A recent article in Insurance Journal tells us that “Workplace Bullying” may be the next great frontier of employer liability challenges in our country, and they may be right. Numerous states are considering legislation that would allow employees to sue for damages from an abusive workplace environment, including lost wages, benefits and medical expenses.
It is just a matter of time before the attorneys who advertise on TV, telling me that I should sue the doctor who delivered me because my umbilical cord being wrapped around my neck at birth is the reason I am a compulsive drooler, will soon be telling me that I deserve money because my boss was a bad, bad, mean man. Or woman. Doesn't matter. Either lawsuit will pay equally well.
It is a very scary concept, particularly since defining an “abusive workplace environment” will not be an easy thing to do. It begs the question, what constitutes a workplace bully?
For some people it seems that simply having a demanding boss would qualify. Indeed, Australia considered legal code last fall that would include, and I quote:
“not providing enough work” as a form of “indirect bullying”, along with constantly changing deadlines or setting timelines that are difficult to achieve.
You just want to punch the idiot that came up with that, don't you?
I don't justify or condone bullying behavior. I don't even justify or condone bad or overbearing supervisors, but there is a distinct difference between the two. The greater reach of protection against yet another evil in the workplace simply represents continued steps toward the “nannyfication” of America, where everyone has a legal entitlement to be happy and cared for 24/7 – or someone will have to pay.
I honestly can say that I have never been bullied in the workplace. Or at least I've never felt as though I was bullied in the workplace. While I look back on most of my work experience as very positive, I have worked with the occasional unpleasant person. I've worked with people who, as hard as it is to believe, did not like me. They were not nice to me; yet I never felt “bullied”. From a supervisory standpoint I have been exceptionally fortunate. Almost all of the people I have worked for have been decent, hard working people who taught me a lot. All but one, that is. In my entire professional career, I can honestly say I had one supervisor who I did not like, and who did not like me. He was rude. He was under qualified. He was insecure. He was a moron. And in less than a year, he was in search of my replacement, as I sought out other opportunities and left his employ. (He did me a favor. The new job was a big advancement)
Yet, I've never been “bullied” in the workplace. I suppose some things are only what they are perceived to be.
So, a demanding boss, creating a hostile work environment might be a bully? A person with poor communication skills is a bully? Of course not. They are both ineffective leaders. I have no idea why companies put up with such behavior, but I am even more confused about why people stay and tolerate it. I've heard the excuses. It is a tough economy. I can't find another job. No other job will pay me this well. All may be true, but at the end of the day a person “bullied” by an unforgiving boss makes a choice to remain in a position or move on. It still does not mean that you have a constitutional right to THAT (or any) specific job.
There is a different type of bully. There is the person who does make physical threats and causes intimidation. They can present reasonable fear of bodily harm. That is inexcusable, and employers need to be aware that such behavior can cost them dearly and must be stopped. Still, employees have as much responsibility to address and confront this as their employer does. I would suggest that people have a responsibility to themselves to stand up to that type of behavior. I might also suggest that these people are why God invented lead pipes and stairwells, but I wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong idea. I am simply suggesting that, while employers do have an obligation to prevent a threatening work environment for their employees, individual responsibility still must play a role in everything we do.
Stop waiting for others to solve all your problems – or for the inevitable cash payout you might feel entitled to from a bad work experience. If there is a situation at work that just makes it intolerable for you, my advice is to leave. Take action and go. Don't subjugate yourself by waiting for others to act. The company will be worse off for its loss.
Or, you could just kick the office bully down the stairs. Either way, problem solved.