Stand Up Against Bullying: A blog to help stop workplace bullying
Workplace Bullying Organizations Leadership

Bully Culture: Three Signs for Leadership

a yellow sign with a skull and crossbones on it
Original Publication Date: July 16, 2016; Edited and Re-published on October 3, 2022

The issue of workplace bullying has come up several times in my discussions with organizational leaders. Leaders often tell me there are no signs of bullying at work. My response is the same every time. We can always find signs if we choose to look for them. The question is, what are they?

The use of sick leave and absences are two of the first signs of workplace problems. Further, leaders should be cautious when workers begin pointing out their coworkers' mistakes. A leader might appreciate getting the inside scoop on what's going on. The purpose of this move is to build trust with the leader so that the leader will support the aggressor rather than the target.  A bully culture is emerging when this happens.

Work habits can also be a sign of workplace bullying. A change in behavior may go unnoticed because people will sometimes change their behavior. In bully culture, however, these behavior changes are more radical and cause stark differences in people's work behavior that may even be out of character for them. 

As an example, a target or a bystander who was once early to meetings may start to arrive later and later. Similarly, their contributions to meetings may also decline. Later, these workers stop attending meetings or attend sporadically.   The behavior of these individuals has changed markedly over time.  

Leaders are included to ignore behavior changes in workers and blame the individual worker. But there is something wrong with the work environment when these signs appear.

Another sign of a problematic work culture is high employee turnover. People will leave a problematic workplace if they can especially if they are targets. Turnover will be consistent, and longevity for employees will be a challenge for the organization. To understand what is going on, leadership should investigate the reasons why people are leaving and implement an exit interview with pointed questions.  To avoid skewing results, an outside interviewer should also be used.

In addition, leaders need to pay attention to their surroundings. Their eyes must be opened, and their ears must be receptive so they can find out what is happening.  What are people saying and how are they acting? Stress and tension are common in bully cultures and it is not hard to recognize. It is important for leadership to be able to recognize these signs.

It is a sign that something is amiss if there are both formal and informal allegations of workplace bullying in an organization.

In order to effectively deal with workplace bullying, leaders must remember that it never occurs in a single incident, rather it accumulates over time. To determine if workplace bullying is at work in their organization, leadership must take a close look at all of these elements and signs. Signs of bully culture are always present.

Call to Action:

At work this week, pay attention to what is happening around you and answer the following questions:
·      How are people interacting?
·      Is there tension? If so, why?
·      Are people behaving unprofessionally?
·      Can you identify any signs from the article?