How to Spot Workplace Bullies & What to Do with Them

April 28, 20211:46 pm472 views
How to Spot Workplace Bullies & What to Do with Them
Image source: Pexels

Workplace bullying is more common than many managers might realise. It happens when a group of people at work single out an individual and start embarrassing, harassing, or intimidating an employee without reasoning. The act of bullying at the workplace can have a serious impact on the individual’s performance and affect the company’s growth. 

Recent survey commissioned by my Perfect resume disclosed that nearly 80 percent of working professionals have experienced or witnessed bullying at work. The most common type of bullying is being picked on or getting regularly undermined, followed closely by becoming a victim of malicious rumours, having someone interfere with work, receiving aggressive texts, emails or phone calls, and getting work sabotaged. 

According to the survey, most companies are aware of the adverse impacts of bullying – but some companies give bullies a pass. A quarter of respondents said that no action has been taken to address the bullies. The good news was that employee complaints do not fall on deaf ears, for the most part, with a majority of employers (76 percent) have taken action either to reprimand the actions of bullying in some ways or fire the bullies. 

What are the characteristics of workplace bullies? 

Workplace bullying is harmful in any way. Targeted behaviour that happens at work might be spiteful, offensive, mocking or intimidating. If left unaddressed, bullying might form a pattern and tend to be directed at a larger group of people. 

The earlier prevention is done, the better work culture will be and the more harmonious employees will collaborate with each other. But in order to address work bullying early before it occurs deeper in the organisations, management and HR must understand its characteristics and how bullying might happen within the team. 

Imbalance of power might cause workplace bullying 

When there is an inequality in the balance of power and this is used by the more powerful individual or group to undermine or subjugate another individual, this can be categorised as bullying. Even between two people in the same role and position with equal power, the one with higher status (such as having more connections with upper ups or having more friends in the office) might incline to bully those with lower status. 

In fact, more than half of respondents (52 percent) in the survey above said that their coworkers have become a bully, followed by direct manager, external manager, and other company employees. While managers tend to be the main source of power in an organisation, co-workers are cited to be the main source of workplace bullying. Some of the reasons why bullying happened are as follows: 

  • Positional power – this power is derived from a person’s role or position. 
  • Relationship power – this power relates to groups that might be established in order to usurp the rights and freedoms of workers outside the group.
  • Resources power – having access to resources is important and removing scarce resources essential to the achievement of objectives can be an abuse of power. 
  • Psychological power – this power occurs due to some people who recognise a target’s psychological vulnerabilities and exploit this knowledge to the target’s determinant. 
  • Knowledge power – the abuse of this power can be observed when important information is delayed or withheld. 
  • Delegated power – the abuser at this category usually used the power of their relationship with a second person to persuade them to undermine and/or threaten a target by proxy. 
  • Personality power – some people have a personality to challenge them to their behaviours. These personality-driven behaviours can then be used to bully and intimidate the victims. 
Characteristics of bullies in the workplace 

Many people believe that bullies are dim-witted persons. In reality, most bullies are intelligent, popular, or highly charismatic. Bullies might also show traits of anger, aggression, hyperactivity and violence. A journal study on Bullying and Victimization Among Children cited that children who are bullies during their childhood are more likely to have a criminal conviction by the age of 24.

The journal also mentioned that a bully is five times more likely than a victim to have a serious problem when they are in adulthood. Even bullies who grow up in blue-collar or white-collar environments cause problems for others and the company they are working at. Adverse workplace bullying can cause high-stress levels in other employees (especially the victims), deteriorated performance, inability to concentrate, and incapacity to make decisions. 

With that in mind, it is important for management and HR to identify workplace bullies at an earlier stage to prevent adverse causes of bullying occurring in the organisation. Some characteristics inhabited by workplace bullies are as follows: 

  • impulsiveness, 
  • anger management problems,
  • controlling, rather than leading, 
  • prone to frustration and feeling annoyed, 
  • lack empathy; not sympathetic to the needs or desires of others, 
  • blame victims by saying things like, “If that person did not look so stupid, I would not have to hit him” kind of phrase, 
  • undermine people often, 
  • difficulty in following rules, 
  • little respect for authority, 
  • views violence in a positive way, such as a form of entertainment or a good way to get needs met, 
  • perceived as popular among other employees working in the same space, 
  • a need to control and dominate others, 
  • intolerant of differences, and 
  • does not accept responsibility for their actions. 

Days in the office should not be filled with aggressive communication, behaviours, humiliation, and manipulation. Management and HR should always be ready to spot if there is something amiss about employee’s collaboration in the workplace. HR should also actively monitor work conditions and employee’s productivity – and always take rightful action when needed. Bullying in the workplace should never be categorised as rightful action, especially if it is being done by upper management, such as CEOs, managers, or supervisors. 

As for the employee, you should take necessary action such as document the harassment, bullying, or discrimination if witnessing one. And immediately report it to the higher management for further investigation. If, however, no action is taken from the management, make sure you seek legal/attorney’s help to address bullying in the workplace before adverse effects happen. 

Further readings: