Workplace Bullying: Part 3

Bullying by coworkers or subordinates

Coworkers and subordinates can likewise engage in bullying in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most important types of conduct.

● Undermining a manager’s authority

Marsha tells all her coworkers not to do any work all day.

● Spreading gossip about a manager or a coworker

Linda tells everyone in the department about the arrest of Henry’s son in a barroom fight.

● Withholding information that a manager or coworker needs to perform his job

Matt refuses to give Francesca the accounting figures she needs to do the monthly reports.

● Shunning or isolating others

Angela asks everyone to have lunch but repeatedly and pointedly excludes Larry.

● Conferring cruel or humorous nicknames

Lydia refers to Arthur by his childhood nickname Noodle, which she learned about on a social media website.

● Commenting about a coworker’s personal life

Ben tells everyone in the department that Emily has no social life and does nothing but work.

● Sabotaging another’s work or equipment

Dan takes random items from Julian’s desk and throws them in the trash. He “accidentally” spills coffee on Julian’s computer.

● Interrupting or inaccurately correcting a coworker at meetings or in front or others

Every time Alberto says something in a meeting, Tammy corrects him.

● Teasing

Pam routinely makes fun of Dawei’s appearance, accent and food preferences, each time adding that she is “just kidding.”

● Making dismissive comments

Jane tells everyone that Elba “is afraid of her own shadow” and “really can’t do much on her own.”

● Physically threatening or scaring a coworker

Simon tells Isra that he physically attacked the last person who contradicted him.

Who can be a bully

Virtually anyone can engage in bad behaviors that interfere with your ability to do your job.

In general, men appear to do more bullying than women because they are more often in positions of power and authority. But men have no corner on the market. Many women are effective bullies. Sometimes women bully to prove they can be as tough as men. Sometimes women themselves lack support from their peers. They may feel threatened if they believe they were token hires. Sometimes women have been bullied themselves and it is the only management style they know.

Anyone connected with your work can be a bully. That includes vendors, customers, clients, interns, technicians and trainers. Bullying can take place at work, outside work, through email, phone conversations or social media.

Who can be the target of bullying

Virtually anyone can be bullied. Most surveys reveal that about one-third of employees have at some time experienced this kind of abuse.

There are many theories about who is more susceptible to bullying. One theory is that bullies target people who are too nice to fight back or who avoid confrontation. Another theory is that bullies don’t discriminate among potential targets. Perhaps the best explanation is that bullies are opportunistic. They bully those individuals who they perceive as threats.

Bullying to gain the advantage

Many people view the workforce as a zero-sum game. For everyone who does well, someone else has to do poorly. There is, of course, some logic to this model, as promotions are much less frequent as you advance upward in a company. What’s more, some companies force the distribution of performance evaluations to follow a curve, so that some employees will necessarily have low performance ratings even if they’ve done a good job. In an era of massive layoffs and reductions in force, employees are now routinely ranked as to how useful or valuable they are to a company.

In such a competitive environment, bullying becomes a tool for the aggressor to gain advantage over others in the workforce. Bullies are often inventive. They figure out how to undermine a coworker in order to eliminate him from the competition or even get him to resign because he’s so unhappy at work.

Is bullying an effective way to get ahead in an organization?

I wish I could tell you that it is not. But very often, it is. Bullying that is too obvious, extreme or violent is rarely successful and often results in the termination of the aggressor. However, most successful bullying is subtler. It is done quietly, without witnesses or documentary support. Successful bullying can go on for years.

More to come …

What to do if you are targeted by a bully

What you should never do

Can you sue?



Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The blog contains numerous illustrative brief vignettes. The circumstances described in these vignettes, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.



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