We’ve heard a lot about bullying and kids. Not as much about bullying and adults. But this week, allegations have surfaced that Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito harassed teammate Jonathan Martin. Martin has left the team. Incognito has been suspended.
And, it turns out, football players aren’t the only grown-ups with a bully problem; workplace bullies are everywhere.
Google it, and you’ll find groups like “The Boss Whispering Institute,” working with aggressive executives.
“I worked with a surgeon once, who during the surgery, would become so frustrated with the assistants that he would shout at them and throw instruments,” says Dr. Laura Crawshaw, the boss whisperer. “Which does not bode well for the patient.”
Cranshaw says a lot of the bullies she works with aren’t evil people. They often have been treated badly in their past.
“You think of organisms that, when threatened, respond with fight or flight. These are people who fight,” says Crawshaw.
According to research from the Society for Human Resources Management, half of businesses in the U.S. report bullying in their workplace.
We’re talking people who harass and intimidate, isolate, are cruel. Not the jerk in the next cubicle. Or the boss who once lost his temper.
“It’s sort of the American style of management, aggression,” says Dr. Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, says there are a couple of reasons workplace bullying is common.
Top-down, take-charge bosses are rewarded. Toughness is revered.
“The trouble is we don’t draw the line at cruelty,” says Namie. “We don’t have the systems in place to recognize it and distinguish it from what people really need to do to manage.”
And Namie says, young workers who get beat up on by bosses and are expected to keep quiet about it.
“That’s the kind of person who, when they are promoted, cannot wait to be a boss,” says Namie. “To basically reverse all those trends and get back and say now I’m a boss and all hell shall break lose.”
All of this workplace bullying has costs. Some people will just leave.
Exhibit A: 6-foot-5 Jonathan Martin.
Other times, says Georgetown business professor Christine Porath, “it sucks the cognitive resources away from people, so they can’t concentrate as well.”
And, she says bullying can spiral and spread if no one steps in to address it.