Taking Aim at Bad Behavior in the Workplace

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Workplace Bullying

There's a growing realization that workplace bullying isn't acceptable. As collaborative efforts gain momentum, everyone must learn to be on their best behavior.

One of the most formidable and distressing challenges in the workplace is dealing with bullies and serial abusers who are verbally aggressive, spread malicious rumors and intentionally undermine others. They make life and work difficult, they lead to dissention and low morale, and they undermine productivity and progress.

Yet, these people persist—even when it's clear to everyone that they're a bully.

Last year, a survey conducted by OfficeTeam found that 35 percent of workers surveyed indicated that they had an office bully at their workplace. In addition, 27 percent of HR managers said that office bullying takes place either "somewhat" or "very often" in their organization. The same survey found that 13 percent of workers quit their jobs because of a bully.

Bullying is a big problem. Sadly, those who believe they've been bullied have few if any options or avenues for dealing with the problem. In fact, far too often, reporting a bully results in even more bullying.

Fortunately, awareness about the problem is on the rise. Over the last few years, a growing number of books and Ted Talk videos have addressed the topic and delivered valuable insights into the dynamic of workplace abuse. These include Andrew Faas' The Bully's Trap.

"For bullying to stop, it requires much more than legislation or human resource policies and procedures," Faas writes. "It requires a cultural transformation, and everyone has a role to play in this."

Now, the Faas Foundation is hoping to take insight and knowledge about the problem to a more advanced level. It recently announced a partnership with Yale University's Center for Emotional Intelligence to study the role of emotions and behavior in the workplace. The goal is to better understand how to identify and reduce unnecessary stress in the workplace, including sources of bullying and aggression and how to better build positive workplace climates and teams.

The researchers will also look at other factors that contribute to enormous stress in the workplace. For instance, a Stanford University study found that more than 120,000 deaths annually may be attributable to workplace stress. Factors include long hours, job insecurity, lack of work-life balance, and impossible working conditions, which can include bullies and abusers.

There are no simple answers, and the problem will never completely go away. But there's a growing realization that the status quo isn't acceptable. As collaboration and team-based work gain momentum, everyone must learn to be on their best behavior.

This article was originally published on 2016-04-18
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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