The definitions of a bully include tormentor intimidator, aggressor and tyrant. All these types are people who impose their will on others forcefully, or sometimes in more subtle ways that are not so easy to detect. The obvious loudmouthed bully or aggressor relies on seniority, power and position to bully juniors or staff members who are lower down the pecking order. They are usually managers or middle management, who rely on ordinary workers to make an impression on executive members, motivated by reward or promotion.

Physical bullying can also present as sexual harassment which includes the more subtle psychological component, of the threat of job loss. The more subtle psychological bullying often appears as harassment, browbeating and even humiliation through teasing posing as harmless banter or ribbing.

Do you have a bully in the workplace? Have you been ignoring this negative behaviour because the bully gets results? Have you been complicit because you’re just too busy to bother? Have you noticed that workers are far more relaxed and productive on certain days? The next time you see this, check if the bully is at work. You could so easily get the same high production rate without the bullying. It may be time to do something to make a change.

  • Identify Situation – bullies can disguise their behaviour so well that it goes unnoticed, often accepted even by the victim as harmless when this is not true! It creates uncertainty, stress, confusion and too much sick time off, taken just to avoid the bully and legitimate illnesses can often occur too. Sometimes the bully is given subtle free rein by an insecure manager, who wrongly perceives ‘divide and rule’ as the best management style. Creating division to encourage competition is a recipe for disaster. It does not build a team!
  • Establish Cause – does the bully do so because of pressure to deliver? Or, is it a character flaw? If the former, management must find ways to change company ethos, and if the latter, then the bully must be taught to respect others.
  • Implement setting boundaries – this shows how to earn respect.
  • Send the bully/bullies on a boot camp that includes instruction in a management style that does not rely on bullying, but sets boundaries. You can do this as a management development programme.
  • All staff members can only benefit from simply doing a course on setting boundaries – this is empowering – and this may be all your company needs. It helps the most timid worker to stand his ground. Team building exercises also help. If nothing changes at work, then a more direct approach is needed.
  • Weekly management meetings highlight the negatives of bullying behaviour. A plan to eradicate the behaviour and to track improvement must be brought up during meetings.
  • Staff must be encouraged to report bullying by management or fellow workers and taught to respect others in turn.
  • Should executives be guilty of bullying, encourage staff to report this too. A good Human Resources department is essential for the protection of the worker but should also be effective in distinguishing illegitimate complaints from genuine. A thorough investigation is necessary in all cases.
  • Track progress carefully and compare production results before and after implementation of an anti-bullying plan.
  • Test the atmosphere in the workplace regularly by engaging more closely with ordinary workers. When bullies see senior staff taking an interest in workers they pay attention, and this reminds them that you are tracking them.
  • If the monthly tracking reports show no improvement, you may want to think about staff changes. Promotion, redeployment or retrenchment.
  • Finally – reward individuals and the team for marked progress and improvement in production due to the changes established.