Updated: Jun 9, 2021
Bullies are like glitter bombs, once they start scattering their sparkles, that stuff touches everything and it spreads everywhere.
Workplace mental health is more important than ever. Game changing employers are partnering left, right and centre with wellness companies and qualified individuals to support their employees mental health. After all, support should always be available to employees, especially for the more sensitive situations, like workplace bullying.
It turns out, that bullies are not exclusive to the playground. That’s right guys, the kind of person who might have made your life a living hell at school could also end up in your office.
But how is this being dealt with in the work place? 71% of people, from 131 companies reported they had been bullied or witnessed bullying. Of this, 60% either left the company, took time away, or reported that their productivity had suffered. (Kew Law survey)
What does the government say about workplace bullying?
“Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment - they’re liable for any harassment suffered by their employees.”
And below we see what the government recommends employees do if they are bullied at work:
Employees should see if they can sort out the problem informally first. If they cannot, they should talk to their:
Given the statistics above, we can safely assume that more needs to be done and the governments suggestions are not the most effective. Also, HR managers that respond with, “she wouldn’t do that” or “He’s not like that” need to understand how invalidating and debilitating this is to the person who has summoned the courage to speak up. This kind of language is 100% not OK and this gas-lighting by HR needs to be addressed.
Heinz Leymann, a researcher who coined the term "mobbing" to distinguish the antisocial behaviour of the playground from the workplace, has suggested that "serious violations of justice" (Leymann 1990) take place when management get involved and accept without question the prejudice of the bully. These violations of justice can have serious, personal ramifications for the individual. And for the company. You can read the full paper here.
Leyman goes on to say, "there is reason to assume that there is or at least should be close cooperation between psychologists and lawyers in responding to the phenomenon of mobbing." Does this make sense? I think so!
Bully's have considerable narcissistic and Machiavellian personality traits, they are quite literally master manipulators. A psychologically trained individual is qualified to mediate these situations, so that the victim, bully and business can reach a resolution. Advertising your company as a psychologically safe place to work, without having qualified individuals on the team, is both misleading and irresponsible.
Much of the literature, policies and research about workplace bullying is in favour of supporting the person impacted by the bully, which makes sense. After all, people don't generally lean towards supporting the perpetrator. But what if we did? I don't believe that all bullies are innately bad people. Their preoccupation with antisocial behaviour could be because their emotional intelligence didn’t get a chance to fully develop, and they have often been victims of abuse themselves.
Hear me Out!
The bully usually does a great job and has been in a company for a long time, they are often well-liked and are a valued member of the team. They were hired for a reason, right? But, occasionally the bully makes it a priority to manipulate, put-down, alienate, blame and withhold necessary information from a member of the team. But why?
This piece is so important. Something about the victim has impacted the bully in such a way that the bully cannot get past their own discomfort and must behave this way. This strategy keeps them feeling like a ‘top dog’, whilst emotionally (and discretely) battering the victim. Now, unless we are dealing with a bully with considerable psychopathic tendencies, and therefore a limited capacity for empathy, I believe bullies are capable of rehabilitation.
Put simply, the bully needs support.
Bullies don’t just wake up one day and decide to be nasty, this behaviour is a result of their life experience. This research suggests that “antisocial participants...have likely experienced adverse childhood experiences" (Carlisi et al., 2020), and the research also discovered increased levels of psychopathology and reduced cognitive ability in people with life long traits of antisocial/bullying behaviour. This tells us that their behaviour isn't really about the victim, it's 100% about them.
The research also found that participants of the study exhibiting antisocial behaviour had “…reduced cortical thickness across brain regions associated with executive function, affect regulation, and motivation”, (Carlisi et al., 2020), which tells us that their higher order functioning is compromised. People! Bullies brains are literally smaller. (Say it louder for the people in the back). Yes, these people make the lives of others painful and in some cases unbearable, but they actually have less brain power. So where is the support for the bully?
Lived Company Culture
Bullies carry on bullying because they get away with it. Simple. A company culture that is vehemently committed to an inclusive and progressive workplace community WILL eradicate bullying. I'm not talking about punishment, I'm talking about education. People who bring antisocial behaviour to work need to learn that it is not OK, and, considering the profile of the typical bully, why add fuel to the fire?
We are all responsible for maintaining productive, supportive and progressive company cultures. There is no "I" in team! Normalise speaking up about antisocial behaviour, supporting victims and bullies and helping them towards rehabilitation. Employees should feel comfortable reporting antisocial behaviour, not worried they might be implicated.
Have you checked in with your team lately? Are you turning a blind eye to some toxic behaviour? Do you think you might be the bully?
If you are questioning whether you might be a bully, and you want to explore this, get in touch. This is a safe place and you won't be judged here.
For those impacted by bullying, come and stop by my online Ashtanga class. This Monday morning session is designed to build a strong felt sense of confidence and power in your nervous system, that you can connect with throughout your day. Regular practice will positively influence your resilience and cultivate the courage to stand your ground and stay in your truth.
See you on the tiles,