“B” is for Bully

I’m sure we all remember a time when a grade-school bully made the life of one poor kid a regular nightmare. Usually a boy, often with his gang of thugs, targeted a smaller, more awkward child, whose frail and helpless demeanour made him easy prey ­for the bully to intimidate, humiliate, degrade and generally torment, any time, for any reason.

This scenario, of bullying amongst children, is one we are familiar with unfortunately.

However, did you know that workplace bullying is a widespread global phenomenon? While I am familiar enough with discrimination and harassment in the workplace, I wasn’t aware that workplace bullying was a serious global problem as well. Why? Because we think of bullying in terms of the example above; as an issue that only affects children. We typically have a hard time imagining one adult having that kind of power over another adult, in a workplace situation. Furthermore, there must be laws prohibiting this kind of behaviour. After all, there are laws protecting workers from racial discrimination and sexual harassment on the job, yet despite the fact bullying is four times more prevalent, it is NOT illegal in any of the 50 U.S. states and many other countries around the world.

Workplace bullying is the repeated  unjust actions of an employee [or employees], directed towards another employee [or employees], which are intended to intimidate, humiliate, threaten, torment, and generally dominate that individual to the point of jeopardizing his or her health, safety, sanity and job.  It usually involves some type of exploitation, manipulation and insults [including name-calling and swearing] of the target. The bully might also hinder or obstruct the target from getting work done.

Bullies are so successful because they create an atmosphere of fear, anxiety, isolation and unrelenting psychological stress, around their victim. Day after day, you are constantly criticized, blamed without facts, excluded and treated differently than everyone else. You are sweared at, humiliated in front of your peers, micro-managed and given deadlines that are unrealistic. Often times, projects you’re working on, or other materials mysteriously disappear off your desk, making you look unorganized, and in the most serious cases, figures and facts will be changed on your reports, making you appear totally incompetent.

Yet you’re not, and it’s very likely you were targeted because you are smart and pose a threat [real or perceived] to the bully. Studies even confirmed that most targets had better skills, both social and technical than the bully.

Another important fact is that 72% of the bullying is done by managers/supervisors. Therefore most complaints fall on deaf ears, as those higher up are more likely to side with one of their own. Even co-workers start pulling away from the target, and eventually side with the bully. People who weren’t just coworkers, but friends, might suddenly turn on you and become your enemy. Why? Fear — they don’t want to become the next target.

Most people think bullying is the same thing as harassment, and harassment is illegal, so bullying must be too. Think again. While bullying could include harassment, bullying by itself is NOT illegal.

Workplace harassment is discriminatory, offensive conduct, [including sexual] which causes a hostile work environment. Sounds like bullying to me! However, typically there are civil rights laws in place to defend workers from this kind of conduct only if you are a member of a protected class. Protected classes in employment could be for race/color, creed, [religion] national origin, sex, marital status, disability and sexual orientation. For instance, if an employee tells a racist joke, refers to a coworker by using racial slurs, and is told to stop, but doesn’t, this could be considered harassment. A male manager making unwelcomed sexual advances toward a female subordinate, and threatening her job if she doesn’t comply, is a case of harassment.

When harassment or discrimination is reported, the target isn’t retaliated against, etc. and the complaint is taken seriously.  Bullying is concealed more, done behind closed doors, and much more cunning and shrewd.

Workplace bullying takes place all over the world. Monster.com took a survey and approximately 2/3 of those who responded admitted to being the target of some form of bullying. The survey showed the likelihood of being bullied at work varied by region and culture. In Europe a shocking 83% claimed either mental or physical bullying. Surveys conducted in the United States indicated 65% of the population had experienced workplace bullying. Asia had the least amount of it, but still 45% of workers claimed they had been bullied at work. Belgium was the country with the least amount of  workplace bullying, at 38%, with China coming in second at 40%. ChinaHR (a professional recruitment website in China) commented that cultural differences may be a factor in their low percentage of workplace bullying, as the Chinese culture is more unpretentious and humble than in Europe and America.

In general, victims of workplace bullying are affected in many negative ways, including: post-tramatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic fatigue, migranes, financially (because of frequent absence from work), low self-esteem, phobias, high blood pressure, feelings of shame, always anxious, and “on the edge,” trouble sleeping, depression, family problems, just to name a few.

There are actions that can be taken, by both employee and employer to combat bullying. Employees must recognize that they are being bullied, and know they didn’t cause it. Keep a detailed account of ever instance of the bullying, such as date, time, place and nature of the bullying. Make sure you keep any documents, such as emails or even text messages that may contain some disparaging comment, etc. Also, keep hidden back-ups and hard copies of all work documents produced, reviews, etc. to protect yourself in case the bully tries to change or alter documents. Understand that managers and HR are not going to advocate for you, so try to find one person you can trust to corroborate incidents and situations of bullying that are witnessed.

Companies must encourage a healthy culture. Managers and top executives should set good examples and have respect for employees. Employers must create a zero tolerance policy against bullying, that should be part of their code of conduct. Reports of bullying should be addressed immediately and taken seriously. Hold awareness meetings to discuss the subject of bullying. Provide a phone number victims can call, anonomously, just to have someone to talk to. Provide onsite counsellors, if necessary. If bullying is running rampant in the company, you may need to resort to hiring security people and cameras to ensure a safe environment for all.

Workplace bullying is a serious issue that affects everyone. The employees suffer and the business suffers. However, in the end, it should be the bully who suffers most of all.


Sources & References: Monster Global Survey: Workplace bullying is a common problem worldwide; Namie, D. G. (2011). Being Bullied? Start Here (Workplace Bullying Institute); Workplace Bullying and Disruptive Behavior: What Everyone Needs to Know (Washington State Department of Labor & Industries)

Who Are You? How Well Do You Play with Others?

This doesn’t mean you’re Jason Bourne, trying to figure out who you are.  But do you know a succinct way to describe your personality type?  And would you like to know some interesting/easy ways in which you can use personality type information?

Many of you are familiar with the Jungian MBTI types – that four-letter acronym soup swimming with ESFJ, INTP, etc.  You may even know which one you’re supposed to be. If not, I’d recommend a recent article penned by Amit.  In “How Personality Type Affects Your Career & Job Search”  he provides a background to the 16 types, includes a free test to figure out your type, and describes some career and job search implications based on your personality.

There are many more tools that help you figure out your MBTI type and what that means for different situations/contexts –  whether that’s a job search, your professional life, or even your romantic relationships.  Some tools also try to use these types to calculate the strength of your compatibility or match with another specific MBTI type.

These are two tools that I thought were interesting.

The 41Q Test:

41Q asks 41 quick questions that take about 5 minutes, and give the results in an easy to read format, including a graphic on how strongly you fall along the four MBTI dimensions.  So you can see that you may be a mix of two or more different types if your scores are close to the middle.

These were part of my results:

Your personality type: “Groundbreaking Thinker”

Creative, resourceful and intellectually quick. Good at a broad range of things. Enjoy debating issues and may be into “one-upmanship”. They get very excited about new ideas and projects, but may neglect the more routine aspects of life. Generally outspoken and assertive. They enjoy people and are stimulating company. Excellent ability to understand concepts and apply logic to find solutions.

Careers that could fit you include:

Entrepreneurs, lawyers, psychologists, photographers, consultants, sales represenatives, actors, engineers, scientists, inventors, marketers, computer programmers, comedians, computer analysts, credit investigators, journalists, psychiatrists, public relations, designers, writers, artists, musicians, politicians.

Renowned persons with similar personality types:

  • Alexander the Great, king
  • Alfred Hitchcock, filmmaker
  • Celine Dion, singer
  • John Adams, American president
  • Matthew Perry, actor
  • Nikola Tesla, inventor, physicist and engineer
  • Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, American president
  • Thomas Edison, inventor
  • Tom Hanks, actor
  • Walt Disney, filmmaker and entrepreneur

While ENTP (Groundbreaking Thinker) is my predominant type (results have been robust across several tools), only the E and T are strong, as the 41Q scales show.  So there may be a bit of ESTP (Energetic Doer), ESTJ (Determined Realist) and ENTJ (Dynamic Thinker) in me as well, but ENTP dominates.

There is a list of potential careers that could be a good match for that type.  In addition, 41Q has a relationship-matching tool that measures romantic compatibility, but could also be used to get an indication on how professional relationships may pan out.

The iPersonic Test:

The iPersonic test also takes 5 minutes and makes us decide where we lean along those 4 dimensions.  They also have a set of terms, which provide a pithy, emotionally satisfying way to describe personality types.  Here is a summary I’ve put together for you (click on any to see a detailed description).

MBTI Type Personality Type
ENFJ Engaged Idealist (EI)
ENFP Spontaneous Idealist (SI)
ENTJ Dynamic Thinker (DT)
ENTP Groundbreaking Thinker (GT)
ESFJ Social Realist (SR)
ESFP Laid-back Doer (LD)
ESTJ Determined Realist (DR)
ESTP Energetic Doer (ED)
INFJ Harmony-seeking Idealist (HI)
INFP Dreamy Idealist (DI)
INTJ Independent Thinker (IT)
INTP Analytical Thinker (AT)
ISFJ Good-natured Realist (GR)
ISFP Sensitive Doer (SD)
ISTJ Reliable Realist (RR)
ISTP Individualistic Doer (ID)


Interesting names, aren’t they?   It would be an intriguing exercise to see how colleagues and friends in your circles do on these tests (you can try to guess their types in advance and see if your assessment is correct).

While this test doesn’t fine-tune where one falls on each continuum, there is more detail provided on the personality type, and a color-coding that helps you figure out the kind of people you are likely to get along with better.

The closer the colors are, the stronger the chemistry – which can matter in the workplace, as well as in your personal life.  So greens and yellows might get along well, but a red and a green may have trouble.

Personal chemistry and compatibility matter whether it’s any type of a relationship – a marriage, team members at work or co-founders of a startup.  Carefully choosing who we work with, play with or live with can mean the difference between success and failure, happiness and well, the absence of it!

Playing the Blame Game at work

Nobody likes a finger being pointed at them and being blamed for something. However, people often tend to blame others in the workplace and more so, when faced with a tough situation (such as recessionary pressures or the fear of losing one’s job).

Blaming other people at work, especially publically, can have more harmful effects than you think. According to a recent study (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Stanford University and USC Marshall), publicly blaming others dramatically increases the likelihood that the practice will become viral. This is because when we see others protecting their egos, we become defensive too and we then try to protect our own self-image by blaming others for our mistakes, which may feel good in the moment. However, in the long run, such behavior could hurt one’s reputation and be destructive to an organisation as a whole. When public blaming becomes common practice – especially by leaders – its effects on an organization can be insidious and withering: Individuals who are fearful of being blamed for something become less willing to take risks, are less innovative or creative and are less likely to learn from their mistakes.

Here are a few suggestions for handling the blame-game better:

  • Assign blame when necessary but do so in private
  • Offer praise in public to create a positive attitude in the workplace
  • Lead by example – as a manager make it a point to publically acknowledge your mistakes and show how you learned from them

Sources and references: Sandbox Advisors, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Stanford University and USC Marshall

Bullying in the Workplace

The presence of bullies and jerks in the workplace is not much of a concern for most companies. However, having too many of such people around and not actively avoiding a culture that fosters bullies, is not good practice. In fact it can have quite an impact on company performance and the bottom-line. This is because bullying can (among other things) have an effect on morale, health, productivity, idea generation and employee turnover.

Here are some findings from a study by the Workplace Bullying Institute in America:

  • 37% of workers have been bullied
  • Most bullies are bosses (72%)
  • Most Targets (57%) are women
  • 62% of employers ignore the problem
  • 45% of Targets suffer stress-related health problems (debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, clinical depression)
  • 40% of bullied individuals never tell their employers

For organisations, the message is clear – seek out workplace bullies and correct their behaviour or fire them. Don’t avoid taking action, especially if you feel that the employee is a good performer. The overall contribution he/she has could in fact be negative, when you take into account the effects of bullying.

For individuals, given that majority of bullying is done by bosses, the first and most important step is to realise that you are being bullied.  Many people either ignore the problem or think that they just have a bad boss and thats how bosses are. According to Dr. Gary Nami, Founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, these are some signs to look out for: Continue reading “Bullying in the Workplace”