Are there secrets about mean behavior in your workplace?
The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) receives calls about nurses and educators more than any others…In a recent book focused on the culture nurses commonly experience, hundreds were interviewed with surprising results. The norm was a culture of bullying, hazing and sabotage. The author profiles tragic behavior patterns: withholding information or help, spreading rumors, name-calling, playing favorites, and intimidating or berating peers until they quit.
Wherever people interact, bad actors appear. The social and private sectors have plenty of “anything goes.” Some organizations (and communities) foster this rough and tumble context by feeding politics.
Abuse of Power
Although it impedes stellar performance, this destructive “underground” behavior happens too often in many organizations. This type of culture makes it very difficult to retain capable people. How individuals use power is key. Workplace bullying is defined as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct driven by a perpetrator’s need to “assassinate” the targeted individual(s). These behaviors often escalate or spread to involve others who “side” with the bully. It’s similar to domestic violence but it occurs in a specific workplace or industry. Bullies are insecure and use interpersonal aggression to cope.
Talent are Targets
Research indicates the targets of bullying are:
- Independent…they refuse to be subservient,
- More technically skilled than their bullies,
- Go-to veteran workers,
- Socially graceful, display greater emotional intelligence and are better liked, as well as
- Ethical and honest.
Sadly, those most easily exploited targets are people with a prosocial orientation, meaning those with a desire to help, heal, teach, develop and nurture others. If you’re a target, what actions do you take? The WBI recommends a 3-step action plan: (1) Recognize and name what’s happening (2) Get some supportive care for healing, and (3) Expose the bullies. Most human resource experts say you should also plan to exit.
Witnesses should document actions and speak up. Manager-leaders should always seriously consider their intuition, hints or explicit reports as legitimate. Capable people welcome “whistleblowers.” It takes huge courage to report misbehavior because it puts the target in a place of considerable vulnerability. Consider attributes of those reporting. How do they rate on the characteristics cited here? Are they typically reliable and competent professionals?
It is very deep trouble when bullies are in a supervisory capacity role without accountability. Sometimes those in charge of complaints and ethics are complicit. They rationalize by “protecting the organization.” This allows the bullies to continue to run roughshod over others. In effect, it means they can’t or won’t clean up their personnel woes. It also ensures a perpetually hostile and dysfunctional environment. Inept management promotes and mimics bullies, those who are caring and competent purge bullies.
–Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com