When we discover bullying at work we sometimes ask supervisors, "Why did you let this go on for so long?" In their own defense, those we question sometimes respond, "I had no idea," or "How could I have known?" Unless these supervisors witnessed bullying incidents, we sometimes regard such responses as reasonable.
But that standard — first-person eye witnessing of bullying incidents — is a low bar when measuring supervisors' performance. Supervisors have many possible ways to detect bullying. Here are just a few examples of indicators of bullying.
- Complaints about bullying
- A complaint about bullying is perhaps the most glaring, flashing-red-light indicator of bullying. Yet some managers deal with complaints by placing the burden of proof on the complainant. Certainly a complaint isn't proof, but a complaint or a pattern of complaints ought to trigger a thorough, impartial investigation.
- Expressed reluctance to interact
- When one individual expresses or manifests a reluctance to interact with another, distaste is one possible explanation. Bullying of the first individual by the second is another.
- Degraded work performance
- Sudden declines in someone's work performance can arise from many factors. Being bullied is one possibility. If the person in question has also been newly isolated socially, bullying is more likely. When several people are affected, all could be targets, or some could be upset bystanders.
- Elevated incidence of leave days
- Targets of bullies sometimes seek temporary respite from abuse by calling in sick or taking vacation or unpaid leave. Sudden changes in patterns of leave taking can indicate bullying.
- Changes of schedule
- Targets of bullies can Desire for travel isn't unusual,
but when someone suddenly starts
volunteering for undesirable travel,
bullying is a possible explanationsometimes avoid their bullies by changing their work schedules. Bullies can respond by adjusting theirs to match. Watch for these adjustments.
- Desire for undesirable travel
- Desire for travel isn't unusual, but when someone suddenly starts volunteering for undesirable travel, bullying is a possible explanation. If the volunteer is the bully, the target might be resident at the remote site. If the volunteer is the target, the bully might be co-resident with the target, and the target might be fleeing by traveling.
- Requests for reassignment
- Reassignment can involve internal transfer at the same site, or even more drastically, relocation. Either can be motivated by factors other than being bullied. But bullying can be a motivator too.
- Voluntary termination or early retirement
- Beyond travel or reassignment, there is always quitting altogether. The more depressed the job market is, the more likely is being bullied a possible reason for voluntary termination or early retirement.
- Another significant change one can observe in targets of bullies is a change of affect, which is the psychologist's word for manner or demeanor. Targets of bullies often display withdrawal, low energy, loss of initiative, and most of all, absence of joy.
These observations don't provide dead-certain, solid proof of bullying. But they are possible indicators. Managers who see them would do well to investigate what's happening. Top Next Issue
Is a workplace bully targeting you? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just . Order Now!
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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
- How Workplace Bullies Use OODA: I
- Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time rely on more
than mere intimidation to escape prosecution. They proactively shape their environments to make them
safe for bullying. The OODA model gives us insights into how they accomplish this.
- How Targets of Bullies Can Use OODA: II
- To make the bullying stop, many targets of bullies try to defend themselves. But defense alone is not
sufficient — someone must make the bully stop. That's why counterattack is much more
likely to work.
- Workplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: II
- Of the tools we use to address toxic conflict, many are ineffective for ending bullying. Here's a review
of some of the tools that don't work well and why.
- When the Chair Is a Bully: II
- Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's
dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration
of the problem of bully chairs.
- Manipulators Beware
- When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets
to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators.
See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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