I had a great job in a small company that many people would have liked to work for. I had constant raises, praise from staff and clients, and engaged in professional development in night school to better myself and the company.
After a series of incidents with a particular bully, I walked away from all of this. How can you keep your staff from doing the same thing, and what can you do if it is happening to you?
Who Does Bullying Happen To?
I’m not the only one with a bullying story. A 2008 survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) reveals that over 37% of American workers, or 54 million people, surveyed had experienced bullying at their workplace in some capacity. 80% of the targets are women.
A target represents an occupational threat to the bully. Overacheivers, excellent performers, and company superstars are targeted by bullies. If you ask your top employees, they’ve probably been targeted by a bully in the past year. The WBI reveals that they are generally the “go-to veteran workers to whom new employees turn for guidance.” Bullies target the best and brightest.
Several indicators are listed in this New York Times article, including these:
- have you had people consistently arrive late at meetings that you’ve called?
- have you been lied to?
- have you been denied a deserved raise or promotion with no cause?
- have you been given the “silent treatment” or isolated from certain tasks and responsibilities?
- have you felt like you are the recipient of an unusual amount of disrespect from a particular person?
How Do Top Performers Handle Bullying?
In my case, I initially laughed off the bullying and got on with my work. The bully in question was a “seagull manager”, coming into the office only once every few months. I was also not his direct report, so it didn’t affect my career at first. The key diffuser to bullying behavior is to not take the bully seriously, especially if they can’t do anything to you professionally. Remember that they are looking for a reaction; if you don’t give them one, they will move on.
The approach has to be different if it is a member of management that is bullying you, which it is in over 70% of cases. If a member of management that you directly or laterally report to is bullying you, note the date and time of each incident and catalogue them for a few months. Take the information to a lawyer specializing in workplace litigation. Most will give you a free consultation and let you know if you have a case or not. If they have told you that you have a case, be prepared to follow through on a threat to litigate if the company does not give you any satisfaction.
It may be necessary to litigate from the outside. According to the same 2008 survey by WBI, only 1.7% of the complaints against a bully concluded in a result that was satisfactory to the complaining employee that ensured their safety, while 31% resulted in retaliation against the target by the company. Complaining will result in retaliation from the bully in 71% of the cases.
If you are dealing with a more extreme case involving physical or sexual violence, do not hesitate to call the police and let them sort out the details. Do this even if the bully threatens violence, especially if they do it in front of witnesses. This should result in the immediate dismissal of the bully, and if it doesn’t you definitely want to change jobs.
If you know that you are going to change jobs anyway as a result of the behavior, make sure that your employer is told through the exit interview process or in a formal complaint that you are leaving because of the bully. Carbon-copy your complaint letter to the offices of top company brass, including the members of the board if you are leaving a publicly held company. This is the only way to ensure that the higher-ups will actually know about your case, as such complaints are usually swept under the rug.
Changing Jobs — Solution and Problem
This is another way to handle the bullying behavior. Changing jobs doesn’t have the stigma that it once did. Employers now almost expect to see you at 3-4 positions before showing up at their door. While looking for a new job, let your potential employers know exactly why you are changing jobs and tell them that you don’t want the same environment at your new place of business. While you would think this would backfire, it landed me a fairly lucrative position within a short period of time.
The new employer will appreciate your honesty and the fact that you are seeking a non-toxic work environment. Most also wonder about why you have left your last job, and a definitive answer that doesn’t involve any of their nightmare scenarios will be comforting. This strategy is most effective since employers with toxic environments will see you as a potential troublemaker and will definitely not hire you.
You will need to change jobs if the bully in question is one of the owners of the business or an extremely high-level executive. Staying put is not an option. A high position in the company automatically means that their behavior is being protected internally by other stakeholders. Litigation is still an option, but only with witnesses and these can be hard to find against a high-ranking company official. Seek the counsel of an employment lawyer in this case to see what options are available to you.
Is Litigation Really the Answer?
This depends on the case. You are probably keenly aware of the company’s financial situation. Do they have the pockets for litigation? If not, they will most likely settle with you fairly quickly to avoid legal costs, especially if you have the journal of events and witnesses. If they have deep pockets for litigation, you may not be able to play legal chicken with them. We have mentioned previously that if the behavior crosses the line to illegal, you should contact the police immediately. This will force the company to take action and lend firm credence to any civil suit that you may launch in the future.
Why Do Companies Protect the Bullies?
While we know from the statistics that companies generally don’t do anything for a target of bullying, the question is why. Companies recognize aggressive behavior as reward-worthy and promote individuals that engage in bullying behavior. Human resources is generally not there to help employees but to protect the interests of the employer. If you are reporting a bullying incident to them, their primary interest is to protect the company from litigation. They will try to play it down and paint you as a whiner, trying to diffuse the situation by making sure that you don’t think that you have a case.
A fundamental shift in culture has to happen in order to get companies to recognize that bullies are hurting their business. The best way to do this is through litigating when the behavior occurs, but most people don’t have the pockets for that. Formal complaints when the behavior happens or through the exit interview process are the cheapest way, especially if you make sure that the complaint is CC’ed to top company brass. You should also list in such a complaint key financial contributions that you have made to the company, such as developing an entirely new market for the product. Companies should be made aware that they are losing their top financial performers through bullying behavior, and they almost never are.
How Can I Get Rid of Them?
If you are in a company where you are in a position to get rid of workplace bullies, it is in the best financial interest of the company for you to do so. Bullies may be top performers, but they discourage other employees from doing well because they don’t want to share or lose the spotlight. The employees that you don’t lose will purposely try to avoid outshining the bully so that they don’t receive the bullying treatment.
This translates into huge losses of profit and potential profit. When your human resources department has had a complaint or two lodged against a person who is participating in bully behavior, there is no rehabilitation. There is only firing with cause. This person will not change, despite their multiple assurances to the contrary. They will just get worse and retaliate further against their targets who reported them. Bullies will be quick to threaten litigation and other measures if you fire them, but they will generally lack the resources to follow through on their threats, particularly if you have a well-documented complaint against them. Install an anti-bullying policy in your workplace that serves notice that any bullying will be grounds for immediate termination.
Bullying affects everyone in a workplace environment, and employees and employers are both better off without them. Gone are the days when aggression meant performance; results now mean performance, and those who deliver them should not be marginalized. In our hyper-competitive economy, there is no room for a schoolyard mentality.
Popular search terms for this article:
how to deal with bullying at work, bullying, how to deal with corporate bullies, bullying complaint letter, how to deal with bullying in the workplace, why am i a target for bullies, deal with bullying at work, formal complaint letter bullying, how to handle bullying at work, how to get rid of bullying at work