Human Capital forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Are you aware of upwards bullying in your workplace?

Notify me of new replies via email
HC Online | 26 Nov 2013, 12:27 PM Agree 0
Workplace bullying is typically characterised as taking place between colleagues, or managers bullying subordinates. But are you aware of the upwards bullying that may be taking place in your office?
  • Leanne Faraday-Brash | 26 Nov 2013, 03:15 PM Agree 0
    Upward bullying has existed alongside stereotypical top-down bullying forever. Your article focuses on manager obligations one of which should be not to tolerate bullying by anyone of anyone. However what is often not discussed is the walking on eggshells with the aggressive or otherwise inappropriate subordinate for fear of a bullying grievance, the mentally ill employee for fear of being charged with discrimination or the popular, charismatic bully for fear of the manager being isolated or excluded by the bully's supporters.
    If anyone doubts the damage caused by upward bullying I can assure you I've seen too many managers (and supervisors) "terrorized" by groups on the shop floor who've waged hate campaigns against them because they want workers to work or because they are agents of necessary but unpopular change.
  • Bernie Althofer | 26 Nov 2013, 03:51 PM Agree 0
    It would be wrong to assume that it there was no upwards bullying, with some only wanting to point the finger at 'management'. Over the years, I have heard stories about upwards, downwards and across the organisation, and in addition, from one organisation to another.

    There is a risk to organisations if there is an underestimation of the damage that can be caused, how it can be caused, how could be involved and the motives for the allegation.

    Organisations need to be on the front foot as far being aware of changes that are coming, and need to make sure that educative processes start at the top and are lead from the top.

    Perhaps some individuals do not understand the complexity of what is involved simply because of the way 'training' or 'presentations' are conducted.
  • Steve Gray | 27 Nov 2013, 06:05 AM Agree 0
    One way to tackle this is to ensure people understand the company values (Respect is the one I want to point out here) then all staff can be trained in it, be given examples of it and you should then hear people saying, "stop harassing me, there's no respect here." (or words to that effect.)

    This lends itself to all manner of training and development options to ensure exceptional communication and respect is followed through.
  • Bernie Althofer | 27 Nov 2013, 02:32 PM Agree 0
    Good point Steve.

    I had an interesting conversation last year regarding some training that was being provided in relation to a Code of Conduct. The person I was speaking to indicated that when it came to the issue of respect, there were a number of conflicting views about what was meant by 'respect'. As the trainer indicated, he was stumped on how to respond given that there had been an assumption that everyone 'would know what respect meant'.

    I suggested that what he probably could have done was to have some discussion to draw out the meaning of respect in the eyes of the participants i.e. what does it look like, what does it mean to the organisation and to the individual, if that is what respect looks like or means, then how do we make that happen in the workplace.

    It also transpired that a number of participants were taking the view that the values were being imposed and that the organisational values did not align with their own values. So, the problem was as the trainer said - getting individuals to understand how their personal values would align with the organisational values, when in some cases, the individuals held such strong views that alignment was going to be difficult.

    Interactive sessions where individuals can test their own knowledge and understanding so that they can clarify and maybe even accept the differences would allow a better view.
  • Steve Gray | 27 Nov 2013, 08:49 PM Agree 0
    Bernie, yes I can see that happening, and often once the values are written they are ignored, yet they can be so incredibly useful. I have written about values a fair bit on one of the blogs I am part of free business tips... :) l

    I think the key would be to develop a reange of brief examples of each value and how it can be applied in the specific workplace. Then have the staff lbuild on this by giving examples of the values in action. The more the list builds the easier the process is to explain to new recruits as well.
  • Clara Pound | 28 Nov 2013, 09:25 AM Agree 0
    I worry about Managers who are too afraid to address issues for fear of being accused of being a bully! It seems to be difficult for some in management to overcome this fear and concern and to do the job they are paid to do - manage others! I agree that respect is paramount in this process.
  • Steve Gray | 28 Nov 2013, 10:17 AM Agree 0
    Clara, these Managers need to learn better communication, it could be as simple as following a three 'f' program - firm, fair, friendly.

    But to carry on the values theme, they should have the ability to comment by following a suitable set of values. Let's try "Professionalism" and "Respect" if there are suitable examples to follow for each you would probably find they could cite these example if accused of bullying.

    Values provide a guide for all staff to follow, no exceptions.

    Bullying, can be defined as sustained harrasment. So as long as the Manager can be clear about what harrasment is and or coud be then they have a guideline to follow.
  • Bernie Althofer | 28 Nov 2013, 10:34 AM Agree 0
    One of the 'tragedies' that exist in my view is that some organisations have very detailed policies and procedures that are supported through legislation, and that have been developed to support managers and staff in the workplace, but people don't know about them.

    Recently I had a discussion about some major changes being planned in one organisation and I highlighted that the CEO already had the legislation available that would allow him to take a specific course of action. Draft documentation had been developed and was in the process of being sent to key stakeholders for consultative purposes. The legislation was not identified in the documentation because 'no-one was apparently aware of it'. In addition, a major assessment across the organisation had been conducted and a recommendation had been made regarding the implementation of the particular legislation. It appeared that the report had not been read.

    When it comes back to issues such as bullying, respect etc, it also seems that organisations have Codes of Conduct etc but some people either do not have access ('only the manager is allowed to have access' as was conveyed to me in one discussion about bullying) or people have a range of understandings about what is meant by what has been written.

    In response to Clara, I think that some managers do try and to manage, but at the same time, they do so on eggshells. As has been said in a number of seminars I have attended, provided managers act reasonably and follow the documented policies and procedures, in the main, decisions generally appear to go in their favour.

    Sometimes, individuals don't like being held to account or being made responsible for their actions, so the best way of negating a manager it to make allegations to create 'lame duck' managers.
  • Steve Gray | 28 Nov 2013, 11:15 AM Agree 0
    Some managers like to have the power and control and do not want to share the codees of conduct, keeping their team/s 'in the dark', they can't see a way out/through etc so the managers run roughshod over them.

    In one organisation I was part of the CEO and cronies came in tot he offices after hours and removed all the employee manuals, never to be seen again! One of the managers looked for it in the organisations computer system only to see that the original files had been deleted... What followed after that was criminal and the CEO and the financial controller were kicked hard by regulatory authorities for the damage they had done.

    Transparency culd well be another value to add to the list.
  • Grant | 29 Nov 2013, 03:19 PM Agree 0
    In response to the issue of defining 'respect', I was recently exposed to an idea where each work team develops a document that details what behaviour is 'above the line' and what behaviour is 'below the line'. All of the team submit what they consider is good behaviour (above the line) and unacceptable behaviour (below the line) and then this is discussed and agreed to. This document is then displayed. This is a useful tool for someone to say 'You are getting close to the line' or 'I think that is a bit below the line' without it becoming a big or confrontational issue.
  • Steve Gray | 29 Nov 2013, 03:29 PM Agree 0
    Grant, good idea, In different departments there may well be differing viewpoints.
  • Clara Pound | 01 Dec 2013, 02:44 PM Agree 0
    Grant, I really like that idea. Different people define respect in different ways so having an 'agreed' definition both above and below the line, perfect! And yes Steve, different departments or areas may well have their own unique additions.Thanks for sharing that idea!
  • Bruce Taylor | 11 Oct 2014, 10:45 PM Agree 0
    I would like to mention non-violent, non-aggressive upward bullying here. Let's call it "professionally presented bullying". This type of bully never uses inappropriate, threatening, or anything otherwise normally considered unacceptable behavior, but can still cause a great deal of stress and anxiety in peers and supervisors and wastes a lot of time on being provided long diplomatic explanations of company policy or corporate culture. The bully constantly questions decisions and procedures made by superiors and peers, and gets involved in other department's issues by pointing out what they think is being done wrong. This employee has many shields that they can use to keep from being stopped. Any attempt at asking or telling the employee to curb their behavior is crushed by their insistence that their opinion and suggestions are just for the good of the company. Any and every attempt at trying to keep the employee’s suggestions and criticisms to a reasonable level can be struck down with accusations of "keeping them in their place", "covering up lack of proper performance by supervisors and other departments" or just good old "being told to shut up and do what I say".
    The latter causing the need for the long and diplomatic explanations that I certainly recognize are important and necessary at times, but there is a point where it becomes counter-productive. Constantly being confronted (always in the most professional manner) with criticisms and suggestions can take the wind out of any good manager's sails and anything repetitive like that can push even the most rational of employee to the point of doing or saying something inappropriate, or maybe even worse, doing nothing and absorbing the anger and frustration inward causing health problems amongst many other things.
    A single employee can do this to quite a few co-workers, both peers and supervisors, at the same time. Once all of these objections and criticisms become of record, any attempt to terminate the employee becomes futile as the employee will always appear to be just trying to do the right thing. This employee can also use religious beliefs as a shield to protect their behavior. "I cannot do that, or I have to do this because of my beliefs".

    However you may be reacting to this comment, take a moment to consider what that type of employee would do if they read this and knew it was about them. In most (if not all) cases, they would claim they were being harassed or inappropriately criticized in a public forum no less.
  • Lisa | 13 Oct 2014, 09:02 PM Agree 0
    Bruce --

    That's one of the (several) techniques used by my bully.

    I tried to be open and transparent about my decisions, including providing extensive explanations regarding what work was needed and why (necessary even for the simplest of decisions which wouldn't have raised the smallest question with anybody else).

    My bully continually questioned all my decisions and directives, claiming I wasn't listening to her simply because I just "had to be right all the time".

    My bully eventually physically intimidated me into tears (in my own office!). However, when I raised this with my manager I was advised that it was my word against hers and if I persisted with a complaint against her it WOULD go on my record and there was every likelihood that I would be the one put under "performance management".

    When I finally lost it, I was the one who was forced to apologise!!!!!
  • Vanessa | 09 Nov 2014, 03:31 AM Agree 0
    I saw a female manager been called weedy because she couldn't carry something, in front of her whole team and other managers. When she tried to defend herself her tormenter made her look even weaker and she then just backed off and didn't do anything.
Post a reply