The surprising person who’s keeping you from succeeding

Bullies are the number one cause of personal and professional unhappiness, failure and financial ruin.

I hate bullies. And I always have; as a ten-year-old girl, I ended up with countless bloody noses, bruises and torn ligaments for stepping in and defending the underdog. Bullying – loving coined as callous stupidity by my mother – made me unbearably eager to leave “adolescence” behind and become an adult. Surely, I thought, adults would never be so stupid as to engage in such irrational, waste-of-time behavior. And then I started to work in an office job.

Why Millennials Don’t Have it Wrong. For Once.

I’ve recently been re-exposed to a workplace tyrant. I’m appalled at not only the psychological turmoil this bully causes many of her colleagues, but also the inefficiency, lost dollars and potential lawsuits she’s causing the company. The reason why this bully – despite being a huge liability for the company – has not been fired is because this “established” (read: old) multinational firm values seniority over today’s (read: Google, Amazon or “Millennial”) values of fairness, kindles and merit.

To be clear, I’m an apologetic Millennial who unapologetically disagrees with the cohorts who demand a VP position just because they have a business degree from a fancy school. But, what I don’t disagree with is our strong sense of fairness, kindness and meritocracy that extends from our friendships to the workplace. These values, I believe, are critical to preventing workplace bullying; a problem that not only produces crippling psychological issues for the bullied, but also destroys families, careers and, yes, even causes death. Trust me on the latter of the outcomes as I’ve borne witness to it.

What’s really bothersome is that bullies are getting away with it. In fact, they’re making money and getting ahead because of our complacency. A recent study showed that bullying does get the bully ahead. This is because bullies are excellent at stealing other people’s work and passing it off for their own. They’re good at shifting blame for their own faults onto the bullied and are excellent at shielding their bosses from their true lazy personalities. I’ve seen this last bit done by preventing their bosses from communicating with the “peons”. After all, it’s the peons who know the bully’s true abilities and value to the company…which is none.

If this isn’t troublesome enough and motivating to fight against bullies, I’ve gathered research that proves bullies destroy companies and should be nixed at the earliest opportunity. The reason for this fervent effort is to help you make an excellent non-emotional business case to get rid of the office bully. And you should. Because they are likely trying to get rid of you, will ultimately destroy the company and make the majority of your life an unnecessary living hell.

How Bullies Destroy Businesses

The list bellow was not conjured out of bottles of wine and motivated by old high school wounds. Rather, the list is a product of several studies and a growing body of research that shows just how detrimental bullies can be on “the bottom line”, as well as those bullied.

  • Bullies Hamstring Creativity and Effective Problem Solving: Creativity, preventing critical problems from materializing and delivering excellent results are a direct result of companies that have a positive work environment. This means that employees of all “rank” are comfortable to disagree, debate and raise alternative solutions. A positive working environment is so important, that it’s this workplace feature – not talent, rank or salary – that’s accredited to of Disney, Saturday Night Live, the US Marine and Google’s success.
  • Bullies Reduce Productivity: Bill Sutton, an associate prof at Stanford University concluded “that productivity could decline up to a 40% when workers are distracted by bullying”. He attributes this decline to general distraction, as well as the fact that bullied employees lose their motivation to work, contribute and show up.
  • Bullies Waste Your and Company Time (a non-renewable resource!) and Damage Corporate Earnings: A research study from the United Kingdom concludes that “workplace bullying has been a factor in the loss of 18.9 million working days each year”. Absenteeism not only plummets moral and slows down decisions and progress, but it also causes significant business losses. For example, “Royal & Sun Alliance, the largest commercial insurance company in the United Kingdom”, lost approximately 10% of its profits or 18 billion British pounds annually due to bullying-related absenteeism.
  • Bullies Cause Employee Turnover: According to an article on Investopedia, “A report released by noworkplacebullies.com suggests that up to 30% of bullied employees will resign from their jobs, and 20% of those who witness bullying will also leave the organization. Figures released by overcomebullying.com suggest that the number of employees who leave due to bullying could be much higher – perhaps as much as 70% of bullied employees leave their employers. This in turn comes with an economic impact to the employer”.
  • Bullies Hurt Talent Acquisition: Everyone is screaming about retention and attracting talent. If you have a toxic environment, good luck in either of those areas. Millennials are looking for positive working environments, free from bullying and bullies to get away with unconscionable behavior because they have white hair. I have no doubt that if Google, Facebook or Twitter suddenly developed a reputation for sheltering and fostering bullies, talent would leave in droves.
  • Bullies Will Cause Lawsuits: Make no mistake about it – employers can be and have been responsible for bullying. In fact, employers have had to pay out millions of dollars in several extreme cases of bullying. For example, bullying could lead to a successful wrongful or constructive dismissal claim, not to mention damages for physical or mental health issues, stress, and lost wages. wrongfully by a bully supervisor.

How We can Stop Bullies from Climbing the Corporate Ladder?

My approach to bullies has changed from my more aggressive 10 years-old approach – i.e. fist, meet face. This change is not because my anger at injustice no longer triggers a heart-stopping, blood pumping desire to pummel the bully. Rather, the change is because I don’t want criminal charges and because I no longer enjoy hospital visits (no one gives me a lollipop anymore). I’m assuming that you also want to avoid lawsuits and hospitals, but you want to be effective in removing the office cancer. Although emotions do run high with bullies, it’s critical to follow the steps outlined below as it helps make a rational (effective) – not emotional (ineffective) – plea for peace.

Step 1: Interrupt the Pattern

Quickly interrupt the pattern and step out of the system by asking the bully questions. I use the questions devised by business strategist and Forbes contributor, Christine Comaford, to force the bully to act rationally …. and sometimes even talk themselves into a corner:

  1. What would you like?
  2. What will having that do for you?
  3. How will you know when you have it?
  4. Where, when, with whom do you want this?
  5. What might of value you have to risk to get this?
  6. What are the next steps?

This approach throws the bully off guard and interrupts the tantrum. Asking these specific, measurable questions will also help you catch the bully and make it very difficult to shift blame, take credit, manipulate the situation and lie. Be sure to write down the bully’s responses. Doing so is vital because documentation is the essential key to presenting to your boss a clear and dispassionate analysis of the “time and money suck” nature of the bully.

Step 2: Document Every Interaction and

As mentioned, documentation is critical. Ensure that every interaction is reiterated in an email to the bully. For example, if you’re asked to do a task, first ask the questions in Step 1 and then send an email confirming these details. If  the bully acts irrationally afterward, claims they never asked you to do something else or steals your work, you’ll have evidence.

Following a bully’s blow up, detail the time, money and talent wasted as a result of the bullying. For example, 3 hours calming a bully down or dealing with one of their many lies has a direct impact on being able to fulfill your deliverables on time. Bullies could also be offending key stakeholders such as clients or strategic partners and supplies.

Although it seems like a good idea, enlisting your co-workers to document the tormentor’s ways might get you in trouble. This is because your co-workers may tell the bully your plans.

Once sufficient evidence is gathered to show a clear pattern of behaviour and a clear relationship to “the bottom line”, present the results directly to the decision maker. Always request anonymity and make sure you’re speaking with someone who you can trust – if the bully catches a “whiff” of your plans,  you’re guaranteed retaliation.

I think it’s safe to assume that most of us left high school with the hopes that we wouldn’t have to endure gossip mills and painfully immature behavior. Take an ethical and non-violent stand to ensure that high school life stays in the past and doesn’t relive itself in the workplace. After all, they’re enough jerks in this world.