Bullying has become a hot topic in recent years, but when we think of bullying, we most often think about kids in the school yard. However this epidemic is not limited just to school-time nastiness or social media. It is alive and thriving in the workplace. The WBI (Workplace Bullying Institute) defines bullying as abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating or intimidating, interferes with work or verbal abuse. And 75% of surveyed employees have been affected by workplace bullying according to research by Dr. Judy Blando which can be found here.

Bullying is something that I have seen firsthand. It’s been couched in oppressive language such as “you’re just paying your dues” and “you’ve got to roll with the punches.” This has happened again and again in my career, taking slightly different forms each time. I’ve faced being screamed at in front of a room full of people. I’ve witnessed a woman who missed out on a promotion because she wasn’t enthusiastic enough when she saw leadership in the hallways. I’ve had a boss who felt threatened enough to take steps to make me look disorganized and unprepared, even though I never was. And I know I’m not alone. There are many reasons bullying happens, but it’s primarily perpetuated by a few key mindsets.



According to the WBI, one of the reasons bullying happens is due to a “way we do things here” mentality. Basically, we’ve always done it this way, so you better get used to it, because we all have. As a new or undervalued employee, you may feel powerless to make any meaningful change, so you may feel the need to fall in line.



Another reason it happens is due to the inherent competition that comes with a workplace environment. When we undervalue our talent and don’t invest in their growth, they may feel the need to fight for that growth in any way they know how.



When leaders feel threatened, insecure in their jobs or disconnected from their employees, that creates an environment where bullying thrives. And it’s easy to understand why. They bully their employees, who do the same to those they manage, and so on. As with everything, change needs to start at the top.



A culture that values the ‘yes person,’ while squashing constructive, challenging ideas will be resistant to change by nature. When everyone is saying “yes,” then there’s no one to say “no” when bullying gets out of hand.



For companies, the costs are immense. They lose talent from both attrition as well as complacency. Normally talented people can’t be their best in a toxic culture.

For individuals, the costs are immeasurable. It is damaging psychologically, it can shatter a person’s confidence and wreck their financial stability. These can take years, if not lifetimes, to recover from.

So what can we do, we need to get back to prioritizing people and culture over efficiency, scale and cost savings. If we focus on people, we can lift entire organizations. Culture should be a top metric for any leader and employees who have the courage to come forward should see meaningful change happening.


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