Bullying (21): How organizations can stop bullying


Bullying at work is a big problem in our society. In fact, many employees are abused regularly as part of their job description. The owner of the business, organization, farm or factory rules everyone and often bullies them on a regular basis. I take my hat off to those courageous people (past and present) who fight for justice and do all they can to prevent this bullying, because it is so widespread and “built in”.

It is amazing how much bullying happens in a workplace like a school, a place that is supposed to be the main place for bullying fighters. One of my clients, let’s call her Talia, is a lawyer by and a teacher of legal studies in a high school. Recently, she was bullied by another legal studies teacher. That older teacher probably felt threatened by having a young lawyer at her school and “lost it” when my client’s students received higher scores on a legal study exam. She accused Talia of giving her students the answers for the exam, which was impossible, because the none of the teachers were present during the exam.

The staff room buzzed about it for a week with the older teacher claiming it was not allowed to give kids revision sheets before the exam (which is standard procedure at every school, of course). This escalated to the point where the older teacher entered my clients’ class while the kids were creating a puppet show in a foreign language (it was not even a legal studies class), abused some of the kids and threw some of them outside the class because they were too noisy for her to do her grading in the staff room.

Talia seriously considered transferring to another school, although she loved her job, loved the kids and loved what she was teaching.

It was amazing how all the other teachers, fearing that older teacher, disappeared from sight when the issue was being examined by the deputy principal. My client wrote an official complaint that forced the system to sort the matter out to avoid escalating it to the Department of Education (never mess with lawyers).

When everything had settled, all of Talia’s teacher friends came to say, “I couldn’t say anything or I would get in trouble myself”. We can see here a typical workplace bullying story with a bully, a victim and some bystanders, yet it is just a small example of workplace bullying and how the organization took no responsibility until it was forced to act.

Imagine how many good teachers transfer to another school because of one bully teacher who lacks emotional intelligence and feels weak and threatened at work or at home. In most of these stories, the bullying victim does not have enough self-confidence to stand up for what they believe in, like my client did, and it is the organization’s responsibly to stop the bullying quickly and firmly.

The effects of bullying on the organization

Business hierarchy shown as birds on treeAs an organization, the first thing you must understand is that with every bullying incident in your workplace, you lose productivity and, as a result, money. It is in your best interest to stop it and as soon as possible. It may not be easy, but it is a must. In workplaces where there is bullying there are many problems that quickly affect the “bottom line”.

If you hold a position of power in an organization, consider these expenses that result from bullying in your workplace:

  • Extra sick leave, some directly to overcome emotional issues and some for emotionally-triggered physical issues. This means reduced productivity or increased costs when replacements are hired
  • Working hours wasted on sorting out personal things
  • Extra leave time taken
  • More conflicts and less cooperation, producing worse results
  • Loss of good workers
  • High turnover, causing the loss of many training hours
  • Salary increases to attract new trained and qualified workers
  • Lower quality due to inability to focus on the work
  • Lower productivity due to stress and lack of enthusiasm
  • Higher rate of accidents, causing more expenses and risking lawsuits
  • Increase in violence
  • Increase in workplace/union disputes and claims
  • Higher legal costs
  • Damage to public image and reputation
  • Loss of clients and business volume due to quality problems, bad service and negative perception

Some companies even close up because they are unable to manage their people properly.

Workplace bullying can be caused by individual factors and cultural factors. It is very important for every organization to understand those factors and address them as a matter of course.

Individual factors of workplace bullying

The people bullying have problems that make them feel weak. Understanding workplace bullies can help you greatly in tackling this issue. When recruiting people, organizations can reduce bullying by not hiring bullies.

Many years ago, researchers found that people with high emotional intelligence are better workers, even if their knowledge is not as good. When recruiting, especially managers, examine their emotional intelligence and not just their knowledge and technical skills.

Workplace bullies usually:

  1. Lack confidence and feel insecure in their job/position
  2. Have poor social skills
  3. Do not recognize the difference between abuse and guidance
  4. Feel threatened by losing their job and envy others’ success
  5. Do not have respect and empathy towards others
  6. Want to achieve personal goals without compromise
  7. Think it is OK to use their rank/position to force others to do things
  8. Are not assertive
  9. Lack leadership skills
  10. Enjoy other people’s pain

To assist in this, organizations should use psychological evaluations and conduct thorough character reference checks (again, particularly when recruiting new managers).

Cultural factors of workplace bullying

People holding a pie chartIt is very important for every organization to understand that sometimes, they increase the bullying incidents in their workplace by creating and supporting a bullying culture. Often, such workplace cultures are there for historical reasons, but they always have a negative impact on the productivity of the organization.

Here is a list of ways in which your organization may be supporting a bullying environment. Reversing them will result in happy, cooperative and productive employees and contribute to the organizations success:

  1. Strict, uncompromising deadlines that force workers to stay at work long hours
  2. Giving mangers the power to do whatever they want as long as the work is done
  3. Putting pressure on managers (knowing they will pass that pressure on to their department or team)
  4. Setting unrealistic targets
  5. Turning a blind eye to any type of bullying (verbal, social, emotional or physical)
  6. Considering reports of bullying by bystanders as ratting
  7. Threatening people with their job security
  8. Having no system in place for complaints or requiring that complains always follow the “chain of command”
  9. Being unclear about policies, procedures and job descriptions
  10. Considering conflicts between workers as personal matters
  11. Having little or no professional and personal training for staff
  12. Scaring people into quitting to avoid having to pay severance
  13. Creating a highly competitive workplace
  14. Having no management feedback mechanism for employees to us
  15. Restricting decision making to a small group of people who “run the show”
  16. Encouraging authoritarian managing style
  17. Use bullying to hide incompetence and criminal behavior – Gal and I had a friend who was a vet in a chicken factory. One day, he rejected a lot of chickens for being sick, which meant loss of money to the factory. After refusing “suggestions” to pass the chickens, his new car, which was parked just outside the factory, was scratched all over several times, until he quit.

Join me next week for the solutions organizations can put in place to prevent workplace bullying. If you are part of an organization, I am sure you will find many useful tips in that post.

Happy day,