You’d think that bullying is a juvenile pursuit that people naturally grow out of once they come of age. Apparently, though, some things never change.
According to the recent Kantar Inclusion Index, almost 25% of Singaporean workers have experienced office bullying, making Singapore the worst performer amongst the 14 developed countries surveyed.
Carrying over such toxic habits into the working world has even more disastrous consequences than it did in classrooms. In school, bullies were kids running around pretending to have authority over others. At work, they often do have some amount of authority to leverage. They often abuse this authority to bully others into falling into line, for whatever reason.
When these office bullies get away scot-free, everyone loses. It sends the message that it pays off more to look out for yourself than for the interests of the team, which is highly counter-productive to effective collaboration. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, bullies often prefer to target the high performers, not the weakest links, since the A-listers are perceived to be the greatest threats.
Consequently, everyone functions in defence mode. Instead of devoting all their resources to productivity and innovation, people can’t help but prioritise protecting themselves, avoiding failure, and staying in the safe zone. This is hardly a mindset that invites success in the short and long run. Clearly, something has to be done to eradicate office bullying. Here’s six ways to do just that.
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The direst need in fighting office bullying is to make it easier for people to report incidences of office bullying. Victims of office bullying tend to be disproportionately diverse employees, including women, ethnic, and sexual minorities. They may feel like reporting the office bullies will earn them an unwanted reputation as drama kings and queens, or people who love making mountains of molehills. This is often why so many incidences of office bullying go unreported.
Managers need to ensure that people feel that they’ll be safe when they choose to come forward. This doesn’t just entail having clear policies and procedures in place for investigating reports of office bullying. It necessitates constant vigilance on managers’ part in observing the interactions between employees.
It’s easy to imagine office bullies as some reiteration of Mean Girls or some variation of self-obsessed jock. The reality, though, is that bullies aren’t always easy to identify. What makes it harder is that they might change how they behave in the presence of superiors. Regardless of appearances, they consistently harbour tendencies towards coercing, publicly humiliating and generally behaving highly inappropriately towards others.
To this end, ensuring a good working relationship with each of your direct reports is critical. The more people feel comfortable with and trust their superiors, the more comfortable they’ll feel coming forward.
Bullies are highly insecure individuals who believe that the best way to get ahead is to undermine others. At their core, they don’t think that their skills and abilities are enough to earn them success. From their perspective, winning isn’t about working and improving yourself. Instead, it’s about taking the front runners out of the race by any means necessary.
When results exclusively define performance, it feeds this warped mentality. In the bully’s mind, since the only thing that matters is getting the top spot, it justifies bullying anyone that poses a threat to them. To combat this, managers should ensure that performance indicators incorporate measures of mentoring, and collaboration, and selfless behaviour, instead of focusing excessively on results.
No effort to address office bullying is complete without addressing the elephant in the room: horrible bosses are often themselves guilty of bullying their subordinates. No matter how comprehensive a company’s anti-bullying efforts, if those in leadership positions feel justified abusing their authorities to manipulate and malign others, it undermines everything.
It is, therefore, essential to ensure that those in leadership positions are growth-minded. According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, growth-minded bosses are people who “instead of using the company as a vehicle for their greatness, [use] it as an engine of growth—for themselves, the employees, and the company as a whole.” They put their people front and centre, prioritise others above themselves, and are always open to feedback. In other words, growth-minded leaders help others to grow instead of using others to help themselves grow.
Netflix, which arguably redefined what good company culture looked like with its famed slide deck many years ago, has a policy against “brilliant jerks.” According to its website, it believes that “the cost [of briliant jerks] to teamwork too high… brilliant people are also capable of decent human interaction.” It sends the message that bullying behaviours like ridiculing and harassing others will not be tolerated.
That said, it’s not enough to simply pay lip service to anti-bullying. Managers need to walk the talk; they must demonstrate that office bullies who persist despite repeated interventions will be let go. For instance, when Jack Welch took over as the CEO of General Electric, he fired four corporate officers who fit the “brilliant jerk” description in front of 500 managers, saying that “even though they delivered good financial performance… [They] were fired because they didn’t practice our values.”