Let's say you have Bill who is a good guy in many ways but he can be a grouch. He is particularly likely to nag the young female accounting staff for inquiring about his expense reports. He looms over them and talks loudly sometimes shaking his finger, and using occasional mild profanity. You've talked to him and he always gives a half-hearted sheepish apology - and then does it again the following month.
You say to yourself, oh well, that's just grumpy Bill. Wrong attitude because Bill is not just crusty, he is a bully. And a bully can lead to issues in efficiency, morale and even legal areas.
Bill is not unusual; bullying is common. Blando-Fisher (2008) found that 47% of people reported having been bullied during their career, and 27% admitted to being a target of a bully in the last year alone. In the same study researchers found that 69% of the bullies were male. An amazing 75% of participants reported witnessing bullying of a co-worker sometime throughout their careers. And research conducted at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Montreal, Canada shows that women have a tougher time than men in dealing with bullies and processing the negative emotions those men demonstrate, like anger. Their responses may be hardwired: in the limbic system of women-our emotional and memory center-negative emotions trigger a fear signal, a flight or fight response. Women are just more reactive to negative stimuli like bullying.
But even if Bill is only bullying men (which we know he isn't) it does not make it alright. You should not tolerate Bill's behavior in either case.
Rugala of the FBI (2002) says that while horrific events like murder at work are rare, actions including bullying, if left unchecked, may lead to more serious and violent behavior.
Moreover, even if you have no fear that Bill will escalate, he wastes time and money. People targeted by a bully can spend 10-50% of their time in non-work behavior involved in defending themselves or worrying about how to respond. (Namie and Namie, 2003.) There are numerous health issues that can arise from the stress of being bullied (Ellis, 2006) Needham (2003.) Anytime employees are wasting time and becoming ill is obviously not in the employer's best interest.
Then there are the legal issues. Attorney L. Guerin (lawyers.com) says that while, to date, no federal or state law prohibits bullying if the target of the bullying is, e.g. a woman who is targeted for bullying because of her gender, that's harassment. So, when Bill looms over the woman half his age and size and subordinate to him in position he is being not only a bully but a harasser.
Finally - legal, performance and other issues - all serious issues - aside, it's wrong. No one has a Value Statement that says "We tolerate mean behavior."
When we see bullying we always taken it very seriously and help our clients investigate and deal with it. We do not allow clients to laugh it off "Oh that's just Bill." "Just Bill" may, in some cases be just a loveable grouch; but all too often he's someone who hurts morale, hurts productivity - and can get you sued.
Rose Porterfield Group (RPG) has over 30 years of experience providing Business Performance and Human Resource services. As experts in human behavior, we provide litigation support strategy and testimony for attorneys and corporations. Offering unbiased, detailed, and objective expert opinion on all aspects of human behavior in the workplace, we can help determine the facts, motivations, and human factors involved in the case.
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