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Office Bullies

Office Bullies

Kerrie Halmi | Excelle

How many of you have had to deal with a bully in the workplace? Someone who is verbally abusive, demoralizing, screams and rants or belittles others… I have. The bad news is they still exist out there. The good news is people are starting to notice and realize the negative impact they have on the bottom line.

This topic is of specific interest to women because women are most likely to be the victims, comprising 80% of bullying victims. And this might be more suprising: 58% of workplace bullies are women.

Studies show that workplaces that tolerate bullying have higher turnover, less job satisfaction and higher burn-out. There are other costs that are less easy to quantify, but have a significant impact—when people stop giving ideas and contributing, there is significant lost opportunity. I had a client who would not speak up at staff meetings. When I probed it further, it stemmed back to an incident 10 years ago in which her female boss publicly humiliated her for suggesting something at a meeting.

What can you do if you are dealing with bullies? First of all, try to avoid the situation in the first place. When you’re looking at a potential employer, how do people treat each other? I ignored a big red flag when interviewing for a job once—I asked an interviewer what they would change about the company. She immediately said the head of the department (my future boss) mistreated people. I chose to ignore the red flag, because I wanted the job. Big mistake! I endured bullying for too long before finally getting out.

Getting out is the final, but sometimes only healthy strategy to take. If you have had enough and the bullying is taking a toll on your confidence and/or health, get out. When I left, it was a huge relief and my only regret was not having left earlier. This is particularly the case when the bully is your boss.

However, before leaving right away, see if you can do something. Don’t stand for the behavior—try to address it with the person. Sometimes that can be hard in the moment, so take some time to script a response that you can say to them when you are less upset. An example could be, “I know that I didn’t handle the Smith case as well as I could have and I’d like to address ways I could do better. However, the impact of your comments at the meeting was not motivating. Could you please address those issues in private next time?”

If things don’t improve, try going to your Human Resources department. Definitely document what is going on.

As a leader, make sure that you are not tolerating any bullying behavior. It doesn’t matter how brilliantly technical people are if they are bullying others. I have had many instances of clients thinking that they can’t “afford” to lose someone’s technical expertise in spite of their bullying behavior. When they finally did fire them, they had the same response I had when I quit: "Why didn’t I do this earlier?”

If you don’t display a zero-tolerance behavior toward bullying, it can have a big impact on your organization. Become a “no bullies allowed” advocate today!


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