Because niceness matters - I spoke with a colleague recently who was seeking some advice on an HR issue. During this discussion I was stunned to hear of some of the actions of grown adults in the way they related to each other.
An event had happened and an investigation was started. The investigation revealed that one employee, in addition to having made some horribly racial comments in the past several years, had recently bopped several coworkers on the head with a stuffed doll in a meeting.
To be honest, I was not sure what to say. Clearly the employee has problems interacting at an acceptable level, and certainly needs to change her behavior or leave the organization. What made me pause however, was the question going through my mind. “Was this person always like this? If so, how did this not become apparent much sooner and why didn’t anyone speak up before now?” The employee has been with the company for 15 years. When questioned, many coworkers replied with “oh, that’s just the way she is…”
We teach our kids repeatedly about bullying in our school system. We as a society have decided that this kind of behavior is not something we are going to tolerate in our children, so why do we tolerate it in the workplace? A website run by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) identifies four key reasons that workplace bullying is a continuing problem.
~ Bullying Is Legal – Sadly, as with most societal changes, legislation is slow to catch up. As psychological injury is so hard to define, lawmakers have not done much to address this. In fact, there are very few situations in which a ‘hostile work environment” is actionable in the courts.
~ Poor Leadership and Inept Managers – Data shows that the majority of bullies (72%) are in a supervisory capacity and this tends to lead to management circling the wagons and protecting one of their own from these accusations. Additionally, OJT is the most common method of workplace training as it is the cheapest and fastest way to get an employee up to speed. This can account for poor workplace behavior being passed down from one employee to another. Finally – executives tend to use the “one bad apple” approach and never look hard at the systemic causes or the organizational culture for the true root of the problem.
~ Employers don’t know how to stop bullies – inaction is a huge problem and serves to condone the behavior. Often times the executive is afraid of a “messy” firing, or a “wrongful termination” lawsuit. These are bad in the press and expensive to defend. According to WBI, these fears are irrational as most cases are dismissed when the facts are considered. Mediation is a favorite tool in these situations, but it is misused as it looks to both parties (including the innocent victim) to change behaviors.
~ Bullying is underreported – because the stigma is that “it’s simply different work styles” it is often over looked. Another key point is that the targets of bullying are hesitant to be seen by management as a problem employee and fear for retaliation from the bully.
I shared all these reasons in an effort to get you to think about your company, your employees and the side comment you may have heard recently that you ignored. Bullying is real and a serious problem. If you had an employee who physically assaulted a coworker daily, you would be quick to act; consider that for a moment. As employers and managers, I encourage you to do your own research and conduct corporate training on the topic as you deem necessary. By addressing this, and possibly correcting behaviors, you will reduce your turnover rate and improve morale dramatically. Your employees are the key to your success, support them. As always, if you need assistance, please call me.