Steps to tame workplace bullies

Steps to tame workplace bullies

Anush, what makes you think that the idea you just blurted out is any good Asked Michael Head of Sales glaringly, right in front of his entire team

‘Anush, what makes you think that the idea you just blurted out is any good?’ Asked Michael (Head of Sales) glaringly, right in front of his entire team.

‘I think you are better off not speaking for the rest of the meet’ he further added in an aggressive tone. This was a normal treatment for Anush and few other selected members in Michael’s team.

Like any other employee, Anush too tried his best to impress the sales head initially by presenting a different sales strategy but was ignored by the decision makers as Michaels’ contributions and stronghold side-lined his efforts.

While there seems to be a ‘fine line’ between bullying and a strong management, this sort of unacceptable behaviour is a real example of workplace bullying.

Not having much knowledge about what is happening to them, victims like Anush ultimately chose to move out of the organization.

Workplace bullying is a persistent pattern of mistreatment of a particular person by others in the workplace that causes either physical or emotional harm.

There is no set definition of bullying behaviour in the workplace, which is why different terms and definitions are common. For example, mobbing is a commonly used term in France and Germany, where it refers to a "mob" of bullies, rather than a single bully.

There are strict laws against workplace bullying in many countries. But when it comes to India, workplace bullying is yet to find its place in legislation.

It is surprising to know that it still has not found a formal identity considering the victims of workplace bullying go through tremendous emotional trauma in the form of shock, anger, frustration, anxiety, loss of confidence, vulnerability, etc. resulting in health hazards.

Victims of bullying go through a feeling of helplessness ‘day in and day out’ given their responsibilities and career ambitions, and no visible banner in an organization to address workplace bullying other than occasional behavioural issues being complained.

What is even more pitiful is that people have to agree to take this as a way of workplace life and are tempted to use tactical unproductive behaviours.

How to recognise or stop it:

HR should take certain measures to overcome workplace bullying. From an HR perspective, we need to look at the bigger picture of not just the victim but the witness as well.

HR can take a 3-step approach to both action against, and importantly prevention of workplace bullying.

Step 1: Differentiate workplace bullying from other forms of discrimination and harassment:

HR should educate and communicate clearly as to what qualifies as workplace bullying and what is the organizations tolerance levels against workplace bullying.

It can actually be a ‘Tall list’ all of it pointed towards or against an individual in the form of intimidation, malicious rumours, deliberately impending or undermining work, threatening and humiliating abuse, assigning unreasonable workload and timelines, blocking promotion or not providing the required training, unwarranted actions, making it personal, and ganging up.

The list may or can add more points depending on what qualifies as workplace bullying within the organization.

In addition, there should be a body/committee identified within the organization to address issues concerning workplace bullying, headed by HR.

The committee should take a matured and confidential approach, assuring no reprisals will be made against the reporting employees, and should only consider allegations that are consistent in behaviour.

Step 2: Actions against those found guilty:

The committee can present their progress in the form of a monthly or a quarterly review with the senior management. The committee can recommend decisions and actions to be taken, basis factual evidence.
Actions can include verbal and written warning, demotion, suspension and even dismissal from service depending upon the degree of workplace bullying proven guilty, all on the grounds of inappropriate behaviour in a working environment.

Legal opinion can be sought from the company’s legal cell in line with the applicable Indian laws to avoid any unwarranted repercussion.

It might be a good idea to establish a procedure document on the different stages of investigation and actions, if found guilty.

Step 3: Prevention of workplace bullying:

This step really is the key and if well established, there would be no reason to have any committee in the first case. HR should spearhead this effort and it has to be a pro-active approach.

First would be a need to identify those troublemakers even before a complaint is placed. Such individuals would display behaviour such as low morale, active dis-engagement, lower productivity, etc.

HR can use the process of stay interviews, team health studies, surveys, etc. to identify these members formally.

Once identified, the purpose should be to develop these bullies into better professionals. Coaching and mentoring can help these individuals significantly improve themselves.

In particular, peer coaching can go a long way as it is based on the mutuality and reciprocity of the relationship between one person and at least one other at the same level.

Since it is partnership and equality, those individuals will not feel threatened and there can be an element of informality in this structure for learning.

Emotional intelligence workshop is a must for these individuals. A reflection of how they stand in the four quadrants of Self-awareness, Social awareness, Self-Management and Relationship management can go a long way in developing these individuals.

A typical approach to develop each of the quadrant can be:

  • Self-awareness: To improve self-confidence, knowing their strength and weaknesses
  • Social awareness: To increase empathy, organizational awareness and a sense of service
  • Self-management: Self-controlled, trustworthy, ethical, knowing to manage their emotions, etc.
  • Relationship management: To be a role model, developing others, fostering team, etc.

It is important that these members re-look at their values and beliefs. A powerful way to do this would be through the reflective process of double and triple loop learnings.

While single-loop learning is just a change in behaviour for the desired solution, double loop and triple learning is the ability to question and examine the underlying principles of their belief system and enabling them to shift in the context of their belief system.

Such efforts are really the key and can prove to be transformational in preventing workplace bullying. HR should a build a workplace culture, collaborative and participative in nature.

At the core of this effort, is to embed the corporate value system of treating every single employee with a respectful and inclusive approach.

When this is done in its true spirit, there will be no place for Bullies in organizations!

Courtesy: Omega Healthcare

Krishnan Banagaruswamy
Senior Director – HR, Omega Healthcare Management Services Pvt. Ltd.

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