Today’s modern, dynamic, rapidly-moving workplace comes with many advantages. We benefit from agile organizational structures with an atmosphere where anyone can shine. Or, at least, that’s what we like to say. And while these benefits make a big difference in employee’s lives, the changing modern workplace has also changed what bullying looks like, transforming it from open abuse of power into something that tends to be quieter, manipulative, and more insidious.
With open-faced bullying seen as totally unacceptable, workplace bullying often instead takes the form of competitive employees defaming others, attempting to manufacture situations where they’ll look like the hero. For example, a common tactic employed by this kind of toxic personality is to claim credit for co-worker’s key deliverables. Then, they’ll use those same deliverables as evidence of why they’re a better performer than their ‘target’. When conflicts invariably spring up from these lies, if management isn’t careful, workplace bullies will tend to have the edge in the ‘he-said, she-said’ conflict due to focusing more on telling executives about the work ‘they’ did rather than actually doing the work.
Handling Office Conflict Responsibly
Needless to say, workplace bullies can destroy a team’s cohesion and productivity, and it’s essential for leadership to detect and remove these kinds of people ASAP before they can gain power in the office. That being said, rushing to fire someone who exhibits bullying behavior is not always the correct move! There are a range of reasons why an employee might engage in bullying; including personal insecurities or even mental illness.
While stopping bullying is critical, it’s also important to understand motivation for an effective response. That might include sensitivity training sessions, a recommendation to see a therapist, or simply termination from the company. As a leader, it will ultimately fall on you to decide which approach is right for your situation.
Common Patterns of Workplace Bullies
It’s also important not to misconstrue or hastily judge the situation. Behaviors that appear to be rooted in bullying may in fact stem from deeper, institutional issues within the organization, such as cruel or over-competitive traditions. To help distinguish, here are some common patterns of legitimate bullies in the workplace:
- Consistently redirecting conversations about team efforts to focus exclusively on their personal contribution
- Displaying a lack of empathy or care for the feelings or workload of others
- Highly judgemental, and willing to delay or jeopardize projects over minor personal issues
- Takes poorly to any kind of criticism, even constructive criticism, often viewing it as insulting
How To Document and Report Conflict
These traits all but guarantee someone is a bad fit for any workplace. If you start to notice them, there’s a real chance that you have a workplace bully on your hands! And if you’re an employee stuck in a situation with a bullying co-worker or even boss, make sure to document a pattern of behavior before presenting to Human Resources. Not only will it help you construct a case, but also allow you to examine your relationship with your co-worker. A detached perspective will help you understand if it’s actually a case of workplace bullying or something else entirely. No matter the case, your office will feel the positive impact of removing toxic influences. And you might be surprised how fast things change when you take action!
Check out PerkSpot’s Five Focus Areas for Building a Better Workplace for more advice on building healthy, sustainable long-term culture at your organization.