The Cultural Acceptance of Workplace Bullying

The Cultural Acceptance of Workplace Bullying

Does the frequency and acceptance of bullying in the workplace depend on your national culture? A recent study from the Journal of Business Research seems to indicate that it does.

Though I never think anyone’s given culture is an excuse for abrasive and bullying behavior, it seems that our cultural attitudes interpret bullying behavior, both in how it is perpetrated and received.


High Performance Orientation Culture

The study indicates acceptance of bullying seems to be higher in the United States and some European countries. “Anglo countries [such as the U.S. and U.K.] were among those with a “high performance orientation” valuing accomplishments, a sense of urgency, and explicit communication. These countries may tolerate bullying if it is seen as a means to achieve better results.”  (Keep in mind that this “high performance orientation” is in itself a cultural bias and I think judgmental. But that’s for another blog post.)


Manipulative Leadership

Something I have pointed out in the past is that this is a form of bullying I call Manipulative Leadership. The boss intimidates and threatens everyone on the team because he believes it is good business practice to do so. He does not think that sharing information, working together and team support are good for business and he thinks that intimidation is speedy. The boss prides himself on controlling the team, and his totally unaware that he is reducing productivity instead of stimulating productivity.


Manipulative Leadership is Common in the United States

Manipulative Leadership most often takes place in organizations or departments with time and performance pressures, such as sales, IT, research, or finance. Medicine, law, academia also all have high instances of Manipulative Leadership. The more intense the pressure, the more likely a manager might try a Manipulative Leadership strategy.


Humane Treatment Culture

The study goes on to say that “In contrast, countries such as Argentina, Mexico and Colombia value humane treatment of individuals as opposed to economic performance (there’s that bias and judgment again) and thus do not condone workplace bullying.”

This is not to say that bullying does not happen in these cultures, and I’m sure that workers south of the border would agree that bullying still happens often. The difference is that, according to the study, there are cultures where Manipulative Leadership is less accepted on the whole.

Where Do We Go From Here?

One of the myths that I think it is essential to debunk is that Manipulative Leadership works and produces results (and that’s why it’s found in “high performance based” countries). Manipulative Leadership doesn’t make performance improve. And if employers take a good hard look at their motivation strategies and compare it to the bottom line, they will see that it doesn’t work.

It is a broken and costly way of doing business because your best employees will not stay with your company. Some may file complaints, others might transfer, good will may be lost and while there might be profits, it is likely that the team may be under producing as a reaction to the manipulation.

Once this cultural myth is addressed, business savvy leaders will find a way to stop being manipulative leaders. But as the study indicates, we still have a long way to go.

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Also read my upcoming book, Success Strategies for Handling Workplace Bullying, which outlines strategies I have been teaching targets. My strategies have been proven effective and empowering for targets and I’m committed to sharing them with the world.

I’ve been a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.