The Impact of Bullying in Organizations: A Conversation with #SHRM18 Speaker Catherine Mattice



A positive workplace culture can make all the difference.

But what if your organization isn’t quite there yet? What if you are working within a culture of incivility, one that tolerates bullying? What are you up against?

In this post, we continue our conversation with Catherine Mattice, president of Civility Partners LLC and speaker at the upcoming 2018 SHRM Annual Conference (#SHRM18). Here she shares her thoughts on the damage that bullying causes within organizations and the to the people who work in them.

What kind of damage does bullying cause?

“What we do for work is such an important part of who we are, and our self-concept and our self-esteem. Work is 50% of our wellbeing. We have our personal person, and our work person – so half of who we are is our work. We get self-esteem from both. We get self-esteem and confidence from being a good wife, husband, mother, father, neighbor, and so forth. And we get self-esteem and confidence from being good at our jobs, accomplishing goals, moving up in our careers, working in a team, bringing value to the organization, etc.  If a person is being bullied at work, their self-esteem is being ripped to shreds, and of course, that affects their personal self too.

People who are bullied are anxious, depressed, angry, and confused about why this is happening. There’s actually a lot of research finding that it even causes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you don’t stop it, you’re actually letting people in your workplace develop PTSD, and I have a problem with that.”

How can you stop bullying if it’s not illegal behavior?

“You might feel that there’s no way to address bullying since it’s not illegal – versus something like harassment, where you’re required to. But bullying is a performance problem. You discipline and let people go all the time for not meeting sales quotas, showing up late, not offering the best customer service. None of those things are illegal, but we discipline and fire for them all the time. Bullying is no different – it’s a performance problem just like these other issues.

Also, understand that harassment and bullying are in fact the same behaviors. The only difference is who they’re aimed at. Bully everyone, it’s legal. Bully only those of a certain race, and it’s harassment. Do you really want to be drawing a fine line in the sand?”

We know bullying causes turnover, absenteeism, etc. What are some other types of damage that bullying causes? What do most people overlook?

“Many organizations don’t stop bullying – they think “the bully” is too valuable. But, think about what happens to the culture. For one, the culture is now negative, so people don’t speak up to protect a positive healthy culture. When you have a positive and healthy culture, people are willing to defend that culture and speak up when people get out of line.

Further, HR has made it clear that behavior doesn’t really matter to them. So by not stepping in when there’s bullying sends the message to employees that they should not speak up when there’s harassment or some other negative behavior, because it won’t be addressed. If you want your employees to tell you when bad behavior’s happening, you have to something when bad behavior’s happening.

Bottom line: If I feel comfortable at work and someone crosses the line, then I’m going to say, “hey you know yesterday you crossed the line, and I just wanted to let you know.” If I’m in a negative work environment I’ll just keep that to myself, and then I’ll leave when I’m fed up, or tell an attorney.”

What is the difference between a bystander and reinforcer?

“The word reinforcer really highlights the fact that any person witnessing bullying or any other negative behavior makes a conscious choice not to step in in the moment and protect the target. Contrast that with the word bystander, which sounds like you’re an innocent passerby and have no choice. You could be a bystander to a car accident, there isn’t anything you can do – but you are not a bystander in the workplace, you are a reinforcer if you don’t speak up.

Reinforcers make a conscious choice not to tell HR, and they make a conscious choice not to band together and resolve the issue. By inaction, they are acting in a very distinct manner and they are they’re reinforcing the behavior.  And HR, by not standing up to stop bullying, even when your CEO tells you not to, you too are a reinforcer. You are allowing someone in your prevue to develop anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and that’s on you.”

Ready to detect and stop bullying, violence, and harassment in your workplace? Be sure to attend Catherine’s session at #SHRM18!

#SHRM18 Session Planner:
Workplace Bullying IS Illegal: Bullying, Violence and Harassment (and How to Detect and Stop It)
Catherine Mattice. Civility Partners LLC.
Monday, June 18. 2:00pm – 3:15pm.

Can’t wait to learn more? Connect with her here!
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