Workplace Bullying…A Leadership Tragedy

Bully Boss

Many studies now show that workplace bullying is a very real, all-too-common and incredibly harmful practice in workplaces world-wide.

Shocking Statistics

Here are some shocking statistics:

  • Jacqueline Power of the University of Windsor’s Odette school of business indicates that 40 percent of Canadian workers experienced one or more acts of workplace bullying at least once a week for six months prior to the study.
  • In 1999, the International Labour Organization declared that workplace harassment and violence affects 75 percent of workers world-wide.
  • The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) and Zogby International indicate that 35% of American workers experienced bullying first hand and that 62% of bullies were men. They go on to say that bullies can be found in all ranks of any organization but that managers, supervisors and executives form the majority of perpetrators.
  • WBI indicated that 40 percent of the targets of bullies never report the bullying to their employers and 62% of those who did report it indicate that their reports were ignored.
  • WBI reported that 81 percent of employers do nothing to address bullying or resist action when requested to do something.

Bullying leads to disengagement, poor performance and a resulting loss of revenue which reportedly runs into billions of dollars every year.

The Majority of Bullies Are Bosses

Interestingly, most of their targets are not the new, less confident or weak employees. Instead, bosses with “Type A” (forceful, aggressive, outgoing) personalities tend to focus their bullying on highly competent, experienced, cooperative and well-liked employees.

Bullies tend to see those natural leaders as threats to both their ego and status in the organization.

When bullying bosses come across employees that stand their ground and refuse to be intimidated or controlled, their bullying efforts often intensify. Bullying bosses need to win and they need to control everything in their purview, to the point of actually doing harm to their own organizations in order to establish their superiority.

Taking Its Toll

People who are bullied suffer everything from stress symptoms to depression and from increased sick-leave to serious, life-threatening illness.

These symptoms can lead to reduced performance and career-damaging indolence.

So Who Is Bullying?

Bullying takes many forms but often it includes public put-downs, temper tantrums, unreasonable work demands, insults, taking credit for another’s work, threats of job-loss and discounting of accomplishments.

Often, it will also include withholding of necessary information, exclusion from important meetings and general intimidation.

Each of these behaviours is bad enough on its own, but when done in tandem with others, can cause serious psychological harm to the victim.

Six Things A Bullied Employee Can Do

  1. When faced with a bullying boss, an employee can stand up for himself or herself in the hope that the bully will relent and back off. However, in the worst cases, if the bullying does not stop or actually increases, resignation might be the only cure.
  2. Under no circumstances should an employee actively work overtly or covertly against a bullying boss. Not only will that probably create an equal and opposite reaction which will only intensify the problem, but it will also provide the bully with a reason or an excuse for his or her bullying. It may also reflect negatively on any job-action or legal suits that the employee may wish to take in the future.
  3. As difficult as it may be, bullied employees should always take the high-road. They should respond politely, react passively, and ask questions in a professional manner. When feeling insulted or put-down, they should indicate that they did not understand what the bully meant by their comments and ask them to clarify. If the bully is shouting or attempting to intimidate the employee, they should ask the bully not to speak to them that way or indicate that the behaviour is inappropriate. The intent should always be to diffuse the bully rather than to retaliate in kind.
  4. The employee should ask to have a private meeting with the bully to discuss their differences. If the bully allows that meeting to occur, the employee should lay out his or her concerns openly, honestly and calmly. Keep in mind that when the situation gets to this point, the employee should be prepared for a negative reaction and might also consider being emotionally prepared to resign.
  5. All acts of bullying should be reported to the upper-echelons of the organization and legal action should be taken in the most serious of cases. Legal action should be the last resort but if the bullying is of serious significance it may be the best course of action for present and future employees.
  6. It must be recognized firstly that a bully is doing something wrong…Bullying is inappropriate and unacceptable. However, if you do not confront it or report it, it might never stop.

What Should Leaders Do?

  • Always be on the lookout for bullies in your organization.
  • Take all reports of bullying seriously and investigate all reports when they occur.
  • Make bullying a “zero-tolerance” violation of corporate policy.
  • Let all employees at all levels know that you will not tolerate bullying and that it will result in discipline up to and including termination.
  • Finally, be prepared to follow through on your bullying policy in order to maintain credibility.

Are you aware of bullying going on in your organization? If so and you have not done anything about it, now it the time to put an end to it before bullying does some serious harm to your credibility and your team. 


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Wayne Kehl

Wayne Kehl is President and CCO at Dynamic Leadership Inc
He is author and behavioral analyst who lectures on leadership and motivation
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  1. Candice Bain on August 16, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    If the bully is a supervisor and handles Human Resources, there is no way an employee can win. I speak from experience.

  2. Jolynn Nelson (Director/Co-Founder) on August 17, 2013 at 6:02 am

    Bullying is a Victim/Perpetrator cycle. You will only be the victim as long as you don’t stand up for yourself. Sadly standing up for yourself might not always result in corrective action by your employer.

  3. Peter McDougall on August 17, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    Bullying in organisations demonstrates the abject failure of leadership at all levels, but particularly by those at the top who clearly don’t understand the differences between leadership and management.