Bullying at Work

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I believe that bullying at work can be traced to bullying during childhood. Employees and leaders who bully their colleagues and subordinates don’t just spring up over night. These complex and anti-social behaviors are tolerated and (sometimes) encouraged over a lifetime of experiences.

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My heart breaks for the family of Phoebe Prince. She is a fifteen-year-old girl who killed herself after being bullied at school. News broke, this week, that nine kids have been charged in connection with this death. I’m more interested in the things that weren’t done to avoid this nightmare. Behaviors were allegedly ignored. Cues were missed. Requests for intervention may have been ignored or dismissed.

The whole situation has me thinking about HR and the role of bullying. I hate the idea of a modern day Human Resources department that operates like a bunch of nannies. I always bristled when I was asked to intervene in an employee dispute. I had to broker a peace agreement between two women who threw dry erase markers at one another. That might have been the low-point of my career.

I wonder

  • is there a role for HR when it comes to preventing bullying at work? Should HR be the arbiter of behavior in the work environment?
  • does bullying fall under the purview of ‘performance management’? Should we bypass HR and empower leaders and line managers to deal with these issues under zero-tolerance policies?

Also, I’d like to throw this out: how many of you have encountered bullies in your HR department? I know I have — and in that moment, I realized that the cobbler’s children have no shoes.

What do you think?

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