Portrait Of A Workplace Bully
We have all worked with one or for one. We hurry into our offices or we deftly minimize our presence when we hear the one voice that is sure to evoke fear and tension. We feel sick, but the bills have to be paid. It is about survival. You put up with the toxicity as you send out numerous resumes, hoping to snag a better opportunity that gives you the peace of mind. You create excuses in your head, about why you are stagnant and all roads lead to this one individual who continues to make your work-life a living nightmare.
That bully can be your boss or a colleague. That one person that is able to take you back to the playground at school. The thing is you are not at school. You are an adult and the environment is about output.
I recall some years ago, being confronted with a case of alleged bullying in the organization. As was expected the stories of the parties involved were vastly different. The question of how to put a face to this threat is a big challenge. The victim’s story will provide the clues, as it is the anchor to one’s interpretation of the experience. One can acknowledge that there are instances where false accusations are levied at various members within the organization but when reported, leaders have a responsibility to investigate the allegations.
The victim complained that she was always being belittled by her immediate supervisor. His words and behaviors had the effect of driving fear into the victim. She was so depressed that she literally got sick on the mornings she would have to go to work. Her output was affected as each time he entered the department she would leave and camp out in the bathroom until she was convinced he had left the area.
Her supervisor would oftentimes criticize her work performance in full view of other workers. His tone was always acerbic and his penetrating looks were perceived to be threatening stares achieving the result of unnerving her whenever he was around. Obviously, if the victim perceived this as a threat to her comfort in her environment she would not be able to fulfill her obligation as an employee.
Where there is an HR department, the victim should seek to utilize the office to lodge his/her complaint. More established companies will have an expressed grievance process handling policy with varying levels to pursue to air one’s challenge. In this case, the victim did not feel as though adequate attention would have been given at the next tier of the managerial hierarchy. Instead, after consultation with other colleagues, she wrote a letter about her lived experiences with the supervisor. The depth of emotions was visible from the words on the paper and immediately prompted the HR office to begin formal investigation.
What was unearthed was enough to begin open discussions about the existence of toxic employees at varying levels of the structure. There is an interpretation that assuming a managerial role means you now have to the power to “rule”. It is that element of dysfunction that creates productivity issues. To coral that belief, the organization has to build into its engagement model, acceptable means of discourse that is expected among line members, supervisors, managers and the executive body. Learning and development programs are not just fancy means of saying you care about the people within. The programs are designed to help with refining communication skills as well as skills required to treat with the particular function one has been hired to perform.
My suggestion is, wherever you find examples of workplace behaviors that are destructive, a plan needs to be activated to address not just the symptoms but also the root cause of the problem. Such a plan must show how the reported circumstance will be addressed as well as the consequences and rehabilitative programs that will follow. Your employees environment should not restrict their performance. Instead, their productivity should be supported by strong, pro-active leadership from the executive team.
Copyright Suzette Henry-Campbell 2013