Bullying and Employee Engagement Don’t Mix

June 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

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.

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 bully 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 that cause 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 trump the 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.   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.


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