Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week - Oct 16-22 2016

Just about every workplace has at least one – a bully.  Bullies come in all types and their methods vary, but they all have the effect of creating a toxic work environment.  What is the difference between bullying and harassment?  It is a matter of degrees and often the only difference is in the response to the behavior.  Harassment is a legal term, with specific legal tests and case law.  Bullying is a more general term for a range of abusive behaviors that while usually non-physical, cause harm to the victim and to the by-standers.

Ideally the bullying behavior will be nipped in the bud.  The workplace culture and the senior management will simply not tolerate this type of behavior.  From the first instance of bullying the perpetrator will be confronted about their behavior and concrete steps, follow-up and consequences will be used to change the behavior or remove the bully.

But often the bully is allowed to persist in their behavior.  Maybe they are a senior manager, a friend of the owner or a long time employee.  Or maybe their bullying is subtler – the constant little jabs, the isolation and name calling that lets them control their chosen group and marginalize others. Bullies often don’t recognize or acknowledge the effect they have on the workplace.  Remember that as an employer you define the conditions of work.  It is your leadership that establishes the culture. So you need to be responsible for tackling the problem and changing the culture.

It will take time and effort to make the changes.  You will need to:

  • Model the behavior you want.  Always keep your behavior calm and professional, stay focused on the job
  • Let the person or persons know that you will not accept or be intimated by the behavior.
  • Look beyond personalities and address the behavior not the person.
  • Calculate the true cost of the bullying behavior on the organization.
  • Build support with the senior management and with your staff.
  • Be consistent in your approach.
  • And you will need to document, document, and document.

What is the true cost of bullying?  Toxic work environments where productivity and moral are low and absenteeism and turnover are high are the obvious costs and an estimate of this cost can be calculated using standard measures.  Turnover costs are usually estimated as 1.5 to 2 times the salary of the person being replaced.  It is usually not just the target employee who leaves, but the others in the work team who see the behavior go unchecked.  Absenteeism and low productivity are often measured in direct costs such as overtime pay and lost sales.  It is harder to calculate a dollar value for the costs of lost opportunities, the stress and disability claims and the cost in time and effort put in by management to handle the on-going fallout from the bullying behavior, but they are significant. .  No matter what the perceived value is to the company of the bully, the cost to the company of allowing the behavior to continue is greater.

You may encounter resistance or find yourself the target of bullying.  It may be that firing the bully is the only recourse in the end.  They may threaten you with a lawsuit or to report you to the Human Rights Commission.  Consultant your lawyer; but by following a reasoned and documented procedure you are within your rights to terminate their employment.  

If you not are the owner or the most senior manager you may be forced to leave that job.  Do so with dignity.  You do not need to explain to the staff, or have a dramatic confrontation with the bully.  Write a resignation letter that states your case in precise, measured language.  Hopefully, it will be helpful to the next person who confronts the bully.  When asked at future interviews about why you left use a phrase like – “I did not find a good fit with the company culture” and pivot the conversation to the culture at the interviewing company.  

Throughout it all ensure that you do not contribute to a toxic workplace environment.  Stay calm, support your staff and model the respect and professionalism that makes for a great work place.  Remember that everyone deserves a safe and healthy workplace. 

Our company, Aventure Management LLC, has considerable experience in dealing with this issue and we offer training and support for senior managers, supervisors and employees at all levels of your organization. 

Carolyn Hughes SPHR, SHRM-SCP

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