Unfortunately, the organizational response to bullying behavior is fairly predictable and not always on target. Following are some typical management mistakes encountered when dealing with a bully at work (Namie & Namie, 2000; Hornstein, 1996):
• Management often seeks to appease the bully by assuming that his or her aggressive behavior will cease when the bully is given what he or she desires. This often results in a short-term elimination of the behavior, but the bully usually resumes and sometimes escalates the aggression when he or she wants something else.
• Management often blames both of the parties involved in the situation, with the target being blamed for not getting along with the bully. Usually there is no credence given to the possibility that the bully may be purely to blame.
• Sometimes management will blame only the target in an effort to stop the target from complaining. As a result, the target is made to suffer twice—once at the hands of the bully and once at the hands of management.
• Management may mistakenly believe that the problems will go away if the bully’s behaviour is ignored—if this is the response, the bully goes unpunished and is likely to escalate his or her aggressive behaviors since there is no logical reason to cease and desist.
• Managers will often emphasize teamwork and ignore individual effort. This strategy makes it easy for the bully to accuse the target of “not being a team player.”
• Believing the group means taking the word of multiple employees over that of the target. With this response, the assumption is that the majority is always right; however, the group may be lying about the target or acting out of fear or ignorance. The manager may take this approach because it is easier to discipline one employee than to take a stand against multiple employees.
• Stereotyping often skews management’s judgment, and prejudices are prevalent in the workplace despite corporate policies to the contrary. Less overt forms of discrimination are often practiced based on common stereotypes (e.g., women are weaker, men are tougher, etc.).
“Bullying is the sexual harassment of 20 years ago; everybody knows about it, but nobody wants to admit it”. – Lewis Maltby (Russell, 2001)
This is an excerpt from a white paper by the Society for Human Resources Management entitled Bullies in the Workplace: A Focus on the “Abusive Disrespect” of Employees by Teresa A. Daniel (2006). I don’t have the link to post here, but am happy to send the white paper. Just email me.