I recently had a conversation with a former colleague who informed me that the organization started was trying to address workplace bullying. Of course, I was interested in this because bullying directly led to my leaving.  Another motivating factor for me was to develop an understanding if an organization that is plagued with bullying can effectively address this problem from the bottom up. So, can organizations solve workplace bullying when the initiative is driven from workers rather than leadership who is at the top?

I did a little inquisitive questioning to get a better understanding of what they had done and what they would be doing in the future. A committee of faculty members was created to address bullying amongst the faculty. A committee with only faculty is likely to be a limitation because they come from one perspective; that of a faculty.  A university that has sustained an environment of bullying for years, has many victims, bystanders, and bullies that are on all different levels. Faculty to faculty bullying often spills over onto staff and students.  As such, a real solution will involve understanding these perspectives, how they affect the bullying environment, and how the bullying culture impacts them.

Having a well-rounded committee is important. This includes having members from all different levels.  In a university, a committee could consist of faculty, staff, a union representative, and/or administration. A strong committee with a variety of members will allow for honest discussion about the current environment, procedures, and strategies for change.

Another avenue that this committee pursued was education. They received training on “workplace bullying.”  It did not appear that this was a mandatory workshop for faculty, human resources, and administration. It is necessary to educate everyone in the organization on workplace bullying. This provides a common understanding of what it is. It is not helpful if the same faculty continue to receive training on workplace bullying and others important entities in solving this issue are not required to take it. 

This training was focused on conflict resolution including using mediation as tool for resolution. Conflict resolution is important for organizations, but conflict and bullying are not the same. The approach to both are totally different. Organizations need understand workplace bullying and clearly identify how it is different than conflict to adequately design strategies to stop and prevent persistent workplace aggression. It is a mistake for organizations to address bullying using the guidelines for conflict resolution. Conflict resolution strategies are not equipped to deal with such a complex issue as workplace bullying. These strategies are most damaging to targets because they re-victimize targets and enhances the bullying environment. It is, therefore, vital that organizations get specific training in workplace bullying and not just conflict resolution to help them stop and prevent it.

I asked my former colleague about the commitment from administration. It seemed that some administrators tried to sit down with the committee to talk about this issue, but it did not appear that a solid commitment had been made. Leadership must be committed to solving workplace bullying for interventions to be truly effective. Administration has the power to enact policy change as well as hold workers accountable for both positive and negative professional standards. A committee working with an administration who does not have 100% buy in to solving workplace bullying will run into obstacles that will prevent them from truly stopping it.  The committee will most likely go through the motions without having the ability to take real action against workplace bullying.

In conclusion, committees and workers that lack the support of leadership may struggle with creating and developing real change in a workplace bullying environment.  Leadership and administration are powerful entities that can enforce policy change and demand professional accountability which is needed to stop workplace bullying. It seems, a top down approach to dealing with workplace bullying may be more effective in the long run. 

If you or your organization are experiencing persistent workplace aggression, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or (320) 309-2360. You can also visit my website at www.jankircher.com. Help is out there.

Workplace bullying and persistent aggression are often regarded like normal workplace conflict. This is understandable because most people are not aware that bullying happens in the workplace. Those who are aware often do not have a clear definition of persistent workplace aggression.  It is, therefore, imperative for organizations to differentiate between workplace bullying and normal conflict to effectively manage, stop, and prevent it.

Normal workplace conflict is based on differences that people have. Conflict is usually about disagreements over a particular issue or issues in the workplace. For example, I might have conflict with another social worker because they scheduled a weekly meeting at a time in which I could not attend.  Eventually, we would work it out, let it go, and move on.  Conflict is normal and inevitable.  In many cases, it makes the organization stronger. 

Workplace bullying, on the other hand, is a series of incidents over time often without a triggering event.  Workplace bullying does not really have anything to do with conflict.  Rather, it is about attacks by a worker to sabotage another person’s reputation and professional standing using unprofessional behavior. 

When workers have conflict at their jobs, they may temporarily behave unprofessionally. It may even last for a period of time. Workers in conflict can almost always identify the event that started the problems. For the most part, the conflict gets resolved and the workers continue do their jobs. Normal conflict has a beginning and an end.

This is not the case with workplace bullying.  Targets often report they have no idea why the bullying started nor are they able to give you a specific incident or incidences that may have sparked persistent workplace aggression. 

Workplace bullying also goes on and on. It intensifies over time, rather than improving. So, for the target, there is no reason for the aggression and usually there is no end.   Workplace aggression does not make the environment better, but it deteriorates the culture, making it unbearable for everyone involved.

Bullies begin using aggression for lots of different reasons. Some start because the bully is jealous of the target or the target has qualities that the aggressor resents. Often bullies use aggression to mask their own insecurities, lack of self-esteem, or to empower themselves. Persistent workplace aggressors use bad behavior to get ahead, for self-promotion, and to secure their work relationships. Many times, because they do not have the professional skills to do so in any way other than bullying.

Persistent workplace aggression manifests out of the personal issues of the bully rather than differences between two workers. As such, it must be handled in differently.  Understanding the variances allows organizations and leadership to cope with aggression effectively rather than treating it like normal conflict which ends up perpetuating bullying and re-victimizing the target. 

If you or your organization is experiencing persistent workplace aggression or you need training on this issue, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or (320) 309-2360. You can also visit my website at www.jankircher.com. Help is out there.