My Boss Is A Bully

If you’re feeling that way I can guarantee you that you’re not alone. According to the Canada Safety Council almost 80% of workplace bullies are the boss. While it is a staggering statistic it makes perfect sense. It is much tougher for workplace peers to act the part of the bully than it is for the boss. Afterall, s/he holds the keys to your corporate future within the organization.

The Safety Council’s report pointed out that these bullies target capable, co-operative people they have identified as being a threat. Unlike playground bullying it can be difficult to identify the fact that you are being bullied at all. Workplace related behaviours being what they are some bosses are simply recognized as being hard on their people. The fact that they are systematically intimidating a direct report often gets lost due to the specific behavioural temperaments that the rest of the organizations sees. I’ve heard people say things like “oh that’s just Jim being Jim” (with apologies to all of the Jim’s that might be reading this).

The Canada Safety Council defines adult bullying as a “grab for control by an insecure, inadequate person, an exercise of power through the humiliation of the target”. While it often involves humiliation or abusive words that lower a person’s self-esteem it can also take the form of  belittling a person by making them do tasks below their skill level.  My own belief is that much of the micro-managing that goes on in many organizations runs the risk of crossing the line into the territory of workplace bullying.

According to research has shown that bullies tend to come from homes in which early relationships were battles of power. Bullies learn how to dominate, control others and put them down. As adults they tend to assume workplace relationships are based on these behaviours. They report that findings show that bullies may be able to read the emotional responses of others but lack empathy – that ability to relate to the feelings of others. As bullies lack emotional control their behaviour tends to be inconsistent. They are charming to some colleagues and evil to others. Their demands are also often inconsistent e.g. changing their minds at the last-minute.

These behavioural and emotional dispositions create difficulties in the workplace for the bully and for his/her colleagues. It is not only victims who are affected by bullying. Engagement with work and well-being of employees, who are aware of the bullying, also deteriorates. Research evidence, gathered over many years, shows that in organizations where there is bullying, outputs fall.

 The impact on engagement and performance is incredible and certainly worthy of note for any organization. A U.S. study estimates that 1 in 5 American workers has experienced destructive bullying in the past year. A survey titled,  Extent and Effects of Workplace Bullying identified the following key findings:

  •  52.94% of bully ‘targets’ stated that as a result of the workplace bullying their productivity was reduced by 50-70%.
  •  Those who ‘witnessed’ a workplace-bullying incident in either a former, or current workplace also stated their productivity levels were affected, with the majority (66.7%) estimating a 10-40% decrease.
  •  100% of respondents who indicated there was an ‘active’ bully in their workplace, also stated the ‘actions’ of this person/persons was having a negative effect on staff morale.
  •  72.2% of all respondents, whether the ‘target’ of a workplace bully, or a ‘witness’ stated they had left a job as a direct result of workplace bullying.
  • From a list of work ethic and personality traits, 72.2% of all respondents indicated that the most prevalent traits in ‘targets’
  • From a list of work ethic and personality traits, 72.2% of all respondents indicated that the most prevalent traits in ‘targets’ prior to encountering a bully attack, as being ‘skilled’ and ‘hard working’. These traits were followed closely by ‘faithful’, very competent’, ‘intelligent’, professional, and, ethical.

Raymer, Hoel and Cooper identified the following common abusive workplace behaviours:

  1. Having your opinions and views ignored
  2. Withholding information which affects your performance
  3. Being exposed to an unmanageable workload
  4. Being given tasks with unreasonable or impossible targets or deadlines
  5. Being ordered to do work below competence
  6. Being ignored or facing hostility when you approach
  7. Being humiliated or ridiculed in connection with your work
  8. Excessive monitoring of a person’s work (i.e. micromanagement)
  9. Spreading gossip
  10. Having insulting or offensive remarks made about your person (i.e. habits and background), your attitudes or your private life
  11. Having key areas of responsibility removed or replaced with more trivial or unpleasant tasks

That brings us to the question of what can be done if you or a co-worker is the target of a workplace bully. The Ontario Safety Association for Community & Healthcare offers these strategies:
1. Learn more about bullying – information is power.
2. Don’t ignore the behaviour. Remember, the statistics show that you are not alone.
3. Get help/support. Tell others you trust. Do you have friends, relatives, a union, co-workers or another group who are truly understanding and supportive? Do you have an EAP, counsellor or physician you can speak to?
4. Document every incident. Start a diary/journal and enter events after they occur or each night. Include the date (and time if relevant), who was present, what happened and how you felt.
5. Address the situation with the bully if you feel comfortable and safe. Let them know that their behaviour is unacceptable. Stay calm; be polite and direct.
6. Be willing to examine your own behaviour/feelings.
7. Report the incident to your manager or human resources (especially if your manager is the one bullying you).

If you are confronted it is important that you know some bully proof responses. Train yourself to listen critically to a bully. When you hear words of attack (criticism, blame or self-justification), fall back on the following responses. Very simply, excuse yourself with one of these bully proof responses and walk away;

  • Excuse me, I have a meeting to go to.
  • I have something I have to attend to. I’ll get back with you later.
  • Pardon me, I was just heading out. Can we talk tomorrow?
  • Let’s talk later (this afternoon). I have something that can’t wait.
  • (Non-defensively) Do you think so? Maybe you’re right.
  • I don’t agree, but I’m sure we can talk about this another time.

The worst thing we can do is to remain silent. That’s the base of power that the workplace bully operates from. Regardless of whether you are the target or the co-worker of a bullying target speak up and work to create change!

About Bob Woodcock

Guaranteed results using science and insight as the catalyst to align, engage, and develop people so they positively impact the top and bottom line. Align, Engage, Develop, Perform!
This entry was posted in Alignment, Employee Engagement, Innovation, Leadership Development, Performance Management, Succession Planning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to My Boss Is A Bully

  1. says: I love your work on this site. You have to keep it up.

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