Company Culture: The Critical Factor on How Bullying is Handled?

Company Culture: Bullied by Management?

As an HR professional, you probably have a plan for when an employee complains to you about bullying coming from their boss or management. But does this plan account for the work culture of your organization? If not, how do you move forward?

Company Culture: What Type is it?

The first question you should ask yourself is not “who is the bully, what’s the bullying about” or even “what am I going to do about it.” The first question to ask is“what is the culture of my organization?” Why? Because your approach to handling the bullying complaint will differ depending on your answer to the “culture question”.

Hierarchical Structure
If you work in a more hierarchical structure, like in high-pressure sales or science, then you may work for management that has a “take no prisoners” approach. In this case, there is probably no policy in HR around workplace bullying, and probably no existing procedure to fall back on. This culture reinforces bullying type behaviors. Your leaders will see the bullying as appropriate given the organizational structure. Bullying is seen as an asset because it’s interpreted as good leadership.

Therefore, when someone comes to you complaining of bullying, you will have to manage their expectations about what can be done. When bringing a complaint to management, you should avoid describing the pain and suffering of the target of bullying. Instead describe the costs of the bullying in terms of dollars. How is it hurting productivity? How is it hurting the bottom line? These are the arguments you have a chance of winning. Remember that hierarchies like this are focused on the bottom line rather than on the human aspects of the workplace.

Human-Focused Structure
If you are working for an organization that has a more human-focused structure, then you can focus on the details of the bullying complaint because you “have upper management on your side”. If you have a more human-focused structure in your organization, you probably have a policy. And chances are you have officers above you who will agree that it’s not a best practice to behave in a bullying manner. Here, you have a better chance of getting a handle on the situation.

In this situation you can focus on gathering information about the complaint including: What type of bullying am I dealing with? Is this complaint part of a pattern of complaints? What has happened that brings the target to you to report the bullying behavior? You can explain the issue in BOTH the emotional consequences that the employee is suffering, and also how it affects the bottom line.

Position Yourself Wisely
If you want to position yourself to do something about bullying, you have to do it based on the culture of your organization. By understanding your environment, you have a much stronger chance of making the right move.

Company Culture: Get Support

In either case, whether it is a hierarchical company culture, or a more human-focused company culture, you have options. If you need help making your next move, contact me, Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant. I have years of experience helping people just like you.

  • I had a client who was a young man with disabilities. He worked for a retail location in a janitorial role. He loved his job and everyone he worked with. Unfortunately he was the victim of workplace bullying and was made to work obscene hours tirelessly. He did so with a smile because he truly loved the company.

    Unfortunately this led to him neglecting warning signs about his own health and when he brought them to the attention of his shift supervisors he was told to go back to work.

    Later he ended up passing out on the floor, being hospitalized, and later passing away. All this because bully supervisors took advantage of him.

    We need to recognize not only when this is happening to ourselves, but to those around us who cannot intercede on their own behalf.

  • Absolutely. It’s very hard for people to step up for those being bullied when they don’t stand up for themselves, however, as your story so clearly illustrates, the consequences of not speaking up are huge and the guilt is powerful. I’m not sure you could have saved him, but I don’t think that is the point of your story. How do you think people can stand up for themselves and others? I am curious as to how you would handle it now that you have the clarity of 20/20 hindsight?