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.

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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: