Dated: 03 June 2010 (Updated Apr 2014)
How workplace bullying occurs…
The two most compelling questions that workplace bully ‘targets’ ask us is:
Why was I chosen as a bully target? and,
How did this happen?
A workplace bully can't 'bully', without having a 'target'
The first question is relatively easy to answer. In order to become a potential bully ‘target’, a person needs to possess work ethic and personality traits bullies view as threatening—such as hard working, ethical, professional, truthful, and competent. If a bully exists, over the course of time they will ‘identify’ employees displaying these traits. Coincidentally, being a hard working, competent professional, means this employee will have an uncanny ‘ability’ to spot a fake and inadequate fraudster who is abusing their power within the workplace. However, the workplace bully also has the ‘ability’ to spot those who can see through their behaviours, and potentially expose their incompetence. Thereby ensuring the likelihood of this employee becoming the target of a workplace bully.
Anyone can become a target
If you think that 'laying low', or keeping a 'low profile' in the workplace will prevent you from becoming a bully 'target'—think again. Anyone, absolutely anyone—can find themselves as a 'target'.
The workplace bully is methodical, predatory, and opportunistic. Once they've removed the more immediate threats from the workplace, they don't stop—they choose not to stop. It's only a matter of time before the bully turns their attention to 'low profile' staff. This has particular relevance for witnesses to workplace bullying—the one's who see what's happening to a bullied co-
A lone 'target' cannot successfully battle workplace bullying on their own. There's many reasons why, but suffice to say, the 'health-
The second question: How did this happen? —Although a little more complex is still answerable.
First—certain factors need to be in play for workplace bullying to take place, and the starting point is the workplace— meaning the workplace requires a ‘culture’ that fosters and/or supports workplace bullying. One of the findings of the Know Bull! Extent and Effects of Workplace Bullying survey, being the existence of ‘bully boss mobs’, is one example of a workplace that supports workplace bullying. So too, is the workplace that has anti-
Fourth—in order for the ‘target’ to progress into the workplace bully’s ‘cross hairs’ there needs to be a ‘trigger event’. This can be as simple as the previous target leaving the organisation. Additional examples of trigger events include organisational restructures, mergers, or downsizing; or as simple as a staff member receiving public recognition for their efforts—especially when it draws attention to the bully by ‘comparison’. As previously mentioned, the principal goal of workplace bullies is to conceal their inadequacy. They neither want, nor will tolerate being compared to ‘high-
Workplace bullying is no more than a ‘smokescreen’, designed to ‘shift’ organisational focus, while simultaneously shielding the workplace bully’s inadequacy. According to Tim Field from www.bullyonline.org:
The purpose of bullying is to hide inadequacy. Bullying has nothing to do with managing. Good managers manage, bad managers bully. Management is managing, while bullying is not. Therefore, anyone who chooses to bully, is admitting their inadequacy. And the extent to which a person bullies—is a measure of their inadequacy.
How the 'bully' operates...the 'phases/stages' of bully's plan
For those companies that have investigated a workplace bullying claim, or asked a workplace bully to explain their behaviour—only to be informed by the bully that the investigation was frivolous, designed to injure them professionally, and baseless—the following may cause you to think twice.
Workplace bullying doesn't just happen—it's calculated and deliberate—and that means there's a plan involved. And that plan has various aims and goals—which are delivered throughout 3 different phases. And these phases consist of the bullying behaviours appropriate for each particular phase. The 3 phases of the workplace bully's plan are:
Control and Subjugation, and
And while certain bullying behaviours (read as 'tactics') are appropriate for a specific phase—some bullying behaviours are used across multiple phases.
Recognising the phases...the benefit for workplace bullying investigators
The benefit for those called on to investigate workplace bullying claims—is that by recognising a group of bully 'tactics' and attributing them to a specific phase—the investigator should be able to guage what phase the bully is at, and the bully behaviours that are likely to follow. It's worth remembering that a genuine case of workplace bullying, is an ongoing pattern of abuse exacted on a 'target'. And this pattern of abuse is perpetrated on target—after target—after target. And within this pattern of abuse—exists a pattern of identifiable bullying behaviours (tactics)—all of which is couched in a plan, that consists of different phases.
By now, you should be getting a clearer picture of how complex workplace bullying is. But, the workplace bully doesn't stop at devising a plan to carry out. They also busy themselves with gathering their support network... by ingratiating themselves with superiors and others; and with maintaining the 'smokescreen'. They pit staff member against staff member via manipulating and coercing—plus they'll be involved in other 'deviant' behaviours as well such as: viewing porn on workplace computers, intra-
It takes a huge amount of time and dedication to be a workplace bully. Which begs the question: When does the bully get time to do the work they're meant to do? The short answer is: They don't. While they make outward signs that they're incredibly busy (a.k.a. the 'con')—at best they barely complete superficial tasks like making phone calls, or taking meetings. The rest of the time they lie. They simply don't have the drive, the 'smarts', or the time to complete the tasks requiring substance—which is why they steal the work of others.
As mentioned earlier, the workplace bully's plan consists of 3 phases. Now we'll take a look at behaviours associated with each of the phases, based on information by Tim Fields from www.bullyonline.org.
The target is subjected to:
In conjunction with the criticism, is a persistent refusal to acknowledge the contributions and achievements of the 'target', and the recognition of their existence and value to the organisation.
Constant attempts to undermine the 'target' and his/her position, status, worth, value and potential—especially when the 'target' is in a group situation, such as a team meeting.
Isolation and separation from co-
NOTE: The above can be done with, or without the cover of a formal disciplinary or performance review procedure.
Control and Subjugation
The 'target' will:
Be singled out and treated differently; for example, everyone else can use their mobile phone at work, but not the 'target'. The moment the target puts a foot wrong—however trivial—action is taken against them (NOTE: you can read examples of this in the 'bully' stories submitted to Know Bull!).
Be belittled, demeaned and patronised, especially in front of others.
Be humiliated, shouted at and threatened—often in front of others. They'll be overloaded with work, or have all their work taken away and replaced with either menial tasks (such as filing, photocopying, or cleaning), or no work at all. Where the 'target' is overloaded—they find the credit for their work is 'stolen', and their fruits of their efforts— plagiarised
Have their responsibilities increased, but their authority removed.
Have their annual leave, sickness leave, and (especially) compassionate leave refused
Be denied training necessary to fulfill duties, or tools and resources to complete their work
Have unrealistic goals set, which change as they approach. Deadlines also change at short notice, or no notice at all, and the 'target' only finds out when its too late to do anything about it (a.k.a 'moving the goal posts').
Be the subject of gossip intended to damage the 'target's' reputation.
The 'target' finds:
That everything they say and do is twisted, distorted and misrepresented.
They are subjected to disciplinary procedures—with verbal or written warnings imposed for trivial or fabricated reasons— without proper investigation, or with a sham investigation.
They are coerced into leaving their job through no fault of their own—by constructive dismissal, early, or ill-
They are dismissed following specious allegations of misconduct, or incapability— which have just a 'grain of truth' to give superficial legitimacy to the dismissal. Incapability accusations arise when:
* the overworked 'target' is unable to complete the extraodinary volume of work dumped on them (often at last minute notice by the bully);
* the tools and resources to do the job, are removed or aren't provided;
* deadlines are continually brought forward with little or no notice— always when it's too late to do anything, and
* deadlines are omitted/avoided/not clarified/withheld— until the last moment, when it's too late to complete the task
NOTE: The above is where the 'grain of truth' comes into the accusations of a target's incapabilty. Under these circumstances, 'targets' can and do fail. These particular workplace bully tactics are known as job sabotage. And job sabotage (engineering circumstances so the 'target' has no chance but to fail), is vital to removing the 'target' from the workplace.
Another way the workplace bully eliminates the 'target', and simultaneously conceals the bullying is to have regular or continuous 'reorganisations'.
In these situations:
Targets are 'organised out'. This applies to anyone who has identified, complained about, or challenged problems with the status quo (i.e. those staff the workplace bully views as a 'threat'). Targets are labelled as "no longer a good fit for the organisation", "not being aligned with the 'new' direction of the company", and other similar statements. The workplace bully will preface these statements to senior managers and board members with: "I have a legitimate concern about Ms X". Unaware this is a bully tactic, senior managers and board members erroneously believe that the bully has legitimate concern for the welfare of the company...and that the concern is legitimate. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If the 'target' is not 'organised out', their roles are 're-
Once the 'target' has their job 're-
Where a re-
A few salient points for owners and stakeholders of businesses and companies to remember
The workplace bully creates chaos.
Chaos is a by-
If you have an active workplace bully in your organisation— the bully will be engaging in bullying behaviours plus other deviant behaviour.
The deviant behaviour will either be of a lewd/sexual nature, or a financial nature.
Deviant 'financial' behaviour includes: fraud, corruption, misappropriation of funds, etc.
Either way, the organisation will pay dearly for keeping the workplace bully. Either through protracted and expensive litigation, or having the financial health of the organisation seriously compromised.
Bullied 'targets' and their organisations always bear the cost of a workplace bully— 100% of the time
If you care about the financial health of your organisation— if you don't wish to see your organisation being dragged into ongoing, protracted and expensive litigation— you have only 1 option: Remove the workplace bully from the workplace.
Why does the workplace bully project their inadequacy onto others, or create a 'smokescreen' to hide it?
One reason, is to avoid facing up to their inadequacy—and then having to do something about it. It's a combination of feeling 'entitled', and plain 'laziness'
Another reason, is to dilute their own fear of being seen as weak, inadequate and incompetent; and
To divert attention away from being discovered as weak, inadequate and incompetent.