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Sunday, 31 July 2016

11 clear indicators bullying is in your workplace, by Dr Flis: Work Safety

11 clear signs of workplace bullying plus 6 response strategies for HR & supervisors, by Dr Flis


HR managers, supervisors and employers are often unable to effectively respond to workplace bullying because of a lack of training, and lack of confidence in workplace policies and practices.

According to ACAS.org.uk, existing training for HR managers, supervisors and employers on how to effectively deal with, mitigate, prevent and intervene on workplace bullying matters is often intermittent and reliant on personal courage and the ability to negotiate often complex under-performance processes.

This lack of training and know-how is resulting in Australian employers forking out between $6 - $36 billion dollars in direct and associated costs of offline (and probably online) workplace bullying. The Workplace Bullying Institute in the US reports an estimated 40% of employees leave directly due to workplace bullying. Obsolete workplace intervention and prevention measures have a tendency to bully the target, so organisations. Organisational research has found bosses, supervisors, managers, employers and HR report are often afraid to confront workplace bullies, struggle with long-winded organisational processes, or regard the situation as a personal, rather than a work, matter.

This article provides best practices for supervisors and HR on how to respond to allegations of workplace bullying, and all employees with 11 signs that workplace bullying is manifesting in your organisation or team/group.

6 best practices to use when responding reports of workplace bullying


1. HR and supervisors need to stay tuned into what’s going on with your team and be aware of the signs of bullying.

2. If you’re new to your role, seek a wise mentor and attend as many courses as you can regarding leadership, management, bullying and harassment.

3. If you’re contacted by someone with an allegation indicative of workplace bullying, avoid the urge to minimise the situation with the employee, as ignoring a person’s concerns basically indicates you don’t value their perspective or believe them. Try to avoid saying, ‘Work it out between yourselves.’ The last thing you want to do is victimise the target.

4. Acknowledge the problem and listen to both sides of the story. Provide both parties the ability to use you as a sounding board and an arbitrator of natural justice. It’s possible someone may be lying so you need to give the situation time to consider and review.

5. Consult the organisation’s workplace behaviour policy to educate yourself on investigation and termination procedures. 

6.If you’re dealing with a long-term bully you may need to play hard ball. Use good recruitment processes to screen workplace bullies to avoid bringing in new bullies.

An article by Dianne Peters can provide more detail and can be found here.

11 critical signs workplace bullying is in YOUR organisation. More details can be found here


1. Deceit and withholding information. Repeatedly lying, prevaricating and consciously not telling the truth. This tactic includes intentionally withholding information from someone or giving them the wrong information.

Interestingly, this strategy requires a very good memory so, once employees catch on, they can easily catch out the deceitful bully by making copious notes, using witnesses, email follow-ups and official voice recordings. 

Tactics include concealing the truth from others for the purposes of deception, obfuscate and create false hopes with follow through.

2. Intimidation and mood swings. Overt or covert (veiled) threats around salary, bonuses, staff allocation, budget, allocation of programs etc. and creating a work environment where employees feel that they’re walking on egg shells due to the frequently and unexplained changing moods and emotions. Behaviours include over or covert intimidation through a combination of communication and physical behaviour.

 Once the employee(s) cotton on to this behaviour, all meetings should include a witness and be followed up with an email outlying the decisions made. 

For more strategies in dealing with this tactic, read my article ‘ 6 risk management strategies to interrupt negative workplace behaviour.’

3. Ignoring or ‘cold shouldering’. Consciously ignoring, avoiding, or cold shouldering (socially excluding) an individual or group from another individual or group. 

This behaviour can change from day to day, and those employees who are ignored one day may be the bully’s best mate the following day. It’s best to ignore this behaviour as infantile.Activities can include “forgetting” to invite someone to a meeting or walking into a room and being where everyone else except you is greeted. Intentionally excluding someone or making them feel socially, even physically, isolated or separate from a group. 

Excluding someone from decisions, conversations, and work-related events that may directly impact them.

4. Rationalisation and projection of blame. Excusing or defending behaviour or making excuses for acting in a particular manner because it suits that person to do so. This strategy also shifts blame to others so the bully is not taking responsibility for their decisions.Curiously, employees to become aware of this behaviour quickly realise the bully is  excusing their own conduct and castigating similar conduct exhibited by others. It doesn’t make any sense, however this sort of behaviour can act as a sign of workplace bullying behaviour.

5. Minimisation. Minimising, discounting, or failing to address someone’s legitimate concerns or feelings. The bully will ascribe the minimising by downplaying the target’s concerns, refuse to remember their behaviour, or ignore the complaint by saying the target can’t ‘take a joke’. 

Often, the bully will point to organisational policy or guidelines that support their behaviour. Alternatively, they may state that organisational policy is obsolete for ‘this particular instance.’ 

For strategies for dealing with this type of tactic, read my article ‘5 steps to take back control during workplace confrontations.’

6. Diversion. Often used in conjunction with intimidation, rationalisation and minimisation and seduction.  

Behaviours include dodging issues that are important to the target, acting oblivious or playing dumb, blaming their memory to re-write history, or using excessive flattery and compliments to get people to trust them, lower their defences, and be more responsive to manipulative behaviour.

Tactics used include changing the subject to distract away from the issue, cancelling meetings, amending the amount of time in meetings so that the target has no capacity to defend themselves, and avoiding people by attending courses, travel etc. 

Once employees become aware of this tactic, they must support each other to stay on message during meetings, use meeting notes, personal notes, witnesses, meeting agendas and official voice recordings to re-focus the conversation. Prior to meeting the bully, review the organisational policy or guidelines that stipulate that this behaviour, decision is unacceptable.

7. Shame, guilt and criticism. The bully will state or indicate that the issue is the target’s problem and accuse the employee(s) of being a ‘princess.’ This may include constantly criticising their work or behaviour, usually for unwarranted, unexplained or purely specious reasons. Tactics include shaming the employee for over achieving, being a ‘girly swat’ or making them feel inadequate and unworthy and somehow weird. For strategies for dealing with this type of tactic, read my article ‘5 steps to take back control during workplace confrontations.’

8. Undermining work through the removal of responsibilities and constant change. Deliberately delaying and blocking an employee’s work, progress on a project or assignment, or success is often used in conjunction with the re-allocation or removal of responsibilities and constantly changing expectations, guidelines, and scope of assignments.

These tactics are used to undermine the employee’s power and influence, mainly because the employee is somehow perceived as a threat to the bully. This tactic makes employees feel underused and dis-respected. 

The bully generally provided back-handed compliments and support, and often rewards good behaviour with unfavourable duties and responsibilities. This behaviour is a weird, convoluted complement because if this is or has happened to you, then you’re a well liked, over achiever – I recommend you leave and find a position that wants (and needs) someone with your skills and experience. Tactics can include publicly questioning and undermining the employee’s decisions. This may include changing their role, responsibilities, program or project oversight, staff allocation, budget. 

Generally, anything that causes a reallocation or replacement of vital aspects of the employee’s job. This tactic is often conducted without cause or discussion, and tends to come ‘out of the blue.’ An employee may suddenly be ordered to retract decisions that were agreed in previous meetings, and which the bully now claims to not recall. 

Other behaviours include repeated offerings of friendship that is consistently betrayed, promising projects that are offered to others.This type of tactic is soul destroying, because highly motivate employees can’t get any traction and make headway. Strategies to help can be read in my article ‘6 tactics to staying sane in toxic workplaces.’

9. Pitting employees against each other. This is a great tactic for insecure bullies who rule by dividing and conquering. Another favourite is to create so much churn, change and pain that highly motivated and performing employees find they’re unable to deliver outcomes and leave. 

This leaves the bully with the ability to recruit people who don’t know anything about the organisation and are easily manipulated.Tactics used include deliberately vying other employees against one another to drive competition, create conflict, or establish winners and losers; encouraging employees to turn against one another. 

Usually, this tactic is used to undermine high performing employees or individuals who are highly respected and are a threat to the bully. While this tactic is an inverted complement, it’s very hard to diffuse and manage.  I recommend reading my free eBook ’20 killer tactics to staying sane in toxic workplaces.’ – just log onto my blog front page here.

10. Setting impossible or changing work expectations. Setting nearly impossible expectations and work guidelines or changing those expectations to set up employees to fail is one of the most common strategies of workplace bullies. 

These goals are not ‘stretch’ goals, but have been created, and then amended, to overwhelm and undermine an employee’s self confidence. It also means a bully boss can sack employees who are consistently viewed as under-performing. If this is happening to you, immediately report the matter to HR (they may be unable to do anything, but the report will be logged). 

If this is a common workplace behaviour, HR may be able to help by organisation a staff survey to check the health of the workplace, and check the statistics around unexplained absenteeism, sick leave etc. to find out if this workplace is experiencing a problem.

11. Taking credit. This one is an oldie. Taking or stealing credit for other people’s ideas and contributions without acknowledging them. Interestingly, once employees cotton onto this they either leave or don’t bother working so hard to deliver results. 

In this day and age there are so many ways in which a message can be delivered that bullies who attempt to take credit more than once can find themselves of receiving some blunt responses. One way to manage this risk is for staff to strategically omit key details in the presentation or documentation which can't be explained without your input - this makes it obvious who has worked on the project etc. 

Some other tips can be found at this article titled, ‘When your boss takes credit for your work its game theory.”

Dr Flis has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and works with individuals and organisations as a consultant, speaker and trainer. She uses her social science expertise to enhance interactions between organisations and the people who lead and work in them by fostering new insights for diagnosing organisational problems, and build new capabilities and culture.
Contact Dr Flis at DrFlisLawrence@gmail.com, LinkedIn  or follow Flis on her blog Twitter or Facebook.












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