Work Place Bullying: A Troubling Reality

This weekend’s post is centered on workplace bullies. They are just about everywhere, you name it.

Bullying comes in different forms, and sometimes in the most subtle of ways. Some have even adopted management styles that have been applauded for ‘delivering on outcomes’, but whose longer-term effects are actually corrosive. What isn’t realized is the damage done to employees’ morale, mental health, physical well-being and, ultimately, the firm’s bottom line.

I was going through the CIPD people management journal and found just the perfect article to give more light on the subject. Claire Warren, in an insightful fashion, identified and detailed the characteristics of various classes of bullies. The classic old-school type is characterized by very dominant, aggressive and brash behaviour patterns. The sly and reputation damager, is what she described as “the snake”. “The underminer” sees to it that you remain redundant or, at the very least, viewed as being incompetent; and “the critic” constantly magnifies lapses/errors. If I may add to the list, the “silent treatment warlord” would be one who typically offers no support or feedback but allows you fall in the ditch – showing you off to the world when you are at your worst.

Quite rare but true all the same, bullying isn’t just a preserve for managers or the top echelon; Subordinates have also been reported to bully their bosses. By deliberately being insubordinate and vengeful, some have frustrated their line managers, even, out of employment.

Bullying in all its forms contribute to the increasing cases of absenteeism, staff turnover, health challenges as well as recruitment & selection costs borne by organizations. Consequently, a dip in performance, employee contribution and ultimately profitability becomes inevitable.

photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

HR’s Role in all of this:

  • At the very least, a culture of respect is the starting point. It behoves the HR department to ensure policies and practices are guided and driven by this theme.
  • As I have mentioned in previous posts, the manager-associate relationship is key to employee engagement. Providing an avenue for staff to air harassment concerns anonymously is certainly another step in the right direction.
  • Consequent to the preceding point, and after all necessary investigation into the matter has been undergone, is the need to ensure erring members are sanctioned in accordance to the operating codes of conduct/guidelines. There should be no sacred cows, and rules should be applied fairly to all. .
  • Sometimes, bullying may be more of a process problem than it is an individual’s behaviour. According to the CIPD, “bullying behaviour” may stem from how an organization conducts business or its defined way of measuring performance or instilling required behaviour. Where this obtains, senior management will need to lead the process of enforcing a culture of respect (see CIPD, 2005).

The work place needn’t be a dreaded zone. It is said that we spend a third of our lives in the company of our colleagues, then at the very least, it isn’t asking too much that our experiences be void of intimidation, fear and despair. The ultimate is to attest to working in a pleasant environment, bullies make that dream far-fetched.

We owe it to ourselves to ensure that we not only treat others with respect but that we also fight the culture of bullying in our environment.

images (13)


Bullying Doesn’t Have to Mean Malcom Tucker-Style bawling: Subtle Digs Are Just As Devastating. People Management Journal. October 2013 issue. p25.

CIPD. (2005), Bullying at Work: Beyond Policies to a Culture of Respect. (Online). (Accessed 16 May, 2014). Available from:


Helping Employees Develop a Sense of Ownership (Part 2)


photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

Ownership is one of those things that’s hard to define, but easy to recognize. A sense of ownership is activated naturally in people when they have a financial or emotional stake in something. When something can be described as “mine,” it triggers feelings of accountability that are not present from a position of “yours.” To this effect, smart organization understand the importance of investing whatever it takes to ensure its human resource displays the level of commitment needed to retain the competitive edge derived from unwavering customer loyalty, sustained business expansion and employee satisfaction.

Organizations have realized that getting employees to do much more can cost much more than is required to remain profitable. Hence, exploring alternative means to achieving this sustained growth in business has resulted in the need to help employees develop the ‘ownership’ mindset.

Continuing from the previous post, this week’s post focuses on how to get employees to demonstrate much more ownership than they presently are. The following are some of the ways in which I believe employees may be engaged to think more like ‘owners’:

1. Providing adequate support for employees. Ensuring resources required to effectively execute tasks are available and easily accessible. There is nothing as uninspiring as a fired-up employee without the necessary tools.

2. Constantly taking the time to ensure employees are aware of the importance of their role to overall success of the business. This may require drawing distinct links between employees’ job functions and specific corporate objectives. Instilling a sense of relevance does go a long way in promoting a sense of ownership. When we feel what we do matters, we tend to put in more effort into making it work.

3. Shared vision: the manager’s involvement in the job often demonstrates the ‘important’ and often, ‘urgent’ nature of tasks. Consequently, to shore up the level of ownership displayed by staff, it is important that managers ‘work’ their ‘talk’.

4. The manager-associate relationship has been termed one of the most crucial relationships in the workplace. Managers must use this opportunity to their advantage by influencing the quality of work as well as the attitude to work of associates. Hence, Managers must seek to become mentors rather than dictators.

5. Provision of timely and constructive feedback communicates commitment to the project as well as the success of the employee. Endearing employees to their organization encourages them to ‘own’ their job roles.

6. Increased responsibility and complexity of tasks does serve as a motivation for some classes of employees. Once these employees are identified,  the tools along with sufficient authority to go along with these responsibilities should be adequately deployed.

7. Naturally, individuals will show more interest when they are actively a part of the project. As much as is possible, every team member should be held accountable for specific tasks and their respective outcomes -as is often said in performance management, what isn’t measured doesn’t get done.

8. Fairness in all respects (in relation to reward sharing, task allocation and other ancillary benefits) improves chances of engagement and an ownership mindset among staff.

9. Ultimately, a large part of all this can be controlled at the recruitment stage by ensuring round pegs are fitted in round holes. By exploring relevant tools which incorporate the skills, interests and disposition of employees, in my opinion,  improves the chances of achieving an ‘ownership mindset’ from the onset.

Ideally, if references were what they used to be, they would have been the perfect and most reliable prediction of future behaviour patterns. In Nigeria, as in most parts of the world, references have become a tool utilized by the friends of applicants to ‘put in a good word’ for the latter.

10. Finally, emphasis must be on HR’ s role in providing an enabling environment for both managers and associates to exercise an ownership mindset is in force. Recognizing and rewarding required behaviour may also prove useful.

Engaging Through Inclusion

by Tolu Adebule and Demola Oke


photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

A lot has been said about effectively engaging employees, as well as the undeniable benefits of doing so.

The employee’s contribution to the organization is paramount. Hence, one of HR’s most important responsibilities lies in ensuring that employees are positioned to give more of themselves, without necessarily increasing costs to the organization.

Valid questions such as -“Why do some work cultures/environments so easily promote high performance teams while others struggle with high turnover rates?” -have inspired according more attention to ‘soft issues’ at the workplace.

Rather than seeking to provide an analogy on how work cultures can be cultivated and developed with a “winning formula”, this post considers the basic things that can work, as garnered from practical experiences, observations and discussions. Specifically, it considers the concept of employee inclusion in a practical sense.

In brief, employee inclusion is an all-encompassing concept which recognizes the organization’s effort at ensuring that each individual within its diverse workforce feels relevant, comfortable and a part of the whole.

It is interesting to note that ample of opportunities often exist at the workplace to engage employees through inclusion.

For instance, everyone values being appreciated; it’s a basic primordial nature of humans. We cherish recognition and ultimately the sense of being a part of the group.

With this in mind, does HR go about including employees as they ought? Or do we perform our daily tasks passively; passing-off such opportunities?

Generally, a more strategic and deliberate approach to tasks increases the chances of improving the outcomes. Consequently, below are 5 useful yet basic tips which serve as pointers for HR professionals on ways to constantly seek to promote employee inclusion within the organization. That is; improving relationships, and ultimately performance/productivity by taking advantage of the most simple (often, daily) opportunities.

Openness in communication (within the organization). This achieves two basic but very important things: (1) It builds trust, and (2) it prevents miscommunication. It helps expel notions that could have otherwise been formed in the absence of a free flow of information. A closed system promotes isolation and uncertainty, and can feed preconceived ideas, reinforce bias and ultimately deplete the possibilities for inclusion and trust.

Making the most of the recruitment, selection, promotion, reward and employee development channels to ensure fairness is accorded to all (irrespective of race, ethnicity, disability, religious preferences and the likes). Employees should trust the processes that affect them, and these processes would be better served when it incorporates some form of feedback mechanism that can promote frank sharing of opinions and suggestions.

Often times we focus efforts on things, to the detriment of ‘people’. Little things like an environment that takes into consideration facilities for the disabled for instance go a long way in truly showing that inclusion isn’t just a policy on paper, but rather a way of life. There should be adequate parking provision for wheel chair users; stairs and passages that are wheelchair friendly or even dietary considerations for special needs employees etc. The little things are often the important things.

Rather than formulating policies which are supportive of single parents; pregnant women; nursing mothers etc because they look good on paper, enforcing same would be a great point to start towards engaging through inclusion. You’d be surprised the effect of family friendly policies on staff.

For new employees, either new to a role, department or organization, orientation and subsequent integration should be as smooth as possible. Make them feel welcome and valued, not just verbally but more importantly,  by ensuring all facilities needed for them to perform are ready on resumption. An unsettled employee is unlikely to feel like part of the whole group.

Another could be substituting “Christmas parties” with “end-of-the year parties”, as this can serve to accommodate employees of diverse beliefs. Also, bonding dinners for teams, especially when major objectives are achieved wouldn’t be such a bad idea either.

The above mentioned are just a few, as the possibilities are seemingly endless.

It’s important though to note that inclusion is not the prerequisite of HR alone. Team Leads, Divisional/Departmental/Branch heads etc have the primary responsibility of driving and achieving inclusion in their separate teams/units. However, HR’s role must be to focus on creating the “culture” where leaders inculcate the principles of inclusion, possibly by measuring/assessing the degree to which this is achieved.

Inclusion is a culture, and it should be promoted as such that is; a way of life for the organization -not just in words on paper or in the air, but with action.

Team Bonding

photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

Don’t we just love the sophisticated dinners we get to attend in the name of ‘Team Bonding’?

I imagine some teams have it very bad. With unrealistic pressures, unpleasant colleagues, repulsive bosses and rude interns, I wonder if such situations could get any worse. Believe it or not, we are human and at the very core of our being is the need to belong, be celebrated and be acknowledged. Maslow knew exactly what the opposite felt like was how he had that figured out.

Teams are only as relevant as their performances are to the overall objective of the firm and just like every other association of individuals, factions are inevitable. The reality of frictions between team members explains how possible it could be to carve out 3 opposing groups from a 4-person team. Human interactions aren’t without the possibility of disagreements and it’s as a result of this that the concept of team building/bonding activities must have arisen.

For the average team, it usually starts slow -usually stiff; with everyone waiting for everyone else to make the first move to the dance floor. The younger colleagues often seem to eat a bit more than usual and I doubt it’s got anything to do with being hungry. I suspect it’s a plot to suddenly become invisible behind the heap on their plates and ultimately go unnoticed -in an attempt not to be called upon to give a speech.

Ofcourse, these occasions usually provide the boss with an opportunity to show-off his knowledge of expensive wines. For some reason, bosses also tend to act a little more friendly/open than usual. The truth is, once the initial awkwardness fades, guards are let-down; allowing the evening to take on a more familiar, warm and sociable atmosphere. From my experience, most leave with a fresh impression about others and a more cordial relationship than had previously ensued often obtains.

Team bonding activities aren’t limited to fancy dinners. Retreats, Group Travel, Paintballing, horse riding, cart racing, bowling, etc…  whatever your team decides.  Just as quarterly team bonding activities would be more preferable to those organized annually, I’d recommend that the planning of it should be a team effort with each individual having a specific role to play. The importance of involving everyone in the team serves to increase involvement as well as encourage a positive attitude towards the team bonding exercises selected.

Team bonding (activities) make for a less charged work environment. From the view point of the business, it serves to build trust among employees, it fosters a healthy work environment, enhances co-operation, breaks down communication barriers and seeks to eliminate feelings of exclusion among staff -possibly leading to increased productivity. Correspondingly, when properly executed, employees find it to be quite refreshing and rewarding.

When next you find yourself dreading an upcoming team bonding event, bear in mind that the lack of it hasn’t done much to improve the current (team) dynamics at work -logically, things could only begin to get better with its inclusion.

Implication for HR
The issue of how long a team bonding event will continue to foster good relations among team members often comes into question. The norm shouldn’t be to rely on these activities to yield any drastic changes. Rather than organize a periodic social-session which is essentially administrative, HR should endeavour to ensure that the underlying policies of the organization are such that promote an enabling environment for teams to thrive and function harmoniously. Initiatives aimed at promoting employee engagement across board should also remain HR’s top priority.

Disengaged? Bringing Employees Back On-Side

It would be fair, in my opinion at least, to assume that everyone has experienced customer service from both ends of the continuum. I sometimes wonder why the probability of encountering bad customer service far outweighs the chances of having a positive experience -a truth which I find quite ironic.

One would expect, especially in the light of the numerous options available, that service delivery would be impeccable -creating a possible indecision in the minds of customers on how to distribute patronage across favourites. Alas, the reverse seems to be predominant. Sales reps still prefer to opt for the more laid-back, impolite and very damaging front.

In like manner, a quick scan of the workplace reveals an ever-widening gap between employees who are ready to go the extra mile, promote the brand and sometimes take-on tasks outside their regular contracts and those who wouldn’t. Those who would voluntarily assist colleagues in resolving a work-related problem while ensuring at all times that they remain on the fine lines of compliance are also at the risk of extinction (see Podsakoff et al., 2000).

Nowadays, what you’ll find commonplace are individuals taking up employment for the sole purpose of meeting their respective needs with little thought given to the possibility of contributing fully to organizational growth or sustainability.

Photo: courtesy of

Photo: courtesy of

Perhaps the average Nigerian is having a hard time coping effectively with the myriad of pressures coming at them from different directions. Perhaps, the consequences of these poorly managed pressures tend to be brought to bear at the workplace in the form of poor work attitudes. Perhaps, these employees are unable to see themselves as being integral to the success of the whole.

With the preceding arguments in mind, I prefer to diagnose the existence of more disengaged employees in the system than is required for optimum performance. The absence of a positive connection between the employee and the organization, I believe, is at the heart of poor customer service delivery and a detached work attitude.

Disengaged employees are those who lack the necessary zeal to contribute beyond the basic responsibilities detailed in their respective individual contracts. They come to work largely to make up the numbers. They usually will not speak well of their employers or invest more effort than is necessary to ensure targets are met. In extreme cases, these employees are responsible for stalling the contributions of other employees. Organizations risk their goodwill, their profit margin and their continued existence to this challenge if left unresolved.

photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

The remedy for the incidences that plague service delivery and customer loyalty aren’t far-fetched. Rather than a quick fix, a more sustainable approach should apply.

For the employer:
There’s a need to consciously inspire positive emotions towards work in the minds of employees. Although tasking, it would certainly be a more tenable alternative.

It will require deliberate efforts aimed at creating fresh experiences for employees or improving existing systems/policies that have helped to shape previous experiences. Fully engaging employees would be a great place to start.

In addition to the above, employers may design surveys specifically to measure engagement levels within the organization. The surveys should be built to solicit information ranging from the reasons for discontentment as well as factors or tools that could help minimize the occurrence of  such emotions. Questionnaires may also include confidentiality and anonymity options to boost employee response levels.

For the employee:
A paradigm shift is required. That is, the ability to see beyond one’s immediate needs towards achieving a mutually beneficial objective.

Sooner rather than later, employees who keep at making a meaningful contribution will realize that the joy found in the fulfilment of one’s work and the recognition gained from being synonymous with efficiency will certainly make any job worth the while.


Podsakoff, P. et al (2000) Organizational Citenzenship Behaviours: A Critical Review of the Theoretical and Emperical Literature and Suggestions for Future research. Journal of Management. (26) 3. p.513-565.