AbusiveBoss_The Indian media is at present abuzz with discussions around the ‘Rohtak sisters’. That video, of two fragile looking girls lashing out at men who tried to harass them on a bus (while other passengers just sat there watching them) – got me thinking about the effect of another kind of harassment – workplace bullying.

At some point or the other, we have all had to put up with unpleasant people at the workplace – The kinds who seem to get away with anything because they are ‘rainmakers’ or perceived as ‘too powerful.’ Workplace bullying unlike the pedestrian kind seen on the streets comes in various shades and some of the forms take on a garb of sophistication that makes it very difficult for the victim to attribute as bullying. The term ‘workplace bullying’ often conjures up mental images of a manager who is ranting and screaming or of snide and tangential remarks directed at women in the workplace. These are but just a part of what constitutes workplace bullying and it is by no means limited to Type A aggressive ambitious men (who are incorrectly portrayed as always being extremely aggressive) playing a winner-takes-all game.

‘It is terrifying’

In a study that revealed some startling insights, psychologists at the University of Surrey compared personality profiles of high-level executives with those of criminal psychiatric patients and found that three of the eleven personality disorders were actually more common in the executives.

The executives seemed to be prone to the following three maladies:

  1. Histronic Personality Disorder: People who suffer from this disorder demonstrate a pattern of excessive attention seeking. They tend to show superficial charm, insincerity, and egocentricity and often indulge in manipulative behavior.
  2. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: People suffering from this type of personality disorder are excessively preoccupied with power, prestige and vanity. They are seen to have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and have a strong need for constant admiration.
  3. Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: These are executives who are overtly focused on perfection. They tend to come across as extremely devoted to their work and tend to be rigid and stubborn with dictatorial tendencies.

In his book Corporate Psychopaths: Organizational Destroyers, Clive Boddy identifies two types of bullying in the workplace:

  1. Predatory Bullies: These are people who enjoy tormenting others just because they can – they are no better than their roadside variants. (The ones that gang up on a soft-spoken member of the team, the ones who pass snide remarks at women in the workplace, the manager who gives a team-member lower rating for no particular reason)
  2. Instrumental Bullies: These are the smart ones. Their bullying is always to further their own goals. More often than not these bullies are narcissists.

Narcissists in the workplace usually resort to indirect (and sophisticated) bullying. Typical tactics include withholding information, leaving team members out of the loop, getting others to keep doing work below their competence level, gossiping and putting down others behind their back.

‘They walk among us’

In his book “The No Asshole Rule” (and the inspiration for the post’s title), Robert Sutton lists down twelve everyday actions that he feels Assholes use:

  1. Personal Insults
  2. Invading one’s ‘personal territory’
  3. Uninvited physical contact
  4. Threats and Intimidation: Verbal and Non-Verbal
  5. ‘Sarcastic Jokes’ and ‘Teasing’ used as insult delivery systems
  6. Flaming e-mails
  7. (IM) Status slaps intended to humiliate others
  8. ‘Status Degradation’ rituals
  9. Rude Interruptions
  10. Two-faced Attacks
  11. Dirty Looks
  12. Treating people as if they were invisible/Ignoring people.

Everyone who has been in a high-pressure situation at work has demonstrated one of more of these behaviours at some point or the other. Sutton points out that psychologists make a distinction between ‘states’ (fleeting feelings/actions) and ‘traits’ (enduring characteristics).

Surveys and research has shown that workplace bullying is not isolated or restriced to a few unlucky ones. In her dissertation titled ‘Workplace Bullying: Aggressive Behaviour and its Effect on Job Satisfaction and Productivity’, presented by Judith Lynn she says:

“The data in this study found that 75% of participants reported witnessing mistreatment of coworkers sometime throughout their careers, 47% have been bullied during their career…”

 

The (real) impact on Organizations (that put up with A&$*@!#%)

In the past companies (read top management) used to often look the other way when people reported about badly behaved superiors. There are several reasons why this happened. Maybe (and this is often the reason) the intolerable executive was delivering numbers or maybe he was the rainmaker and leadership felt they couldn’t afford to loose him. Sometimes the person is the leader and the culture then percolates down to lower levels of the company.

In his book Sutton gives the example of Linda Wachner, former CEO of Warnaco who would ‘dress down’ her senior executives and made them feel ‘knee-high’. To make matters worse former employees allege that the attacks were ‘personal rather than professional and not infrequently laced with crude references to sex, race or ethnicity’. He also talks about ‘Chainsaw’ Al Dunlap, former CEO of Sunbeam who is described as ‘like a dog barking at you for hours…He just yelled, ranted, and raved. He was condescending, belligerent and disrespectful’

How engaged do you think people working for these leaders felt?

Organizations are waking up to the risks of putting up with people that are mean or ones who sideline people to further their ‘divide and rule’ strategy.

Research has shown that at the very least workplace bullying leads to increase stress among the workforce, which causes disengagement, productivity loss and even health issues. All of these have a real measurable impact on the bottom line at the end of the day. In some extreme cases, that victims display Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – usually associated with severe trauma like rape or being in a conflict-zone.

That’s not all. Companies have to put with the associated costs of increased attrition – not only of the victims but even those who witness it.

Based on replacement cost of those who leave as a result of being bullied or witnessing bullying, Rayner and Keashly (2004) estimated that for an organization of 1,000 people, the cost would be $1.2 million US. This estimate did not include the cost of litigation.

The cost of workplace bullying represents a ‘Clear and Present Danger’ to responsible organizations that are looking to foster a motivating and innovative work culture. It will be nearly impossible for organizations to attract top-talent when a lot of their energy is wasted in managing the fall-out of aggressive behavior or petty-politics.

Good leaders realize this and are starting to take the ‘bull by the horn’. Work Culture is clearly defined and those who seek to undermine it are not tolerated – no matter how important they might seem to the organization. They might be critical today, but the damage they do in the long run will far outweigh any gains they provide.

‘Do you believe your manager/supervisor indulges in manipulative or divisive behavior?’ is a question that might soon start appearing in Employee Engagement Surveys.

 

In case you are interested, here are some related Tools:

You might feel that none of this applies to you (and you might be surprised). You can take the ARSE (Asshole Rating Self-Exam) here (http://electricpulp.com/guykawasaki/arse/)

If you strongly feel that your boss is the problem, then test your theory. Take the BRASS (Boss Reality Assessment Survey System) Test here (http://goodbadboss.com)

If you want to get a peek at the Financial Cost of Organizational Conflict, check out the online calculator based on the research of Dr. Dan Dana here. (http://www.mediationworks.com/dmi/toolbox.htm#tools)

 

Acknowledgements and References:

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

WORKPLACE BULLYING: AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR AND ITS EFFECT ON JOB SATISFACTION AND PRODUCTIVITY, Dissertation, Judith Lynn Fisher-Blando http://www.Workplaceviolence911.com

The No Asshole Rule, Robert Sutton, Piatkus

Narcissism in the workplace, Wikipedia References

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