What to do about bullies? Fortunately, they’re not much to worry about once we grow to be adults, right? Phwew. All that immature behavior gets left way back in the schoolyard, years ago. Now just courteous, respectful, and stimulating work alongside bright, mature colleagues, right?
Wrong, O Schoolyard Breath! Bullies it seems remain with us even after passing into adult status with all its presumed and concomitant “maturity. ” You can even find numbers on the subject. According to The Campaign Against Workplace Bullying (CAWB), based in Benicia, California, one in six workers today have experienced some form of workplace bullying by a co-worker. Specific actions include screaming at an employee in front of co-workers and/or customers, general emotional and verbal abuse, even intentionally setting workers up to fail. Women, it’s claimed, stand the greatest chance of being targets of bullying, interestingly enough not just by men but by other women too.
Reports of bullying in the workplace are in fact rising, say self-proclaimed “bully busters” Gary and Ruth Namie, founders of CAWB. This may be due partially to expanded awareness of the issue as well as to the high competitive pressures of the contemporary marketplace. Worse still, the Namies say, cruel and uncouth behavior sometimes even results in getting “promoted for it. ”
Should employers take notice? Is bullying something to create policies around? Should it be handled ad hoc?
How about lawsuits? Is the first major ruling against an employer just around the corner, perhaps for standing idly by and not extracting a bully from his/her work area? What about retaliatory actions by victims of bullying, in the form of quiet subversion, sabotage, or outright violence?
Certainly, we may hope that President George W. Bush’s inaugural call for a “return to civility” will send civility ripples through American society in general, and throughout our workplaces in particular. But for lasting and truly penetrating effects, let’s not hold our breath! Sadly, bullying has been around forever, solidly entrenched in the human condition. To protect ourselves, we can confront or ignore a workplace bully, file a grievance or lawsuit, avoid a bully if possible, or just up and leave altogether in search of a happier environment. None of these represent pleasant solutions… but they may very well be all we will ever have.
Ken Lizotte CMC is Chief Imaginative Officer (CIO) of emerson consulting group inc. (Concord, MA), which transforms consultants, law firms, executives and companies into “thoughtleaders. ” This article is an excerpt from his newest book “Beyond Reason: Questioning Assumptions of Everyday Life".
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