HR Professionals Target for Workplace Bullying

A side effect of HR professionals taking on more leading, visible roles in business could be becoming the target of workplace bullies.

More than 30 percent of HR professionals responding to a survey in the summer of 2011 said they had been bullied at work—about the same rate as other employees responding to recent surveys. But over half of the bullied HR professionals said they felt that the abuse was related to their role as an HR practitioner. (See Study Probes Bullying of HR Professionals, SHRM Online.)

“Because the role of HR has increasingly become less transactional and more strategic, I’m not really surprised that HR practitioners are experiencing some enhanced conflict at work,” said study author Teresa A. Daniel, J.D., Ph.D., dean and professor of human resource leadership programs at Sullivan University in Louisville, Ky.

The most common bullying behavior that survey participants said they endured—often on a daily or weekly basis—was verbal abuse, including insults, yelling, screaming and cursing.

By simply doing their job well, HR professionals said they felt they were making enemies. Having to tell managers “no” won’t make you popular.  Other business leaders may not fully understand the HR professional’s job. Or managers may see a competent HR professional as a threat.

Survey participants reported being sabotaged at work with criticism, “a flagrant disregard for [HR’s] recommendations,” hostility, spreading rumors or lies, and attempting to isolate and exclude the HR practitioner from meetings and decisions.

Sound familiar? As you worked your way into a position of leadership in your career, did you feel bullied by someone who didn’t like what you had to say, or the decisions you had to make?

Daniel and the survey participants offered several strategies to overcome bullying, from improving communication, coaching and conflict resolution skills to leaving the job.

How would you handle it?

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