CN Executive Coaching Corner


Hard Truths About Toxic Behavior – Bullying

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Bullying in the workplace is often triggered by an aggressor’s feelings and attitudes about race, gender, age or other “differences” in the diversity spectrum.

It may not be the reason for bullying, but it may be the way a bully selects his/her targets.

The bully may consider their target(s) a threat to them in some fashion. As an Antioch College survey substantiated (Holloway, Kusy 2009), bullying and other toxic workplace behavior is now sufficiently prevalent so that most employees should indeed begin educating and preparing themselves thoroughly for what to do when they eventually encounter this kind of behavior. Incredibly, some 94% of leaders surveyed, 39% of which were in the health care field, reported that they had experienced or witnessed these kinds of “toxic” behaviors in the workplace.

When determining what to do about it, we first need to take the time to determine whether the behaviors are just rudeness, or mild interpersonal abusiveness rather than bullying. But any employee should take swift action to protect themselves in any case. The company will not, in most cases, come to your aid. While the idea of finding help up there in the ranks of authority is an ideal solution, it is an unlikely one.

There is much to say on this topic, but it all boils down to one thing. “People are our most valuable asset” becomes a hollow cliche when it comes to abusiveness and bullying in the corporation. Toxic behavior is thriving. Despite its high cost, bullying serves a purpose.

One top coaching consultant refers to bullying as part of the “isness” of the work world. These behaviors are widely tolerated by management at the expense of many good people and great losses in productivity, while the aggressors are left in place, time and again. That makes no sense whatsoever unless the painfully obvious truth is faced: Generally, though there are always exceptions, management/HR couldn’t care less about defending their people from one another, and they tacitly condone abusiveness/bullying as a Darwinian culling of the weak from the herd.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to HR. It only means that having a realistic attitude about doing that can make an enormous difference in outcomes.  Know that what you may be walking into won’t necessarily be a place where you’ll find help. But it is a place where you can, at the right time, shift the problem into a management process that is more predictable than open-field bullying, and will most likely have to be adhered to by HR, and your bullying nemesis.

The difficult message here is that in the case of bullying, you are more than likely alone and on your own. Better to face that than deny it.  It will facilitate your taking swift action at each step to protect yourself mentally, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually (and maybe legally), your best and probably your only sensible recourse from the very first indications of bullying behaviors.

Going to HR or anyone else in management short of a highly-placed relative may not be good advice in most cases. This is a step that must be weighed carefully. First, HR/Management knows or suspects who the toxic employees are, and they know that the bully is a threat to other employees. As far as HR is concerned, it’s just a fact of life, part of organizational existence. HR is not there to protect you. The moment you raise the issue to HR, you become a threat to the company, a liability, a lawsuit waiting to happen. HR will go straight to legal, and a detailed file will be opened along with an exit strategy for you.

Unless you are a high-value employee — very high, with tangible leverage and protection such as rock solid employment contract — and unless you have a case that is so solid that it demands the immediate termination of an antagonist of lower value, the HR Department will turn on you immediately. They will set up interviews with you to assess the extent of the company’s liability, begin building a defensive case such that you will become their target, as well as the bully’s. This is especially true if your antagonist is a member of supervision or management.

Though this is not happy news for those who hoped for a measure of support from their organization, it is important to understand that HR works for the company, not for you, and they are there to defend the company, not you.

As a victim considering how to deal with the issue, you may have no choice but to go to management and/or HR, if for no other reason than to forestall the inevitable.  In that case, you must be prepared, once you set foot in HR with the matter, to become a pariah to management. Rest assured, in most cases they will begin working to manage you out of the company while doing their best to placate you and keep you from filing a law suit.  What does that mean?

It means this may not be a battle you can win decisively within your organization. But it is one in which you can come off victorious by maintaining your own physical health, self-worth and dignity, and addressing it on your own terms.

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Copyright © Robert D. Jones 2014 – All Rights Reserved

Learn more about the causes and new ways to safeguard against the effects of toxic workplace behaviors centered in “Diversity” challenges. CONTACT US for more information about coaching for greater personal and professional success.

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