Sunday, October 23, 2011

Suggestions: Part 2

In Suggestions; Part 1, we defined bullying along a continuum from relatively inappropriate workplace behavior to that which we characterized as serious, repeated, threatening speech and actions; we also suggested that victims, too, range in behavior in terms of their responses to being bullied.

We suggested further that, regardless of the level of bullying, it is incumbent upon employers to recognize the physical, psychological, and professional costs for victims, the potential liability for managers, and the bottom line costs for their own organization; these costs are literally incalculable.

In Part 1 we addressed the need for employers to acknowledge the magnitude of workplace bullying, that they consider the high cost of bullying in terms of human suffering and their own bottom line. We also suggested that employers should be pro-active, adopting a Zero Tolerance stance toward bullying in their workplace. Part of the problem, addressed in Part 1 in the tendency of many organizations to fail to notice bullying behavior—sometimes even when it is brought to their attention by a victim. Finally, Part 1 cautions organizations to be prepared for resistance when they adopt substantial changes that are reflected in new cultural patterns.

We begin Part 2 with a series of admonitions, suggesting that employers pay attention legal issues, employee relationships, training and education, focused anti-bullying Policies and Procedures, and taking a systemic approach to eliminate workplace bullying.

6. The Legal Dimension: Tort Law/NIOSH/OSHA

At this writing, bullying victims have relatively little legal redress unless they can prove that they have been bullied because of their status as members of a protected class (race, creed, color, national origin, ability/disability, age, gender)
Nevertheless, bullying victims who do not belong to this class can try to obtain legal redress by contacting an attorney who will try to prove that the victim suffered serious psychological or physical damage as a result of their workplace experience.

Nevertheless, until the Healthy Workplace Bill is enacted into law in your state, know that, bullying victims do have some recourse to help Note that, as a part of civil law, tort law is designed to help victims win compensation for any lost wages, pain and suffering, medical bills and other related costs if they have been damaged in the workplace. In addition, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considers bullying as a form of workplace violence, which they define as “any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting.” The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) states that “employers have both a legal duty and a moral obligation to provide a safe workplace. Under the General Duty Clause of OSHA’s act is that employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that is free from recognizable hazards. This duty includes inspecting the workplace to discover and correct any dangerous condition or hazard and to give adequate warning of its existence. Further, this Clause has been interpreted to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace.

7. Don’t Tolerate (or Participate in) Apparently “Consensual” Relationships

Although it is true that many people meet the person they eventually marry in the workplace, it is also true that many relationships come to a parting of the ways—sometimes with positive feelings and sometimes with enmity. But whether the individuals in such relationships stay together or not, there remains a real possibility that an apparently consensual relationship between a manager and a subordinate can later be proven to include a bullying component which is likely to cause considerable liability for the organization. Keep in mind that no relationship between people with disparate power can be shown to be truly consensual.

That’s why, whether the couple walks into the sunset together or not, there is a great deal of risk in an employer tolerating romantic relationships between managers and their subordinates. It makes sense for either the manager or the subordinate to move on, either within or outside of the organization.

With workplace bullying being the reality it is, the prudent response is for the employer to take action to end even the perception that the subordinate is being bullied to stay in the relationship.

8. Policy & Procedures

Every organization should have Policies an Procedures that focus on eliminating workplace bullying. In general, most Policies, whether focusing on harassment or discrimination are straightforward boilerplate documents that can be reconfigured for bullying prevention. The place where organizations sometimes err is with their Procedures, which often cavalierly suggest that victims complain to their manager (who may, in fact, be the bully,) with senior officers or with the President. The problem here is that 1) these individuals have intimidatingly high status and 2) that they have scarcely ever been taught how to respond appropriately to a complainant. We suggest, therefore, that there be carefully selected and well-trained employees to whom complainants can report. When possible, employers might choose to have such investigators reflect the organization’s demographics.

Consider this. Bringing a complaint to an authority figure is always somewhat intimidating. Therefore, is the victim takes their complaint to Human Resources or to an investigator whose level in the organization is not too many rungs above theirs, they will be more willing to come forward, especially f the investigator is of the same gender and, possibly, even of the same color/ethnicity. The bottom line for the employer is to discover inappropriate behavior so that they can act to stem the tide before situations get out of hand.

9. Don't Train Some; Educate All

Although "training" and "education" are terms often used interchangeably to describe ways in which employees are taught, they actually imply quite different means and ends. As defined here, training refers to issues and practices that require skills development. A trained person does not need to know the why of something, only the how. If bullying was only about learning the organization's Policies and Procedures, it would be easy to simply to list the five things everyone should do and the five things everyone should not do. If eliminating bullying behavior was that easy, then training would be adequate.

But workplace bullying is not simply learning about the organization’s Policies and Procedures. Bullying is an extraordinarily complex issue that requires--and deserves--in-depth understanding of human behavior, of the whys as well as the hows in the struggle to finally "get it." Preventing abuse of any kind requires that everyone in the workplace develop a keen sense of why this issue is so important for them as well as for the organization. They should expect to be treated with respect and dignity and to respect others in return. Even defining these terms requires explanations, e.g., one person’s respect may be another person’s disrespect, one person’s joke may be another’s insult. Bullying prevention requires employees to develop the ability to exercise judgment, to understand and to act appropriately. It is not common sense. If it was, we would all have it and all use it. If that were the case, then training would be enough.

A comprehensive educational approach teaches employees to discern, to anticipate, to act--because they understand the why’s of behavior. Education encourages insight; it places bullying in cultural and historic context; it helps learners understand the roots of differences in perception between men and women, and between cultures. Finally, education invites active participation and a dedication to continuous learning.

10. Take a Systemic, Systematic Approach

Education, alone, however, cannot eliminate workplace bullying. Only a systemic, systematic approach offers the promise of a reasonable degree of success. For example, such an approach suggests the following:

  • a dedicated investment in time and resources from top management; not only must their investment be clear to everyone, but as champions of change they must model the behaviors they require from everyone in the organization;
  • an equally strong commitment from second-tier and mid-level managers and supervisors whose work necessarily brings them into closer contact with employees as well as with customers, vendors, and contract workers;
  •  a Trust culture that, both formally and informally, treats employees, customers and vendors with respect and dignity, whether on or off site expecting and this treatment from everyone inside and outside of the organization;
  • an infrastructure in place, e.g., well-educated investigators, a policy and complaint procedures that have been disseminated to all, equitable and swift investigations, an educated workforce, and more;
  • recognition that a bully-free environment is an effort without end, requiring a consistent approach and having as its goal continuous, incremental improvement as well as dedication to ongoing excellence; the willingness to deal with sensitive issues, e.g., reprimanding a senior officer, a customer, or a vendor who has been accused of and/or found to be guilty of bullying.
The Big Question . . . and An Answer

What does it cost to create a systemic, systematic approach to ending workplace bullying? The real question is: "What does it cost to do less?"

One cost is acceptance of the status quo and the organization’s potential liability. Another cost is outright cynicism among employees reflected in increasingly dysfunctional behaviors. When employees receive unintended messages from their employers that do not reflect the reality they live every day, their trust level drops, communication declines, anti-social behaviors increase, and everyone loses.

Successful implementation of this approach affords the promise of developing and sustaining a trusting bully-free culture where morale is high, where employees perform to their maximum potential, and where the organization’s reputation among customers and the community is enhanced. In short, the objective is one where everyone wins: employees, employers, and the community.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sample Policy & Procedures

(Our Company) takes pride in our dedication to treating everyone associated with us with dignity and respect.  Accordingly, any form of bullying behavior against any employee, part-time associate, customers, vendors, or anyone else associated with our Company is a violation of this Policy.  Any employee who behaves in this manner will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination. Furthermore, this Policy applies to all work-related settings and activities, whether inside or outside the workplace, including business trips and business-related social events or conferences.

Because (Our Company) takes complaints about bullying seriously, we will respond promptly to complainants and, where it is determined that such inappropriate conduct has occurred, we will act promptly to eliminate the conduct and impose such corrective action as is necessary.

Please note that while this Policy sets forth our goals of promoting a workplace that is free of bullying, it is not designed nor intended to limit our authority to discipline or to take remedial action for workplace conduct which we deem unacceptable.

Bullying Definition

Bullying may be defined as sustained verbal or physical abuse inflicted upon a victim. Sometimes the bullying is relatively subtle; sometimes it is blatant. In all cases, there is an element of psychological violence and, on occasion, physical violence as well. In all cases, the objective is to harm (or attempt to harm) the victim.  Too often, the behavior causes serious, sometimes long-term effects that can incapacitate victims making it impossible for them to work productively and even cause them to leave their employment.

Sometimes the bully is known to others and is feared by them which is why some individuals attach themselves to bullies in an effort to protect themselves in order to avoid being the next victim.  Sometimes they attach themselves to the bully because they perceive this as a way to bask in their power.

Examples of Bullying

While it is not possible to list all the circumstances that might constitute bullying behavior, the following are some examples of conduct that may be considered bullying depending upon the totality of the circumstances, including the severity of the conduct and its pervasiveness:

Cyber bullying
Spreading false rumors
Frequent negative remarks
Taking credit for another’s work
Threats of dismissal or intimidation.
Castigating someone in front of others
Public humiliation


Retaliation is prohibited by (Our Company.)  Retaliation is also against the law. Any individual(s) who believe they have been retaliated against for filing a complaint or for participating in an investigation, e.g., as a witness/bystander, will be protected by the Company.  Any person found guilty of retaliation will be disciplined up to and including

Company  Property

The Company’s property (e.g., telephones, copy machines, facsimile machines, computers, and computer applications such as e-mail and Internet access) may not be used to engage in conduct that violates this Policy.  The Company reserves the right to monitor associate’s Internet and e-mail usage to ascertain whether the contents violate this Policy.  In addition, computer screen savers should be neutral in nature.


If you believe you have been a victim of bullying, you may wish to tell the bully of your discomfort with his/her behavior; however, The Company does not require this. Because we want all employees to feel safe and comfortable in the workplace, we hope that you will bring your complaint to the individuals listed below as soon as possible. This may be done in writing or orally.

Filing a Complaint with The Company

You may file a complaint with The Company by contacting (examples of authorities) Leslie Jones, Director of Human Resources at 888-888-8802.  Members of the Human Resources Department are equipped to provide information about the Policy and the Procedures contained in this Document and to initiate an investigation into the charges made.

Additional Company Resources

List names, titles, departments, and phone numbers of individuals who have been designated as trained investigators.

List names, titles, departments, and phone numbers of individuals who have been designated as trained investigators.


Chris Brown
Department X
Phone: 8888:888-8880

Pat Gomez
Department Y
Phone: 888-888-8881

Filing a Complaint with a Government Agency

Using our internal complaint process does not prohibit you from filing a formal complaint with either or both of the government agencies listed below.  Each of these agencies has a relatively short time period for filing a claim.

Many states and localities have anti-bullying bills waiting to be passed into law although none have been achieved this status at this writing.  Nevertheless, if you speak with an attorney, it is possible that you may be covered under civil law depending on the pain and suffering you may have endured as a result of being victimized by the bully. In Massachusetts, the agency you may wish to contact is the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD.)  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) refers to these agencies as "Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs)."  Through the use of "work sharing agreements," EEOC and the FEPAs avoid duplication of effort while at the same time ensuring that a charging party's rights are protected under both federal and state law.

The United States Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
1 Congress Stree;
10th Floo
Boston, MA 02114
(617) 565-3200

The Massachusetts Commission
Against Discrimination (MCAD)
1 Ashburton Place
Room 601
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 727-3990

424 Dwight Street
Room 220
Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 739-2145

Friday, October 7, 2011

Suggestions for Employers: Part 1 (of 2)

Because so many men and women have experienced some form of bullying throughout their school experiences, and in their workplaces as well, it is important to recognize how deeply rooted their emotional scars are likely to be.  Therefore, it is critical not only to respond quickly and fairly when an incident occurs, but also that pro-active measures be taken to keep employees safe from bullying whether from their managers, from their co-workers, from customers, vendors, contract workers, and others with whom they come in contact in fulfilling their work responsibilities. 

What is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying may be best understood along a continuum from one end characterized by occasional inappropriate behaviors to the other end where employees are subjected to repeated abusive altercations. Examples of relatively mild behavior include working for a manager who sometimes displays a bad temper but is otherwise pleasant to subordinates. Or it might be having to share space with a co-worker who sometimes uses crude language.

But workplace bullying as discussed here refers to repeated, hostile, threatening behaviors where there is an imbalance of power between the bully and the victim(s).  Sometimes employees fear that the threatening behavior might become physical.  At this end of the continuum, most would agree that the behavior is intolerable and must be stopped.

Keep in mind that the victim(s) of these behaviors also range a great deal in their responses to inappropriate conduct depending on their personal history. The interpretation of what constitutes bullying, particularly at the relatively mild end, often depends on individual perceptions, on non-verbal behavior, on context, on credibility, on past relationships, and on the organization’s culture.  This is why complaints made to the authorities sometimes begin and end with the victim's word against the bully’s. 

In any case, regardless of the level of workplace bullying, it is incumbent upon employers to recognize the physical, psychological, and professional costs for victims, the potential liability for managers, and the bottom line costs for their own organization; these costs are literally incalculable.

1. Acknowledge the Magnitude of the Issue

Many social observers believe that workplace bullying is so pervasive that calling it an epidemic is an understatement.  In fact, the incidence of bullying should be considered "pandemic"--an all-over, everywhere phenomenon.  As with sexual harassment and rape, authorities are convinced that only a tiny fraction of incidents are reported to the authorities despite the fact that up to 60% of employees say they have been bullied or have witnessed bullying in their workplace.  The result is that employers may not always be aware of the magnitude of bullying in their organization. Therefore, due diligence is required.

One of the most frequent reasons given for failure to report bullying is fear of retaliation which every victim knows can take many forms, from the subtle but steady erosion of workplace relationships to being fired for "cause."  Regardless of its form, however, retaliation is one of the major reasons victims tolerate all sorts of abuse, even when the bullying escalates along the continuum.  And, of course, there is the economy.  All victims know that finding another job could take many months, even years.  For bullies, nirvana has arrived.

2. Count the Cost

While victims may pay a substantial price in terms of their personal and professional future, their costs are also likely to include psychological and even physical problems.  Perhaps most damaging is the loss of self-esteem reported by victims.  They may suffer from anxiety attacks, and a whole host of emotional illnesses, including PTSD. Sometimes their psychological state is  manifested in physical infirmities such as gastrointestinal disorders, nausea, insomnia, heart palpitations, hypertension, headaches and more.  These symptoms will, of course, impact their ability to perform well at work. 

Further, if, as is not uncommon, they do find the courage to bring charges against the bully, they are faced with the fact that bullies are often protected by the organization they serve. There are numerous reports of the following: the organization does nothing to stop the bully and, instead, the bully is actually promoted. Why is this?  Reports state that the bully, who has been with the organization for many years, is a rainmaker, a friend of the president’s, a golf partner of a senior vice president and is thought to be doing a good job.  Meanwhile, victims may be moved to another department, may find their evaluations steadily declining, or they may be fired.

3. Be Pro-Active

Being pro-active requires  recognizing that bullying is a form of violence and that some form of bullying exists in the organization.  It is difficult to imagine otherwise since a) there is ample documentation that some kind of bullying have been a lifelong, if sporadic, experience for many  employees and b) that this is a society considered to be the most violent of all the world’s industrialized nations. It is hard to conceive that such violence has been lost on bullies.

Therefore, it makes sense for employers to announce (if they have not already done so) that theirs is a workplace unwilling to tolerate any degree of bullying. Their Policies and Procedures should have a special segment addressing bullying behavior attesting to their Zero Tolerance for any sort of bullying.

Furthermore, when an employer discovers that someone has been a victim of bullying, not only should the incident(s) be investigated expeditiously and fairly, but there should also be a caring and  appropriate  response to the trauma sustained by the victim.  Bullies must also receive counseling, especially if is determined that they will remain with the organization.  Counseling should be made available for bystanders and others who may have sustained some degree of trauma as a result of the incident(s.)

4. Beware of Physiological Blindness

Physiological blindness refers to the human tendency to literally fail to see or hear aspects of ones own culture because these aspects are so familiar as to be rendered virtually invisible to members of that culture.  For example, employees may have become so accustomed to Good-Old-Harry-the-Hugger that few employees consider his actions inappropriate.

The place where physiological blindness is most likely to be problematic is at the mild end of the aforementioned continuum, the blurry place where people sometimes express confusion about whether or not a particular behavior is objectionable.

On the other hand, suppose new employees, not yet physiologically blind to Harry’s behavior, join the team. They might find his behavior obnoxious and one of them might become incensed when touched by Harry.  What should the employer do when Harry is reported to someone in authority by the one person who considers him to be a bully?

5. Be Prepared for Resistance

Unless an organization has already educated its employees about the complex issue of workplace bullying, they can expect some degree of resistance when new behavioral guidelines are introduced.  Part of the employees' reaction will stem from a natural resistance to change itself.  Much of the resistance will be prompted by confusion and annoyance.  It is not uncommon for some employees to believe that the organization's "fun" culture will disappear only to be replaced by unreasonably rigid rules.  And it is not uncommon for some to view this intervention as likely to create more--rather than less--bullying. 

But by far, the greatest factor creating resistance is that until relatively recently bullying was not exactly front-page news; and when it became news, it was all about children when it ought to be about adults as well. Bullying has been an everyday fact of life for countless generations of all ages. It was simply the way things were.  After all, boys will be boys; girls will be girls. And later, men will be men and women will be women.  And that’s just the story of the human condition.  At least that’s the way its been. But now it’s not the past any more. It’s Century 21. And it’s time to turn the clock forward.
Tune in next week for Part 2 of this Blog.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What’s Your Risk Profile?

Knowing your level of tolerance for responding (or failing to respond) to bullying behavior where you work is important. For example, when you tell someone about your experiences, they are likely to have strong opinions about what you should do to resolve the issue. Their advice, however, may be counter-productive given your personal risk profile.

Review the discussion below and think about where you fall in terms of your own personality when it comes to risk-taking. Are you someone who will avoid confrontation at all costs? Are you, perhaps, willing to act even when there is some (or a lot of) risk involved? And what actions would you take if you are willing to act? Your ability to take risks—sometimes serious risks that could cost you your job, your reputation, your self-respect—are critically important for you to assess.

Consider your own customary behavior as described in the four personal styles described below:

Risk-Averse Personality

If you are a Risk-Averse person, you will not confront--in fact, you may not even acknowledge your own discomfort when being bullied. A truly Risk-Averse person will remain passive, refusing to take any action other than enduring—or simply leaving their job altogether. If you have a Risk-Averse personality, confronting or otherwise arguing with a bully is unthinkable. Capitulation seems the better part of valor even if you know, at some subconscious level, that you might prevail if you acted instead of withdrawing.. You simply cannot bear to be involved in an altercation of any kind. As a bullying target, you will go to any lengths, from ignoring the behavior to quitting your job, but you will not report your experience internally nor would you consult a lawyer.

Cautious Risk-Taker

As a Cautious Risk-Taker, you will react in some fashion if distressed enough. Still, you are likely to hesitate about direct confrontation with the bully. Instead, you will arrive at work earlier in the morning in order to avoid him/her. You will go to the restroom when the bully appears and will otherwise stay as far away from the him/her as possible. However, if the bully is your boss, a co-worker who sits next to you, or someone you simply cannot avoid, you may, very reluctantly, consider taking some kind of action. Unable to speak to the bully directly, you are more likely to seek advice from a trusted friend, and, only if you are desperate enough, will you talk to someone in Human Resources about a possible transfer to another department. You will quit if your anxiety level rises to a point where you cannot stay with the organization any longer.

Confident Risk-Taker

The Confident Risk-Taker will not endure bullying. Although you may tolerate someone who is, in your opinion, irritating or merely annoyingly sophomoric, e.g., Harry the Hugger, the Confident Risk-Taker is familiar with the organizations Policies and Procedure and their Zero Tolerance Policy. Before filing a formal complaint, you are likely to talk with the bully, letting him/her know that their behavior is unwelcome; you may tell the bully how you feel directly or you may decide to put your feelings in writing by sending an email, detailing the unwelcome behavior you want stopped. You are focused on your right to come to work without having to deal with bullying and will not hesitate to report the behavior as long as you know that the organization has supported others when they filed complaints under similar circumstances. If the organization has a dismal record in this area, as a Confident Risk-Taker, you will contact a Federal or State agency. If you are dissatisfied with the internal response you will weigh your options about staying or leaving the organization.

Ultimate Risk Taker

As an Ultimate Risk-Taker, you may not perceive your swift and decisive reaction to the bully as a risk at all, but rather as the only reasonable way to respond to the behavior you consider objectionable. For you there is a clear line between what is appropriate and what is inappropriate in the workplace and you will not tolerate the latter. In fact, you may appear to others fearless in telling the bully exactly what behavior(s) you consider to be unprofessional and expect that s/he will act accordingly. If the behavior ends, this is likely to be the end of the conversation. On the other hand, if the bully continues the behavior, as an Ultimate Risk-Taker, you will either report him/her to Human Resources, to another organizational authority, or speak with your attorney.

Please note that that your profile may be on the cusp between two kinds of Risk-Takers. Consider, for example, that you may be a cautious person, normally loathe to react assertively under ordinary circumstances. However, when confronted by an especially malicious bully, you may find yourself disturbed enough to move out of your comfort zone and take on the bully as if you were an Ultimate Risk-Taker.

Intelligent risk-taking, based on your coping skills and your personal style is key. Always consider the upside as well as the downside of taking a risk. Whatever your profile, you must be true to your own personality. No one should ever have to endure troubling behavior when they come to work. If you do find yourself in such a position, analyze the situation carefully so that your behavior affords you the comfort level you deserve.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Victim Contemplates Possible Options

During a recent workplace bullying seminar, a young woman protested when I suggested that the victim should do a cost-benefit analysis before deciding whether (and how) to respond to objectionable behavior. This woman said she thought my advice left victims powerless. My contention is that, unless the victim belongs to that rare class of individuals who can respond to bullying with confidence, they may need to consider what the cost of speaking up might be.

In my experience, most bullying victims flounder in the face of bullying behavior for specific reasons.

Not only are bolder individuals less likely to be bullied in the first place, but if they are, their response is swift and to the point. They may stare the bully down and tell them to “Back Off” or “Disappear, you creep!” They may raise their voices. They may use sarcasm, four-letter words, a threatening manner, an authoritative tone. In all cases, these “victims” have no difficulty stating what they want—always operating on the assumption that their response will leave the bully cowering under their counter-assault.

Here is one thing primarily that such victim may have forgotten if they even considered it. And that is that bullies qua bullies may respond in unanticipated ways. Sometimes they do, indeed stop their behavior toward such a “victim.” Sometimes, however, they smirk. They may laugh aloud. Sometimes they do actually back off only to reappear on another day. Sometimes they become really hostile and then they may actually become dangerous.

My interest is always in protecting the victim whether or not they are risk-takers. For me, that protection comes in the form of contemplating the potential upside and downside of their actions. I encourage them to .think lest they act precipitously, ending up finding themselves in a position more precarious than the one they’re already in. Hence, I suggest that victims do a cost-benefit analysis.

Let’s examine this concept more closely.

The question at hand is: What will it cost the victim and what benefit might she get from direct confrontation with the bully?.

This, as with sexual harassment, is an “it depends” dilemma. Here are some of the “it depends” issues to be considered.

It depends on the:
  • victim’s risk tolerance or risk aversion
  • status of both victim and bully
  • victim’s ability to withstand potential financial and psychological consequences
  • organization’s former responses to bullying behavior.
If the victim can consider all of these affirmatively, then there are potential benefits fo acting:


The victim may feel :
  • empowered
  • proud of standing up against the bully
  • a renewed sense of self-confidence
  • that the bullying behavior will stop
  • that taking action was the right thing to do
  • confident that co-workers will support their courageous stance.

The cost may be:
  • poor performance reviews henceforth
  • loss of an expected promotion or salary increase
  • a job demotion or transfer
  • loss of the job itself
  • a reputation as a problem person among her peers
  • desertion by co-workers after the fact
  • concern about personal physical safety
  • difficulty in finding another job
  • getting satisfactory references from the current employer
  • having to get legal representation
  • the family’s concern because they count on her salary
  • depression if joblessness continues over time
  • regret about having confronted the bully too soon.

Having done a thorough cost-benefit analysis, the victim can make a decision that will feel satisfying. Acting after such an analysis is likely to suit each individual’s personality and result in a better outcome than if they had acted without careful analysis

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The “T” Factor: Trust v Toxic Cultures

The Bully-Proof Company is often contacted by senior executives because they feel frustrated about what they consider to be poor communication throughout their organization. Employees also complain about what they think that they are not getting information that they need about a number of issues.  Over the years. however, we have learned that communication is rarely the actual problem. Rather, the problem is about a lack of Trust.  If there is no trust throughout the organization, even the most benign message or comment can be misconstrued.  Someone says “Good morning.”  The person they say it to thinks, “I wonder what s/he meant by that.”

When there is Trust, both employers and employees believe they know what is happening in the organization that they want to know about.  They believe what their managers and supervisors tell them and they believe in each other. Everyone is at ease with what they see and hear and they are unlikely to misinterpret the messages they get.

When we meet with clients, we talk often about what we call “The T Factor,” referring to two extremes that describe many cultural realities.  One “T” refers to Toxic cultures, cultures that are based on the assumption that leaders and managers must behave authoritatively, almost militaristically, because they think that if they do not, subordinates will take advantage of them and the organization as well.  The Bully-Proof Company contends that Toxic cultures cannot begin to accurately estimate what exceptional productivity could be, what dedicated employees could produce, and what loyalty would mean to their bottom line, their reputation, and their ability to attract and retain top talent.

Trust cultures, on the other hand, not only achieve the bottom line they anticipate, but they enjoy the loyalty, productivity, and reputation they earn every day.  In a Trust culture, employees are treated as purposeful, enthusiastic, resourceful, and capable adults for whom going to work equates with being in a safe, secure, genial environment; these employees know that their contribution to their organization is acknowledged and appreciated.


Here are some characteristics of a Toxic Culture:
  • Bullies are untouchables, especially if they are senior officers/rainmakers
  • Victims of discrimination, harassment, and bullying fear lodging complaints
  • Employees regard Human Resource professionals as farcical characters
  • Managers are convinced that employees will not work well unless they’re driven to do so
  • Senior management believes that productivity is as good (or as good as it gets)
  • Managers with short fuses are rewarded/promoted as long as their output is adequate
  • Teams do not function effectively and this is accepted as “just the way it is”
  • Turnover is excessive even during a difficult economy; replacement is expensive
  • Employees are conditioned to expect similar behaviors from earlier experiences
  • Complaints (if Toxic organizations get them at all) are considered frivolous or self-serving
  • Some of the best and brightest leave, sometimes without warning
  • It’s not easy to get top talent to join the organization; their reputation precedes them
  • Senior management is seldom visible to most employees
  • Promotions/perks are given to special favorites and everyone knows it
  • Political/social consciousness is considered a joke
  • Obnoxious behavior is sometimes covert, sometimes it is blatantly overt
  • If EAP programs exist, employees do not trust the promised confidentiality
  • Performance appraisals use subjective language and no redress is tolerated
  • Training is reserved for high potential (HI-PO) employees
  • Workers’ compensation plans are in use frequently
  • Cyber bullying is considered normal; it’s just part of the workplace experience

Here are some characteristics of a Trust Culture:
  • Emotional intelligence (EQ) is valued as at least as much as IQ*
  • Senior managers are often visit departments and are highly approachable
  • Bullies are not tolerated regardless of their status
  • Victims know they can bring complaints forward without fear of retaliation
  • Opinions and ideas are encouraged and often rewarded
  • Civility is a prized and protected part of the culture
  • Performance appraisal results are never a surprise; feedback is encouraged
  • 360 assessments are the norm; results are valued and action is taken as appropriate
  • Employees at all levels are “caught” doing outstanding work
  • High quality education and training are employee rights, not privileges
  • Health is also a respected right—both physical and mental health
  • EAP programs function effectively and are very much respected and effective
  • Leadership of teams function on a rotational basis
  • Cyber bullying is seldom an issue and if it occurs, it is reported at once
  • An anti-bullying task force emphasizes the company’s zero-tolerance policy
  • Ombuds persons are readily accessible and used when needed
  • “Do unto others . . .” is a lived practice  
  • Un-common sense prevails, especially in multi-cultural environments**
  • Physiological blindness is a thing of the past; everyone recognizes when something is amiss***
  • Gap analyses are done regularly to measure expected behaviors and outcomes
  • The best and brightest are eager to work for the organization
  • The organization is frequently listed among the best places for which to work
  • Hiring is a team-led function; up, down, and across
  • Absenteeism is rare; managers always seek ways to learn about causal factors
  • Regularly scheduled attitude surveys keep senior management apprized of employee concerns
  • All stakeholders learn what is expected of them in terms of respectful business behavior
  • Should bullying ever become an issue, it is dealt with expediently, confidentially, and fairly
  • Ripple effects of bullying are taken seriously and a cadre of services is made available
  • Morale/quality/productivity and active participation are the norm
  • Increased self-other awareness is prized
  • Enhanced recruitment and retention of top talent is a “no brainer”
  • Lessened likelihood of legal entanglements of any kind
  • Support of new employees through extensive orientation programs is a given

*    Without denigrating IQ in his book, Emotional Intelligence, author Daniel Golleman explains the importance of “emotional intelligence” which “includes self-control, zeal, persistence, and the ability to motivate oneself.”  The result is that “whatever intellectual potential the genetic lottery may have given them,” those with emotional intelligence tend to be successful in their personal and professional life.

**   Un-common sense refers to the fact that every culture considers those who “fit in” to have common sense.   Anyone whose behaviors indicate a different kind of sense are regarded as at best, strange and at worst, even dangerous.  In a global community it has become more imperative than ever to practice un-common sense; understanding rather than denigrating those whose common sense does not match ours.  Curiosity rather than denigration is required.

•••  Physiological blindness refers to cultural norms.  Whether it is functional or dysfunctional, those who occupy an organization’s space over time become “blind” to its characteristics. In a Toxic culture, employees regard negative behavior as normal.   In Trust cultures negative behavior is noticed at once and is taken seriously. Everyone is determined to retain the positive benefits they have enjoyed.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bully-Proof Your Workplace Culture

Do you have a workplace culture that you’re proud of--except, that is--for a few relatively minor issues that, perhaps, ought to be addressed?

For example:

Is your organization proud of the fact that it has scarcely had any complaints brought to the attention of Human Resources in the last few years? Yet you have heard rumors, have even seen some inappropriate behaviors—though none—in your opinion have risen to the point where you believe the culture is being compromised. Nothing, anyway, that you would label bullying behavior.

Does one of your supervisors have an anger management problem? Is her temper known to suddenly flare up and then erupt into a shouting match targeted at her subordinates? No one has ever lodged a complaint against her, but recently you were in her department when you witnessed a situation that troubled you.

During a recent departmental meeting, a newly hired young woman walked to the podium where she began a presentation based on research her manager had requested. Several meeting participants were more than just inattentive; some started doodling, two shifted loudly in their chairs, and one manager actually interrupted the speaker, commenting, “This is nothing new. Can you at least speed it up?”

You’re well aware that cyber-bullying has become a pandemic problem for people everywhere and you wonder if it may be victimizing employees in your workplace despite the fact that you have a comprehensive Policy & Procedures Manual that is very clear about computer usage at work. But what about people from outside of the workplace who may be bullying your employees on line?

While you consider yourself to be a patriotic American, you’ve become distressed that there are two employees who keep American flags on their desks. They have been known to make disparaging remarks about anyone who doesn’t speak “American.” Since yours is a very pro-inclusion organization, you’re concerned about how this behavior might be viewed by others in your organization.

There’s a very senior officer you’ve heard some employees refer to as the “snake” because he has purportedly done so many unpleasant things to women in your organization. Yet you’ve never had anything but the best of relationships with him. He’s a rainmaker, a close friend of the CEO’ and, while there have been complaints made about him, he has always been cleared of any wrongdoing. You wonder about the thoroughness of the investigation looking into this matter.

If your organization has questions of this kind that may indicate a bullying situation, and you are concerned about possible consequences, please let us know and we will be pleased to comment about ways in which to deal effectively with them.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Most Important Phrase To Learn: It Depends!!!!

 When it comes to workplace bullying, it all depends . . .

It depends on the organization’s culture.
It depends on the organization’s past experience in dealing with bullying.
It depends on who’s doing what to whom.
It depends on each employee’s perception of who’s doing what to whom.
It depends on who’s witnessing what behavior and their interpretation of what they saw or heard.
It depends on the employer’s policy & procedures or lack thereof.
It depends on who the complainant told (if anyone) and whether that person will tell (or not tell) a consistent story.
It depends on where it happened: within the workplace or out (and where) and it depends on the state or the country
It depends on the alleged bully’s body language and personal style.
It depends on personnel records, prior problems, and performance evaluations.
It depends on the interpretation of severity and/or pervasiveness of what was alleged to have happened.
It depends on how many times it reportedly occurred.
It depends on how the organization responds (or fails to respond) to situations like this.
It depends on current and past relationships between/among the people involved.
It depends on different person’s tolerance levels, culture, values, and past experiences.
It depends on the accuser’s and the accused’s reputation.
It depends on the status of each of the persons involved.
It depends on whether the complainant came forward and if not, why not.
It depends on whether the organization should have known* and did not act.
It depends on whether anything was documented, how it was documented, and by whom.
It depends on how long each person has been with the organization.
It depends on whether any of the persons involved is closely allied with someone important or is important themselves.
It depends on the quality of the investigation and the investigators (if there are any.)
It depends on whether a settlement can be reached or the case is headed for court.
It depends on the lawyers, the judge, jury, the state, and the nation in which the case is tried.
It depends on all of this and much, much more.

Which means that easy answers are elusive and that enormous care must be taken to avoid making what could be costly organizational/individual mistakes like under or over-reacting—or not reacting all.

This is not to imply that there are no objective standards with regard to workplace  bullying; there are.  But as you know, situations are  always open to interpretation.

That’s why, what may appears to be a completely objective and straightforward situation, is often quite different on closer observation. Or with a “dream team” of lawyers?  Remember the OJ case? 

Here are some examples.  If you feel like considering how to respond to any of the following, begin with, “It depends” and you may find that what seems to be clear may not be clear at all:

Pierre, a Parisian, has a questionable screen saver; other employees say it’s cool with them.

John asked Nancy out for dinner twice and she never actually says “No.”  She doesn’t want to go with him but she’s running out of excuses.

Sarah sends what she considers “funky” e-mails to her colleagues.  So far no one has complained.

Tim, a high school teacher, stands too close to some of his female students when he checks their papers, but does not do this to others.

Harry is a great, affectionate “teddy bear” manager who hugs a lot and some of the “hugees”  think he is charming.

Lucy is very funny, especially when she’s gossiping about her boss and other managers. She claims to know a lot about their sex lives.

Sam is having a fling with his administrative assistant; often it’s hard to find either one of
them.Some of the other assistants are getting pretty testy about the situation.

Charlie, a popular consultant, ranks every new female hire on a scale from 1 to 10; some  individuals find him annoying; others think he’s generally accurate in his scores.

Laurie, a sales executive, does a dead-on imitation of Howard Stern and everyone seems to think it’s hilarious to watch a woman do a Howard Stern act.