The Modern Workplace Bully

Classic Bullying Scenario:

A scrawny boy with oversized “nerdy” glasses is sitting alone on the outskirts of the playground. The bulky, intimidating bully figure spots this weakling, this easy target, and heads over. With clenched, threatening fists, the bully towers over his victim and threatens to assault him if he doesn’t give up the lunch money. The victim doesn’t stand a chance against the bully, stammers and looks down, giving the bully exactly what he wants without much fight. The bully walks away satisfied with his winnings of the day, looking forward to more tomorrow.


You may think of such a classic scenario when the term “bullying” comes up. However, bullying extends far beyond the playground, and even beyond intimidation due to physical strength or size. Even as an adult, you may unwittingly be bullied more than you realize, even in a work setting.


Here are some subtle signs of bullying that should not be overlooked on your new “playground”:


1. Excuses APLENTY:

Bullies may make excuses for poor behavior, such as blaming the fact that they yelled at you on going through a rough patch (“I raised my voice because I am having a hard time with the wife right now.”). They could also “play dumb”, trying to excuse certain actions by acting as if they didn’t know better (“I didn’t know X, Y, or Z was important to you.”).


2. YOU get the blame:

Why blame yourself when you can blame the victim? It is so much easier to make the victim the scapegoat of some mess up than it is to admit one’s own mistakes.


3. Divide & conquer:

Bullies can manipulate others, such as pitting employees against one another so that they attack one another, leaving the bully as the winner.


4. Taking credit for others’ work:

Not only do the wrong people get the blame, but the bully will take the credit for others’ ideas without acknowledging their contributions to the project. They are self-centered and care more about their personal goals than the success of the team as a whole. If taking down fellow teammates has the possibility of boosting them up, the bully will do just that…


5. Setting unrealistic expectations:

Some bullies in power create unrealistic standards or expectations for their employees, setting them up for failure. Then, when the inevitable failure happens, they attack their employee for this fail, no matter how much excessive time and energy the employee put into the work by the deadline.


6. Lies on lies on lies:

Bullies may “distort the truth” to advance their own agendas. This could be subtle but effective for them. For instance, they could say that the boss told them to do the project this way, when the boss said no such thing but the bully clearly wants to do it that way.


7. Pattern of actions over time:

Bullying is often not a one time thing. In fact, it is often characterized by a pattern of actions over a long period of time, making it sometimes harder to detect in the workplace. Over time, this can have significant impacts to the employees, creating a toxic and hostile work environment.


8. The charm factor:

Bullies may be harder to detect than the ones on an elementary schoolyard taking the little kid’s lunch money. In our adult world, bullying may be disguised behind a charming demeanor, appearing to be a part of a good cause. For instance, they could put down employees by stating that firing them would benefit the entire company. They may use excessive flattery to lower the guard of their victims and learn how to better manipulate them.


So, why does it even matter that there may be a bully at the workplace? There are costs associated with a bully in this setting, even if the bullying is subtle rather than overt. Such an atmosphere impacts factors such as turnover, productivity, and mental health. Employees who are the victims may feel anger and/or frustration to the point at which they want to quit or even do quit. This can impact their: ability to work, physical health (i.e. insomnia, anxiety, concentration problems, stomach pains), attendance, stress, morale, and customer service. The work situation can even impact their home lives. We may no longer be kids on the playground, but that doesn’t mean that bullies don’t have power in their newer setting. It’s time to rid the workplace of unacceptable bullying behaviors, making sure that the workplace is where each and every employee can thrive without feeling the anxiety, stress, and fear of being the little victim on the playground.

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