Workplace Bullying – A Hidden Problem
By: Dr. Helen Ofosu
Workplace Bullying – A Hidden Problem
Bullying on the schoolyard has been deemed unacceptable. Many schools and school boards have implemented zero-tolerance policies. It’s great that someone’s now looking out for the kids, but what about the “big kids” who experience bullying and/or harassment in the workplace?
Just like with kids, sometimes bullying at work is hidden. Let’s face it, adults are often better at keeping bad behaviour under the radar. Anyone who’s in a management position, would be wise to pay attention to any allegation or evidence of bullying and/or harassment because of the employment law-related policies to uphold, not to mention the moral obligations (Note – after this blog article was published, the Province of Ontario’s Bill 132 was implemented and it places a higher burden on employers to protect employees from mistreatment on the job).
How Can You Tell There’s a Problem?
If you’re a manager or business owner, there are some telltale signs that you can look for to see if there’s a problem with bullying and/or harassment within your organization.
The affected employee(s) may be more nervous or anxious around the person who’s giving them a hard time. The quality and quantity of the victim’s work may be diminished. The victim may become more timid, withdrawn, and sad/depressed. The affected person(s) may be absent more often, especially when they are scheduled to be interacting with the alleged bully. This may even escalate to a claim for short or long term disability leave described as stress leave or burnout.
I have seen organizations where one person has been the root cause of an elevated rate of employee turnover. People had so much trouble dealing with this problematic employee that they routinely sought positions in other parts of the organization so that they could avoid future dealings with the bully or they escaped from the organization entirely.
There are times when “everyone” knows and talks about the problem among themselves but not with the management or senior decision makers. Usually, this situation arises when it’s commonly known that previous complaints have fallen on deaf ears and that no action was taken to help resolve the problem. The assumption is that the bully is being protected by the management because the bully is seen as more valuable than the other employees because of their specialized knowledge or role, or because they are extremely productive. Sadly, even if a bully is high-performing in terms of their sales or productivity when you do the final analysis, the lost productivity from the other staff, absenteeism, turnover, and potential legal risks don’t come out in favour of keeping that bully.
How Do You Fix It?
There’s no doubt that workplace bullying and/or harassment can be a serious problem that may require a thoughtful and strategic solution. It could be due to the personality and/or interpersonal style of the bully (e.g., manipulative, controlling, or narcissistic tendencies). The problem could be due to the bully’s exploitation of real or perceived power differentials, or even simple personality clashes. Given the potential complexity of the situation and its consequences, specific concrete solutions for victims or management are beyond the scope of this article but I do advocate taking some appropriate action rather than ignoring it. This is a topic that I’m willing and able to help resolve offline.
As a career coach, I sometimes work with clients who are planning a career change due to bullying and/or harassment that they do not believe is solvable. I’ve been asked for advice on what to do when someone is the victim of bullying. Again, with so many possible factors to consider, concrete answers are beyond the scope of this article. With that said, these situations often resemble bad marriages or bad relationships in the sense that the consequences run deep and can be difficult to resolve. There are times when the bullying is so well entrenched and chronic that it’s highly unlikely that the relationship is salvageable – especially without the cooperation and support of others. Sometimes victims are better off moving on especially when complaining doesn’t resolve it. Before moving on you have to ask yourself does the management/leadership have the willingness to deal with it in a way that’s satisfactory.
If you, your colleagues, or any of your friends/family are interested in knowing more about the issues that I have summarized here please feel free to contact me by email, free 15-minute phone consultation, or via direct message on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
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