Toxic bosses – how to consign workplace bullying to the last century (a three minute read)

By business author and Purple Cubed founder, Jane Sunley

Ever since I wrote this viewpoint about a grad’s experience of an organisation’s misguided recruitment process, I’ve been hearing from other young people starting out in the world of work. Whilst there are many excellent employers out there, some of these stories make for uncomfortable reading. Purple Cubed is all about sharing great practice and it would just be too negative to write about them all. However, I do feel compelled to write a piece about workplace bullying and to share with you the worst example I’ve heard so far (are you sitting down?!):

As part of an onboarding session with a senior leader in an allegedly reputable, fairly well known and apparently successful PR and Marketing firm, this first jobber was instructed in the nuances of ‘The W***er System’. “If you make a mistake, you’re a w***er. If you’re a w***er three times, everyone calls you that and you’ll get disciplined. So don’t f**k up.”

The obvious thing would be to talk to this person about the unacceptability of the situation or report them to HR/another leader though, in this case, it was well known that the HR team were also in fear of ‘f***ing up’ and were unlikely to act. It was made pretty clear that this grad would lose her highly prized first role and so she’s taken the decision to put up and shut up, until something better comes along at least. And, whilst the average length of stay in a role is just 2.8 years (as opposed to 4.2 in previous generations), employee advocacy is ever more important. Even if people don’t stay, it’s going to become business critical that they are ‘selling’ you to the world. How very sad that this young person’s first experiences within her chosen career are so negative and potentially soul destroying. Even if she’s scared of ‘blotting her copybook’, I doubt she’ll be there a year from now.

Workplace bullying causes people to lose their confidence, with feelings of worthlessness and failure. It stifles creativity, encourages distrust, damages the team dynamic, lowers job satisfaction and causes disengagement. It erodes an organisation’s culture and positivity. It’s disastrous for wellbeing and mental health; it causes worry and sleeplessness; people become nervous, reluctant to share their opinions and ideas, they become clinically depressed.

This ‘toxic boss’ syndrome may well be masking the perpetrator’s inadequacy, stress or obsession with control, and maybe they need help too, though bad behaviour perpetuates bad behaviour and on it goes…

So what can employers do about it? Ten points to consider:

  1. Make sure your purpose, culture and values are clearly defined together with the leadership behaviours that will be required to deliver on them
  2. Ensure accountability for culture and engagement lies with everyone, especially every leader and manager – with a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to bullying and negative behaviour
  3. Check your score on Glassdoor – any lower than 3.5 and you could be in serious trouble
  4. Make sure HR implement contemporary tools and processes that support a healthy workplace e.g. recruit, advance and develop against (1), ensure there are open communication channels, and that there are clear metrics and measures in place
  5. Engender loyalty, trust, honesty and advocacy by making ‘doing the right things’ a priority
  6. Build in ‘permission’ to challenge leadership and the norms “We want you to be happy and do well here, so tell us what we can do to make this happen”
  7. Ensure there are ongoing and regular review and feedback mechanisms in place and that people are confident to use them
  8. Make available coaching and mentoring
  9. Pick up any transgressions fast and deal with them faster
  10. Talk to people, listen, probe and act

BONUS POINT: Be kind, it’s my message of 2019 and it matters

2019-06-18T10:23:01+00:00 March 6th, 2019|