There has been a surge of insightful research at Harvard and other universities focusing on institutional corruption, investigating the kind of influence that weakens organizational effectiveness and erodes the public trust. In light of recent stories on national TV, it also seems prudent to disclose another workplace issue that chips away at effectiveness, efficiency and confidence every day: bullying. Bullying is the interpersonal corruption or the uncivil interpersonal interaction among individuals at work.
According to Bellingham, Wash.-based Workplace Bullying Institute, more than 53 million employees admit to have experienced bullying at work in the form of macro and microinequities. Macroinequities are observable actions such as blatant humiliation, verbal abuse, violation of personal space, threats to job security, job sabotage, misuse of authority, deliberate destruction of relations with others, and punishing behavior—such as pounding on a table, yelling or screaming. Microinequities are repeated, more subtle slights either verbal or nonverbal in nature, that send devaluing messages intended to discourage or impair work with the effect of undermining confidence, such as cutting down your ideas before you get a chance to complete your thoughts, interrupting while you are talking, and not being introduced and then being ignored
The overall effect of bullying is the creation of a hostile, unhappy and noninclusive work environment with far-reaching lose-lose consequences—low employee retention and the company falling short of its goals. Business costs include the harm to a company’s reputation, the economic damage due to absences from work, the financial burden of to replace talent, the loss of intellectual capital and a reduced diversity of thought. Mental health issues as a result of panic attacks at work lead to depression, and stress-induced physical ailments include hypertension.
Bullies are driven by the need for control, personal insecurity, stress, boredom, personal unhappiness, the misuse of ego in a management position, fear and, the most obvious flaw, a lack of empathy.
There are some things business leaders can do to eliminate workplace bullying. After they commit to stopping the negative impact of bullying, they should:
• Document incidents, confront the bully with the evidence and continue to document until they see behavior change.
• Build consensus with others and then expose the bully if he or she doesn’t change.
• Communicate often that the workplace is reserved for quality work and maintaining good relations with others.
• Encourage open, honest communication with well-designed feedback loops.
• Uphold leadership skills everyone can practice: listening, empathizing, practicing mutual respect and fulfilling the expectation of civility in the workplace.
As a leadership coach, I have seen an increase in the need to teach empathy skills to executives who have become detached from workers. I have recommended the skill-set of listening, engaged understanding and attending to another co-worker, as a comprehensive empathy skill.