Question: “I hear more about workplace bullying these days. Bullying conjures up visions of the mean kid on the playground picking on others.  Why do adults bully their co-workers?”

 There are many reasons adults bully their co-workers.  The term workplace bully suggests the interconnectedness of organizational (workplace) and individual (bully) dynamics, and both influence this behavior. 

Organizational cultures set the tone for acceptable behaviors. If normal organizational behavior, as modeled by the leaders, is deviant or aggressive, employees observe, learn, and respond in kind.  When cultures tolerate or reward these actions through promotions, accolades, sanitization, or denial they are viewed as cultivating, supporting, and legitimizing bullying.  Conversely, in organizations where cultural norms assure consistently fair treatment and support for all employees bullying behaviors is less likely to occur.

Additionally, downsizing, changes in leadership, or changing job descriptions may lead to bullying because employees become insecure about their jobs, feel they are losing control, or experience increased workloads.  Often, targets are perfectionists and overachievers, and the bully views them as patronizing and egotistical, or they envy the target’s status.  Bullies try to preserve their own sense of self by humiliating the target, withholding vital information, or setting unrealistic expectations.

With all the economy-driven changes occurring in organizations today, workplace bullying is a phenomenon that leaders will need to recognize and address.