Why Do Companies Keep Workplace Bullies?

Why do companies keep employees that bully co-workers?

The world today appears to be full of workplace bullies. According to a survey on bullying released in 2021, 30 percent of Americans report having experienced abusive conduct at work. This is up 57% from 2017. An estimated 48.6 million Americans are bullied on the job.

Workplace bullying can frequently be challenging to identify because it many times is not just one behavior but a combination of them. Moreover, bullies are commonly seen as just confident or assertive in the eyes of an employer that does not want to deal with the problems that come with a workplace bully. Bullies are also tolerated in the working world when their performance increases the profit margin.

The problem with bullies in the workplace is they can hurt an organization’s productivity. More importantly, it impacts those that are being bullied by often causing harm physically, mentally or both. With the destruction workplace bullies can trigger, why do so many employers keep these people employed? If you are the target of bullying at work, what can you do?

How to identify workplace bullying?

Although most people would believe bullying in the workplace is easily identifiable, this is not always the case. Part of the reason for this is the behavior is many times in the eye of the beholder. What some people might see as bullying others might perceive it as someone that is just being assertive or confident. Regularly an employer will use these excuses to explain bullying behavior when they want to ignore it.

Generally speaking, what defines bullying behavior is how other people perceive it. If most people see the conduct of someone in the workplace as being consistently unreasonable, this is a good indication that the activity would be considered bullying. This is the type of person that most others look at and think to themselves how is this person even saying or doing the things they do?

Workplace bullying can take several different forms. 

The people that use bullying in the workplace to either get what they want or to put down others just because they enjoy it seldom use just one tactic. Different types of bullying at work might include:

  • Intimidation – Threating people, excluding them, or spying on others to report them for something is common for the workplace bully.
  • Verbal Abuse– Bullying people in the workplace by humiliation, jokes, gossip, and yelling are tactics that bullies in the working world frequently like to use.
  • Work Performance Bullying – This is when a bully at work interferes in things they should not, takes credit for work they do not do, or purposely sabotages others.
  • Retaliatory Bullies – These people tend to lie repeatedly or refuse to promote others just because they want to bully them.
  • Institutional – This happens when a company allows and just accepts bullying as a practice. They even encourage bullying to take place.

What type of person is typically the target of a bully?

Even though some bullies just like to do it because they truly enjoy it, there are some tendencies on the type of person that is a bully and the kind of employee they are more likely to target.

When it comes to a belief many people have that managers at companies tend to bully the most, this is not necessarily the case. The 2021 study on bullying in the workplace found that of those bullied 52% were in non-management positions and 40% were managers. This shows that the position a person holds in a business does not limit the tendency to try and intimidate or abuse others.

Quite regularly when bullying does occur at a job it is done to those that are highly skilled. The people that do a good job, are better at their job, and are paid more come under fire often from a bully. The reason for this is the person doing the bullying is many times threatened by the good job a person does. They feel their own employment might come under scrutiny from the person that gets the job done. Managers that like to bully, do it too often because they feel threatened by the people they intimidate. These bullies put people down or cause issues for them because they pose a threat to the manager’s job.

Employees that do not like confrontation, are introverts, or are quiet can also regularly be the target of a bully at a place of work.

Why is workplace bullying tolerated by employers?

With reported workplace bullying up 57% from 2017, it is clear that more employers are accepting the behavior. If you have been in the working world for any length of time, you probably have recognized that it would appear bullies are being trained on how to act and this would not be completely untrue. According to a study from the University of Buffalo School of Management, bullies in the workplace are often promoted and rewarded for their behavior.

Promotions and rewards encourage bullying behavior.

Because workplace bullies are regularly being rewarded for their behavior, the practice is being learned to get ahead and advance in a career. The more often a civilized person in the workplace observes the bullies getting ahead it only incentivizes them to act the same way. It creates the workplace bully training program, which appears to have become quite popular in corporate America.

Failed leadership that promotes workplace bullying is a big problem. 

One of the largest creators of the bullying epidemic in the working world is failed company leadership that allows the behavior. The global business world we live in today combined with chasing the highest profits at the lowest prices has created an environment for workers that is growingly intolerable. Workers are increasingly expected to do more with less compensation and benefits. They are commonly expected to stay longer, work harder, and be rewarded less. The problem with this is far too commonly company leaders achieve this through intimidation.

When it comes to business revenue the bully that has a direct correlation to this is likely tolerated the most by leaders that turn a blind eye in favor of profits. This can regularly be observed in industries that have a high sales force. The salespeople that perform well and like to bully others are far too often able to get away with it.

Nepotism, blackmail, and favors can assist the bully at work.

Nepotism in the working world is not going to be eliminated any time soon. For a family business that has a member of that family that likes to bully others, they will be almost always tolerated. Understandably family sticks together and bullies in a family business will survive into the foreseeable future.

Although blackmail on several levels can be illegal, it does exist and thrive in the corporate world. Some bullies survive and thrive in the workplace because they have dirt on the boss. Not only does this happen still but it likely occurs much more often than most people will admit.

It’s not just blackmail that can keep a bully working. Favors at work for the people in charge to advance a career can assist a bully in continuing their intimidation. There are still people that will sleep their way to the top or position themselves politically each time to either get ahead or help those who can help them excel. These types of bullies always appear to be in the right place at the right time and use it to their advantage to stay employed.

In many ways, the bully at work is able to keep employed similar to how a slacker achieves their goal of doing the least amount of work.

What is the result of allowing workplace bullies to succeed and survive?

Bullying affects the workplace in several different ways that failed business leaders time and again do not realize or choose to turn a blind eye to. The negative consequences of not recognizing and dealing with bullies in the working world can include:

  • High employment turnover – It should not come as a surprise that people do not want to work in an environment of bullying and intimidation. If a company has bullies, it is almost certain there will be a high amount of turnover in employees. 
  • Absences will increase – Just like high turnover and people consistently leaving an organization with bullies, those that stay will find a reason to be out of the office more often. No one wants to be around people that are unreasonable and abuse people. 
  • A decrease in morale and productivity – Workplace bullies are not enjoyable to be around and they will bring people down. This includes those that work in teams. 
  • Bullies break trust and reduce loyalty – For a business that tolerates those that bully, trust will be broken for the practice being allowed by the employees that are on the receiving end of the abuse. These employees will also not be loyal. 

Those that are bullied can experience serious consequences.

More important than a business experiencing the problems associated with bullies is how it impacts the people on the receiving end of the abuse. Severe results of being the target of a bully in the workplace can include

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Hypertension
  • Panic attacks
  • PTSD
  • Irritable bowel problems

For the person that is a focus on the bully at work, the long-term health problems can be serious. Confidence and future employment prospects can be damaged due to the experience. Prolonged exposure to a bully of any kind will have an impact that will likely last a lifetime.

What should you do if you are bullied at work?

Despite so many career experts and Human Resource Departments claiming to have the answers to dealing with workplace bullies, the truth is there most often is nothing that can be done. Furthermore, commonly a growing number of companies choose not to deal with the problem. Part of the issue with workplace bullies is the behavior isn’t generally illegal unless it is based on some type of harassment relating to something like religion, race, or sex.

If you are bullied at work, most career specialists suggest the following,

  • Stay professional – Try not to get emotional over the bully you are dealing with. 
  • Document the problem – Keep track of the issues and the habits of the bully. 
  • Get legal help – If the bully is doing it based on something like sex or race, this might have legal action. 
  • Look for another job – Commonly bullies can thrive and it is just better to find another employer.

From the list above of the suggested actions to deal with a workplace bully, the last one is likely the most realistic. Documenting a bully will unlikely do much if the problem is reported to an HR department. The reason for this is the Human Resource Department probably already knows about the problem and they are looking out for the interest of the employer. If the bully is known and tolerated, there is a reason why. Although HR departments masquerade as employee advocates, this is only further from the truth.

Getting legal help for a workplace bully is an option. This is particularly the case if the bully is harassing based on something like an employee’s age or religion. However, it is likely unrealistic due to the money and time for litigation. Most people always go straight to the lawsuit for something like harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Yet, it is a long expensive process that not many attorneys even like to take on unless there is a smoking gun case.

The most realistic resolution to deal with a workplace bully is to find another employer in most circumstances.

Conclusion

Bullies in the working world are on the rise. This is due to the behavior being tolerated by failed leadership. Furthermore, the bullies are created by people observing it can be a successful way to advance in a career. The rate at which abuse in the workplace is allowed by bullies gives them the impression their conduct is allowed.

The business world is knowingly turning a blind eye to bullying behavior in favor of increasing revenue. A bully that performs well it seems is often worth more than civilized people at a company. What business leaders commonly fail to realize is a top-performing bully will in the end bring down morale and increase employee turnover. Moreover, they do not seem to care that the people at their company that use intimidation, fear, and abuse to get the job done are hurting the health and well-being of actual human beings.

It is not just the working world that seems to accept the practice of bullying in the world we live in today. People generally appear to have learned that when you don’t get your way intimidation can not only be successful but accepted. Because this practice is now so widespread, it will likely only grow even more in the future unless some real changes are made.

Bullying is not okay on any level and this includes inside the workplace and out of it.

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