I have just released my latest book, SEEKING CIVILITY: How leaders, managers and HR can create a workplace free of bullying and abusive conduct.
I thought I’d throw up a few excerpts for interest:
What Bullying Is
Bullying is repeated abuse that creates a psychological power imbalance and an inability of targets to engage in self-defense. It causes psychological and physical harm to targets and witnesses, and monetary losses to the organization.
While this is a nice (long) definition, let’s break it down.
REPEATED: Bullying is not about having a bad day and mistreating co-workers as a result. Single negative acts, such as shouting once or failing to invite someone to the company happy hour are fairly normal if isolated and would generally be called incivility. Bullying is repeated, ongoing, continual… in fact it happens at least once a week for a period of anywhere between six months to five years before the target finally gives up and quits.
PSYCHOLOGICAL POWER IMBALANCE: Bullies start with a light push on people around them – perhaps a snide comment or a short temper tantrum. Some targets of this behavior will stand up for themselves right then. Others will brush it off or chose not to stand up for themselves. Over time bullies keep pushing the later group more frequently and more aggressively, ultimately creating a psychological power imbalance. Targets realize their bully has psychological power over them and bullies realize they have psychological power over their targets.
This power imbalance is what makes bullying different than conflict. Conflict happens when two people disagree but both have a voice. Bullying happens when one person has a voice and the other is so eviscerated that he or she does not.
INABILITY TO ENGAGE IN SELF-DEFENSE: For whatever reason targets of bullying are unable to stand up for themselves, whether because they are conflict avoidant, don’t feel supported by their organizational leaders, don’t want to lose their job for making waves, or simply are afraid of the repercussions.
Often the question of perception is part of the bullying equation as every target of bullying will perceive the behaviors differently and, accordingly, will respond differently.
It’s not news that stress causes physical problems such as headaches, stomachaches, lack of sleep, and poor diet. Indeed, researchers have even linked bullying to heart disease and other physical ailments, as well as post traumatic stress disorder and even suicide. It is important to note that even people who don’t necessarily self-identify as being bullied (i.e., witnesses) experience some of these same health problems as they witness abusive behaviors, though to a lesser extent.
MONETARY LOSSES TO THE ORGANIZATION: If targets of bullying and witnesses to the behavior are experiencing negative emotions, they certainly aren’t performing. Thus bullying leads to poor quality work product, low job satisfaction, poor relationships, presenteeism, absenteeism, turnover, poor safety, lack of teamwork, eroded job attachment, greater intention to leave, and more. The graphic below provides a list of all of the things that go up in an organization, and all of the things that go down, when there’s bullying.
PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PHYSICAL HARM TO TARGETS AND WITNESSES: Targets of bullying experience anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, distress, humiliation, embarrassment, discouragement, feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, burnout and more.
Note workplace bullying is more paramount than workplace violence for two reasons.
First, psychological well-being is more greatly impacted and impaired through psychological abuse than physical abuse. Second, bullying occurs for longer periods of time than workplace violence; workplace violence will end relatively quickly because it is conspicuous and against the law. Yet, we have laws and corporate policies against workplace violence but not against workplace bullying.
10 Steps to Civility
Once I got out of graduate school I founded the website NoWorkplaceBullies.com. At the time it spoke to what I was trying to accomplish – end bullying. As I worked with clients I realized I wasn’t trying to end bullying at all, I was creating a positive workplace. This is an important distinction – you can’t tell employees what not to do if you’re not going to provide alternatives. Employees can’t do a don’t. If you tell them, “don’t bully” you’ve left them with nothing to accomplish other than to not do something. If you tell employees, “do be respectful to each other” now you’ve given them a goal that is possible to accomplish (and measure).
One of my favorite quotes is from the book, Positive Organizational Behavior (Quick & Macik-Frey, 2007): “It is more than the absence of communication disorders; it is the presence of communication competence.” In other words you should be focused on the presence of a positive workplace (e.g., civility), not the absence of workplace bullying. Focus on the later and you’re left with a hole. Focus on the former and you have something to strive for. Thus you’ll find that all of the solutions offered in this book are focused on creating a positive and civil workplace culture. Do that, and the bullying (and harassment and discrimination) will go away. The social pressure will force bullies to conform to the new culture, or they will leave your organization all on their own whether by quitting or through your step-disciplinary procedure.
Civility is the platform for organizational success – it is absolutely necessary for an organization to reach its goals. Where there is civility, there is good communication and healthy employee relationships. Good relationships facilitate good decision making, and empower innovation and learning. (No one is innovating or learning when they are in fear.) When employees are feeling empowered they are engaged, motivated and loyal, and so they come to work, produce and provide customer service. Only then can the organization meet its goals and impact your bottom line.
Step 1. Get Leadership On Board
Leadership must be transparent about their support for a civil work environment for it to come to fruition. Need help convincing them bullying is an important issue? Make a business case by pointing out the costs of bullying in your organization.
Revisit the graphic in this book that describes the damage bullying causes and figure out how to quantify it. While you can’t quantify everything, you can quantify how many hours you’ve spent handling complaints about bullying, for example. If you’ve spent 15 hours dealing with complaints and you make $65 an hour, the bully has already cost the organization $975 in your time alone. See the example provided below for more ideas.
You might also try tying bullying into your already existent risk management program.
Step 4. Develop an Action Plan
Now that you have a social vision statement describing where the culture is going, and a list of values that define the behaviors everyone will engage in to reach that vision, you have to bring them to life with action items. These action items will facilitate behavior change, and eventually you will see a change in your culture.
Culture and behavior are intertwined. In order to change culture you have to push back on behavior. As behavior changes, so will the culture.
One way to create action items is to charge each department manager with this task. Provide them with the list of behaviors from the training, and the new values, and ask them to work with their employees to develop action items.
Start small; ask for only one or two action items and build from there. Don’t forget to make the action items SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.
Some examples of SMART action items include:
- Starting (date), and for three months, hold one open brainstorming session on the last Friday of each month to collect ideas for healthy workplace projects.
- By (date), collect information from each employee about what they are thankful for in their fellow employees, and hold a meeting to share what was collected.
- Create and obtain personal pledges for positive communication from all staff no later than (date).
- By (date), create a lunch-and-learn schedule for staff, who will present an hour training to their peers on one positive communication skill of their choice.
- You have to get the book for more ideas…
The Bottom Line
Culture change is a long and tedious process. But it will only take a few months to start seeing some results. One government agency I worked with saw two of the worst bullies quit within six months of the start of culture change. They saw very quickly that their longtime social power was disappearing as others were just not going to take it anymore. The social pressure to conform was strong and this made them uncomfortable, so they left. (Good riddance.)
Everyone is replaceable; don’t be fearful of pushing out a “top” performer. If they are the snag in your culture change, hold them accountable to the healthy workplace policy and let them go through your progressive disciplinary process. Remember that civility is the cornerstone of your success, so you need civil and positive people in your workplace.
Addressing workplace bullying and developing techniques to keep sustainable change means only good things will happen. A proactive approach to eradicating bullying in your workplace can provide all sorts of benefits including reduced turnover, absenteeism, medical leaves, and costs associated with workers compensation and litigation. Healthy workplaces motivate and develop staff, minimize workplace politics, excel at internal communication processes and customer service, have better reputations, increase the quality and quantity of work product, reduce workplace stress, and overall have improved health in employees and the organization – to name just a few of the competitive advantages.