How Much is Unintended Bullying Costing Your Business?

By Heather Campbell

Bullying appears in unusual forms. In one conversation I had recently, a manager said she feels bullied by LinkedIn. How?

Well, not by LinkedIn exactly. But by the posts she sees on LinkedIn.

“Every day I’m getting stuff that points out to me just how ineffective I am. The blogs telling me about ’10 things highly effective people do before they even leave their bed in the morning’ and ‘7 things really, really amazing leaders do so that their team members adore them’. Most of the time I think I’ve done well just to keep smiling.”

Okay, so she was saying this with tongue in cheek!

But this conversation did make me think more about just how varied, unexpected and insidious our experience of bullying can be.

One of my CommsMasters colleagues once worked with a senior leadership team where bullying occurred at monthly team meetings.

No one talked about ‘bullying’ per se.

Instead, they talked about meetings that everyone dreaded; meetings that were a waste of time because everyone spent the whole time covering their backs, showing up their colleagues and defending their corner.

Having been asked to help establish more effective meetings, my colleague had been observing what took place before, during and after these events.

During the meetings, senior leaders were certainly defensive, attacking and undermining each other. Why?

Because their boss – the MD – would put them on the spot, attacking weaknesses in their business updates and pushing them for minute details that were impossible to provide on the spot.

Colleagues became enemies in their efforts to avoid being the most humiliated that month.

Before the meetings, the senior leaders harried their direct reports, interrogating them over their figures for the month, seeking ways to catch them out on weaknesses, never being satisfied with the evidence they produced.

So all the middle managers scurried about, massaging data to ‘make it fit’ in order to avoid the monthly attacks they would otherwise endure in their team meetings.

And the MD? His behaviour was driven by the need to provide evidence of results to ‘Group’ when he went for his monthly humiliation with his global peers.

People at every level experienced horrendous pressure and fear at this dreaded time every month.

No one was intentionally bullying anyone else. And yet, bullying behaviours were rife.

No one knew how to stop it, because no one really knew where it began.

And it had a huge cost to this business.

Not only the stress and pressure that individuals experienced every month, but also the time wasted in creating reports and producing statistics that were massaged to the point of inaccuracy. The time wasted in pouring over minutiae, trying to second-guess what detail would be required out of the blue.

When the time and resources that were invested for at least a week every month right across this organisation were added up, it provided shocking information for the senior team.

But they were even more shocked to realise the dysfunctional behaviours they were causing every single month.

And to realise that those behaviours cast a shadow over the whole month, even though the actual dysfunctional behaviour was mostly limited to that high-pressure, data-massaging week each month.

Yes, there are individuals who purposely bully someone they see as too weak – or even too strong.

But we also need to look first at the wider organisational system if we are to really get to the roots of bullying behaviour in our workplaces.

To do that, we need to get more comfortable talking about bullying.

And senior leaders and HR professionals need to lead the way in this conversation.

Only by talking about bullying can we understand it in all of its many guises. And only then can we start to resolve it too.

Check out this webinar to discover the primary questions to ask to get the conversation flowing in your organisation.

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