Who hasn’t had to deal with a workplace bully, a gossip or the sociopathic personality (more commonly known as the backstabber)? Most companies have policies, in place, to deal, theoretically, with the issue. Policies usually drawn up by Human Resource departments. Before we go any further, let’s just take a quick look at the “Human Resource” department; do not think for a minute that this department is there for the employee, for the wee cogs that power the corporate wheel. Let’s just clear that misconception up, straight away.
The Human Resource department is the tool used by the corporation/company to keep a lid on the corporeal necessary liabilities, otherwise known as the “employees.” Their job is to ensure that all labour laws are being followed or appear to be followed in order to avoid any inconvenient lawsuits or annoying government questions. They are responsible for all the smoke and mirror games necessary when dealing with necessary liabilities. Send out an uplifting newsletter or two, provide an intranet web site with much “Rah, Rah! Go Team! We’re all a family!” and the “We are successful because of YOU, our most valued assets!” nonsense.
The department is required to institute policies in order to provide employees with a safe and secure work environment. A few decades ago, something called “Industrial psychology” appeared and was embraced as a way into the mind of the employee. We won’t use the term brainwashing, that’s a little to blunt and industrial psychology is anything but blunt. This arm of the “science” of psychology is used to keep the troops under control. To keep the herd calm and productive. To create and maintain the appearance of management as a type of benevolent parental figure, with only the good of the individual in mind. HR’s mandate is to control the minds of the necessary liabilities and to cull the herd, when necessary; usually when some poor sot actually believes that thinking outside of the box is a good thing.
Corporations and HR departments deplore any thought that wanders outside of the cubicle farm. It may lead to someone thinking they have the right to individuality within the corporate structure and that just cannot be permitted. The business buzzword of late, reflecting society’s trends, would be “bully”. The media is quite smitten with the topic and report it whenever possible. It is one of THE topics under discussion throughout the internet, social media, in the classrooms, in the hallways and at the water cooler. It seems everyone has their own tale of woe.
Bullies are an unfortunate fact of life. We may meet them in a daycare playgroup, the park, the classroom, perhaps a sibling and bullies do not simply disappear when they are old enough to vote. No. Bullies graduate to the workplace. At this point, the vast majority have learned that physical intimidation pales in comparison to psychological warfare. And they are right. Physical intimidation is limited and there are very real consequences to be faced; handcuffs, a courtroom and the potential of meeting far bigger bullies, up close and personal – in a prison setting.
Psychological bullying has, virtually, no risk of consequence. The attacks can be constant and far more damaging than a Charley Horse to the arm or a shove into a wall. It is very difficult to prove without witnesses or actual physical evidence. Physical evidence would be a video, for example, a text or e-mail. Workplace bullying is identified by the impact it has on the employee – the wearing down of self-confidence. Being made to feel stupid or incompetent on a daily basis. This is accomplished, by the bully, via facial expressions, condescending tones or a constant “hovering” or monitoring tasks, phone calls and conversations.
Rarely is shouting used anymore as this is considered unacceptable however, snide comments or double entendre insults are an, unfortunate, norm in many work environments. One strategy conconcted by HR departments, in order to keep these messy situations out of their own departments, is to require the bully and the victim to “talk it out”. This doesn’t work with school children, to believe that this would work with adults is absurd. When the bully is a manager or supervisor, it will exacerbate the situation and force it just a little more underground and devious.
Complaints of bullying will see the victim’s name exposed to the bully, in many corporate environments. Again, a totally useless procedure that will cause more damage than already experienced by the victim.
Society and by extension, the business/corporate world has no time for victims. The bully is often rewarded as they have learned how to “play the system” via underhanded tactics for the most part. They know not to put their thoughts on hard copy, they know how to lie and how to place themselves to appear innocent. So what is a victim to do?
Looking to management or HR is an exercise in futility, I’m afraid. Policies are words. They are not going to help anyone in a bullying situation unless the bully is a moron and has left a discernable trail. Bullies are often sociopaths and possess an intellect. It may well be a skewed intellect but they are not stupid, by any means. Their entire world revolves around how best to turn a situation to their personal advantage. This boils down to either the fight or flee option. If the psychological abuse has not created too much damage, the victim can fight back. Insist that all communications be on “hard” copy – so to speak – e-mails or written memos. Never simply verbal. The condescending looks or comments can be called out, particularly if there are people in close proximity. It can be a dangerous game but no workplace bully will want their methodology exposed in such a manner. It comes down to a siege state of existence. Protecting oneself at all costs. This takes time and a lot of personal effort. Only the victim can decide whether or not it is worth the effort.
The bully will not teach their staff, for example. There will be no sharing of vital information – the only information shared will be that which will put the bully in a positive light. It falls on the victim to teach themselves as much as they can with regard to their jobs and work procedures. Again, this takes time, effort and a steel spine. Not all jobs are worth that kind of personal investment.
It is a personal decision. The victim is at war and can either stand, fight back in an intelligent manner or fly the white flag of resignation, walk out the door to new opportunities. Either way, is a good way. It depends on the situation. Sometimes there really is no point in battle, sometimes, it is better to keep your dignity, your self-esteem and flip the bully a metaphorical bird and walk away.
Bullies are everywhere in life and for those of us with normal psyches, it is our personal responsibility to learn how to deal with these individuals and not permit them entry into our inner sanctums. You are only a victim if you choose to be. Walking away does not attach a victim stigma to you unless you haul it along as emotional baggage by choice. You are not responsible for the behaviour of a sociopath. That is, entirely, on them. Your sole responsibility is to yourself and ensuring that you remain psychologically healthy while you contribute to society. The decision is a personal one and not open to anyone’s opinion. Fight or flee. It is up to you and only you can decide which option is the better of the two for your situation. Do not look for help from anyone within your office or corporation. This is your issue and yours alone.