Learn about defining bad behaviors and negative work environments, including the prevalence of workplace bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment—as well as the fact that these behaviors happen as a social phenomenon, rather than because of the perpetrator.
- Before we get too far down the path of solving the problem of bad behaviors at work, I thought it was important to get on the same page with definitions, and more importantly, to understand that negativity is a social phenomenon. And it's an organizational culture problem. Behaviors stem from the individual, but it's up to the organization to step in and resolve bad behaviors. If they don't, the organization has to take responsibility for the behavior. I like to think of bad behaviors on a spectrum with incivility at the far left.
Incivility is about rudeness, impoliteness, or microaggressions. It's low-intensity behavior that displays a lack of regard for the other person, and that violates mutual respect. It's not saying hello in the hallways, for example. Next on the spectrum is workplace bullying, which is defined as systematic aggressive communication, manipulation of work, and acts aimed at humiliating others. Bullying creates a psychological power imbalance, and causes those at the receiving end to experience psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, fear, and stress.
In turn, physical problems arise, such as headaches, sleepless nights, and even heart disease. Several research studies find that anywhere between 35 and 75% of the workforce feels bullied, depending on the industry. One person I coached for his bullying behavior used to stand up in staff meetings, lean over the table, and tell whomever just said something he disagreed with, "That's a stupid idea, "and let me tell you why." Then he'd launch into a 30-minute lecture about it.
That's an example of aggression and humiliation. In another case, one woman told me that her boss yelled at her in front of others, emailed the whole office about her mistakes, and gave her twice as much work as everyone else. Then when she got her performance evaluation, it said she was unable to keep up with the work demands, and she was recommended for a demotion. This is an example of manipulation. Harassment and discrimination are a subset of bullying. Harassment is unwelcome conduct aimed at a person due to their personal characteristics, such as race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or others, and that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
Harassment is often overt, repeated behavior, such as racial slurs or sending emails with sexual content. Discrimination is treating someone unfavorably because of their personal characteristics, such as denying a job offer or promotion, or paying people with certain characteristics less than others doing the same job. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, reports they receive 90,000 discrimination complaints a year, a third of which also include harassment.
They also suspect that 75% of people never report harassment or discrimination to HR or managers. In other words, the EEOC is aware that there's more harassment and discrimination than we could ever imagine, and that's really sad. Hazing and mobbing are also a subset of bullying, defined as a group of people bullying one person. The difference here is that hazing is usually about indoctrination, and once a new hire is fully vetted, the behaviors let up.
Mobbing, on the other hand, doesn't have an expiration date. You might think of the word mob like a riot, but in this context, we are really just talking about group bullying. There are many stories of women joining the fire department, for example. And as the only woman, she is mobbed by her peers. They might spray paint her locker or post inappropriate things in the women's bathroom. This is also a good example of how all these negative behaviors cross over, because this is also sexual harassment. At the far end of the spectrum is workplace violence, something that is probably much more common than you think.
Only a small percentage of violence includes shootings or assaults. Roughly two million American workers are affected by workplace violence each year. It's verbal abuse, physical assault, and homicide. Really, all that has to happen in order for there to be violence is for someone to experience fear. For example, in a case where I appeared as an expert witness for the plaintiff, the manager would yell at and cower over people. Naturally, people would back away, and sometimes, he would fishhook them with his finger in their nostril to keep them from going anywhere.
Most people would say the violence happened when there was touching, when the finger entered the nostril. But actually, the workplace violence happened as soon as the person at the receiving end of the yelling became afraid. When you think about it that way, you can see how common workplace violence is. So we've discussed the full spectrum of negative behaviors at work. I would say do you really want your managers picking through this list, trying to understand what's what? A better option is to just create a positive work environment where these behaviors can't thrive.
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- Defining a negative workplace
- The ROI of a positive workplace
- Conducting an employee survey
- Creating a vision for change
- Building a strategic plan
- Using your performance management system
- Leading change