Transparency: A Cure for Workplace Bullying?
Does your organization use suspicion, character attacks, and secrets as a way to “manage”? Do you think this management strategy keeps people in line and reduces workplace conflict? Think again. Though secrecy is necessary in some situations, an overall strategy or culture of secrecy can destroy an organization. Secrecy might come from the top of the hierarchy where the CEO doesn’t want to tell everyone what’s happening, or it might come from a single boss of a department who thinks that secrecy breeds compliance and good competition.
But, some of the results of secrecy include:
People wonder what’s going on, who’s in charge, who has access. They spend so much time worrying about their careers that they can’t focus on their work. In one case I handled, secrecy was making everyone so anxious about their jobs and the future of the company that they started to leavelike rats from a sinking ship. The loss of talent and historical knowledge nearly sank the company.
Secrecy breeds paranoia which leads people to lie, cheat, and accuse one another in order to get ahead. Since they don’t know what’s expected of them, all they can do is attack one another. As people are stabbing each other in the back to get ahead, you’re losing your talent and your productivity. Your best people will leave you as soon as they can.
When facts are obscured because of secrecy, gossip can run rampant. Gossip undermines confidence, corrodes effectiveness and may very well eliminate your best employees. I had a case where a person who handled tech calls was able to undermine her supervisor by gossiping about him. While the gossip was untrue, because the company was keeping promotions and job descriptions secret, she was able to take advantage of the information vacuum for her own advantage.
Secrecy fosters and exacerbates any bullying behaviors that might exist. If everyone’s keeping things a secret, you can bet the person who uses bullying tactics is counting on that secrecy to give them license to abuse.
I had a case where people were bullied by one boss but each person thought they were the only ones. The bullying was done behind closed doors (sort of like domestic violence) so no one knew the other was being targeted. By the time the bullying was exposed, the company faced major losses from downturns in productivity, rising healthcare costs, and individuals grouping together to take action against the company.
Everyone’s frustrated by secrecy but sometimes it stems from the boss’s unwillingness to “hear about it”. In one matter I handled the boss said he was a “mushroom”. He wanted to be in the dark (seriously) and left supervision, deadlines and quotas to his managers. The managers were so frustrated because they had to remain secretive that they stopped speaking to and trusting one another. Each was responsible for their deliverables. Each was dependent upon the other but none of them trusted the other. So, because they didn’t work together, they were failing.
So, are these costs you want to pay? Reduced productivity, unhealthy workplace, no cooperation across departments, losing your best and brightest, and the time, money and personnel it takes to investigate complaints. If not, then rethink a strategy of secrecy and move toward transparency.
For more help with this transition, contact me.
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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.