Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bullies Get Ahead, But Where?

A recent study shows that bullies, far from being ostracized in the modern workplace, are in fact often promoted and get good performance evaluations from their superiors.  This leads to some interesting questions:

-  I suspect that bullying, like sexual harassment, is a highly subjective concept.  One person's bully is another's effective motivator, or is seen as simply a little gruff, or socially maladept.  Lots of people tell stories about being bullied, but is there some type of workable definition, other than making someone feel bad?  If I consistently tell someone their work is terrible (because it is, in my opinion as their boss), and tell them their job is in danger, does that equal bullying?

-  Again, like sexual harassment, there is a sliding scale of frequency and severity for bullying.  A physical assault would clearly establish a bullying situation, but mean or threatening remarks would have to be repeated to get an equivalent perception.

- Does it make sense to establish so-called 360 degree review programs, where a supervisor is rated by subordinates as well as superiors?  And would we get any more honest criticism from the folks reporting to someone than we typically see from superiors?

- I think that most of us would agree that certain types of conduct--personal insults about appearance, for example--would be a basis for disciplinary action.  But how common are these circumstances?  I don't think I've ever had a situation like that arise.  I have seen threats--"if you ever raise an objection to my proposals in a meeting again, I'll get you fired."  Is that bullying?

- Are there certain relationships that promote bullying behavior?  Obviously ex-paramours  working closely could be trouble, family members, too.  Anything else come to mind?

- Where the conduct is clearly personal, how much involvement should the company have, and what should be its level of responsibility to prevent further conduct?

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