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How has workplace bullying become so commonplace and what can be done about it? 

I was quietly drinking my morning cappuccino while reading my Sunday Herald when I turned over the page of the Sunday Life insert (pages 16 and 17 on November 4) only to be confronted with the headline: “The War at Work…You may be strong, capable and collegiate, but that does mean you’re immune from workplace bullying” writes Jacinta Tynan. In case you missed the article it was also in the Brisbane Times.

On Wednesday a close friend also sent me the link to an article called “Professions that attract the most psychopaths”. It is only five months since I wrote my blog about monsters in the workplace (here is the link in case you didn’t get a chance to read it) so it appears that we have made zero progress in relation to this growing issue.

Workplace bullying is any physical or mental intimidation by an individual or group of people in your workplace. The problem is growing at such a rapid rate that we are no longer separating bullying from harassment because there is such a fine line between them and it is easier to just deal with the issue head on.

What is wrong with people? Why do they need to prey on others? The Daily Herald article on Wednesday November 7 mentions “psychopaths are drawn to and thrive in roles where people need the ability to make “objective, clinical decisions divorced from feelings” and quotes the following top 10 roles for psychopaths:

  1. CEO
  2. Lawyer
  3. Media (TV/radio)
  4. Salesperson
  5. Surgeon
  6. Journalist
  7. Police officer
  8. Clergyperson
  9. Chef
  10. Civil servant.

Do you work in any of these roles? Or have direct contact with people who hold these positions? Do you think these incumbents have the potential to be bullies?

It is unfortunate to have to state the obvious, but we have all experienced at least one workplace bully in our career, either directly or we have been witness to this type of behaviour. It has been the topic of many conversations among my own friends and industry colleagues that mostly hold senior corporate roles. To be honest with you, even I have experienced this in my own career, and many people who know me well would describe me as an honest, direct, focused and no-nonsense team member. So why does it happen to the best of us, let alone those that are not strong enough to defend themselves?

So let’s consider why it happens for a moment. Is it to do with workplace culture? Maybe the individual’s personal insecurity is the reason why they feel the need to bully others? Or is it about power or a sick sense of sport? Maybe it is a combination of all of the above?

The New Zealand Post has been running a series of articles on this very subject during October and November.  They have created and launched a ‘Stop the Hate: Anti-bullying campaign’ to try and deal with this growing epidemic.

The one thing that I am sure about is it would not continue to grow in our organisations if these types of people were consistently called out for their inappropriate actions and behaviour. This issue is everybody’s responsibility in the organisation to deal with and not just Human Resources, regardless of your seniority or tenure in the organisation. The organisation has a responsibility to provide a safe workplace, which means one that’s free of bullying and intimidation. Everyone else has a duty of care; in other words if you witness someone in the workplace being bullied, you’ve also got a responsibility to try to stop it or report it.

We need to become vigilant in order to protect the underdog and I don’t mean ‘the weak’. All of us from time to time can become the target of the workplace bully’s attention. They are predators that lurk in your organisation. Don’t assume that these predators are just men, because women are equally efficient at being workplace bullies. Trust me, because I have experienced it first hand. At times they can be more cunning and calculated than a man, jealousy can be the trigger, and for example they could be jealous of a simple thing like your jewellery or wardrobe.

I urge you and your organisation to develop a zero tolerance to workplace bullying and harassment. So what are you going to start to do to call out inappropriate behaviour in our drive to eradicate this epidemic from our organisations?

What do you think?

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Arndria Seymour

Arndria Seymour

Arndria Seymour is a commercially oriented senior learning/organisational development professional. She has a proven track record in crafting and executing people development related strategies aligned to achieving business goals across the finance sector domestically and internationally over the past 30 years. Arndria is the founder of Amicii, which is a premium service orientated organisation which supports the personal growth and transformation of people.

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