Have you run into one? I have. One in particular was a fellow HR person. She would call me and scream and yell and tell me I wasn’t doing my job right. She was nasty. In fact, my whole department hated her–but the HR VPs thought she was fantastic and she kept getting promoted.

When she quit to go be the head of some other poor company’s HR department, all us non VP types breathed a sigh of relief and made a mental note to never go work for her new company.

Why does this go on?

Well, allow me to pull some information from another field–education. In Playground Heroes Ken Rigby, Ph.D. and Bruce Johnson, Ph.D. argue that it is not the teachers who can stop bullying. Why?

School authorities are commonly unaware of what is going on. This is not to blame them. It is simply to recognize that bullying goes on in the company of peers and rarely in the company of teachers. Children see it happening, but the teachers do not. Only occasionally do students tell.

Did I ever call up the Sr VP and say, “this lady is a nightmare”? No, I didn’t. Neither did any of my peers–or my boss. Could it be that they were fully unaware?

Is the business world just like a playground? I certainly can see the logic in arguing that. The study’s authors do give another reason for failure to stop bullying–and a solution as well: Having the bully’s peers disapprove.

On those rare occasions when a witness does object to bullying, there is a good chance that the bullying will stop. Indeed, several researchers have reported that bystander objections effectively discourage bullying at least half the time.

I’m looking back to the meetings where I and others were screamed at. What would have happened if, rather than biting our tongues we’d said, “Excuse me, but you’re not acting appropriately. If you have a problem with these numbers/report/programs, let’s talk about it, but if you are going to scream we’re going to leave.”

Because I believed that Sr. Management was aware and would have supported her, I kept my mouth shut and took the abuse. But perhaps, like teachers over bullies, they were unaware and perhaps would have responded if we had stood up to her.

(Via Joanne Jacobs.)

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6 thoughts on “Workplace Bullies

  1. Evil HR Lady, don’t yell at me or nothing, but bully bosses is one of the favorite topics on the Cranky Middle Manager show.

    Here are two episodes you should listen to. One is with Dr Gary Namie

    and a bit of a rebuttal, or at least a different approach with Robert Mueller


  2. I work with (for) a bully myself. I happen to know that a couple of my co-workers have told the executives over his head of his tactics, and been told that they fully support him. These co-workers have since moved on to greener and less meaner pastures.

    I can’t imagine that I’ll last much longer myself. I can’t think of a better description than “hostile work environment”, although it has nothing to do with sexual harrassment. (Just harrassment.)

    I’ve thought about trying to call him on his belittling ways, but I’m extremely non-confrontational. So, I’m pretty sure it would go poorly. Well, I have a pretty good opportunity for it here shortly, so I’ll let you know how it goes. =P

  3. Of course, they’re aware. It’s just like my current situation with the state. If someone cozies up to the bosses, all their mistakes and outrageous behavior can be ignored. I work also for a large profit making organization. I find that when profit is involeved, actual performance tends to be measured, rather than behavior that pleases the boss. In any non-profit, reward is given to who best satisfies the supervisors ego, not who performs best. Because the bosses are selected by the same criteria. There is no measure of performance, such as who is selling or producing the most.

  4. Not necessarily. I know of a case where a company lost a $300M contract because they lost the one engineer who could coordinate the parallel processing work, and the manager who drove him out of the company was not even touched! She even had a history of dismantling award-winning teams because she didn’t like anyone on them, and she got away with that too. Why? She was an outspoken, bitter, in-your-face lesbian.

    Take away the ability to sue employers for the actions of their employees, and I think you’d see a lot more spine from management. People like her would be considered just threats to the bottom line, not threats to the company from the legal angle.

  5. Again, old post, but I did want to share.

    I have worked with bullies and I stand up to them even as a low level nobody stupidvisor. Hey, I don’t come to work to be abused by anybody. I don’t care if you’re the Grand High Poobah or a janitor, you will treat me and mine with respect.

    What’s interesting to me, is that once I do it, other people will and I’ve actually been able to kickstart positive change in the culture.

    The problem is, my brazen anti-bully behavior has given me a rep. On one hand, people respect me, on the other, well, some people are intimidated by assertive women. So it’s a double-edged sword.


  6. Extensive experience with this. Usually the person being bullied has skills that the bully lacks. The better you are at a job, the more some will find you threatening. And yes, you absolutely MUST confront these people or they will never stop.

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