The stories I have heard over the years about organizations and agencies that fall prey to bully culture, allowing their workers to be victimized for years, are numerous. I've heard about vulnerable workers being bullied for months, years, and even decades. Staying in bully culture is the norm, not the exception. Consequently, workplace bullying becomes an everyday occurrence, and we lose sight of what constitutes good professional behavior.
The more bullying occurs, the more normalized it becomes and the more integrated it becomes into everyday work life. Aggressive behavior eventually embeds itself into the company culture, and workers and leaders struggle to recognize its existence and inappropriateness.
Workplace violence victims often do not even flinch at behaviors that others might deem aggressive. They become immune to the deterioration of their workplace and struggle to judge what is and is not appropriate. Some of this can be attributed to a lack of intervention on the part of the organization.
My client and I were discussing the culture of their organization. A meeting that they had was described to me in detail. In addition to discussing the meeting topics, the person mentioned that some of their co-workers were name-calling and raising their voices at them during the meeting. Despite this unprofessional behavior, my client did not bat an eye.
I suggested that this type of behavior might not be appropriate or professional at work. In response, this individual stated that this was a good meeting. They didn't even flinch at the aggression they encountered because it was part of their everyday work culture. In this case, the worker experienced a pattern of aggression like this regularly, and it probably wasn't the worst they had ever seen. Most of us would agree, however, that this type of aggressive behavior is not acceptable in the workplace.
A universal standard of professional behavior is believed to exist among workers. Although we expect people to know how to behave at work, we do not teach them these skills. Behaviors of professionals, like those of bullies, are learned.
How does bullying culture become part of the workplace? First, workplace bullying is legal in the United States. Bullying in the workplace is not regulated by federal or state law. In reality, it is the organization's responsibility to ensure the safety of its employees. Managing workplace aggression and preventing abuse is a key component of this process.
Secondly, a toxic work environment is created by organizations failing to intervene and especially by those that allow workplace aggression to continue for years. Organizations can take a variety of measures to prevent and stop bully culture. Many of these require little to no effort. However, many fail to respond because of their unwillingness to admit they might have a problem and/or that they just do not know what to do. It just seems easier for organizations to sit back and let workplace aggression become a part of the normal workday.