Leave No Room for Adults Who Bully
Incivility in the workplace is as common as bread and butter throughout the world. However, incivility itself is not bullying. Incivility is people being rude, discourteous, and having a general disregard for others. An adult who bullies has a sustained behavior pattern that crosses into every aspect of their lives: home, social circles, and even in the workplace.
Their bullying goes beyond the occasional curt remark or lack of acknowledgment. It seeks to gain internal power by the continuous hacking away at another person's self-esteem, self-confidence, and well-being. Their behavior toward the person creates a tension in the air that is felt by everyone else, but it's never confronted.
Everywhere we look today, we see stories of people who have suffered from toxic stress over a long period of time, acting out in either self-harming or violent ways. It's a psychosis brought on by toxic stress, where the person can no longer see any other options - a sort of tunnel vision. Those who commit self-harm are the ones who are more sensitive and internalize the abuse, whereas those who commit acts of violence tend to act on an anger that has grown into rage.
Adults who bully have:
- Low Emotional Intelligence
- Low Self-Esteem
- Low Social Skills
We know all of this. We read it. We go to seminars. We attend "best practices" workshops, and yet it never changes.
Human Resources can't, and most won't, help a person who has been attacked by a bully. Why? Because their job is to protect the interests of the company, ie. the bottom-line.
Co-workers won't help a person who has been attacked by a bully. Why? They don't want to be the next in line to be attacked.
Managers/Supervisors won't help a person who has been attacked by a bully. Why? Fear of conflict, or they lack the skill set for conflict resolution.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, 4% of the (American) population are sociopaths at one degree or another. Anti-Social Personality Disorders in American youth doubled between 1976 and 1991, says the Epidemiologic Catchment Area study report sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health; and that number is growing. Our "Me-Centric" society is creating sociopaths.
According to Dr. Robert Hare, 1% of the general population are Psychopaths, which are whole different "breed" of people. Not all Psychopaths are criminals and not all criminals are psychopaths, but most psychopaths bully other people, and they are the most dangerous when cornered. In the workplace, people fear them the most, because they generally hold high level positions of power and authority.
Average Adult Bully:
The average adult bully is neither a sociopath or a psychopath. You can put your checklist of what to look for away. The average adult bully is a person who is insecure, incompetent, or has been promoted beyond their skill set. They lack the social skills to create relationships with co-workers or subordinates.
Bullies in the workplace effect the organizational well-being. They wreak havoc on an organization until everyone is suffering a form of collective toxic stress. Morale has tanked to its lowest level ever. Top performers get sick and tired of the unprofessionalism and seek greener pastures. More people are taking random PTO days just for a reprieve from the stress at work - it's not just the person being attacked. Employees are physically ill more often than ever before, because their immune system has been compromised by the stress. Plum customers and clients begin to question the stability of the business, due to the high turnover rate. Sometimes, not often, but 5% of people targeted by a bully choose to end their own life just to make it stop. The business gains a reputation in the community of a toxic employer, and has difficulty finding employees to replace those who leave.
Policy goes a long way in preventing all of this from happening. Zero tolerance for bullying is a nice accolade, but does little for the employees or the employer when it's not enforced.
Up until the last few years, employers didn't necessarily fear lawsuits brought by people who became debilitated by relentless hostile work environments. Today, attorneys are finding ways to use existing laws to bring suits that support their clients. Conspiracy laws - especially when someone has ended their own life. Conspiracy to commit manslaughter. Accessory to a conspiracy, the company was fully aware of the hostile environment and did nothing to stop it. The company has a policy, but chose not to enforce it. Wrongful termination. Mental Abuse, and the list goes on and on. There's money to be made in this arena, and law firms will notoriously go after the deepest pockets - the employer's.
With all this said, it would behoove an employer to ensure that policy is being followed all day, every day; to stop bullying at the stage of incivility; and to create healthy organizational cultures that leave no room for bullies.
Donna R. Wood is an Author, Motivational Speaker, and Social Theorist, specializing in well-being.
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