7 Unmistakable Signs Workplace Bullying is Being Accepted

Rutgers University was in the news for the wrong reasons again this weekend. On the heels of the huge bullying story out of Miami, it has come to light that a student-athlete has accused a Rutgers football coach of bullying him in front of other athletes and an academic advisor.  Seven months ago Rutgers fired their men’s basketball coach and their Athletic Director when a bullying incident came to light.  The new AD did a lot of spin management, talking about how things were going to change, that every student-athlete would feel respected and that bullying behavior would not be tolerated.

I have no doubt that was the intent.  Clearly whatever they were doing isn’t working.  But before you get on your high horse so you can look down at Rutgers and wag your finger – This is VERY common problem in the business world too.  Let’s look at a few things that keep a bullying culture in place despite management’s good intentions:

Pay is based on results – On the surface this sounds like a good idea because it motivates people to make the company successful.  The problem is it also leads to turning a blind eye to how those results are achieved.  When there is no accountability for behavior some leaders will bully, demean, fire, steal… In other words do whatever it takes to get results so they get the praise, recognition and compensation they want.  There will be nary a thought given to the lives they ruin along the way. 

Leaders explode and then (maybe) apologize regularly – I know an assistant who has a toy car sitting on her desk. Some days the wheels are on it (rare). Other days the wheels are gone (frequent). The number of wheels missing indicates how bad a day the boss is having. If you walk in and the car is missing more than two wheels, don’t even bother to bring an idea or problem to the boss.  You will just regret it.  If the wheels are missing and the car is turned upside-down, back away very, very slowly and hope he didn’t see you.  Everyone in the company knows this, including the boss’ boss.  Guess what message it sends.

There are no visible repercussions for bullying – Bad behavior almost always comes with witnesses and those witnesses will talk. If nothing is done about the behavior, it will become the cultural norm that bullying is accepted.  Punishing someone behind closed doors is the same as doing nothing in the eyes of the witnesses. There must be public repercussions for misconduct that happens in public (and it needs to happen before ESPN gets a hold of the story. Otherwise it is just CYA and doesn’t count).

Ideas and problems must go through the chain of command – The more stamps of approval something needs to get the more likely it will be whittled down to what the boss wants to hear.  All of the bad news will get weeded out.  It is imperative to company success and the health of the culture that the boss gets the straight story.  Not a watered-down, cleaned up version that will make him happy.

Information only flows one way, down – Too many leaders think their company has good communication because they send out lots of memos with lots of information on them.   Good communication is developed through trust. If employees don’t trust the boss will listen to them, they won’t bother to talk. This results in a “Swimming Duck” situation.  I.E. on the surface things look like they are floating along peacefully. But under the surface the duck’s feet are churning away like mad. Pay attention to the churning before it explodes.  

Appropriate behaviors aren’t defined or enforced – It is easy to assume that anything is okay when nothing is outlined as being unacceptable.  There are mountains of evidence that human beings will do what is best for their bottom line if there are no rules against it. Define your expectations. Then hold people accountable to those expectations. People who treat others well will not be affected by them and you’ll be able to do something about those who don’t.

There is no training – Why do we assume that leaders know how to treat others properly? It is pretty clear from my years of experience and what we have seen from Rutgers that the skills of motivating others and engaging in Productive Conflict™ resolution are in short supply. They are learnable, but organizations have to be willing to teach them.  To date it appears many organizations would rather deal with the bad press when stories of bullying leak out than invest in creating expectations, training and accountability.

Are your employees guilty of bullying? Would you know it if they were?

As always, I wish you the MOST from your potential!

Doc Robyn

Dr. Robyn Odegaard (aka “Doc Robyn”) is internationally known conflict resolution expert, motivational speaker and executive wordsmith.  As CEO of Champion Performance Development, she works with executives, professionals, athletes, and coaches to help them achieve excellence in all aspects of life through active leadership, powerful teamwork, effective communication, Productive Conflict™ and professional disagreement skills  She is the founder of the Stop The Drama! Campaign and author of the books Stop The Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams and The Ultimate Guide to Handling Every Disagreement Every Time.  To work with her one-on-one, have her present to your team, request a custom workshop or invite her to speak at your event, email her at DocRobyn@ChampPerformance.com or call 302-307-3091.

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