Business culture 'endorses bullies'

May 18 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

"A business culture that celebrates aggression, toughness, endurance, and the ability to endure pain, as our does, runs dangerously close to endorsing bully bosses", writes Margaret Heffernan in her excellent column over on Fast Company.

I've heard countless tales of bosses who rant and rave, give their employees the silent treatment, ignore them, mock them, glare at them, insult and belittle them in front of others, spread false rumors about them, withhold the information they need to do their work -- and take credit for everything they've done. Employees working in these conditions often find their physical health, mental health, and confidence so destroyed that they lack even the confidence to leave and instead find themselves trapped in a world of psychological violence.

In talking to people about their work, it has been so hard to find people without at least one such experience that it's made me wonder how systemic bullying is in our business environment. The lowest estimate says that 12% of workers are bullied; others put it as high as 50%. Women are as likely as men to be toxic bosses -- but women are 80% more likely to be the targets. Men pick on women -- and women pick on women. The abused are neither young nor thin skinned but tend to be in their 40s, with years of experience behind them. And toxic bosses don't work alone -- 77% of them enlist others to help. So widespread is this phenomenon that lawyers seeking some legal remedy have found that in many cases, people see abuse and stress as simply intrinsic to employment."

She might also have added that bullying is also intrinsic to bad management. Bosses who bully others do so to hide their own inadequacies and incompetence. It's been said before, but we'll say it again: good managers manage, bad managers bully.

Sadly, though, it's not just corporate culture that encourages bullies. As Sam Horn, author of Take the Bully By the Horns: Stop Unethical, Uncooperative or Unpleasant People from Running and Ruining Your Life said:

"When you watch TV, you see kids bad-mouthing their parents. You see shows like 'Survivor' and the reality shows where the more aggressive and manipulative and conniving you are, the more you are rewarded. We are growing up in a culture where 'dissing' each other is the norm.

"Even laugh tracks. Remember 'The Weakest Link?' The host would ridicule the contestants and everyone was laughing en masse at this individual and they were just supposed to buck up and take it. Boy, are our values getting confused when this is held up as an example!"

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