The 7 Ways Organizations Justify Bullying in The Workplace

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“You are fired, Get out! I am not going to pay you for two weeks! Leave now and I mean right this minute.”

Yes, that is the way that it ended. OK, I gave you the ending. Now I will back up and give you the full story.

A friend who had been passively looking for a job finally got an offer, but at the last minute, decided to stay put. A month later, her company was going through layoffs but she was spared — or at least she thought so.

Her manager called her in during this period and told her that while she would not be laid off, they were going to demote her, and on top of that, her salary was going to be cut. She walked out of that meeting dazed.

Why bullies poison the workplace

She went back to her desk and immediately called the company that had made the offer and to her surprise the position was still open, and yes, they still wanted her.

That “You are fired” statement I mentioned above came from her manager when she walked in to give her two-week notice.

I recently came across a book titled, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. Author Bob Sutton defined assholes as those who deliberately make co-workers feel bad about themselves and who focus their hostility on the less powerful.

I despise those type of people, and we all know them. They poison the workplace, cause qualified and talented employees to quit, and are bad for business REGARDLESS of the bully’s talent or effectiveness.

The more that organizations let these folks run amuck, the more detrimental they are to the enterprise. They also set a bad example for others to act out. When the tipping point comes, and people realize that the inmates are now running the asylum, it makes the corrective action that much more difficult.

School is the training ground for bully behavior

The potential for individuals within organizations to behave unethically is limitless. Unfortunately, this potential is too frequently realized. If these types of incidents are dealt with in the heat of the moment, not only can they be corrected immediately but you also send a signal throughout the organization that this will not be tolerated. It is like a pebble tossed into the water that sends out larger ripples.

Bullying in school is the training ground for bullying in the organization.

I have always looked on with amazement at parents going through the time-outs with their children. When I grew up and the way that I was raised, all my parents had to do was to give me that “look” and I knew immediately that I had crossed the line. My kids laugh today about this because they also know that when I look a certain way that they have crossed the line.

Within the organization it should be the same; leaders should know that the culture will not allow bullying. If your direct reports begin to act out, deal with it immediately. If this begins to be a continual problem, think of it like a cancer within the enterprise and “excise” it, because if you don’t, it will grow and infect other “organs.”

Recognize any of these justifications?

If bullies exist in your workplace, see if your organizational justification has been one of these seven reasons I hear all too often:

  • He just goes off from time to time; he means no harm.
  • OK, I will ask him to apologize again.
  • Ron’s skills are so valuable we can’t afford to lose him.
  • I just had “another” conversation with Ron. He will be OK.
  • It’s easier to keep him than to find a replacement.
  • That’s just how Ron is. He is just passionate.
  • He doesn’t mean any harm; he’s just under a lot of stress.

If you have heard these, or a derivative of them, you have a problem. If you have turned a blind eye to abhorrent behavior, you have a problem. If you think this will go away without intervention, you have a bigger problem.

I do not like the fact (and have never reveled in the thought) that HR is seen as the workplace police, but this behavior has to stop. The effect of a bad employee is of grave consequences both to the organization/employer and his or her colleagues as well.

As for my friend who was fired, she did leave her job that day and was glad to get out. She is now ensconced in an environment where talent is valued and developed — and bullies aren’t tolerated.

Come hear Ron Thomas as he leads the first-ever TLNT Transform conference in Austin, TX this coming Feb. 26-28, 2012. Click here for more information on attending this event. 

  • KamaTimbrell

    Did your friend file an unemployment claim? I remember being surprised when I read in an HR book that when an employee gives their notice, but the manager says “no, today is your last day,” the employee is entitled to file since the date of the employee’s termination of employment was set by the employer, not the employee. But when you think about it, it makes sense.

    • Steve

      There are good reasons for managers to do this (positions that have access to sensitive data that might be taken during the two weeks, etc.)  The best work around is for the manager to say yes, you’re going home right now — but we’re paying you through your notice period, and we’d like you available to call if you have questions.  This solves the unemployment problem without having the employee lurking around.

    • Ronaldtthomas

      Thanks all for the comments.  No she did not file. She was just glad to get out and to not be abused anymore.

  • Kit Stookey

    Enjoyed this post, Ron, and I’ve seen some of these justifications up-close and personal.  Until someone steps up and deems the behavior unacceptable for any reason, the behavior continues.  But I sure do love it when someone finally does step up and says ‘enough’. Hard on the employee whose behavior needs to change, but well worth it for everyone.

  • PM Hut

    Hi Ron,

    #6 is a classic “That’s how Ron is. He is just passionate” Bullying should never be acceptable and should never be justified. We have published an article on bullying in a project management environment, you can find it here.

    Unfortunately bullying is not going to go, and it’s very rare that companies fire someone because he bullied someone else.