February 25th, 2016

C-Suite Rationale to Address Workplace Bullying

Workplace Bullying for Leaders

C-Suite Talking Points for HR About Workplace Bullying
By Gary Namie, PhD

Assumptions: (1) No anti-bullying initiative can succeed without support from the top. (2) It will be the job of HR to take that message up the ladder.

Here is a list of reasons senior leaders should care. It includes, but is not limited to, the following:

• Workplace Bullying is a costly litigation nightmare. Even though a low proportion of incidents of bullying also have an aspect of discrimination (20%), the public erroneously believes hostile work environment protections apply to everyone. Therefore, too many individuals shop for an attorney willing to either threaten or file a lawsuit or EEOC formal complaint. At the very least, a defense has to be mounted, or settlement paid, or trial and penalty expenses absorbed.

• Recruitment & retention of highly skilled workers undermined. The typical bullying scenario finds the best & brightest targeted for baseless, mindless persecution until they either voluntarily quit or are driven away. This is unwanted, unnecessary and PREVENTABLE turnover.

• A tarnished reputation as one of the “worst places to work” on the street (mainly in social media) follows the expulsion of highly qualified workers. In turn, recruitment is made more difficult.

• Bullying causes stress-related diseases. Allowing it to continue unabated directly contradicts the internal commitments to wellness and employee well being. In fact, research clearly shows the causal role of personalized bullying in cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, changes in the brain that lead to irreversible behavioral dysfunction that passes for incompetence to the naive observer, life shortening interference with DNA cellular replication, and doubling the rate of suicidal ideation. Why should we allow the health-harming misconduct to continue knowing that our staff and associates are being so severely impaired?

• Because of the health harm, workers affected by bullying — those directly targeted and those witnessing it as coworkers — typically use paid time off disproportionately. They exhaust the allotment taking “mental health” days trying to lessen the distress they feel. In many cases, the absenteeism exceeds PTO because the workers can no longer cope in the environment where they are subjected to abuse. That absenteeism (and presenteeism) eventually precludes productive work. The lean work team comes to resent their absent colleagues and soon experience their own sense of overload.

• To allow bullying to continue with impunity sends the message to internal stakeholders that our workplace culture prizes ruthlessness, abuse, victimization, domination and humiliation of employees. Not exactly the terms posted proudly on our Mission, Vision, Values placards throughout the company. Sustaining bullies contradicts lofty aspirational phrases such as we “respect all individuals,” and any claims to diversity or fairness. Bullying is immoral. The failure to condemn it is understood by employees as condoning it.

• Bullying cannot thrive without executive sponsorship. Yes, dear leaders, you may be contributing to the problem. No one is accused of ordering subordinate managers to willfully harm their work teams. Rather, bullies are skilled manipulators. They are able to bond with supporters, through disingenuous ingratiation over time, so that you come to see them only in a positive light. When they are accused of abusing others, it seems impossible that people so kind and admiring in your presence are capable of what they are accused. In fact, they are the same people: tyrants to those below them in the organization and fawning great folks to those above.

• Constraint vs. Change. On repeat offenders in the past, we have wasted too much money on attempts to change their personalities. Personality, by definition, is stable and constant for adults. Further, long-reinforced habits, however destructive, are ingrained. A better approach is to constrain or limit negative behavior by creating new boundaries which when crossed brand the conduct unacceptable, and therefore, punishable. The teaching of limits and their reinforcement rely on principles of human learning.

• The historical problem is that we (the company, the managers, the system) have inadvertently rewarded bullying. Examples of this type of implicit reward include ignoring complaints, choosing personality clashes as the preferred explanation for events, or not believing the target-complainants. Over time, bullies have no reason to believe they would ever be held accountable because we have not told them they were doing anything wrong or unacceptable.

• To accomplish the goals of constraint and mitigation of negative destructive interpersonal conduct, we have to create new explicit standards and be granted the authority to enforce misconduct that crosses the line. If we cannot show offenders where the expectation is clear that they violated, we lose the moral authority to monitor conduct at all. Further, everyone at all levels of the organization should be made to follow the same standards. No exceptions. Those of you in leadership must be role models.

• Finally, we have to inculcate the newly adopted intolerance of abusive conduct to everyone. The message flows from the top. We need your endorsement, and if you are willing, your participation in education efforts. More important, to sustain the anti-abuse initiative, we need you to support HR’s implementation of the new code and enforcement provisions. Do not interfere in cases involving your personal friends. Please let the system work independently and without political intervention. This is the only way employees come to trust leaders to make their workplaces safe.

• To enable all workers to function free from fear of being abused during the work day is not a luxury. It is a fundamental occupational health and safety issue. And it is the cornerstone to personal psychological safety. Only with this freedom can workers optimize their productivity for employers.

Some of the above points are “safer” to raise than others. Only you can gauge how easily threatened are your executive team members. Most don’t ever want to hear bad news, but they are not leaders. True leaders care very much about everyone in their organization. Find those people and you will save your organization.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, February 25th, 2016 at 8:49 am and is filed under Advice for Employers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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