Beware: Bullying Can Become Ingrained In An Organization
I worked for 15 years in a highly successful and profitable financial services office.
I joined the office with its new head, who had recruited me before coming aboard. When we arrived, we found 3 employees: the bully, an accountant and a secretary.
On my first day(!) my boss and I were told by the bully that the accountant was "crazy" and "incompetent", and should be fired. I was asked by my boss to investigate, and found that the accountant was, in contrast to the bully's story, doing a good job. I reported back to my boss, contradicting the bully's story.
My honesty and inability to be controlled turned me into the bully's next target. No, my boss did not fire the bully -- an enormous mistake.
Over the years, as the unit grew, the bully managed to recruit a number of incoming employees to his cause. The accountant and I remained targets of harassment. As well, my original boss was eventually targeted by the bully's clique and was eventually forced to resign -- a process that took about 7 years.
The next manager of the unit had been a member of the bully's clique, and bullying became ingrained in the management culture of the unit. This persisted even *after* the original bully left the business unit.
I was extremely good at my job and had received 7 years of outstanding reviews, accompanying raises, and a promotion from the original manager who had hired me. My skill level and my work product were strong enough to allow me to survive the bullying culture of this office for a remarkable 15 years (!) -- although I was never accepted by the clique, nor did I receive any promotions after the ouster of my original boss (instead, my prominence in the unit declined over the years). My compensation was held to minimum increases under the manager who had been a member of the bully's clique, and my pay did not reflect the excellence of my work or keep pace with the compensation received by other managers at my level.
I eventually left this organization after the ownership of the business unit changed -- sadly, the clique survived. (As you can imagine, the clique did not recommend me for retention to the incoming ownership.)
I'm sure you are wondering why it took me 15 years (!) to get out of this wretched business unit:
(1) I loved my work and was great at it. My job responsibilities were such that a good deal of my time was spent managing transactions with outside companies. The job also required periodic travel. This limited some of my exposure to the bully's clique.
(2) The economy had ups and downs and, for whatever reason, I was not offered alternative employment during the years that I worked for this business unit. Believe me, I tried to find another job. (Fortunately, I found another job after I left this particular business.)
I am exceptionally lucky to have survived this experience reasonably intact.
For targets of workplace bullying:
(1) Leave, if at all possible, even if you do not have another job lined up. No job, no matter how wonderful, is worth ongoing harassment. As well, you will never be as successful as you can be at an organization where you are not respected. I regret that I did not walk out, even without a new job. (Ironically, I had tried to resign during my original boss's tenure -- about 4-5 years after I started -- and was talked out of it by senior management because I was perceived as so valuable. I should have just resigned. Instead, I tried to cope with the situation.)
(2) If you have been targeted, don't waste time trying to figure out why. This is not a situation that you created. The problem is *not* you -- it the workplace that is at fault.
(3) It is hard to sue in many jurisdictions, especially if you cannot prove racial or gender harassment. (I tried to find an attorney, and was not successful.)
(4) Keep a diary of events. If you are able to litigate (or threaten to litigate) the diary will be crucial.
(5) Ask that your orders (especially ridiculous ones), be furnished to you in writing. You can tell the bully that you are doing this to prevent miscommunication. Provide key elements of work product in writing, too, and keep these records. (Thank goodness for e-mail.)
(1) If you are a member of management, root out any bullies early on. No, bullies cannot be controlled. Of course, the situation becomes worse after a clique is recruited and bullying becomes ingrained in the culture of the affected business unit.
(2) Don't encourage rivalries or cliques as a management tool to control your subordinates, because a clique may turn on you and eliminate you. (This happened to my original boss, who attempted to get along with the original bully and, eventually, the members of the bully's clique.)
(3) Once a bully or a clique has been empowered, bullying can become part of the ongoing culture of the work group. The original personnel may change and the circumstances may change, but the bullying takes on a life of its own. (I can attest to this, having seen the bullying at this business unit persist, even after the original bully left the group.)
(4) Suspect bullying (or at least investigate the possibility seriously) if you are continually being told that one or another employee is "crazy" or "incompetent". Good managers try to improve the performance of their employees. Managers who habitually characterize one or more of their reports as "crazy" or "incompetent" have a stronger-than-average likelihood of being bullies.