The Workplace Bully

Not Your Typical Stereotype

There’s the “Screamer,” the  “Two-Headed Snake,” the Queen Bee: and the “Intellectual.”  These aren’t wrestling personas.  They are bullies.  And they can be your boss or a co-worker.  Bullying doesn’t end with high school.  Some bullies simply graduate from the playground to the cubicle.  Their tactics can be both covert and confrontational. Their actions extend beyond causing their victims stress.  Workplace bullies create toxic work environment, which
can lead to high turnover — and ultimately — revenue loss.

The cost and effects of bullying

Greensboro Bully Graphic

Ron Watkins, President of Mountain Sky Consulting in Asheville, began turning more attention to workplace bullying about three years ago.
With more than a dozen years of corporate management assessments under his belt, Watkins worked with a company challenged with bullying among it top level managers.
“There’s a real need for people to deal with this, and a real need for awareness for what’s going on,” he says.  Attitudes about  bullying behaviors must be changed, Watkins says.  it’s more than a personality problem.
While a bully may target a single individual, their impact is often more extensive.  Employees either ostracize or sympathize with the victim.  Either way, it creates a toxic work environment, and often results in less productivity or higher turnover.  A study published last year in “The Journal of Social Psychology,” concluded that those who witness abuse of their colleagues are as negatively impacted as those abused.

Why bully?

It’s about control, Watkins says. “…controlling the victim, controlling the outcome and the situation.  They use power as a means of  controlling people,” he says.  Bullies are often intelligent and charming to their superiors,  They also target victims less likely to fight back, and perceive them as weak or less intelligent, Watkins says.  But that’s not always the case.
“The target tends to think they are singled out because of their performance,: he says.  “A lot of times they are people who agree very strong and have a lot to bring to an organization, which threatens the bully.”  Bullies are also adept at blame shifting, and rarely accepts responsibility for their behaviors, Watkins says.
The industries most prone to bullying, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, are Healthcare, education and the government sector.  Ninety-four percent of nurses surveyed said they had been bullied or were in the process of being bullied.
Cheryl Dellasega has written extensively about relational aggression among your girls and women.  The Penn State University professor also has a background in healthcare, and co-authored the book, “When Nurses Hurt Nurses.” She says there are many dynamics, which can escalate bad behaviors among nurses.  “…long hours without food or bathroom breaks constant noise and stress, being at the bottom of the health care hierarchy…nurses are often the last to provide input on policies that impact them,” Dellasega says.

Identify, rehabilitate –or not

“A true bully can’t be rehabilitated,”  Watkins says.  They often graduate high school as successful bullies and enter the workforce as such, he says: “They really get a rush off of seeing other people frightened…get a rush off of trying o manipulate, harass and using abusive behavior styles to dehumanize their victims.”
If a bully isn’t willing to change their behavior, Watkins adivses to remove them from anagement or teminate them.  “Even though it can be an exercise in futility and they end up terminating the individual, it’s important for the organization to realize how much it costs to hae a bully in their midst,”  he says.  ‘It’s a financial drain to have bullies in your workforce.”

Types of Bullies

lso known as a “tyrant,” “serial bully” or sociopath,” they are prone to hound their victims mercilessly.  Motivated by power and control, they tend to verbally threaten and berate  Although often intelligent and charming to senior level management, they are also emotionally volatile and unpredictable.

A quiet and convincing bully that works behind the scenes, they aim to secure and advance their careers by undermining their victims.  They are prone to gathering information about their victim, to be used against them at an “opportune” time.

A female boss intent on sabotaging other women attempting to follow in her footsteps.  They are effective because they exploit female vulnerabilities that their male counterparts may not see.  Think “Mean Girls” all grown up.  It can cost an organization some of its best and brightest employees.

Best described as the “guru wannabe” he or she wants to be known as “the go-to person,” no matter what the issue.  They use words and condescending attitudes to instill a sense of stupidity and incompetence in others.  They are prone to be overly critical, thus stifling any new ideas.

According to surveys conducted last year by the Society for Human Resource Management and The Workplace Bullying Institute:

80% of harassment cases were legal and could only be considered plain cruelty

73% of incidents involved verbal abuse

62% reported malicious gossiping or spreading rumors or lies about workers

51% of organizations reported that there had been incidents of bullying in their workplace

50% reported threats or intimidation

35% of the country’s workforce has experienced workplace bullies sometime in their career.

15% surveyed witnessed the emotional or psychological abuse of a co-worker

7% of bullies are fired or even reprimanded

By Tina Firesheets, Special to the Triad News & Record
Illustration by Tim Myers, Special Sections
Source: Ron Watkins, President of Mountain Sky Consulting