Saturday, 13 December 2008

Will a bad economy unleash the bullies?

As you know, I focus my BIKE work around challenges we face in our lives. One them may involve bullying.

It's been in the news a lot recently. Most of those stories, however, have centered around bullying children. An article I read online last week suggests bullying might even become more of a problem in the workplace now, because people are under stress from the economic downturn. This is happening worldwide. To get to the bottom of this issue and what we can do about it, I asked someone I know to see what she had to say.

The person I turned to, Jean McFarland, specializes in dealing with culture-based conflict among employees. She's recently published a book about the topic, called BULLIES AMONG US: What To Do When Work's No Fun, in which she addresses the topic, its challenges, and the possible solutions to combating what could be, if this news report is accurate, an escalating problem for employers in the coming months.

If you happen to be one of those employers, if you're an employee dealing with bullying, if you've ever been affected by bullying behavior, you might be interested in what Jean has to say:

Based on the article that suggests bullying in the workplace could become more of a problem now, what's your view?
I wouldn’t say bullying is caused by the current economic situation, but I would say the added stress of the economic situation aggravates already existing situations and intensifies bullying. We will see more and worse cases of bullying, but perhaps less action, both from a legislative standpoint and within organizations, as people focus on what they see as bigger problems [economic].

If, as your book states, two out of five employees experience bullying in the workplace, and if 64 percent of those targeted by bullies are driven to quit their jobs, why isn't this more of a concern to employers?
I think your underlying question is Why do employers keep bullies despite the fact that almost 40% of employees have experienced bullying and 64% of targets are driven out of their jobs? There are multiple reasons. Here are a few:

-The vast majority of workplace bullies are “bosses” of their targets. Therefore they have power and are more likely to be believed.
-The boss’ superior doesn’t want to admit he/she made a mistake in hiring the bully
-A blind eye is turned by all toward bullying behaviors as simply “differences in personality” or “that’s just the way he/she is.”
-Many organizations have no policy in place for dealing with bullies.
-Employers don’t know the real cost of workplace bullying.

As a target of bullying yourself, how did you respond?
When I was bullied in various workplaces, I didn’t know about workplace bullies. That seems strange to me now. How could I not know? But I find that people still don’t recognize the behavior they have tolerated as being bullying. People at my presentations make comments such as “I didn’t know I was bullied. I thought I just had a really mean boss.” Upper-management people who have read my book express their ah-ha’s when they realize that some really difficult people they have had to work with or for were actually bullies toward them.
My response was always to try harder to get along with the individual and to try to improve my productivity. Of course, that is exactly the wrong response toward bullies. In turn, they step up their bullying activities. As with the majority of targets, eventually I separated from the bully—either I left or, in one case, the bully left.

Do you see a correlation between those who are bullied at home and those who are bullied at work?
This is a difficult question. Workplace bullies generally target people or teams whom they find threatening and/or superior to them in some way. I believe domestic bullies are likely to be workplace bullies.

In one of your personal stories cited in the book, you mentioned that you'd lost respect for the boss. Does that make the situation worse for the target?
Does loss of respect for the boss make the situation worse? In the case you reference, I don’t know if my boss understood I had lost respect for him or if it made any difference to him. I believe he had been a bully before he met me and would be a bully to someone wherever he was. Many bullies are serial bullies. In fact, research shows that after targets leave, some bullies adopt a new target within 30 minutes.

For the 39 percent of those who are bullied, those who you say file complaints, what is the usual result of this? How encouraging is this for the target?
To date, results are discouraging. The situation is often made worse for the target. This is why I wrote BULLIES AMONG US. I want targets and managers to know they can take actions themselves against bullying, because they probably won’t receive much help.

What is the number one thing the target can do when first approached by a bully?
Of course, this varies with the situation. One of the 8 actions to take that I name in my book is to Make a Decision whether or not, given the situation, the target wants to confront the bully. If so, I suggest having witnesses. Definitely, I would suggest writing down all the details of the incident. In my book, I present a form that targets can use to keep a record of all encounters. For example, date and place, of course, but also witnesses, words spoken, behaviors, etc.

What is the number one thing an employer should do when made aware of bullying behavior in the workplace?
Take action. Believe that an incident occurred until proven otherwise. Get all the details. Talk with the involved parties together to try to understand what’s going on. Keep a record of the complaint, the meeting, and results. Definitely do not blow it off as a personality conflict.

If there’s no policy against workplace bullying, one should be instituted as quickly as possible. All employees should be informed the policy exists, how bullying is defined, bullying won’t be tolerated, what to do if bullying behaviors are witnessed or experienced. This information should be posted where employees of all levels will see it.

To read more, you can find Jean's book, BULLIES AMONG US: What To Do When Work's No Fun, online at and also at Barnes & Noble. If you have any questions of your own for Jean, post them here, and I'll ask her to respond. Otherwise, you can read more about Jean's thoughts on bullying at her blog.

If you like what you read here, let me know. I'll be including more author interviews or book reviews in the future. As Jean and I agree, awareness can help you combat the challenges in life. If it's not bullying, it might besomething else.
Thanks for visiting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent article, it’s pleasure to read your blog ?