­agers and su­per­vi­sors in the work­place have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide feed­back, par­tic­u­larly when an in­di­vid­ual’s per­for­mance is in­volved, but this should be car­ried out in a con­struc­tive way and not a de­mean­ing or in­tim­i­dat­ing man­ner.

It is im­por­tant to note the work­place bully’s be­hav­iour is fre­quently not linked to how the bully feels about a par­tic­u­lar vic­tim.

Quite of­ten, bul­ly­ing oc­curs be­cause of how bul­lies feel about them­selves. The typ­i­cal work­place bully of­ten feels in­fe­rior to col­leagues, and bul­ly­ing be­hav­iours are fre­quently a re­sult of a lack of so­cial and emo­tional ma­tu­rity.

While em­ploy­ees of­ten as­sume a prospec­tive work­place bul­ly­ing vic­tim will be some­one who ap­pears to be vul­ner­a­ble, this is not nec­es­sar­ily the case. Those em­ploy­ees, for ex­am­ple, who are ex­cep­tion­ally good at what they do or pop­u­lar with their col­leagues are also fre­quently tar­geted by bul­lies.

Bul­ly­ing in the work­place has a range of con­se­quences for both the vic­tim and the or­gan­i­sa­tion. It can re­sult in stress, anx­i­ety and other med­i­cal con­di­tions for vic­tims.

For or­gan­i­sa­tions, the con­se­quences can be just as severe. A bul­ly­ing work­place cul­ture of­ten re­sults in re­duced pro­duc­tiv­ity, in­creased ab­sen­teeism and costly le­gal is­sues. Vic­tims of bul­ly­ing should seek ad­vice from a trusted in­di­vid­ual in their or­gan­i­sa­tion, for ex­am­ple a man­ager, or an HR pro­fes­sional.

Only if the vic­tim feels com­fort­able should they ap­proach the work­place bully and ask that the be­hav­iour stops.

Work­place bul­ly­ing is a scourge of the mod­ern work­place.

All em­ploy­ees should play a key role to pre­vent it oc­cur­ring.

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