Organisational Change Management Volume 2

18. Bullying

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. Bullying can be described as the dominating exercise of power by a stronger person over a weaker individual. A bullying manager will always blame the staff, while a good manager will seek to motivate individual staff.

. In the workplace bullying is defined as

"...repeated, unreasonable behaviour corrected towards an employee, or group of employees, that creates risks to health and is enduring and repeated in nature, it is inappropriate and possibly aggressive and it results in a level of (physical and/or psychological) distress..."

Fiona Smith, 2011j

. It can be characterised by the need for dominance, humiliation, intimidation, power imbalance and being non-empathic. It sometimes spills over into violence.

. It reduces dignity, self-esteem, job satisfaction, motivation and health (mental and physical).

. According to Australian Human Resources Institute, around 25% of the Australian workforce is confronted by some sort of workplace bullying (Fiona Smith, 2011h). Furthermore, it has been estimated by Productivity Commission (2010) that bullying and related behaviour costs the Australian economy between $ 6 and 36 billion annually. This excludes any measure on the quality of life of the victims, their colleagues, friends and family. By reducing bullying, productivity will improve; there will be a reduction in health care costs and social welfare payments.

Bullying Behaviour

. Bullying behaviours include

- taking credit for their staffs' ideas

- engaging in abusive behaviour

- humiliating and/or belittling staff in public

- talking behind people's backs

- sending others to do their dirty work

- verbal abuse

- initiating pranks

- excluding or isolating employees

- giving a person the majority of unpleasant and meaningless tasks

- humiliation through sarcasm, or belittling someone's opinions

- constant criticism or insult

- spreading misinformation or malicious rumours

- setting impossible deadlines

- deliberately changing work rosters to inconvenience certain employees

- manipulating the impressions of others to split the group into taking sides

- intimidating or belittling threats of performance management without trying to solve the problem through proper processes

- making insulting or insensitive references

- allocating work that they prefer not to do

- providing inadequate information to do the job properly

- invading one's personal territory

- uninvited personal contact

- status degrading rituals

- rude interruptions

- treating people as if they are invisible

. The difference between good practice and bullying can be very subtle as revealed in the following table


Good Managers


. Let staff know they can

. Let staff know who's boss

. Help staff develop self-control

. Exert control over staff

. Make expectations clear

. Change the rules to suit themselves

. Reduce tensions by using their sense of humour and empathy

. Reduce tensions by sarcasm and punishment

. Get alongside staff to solve problems

. Turn problems into confrontations

. Share responsibility for staffs' achievements and behaviours

. Blame the staff and expect others to take responsibility

. Talk to individuals in private

. Humiliate individuals in public

. Help staff feel they are succeeding

. Emphasize staffs' failings and failures

. Use judgment

. Are judgmental

. Control their own emotions

. Take anger and frustrations out on staff

. Deal with unacceptable behaviour

. Attack the staff member as a person

. Treat staff with respect

. Play favourites

. Look for things to praise

. Look for things to criticize and punish

. In organisations

"...we judge people most of all on the results they produce.....we hire people to create value, promote them to positions where they can create more value, and expect them to increase value in each passing year. But what about the behaviours behind the results? Could the actions of some of your managers actually be undermining the future of the company..."

John Baldoni, 2005

. One of the reasons bullies are tolerated is that they often achieve results in the short term. On the other hand, they have serious weaknesses, such as

- mistrust in staff's ability

- a high need for control

- a desire to micromanage

- a lack of emotional intelligence

- an inability to bring the best out in staff

These flaws are most obvious when the bully is under stress. Furthermore, these behaviours sap the energy and motivation out of their staff and diminish their ability to deliver results

. Some of the indications that bullying is occurring are

- staff do not enjoy working with, or for, a particular individual

- non-financial performance indicators, such as excessive absenteeism, number of transfer requests, staff turnover, etc are good for determining whether or not bullying is happening

- excessive flattery ("users and climbers" need to be check on what they do rather than what they say; need to be mindful of who is producing the value, rather than who is talking about it)

To handle difficult situations, like bullying, you need to do something different and unexpected to get attention and recognition. Some examples,

- a new senior manager was giving his first presentation to Board (including the founders of the firm and investment banker who were new shareholders). It was the first time he had met most of the Board members and one members (investment banker) was well-known for his bullying tactics. His opening question to the new manager was "Have you ever sacked anybody". There was dead silence at the Board table. The new manager then replied that there are hotel bars he cannot drink at!!!!! The silence was broken by one of the founders stating that he would drink with the new manager anytime!!!! The new manager held his position for 3 years and only a couple of times had contact with the bullying board member. On the other hand, another new manager must have been effectively bullied by this one board member as he had regular contact with him. For many years the new manager tried to analyse his own reaction to the bully's question. His reply was instantaneous and instinctive. There was no rational thought process to the answer he gave. He put his response down to his value system which was established when he was young by his parents and school that encouraged him to learn self-defence so that he would have the confidence and ability to handle bullies.

- a management consultant is mowing his lawn and receives a phone call asking him to drop everything and immediately come in to his client's head office in CBD. The consultant doesn't bother to change his clothes and travels straight to the head office. On arrival, he is taken straight to the boardroom where everybody is dressed in business suits and he is in his working clothes. Initially everybody ignores him. So he stands on the table and walks along the table top to confront the chairman, stating that he was asked to drop everything and come straight into this meeting - only to be ignored. The chairman apologised and asked for his opinion.

- a woman manager was asked where she would like to sit in a one-for-one meeting. She deliberately took the chairman's chair and stated " I'm going to be here one day, I may as well sit here now!!!! After the initial shock, the chairman laughed and so began an 11 year mentorship.

. Remember: bosses who are bullying are a lawsuit waiting to happen!!!!!! Furthermore, they make staff nervous and more prone to mistakes and accidents

(sources: Jonathan Hensman, 2004; John Baldino, 2005; Fiona Smith, 2005c; Don Aitkin, 2007; Josh Bornstein, 2001; Fiona Smith, 2011j)


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