Deal With Workplace Bullying

by  Chris Edmonds  |  Workplace Issues
Deal With Workplace Bullying

The Aurora, Colorado city manager’s job is on the line. At issue is his purported mistreatment of female members on the city council over the past year.

Five of the six female council members say the city manager yells at them, treats them condescendingly, and doesn’t listen to them when discussing city business.

This week, an outside consultant is facilitating a closed-door meeting with the ten council members and the mayor. There is hope that the meeting will resolve these issues and help the council move forward.

The city manager’s behavior seems to be consistent with classic workplace bullying. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines workplace bullying as repeated, health-harming abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating or intimidating, or work sabotage, or verbal abuse.

Workplace bullying is epidemic in organizations around the globe. Their 2014 Workplace Bullying Survey found that over 72% of US workers – estimated at over 65 million players – have been affected by bullying. Ellen Cobb’s 2012 Study found similar prevalence of workplace bullying in other countries.

For many of us, simply reading the statement “workplace bullying” conjures up memories of abusive behavior from bosses and colleagues. We get emotional and angry just thinking about our treatment at the hands of these bullies.

What do companies do when reports of workplace bullying occur? The Workplace Bullying Survey found that 72% of US employers deny, discount, encourage, rationalize or defend workplace bullying.

Why do companies tolerate workplace bullying? They may not know any better. They may never have tried to address bullying. Or, they tried, but the effort blew up in their faces.

A very common issue that inhibits companies from addressing workplace bullying is that companies do not have formal values or valued behaviors in place. In the absence of clear values standards, companies let players do whatever they want to gain the results the companies desire.

However, if you only measure results, people have no qualms about behaving badly to get those results. We’ve all seen it. People intimidate their peers to grab the best sales leads or to gain access to people in power, whom they can impress. People withhold information so they win while their colleagues lose.

People berate others or throw tantrums because they’ve seen their bosses berate others and throw tantrums. It’s the norm in their organization. Without values guidelines, the only things that naturally happen in organizations are anger, frustration, and fear.

A work environment that treats everyone with trust, dignity, and respect doesn’t happen by default; it happens only by design. Leaders need to be as intentional about values alignment as they are about performance traction. Leaders need to implement an organizational constitution.

An organizational constitution is a formal document that specifies the organization’s present day purpose, values and behaviors, strategies, and goals. By clarifying values expectations in behavioral terms, people learn what a good job looks like in terms of how they interact with others.

A good job is no longer just hitting performance targets. It’s about being nice, interacting cooperatively, and serving peers and customers along the way.

Could the city of Aurora, Colorado have been able to eliminate all possible bullying behavior – by everyone in city administration and the council – by crafting an organizational constitution and aligning all plans, decisions, and actions to it? Yes, they could.

Have you encountered workplace bullying? What could have prevented it?

About The Author

Articles By chris-edmonds
S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, thought leader, author, and executive consultant. He writes books. He blogs and podcasts. He’s a working musician on the side.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Josh Dragon  |  13 Apr 2015  |  Reply

I work in the construction industry. To say that bullying is common place is an understatement. Bullying is usually used as a motivating factor to try and get workers to stay on schedule.

I think my industry needs to completely re-examine this practice. I believe it is a lack of understanding and education about what actually motivates people. If managers and construction companies could begin to understand that this practice is likely slowing their workers down, they might begin to change their behavior.

Great post!

Chris Edmonds  |  24 Dec 2015  |  Reply

Thanks for your comments, Josh!

John E. Smith  |  13 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Chris – thanks for a helpful and timely post about a workplace issue that I really wish were in the rearview mirror.

You have covered this issue in a comprehensive fashion. I can only add that I believe many employees contribute to workplace bullying because they do not resist it. This applies to both those who are victims and “laugh it off” or just say nothing, and to those who see bullying and do not speak up. The lack of company policies supporting these positive actions may be partly to blame, but everyone has their own ethical standards to consider as well.

Bullies are usually considered to be cowards in the main. While bullies who hold power will often abuse that power for their own ends, they can and should be resisted.

As so often happens, we have to consider the role of workplace culture here. Everything you identified contributes to that culture, along with individuals actions and inactions.

Great post on an important issue – I’m sharing this one:)


Chris Edmonds  |  24 Dec 2015  |  Reply

John, your insights are extremely valuable – thank you!

Harriet Johnson  |  14 Apr 2015  |  Reply

It’s no surprise that the Workplace Bullying Institute found workplace bullying to be a prevalent issue. While it may be common in certain industries, however, I find it a strain on credibility to believe that 72% of employees have legitimately been the victims of bullying. The solution you imply – that by articulating their values and aligning plans with them, organizations can “eliminate all possible bullying behavior” – is even less credible. A serious issue deserves a serious, balanced presentation, not this kind of treatment.

Gerald Bates  |  16 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Great article! I believe through my experiences, work place bullying occurs when you have one boss in a position of authority who is unqualified to be in that position where they are expected to lead by example and they lack the qualified training and or intelligence to achieve any level of expected leadership abilities. This problem can be compounded when you factor in office politics and favoritism where the same boss cannot separate work from friendship loyalties. Then the problem flows down to the self entitled “friends” of the boss who hold a level of informal authority if for no other reason than because they are friends with the boss and have his ear. Thus effectively paralyzing an organization, assassinating the character of anyone who stands up to them and ensuring their informal status and power continues to protect their personal interests rather than the interests of the organization. This alone has cost organizations in the loss of good professional employees.

Chris Edmonds  |  24 Dec 2015  |  Reply

Thank you, Gerald!

Page Cole  |  17 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Shut up Chris, this is a stupid article…

Just kidding… I was being a bully! HA!

In all seriousness, I’ve worked with the passive/aggressive bullies, the benevolent dictator bullies, and the incredibly insecure and scrambling to cover their own insecurities bullies. Thanks for the encouragements on how to deal with them!

Chris Edmonds  |  24 Dec 2015  |  Reply

THAT’S HILARIOUS, Page! Thank you for the chuckle!

Jane  |  27 Jun 2016  |  Reply

I worked for a bully. It takes a lot of fortitude to say, I’m better than that and it’s insanity to believe that I’ve come this far with the defects I’ve been made to believe I have.

Chris Edmonds  |  27 Jun 2016  |  Reply

Good for you to stand up to bullying, Jane! Bullying continues to be a huge issue in workplaces around the globe. For those I know and trust – like you – I wish only for servant leaders to surround you.


Join The Conversation