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Are there workplace monsters lurking in your business?

Bully standing over a cowering associate

At some stage in our careers we have all encountered a workplace monster, whether directly or indirectly. Workplace monsters are lurking in all of our organisations and we often don’t realise it until there is a problem.  They are not always easy to spot as they come in all shapes and sizes. Their behaviour is not always clear in the beginning – as many a monster befriends their target(s), lures them into their web and then starts their attack when it is least expected. The monster I am referring to is the workplace bully.

Workplace bullying can attack anyone, in any career, at any level, within any organisation and at any time.  According to the Duncan and Riley study about one in six people are bullied at work; in some industries the figure is higher, ranging from 25 percent, 50 percent to 97 percent. In my opinion these statistics are alarming. I dug a little deeper and found statistics from Roberta Cava, author of ‘Dealing with Difficult People’, and she suggested from 400,000 – two million workers are affected by harassment each year. The cost to the Australian economy is in the vicinity of $13 billion per annum in lost productivity, compensation and absenteeism.’

So what is workplace bullying?  According to Stale Einarson and Paul McCarthy: “all those repeated unreasonable and inappropriate actions and practices that are directed to one or more workers, which are unwanted by the victim, which may be done deliberately or unconsciously, but do cause humiliation, offence and distress, and that may interfere with job performance, and/or cause an unpleasant working environment.”  Prolonged exposure to this type of treatment has impact on an individual’s performance, health (mental and physical) and relationships with family and friends.  In addition, from the team’s perspective it erodes the feeling of well-being and workplace safety and if the toxic behaviour is tolerated and not dealt with in a timely and professional manner it grows and spreads to conduct which the organisation thinks is acceptable and condones. A few years ago when I experienced my first true monster, who was a very competitive colleague of mine, a friend of mine suggested that I read ‘Working with Monsters’ by Dr John Clarke, which I did and it was an eye opener. I have lived through a career of monsters all around me and I had not realised because of the subtlety of some of their behaviour; they were charismatic, caring, cunning, self-focused and manipulative individuals, who could moonlight as a snake charmer in an alternative career path if they needed to do.

Although bullying may not be obvious on the surface, as a manager it is your responsibility to ask the question, does it go on in my workplace? What are the signs that I should be on the lookout for?

Let’s start with the behaviours that should sound the alarm bells according to John Clarke and Roberta Cava:

  • Irrational, abrupt and rude tone in communication
  • Emotional or aggressive language – verbal or body language that demeans, belittles and intimidates colleagues and/or co-workers;
  • Over-demanding managers who shout at you and treat you like a fool in front of other colleagues;
  • Finding fault, criticising and distorting the trust to suit their own agenda or even failure to recognise contribution;
  • Snide comments to gain a rise to see if you will fight back;
  • Sarcasm, gossip-mongering, tantrums and/or the silent treatment; and/or
  • Behaviour where there is a general lack of remorse for actions and behaviours.

So what can a manager, individual or team do about such behaviour?  The Australian Humans Right Commission has outlined on their website some useful tips to follow:

  1. Make sure you’re informed: Check to see if your workplace has a bullying policy and complaints procedure.
  2. Keep a diary: Documenting everything that happens, including what you’ve done to try stopping it. This can help if you make a complaint.
  3. Get support from someone you trust or contact support services: Even if you don’t know anyone you can talk to, there are support services that can help.
  4. Approach the bully: If you feel safe and confident, tell them that their behaviour is unwanted and not acceptable. If you are unsure get some advice from a colleague, a friend, your manager or a professional.
  5. Tell someone at your work: Formally lodge a complaint following your workplace complaint and resolving disputes process (if there is one).
  6. Get information and advice: If the bullying is serious and the situation has not changed after complaining to your manager or if there is not anyone you can safely talk to at work you can get outside information and advice.

The important question to ask now is…Do you have monsters in your workplace? Do you know where to go to get help if you are being bullied or how to help out a colleague or a friend who is undergoing this horrific experience?  Speak up! To remain silent will only mean the monster will live another day to do it to someone else. After all, we only want to attract and retain ‘culturally the right fit’ of people for our organisations.