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.