1. Hader, Richard RN, CHE, CPHQ, NE-BC, PhD, FAAN

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Similar to bullies on a child's playground, there are adults who like to badger others to make themselves look better. Children who bully others usually do it in a manner that's outwardly verbal or physical, whereas adult bullies are typically passive-aggressive and have the ability to undermine not only their targeted victim, but also the entire work unit.

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Is it possible that without your knowledge you're managing a bully? Chances are you may not know it until the bully's destructive behavior has reached a level where it causes major chaos. Others might be intimidated by the bully or afraid to speak up for fear that the harassment will escalate, leading to intolerable repercussions. Consequently, the victim will remain silent, become detached, and eventually seek employment elsewhere.


Practical jokes, rumors, insults, persistent shouting or swearing, and condescending nonverbal behavior such as rolling of the eyes or impeding personal space are common characteristics of negative behavior that may lead to grave consequences. Leaders need to be attuned to this type of behavior and address it immediately. A zero-tolerance organizational policy needs to be implemented to ensure this behavior yields disciplinary action against the perpetrator. It should be clear to all staff members that bullying behavior can result in termination.


A person who torments others in the workplace is likely to have low self-esteem, be narcissistic, and act omnipotent in an effort to appear more favorable. The bully will accentuate the negative characteristics or work practices of colleagues, creating a hostile work environment. This behavior might initially be difficult for you to identify because the bully may be perceived as an outstanding contributor to the organization, whereas the victim may appear to be emotional or angry. Until the behavior is repetitive and there are multiple victims, it's difficult to discern whether bullying is occurring.


A high rate of absenteeism, disinterest in the organization, displaying signs of stress, and overall loss of productivity may be factors associated with someone who's being bullied. When counseling a staff member who displays these signs, it's important to keep in mind that he or she may be the recipient of cruel words or actions from colleagues. A well-planned interview with your staff member in which you display empathy and understanding may allow him or her to confide in you. It's imperative that you remain supportive while simultaneously remaining objective until the investigation is complete.


Economic stresses such as fear of losing their job may cause staff members to act in an atypical manner by behaving poorly toward colleagues. Leaders need to be cognizant of the pressures their team members may be experiencing and offer employee assistance counselors to help them work through such problems before they become a workplace performance issue.


Leaders should encourage their staff members to immediately report such behavior if they believe they're being victimized by a colleague in the work setting. If psychological counseling needs to be provided, it should be done immediately. Sometimes behavior against colleagues may also be criminal in nature; if so, immediate reporting to governmental authorities is necessary. Be a role model in this difficult situation by supporting those who are victims of harsh words and behavior.


Richard Hader

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