One of the questions I have participants answer in classes that I give on “Creating a Civil Workplace” involves identifying the difference between a strong manager and a bully.
What frequently surprises me is the very wide range of answers and opinions held by people in the class. It seems as if there is no uniformly agreed upon definition of what constitutes managerial bullying, although some of the more egregious acts are, of course, seen by nearly everyone to be characteristic of a bully.
Bullying vs Managing
To be sure, most people view being physically threatened by a manager as bullying behavior – but then, what if a manager tells a non performing employee that s/he is going to have to “pull up his socks or else he will quickly be looking for another job”. Is that an example of bullying behavior or is it merely an expression of consequences for non-performance?
One section in a policing agency had what the Sergeant called “the cone of shame” – a plastic traffic cone that had been melted because a rookie officer had placed it on top of a road flare (to make the cone more visible at the scene of an accident). Each week, the cone was passed to someone else in the group who had done something to “deserve” it. The Sergeant felt that this helped the members of the team bond, but one recipient felt he was being bullied even though he was not the only one to have received the cone.
A manager hovers over the work of one or two staff members, catching every error they make, demanding that they complete the work without error. Is this just micro-managing or is it bullying?
Top 10 Bullying Tactics
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Gerald Naime, Ph.D and Ruth Naime, Ph.D. in their book, The Bully at Work, identify the top ten bullying tactics employed by Managers:
- Blame for errors
- Unreasonable job demands
- Criticism of ability
- Inconsistent compliance with rules
- Threatens job loss
- Insults and put-downs
- Discounting or denial of accomplishments
- Exclusion, icing-out
- Yelling, screaming
- Stealing credit
Top Victim Experiences
The top negative acts experienced by bully victims, according to Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik and colleagues reporting in the Journal of Management Studies are as follows:
- had information withheld that affected performance
- been exposed to an unmanageable workload
- ordered to do work below level of competence
- given tasks with unreasonable/impossible deadlines
- had opinions and views ignored
- had work excessively monitored
- reminded repeatedly of errors and mistakes
- humiliated or ridiculed privately or publicly in connection with work
- have been the object of rumors or gossip
- have had insulting /offensive remarks spread about them
- verbal abuse, initiation rituals, physical intimidation
These, can be, of course, a slippery slope. What is an unmanageable workload, for example? Who among us has not been asked to do work unconnected to our jobs (take a regular turn cleaning up the kitchen area, for example?) What do managers do when employees continually make errors even after being made aware of them? What kinds of initiation rituals are harmless and which are over the line?
Organizations are being held accountable for the actions of their managers, so it’s critical for companies that wish to stay out of lawsuit city to be clear in their instructions to managers about actions that cannot be permitted or condoned.