Why Bullying and Employee Engagement Don't Mix

Why Bullying and Employee Engagement Don't Mix 150 150 Wally Hauck, PhD, CSP

Bullying and Employee Engagement

Bullying and employee engagement don’t mix.  Bullying is one person intimidating or threatening another in a disrespectful, dominating, or cruel manner.   Bullies tend to put performance results ahead of all other considerations including respect and trust.  Bullies think about themselves and not about others.  Aggressiveness is action without regard to others.  It’s an “I win and you lose” strategy.   Assertiveness is action with a “win-win” strategy.  Employee engagement can only grow in a culture that discourages and prevents bullying while encouraging collaboration, respect, and effective relationships with win-win communications.

According to The Workplace Bullying Institute, 27% of American workers have suffered abusive conduct at work; another 21% witnessed bullying; and 72% are aware that workplace bullying happens.  It also tells us that less than 20% of employers act to stop bullying. (Gary Namie, 2014)

Bullying is a symptom.   Causes of bullying are a complex set of factors.  The first set of factors relate to the psychological needs and flaws of the bully.  According to author Susan Coloraso bullies tend to have specific attitudes and behaviors including blaming others for situations.  They lack the willingness to take responsibility for their actions or their miserable situations.  They lack emotional intelligence traits such as the ability to sincerely understand how others might feel and the ability to express empathy.  They tend to be narcissistic focusing all their concern about themselves and not about others.

Bullies also believe competition is an important strategy for success.  They have difficulty with collaboration because they feel superior and others are seen in an inferior position.  For them, aggression is the way to success.

Women and men can both be bullies, although men have a higher tendency toward physical abuse and women use more psychological abuse such as passive aggressive manipulations.

The second set of factors causing bullying is the lack of an effective response from the workplace system.  Dr. W. Edwards Deming said 94% of all results come from the system.  Bullies are mostly allowed to continue without feedback and/or consequences for their poor behaviors.  Although the root causes of bullying stems from the experiences, and probably the parenting, of the bully, it’s the responses (or lack of) of the system that keeps the behaviors alive.

Organizations that are unprepared and/or unwilling to create consequences for bullying behaviors will be victimized. Unfortunately some leaders give “lip service” to a set of organizational values that discourage bullying behaviors.  Instead of confronting the poor behaviors immediately and consistently, leaders can instead ignore (or downplay) the behaviors and place more value on the results bullies are able to achieve.  The results outweigh the desired motivation and willingness of the leaders to have a confrontation.

We teach what we allow.  Bullies learn their behaviors.  They are not born as bullies.  They were probably allowed by their parents, or even encouraged with subtle messages, to continue their tactics. The only way to change is to stop the subtle messages and confront the poor behaviors directly and respectfully with consequences important to the bully.

Besides respectful confrontation organizations should also evaluate the hiring process to ensure bullies are not allowed to slip through the “hiring cracks.”

A system of effective Fearless Feedback will go a long way toward reducing the probability of bullying.  This must start with the senior leadership. Senior leaders must make it clear that results with bullying are unacceptable even if the results are financially profitable.  Leaders must take a stand.  Financial results achieved with bullying tactics must be evaluated in the context of the cost to employee engagement.  The costs associated with low employee engagement levels are much more difficult (if not impossible) to measure than financial results.  The bullying will either stop or be significantly reduced if the system is set up to provide respectful and immediate feedback to bullies and if they are given the choice to either change their behaviors or move on.

Bullying and employee engagement don’t mix.  Senior leaders must decide if results from employee engagement are more valuable than short-term results with bullying.  If senior leaders pay lip service to respect and win-win solutions but then avoid respectful consequences for bullying, things won’t change and employee engagement will suffer.

Wally Hauck, PhD has a cure for the “deadly disease” known as the typical performance appraisal.  Wally holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Warren National University, a Master of Business Administration in finance from Iona College, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.   Wally is a Certified Speaking Professional or CSP.  Wally has a passion for helping leaders let go of the old and embrace new thinking to improve leadership skills, employee engagement, and performance.

Fearless Feedback