The leadership blindspots that let workplace bullying persist

Creating a safe, healthy workplace where employees can thrive is top of mind for leaders, especially amid the "Great Resignation." Still, data shows about 30 percent of Americans are bullied at work. That's because many organizations do not implement strategies that address the full scope of inappropriate behaviors, three experts wrote in a Nov. 10 article for Harvard Business Review.

The article's authors are:

  • Ludmila Praslova, PhD, professor of graduate programs in industrial-organizational psychology and accreditation liaison officer at Vanguard University of Southern California in Costa Mesa.
  • Ron Carucci, co-founder and managing partner at Navalent
  • Caroline Stokes, author of "Elephants Before Unicorns: Emotionally Intelligent Strategies to Save Your Company"

Before leaders can effectively prevent workplace bullying, they must first learn how to identify it. Traditional methods to address bullying — i.e. anger management or zero tolerance policies — target more overt behaviors, such as yelling at a colleague. But workplace bullying can come in many forms, and more covert actions such as gaslighting or withholding information from teammates often go undetected. The article's authors shared 15 different features of bullying leaders should know.

They also outlined various myths about workplace bullying that can prevent leaders from adequately addressing it. One such myth is that bullying is simply "holding people to high standards," the authors said. Another is that bullies are often star performers and that their achievements justify the unwanted behavior. In reality, star performers are more likely to be the targets of bullies, who may seem like stars because they take credit for other people's work. 

"Effectively addressing all types and manifestations of bullying requires a systemic and prevention-focused approach," the article's authors wrote. "While bully characteristics matter, bullying is a behavior of opportunity enabled by organizational environments that allow it to occur and continue. Organizations can't eliminate egotism from human nature, but it is possible to create systems in which egotistical behavior is discouraged rather than reinforced."

The article outlines a broad range of strategies to prevent workplace bullying, including training employees in nonviolent communication, ensuring fair and transparent ways to obtain rewards and tailoring recruitment efforts to seek candidates who have the ability to support others.  

View the full article here.

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