There’s No Place in Your Workplace For Bullying Behavior

I heard on the news that a new anti-bullying law had been put in place in a local community. There were the usual skeptics as to how effective it was going to be.

However, I did some digging and found out that 49 states in the U.S. have passed school anti-bullying legislation, the first being Georgia in 1999. I, for one, am all for this message in corralling these so-called bullies. I have always said (somewhat jokingly) that they have not bullied the right person yet. When they do, the line will be drawn.

Better engagement by eliminating bullies

One of my other thoughts around bullying is that organizations will have to deal with these same folks who will be passed along until they reach somebody’s workforce — and then they will unleash those bullying tendencies upon everyone.

Organizations are the repository of all the acting out, bullying, and all other bad behaviors. Bad managers tend to exhibit the same qualities of a bully. From administrative staff all the way up to (at times) senior leaders, they all have been  put through the ringer by a bullying personality at one time or another.

That is why the thinking is that to increase engagement, you have simply have got to get rid of all these people. Sometimes I walk out of meetings where I feel like the principal with a bunch of schoolyard charges that are totally out of control. Those same symptoms are on full display. If only he or she would have been dealt with at an earlier time, we would all be better off.

I once heard workforce bullying described as being like domestic violence, but where the abuser gets a free pass. And we all know them from their threatening, intimidating, interfering, sabotage and verbal abuse. Passive aggressive or assertive aggressive, they come in all shapes and sizes.

You gotta deal with it NOW

This is why I applaud PayPal for firing one of their key executives a few weeks back after he got on social media and called out his team in a demeaning manner. Their tweets said (essentially) that “we will not tolerate bad behavior.” Kudos to them for standing up.

If no one has dealt with this through their formative years, it is now far too risky for organizations to NOT deal with it. So many times the “acting outers” are senior managers, and for whatever reason, their faults are glossed over. “She is a nice person, you just have to get to know her. John is good but he is just under a lot of stress.

Don’t cover it up; this is the reason that all of this happens in the first place, because everybody made excuses and looked askance with weary eyes waiting for the next outburst.

I remember a CEO I once worked for warning one of our EVPs to not yell and scream at her assistant again. She had gone through about five assistants over the years, however this new CEO fired her immediately at the next outburst. It was over and done with.

This quick action straightened out a whole cadre of bullies in training. The CEO let it be known that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. This now-fired EVP had been out of control for years, but like you hear so often, “they just did not bully the right person yet”

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Our business is people. That is what we do, and we should strive to create a bully free workplace. We must take every opportunity to stamp it out.

Staying silent is part of the problem

These bullies know what they are doing. Their parents, teachers, brothers, sisters and/or workplace professionals did not deal with them, and now they are infesting what should be the supportive cultural environment of our organization — and it must stop.

When we look the other way, we are silently siding with this person. It undermines our corporate strategy, our talent strategy, and our branding when their personal agendas take precedence over our work.

My daughter came to me a few years back with a dilemma she was facing with an in-house bully (manager). I told her that, “I can’t come on the premise to solve it for you. You will have to do it yourself on this one.”

Draw the imaginary line in the sand and when it is crossed let them know your feelings. You expressed them very well to me now you just have to talk to them the same way. When you stay silent, you are becoming a part of the problem.

Bullies don’t just start up bullying on Day 1; they have a history of this type behavior.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.