I couldn't help but think about the issue of workplace bullying this week, especially with the newspapers being filled with copy about the alleged bullying behaviour by Gordon Brown towards his staff. Of course I'm not surprised that those nearest and dearest to him have leapt to his defence: http://bit.ly/JccBK5
Nobody wants to be accused of bullying, and few people would easily admit to being a bully, but it seems that there are more and more claims of bullying behaviour in the workplace these days. Why is it? Well, from my own experience as a trainer and coach, there are a number of possible reasons:
1. Too many managers and team leaders are promoted without adequate training and support - A large proportion of new managers who I meet have been appointed or promoted mainly on the basis of their technical ability, or their length of service. Whilst these things may be important to retain within an organisation, the lack of management experience and skills can, on balance, be more detrimental and can leave new managers having to find their feet through trial and error. I have been told many stories about the mistakes new managers have made in the way they've treated their staff. So many say that wish they'd had the training to help them to develop more facilitative management skills from the start.
2. The workplace is becoming more and more pressurised - Whilst stress and pressure cannot excuse bullying behaviour, it is a reality that those people who are under the greatest pressure, and who are unable to manage their own stress and the resulting behaviour, are more likely to be perceived as bullies. I meet many people who say that it isn't their intention to take it out on their staff, but they just can't help themselves when the people around them are letting them down.
3. There's a fine line between a passion for the job and bullying - There are many people who are so passionate about their work and about achieving excellence/perfection that they forget to make any allowances for the sensibilities of the people around them. Whilst they might defend themselves by saying that anyone who "cared enough" about their work would be the same, unfortunately this isn't entirely true. The individuals who achieve the greatest success at work are those who are able to bring others along with them - they are able to collaborate and get the best from their colleagues.
4. Clear and direct management is sometimes misconstrued as bullying - It seems that there are so many people who have been 'managed' by inexperienced managers who lack the confidence and skills to assert themselves, that when an assertive manager comes along, their behaviour is perceived in comparison as being bullying. As the accusation of bullying is an extremely serious matter, it is particularly important that people understand the true nature of bullying, and don't mistake for a bully a confident and persistent manager who's taking charge.
5. Disgruntled staff may falsely accuse their manager of bullying - As with any other accusation of an aggressive nature, the accusation of bullying must always be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. However, there is always the possibility that the investigation will uncover an ulterior motive on the part of the 'victim' who has used the issue of bullying to get back at their colleague/manager. I usually ask myself 'what has happened in the relationship to create the need to make such a false accusation?' It may not be that the accused has actually been a bully in the strictest sense, but it is possible that their behaviour may in some way have contributed to the the breakdown of trust and professional rapport in the relationship.
6. During times of recession it is more difficult to just get up and leave - Whether it is a personal reality or simply a perception, people during a recession feel less inclined to leave a job unless it is absolutely necessary. There is therefore the potential for more people to feel trapped in their current position and to feel that they have no choice but to put up with bullying behaviour in the hope that it will go away in time.
7. Lack of confidence and assertiveness skills - without feeling an entitlement to work in a conducive and safe working environment; without the necessary communication skills to respond to the put-downs and snipes; without the confidence and skills to request the person to modify their behaviour, a person who is feeling bullied will not have the personal power to influence change for themselves before things become nasty.
8. Management and/or HR may be reluctant to get involved - although the vast majority of senior managers and (one would hope) HR staff, would understand their duty of care, I meet many people who say that there seems to be a reluctance to step in and assist. It is understandable that managers are required to work out issues with their own staff without interference from above, and that colleagues are encouraged to work out their own differences. However from time to time the relationships become so damaged that the only chance of a resolution is by involving an appropriate mediator and/or offering training/coaching for those involved.
At H2 Training & Consultancy, we're genuinely committed to doing what we can to alleviate the problem of bullying in the workplace. We're keen to provide support and guidance to everyone in the equation: we offer supportive training and coaching for those who are accused of, or in danger of being accused of bullying - helping them to become more self-aware and to develop strategies and skills to achieve desired outcomes without resorting to bullying or aggressive behaviour. We also work with people to help them to take proactive steps to manage their own stress and to work better under pressure, so that they're easier to work with! Our training is also useful for those who would like to improve their confidence and assertiveness skills to make themselves more resilient and better able to respond to bullying or aggressive behaviour. Finally, we also offer training to managers and to HR staff in how to provide appropriate/professional support and counselling for anyone involved in bullying accusations from either side. Whilst bullying in the workplace appears to be on the increase, I strongly believe that it needn't be an inevitable side-effect of tough working conditions. There are lots of explanations for the issue of workplace bullying, but there should never be an excuse for it... Little by little, we're proud to be playing our part in helping to eradicate it. We'd be pleased to hear from anyone who's been touched by the issue of bullying at work, and to hear your views on how it can be alleviated.
Finally, if you're interested in training or coaching for yourself or your colleagues, check out the H2 website: http://h2training.com/training.html where you'll find details of our open and in-house courses.