Friday, December 31, 2010

Case Study: Inside the mind of HR Professionals

As a professional speaker who has made presentations to over hundreds of HR professionals, as well as professionals in many other areas, I assert that every single “workplace bullying workshop” attendee will fall into one of three categories:

1. The “Oh my gosh!!!! Thank you!!!” Category – These are people who have been treated with disrespect and aggression at work. They approach me at the end of my presentation, often in tears, infinitely thankful that I am advocating for them and that I have given them the information they need to move forward with their situation.

2. The “Hmmmm… I’m not so sure bullying exists” Category – These are people who may have witnessed a little disrespect at work but are unsure that bullying really happens among adults or that the resulting psychological implications I identified during the presentation are really that serious. These people may be open to persuasion with more information.

3. The “People who claim they're bullied are poor performers who are upset that they’re boss is calling them out” Category – These are the attendees who speak out during my presentations, often very aggressively in fact. They are convinced bullying doesn’t exist, and blame the target for poor performance and not having thicker skin. They also insist (incorrectly of course) that bullying is already illegal and laws against bullying would encourage unnecessary litigation.

Until now, I have been unable to really articulate these three responses for readers of my blog. But recently I participated in an online forum at Workforce Management website about the topic of workplace bullying, and because I gained so much insight into the mind of my third category HR professional when it comes to this touchy subject, I thought I’d share parts of the forum discussion with you.

If you are a target of aggressive behaviors at work thinking about talking with your HR manager, this post might help you gain some understanding about how your HR manager might respond to your complaint so that you can be prepared to counter it.

As I mentioned, people in my third category - people who don't think bullying exists - were abundant in the online forum, as evidenced by these comments:
There seems to be a growing trend that every time someone’s boss yells at them it’s a workplace conflict that also suggests the boss is a bully. That may occasionally be true but more often than not, in over 30 years of workplace experience, I have observed it is an under producing or non-producing employee (that includes performance issues).”
 "Honestly, I read a lot of posts on a different forum that is open to the public and has a lot of employees posting their situations about bosses bullying employees and 99% of them are such that I can see by their posts what the issue is -- low performance, too much time off, their attitude in the postings, etc. In my 20 year career, I can honestly tell you that I have seen 1 bully boss in any organization that I have worked with. Out of hundreds.... “

“There are those that think they are bullied because the employer expects them to be at work on time consistently. Because the employer doesn't take all the excuses for missed work and productivity. Or they take exasperation and criticism as bullying.”
And after being attacked by a few of the HR professionals in the forum for asserting that bullying is a real problem:

“Suggesting bullying is legal in the US demonstrates the focus (Catherine) has. It isn't to teach people how to manage conflict in the workplace, rather, it is to exploit conflict in the workplace for (her) own profit motive. In short, (she) channel’s (her) energy to exploit a created victim instead of teaching that individual how to improve their performance and also manage everyday natural conflict.”

“I am suspecting that the poster is feeling bullied because we are not validating her perspective. We are not jumping on the bandwagon of proving how much bullying really takes place in most workplaces.”
I sought information about what these HR professionals would do if faced with a complaint by an employee who claimed his boss was bullying him. The answers were disturbing:
“I would speak with the employee about changes that often occur when bosses change.”

“I suspect that due to the friendly relationship posed by the (original poster)… there might have been some stuff that the old boss let slide, rather than confront. Or maybe it just wasn't important to the old boss but is to the new. That's the nature of different bosses and learning the new style/way, even if you don't agree with it.”

“Honestly, I would tell this employee that they should view the position as if THEY started a new job-- but with experience. If they can't handle the new (management) style, then unless they want to try to go over their boss's head (which can often be a career limiting move because SOMEONE higher above CHOSE to put this person into the manager's position and you might never be sure who was for it), I would suggest they look elsewhere for employment.”

“If I thought it was a manager issue, I would do some extra management training, but if this were a person with education and experience, I would NOT automatically assume it was the boss's issue. But rather an issue of the employee not being able to handle the change. Change is never easy.”
Another participant then pointed out that:

“The difficult part of (this) approach… is why you are willing to make assumptions that favor the organization, but you aren't willing to make any such similar assumptions on behalf of the employee.”
To which the response from one poster was:
“I don't know many companies that choose to put inexperienced, uneducated, untrained people into management positions, but I know plenty of employees who feel like THEY should have been promoted OR that THEY know more than the new boss or that their way is the only way to do something.”
“I have seen more issues with the underlings not being able to handle the change than the manager.”
“So yes, it is my instinct to counsel the employee on how to deal with the change than to counsel the manager. Unless there is some direct evidence that it is the manager's issue.”
Clearly this HR professional would not buy it if a target of bullying were to report their manager’s behavior. The target would indeed be in the hot seat and blamed for the problem. The manager, the one exhibiting unprofessional behaviors, would be left to continue treating others with disrespect.

This group of posters, filled with my third category – people who think bullying simply doesn’t exist – was hard to persuade. Nothing I said could convince them that bullying is real. They even accused me of exploiting a fad and creating a sea of victims for my own monetary and professional benefit. But it doesn’t matter if they believe me or not; what matters if is they believe you when you report your abusive manager at work.

Ultimately, this conversation was indeed a major learning experience for me. In my years of experience I have never really gained a true understanding of why an HR professional would be so utterly resistant to the idea that bullying might actually exist in the workplace. I was enlightened by these comments:
“I was in HR when the diversity fad developed, and suddenly every fringe consultant was an expert in diversity and offering their services to help implement diversity programs. They were aggressive - if you didn't have a diversity program, then somehow your company was uncaring, insensitive, even Neanderthal in your approach to business. Diversity programs have yet to produce any measurable benefit, yet business spent huge amounts of money on it.“

“So it goes with HR fads - it seems like HR is plagued with them every 5 years or so. Some get a lot of publicity, like diversity, others don't. All fade into oblivion, some mercifully sooner rather than later.”

“HR has seen a bunch of fads. I would agree bullying is but one more.”
In addition, one poster pointed out that aggressive behaviors at work have potential liability for an employer – damages that should certainly be taken into consideration. As someone who has also made that argument, and attempted to quantify the damage a workplace bully might cause, the response was of great interest to me:
“OMG, HR professionals have been fighting this image for years. It is called the Chicken Little complex.

Legal fees are a cost of doing business for corporations. Frivolous lawsuits are a source of potential income for plaintiffs attorneys; "If they settle, even for nuisance value, I get something." The problem isn't managers. The problem is unscrupulous attorneys, consultants who embellish reality and a sub-culture that says if I sue I win regardless.

In 30+ years I have never lost a lawsuit. I've settled several for "nuisance value."
To sum all this up, HR professionals have seen an array of fads come and go. According to the participants in this forum, given the number of fads in their many years of experience, bullying just seems like one more. For this reason, it might be hard for them to take your complaint seriously.

These individuals were also not intimidated by the numbers. They weren’t buying that a lawsuit is a real threat when a report of bullying goes unaddressed. To them, a lawsuit is just the cost of doing business, and because one poster in particular had never lost a lawsuit against an employee, she was ready to go toe to toe. Lawsuits didn’t even make a dent in her perspective.

So what’s the lesson here? It is up to you, the target, the reporter of aggressive behaviors at work, to prove your case in a major way. As stated by one poster:
“Unfortunately HR and management usually do NOT have the ability to go "personal" with employees. To dig deep into the reasons and feelings and emotions. To smooth over hurt feelings. To babysit one who is feeling persecuted. At some point, it DOES need to get back to the business of running the company and working towards that goal and needs to be less about feelings and more about realistic expectations and being productive and putting personal feelings/perspectives aside."
The most important things you can do for yourself, before you file a complaint with your manager or HR manager, is to:

1. Document everything, and be sure to stick to the facts. Avoid documenting your emotions. Do not document how you felt, document the bad behavior. Focus on the bully, not on you. You are your performance already going to be under the spotlight, so don’t make your grievance about you – make it about the bully’s unprofessional behavior. HR is not in the business of making you feel good, they are in the business of helping the organization run. I hate to say it, but your feelings are irrelevant to them. The bullying manager’s unprofessional behavior is relevant to them if you can prove it’s hurting performance.

2. If possible, gather evidence from co-workers and other managers about your performance. Based on my conversation with the HR professionals in the forum, your performance is going to be called into question. If you can find a way to prove you are a top-performer, whether by emails or memos from others you work with or a stack of performance evaluations from previous managers, I think you will find that evidence useful during your conversation.

3. Attempt to resolve the issue yourself first. In any situation, when you have a problem, issue, or question it is important that you approach your manager with your problem, issue, or question with some idea of a solution. No manager wants to hear, “I have a problem, can you tell me what to do?” There isn’t a manager on the planet that wouldn’t prefer, “I have a problem. I have tried A and B and they haven’t worked. I was thinking about doing C and D but was hoping for your input.” This shows that you are solution oriented and able to think things all the way through on your own – and those are qualities of a top notch, high performing employee.

4. Be prepared for the conversation. Know what you want to accomplish as a result of your complaint. What is it that you want the HR manager to do for you? What exactly are you going to say? What solutions can you offer? Never go into your HR manager’s office to complain – go in there to complain and provide options.

If you’re interested, you can read the entire conversation on Workforce Week.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

eBossWatch releases its 2010 America's Worst Bosses List

eBossWatch, the leading career resource that enables people to anonymously rate their bosses, published the second annual list of America’s Worst Bosses. The 2010 worst bosses include a judge, two famous actors, several doctors, a police chief, a university dean, and a US Congressman.

eBossWatch assembled a panel of workplace experts who selected and ranked the worst bosses from across the country. The eBossWatch panel of workplace experts includes:

■Linnda Durre, Ph.D., psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker, columnist, and author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace

■Kevin Kennemer, board member of the Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium and founder of The People Group

■Catherine Mattice, trainer, consultant, workplace bullying subject matter expert and founder of Civility Partners

■Erica Pinsky, workplace consultant and author of Road to Respect: Path to Profit

■Marilyn Veincentotzs, organizational consultant, speaker, advocate, and author of How Organizations Empower Bully Bosses

Here are a few of the managers who made the 2010 list of America’s Worst Bosses:

■Leigh Voltmer, True North Domestic Violence Shelter

■The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against True North, accusing its then-Executive Director Leigh Voltmer of sexually harassing a number of employees and then retaliating against two female co-directors who complained to the president on behalf of the employees. True North provides shelter for women who have been victims of domestic violence.

■Skip Sand, Michaels Stores

■A jury ordered Michaels Stores Inc. to pay a former employee $8.1 million for being harassed and fired by Skip Sand while she was undergoing chemotherapy after having been diagnosed with breast cancer. The jury found that Michaels violated the employee’s rights under the Family Medical Leave Act, the Florida Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

■Justin Murdock, Castle & Cooke

■Billionaire Dole heir Justin Murdock is being sued for sexual harassment by a former employee at the Dole Food Co. subsidiary, Castle & Cooke. The employee claims that Murdock subjected her to continuous derogatory and vulgar comments about women and that his “harassment was coupled with death threats and threats of termination.”

■Don Gough, Mayor, City of Lynwood

■Lynwood Mayor Don Gough was accused of subjecting five female top-level City Hall employees to an “intolerable” work environment. An internal investigation was launched after Gough’s former executive assistant complained about a hostile work environment where she was berated and belittled by Gough.

■Craig Littlejohn, Department of the Interior

■A judge ruled against the Department of the Interior in an employment discrimination lawsuit and found that Craig Littlejohn called African American subordinates “monkeys” and discriminated against black employees.

Asher Adelman, founder of eBossWatch, said, “It is shocking to think that people have had to endure such extreme cases of workplace bullying in order to bring home a paycheck. Hopefully, the America’s Worst Bosses list will help demonstrate the importance for managers to cultivate a positive, healthy, and productive work environment for their employees.”

The entire 2010 list of America’s Worst Bosses is located at

Nevada State Education Association Pamphlet on Bullying

Effective July 1, 2010, the education system in Nevada is putting up a fight against bullying and cyber-bullying by any administrator, teacher or staff member. The terms bullying and cyber-bullying were only recently added to Nevada Statute NRS 388.135, which previously only referenced harassment and intimidation.

According to the resulting pamphlet put out by the Nevada State Education Association:

"We are all familiar with accounts of bullying involving students. There are tragic stories of students being bullied to the point of taking their own lives. But bullying can and does happen among adults, and it can have a devastating effect on employee morale, work productivity, and even the health and well being of employees."

Below is an additional excerpt from the pamphlet, and you can download the whole thing by clicking here.

What is workplace bullying?

There is no single definition of bullying. NRS 388.122 defines “bullying” to mean:

A willful act or course of conduct on the part of one or more pupils which is not authorized by law and which exposes a pupil repeatedly and over time to one or more negative actions which is highly offensive to a reasonable person and is intended to cause and actually causes the pupil to suffer harm or serious emotional distress.

“Cyber-Bullying” is defined as “bullying through the use of electronic communication.” NRS 388.123.

Researchers studying the phenomenon of workplace bullying cite certain common characteristics.

Catherine Mattice and Karen Garman define it as “systematic aggressive communication, manipulation of work, and acts aimed at humiliating or degrading one or more individuals that create an unhealthy and unprofessional power imbalance between bully and target...” Gary and Ruth Namie define workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three.”

Five Tips for Ringing In a Civil 2011

This year my newsletters have addressed corporate policies, training programs, culture changes, and many other conventional ways you can address bullying behavior at work. As you know, however, if the decision makers in your organization are not on board with building a positive workplace, then policies and training programs will be difficult to implement.

So here are five things you can do to help keep things civil around the office without asking your boss for an entire corporate culture makeover.

1. Be the change you want to see. I know; it's cliché. But fact is we don't pay much attention to our own communication most of the time, and of course it's easy to point fingers and argue that others aren't being very nice. Awareness is half of the battle - once you start being more cognizant of your behavior and communication it becomes easier to change it. We call this self-monitoring. If you are a high self-monitor, then you probably pay close attention to your communication and adjust it as needed for the situation. If you are a low self-monitor then you probably don’t pay much attention to your communication, and you likely are treating others disrespectfully without even realizing it. Make it a goal to become a high self-monitor.

2. Stand up for others. One of the reasons I became so interested in bullying and incivility at work was the fact that they are a social phenomenon - it's never about just the bully. Bullying and other uncivilized behaviors happen at work because other people allow them to (yes that means you). If you witness someone getting berated consistently during staff meetings, for example, the chances of you or anyone else standing up for them is slim to none. Researchers call this the bystander effect, and the reason it exists is that others are afraid of being targeted next.

Forget all that. When you see a person being mistreated at work, stand up for them. Plain and simple. Something like, "Hey John the meeting will be more productive if we all try to stay calm here. I know this is a stressful project but we need to work together" should suffice. The more often you do that, the more often others will too. You and all of your peers are stronger, collectively, than one bullying person. You have much more power to end the bullying as a group, and if you band together, you will be successful in doing so.

3. Dish out two compliments a day. In today’s economy and the resulting stress it’s easy to get frustrated with others when you feel like they aren’t performing or when they make mistakes. But, that’s not helping build a more civil work environment. Of course it is important to correct mistakes or make process improvements – but it’s also important to tell people when they do things right – even the little things. And you don’t have to be anyone’s boss to pass out praise.

If you happen to be walking through the reception area and overhear the receptionist handling a call with a positive attitude, then compliment him or her on it. If you see a co-worker wiping down the counters in the break room, then say thank you. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but it could make a huge difference in that person’s day, and they just might turn around and compliment someone else… even a customer!

4. Rally for your community. Volunteering provides a multitude of psychological and physical benefits. It brings a heightened sense of well-being, relief from insomnia, a stronger immune system… and it helps build confidence and self-esteem as a result of the appreciation we feel from those people we help. Take Cami Walker for example. At 35 she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and only after focusing on giving to the people around her did the pain she was feeling start to ease. Since then she’s written a book and started a movement of giving. Her website is

In addition to the personal benefits you will feel for giving your time to help others, certainly when your department volunteers to help the community together, the benefits of team building are eminent. So check out Charity Navigator and Volunteers of America to find a volunteering opportunity right for you and your team. Invite everyone to participate (even the uncivil ones). You’ll definitely notice a positive change in the way you interact with each other at work as a result of everyone feeling better about themselves and about each other.

5. Play the Best-Self Game. Kim Cameron, author of Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance, suggests this activity to get the positive communication flowing and the self-esteem growing. During your next meeting, ask everyone to write down two nice things about their co-workers on separate sheets of scratch paper. At the end of the meeting, each person walks away with a list of traits others appreciate in them, an understanding of their own strengths, and a set of thank you’s for those times they stepped up and went the extra mile.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bullying by the boss is common but hard to fix, by Laura Petrecca, USA Today

The Hooters restaurant chain likes to play up its "delightfully tacky, yet unrefined" slogan. But what more than 15 million TV viewers saw on Feb. 14 went beyond unrefined.

A Hooters franchise manager insisted that servers clasp their hands behind their backs and gobble up a serving of cooked beans face-first. Whoever cleaned her plate the quickest would get to leave early.

That scene was shown on the CBS reality show Undercover Boss. Later in the episode, Coby Brooks — the Hooters CEO who went undercover to evaluate workers — reprimands the manager for being inappropriate.

"There are lines that you don't cross," Brooks said.

Yet, many bosses don't follow that stance. In offices nationwide, managers belittle, isolate, intimidate and sabotage employees.

One in three adults has experienced workplace bullying, according to surveys conducted earlier this year by research firm Zogby International for the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). Nearly three-fourths of bullying is from the top down, according to a 2007 study.

Some tyrannical managers scream and send out scathing e-mails. But often, an oppressor uses a more subtle — and easily covered — collection of behaviors. These actions could include purposely leaving a worker out of communications so they can't do their job well, mocking someone during meetings and spreading malicious gossip about their target, says Catherine Mattice, a workplace consultant who specializes in this issue.

The acts may seem trivial, but as they build up over time, the ramifications can be monumental.

Bullied workers often feel anxious and depressed, can't sleep and are at increased risk for ailments such as hypertension. Some employees feel so overwhelmed, they just can't see a way out. "Sometimes, unfortunately, suicide is the result," Mattice says.

Tough to diagnose

On an academic level, workplace bullying has become a popular research topic, says Stanford Engineering School management professor and Good Boss, Bad Boss author Robert Sutton. But on a broader scale, there is still much to be learned about this topic.

"Workplace bullying is kind of this new concept; it's like sexual harassment before Anita Hill," Mattice says. "One of the biggest problems is that it is under the radar."

A big issue is that bullying is difficult to define. Is a demanding boss a bully or a perfectionist? Is a manager who says inappropriate things malicious or just tactless? "That's one of the difficult things to grapple with," says Joseph O'Keefe, a senior counsel at law firm Proskauer. "When does it rise above just being a mean boss and reach the level of bullying?"

As a general guideline, bullying occurs when a manager has an ongoing pattern of intimidating or demeaning behavior that can affect an employee's health.

"We've all had bosses who are rough around the edges, and sometimes you just have to deal with it," says Tom Davenport, a senior consultant at human resources consultancy Towers Watson. "But it's one thing to have an assertive boss, and it's another to have one that makes you feel sick — psychologically, physically and emotionally sick."

Since bullying is such an amorphous act, department managers and human resource executives often have to examine claims of it on an individual basis. Officials at the University of Virginia had to undertake this task earlier this year.

On July 30, Kevin Morrissey, managing editor at the University of Virginia literary magazine Virginia Quarterly Review, shot himself. Morrissey's sister, Maria Morrissey, says that after his death, she learned that her brother was treated harshly by VQR editor Ted Genoways.

Genoways' attorney, Lloyd Snook, says the editor was not a bully to Morrissey or anyone else in the office.

Following Morrissey's death, the university commissioned an audit of the magazine's finances and management practices. The Oct. 20 report says that while Genoways' ability to supervise his staff in accordance with university policies "is questionable," complaints against him didn't raise any red flags.

"There were reports through the years of the editor not being courteous or respectful with some contributors and colleagues, as well as problems with certain employees, but none ever seemed to rise to the level of a serious, ongoing concern," the report said.

In a formal response to the audit, Snook said that Genoways "has never been told of any specific complaint that any of his staff has had. There was never any personnel action taken against Ted."

Even with the release of the internal report, there are still many questions swirling — and not many publically known answers — about the situation at VQR.

Failing to take action

Yet, even when there are obvious concerns about a boss poisoning an office environment, often little is done. Reasons this is tough to diagnose and cure:

•Victims keep quiet. Many workers are embarrassed at being bullied, so they don't report the persecution to human resources. In addition, many targets are afraid that if they complain, there will be retribution.

•Intervention can take time. Morrissey and other staffers complained to UVA officials about workplace strife. Mediation was to take place, says UVA spokeswoman Carol Woods, but Kevin's sister, Maria, says the school didn't have a thorough or timely response. The UVA audit says its personnel satisfied "institutional policies and procedures." While there were notices of problems at VQR, the report says there were "no specific allegations of bullying or harassment prior to July 30th."

•Discipline can be subjective. Even though Undercover Boss is an entertainment-focused reality show, blogs were filled with intense criticism for Hooters CEO Brooks after he didn't fire the manager who made the waitresses eat without their hands.

That manager resigned earlier this year "to pursue other interests," says Hooters spokeswoman Alexis Aleshire. She said the company couldn't comment further on that specific situation, but e-mailed this statement: "Hooters has a longstanding and highly effective policy protecting employees from all harassment. Hooters of America and (the) Texas Wings (franchise) are confident the incident portrayed on Undercover Boss is in no way representative of conduct within the Hooters system."

•Legal recourse isn't clear-cut. Existing federal laws focus on the harassment/discrimination of those in a protected class, such as race, religion, national origin, age or disability. Since 2003, 18 states have proposed a "healthy workplace bill" that holds an employer accountable for an abusive environment, but none has become law.

•Witnesses are scared to come forward. About one in seven workers said they've seen workplace bullying but haven't been a target themselves, the WBI says. But many observers keep quiet. "A lot of time, bystanders see bullying, but they won't stand up," Mattice says. "They don't want to attract attention."

•Savvy bosses work the system. Manipulative managers often know how to play the game so they're not caught. "They kiss up and kick down," Sutton says.

Who gets picked on by whom

Workplace bullying can take many forms. While it's often a boss targeting employees, workers have picked on peers — and even their supervisors.

Slightly more than 60% of bullies are men, and 58% of targets are women, according to WBI. When a woman is the aggressor, she often picks on her own gender: Women target other women in 80% of cases. Men are more apt to target men.

Bullying can take place in any work environment, but Mattice says it tends to be more prevalent in hierarchical industries such as manufacturing, health care and education.
Crummy bosses are frequently more tolerated in organizations that focus on reaching sales goals, Davenport says.

"In a results-driven environment, managers may say 'Tom really is a jerk, but he certainly produces the numbers,' " he says.

Further complicating things: Most bullies don't realize — or at least, admit — that they're the bad guy. Fewer than 1% of people say they bully others at work, according to the WBI.

"We, as human beings, have self-awareness issues," Sutton says.

While maniacal managers may not realize how their behavior affects other employees, one place where they could see the difference is in the bottom line. Bullied employees will often take more sick days, steal supplies and use work hours to look for other jobs.

"They'll take longer breaks, and they'll be less likely to help others," Sutton says.

Beaten-down employees also don't perform as well on duties that take mental wherewithal. Research subjects have been less creative in simple puzzle-solving tasks after someone has been nasty to them, Sutton says.

But even as studies show that abusive managers can harm profits, bullying continues to rise at some firms.
One issue: Productivity-producing carrots, such as raises and bonuses, have been taken away as companies cut costs. Many mangers have turned to using sticks.

"With the economy the way it is, (supervisors) are more stressed out, and they are more likely to become more aggressive at work," Mattice says.

Those on the receiving end have their own issues due to the economic maelstrom.

"Anyone who is being bullied feels trapped, because where are they going to go?" she says. "They feel stuck there until the economy gets better."

Read the article on USA Today here:

Survival strategies for workers with bosses who are bullies, by Laura Petrecca, USA Today

Bosses often get a bad rap — mainly because they are just that: the boss.

These are the folks who scrutinize vacation day requests, ask for client reports to be revised and tell employees the company decided against 2010 raises. So naturally they will be closely scrutinized — and criticized — by workers, simply because they have such a large impact on their life.

"Bosses pack a wallop, especially on their direct reports," says Robert Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss.

However, there are many supportive, compassionate managers out there, Sutton says. "Most of us think our bosses are OK."

But for the folks toiling under a lousy manager, the daily stress can be severe. Some ways to deal with a bad boss:

•Have a heart-to-heart. "Perhaps your boss is one of those people who aren't aware of how they come across," Sutton says. It could be worth it to have a "gentle confrontation" with the manager in hopes of evoking a behavior change.

•Get help. "It's like a bully on the playground," says Tom Davenport, co-author of Manager Redefined. "At some point you have to go tell the teacher."

Employees should keep a detailed diary of a boss' bad behaviors and then bring up those specific instances when lodging a complaint.

"Don't talk about the way you feel. Don't say 'I'm hurt,' " says workplace consultant Catherine Mattice. Instead give very specific examples of how the boss crossed the line.

•Zone out. With some effort — be it meditation, therapy or another method — some folks are able to leave their work troubles at the office. "Learn the fine art of emotional detachment," Sutton says. "Try not to let it touch your soul."

•Update the résumé. "Start planning your escape," Sutton says. Sure, the economy may not be the best for job seekers, but those who put feelers out now will have a head start when the hiring freeze thaws.

Read the article on USA Today here:

Monday, December 13, 2010 Is your boss a bully, or just a tough cookie?

Careers on
By By Eve Tahmincioglu, contibutor

Victoria Ring had a bully boss when she was working as a paralegal at a bankruptcy law firm in Ohio early in her career.

“I would be interviewing one of our clients who was in debt and he would stand outside to door listening to us,” she recalled. “As soon as I opened the door he would shout, “Why did you go and screw everything up?’ right in front of the client. I would feel like the lowest level person in the world.”
Despite the abuse, the tyrannical manager turned out to be one of the best bosses she’s ever had.

“He was extremely brilliant and knew every loophole in the law,” she explained. And he helped foster her passion for bankruptcy law, taught her to hone her craft and even helped her get a job in an Ohio bankruptcy court because people in the legal community knew if she could work for that boss she could work for anyone.

Ring, who launched her own business (Colorado Bankruptcy Training) this year in Colorado Springs, only lasted about nine months with the bully boss, leaving after he had a fist fight in the office with his brother who was also a partner at the law firm. But looking back, she said, the manager was pivotal in her career trajectory.

With all the negative press bullies are getting lately, it’s hard to believe that anyone can actually benefit from having to deal with one as their boss. But sometimes it’s the hardest-to-deal-with managers who turn out to teach you the most, and they may actually help you climb the ladder of success.
The question is, how do you know if your tough boss actually has some redeeming qualities and isn’t just a bully?

“The line between tough boss and bully boss is not clear for most people — bosses and employees alike,” said Judith Glaser author of “The DNA Of Leadership.” Making the distinction, she added, is even harder when times are tough and the pressure is on to perform.

“When people are interviewed about the boss who impacted them most,” she continued, “it was generally someone who was both candid and caring, someone who pushed them to succeed or achieve. So understanding where the line is between bully and effective leadership is vital.”

While most of us want to be treated fairly and with respect at all times, many of us see the benefits of having tough guy or gal as a boss.

In a study by Adecco Staffing U.S., employees were asked whom they deemed the best boss among a host of famous people. While touchy feely Oprah and soft-spoken President Obama topped the list, No. 3 was Donald Trump of “you’re fired” Apprentice fame. But Martha Stewart, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sarah Palin — all three tough cookies — weren’t far behind.

“Power and success are very attractive qualities,” said Tracy Whitaker, director of the Center for Workforce Studies & Social Work Practice, National Association of Social Workers, who has researched workplace bullying. “People see Donald Trump and they see success, but people have to understand that tough and demanding is different than unreasonable and arbitrary.”

Employees want to be mentored by the best and challenged and pushed to excel, she continued, but you don’t want to be confused, disrespected and humiliated at work.

While she acknowledges that some workers can take some abuse and find the good in a dysfunctional worker-manager relationship, others may see their self esteem and confidence suffer as a result. Feeling those things, she added, isn’t worth it for yourself or your career in the end, even if the boss was an expert at her or his profession.

But you may benefit from getting a bit of a tougher skin.

Catherine Mattice, president of Civility Partners, a consulting firm that specializes in eliminating workplace bullying, said employees can learn from a bully boss, but not if they allow themselves to feel persecuted.

“Unfortunately many people will take on a victim mentality and find themselves feeling that they have no options,” she said. “They will not learn from the experience. Those that choose to take the situation on as a challenge will find they are capable of overcoming, and will learn to become more assertive, more positive, and more able to take on the world.”

The key is figuring out whether your boss is just tough, or just a useless big meanie.

Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How to deal with workplace bullies

EG Sebastian, author of Communication Skills Magic, interviews me on the topic of workplace bullying. We discuss why people bully, and how to deal with bullying effectively.

Listen to internet radio with BusinessXSuccess on Blog Talk Radio

How do you know if you are a workplace bully?

EG Sebastian, author of Communication Skills Magic, interviews me on the topic of workplace bullying. We discuss how you know if you are a workplace bully, what you can do about it, and how to address bullying in your workplace.

Listen to internet radio with BusinessXSuccess on Blog Talk Radio

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What we can learn from the suicide at Virginia University: Eight tools you need to fight your workplace bully

The tragic suicide at Virginia University’s esteemed literary journal, Virginia Quarterly Review, has sparked attention in the topic of workplace bullying. Though researchers from around the world have focused on the concept of bullying for the last 25 years, only now is the subject receiving the attention it deserves from the media.

Kevin Morrissey, the man who shot himself just two hours after receiving yet another scathing email from his boss, was not alone in feeling distraught because of his work situation. Though he was diagnosed with depression, detrimental psychological effects are common in all targets of bullying. In fact, up to 77% of individuals who are bullied develop PTSD (Matthiesen & Einarsen, 2004) – the same psychological damage that plagues soldiers returning from war.

Researchers have also found that almost 7% of targets do attempt suicide, and an additional 10% of them contemplate suicide frequently (Brousse, Fontana, Ouchchane, Boisson, et al., 2008; Yildirim & Yildirim, 2007). With 70% of the workforce claiming to be bullied at some point in their life, that’s 21 million people in the United States alone who contemplate suicide each year because of things happening at work.

Not convinced? Check out documentarian Beverly Peterson’s website at She has a whole host of short documentaries about people who have suffered from bullying, and who have in fact committed suicide because they were bullied at work.

I offer these eight tips to battle the bully at work:

1. Label it. Many targets wander through their situation without really understanding what’s happening to them or why they are being treated so badly. Most of us believe that bullying only happens at school age, so when it happens in adulthood it doesn’t seem real. Calling a spade a spade, or labeling the situation, is invaluable in understanding the true reality of the situation.

2. Make the choice to not be a victim. Research indicates that survivors of bullying have a trait that “non-survivors” have: they made the choice to not be victimized, they decided they would overcome, and they took control. You can change your attitude but you can’t change the bully.

3. Be assertive with your body language and your words. When we are bullied or threatened, we tend to shrink down with our bodies by folding our arms in and looking away. This type of response gives the bully the green light to keep bullying. So you must be assertive to protect yourself. That means making steady eye contact, keeping feet firmly planted on the ground, toes pointing forward, hands on hips or down at your sides, leaning forward slightly, and maintaining a steady tome of voice when you speak.

To be assertive with your words means using the following pattern when being verbally attacked by the bully: validate what the bully says and demonstrate that you understand his or her point of view, state that you are dissatisfied with the communication style, and then offer a solution to the problem. Now you can go to HR and claim that you did attempt to solve your differences – something they will respond well to.

4. Enlist support from people who are not co-workers. You will need a support system to get through this; you cannot do this on your own. Remember, many of us assume bullying only happens when we’re children, so it might be helpful to locate some websites and literature on bullying to help your supporters understand that what you are going through is real, and it is really hurtful to you. And, avoid trying to get people on your side at work.

5. Keep a factual journal. It is important that you keep a factual journal that you log each time a bullying incident takes place. Document the date and time, where you were, what was said, what the scenario was, and who saw it happen. Also save any tangible documents you receive from the bully, including any memos, emails, evaluations, and the like. It is important that your journal remain about the facts, and not be focused on your emotions, because you will present this journal to HR (see Tip #7). Of course it can also be healthy to keep a journal about your emotions, but this isn't appropriate to provide to HR.

6. See a doctor. A doctor can help you make your case when speaking to human resources. Describe to your doctor what has been happening and how you feel. Bring in some of the literature on workplace bullying if you need to. The doctor will provide you with a note that proves you are stressed out because of your situation at work. This will come in handy later.

7. Talk to human resources. Understand that bullying at work is a relatively new concept and has only very recently become something that is on the HR radar. That means that they will not necessarily understand if you say, “I am being bullied.” They don’t know what that really even means, and they don’t have a law or a policy to tell them how to handle it (yes, bullying is legal). That means you need to approach HR in a very specific way, and while difficult, these steps will be beneficial:

- Avoid showing your emotions, and stay away from “I feel” statements. You want HR to see the bully as the problem, not you. If you focus on how you feel, then it becomes about you. If you focus on the bully’s behaviors, then it becomes about the bully’s misbehavior and unprofessional conduct.

- Stick to the facts. Present your factual journal and list of witnesses along with any other tangible documents you’ve obtained.

- Provide a solution. All managers appreciate it when their employees approach them with a problem that is backed by a solution. As hard as it will be, put your emotions aside and really think through what you need to make the situation better for you – and present those solutions to HR. Solutions might include a transfer to a new department, communication skills coaching for your team, or a request for an outside consultant to help.

8. Reframe the way you see your job. Society has taught us that we are chained to our jobs and leaving is not an option. In addition, a lot of our identity is tied up in our work because we spend so much time there – it really becomes who we are as a person. But at some point, if you have exhausted all of your options and things are not getting better, then ask yourself what your dignity is worth. Certainly your 9-5 is not worth your health, or your life. Don’t be afraid to find a new job before the situation gets any worse.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

HR Managers: How do you know when a person is being bullied at work?

This question is one that comes up frequently in LinkedIn discussions, blog postings, magazine articles, news casts, and during my presentations to HR professionals. "If an employee talks to me about being bullied, how do I know that what he or she is describing is indeed bullying?"

The answer: If the employee indicates he is being abused or bullied, then he is being abused or bullied.

"But how do I really know that this person is being bullied?" Answer: LISTEN TO THEM, AND LISTEN GOOD.

Attempting to identify bullying specifically is daunting because it is less cut and dry than something like sexual harassment. Ask me on a date in exchange for a promotion, we know that's sexual harassment. Slyly leave me out of emails I need to do my job well, roll your eyes when I talk, and write in my employee evaluation that my performance has dropped, well... is that bullying? Those behaviors don't sound so bad, right?

Identifying bullying is easy when you listen to your employees' narratives - because bullying is about perception. In fact, you might have two employees being treated exactly the same, and while one is a little annoyed, the other feels bullied, depressed, anxious, and miserable. I guarantee that this person tells other people in the organization about the way they feel - and those people will often agree that they've witnessed this abuse, and begin to spend time consoling the target. Now they have stories to tell about bullying too. Now bullying is becoming part of your organizational culture. Now bullying is becoming a way of life at your organization. This is not good.

One could argue that perception, and the narratives that drive it, aren't good enough to prove bullying is really happening. My response to that hoo-ha: Get out of your comfort zone and act on the complaint anyway. The problem is that we are in a very uncertainty-rejecting culture; we have very specific laws, policies, instructions, procedures and documents in our organizations, and we rely on them to tell us what to do. So we are uncomfortable when presented with a situation that doesn't have a roadmap already outlined. Just because there isn't a law or a policy in place to tell you what to do, doesn't mean that person is not bullied, and it doesn't mean you should not act on the complaint.

As an HR professional, it is your responsibility to ensure that employees are able to collaborate, work positively with one another, and feel comfortable talking to each other freely. If an employee tells you that she is bothered by the way she is treated by another person, then there is a problem and it needs to be addressed. Whether you agree that this person is a target of bullying or not is, quite frankly, irrelevant.

Ultimately, the truth of a story lies not in the intricate details that you jot down in your notes as you listen to your employee's grievance, but in the story's underlying meaning. Ask yourself what the story means for performance, and what it means for the organization's culture.

The value of the story lies in your reaction to it. Don't you want to have a workplace where innovation, effective decision-making, and high performance prevails?

If you do need a clear cut answer to the questions: "Is this person being bullied, really? Or are they just being over sensitive?" then call us. Civility Partners has the tools and the knowledge to help you determine the answer, and to help you intervene effectively.

We can help you develop a positive workplace where bullying would not be allowed to thrive. Contact us for a complimentary consultation.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Road to Respect: Path to Profit

Harassment and hostility are not new concepts in the business world, nor are they legal. Businesses are required by law to develop, implement and effectively manage these behaviors, and unfortunately many do so only because the law says they have to - and not because they truly believe in the power of a respectful, positive workplace. The terms workplace bullying, abusive management and toxic bosses are relatively newer concepts in business rhetoric – and because employers are not required to address them - many don’t. What these organizations do not understand is that, aside from being just a plain ol’ sound business decision, a respectful culture in the workplace can reap many benefits. Organizations focused on a respectful culture enjoy better quality work, increased production, happier (and returning) customers, superior ability to meet organizational goals, increased learning and collaboration, better decision-making… the list goes on and on.

Road to Respect, Path to Profit – How to Become an Employer of Choice by Building a Respectful Workplace Culture by Erica Pinsky, provides solid advice for business owners, managers, decision-makers, organizational development and human resource professionals, and anyone else interested in building a respectful workplace.

Many will tell you the answer is a zero tolerance corporate policy, but as Pinsky points out, this is not the answer. Policies are only worth the paper they are printed on (about 3 cents). A respectful workplace culture is a road “paved” over time with trust and support; and Pinsky’s book provides the tools you need to arrive at your destination.

Continue reading the book review at by clicking here.
Purchase the book by visiting here.

A Few Notes on Violent Behavior

This weekend I was working on a training for dealing with bullying students, and was asked that part of the training include information about how to monitor the bully's communication in order to predict if it will turn violent.

I was shocked to find there isn't much "out there" on the internet about the topic of nonverbal communication as a predictor of violence, so thought I'd attempt to rectify that with my own blog post about it.

Violent behavior occurs with the intersection of four factors:

Personality: The individual’s interpersonal functioning, or the way the student views the world, will determine if violence is the outcome of a stressful situation. Violent-prone individuals subscribe to control and blame instead of understanding and taking responsibility. Right and wrong is determined by what they can get away with instead of what makes them feel guilty. Cultural background and past experiences have led to an acceptability of violence.

Stress: Because violent-prone idividuals do not understand their misfortunes or frustrations, and instead passionately blame others, they are struck by an overwhelming sense of desparation and increasing sense of powerlessness. Violence is a way to get back power.

Setting: Effective violence prevention depends on the ability of the setting to recognize warning signs and mediate the effect of stress on individuals. In other words, violence cannot occur unless it is allowed to occur. This training is a step towards adjusting the setting.

Lacking communication skills: Violence is often a result of an inability to express oneself successfully. When a person feels like they cannot get their point across, or they are not being understood, they become frustrated and lash out in order to gain control of the situation.

Predicting Violent Behavior with Nonverbal Cues

60-90% of our communication is nonverbal, and most of the time we pay attention to it subconsciously. While it is impossible to predict with absolute certainty when someone will become violent, you can learn a lot from a person’s body language if you consciously pay close attention.

Nonverbal cues that indicate someone may become violent in the next few minutes include:
• Never ceasing eye contact; staring, never looking away or at another part of your body

• Clenched teeth, narrowing of eyes, and tense lips

• Arms crossed on the chest, closed fists, or arms held back slightly as if they are winding up for a swing. Also, hands held tightly against the chest could indicate defensiveness or holding a weapon.

• A shifting of weight to the back leg like a fighter ready to take a swing

• Inability to sit down, appearing anxious

• Rapid breathing and a loud, raised voice

Violence may also occur when the individual is told “no”, is given orders instead of options, or feels like he or she is not being understood. Knowing this, it is important to construct your own messages as collaborative, positive and opportunistic, rather than negative and limiting.

Preventing Violence at Work

In order to ensure an employee never turns violent, the organization must take steps to keep aggression to a minimum. Everyone should be trained and active in recognizing warning signs, and procedures must be in place to address those signs when discovered. One way to do this is to form a crisis prevention team of organizational leaders who will work with an employee who seems violent-prone. The team may be responsible for mediation, communication skills coaching, or working with the employee to relieve stress somehow. The team could also construct an action plan for building a positive culture, facilitate the construction of effective problem solving at work, introduce training programs to the workplace, and the like.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Earn CEU's at our upcoming workshop "Build & sustain a Healthy Workplace: Understand and Eradicate Bullying at Work"

Build & Sustain a Healthy Workplace: Understand and Eradicate Bullying at Work

Research indicates 70% of the workforce is bullied at some point in their life, and that at any given time, 25% of the workforce is being bullied. Annually, one bully could cost an organization a minimum of $100,000 per year.

The Division of Extended Learning is excited to partner with subject-matter expert Catherine Mattice from Civility Partners, LLC to offer a ground-breaking half-day seminar where participants will gain innovative business management training in the hot new topic of workplace bullying. The seminar will clarify workplace bullying, provide an update on the laws in motion to end it, provide tools for eradicating it from the workplace, and everything you need to sustain a healthy workplace culture.

August 18, 2010
8:30 am - 11:30 am
National University, La Mesa Campus
San Diego, CA

Price: $199

Register by calling: 1-800-NAT-UNIV ext. 8600

Watch our 3 1/2 minute video about workplace bullying here.
Who should attend:
Human resources, workplace learning and performance professionals, business owners, conflict resolution specialists, professional mediators, employee assistance professionals, managers, team leaders, supervisors, coaches, business management consultants, health and wellness specialists, and targets of bullying.

This course has been approved for CEU's from:
•IACET Continuing Education Units
•International Society for Performance Improvement's CPT recertification points
•HR Certification Institute's recertification credit
•Employee Assistance Certification Commission's PDHs
After successful completion participants will gain:
•Comprehensive knowledge in the system of bullying and why it happens at work
•Knowledge in determining the cost of bullying in your organization
•Interpersonal communication and conflict management skills for battling the bully
•Management tools for immediate corrective action and handling grievances
•Techniques for sustainable healthy change and positive employee performance

Takeaways: Template corporate policy, culture assessment and cost of bullying worksheets, and case studies.

Register by calling: 1-800-NAT-UNIV ext. 8600

eBossWatch Launches National Sexual Harassment Registry

Workplace initiative modeled after FBI's National Sex Offender Registry

LAS VEGAS, July 21 /PRNewswire/ -- eBossWatch, the leading career resource that enables people to anonymously rate their current or former bosses, today announced the launch of the first ever National Sexual Harassment Registry.

The National Sexual Harassment Registry is a searchable database of people who have been formally and publicly accused of sexual harassment by their subordinates or coworkers. The Registry is designed to be a resource to help job seekers better evaluate potential employers and to help organizations better evaluate job candidates.

"The eBossWatch National Sexual Harassment Registry sends a strong message to those intending to sexually harass their employees or coworkers that they will be publicly held accountable and will suffer serious consequences for their abusive actions," said Asher Adelman, founder of eBossWatch. "Now anyone will be able to search our national database and will instantly know if their potential boss or job candidate has been the subject of a sexual harassment complaint."

Inspired by the FBI's National Sex Offender Registry, which tracks and provides information about registered sex offenders, the eBossWatch National Sexual Harassment Registry will enable people to conduct searches free of charge to obtain information about people who have been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Caren Goldberg, Ph.D., a management professor at American University whose primary research interests are in sexual harassment, said, "If used judiciously, the Registry has the potential to help organizations minimize the likelihood of hiring a known harasser and to help applicants minimize the likelihood of taking a job at an organization where they wouldn't fit."

The National Sexual Harassment Registry is located at

About eBossWatch
Founded in 2007, eBossWatch is a popular career resource that helps people evaluate potential employers and avoid toxic workplaces. eBossWatch enables people to anonymously rate their bosses in a professional and non-libelous manner. eBossWatch is also the publisher of the America's Worst Bosses list and a news site that highlights and exposes bad bosses.

eBossWatch has been featured or mentioned extensively in the media, including on, Fox News,,, AOL,, New York Post,, Chicago Tribune, Orange County Register, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Toronto Globe.

For more information, go to or email us at

SOURCE eBossWatch

Read the original press release on PR Newswire here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Do bullies really mean it?

That’s a great question and one that came up over and over at the International Association for Workplace Bullying & Harassment conference. Unfortunately we don’t have an answer, but I will weigh in on it here and let you make your own decision.
While there is no research to say either way (and I say that after conferring with the two foremost researchers in the academic “bullying field”), it seems pretty clear that for human resources professionals, intent does matter. Teresa A. Daniel, who seems to be the resident expert on workplace bullying for the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), discusses this in her article and in her book, Stop Bullying at Work (SHRM Press, 2009). She claims the difference between a bully and a tough boss is in fact intent. According to Dr. Daniel, although their behaviors may be similar, bullies misuse power and focus on personal interests while tough bosses are objective and have self-control.

The Healthy Workplace Bill, a Bill that aims to make equal-opportunity bullying illegal, and has been introduced in 17 states but not yet passed in any of them, defines abusive conduct (i.e., bullying) as “conduct, with malice… that a reasonable person would find to be hostile, (and) offensive.” The word “malice” indicates intent. This means that one would have to prove the bully meant to do it in order to obtain legal recourse.

On the flip side, I (and many of my colleagues) have had conversations with bullies who claimed they had no idea that their behavior was so harmful. One in particular said that he knew he was hurting people’s feelings – that much he could tell. But he simply did not have the communication tools to change, and he begged me to help him improve. Is that malicious behavior? I’m thinking no.

Unfortunately, however, one is left to question the reliability of these bullies. How do we really know they are not lying in the face of a consultant, who they know was hired by management? Are they really going to say, “Ha! I did mean to do it and it felt great when I made Sue cry!” Probably not.

This leaves us back at square one. Do bullies really mean it?

Although I am unable to provide a real answer to this question, I will say this. Whether bullies mean to do it or not, their behavior is harmful to targets, witnesses, and the organization. While I believe some bullies do mean it and some do not, I ultimately don’t believe the issue of intent really matters at all. If an organization has rules and a culture in place to enforce a positive and collaborative work environment, bullies will have no choice but to change their behavior. End of story. If they don’t, they will be pushed out of the organization due to inability to meet performance goals. And this is the case whether they intend to bully or not.

We can help you develop a positive workplace where bullying would not be allowed to thrive. Contact us for a complimentary consultation at catherine (at) civilitypartners (dot) com.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Little About Gender and Workplace Bullying

At the International Association for Workplace Bullying & Harassment I had the honor of hearing Denise Salin, one of the foremost researchers of workplace bullying, speak on the topic of gender as it relates to bullying at work. So here’s a few tidbits, as told to me, and 250 other attendees, by Denise Salin.

• Women are more likely to self-label as a target of bullying than men

• Women are more likely to label their past experiences as bullying when discussing them with others

• Women more often define bullying as emotional abuse and professional discrediting

• Men more often define bullying as manipulation of work

• Men emphasize victim characteristics more than women

• Women are more likely to conceptualize bullying as an organizational problem, with organizational antecedents and consequences

• Both men and women experience negative health as a result of being bullied, although the effects seem to be more poignant for women

• Women are more likely to seek social support and avoid the bully, while men are more assertive

• Male HR managers are more likely to refrain from taking action

• Gender of the target, perpetrator and witness all effect whether the witness labels what they observe as bullying (I didn’t catch exactly which gender labels what)

• Witnesses do not think men suffer health consequences

• Targets who exhibit gender-incongruent behavior are more likely to be bullied

• Research does not yet show whether gender matters in terms of job satisfaction, commitment, intention to stay, absenteeism, etc, as they relate to workplace bullying

• Gender is relevant for experience of bullying and for intervention purposes

The Role of Bystanders in Workplace Bullying

Bystanders play an important role in the process of workplace bullying because they have the power to help end it by standing up to the bully or reporting it to management. Sadly, often this does not happen and bullying is allowed to persist, many times for as long as five years (although targets usually quit after about two).

In addition, research definitely supports the fact that bystanders are troubled by the bullying they witness at work, and that their job satisfaction, loyalty to the company, production, and work quality all decline while their anxiety and fear increase. (Just one more reason managers should be focused on building a positive workplace, as if they didn’t already have enough.)

After returning from making my own presentations at the International Association for Workplace Bullying & Harassment, I thought I’d provide some insight into some of the things I learned there about bystanders.

Becky Byrn-Schmid presented her research on motivational factors for intervening or not intervening, and found the top reason people intervene is affiliation. She surmises that “administrators believe developing and maintaining cooperative teams is important enough to intervene”. Bystanders might also intervene because they believe it is their role and important to getting the job done. On the other hand, bystanders might not intervene because they see no evidence that bullying is occurring, have no support from management to assist in ending the bullying, do not have enough confidence in themselves to intervene, or are concerned it will create more conflict.

The winners of best paper, Sabrina Salamon and Sally Maitlis, delivered a presentation from research conducted by observing the lifespan of a group of undergraduates who met every week over the course of two school semesters. For eight months, they watched the class interact from behind a one-way mirror, and observed a gradual process of victimization that was institutionalized by the group and ultimately turned into what we would normally classify as “mobbing”. Mobbing is defined as a group of people targeting one person, such as in the case of Phoebe Prince; different than workplace bullying where one person is targeting one or more people. In either case, the mob or bully seek to ultimately eliminate the target from the group through employment termination or forcing him or her to quit. The researchers here, however, noticed that in this case the target became a scapegoat for the group – and therefore they did not want him to leave. When things went wrong, they had someone to blame.

One of the main causes of the aggression in this case was a lack of structure in the course, in that the course had no syllabus, no assignments, and no tests; students were left to create their own course and thus learn about group dynamics by ultimately reflecting on the dynamics of this group. The conclusion that lack of structure may have caused the aggression to occur further supports what researchers have already concluded: ambiguity is often correlated with aggression at work. Here, the scapegoat recommended that the class develop structure for themselves and ultimately was attacked for it, despite his classmate’s recognition that this was indeed a good idea.

The researchers also noticed that scapegoating brought the rest of the group together. Despite all the ambiguity, coming together to pick on one person provided a steady commonality to cling to.

Based on her research on bystanders, Maryam Omari and colleague offered insight into how to help bystanders come to a point where they might intervene and save not only the target but their own sanity and the workplace. They recommend that bystander education have three objectives: describing how to recognize bullying behaviors, enlightening bystanders that silence essentially legitimizes the bullying, and providing information on the role bystanders play and how to help stand up to bullies while protecting themselves.

Ultimately, I always advocate for training for everyone in the organization, along with many other action items that would allow a healthy workplace to flourish. Training should never be solely about workplace bullying and how to stop it – it should always involve information about recognizing, demonstrating and rewarding positive behaviors. A focus on the problem will only serve as a band-aid. Managers must focus on the well-being of the entire organization in order for any proposed solutions to actually work.

Friday, June 25, 2010

How to Manage an Office Bully - from INC Magazine Online

By Raven Hill

The news that former eBay CEO Meg Whitman settled a lawsuit with an employee whom she allegedly shoved has shined a spotlight on office bullying. Here's what you need to know if you have a bully in your workplace

Although bullying in schools has received glaring media coverage with laws enacted to address the problem, workplace bullying has not received as much attention or legal redress. Until, that is, the New York Times and other media outlets reported that California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman had settled a lawsuit for "around $200,000" with an employee who alleged that Whitman had shoved her.

(“Yes, we had an unfortunate incident, but we resolved it in a way that speaks well for her and for eBay,” the employee told the Times.)

The revelation raised the issue of workplace bullying on the national stage, perhaps for the very first time. The reasons behind office bullying are varied, experts say. Many people tend to look at bullying as a "playground problem" – bad behavior, but not harmful. And in most cases, bullying is not illegal, which leaves managers with little recourse. But it is real, experts insist, and deserves serious attention.

Bullying is repeated mistreatment – verbal abuse; threatening, humiliating or intimidating behavior or conduct; or sabotage – that prevents work from getting done and jeopardizes the target's health, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington. It can be a form of racial or gender discrimination although not necessarily. The bully may be a supervisor, peer colleague or lower-level staffer.

According to a Workplace Bullying Institute study, 72 percent of bullies are bosses and 49 percent of employees report being affected by bullying at work. This guide will help you to rein in an office bully to boost morale and avoid getting caught in a bully's bull's eye.

How to Manage an Office Bully: Are You a Bully?

Denise Dawson, who runs the blog, describes her first boss as "the worst bully," a cursing and screaming type who preferred to rule by fear. "We felt like prisoners more than employees," she says. "Morale was awful. Attrition was atrocious."

Continue reading the article here.

A Strong Ethical Culture Is Key to Cutting Misconduct on the Job

ERC study shows that employees take cues from top management, pressure from peers to do the right thing

Organizations with strong ethical values – from top executives to middle managers to workers – experience less misconduct, more frequent reporting of misbehavior and less retaliation on the job, a newly released study by the Ethics Resource Center shows.

The study – “The Importance of Ethical Culture: Increasing Trust and Driving Down Risks” – indicates that strong ethical culture in a company has a “profound” impact on the kinds of workplace behavior that can put a business in jeopardy.

According to the study, organizations with stronger cultures find far fewer employees (4 percent) feel pressure to commit misconduct than in weaker cultures (15 percent). Likewise, the rate at which employees observe misconduct by co-workers is nearly twice as high in weaker cultures (76 percent) as in stronger cultures (39 percent).

The report also finds that actions by top managers (and the way they are perceived) have a significant impact on outcomes and that co-worker culture – peer pressure – is particularly powerful in cutting the amount of financial misconduct witnessed by employees.

“The work of the ERC is exemplary,” said Roy Snell, CEO of the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) and the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA), which sponsored the study. “They have many years of experience and tremendous data. The ethical culture is one of the most reliable measurements of compliance and ethics program effectiveness, particularly when you have such a broad set of comparison data.” This information should help many compliance and ethics officers in their effort to build awareness and understanding of their leadership.”

“The Importance of Ethical Culture” is based on results from ERC’s 2009 National Business Ethics Survey of 2,852 respondents. The survey findings had a sampling error of +/- 1.8 at the 95 percent confidence level. For more information on methodology, go to The NBES survey is conducted every two years and is widely used by chief ethics and compliance officers in business and government and by academicians.

“The NBES data consistently tell us that a strong ethical culture offers the best protection against risky workplace behavior, which can easily land a company on the front page in a very damaging way,” said Patricia J. Harned, Ph.D., president of the Ethics Resource Center. “Rules and a code of conduct are always necessary, but it’s good leadership and peer pressure to do the right thing that often saves the day.”

To view the study, go to

Read the original posting here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Workplace bullying contributes to medical malpractice

Here's a really great article on workplace bullying and medical malpractice. The most important paragraph in the article is this one:

According to the Joint Commission (JACHO), an organization which accredits hospitals throughout the U.S., of roughly 5,000 sentinel events (events which resulted in patient deaths or severe injury as a result of malpractice) 70 percent were caused by poor communication between staff members and a leading cause of poor communication is workplace bullying. In an ISMP Survey 49 percent of health care professionals said that intimidation had altered the way they handled order clarification or questions about medication orders.

Thanks Kristin for talking about this very important issue!

Click here to read the article.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cartoon Network plans major anti-bullying campaign

NEW YORK (AP) - Next fall, when millions of kids tune into Cartoon Network to watch Bugs Bunny, Scooby-Doo and other favorites, they'll encounter something new - an ambitious campaign to enlist them as foot soldiers in the fight against bullying.

Unlike many bullying programs, this one is geared toward middle school, where experts say bullying is most common. It also targets not bullies nor the bullied, but kids who witness bullying, giving them appropriate techniques to intervene.

"There are specific strategies young people can learn to make a difference in their schools and communities," said Alice Cahn, Cartoon Network's vice president of social responsibility. "We decided to focus on those who watch bullying happen - the bystander community - who know they should do something, but are not sure what."

The anti-bullying campaign includes content in the cartoons themselves, in public service ads, in an online curriculum and on CNN, which will include complementary programming for parents.

Read the rest of this article by David Crary of Associated Press here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Senate Passes Landmark Legislation to Halt Bullying and Abuse in the Workplace

New York State Senator Thomas P. Morahan, Chairman of the Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities today secured Senate passage of his landmark legislation (S.1823-B) which establishes a civil cause of action for employees who are subjected to an abusive work environment.

Specifically, this legislation provides legal redress for employees who have been harmed psychologically, physically or economically by being deliberately subjected to abusive work environments; and it provides legal incentives for employers to prevent and respond to mistreatment of employees at work.

Surveys and studies demonstrate that 16 to 21 percent of employees experience health-endangering workplace bullying, abuse and harassment, and that this behavior is 4 times more prevalent then sexual harassment. These studies have also documented the serious effects on these targeted employees. They include: shame, humiliation, stress, loss of sleep, severe anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, reduced immunity to infection, gastrointestinal disorders, hypertension and pathophysiologic changes that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“The social and economic well-being of the State is dependent upon healthy, safe, and productive employees,” said Senator Morahan. “I want to thank all my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, who voted for this legislation today. In particular, Senator George Onorato, Chairman of the Labor Committee, Republican Leader Dean Skelos, Majority Conference Leader John Sampson and Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Klein for helping secure passage of the legislation”.

“I became aware of the prevalence of abusive environments in the workplace when one of my constituents brought her situation at her place of employment to my attention. It became apparent that legislation was needed to address the problem,” said Morahan.

“Workplace bullying, abuse and harassment bring with them a variety of very serious human and economic costs,” said Senator George Onorato, Chairman of the Labor Committee and co-prime sponsor of the legislation. “Abusive behavior can cause grievous harm to employees who are the victims of it, leading to all manner of health problems and, often, forcing them to leave their jobs to escape it. In addition, it costs employers in terms of lost employee productivity, and other workplace problems. By taking aim at abusive work environments, this legislation will protect employees from inappropriate behavior and help our businesses to become more productive and successful.”

“Mistreatment of employees in the workplace is a serious issue, but too often, workers have no recourse when they are subject to an abusive work environment,” said Senate Republican Leader Dean G. Skelos. “Senator Morahan’s legislation will help employees who have been harmed, physically, mentally or financially, and will encourage employers to do more to prevent and respond to this problem.”

“We are truly appreciative of Senator Morahan’s efforts which have culminated in the passage of vital legislation today in the New York State Senate,” said New York Healthy Workplace Advocate State Coordinators Mike Schlicht and Tom Witt.

“On behalf of the workforce of our State, I call on my Legislative colleagues in the Assembly to pass this bill in their house,” said Senator Morahan.

Read the original post by Senator Morahan here.

New York is fighting the good fight against workplace bullying

Yesterday New York's senate passed S1823B. If enacted, victims of abusive work environments may have relief via legal action. Though we are not in the clear yet - NY Assembly must first pass A5414B and the Governor must sign it off, which is no easy feat.

According to documentarian and blogger Beverly Peterson, "This time last year, Paterson vetoed a bill with a much less immediate impact and an intention to explore the best way to legislate hostile work environments. Had he put his pen on the dotted line the study results would be in place right about now to help guide lawmakers toward a legal solution."

Mike Schlicht, State Coordinator (Upstate) for the New York Healthy Workplace Advocates, had this to say:

"History was made today in New York State with the passage of Bill S1823B “The Healthy Workplace Bill” that allows employees and employers to address the issue of workplace bullying. Sixty-two courageous state Senators have spoken that workplace bullying will no longer be tolerated in the workplace and employees who bully others will not be able to hide behind their employer and make them responsible for their own actions as is with protected status harassment. Likewise, employers who do not address this form of workplace violence will have to do so and while not all of them with be pleased with the legislation, proactive employers will now have a tool to rid themselves of bullies who undermine the bottom line, increase health care premiums, increase turnover and create workers comp and disability issues. On behalf of all employees, present and former who have experienced this form of workplace violence, I sincerely thank the courageous Senators of New York State for passing this legislation."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Harassment Protection Orders may assist targets of workplace bullying in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has taken one small step towards government ordered civil workplaces. They have passed a law that will assist folks being harassed at work, and it went into effect yesterday.

Previously, restraining orders against stalkers, abusers and those committing sexual assault were reserved for family members, roommates, spouses, or substantial dating relationships. The new law has made the ability to file a Harassment Protection Order (HPO) against anyone, regardless of relationship, available. That means one could potentially file an order against a co-worker or boss for bullying.

I'm no attorney though, so here is some useful information from attorney Phil A. Taylor, offered on his blog:
If one is being harassed, which is defined as “(i) 3 or more acts of willful and malicious conduct aimed at a specific person committed with the intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property and that does in fact cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property; or (ii) an act that: (A) by force, threat or duress causes another to involuntarily engage in sexual relations; or (B) constitutes a violation of section 13B, 13F, 13H, 22, 22A, 23, 24, 24B, 26C, 43 or 43A of chapter 265 or section 3 of chapter 272″, one can now apply to the court for a harassment prevention, regardless of the presence of any family relationship.
A defendant in an action under Chapter 258E can be ordered to: “(i) refrain from abusing or harassing the plaintiff, whether the defendant is an adult or minor; (ii) refrain from contacting the plaintiff, unless authorized by the court, whether the defendant is an adult or minor; (iii) remain away from the plaintiff’s household or workplace, whether the defendant is an adult or minor; and (iv) pay the plaintiff monetary compensation for the losses suffered as a direct result of the harassment; provided, however, that compensatory damages shall include, but shall not be limited to, loss of earnings, out-of-pocket losses for injuries sustained or property damaged, cost of replacement of locks, medical expenses, cost for obtaining an unlisted phone number and reasonable attorney’s fees.”

More information on HPO's can also be found on attorney Denise Murphy's blog, at Women's, and on attorney Ernest H. Hyde's blog. The law's verbiage can be found here, on Massachussets' government website.
What are the implications for employers in Massachusetts?
You're going to see a lot of advice online that includes implementing guidelines and training to be sure your workplace remains HPO-free. While these are useful tools, if you are working in the type of organization where HPO's are possible, you've got more problems than training and policies can correct.
Take preventative measures. That means leadership will need to step up to the plate and be sure they are exhibiting exemplary behavior for others to follow suit. Develop an action plan for building a positive workplace culture - it should include performance management programs, building effective internal communication, mentoring programs, and a team of champions that will carry the action plan through, for example.

How much does workplace bullying really cost an organization?

The cost of bullying will vary at every organization, so before going into how you can determine those costs specifically, here are some general estimates about bullying and stress in the workplace:

 • Leymann, the researcher who brought bullying into scholarly research, estimated a bully can cost a single business up to $100,000 per year per target.
• A survey of 9,000 employees cited by Dr. Michael H. Harrison of Harrison Psychological Associates in the Orlando Business Journal estimated a cost of more than $180 million in lost time and productivity.
• The Corporate Levers Survey estimated the cost of unfairness to American businesses during the past five years to be $63,738,884,783.
• The American Psychological Association estimates job stress costs American businesses $300 billion a year in absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and medical and legal costs.
• The American Psychological Association also estimates that 50% to 70% of visits to primary care physicians are for physical issues stemming from psychological factors such as stress.

These costs can be broken into five separate categories:

Distraction from Tasks
The bully wreaks havoc on the organization, and as a result everyone, not just the target, are distracted from getting work done. Some of the things that keep them from working are:

• Reduced psychological safety and increased climate of fear
• Loss of motivation and energy
• Stress induced psychological and physical illness
• Decreased loyalty to the organization
• Management burnout, leading to decreased commitment and increased stress
• Time spent looking for different work
• Time spent gossiping about the bully and his or her behavior
• Time spent by others consoling the target

Time Lost
Of course any time you have to deal with employee issues it costs time and money to engage in the following types of activities:
• Employees and management calming and counseling victims
• Management appeasing, counseling or disciplining bullies
• Soothing victimized customers, suppliers and other key outsiders
• Reorganizing departments and teams
• Interviewing, recruiting, and training replacements for departed victims, witnesses and bullies who leave the organization

Tangible Costs
Tangible costs include:
• Lost customers who were victimized by the bully
• Lost customers who heard about the bully from unhappy former customers
• Anger management, communication, leadership and other types of training
• Absenteeism and turnover
• Unemployment insurance
• Increased health insurance costs
• Workers compensation

With regard to absenteeism and turnover, 30% of targets quit, and another 20% of witnesses, or people who do not believe they are bullied but are bothered by the behavior they observe nonetheless, follow them (Rayner, 1997). An additional 46% of targets also consider leaving the organization on a regular basis (Vartia, 1996). Targets also report that each year, they take seven days more sick leave than someone not being bullied. You already know absenteeism and presenteeism is costly, and in fact can cost between 25 and 65% of that particular position’s annual salary. Ouch.

One cost that is intangible is a bad reputation, something the Internet makes easy for you to acquire. Websites like eBossWatch, where employees can go to report and publish their horrible experiences for anyone to read, should keep you focused on building a positive workplace. The Corporate Leavers Survey also indicated that 50% of respondents said the unfairness with which they were treated led them to discourage others from purchasing products or services from previous employers.

Legal Costs
Of course, if somebody sues for harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, hostility, or wrongful termination, it is going to cost you in obtaining counsel, and in settlement fees and successful litigation by victims and bullies.

Communication Breakdown
This category is hard to monetize, but think about this: If you do not like someone, do you go running to them for answers to questions? Probably not. Now, what if you are intimidated by someone? The likelihood of you seeking them out for information goes down exponentially. If you are not asking the questions you need answers to in order to do your job effectively, then there is a problem.

Your organization has goals in place, whether to make a certain amount of money, expand your customer base by 50%, or create a new product by the end of the year. It has goals, and it needs employees to communicate with each other to meet them.

The objective of internal communication, then, is to problem solve, innovate, give constructive feedback to employees, gain insight from customers, train and share knowledge, and meet customer needs. All of these communication activities lead to meeting organizational goals.

Since communication is imperative to meeting goals, it necessarily follows that strong interpersonal relationships are also crucial to meeting goals. In other words, communicating well is about building relationships –healthy interpersonal relationships made up of understanding, empathy, conflict management, listening, leadership, and social intelligence allow you to meet organizational goals.

When relationships are on fire, however, or not working properly, organizational goals also go down in flames and up in smoke. This would be like forcing your organizational goal to jump through a ring of fire; and why would you do that?

In sum, bullying causes everyone, not just the targets of the behavior, to lose motivation, lose loyalty to managers and the company, stop caring about quality of work, live life in fear, become anxious and even depressed, and stop coming to work. As a result your business processes will suffer and your bottom line will too.

Relationships among employees are the key to your success. Without them, people are not talking to each other, being innovative, making the right decisions, or focused on the right activities to maximize their productivity.

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