A recent WBI-Zogby poll found that 37% of all U.S. workers have been directly bullied, with another 12% witnessing it. That represents 71 million Americans touched by workplace bullying. Bullying is pattern of workplace harassment, emotional abuse and targeted aggression. It is, in fact, a non-physical from of violence and it requires more than mere conflict resolution. Bullying is four times more common than either sexual harassment or racial discrimination. So why do employers often ignore bullying (despite its costs and bruising impact on productivity and morale)? The fact is that bullying is not yet illegal.
So what are the factors that cause bullying in the workplace and what can employers do to minimize this behavior? According to the Workplace Bullying Institute there are three main factors that promote workplace bullying:
FACTOR 1. Work that is designed using zero-sum, cutthroat competition principles that creates opportunities for bullying. Employees are pitted against each other in positions or tasks that allow only one winner to emerge from deliberate battles, creating many losers.
FACTOR 2. Hiring people who are willing to exploit others. A small percentage of employees see the opportunities for bullying and are willing to harm others. They are the manipulators and not necessarily disturbed or psychopathic.
FACTOR 3. Bullying is rewarded or at least not punished. Bullies who bully others with impunity become convinced they can get away with it forever. They will continue until stopped.
So, some bullying can be prevented by good work design, and implementing a no tolerance policy for bullying. But how to prevent hiring bullies in the first place? When interviewing don’t rely on your „gut“ instincts says Robert Mueller, an expert in this field. Hiring decisions based on „gut instincts“ provide bullies with their very best forum. Bullies are extremely adept at manipulating authority figures–saying what they think a higher-up wants to hear.
Interviewers should look for spontaneous exchanges during the interview. Bullies are not skilled at relating to the people presently in the room with them. Does the candidate participate in the normal back-and-forth of conversation, demonstrating the basics of human exchange? Or does the interviewee have to carefully calculate a response to match what seems to be expected of him or her?
Look for empathy. To be a good leader, one should have an above-average capacity for empathy. Empathy makes compassion and understanding possible, and is the difference between a person merely hearing words and a person actually appreciating another person. Ask the candidate to recount a particularly sensitive personnel problem in the past. Does the candidate’s answer reflect compassion for a subordinate, or does it have elements of bragging, triumph, or rigid authoritarianism? When bona fide leaders are faced with a difficulty, they stop, look, and listen–and then devise a plan furthering the employer’s interests. Not so with bullies.
Turn on your know-it-all meter. Ask a question a candidate will probably not know the answer to–but make it seem as though he or she should. The particularly forthright will admit they don’t know. Most will „fudge“ it. But bullies will generalize unduly. Bullies may even boldly attempt to steer the entire discussion in what they calculate to be the most advantageous direction for them.
Make intelligent use of background checks. The data employers will have available before interviews will always be thinner than preferred. However, make the best of what you have. Background checks are useful beyond being just pass-fail tests. They are a wellspring of specific evidence that can be used to measure the veracity of a candidate generally. Bullies utterly lack veracity. At no point during an interview should you let the candidate know what pieces of information you actually do and don’t have about him or her. Test the interviewer’s truth-telling against what you know to be facts.
Conducting a pre-hire personality assessment can also provide insights into the personality traits and tendencies of the candidate. In a UK study last year, thousands of senior managers were assessed using the Hogan Development Survey psychometric measures. The survey findings indicated that 22 % had a „confident/arrogant“ personality type ¬who also frequently lack self-awareness. The research concluded that this personality type is the most likely to be viewed as bullying in their behavior, whether their actions are intentional or not.
Remember, bullying behavior may be costing your organization dearly in terms of reduced productivity and morale and increased employee turnover, and with a little thought and care in hiring and work design there are ways of minimizing the bullying problem.