Workplace bullying is a global epidemic that chases good people away. When people resign from companies, they often do not tell the truth about why they are leaving. They quit, run out the door, and do not look back. And, more than likely, they searched for their new job on company time without feeling one drop of remorse.
That’s what bullying does, and all of this was happening long before the pandemic of 2020. In our workplace, there is far too much leading by intimidation, which causes fear and suffering in silence.
Because of the lack of training for leaders in general and specific training to deal with bullies, this has been an issue shrouded in silence. The targets of bullying sit quietly, hoping that the problems will solve themselves. This complicit silence is destroying companies and gulping profits . . . yet it persists.
Here’s the unacceptable reality: leaders either have no idea this is happening or are looking the other way.
If and when exit interviews are conducted, it is easier for staff to say that they “found a better opportunity that fits my current goals” rather than say the real reason, which is that they have had enough of one or more bullying behaviors.
What leaders need to know and do about bullies
Firing the bully is not the answer. At least, not at first. While it may seem antithetical, the way to manage bullies is to provide support, education, and coaching.
In my conversation with psychologist Dr. Susan Strauss, she said, “The data is clear. I spend a lot of time in courtrooms in America, serving as an expert witness on bullying in schools and in the workplace.
I believe that bullying education needs to begin as early as first grade. The data is clear that without training, children who are bullies at school will grow up to be bullies in their companies. And those who are abused tend to abuse others. We cannot look the other way and hope the problem will solve itself. The damage is cumulative. Our company leaders need coaching to give them the courage to take action and break the cycles of bullying and abuse.”
My student said, “We are all so relieved that after five years, the bully manager was finally fired.”
This is seen as good news, but it also means that for the past five years, the bully was permitted to traumatize an unknown number of staff. My goal is to reduce that time to five days or weeks rather than years. Sadly, the trauma doesn’t end there. Data shows that the witnesses to bullying bear almost as much of the pain of it as the targets themselves. In other words, the silent bystanders can experience excruciating discomfort; often, it is enough to make them quit.
Without coaching, the fired bully will move on to another company and most likely bully a whole new group of people. The toxic cycle will begin again unless our leaders see the value of putting a stop to bullying before it even begins. It is one thing to establish zero-tolerance policies for workplace bullying for executives and staff. It is quite another to act on those policies. This requires enforcement, accountability, and clear and fair consequences. This is not easy stuff to take on.
Assistants tell me that sometimes leaders are not taking action because the bully is a rainmaker, someone who brings in a lot of money to the company. What is useful in that circumstance is to look at the employee retention rates to see the cost of replacing the staff whom the bully is chasing away. I ask leaders to decide whether confronting the rainmaker is worth it. Chances are those staffers running for the exit are going to work for the competition in search of a kinder, more respectful culture—even if it means making less money.
For the long-term health of your company, it is worth asking staffers to reveal the real reasons they are leaving. They probably won’t even have to say a word. Their eyes and their bodies will tell you everything. Just look.
What if you are a bully?
Have you yelled at someone today and on most days? Do you slam doors when you are angry? Do you make fun of coworkers with mean-spirited insults? If any of these answers were “yes,” here are five things to do about it right now:
- Hire a counselor or coach who specializes in bullying behaviors.
- Have one-on-ones with your most valuable coworkers and give them permission to tell you the truth. Take notes.
- Apologize to those you have hurt. Sincerity counts. There is never a bad time and it is never too late to say you are sorry.
- Speak with your HR department to set realistic and actionable policies regarding bullying. Involve your coworkers in the creation of these policies and then work with HR to post them on your website.
- Encourage your coworkers to openly communicate with you as often as needed. Emphasize that they will not receive retribution.
Education, coaching, and interpersonal communication training are needed. The dollars it will cost to train leaders how to manage people well will be far outweighed by the profits generated by an effective and optimally performing team that feels safe, valued, and respected. If we seek to build a workplace where our daughters and sons do not have to fear being disrespected, bullied, or sexually harassed, aren’t we willing to do whatever is necessary to make that happen? Every member of a business constituency can be a part of the solution. The ball is in each of our courts to be intentional, starting today, about what we do about workplace bullying, sexual harassment, and all disrespectful behaviors.
Excerpted from Staff Matters: People-Focused Solutions for the Ultimate New Workplace.
5 Facts About Workplace Bullying Everyone Should Know(Opens in a new browser tab)
About the Author:
Bonnie Low-Kramen strives to bring the voice of the staff to the forefront to create an ultimate new workplace. She is the founder and CEO of Ultimate Assistant Training & Consulting, a curated training solution for corporate leaders and assistants creating synchronous and thriving work environments. For twenty-five years, Bonnie worked as the personal assistant to Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis and cofounded New York Celebrity Assistants (NYCA). A sought-after author and speaker on various workplace issues, Bonnie has served as a consultant on workplace bullying for the World Administrators Alliance and has worked in thirteen countries. She is a TEDx speaker and the author of Staff Matters: People-Focused
Solutions for the Ultimate New Workplace.
By Bonnie Low-Kramen
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