The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.

~ David M Ogilvy ~

Colleagues and Bosses Who Bully

June 28th, 2012 ~ Est. reading time: 3 mins, 25 secs

Are you sick of bosses who bully you?

How come they get away with it? Unlike those hardworking types who work long hours, and lead the way with encouragement and vision, the problem of colleagues and bosses who bully persists.

They come in all sorts, including:

  • The intelligent employer who loses it under duress
  • The boss who feels it’s his or her duty to hurl abuse at staff
  • The colleague who thinks it’s funny to see people suffer
  • The supervisor who gets a power rush by bullying, and
  • The co-worker who resents anyone else achieving.

All have an exceptionally toxic effect on the workplace. All use abuse as a tool to achieve their objectives, which ultimately, feeds their dysfunctional needs.

Having been in hundreds of workplaces while working in vocational rehabilitation, it fascinated me that the bullying behavior of colleagues and bosses is so resistant to change. Despite the many millions spent annually to enhance work cultures, the problem stubbornly continues to persist. Even legislation appears to have little influence; except perhaps in pushing the behavior of co-workers and bosses who bully underground.

Though work can be hard and incredibly challenging at times, I believe it should definitely allow for some happiness too. Even the most onerous of tasks can be tempered with the support of a friendly team, overseen by an insightful manager. But it often doesn’t work that way, does it? Mistreatment at the hands of staff and bosses who bully does more than lower the tone of so many workplaces. It makes work a routine endurance test.

It would be easy to say, “So leave.” But life’s responsibilities tend to get in the way, don’t they? You’ve got to eat, after all. Plus, there are also those bills to pay.  Which means we are prepared to put up with an awful lot on the bullying front to find the best solution. Hardly a recipe for happiness, is it?

To my mind, when you are dealing with colleagues or bosses who bully, the watchword is self-preservation. Do what you can to avoid being abused. That means keeping the quality of your work at a level you can respect and maintain a low-key approach. Then, refuse to own abuse. Realize in no uncertain terms that the perpetrators are the ones who have the problem, not you.  Admittedly, that’s simplistic. But it’s a beginning. You’ll definitely need to practice a range of mental gymnastics to help you cope and let you come home intact.

Some of you will be thinking, “This is a bit over the top! I have a beautiful boss. She’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Plus, everyone at work gets on brilliantly.” If so, that’s fantastic! No doubt many would envy you, and I suspect you already know that. According to Know Bull, workplace bullying is incredibly widespread. Citing a number of surveys, they highlight a pattern that shows workers and bosses who bully pose an all too common problem. Based on a U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey in September 2007,  “Bullies bully with near impunity, experiencing negative consequences in only 23% of cases.” Worse, 50% of employers took no action when a bullying claim was made, and a further 12.5% of workplaces actually promoted workplace bullies. This suggests 62.5% of employers are compounding the problem.

Bear in mind, too, that bosses who bully most are least likely to change their ways. So it remains unlikely that personally trying to deal with the issue will bring about a happy outcome.  That means something has to give. Personally, I would suggest looking elsewhere, for sanity’s sake. But until that happens, working with bullying bosses and employees will remain a test of any employee’s inner strength.

Though co-workers and bosses who bully can be found in all kinds of jobs, some sectors (like teaching) are particularly prone to this kind of abuse (other fields that rate highly on the bullying scale include staff in the prison system, healthcare, and post and telecommunication industries).

With some 37% of US employees reporting bullying on the job and another 49% witnessing it in action, 86% of workers know the impact of staff and bosses who bully firsthand. What does this mean? Firstly, that this is a common problem, and secondly, that we somehow need to work around it. A great degree of workplace cynicism arises from this undermining behaviour. But we needn’t assume a victim role in response. If we choose to stay in a workplace with frequent bullying, it’s important to remember it’s our choice, based on whatever presents as the lesser burden. Should workplace bullying occur? Definitely not. But it’s naïve to expect that as one person we can transform a sick workplace culture without enormous cost to ourselves. Sometimes, happiness isn’t about creating neat packages, but making the most of life as it is. That means, whatever we choose will never be up to the workplace bully. Our decisions are entirely within our own hands, and that’s something a bully can never understand.





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