The Problem with Adult Workplace Bullying


Bullying flourishes in the workplace, often because childhood bullies grow up to be  . . . adult bullies! Long-standing bullies are promoted and elected to positions of authority and power as managers, and long-standing bullied targets and bystanders go along, look the other way, and make rationalizing excuses for the recurrent outbursts and their failure to help and protect targeted colleagues.

Does working for a bully, even a high-powered, respected authority, look so good on a résumé that it’s worth risking your physical and emotional safety? Is it worth risking your character and your self-respect for not stepping in to help another employee in your office being bullied by him or her? No, it’s not – and you don’t want to send the message to your kids that it IS acceptable.

Unfortunately, that’s just what’s happening. Every time we come home and complain to our spouse about how bad our own personal bully was at work today, every time we glorify bully bosses (and bullying political leaders) on TV and in the news (Donald Trump, Gordon Ramsay, ex-British premier Gordon Brown), we are silently telling our kids (who hear it all, even when we think they’re not listening) that this behavior, both the bully and the accepting targets and bystanders, is OK. In fact, kids now see this as the route map to a “successful” career as a (bully) boss or leader. And they start practicing this “adult” behavior when they’re kids!

Unfortunately, by the time bullying gets to the adult workplace or elected official stage, it can be extremely difficult to fix. When someone’s been promoted and rewarded for their bullying and disrespectful behavior towards others for their entire adult life, 30 years or more, it’s frankly too late to really rehabilitate them.

Despite that grim prognosis, we shouldn’t ignore it. There should be restorative consequences, Including a direct apology, when people are hurt, even accidentally. The bully should also be encouraged, politely, but firmly, to make some changes to his surface behavior, even if it’s really hard to charge someone’s heart at that stage.

Wouldn’t it be much easier and have a better outcome if we taught our kids to value others and treat them respectfully right from the start??

The central message in bullying is:

You don’t have to love everybody, you don’t have to be everybody’s best friend, and mistakes will be made, BUT we must all, adults and kids, treat one another with respect and be able to make a place for, get along with, and play and work with everyone, even and especially in conflict.

Make Every Day Bullying Prevention Day!

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    • Blackcat on January 8, 2013 at 8:20 am
    • Reply

    The biggest issue is the bystanders who do nothing fearing they may be the next target of the bully if they speak up. For the victim, it is fearing further victimisation for complaining. It is not uncommon for a victim to lose their health and wellbeing and being the one who moves out of the work environment. No matter how many policies and procedures are written, a bully with a psychopathic tendency will still behave in this way. If management receive a complaint, there should be a rapid person centred response to the victim, making their psycholgical safety a key priority. Secondly, any investigation should be timely and completely transparent to the victim i.e. victim is invited to make a statement in their own time and in their own way, the victim is advised how the investigation is progressing and of the outcome.

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