Banning Workplace Bullies

Banning Workplace Bullies

A company that tolerates bullying is a dysfunctional company — and that dysfunction is very likely to impact on the bottom line. Here’s how to prevent bullies from damaging your business

Steve Rudd, an IT and services professional from Tennessee, USA, returned to work from a long weekend a few years ago to find he was starting to get some highly peculiar reactions from the people answering his phone calls.

A bit of digging revealed a co-worker he held in high esteem because of his creativity — who happened to work in the corporate telecommunications group — had been induced by a foe to change Rudd’s name in the phone system to Forest Gump (from the movie starring Tom Hanks).

Never one to be intimidated, Rudd bought the co-worker lunch and plotted his revenge: a WAV file planted on the instigator’s PC that produced a snoring sound whenever his PC went into screensaver mode, (chosen because the individual was frequently out of the office and kept his door locked).

Another corporate bully set his sights on Rudd some years ago. His biggest demand was that all who worked for him be “team players”, which in his eyes clearly meant accepting the philosophy of “his way or the highway”.

“I refused to play along,” Rudd relates. “One day he was chairing a rather large department meeting where he was giving a ‘teamwork’ speech. His favourite phrase was ‘There is no ‘I’ in TEAM,’” Rudd says.

“He made that statement several times through his dissertation. Finally, he repeated the phrase, adding ‘Isn’t that right Mr Rudd’ pointing me out in the crowd. My reply even caught me off guard: ‘That’s true, and there’s no U either’. The laughter was deafening . . .”

Bullies are fun to mess with, Rudd says. They simply don’t know what to do with people who refuse to be intimidated. And if you get your retaliation right, you can even stop the bully from gaining any benefit from their bad behaviour. Adopt the right mind set, he says, and you can easily turn those tables.

The trouble is, of course, that bullies thrive precisely because there are always some people prone to intimidation even as others eagerly take up the cudgels to defend themselves against those they perceive to be bullying them. And corporate warfare, where the strong stand up for themselves and retaliate at will while the more easily intimidated suffer in miserable — and typically highly unproductive — silence, is no answer to the problem of workplace bullying.

Of course workplace bullying is something that is as old as the workplace itself, its causes buried somewhere deep within the human psyche. But a workplace which permits bullying — and in the still largely-macho world of IT bullying is probably more likely to flourish than elsewhere — is a dysfunctional workplace, and that dysfunction is very likely to reveal itself in the corporate bottom line.

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