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As beating the office bully explains, workplace bullying is common. It could account for 40 percent of resignations.

Apart from being unjust and unpleasant for the people on the receiving end, it also damages the business where it takes place.

By definition, a company tolerating bullying cannot be meet its full productivity potential. And it wastes physical and emotional energy that could be put to better use.

For knowledge workers, who need mental space and a degree of inner peace to work the productivity loss is worse. Managers who indulge in bullying behaviour or turn a blind eye when others bully are less likely to get results.

Is office bullying making a comeback?

According to Is the office bully back? (no longer online) the economic crisis has unleashed a new wave of bad behaviour in the office. Hence this neat package of related stories on workplace bullying from bNet.

I don’t know if the credit crunch has triggered more bullying than usual – it was bad enough in the boom – but the tight job market means bullying victims have fewer escape routes. Bullying has always been one of the main reasons people leave jobs.

If you’re a manager worried about bullies you should read the complete set of stories. Every manager should read the workplace bullying primer.

I like this list from the how to handle a workplace bully section:

How managers unwittingly encourage bullying

  1. Pit workers against each other or emphasize a competitive work style.
  2. Have a lax management style, so that employees must fill in the blanks themselves on what is acceptable and what is not.
  3. Make unreasonable demands and goals of employees and managers.
  4. Fail to give supervisors the authority to reprimand problem workers.
  5. Set impossible deadlines or provide too little funding to accomplish a goal.

Useful tips from the BBC

BBC news: How to resolve bullying at work has useful tips including:

Keep a detailed diary of every incident. Note down dates, times, the people involved and what happened – this could be crucial evidence for an employment tribunal.

These are what lawyers call contemporaneous notes. Basically, you should write notes close to the time something happens and include the time and date.

Busting the office bully

How to bust the office bully is another useful PDF download. Not surprisingly this 2007 report from The Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University reads like an academic project complete with citations. The document explains techniques allowing victims of workplace bullying to tell their stories to other people in plausible ways, this is the first step towards dealing with the problems of bullying.

Australian employment law

In this simple, but effective post, New South Wales lawyer Frank Egan points out employers risk legal exposure if they tolerate bullying. In plain English this means bosses who allow bullying can end up being sued by their employees.

No complaints doesn’t mean no problems

Britain’s Andrea Adams Trust provides sound advice for employers and employees, including yet another downloadable PDF fact sheet. There’s also a telephone hotline for people living in the UK. It even managed to enlist Prime Minister Gordon Brown as a supporter of its Ban Bullying at Work Day campaign. In a recent press release, the trust quoted the results of an online survey of 10,000 people, including:

  • 92 percent of workers felt they are bullied.
  • 49 percent of those indicated that their immediate manager was the bully.
  • 56 percent of respondents stated that in their workplace bullying is a serious problem.
  • 47.8 percent of respondents stated that when they made a formal complaint
  • procedures were not followed correctly.

Go beyond

Beyond bullying is a New Zealand-based website which advocates “zero tolerance to workplace bullying in New Zealand”. There’s also a book. While useful with links to Australian and New Zealand legal material, the website appears neglected, the most recent material I could find was from 2006. Like most of the other workplace bullying sites, there’s a PDF download, but unlike the other documents, this reads more like a PowerPoint presentation than a tract.

The presentation points to weak, and not strong, management as the root cause of the problem.

NZ Department of Labour

Bullying fact sheet (PDF) from New Zealand’s Department of Labour defines workplace bullying in legal terms and then looks at the rights of employees and employers when it takes place.

NZ Public Service Association

It shouldn’t come as a surprise a union produced one of the best New Zealand sources of material on the subject.  For example, the downloadable workplace bullying is not OK is one of the most comprehensive and readable documents I’ve seen on the subject. For example its definition of what workplace bullying (called harassment in the material) is not:

  • Friendly banter, light-hearted exchanges, mutually acceptable jokes and compliments
  • Friendships sexual or otherwise, where both people consent to the relationship
  • Issuing reasonable instructions and expecting them to be carried out
  • Warning or disciplining someone in line with organisation policy
  • Insisting on high standards of performance in terms of quality, safety and team cooperation
  • Legitimate criticisms about work performance (not expressed in a hostile harassing way)
  • Giving negative feedback including in a performance appraisal and requiring justified performance
  • improvement
  • Assertively expressing opinions that are different from others
  • Free and frank discussion about issues or concerns in the workplace, without personal insults
  • And targeted EEO policies, parental leave  provisions or reasonable accommodation and provision of work
  • aids for staff with disabilities.

Five HR responses

Finally, on a lighter note, Scottish Boomerang has outlined five HR responses including the mafioso-like:

Perhaps the worst stance, the Mafioso HR Department knows there is a problem with workplace bullying and actively participates or supports the abuse by bringing false, fabricated or unnecessary proceedings against the targets of bullying, supporting the culprits, joining in “the fun”. Their typical way is to issue threats to targets and abuse procedure. They are the harbingers of doom to any firm and they ride in on the pale horse.

Oh, yes, you know who you are. And so do we. We can tell by the attrition rates, the number of lawsuits, and the fact that you can smell the fear and tension the moment you walk through the door.

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