Man holding and shouting at co-worker

In a survey conducted by Dr. Judy Blando of the University of Phoenix, nearly 75% of respondents said they had been affected by workplace bullying, either as a target or a witness. That’s shocking. What’s even more shocking is that so often bullying goes unreported, and when it is reported the targets are often the ones that bear the consequences. According to a recent article in business.com, targets lose their jobs at a significantly higher rate than perpetrators (82% vs. 18 %).

This is short-sighted on the part of employers, because bullying impacts not only the targets, but other employees who witness it, as well as customers. Chances are if someone is a bully to those inside your organization, they will be a bully to those outside the organization.

I’ve seen this first-hand. A company I was working with hired a new sales manager. Over time, the sales manager’s team began to complain about a number of things. He wasn’t cooperating with the rest of the team. He would get in people’s faces. He took credit for other people’s work. He would over promise to customers, and when he couldn’t deliver, he would blame others for it. All of these are signs of a bully. The company owner was reluctant to take action. It was hard for him to admit he’d made a bad hire. This is pretty typical. In fact, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 72% of employers deny, discount, encourage, rationalize or defend bullying.

I encouraged the owner to explore what was happening internally, and to consider that it might be impacting the company’s image externally. Following an investigation, the sales manager was fired. Not long after that, two customers called the owner to say that they had been on the verge of moving their business because of the way this individual had treated them.  Bad behavior is bad for business!

Often bullying can be subtle. And often bullies pick on targets whom others describe as amiable, easy-going, kind. Bullying is abuse, plain and simple. Here are some things to watch for. A bully may:

  • Consistently ignore the target, or exclude them from team meetings, conversations, or outings
  • Be overly critical of the target’s work, with the goal of making them feel inadequate or unworthy
  • Create a hostile work environment by igniting conflict or competition among team members
  • Yell or use abusive language to others
  • Physically block the target from entering or exiting, or invade the target’s personal space
  • Take credit for work that is not their own
  • Blame others for their mistakes
  • Give false information or withhold information to discredit the target
  • Purposely prevent the target’s progress on a work project

Preventing bullying in the workplace starts by making good hires. Craft your behavioral interview questions to draw out any red flags from the candidate’s previous experience. Communicate to employees that abusive behavior/bullying will not be tolerated. Create an environment where all employees feel comfortable sharing concerns with their leader or HR. Be observant. Notice and take action when you see bad behavior. Develop and communicate a process for reporting and response. Keep accurate records.

If you have concerns about bullying in your organization, please feel free to contact me.