Tame those Workplace Bullies !

Tame those Workplace Bullies !

Workplace bullying is yet to find its place in legislation in India, in spite of many civil lawsuits being filed. And, it is surprising that it has not been formally recognised considering what the victims of workplace bullying go through.


‘Anush, what makes you think that the idea you just blurted out is any good?’ Michael asked glaringly, right in front of his entire set of direct reports. ‘I think you are better off not speaking for the rest of the meet’ he added rather aggressively. For Anush and a select few members in the sales team headed by Michael, such treatment was routine. And lately, it was only getting worse with Michael’s language and behavior becoming frightening, humiliating, belittling or degrading. About six months ago, when he was relatively new to the organization, Anush really had it while trying to impress Michael by being a little more assertive in presenting a different strategy, when he got the taste of Michael’s style of asserting power through aggression. Taken aback, Anush discreetly inquired with his peers and learned that this had been Michael’s way all along. When queried over taking up the case with the HR or the senior management, he was told that it is being viewed by them as a particular style of management. While unacceptable behaviors of such a type are horrible examples of workplace bullying, victims like Anush have the option of either ‘putting up’ with such monstrosities or moving out of the organization.


In general, Workplace bullying is a persistent mistreatment pattern from others in the workplace, resulting in either physical or emotional harm. Workplace bullying has different forms and shapes. E.g. the term used in France and Germany is mobbing, where it refers to a "mob" of bullies, rather than a single bully. There are strict laws against Workplace bullying in many countries. In the UK, it is unlawful, and, is viewed as harassment under the Equity Act of 2010. The 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey has stated that it is abusive behavior by one or more perpetrators, viz. Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done, or verbal abuse.


In India, Workplace bullying is yet to find its place in legislation, in spite of many civil lawsuits being filed. It is surprising that it has not been formally recognized considering what the victims of workplace bullying go through - emotional trauma in the form of shock, anger, frustration, anxiety, loss of confidence, vulnerability, etc. resulting in health hazards. The sad part, however, is the feeling of vulnerability such victims go through given their responsibilities and career ambitions. There is almost a feeling of ‘helplessness’ since there is no visible banner in an organization to address workplace bullying other than occasional incidents related to the behavior being reported. Even worse is the fact that people have to accept this as a way of life and are tempted to use tactical unproductive behaviors such as suck up to the boss!


It is time HR stood up and bulled workplace bullying. From an HR perspective, we need to look at the bigger picture of not only the victim, but also the witness, and, how it can actually build a 'Toxic' environment and a degrading culture. HR can take a 3-step approach to both actions against, and importantly, prevention of workplace bullying.


Differentiating workplace bullying


As mentioned earlier, the key here would be to differentiate workplace bullying through a strong management practice. HR should create awareness among employees as to what qualifies as workplace bullying, and, define the organizational tolerance levels. This can be in the form of banners, posters, and an online anti-workplace bullying help desk. As far as the list goes, it can actually be a ‘Tall list’ that is pointed towards or against an individual in the form of intimidation, malicious rumors, 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 can add more points depending on what qualifies as workplace bullying within the organization.


There should be a body or committee identified within the organization to address such issues. It is important that the committee is represented across all levels and headed by HR. The committee must take a matured approach and assure the reporting employees that no reprisals will be made, and, consider allegations which are consistent in behavior and discourage people from using this as an opportunity to report every conflict at the drop of a hat.


Action against guilty


The committee can present their progress in the form of a monthly or a quarterly review with the senior management. Decisions on actions can be recommended by the committee to the management based on factual evidence. Actions can include a verbal and written warning, demotion, suspension, and even dismissal from service depending on the degree of workplace bullying proven guilty, all on the grounds of inappropriate behavior in a working environment. Opinion can be sought from the company’s legal cell to avoid any unwarranted repercussion. It might be a good idea to establish a procedural document on the different stages of investigation and actions if found guilty.


Prevention of workplace bullying


If this is well-established, there would be no reason to have any committee in itself. HR should spearhead this effort in a pro-active manner. Firstly, identify troublemakers even before a complaint is being placed. Such members can be easily identified as it will show up in that Individual’s team health study in the form of low morale, active disengagement, 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 transform these Bullies into better individuals. Peer coaching, in particular, can go a long way, as it is based on the reciprocity of the relationship between a person, and, at least one among his peers. Further, such individuals will not be threatened and there can be an element of informality in this good 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 quadrants can be:-


1. Self–Awareness: To improve self-confidence, knowing their strengths and weaknesses, knowing their emotions, and open for feedback


2. Social awareness: To increase empathy, organizational awareness and a sense of service


3. Self-management: Being Self-controlled, trustworthy, ethical, knowing to manage their emotions, etc.


4. Relationship management: To be Inspiring, Role model, developing others, fostering team, etc


It is important that these members re-look at their Values and Beliefs. Values are what they hold as important and beliefs are what they hold as true. 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 behavior 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 has a wonderful opportunity a build a culture which is 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. And, when this is done in its true spirit, there will be no place for Bullies in organizations!



Krishnan Bangaruswamy is Senior Director - Human Resources, Omega Healthcare. He comes with an experience of 18+ years and has worked in leading companies such as Ajuba Solutions, Consim Info Private Limited etc. He has an Advanced Diploma in HRD from Charter institute of Personal Development, UK and professional certifications including Transactional Analysis, Myers Briggs certified administrator (MBTI), etc.


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