Don’t be a friend to your workplace bully

In the workplace, it’s good to be friendly to everyone. Life is better that way.

But if you’re in management, the one person who deserves more than “friendly” is your resident bully.

Does that surprise you? I thought it might.

See, your bully needs love, not friendship. And by “love” I mean tough love. The kind with immovable boundaries. The kind with real consequences. The kind that demands a change or at the very least protects the innocent.

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Yeah, your bully needs that kind of love.

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is persistent, aggressive mistreatment against a coworker, subordinate, or even a boss.

Bullying is about control, pure and simple. Controlling someone makes a bully feel powerful, at least temporarily.

Bullying includes verbal threats, intimidation, name calling, relentless and unwarranted criticism, email “mobbing” (i.e., several parties sending similar nasty messages to the same target within a compressed period), and deliberate reputation bashing. If the target doesn’t do what the bully wants, the bully’s goal becomes to make the target’s life a living you-know-what until the target capitulates or even leaves the organization.

A negative trend

According to a recent article in USA Today, workplace bullying is on the rise, and it’s no wonder. Study after study shows management tends to either ignore the problem or make it worse.

This is bad.

Workplace bullying hurts your business and your employees. One commonly quoted statistic is that workplace bullying costs organizations nearly $250 million annually in sick days, employee healthcare costs, turnover, accidents related to stress-induced fatigue, and litigation, for starters.

And when you “friend” the bully, turning a blind eye to her bad behavior or worse, actually encouraging her harmful aggression by providing good performance evaluations and job promotions, you’re just asking for more of the same.

What’s a better plan?

Last week (October 20th-26th) was Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week. You may have missed the celebration, but you don’t have to miss the point—there are at least 250 million reasons to want to see incidents of workplace bullying reduced.

Here then, are some steps you can take to show some much-needed love to your workplace bully.

  • Become a believer. Workplace bullying is not a personality clash, a difference in opinion, or a “communication” or “leadership” style. It’s aggression run amok. It’s real, and it’s dangerous.
  • Get the word out. Create an anti-workplace bullying policy and distribute it to your employees. Make it clear that you intend to enforce it.
  • Invest in training. It’s sad but true. Overall, management (including human resources management) is woefully inadequate when it comes to stomping out workplace bullying. Part of the reason is that most folks haven’t been trained to recognize bullying when they see it, which includes being alert to the manipulative wiles of the bully once confronted. However, good and credible information about this phenomenon is everywhere. For starters, check out this video on YouTube. It’s awesome.
  • Take no prisoners. If you want the bullying behavior out of your business, you have to let the bullies know that you mean business. This means no more ignoring the problem, no more making allowances, and no more promotions, please. Contrary to the rumors, it’s entirely possible to inspire confidence and tons of productivity from an employee without resorting to threats, screaming, humiliation, or sarcasm.
  • Repeat all of the above until the bully cries “Uncle” (or until you’ve had enough and are ready to show the bully the door).

One last thought. The workplace bully is no friend to your organization. She cares nothing for you, your business, or your employees. She may pretend to, but she doesn’t. If she did, she wouldn’t be slowly killing the culture of your company while sucking the life out of your employees and calling it good.

Even so, you can be the better person and show her some love.

Tough love. The best kind for the workplace bully.

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10 Comments on "Don’t be a friend to your workplace bully"

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Deidre Davis

I suppose the idea of using the pronoun “she” was to get our attention.  However you all know that a workplace bully can be male or female.  Let’s not ever forget that.

Jigme Datse Yli-Rasku

I recently read that schools who have a strict no bullying policy have worse bullying problems than schools which have no such policy, and that there is a demonstrated increase in bullying with the implementation of a strict no bullying policy.  

I do not see any love in what you are suggesting you do with regard to the bullies.  Ignoring it is probably better than getting into a situation where the bullies feel bullied.

Debbie Dunbar

Consistency is the key.   Say what you mean to the bully and do what you say.   Clearly state the behaviour that you will not tolerate and offer the employee (he or she!) an avenue to articulate what the issues or route causes may be.  Offer to work together to curb undesirable behaviour.  All the while, stating clearly the consequences if behaviour does not change and follow through. 

Current employee

What happens when the bully is also the owner of the company?  I have no options or control over stopping this behavior.

Crystal Spraggins

@Deirdre. Funny, I hadn’t noticed I’d used the female pronoun consistently; usually I alternate. Of course, you’re correct. A bully can be male OR female–no question about that.

Crystal Spraggins

@Jigme Datse Yli-Rasku. With all due respect, ignoring the problem is a terrible idea. And do you honestly see no difference between a business owner making it clear that employees are not to be bullied and bullying itself? Wow.

Crystal Spraggins

@Debbie. Your advice sounds reasonable, but understand  the bully has no desire to “work with you.” He or she simply wants to control you. You’ll either do as the bully wants or face the consequences of saying “no.”

Crystal Spraggins

@Current employee. You’re right. Sadly, you don’t. That’s why this article is targeted to business owners. However, you are not without options. You’ll have to contact me directly if you’d like to hear about those.

Brian Morris
  They simply have to be dealt with.  For all of the reasons listed as well as many more, it simply does the affected company no real good to put up with them.  I have reason to believe there are times and circumstances where the quality of their (the bullie’s) work  prevents management from taking an adequate stance in dealing with behaviour that would otherwise not be tolerated.  Once the company/management understands how the erosion of morale in their ranks by far outweighs any work benefit, then thely are better equipped to understand the exact direction down which their own… Read more »
Crystal Spraggins

@Brian. Of course I agree. Sometimes leadership will claim that nothing can be done about a bully because his or her work is too valuable to the company. I think that’s bull. People aren’t expendable, but positions are replaceable.