Bullying is rife

January 23, 2015

stop bullyingHistorically, many reports have highlighted the existence of bullying in the NHS, the Care Quality Commission and in business generally.

There are reams of web pages devoted to helping ‘victims’ – although victims can be perpetrators themselves. But what if we are the perpetrator?

Am I a bully?

It is curious that when managers or employers are accused of ‘being a bully’. They are invariably genuinely surprised, even hurt. Indeed, I believe that no-one is a ‘bully’ but that there is only bullying behaviour, some aspects of which we are all capable of. However, not all behaviour, of which “bullies” may be accused, is, in reality, bullying. The key point is whether, in asserting your rights over an employee, you are treating them with respect.

But if, you work 50+ hours per week, rarely get a holiday and suffer fluctuating income, it is unsurprising if some of your behaviour towards employees falls short of perfection.

Even if that is not you, it may still be valuable for you (and me) to periodically examine our behaviours at work to see if any of the behaviours we are using could be construed as bullying. If so, we may want to moderate or avoid them.

We will look at moderating behaviour in a moment but, first, perhaps we should look at the effects of bullying.

Does it matter?

It might not. Your team may get by. People are often more resilient than we give them credit for being.

But some people will leave if they feel bullied. These could be your top performers. Individuals who can perform better elsewhere will do their best to leave your employment before their confidence is damaged.

Sometimes people, perhaps your key people, will become ill. That could be short-term or long term. If your own stress is a driver for any bullying behaviour on your part then things can only get worse.

You certainly won’t get top performance. Other than where robots can be used, human brains are the principal resource for performance in an organisation. If they are bruised, stifled, or even just underused, then your organisation will always perform below its real capability.

Your organisation could become dysfunctional. This is where care sector organisations in particular are at risk, and I have seen it happen. Other parties then get involved, usually with devastating consequences.

You could face a claim for damages, caused by stress, in court. While these claims are rare, when successful the costs to the employer are frequently in six figures. In reality this risk may be the least of your worries – but you never know!

What could we be doing that might be seen as bullying?

Continual criticism of employees – we may not even realise we are doing it, feel it is justified or that it is within bounds. Employees could see it differently and as a lack of respect for them as individuals.

Micromanaging employees – making sure they do everything in the way in which we would do it ourselves. If we are not used to delegating, feel insecure, or if we take our managerial responsibilities too seriously we can easily be guilty here. Good management is about respecting individuals for the skills for which we recruited them.

Keeping information to yourself and sharing it only on a need to know basis – this is one of the ways in which politics works in large organisations, on the basis that knowledge is power. Keeping back information, which those who report to you need to know in order to do their job well, is not respecting them as individuals. But it does take self-confidence to share information with employees and there may be times when it is appropriate to withhold it.

Having individuals report to more than one person so they can never be sure whom they are trying to satisfy – in my view this is a form of bullying, though not everyone will agree. It is the basis of the largely discredited matrix structure for organisations The problem is that if it all falls asunder then everyone can blame everyone else and you, as the boss, can blame whomever you choose!

Marginalising high-achievers – this can happen because we feel insecure. It is more a risk for managers than for owners, the fear is that if an employee outshines you then your job, or career, is at risk. We set such people time-intensive peripheral tasks in order to be sure they can’t out perform us at what matters.

Domination techniques can be used to subordinate others – large offices, with a desk to which employees have to walk, insisting employees sit while you remain standing, asking them to leave while you take a telephone call etc.

We could be being rude to employees – perhaps without realising it (or if so only at a subconscious level), we can all make the occasional faux pas but, if it is routine, then it is bullying behaviour.

Do you want to moderate or avoid these behaviours?

If not, then this is as much of the article as you need to read! But if you dare contemplate change, read on for a few suggestions.

It can be helpful to see employees as individuals. We need to work hard to make criticism constructive in all cases. The very word ‘subordinate’ can be a barrier to seeing people as individuals.

Should you be the source of undesired behaviours, then many of them could be habits. To really change we need to examine ourselves, even our own security. There are many books that can help us to do this. I’d suggest looking for books with managing your mind, or your mood, in the title. There is also a variety of self-help books, if buying one doesn’t feel too self-depreciating.

You might want to consider the many management books – the One Minute Manager is particularly helpful.

Management training can be invaluable too. Look for training that is aimed at the level of the position you hold so that you are sharing it with other managers or business owners and can learn from each other. Alternatively, seek a mentor who has ‘been there, done that’ (successfully of course). Government schemes are helping to make this kind of training available to owners and managers to an extent there has not been in the past.

Conduct an employee attitude survey. As well as helping you to identify whether you have matters you should address, it can provide a wealth of invaluable information to assist in improving the performance, and the wealth itself, of your organisation.

Develop a no-blame culture, otherwise know as a problem-solving culture. Instead of seeking to discover whose actions it was that caused a disaster, seek to find out what it was in the system that allowed that disaster to happen; it could be authority levels, training, physical systems, confusion over responsibility etc. Steps can then be taken to avoid it happening again, even if it was due to human error. Culture change is not easy but QCS and Employer Solutions can assist.

A happier, and hence more productive and caring workforce?

That’s the aim!!

Malcolm Martin of Employer Solutions – QCS HR Expert contributor.



February 19, 2024
QCS 12 audit series: Understand why each audit is important and learn how to share your audit actions with the team – Resource 12: Health and Safety
Read more
February 5, 2024
QCS 12 audit series: Understand why each audit is important and learn how to share your audit actions with the team – Resource 11: Observation
Read more
January 22, 2024
QCS 12 audit series: Understand why each audit is important and learn how to share your audit actions with the team – Resource 10: Medication
Read more