Dealing with the Company Bully

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm

Remember the kid who took your lunch money in elementary school? The one who locked you in your gym locker and terrorized you during recess?

Watch out. He may now work for your company. It is estimated that 20 million Americans face workplace abuse as a daily occurrence.

I recently saw Dr. Corliss Olson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison do a presentation on bullying in the workplace. This presentation opened my eyes as to the long-term damage done by the company bully.

Upon further research, it was discovered that there are five types of bullies: the serial, the control freak, the promotion-seeking, the pressurized and the substance-abusing bully.

Their goals range from just causing someone misery to amassing power. When dealing with these personalities on a daily basis, workers are subjected to emotional abuse over and over, often accused and persistently humiliated. They are also subjected to "mobbing" behavior, described by Richard V. Denenberg and Mark Braverman in "The Violence Prone Workplace" as a concerted effort by a group of employees to isolate a co-worker. This type of behavior is manifested by the withholding of information, badmouthing, constant criticism, creating unfounded rumors, yelling ridicule and mean-spirited interactions.

In many organizations, the bully is obvious. In others, he/she is totally transparent and hard to identify. The bully can be the CEO, the union president or steward, a supervisor, manager or even a co-worker. On average, 70 percent of the bullies are men. He or she traditionally can be quite charming and be able to convince management that a problem does not exist.

However, the impact that stress created by the bully has on an organization and its profits is demonstrated by the following statistics shared by Dr. Olson:

  • 75 to 90 percent of American workers’ visits to their primary care physician are for job stress-related problems.
  • 1 million workers are absent on any average workday because of stress-related problems.
  • 60 to 80 percent of accidents on the job are stress-related.
  • 40 percent of worker turnover is due to stress.
  • $200 billion to $300 billion in profits each year are lost to absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, accidents and workers’ compensation awards as result on workplace stress.

Here are some common symptoms that tell you a bully exists in your workplace.

  • A supervisor makes outrageous statements, and workers don’t dissent.
  • Employees are hypersensitive to management.
  • The office is unnaturally quiet.
  • Employees don’t socialize outside of work.
  • Employees "rat" on their peers.
  • Employees won’t be able to explain the problem/situation to their superiors.
  • Employees won’t communicate a problem to co-workers.
  • Good employees leave without explanation.
  • There is a sudden unexplained increase in turnover and or absenteeism in one area or department.
  • There is a sudden drop in productivity or quality in one area or department.

Once you have determined that there is a bully in your workplace, or that mobbing is taking place, the question becomes, what do you do about it? Here’s an action plan:

Support the target

The target is the individual who has been isolated by the bully and subjected to his or her efforts. Listen without judging or evaluating, be patient and avoid criticism. Be positive while avoiding asking why the target did what she or he reported. Confirm and validate the target’s reality, assume their perspective completely, show empathy and share personal experiences.

Be proactive

Be current on the topic, contact the Campaign Against Workplace Bullying. Establish a company policy that encourages respectful treatment of employees and reinforces civility at work. Develop an enforcement mechanism that promises to be free from interference from senior management. Violators must be punished. Re-educate managers that misconduct is not a component of acceptable management practice. Install an employee assistance program [EAP] which permits the affected employee an opportunity to seek help in a confidential manner. Install an internal dispute resolution program which permits disputes to be resolved by a neutral intermediary. Redefine the role of HR and other complaint takers to serve as advocates for the complainants.

Take corrective action

Immediately separate the perpetrator from the target. Assemble the facts by interviewing the parties. Confront the aggressor with consequences. Treat all stress claims seriously. Do not compel the target to face the perpetrator. Purge, do not promote. Consider legal action only after consulting with an employment attorney.

Remember, bullying is a form of organizational violence, and if not dealt with properly, is a potential source of work-related stress.

Harassment in the form of bullying or mobbing should not be tolerated. Every person should have the right to report such activity without the fear of retaliation or reprisal. It is your job as the employer to create such a safe environment. The mistreatment of fellow employees is a serious workplace issue, and people who have been affected by mobbing and bullying suffer immensely.

There are a number of Web sites that you can access where you can learn more about these issues. They include:;;; and

I encourage you to visit these Web sites and learn more about this subject and what you as an employer/owner can do to stop bullying and mobbing in the workplace.

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