Bullying Should Be A Losing Hand

I'm here at the Annual SHRM Conference - we're in Vegas!

As always, I'm having fun reconnecting with colleagues I haven't seen in a while and connecting with brand new ones. But alas, it's not all about socializing; I need to attend the concurrent sessions too!

I attended a session today on workplace bullying and was thrilled to hear, within the first ten minutes, the two presenters validate what I have been telling my clients for two years now: we are close, very close, to having bullying be "prohibited by law" and, therefore, the time has come to start preparing for it.

Here's the deal, folks. Bullying is a tricky beast and if you think you have it all figured out, think again.

Shoot, some of you may think that bullying doesn't exist in your stellar organization and, therefore, you can blow off this topic fairly easily. 

HA! I'm willing to bet your workplace culture has a bit of bullying ingrained in it. If I'm right, good luck pounding that out of your "norm". You'll be faced with pushback...and lots of it.


You'll hear that bullying is hard to define and, therefore, is hard to prove. You'll think that since bullying is hard to prove, you can't do anything about it. 

I call BS.

Please don't overcomplicate things. Bullying can be defined easily - it's abusive conduct that is repetitive or pervasive enough to make someone feel intimidated, pressured, disempowered, humiliated, incompetent or stupid. Wordsmith it all you want, but somehow add language that clearly states you won't tolerate abusive conduct to your professionalism policy, your workplace behavior policy or whatever policy you have regarding how you expect your employees to behave.



You'll hear that bullying is not "illegal" so you can't do anything about it.

I call BS.

Who cares that bullying is not yet illegal? 

Regardless of the legality, bullying is still wrong and, trust me when I say, you'll find yourself in a legal nightmare trying to defend your butt if the only card in your hand is "but it wasn't illegal." 

In addition, isn't your job to reduce risk and liability?  Bullying raises risk like nobody's business. It decreases productivity, it increases stress, it is a baby step away from harassment and workplace violence and it tears people away from the focus and priority that your organization needs them to have. Do you really want to bet on that? 



People will suggest the "victims" are too damn sensitive.

I call BS.

Why does someone have to "buck up" to work with your organization? Why do your employees need to tolerate demoralizing, patronizing or intimidating behavior?

Perspective, of course, is important but how would you like it if you were made to feel like an idiot, if you felt pressured to do something, if you were isolated and treated differently or as if you were unwanted, or if you were set up to fail? Would you feel valued if someone told you to "buck up"?



Bullies will argue "that's just the way I talk, work, or act...I don't mean anything by it."

I call BS.

Lack of intent is indeed entering into the equation in some bullying legislation but here's something to ponder: should we not focus on the result? Was there harm because of the behavior? If there was, or if there will reasonably be harm, shouldn't you prohibit it?

When all is said and done, folks, I believe this: 

Bullying is abusive.

Bullying is unprofessional.

Bullying is wrong.

We wouldn't let our employees be jerks to our customers, partners or vendors so why would we allow them to be jerks to each other?

Bullies bully because the victim doesn't speak up. 

Bullies bully because they think they can get away with it. 

Bullies bully because we've folded.

Bullies bully because they want us to think they have the winning hand.

It's time, folks, to call their bluff.

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