The Many Faces of a Workplace Bully
May 15, 2016
Reading the stories that have been submitted to Project Millie we see that there are many different forms of bullying. Some share stories of very visible bullying; bosses constantly yelling and screaming or in one case a bully had a wall built around an individual to exclude them from their co-workers. Many bullies are more subtle in their behaviour, like using facial tones and expressions or humiliating the target into isolation.
The founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute, Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie, have identified a number of types of bullies in their book ‘The Bully at Work’. It’s clear that workplace bullies come in all shapes and sizes and they engage in a variety of tactics with a goal to humiliate, shame and treat the target as a powerless person. See below if you recognize anyone from your workplace.
The Screaming Mimi
The most visible of all bullies due to their outbursts are in public. The Screaming Mimi is impulsive, volatile, self-centred, overbearing and explosive. This bully thrives on the notion that they are feared by others. Do you have a colleague who screams, curses, slams down or throws objects?
The Constant Critic
Operating behind closed doors, the Constant Critic ensures they can deny what was said or done. This bully aims to destroy other’s confidence. They are loved by senior management because they are able to get people to produce. They satisfy their need to control others by obsessing over the bullying target’s performance. The Constant Critic negatively reacts to the target’s contribution, blames him or her for fabricated errors and is never satisfied. Does this sound all too familiar?
The Two Headed Snake
This bully pretends to be nice but is working against the target. Information given to them today may be used to nefarious purposes later on. Using passive aggressive behaviour is standard and their dishonest behavior destroys reputations. The Two Headed Snake comes in three varieties: the Backstabber, The Jekyll and Hyde and the No Problem Don’t Bother Snake. See the danger?
The Gatekeeper is the controller. They have the resources that you need to succeed i.e. money, time, staffing, collaboration, supplies etc. They will deny your requests, cut you out of the communication loop, and change deadlines so that you fail. The Gatekeeper keeps him or herself in the middle to feel important. Are you being controlled in this way?
This is just a very brief summary of the types of workplace bullies you might encounter and keep in mind that bullies can fall into one of these main types or be a combination.
Project Millie is an organization dedicated to bringing visibility to workplace bullying. To achieve that goal we are sharing information and facts. Knowing the characteristics of a workplace bully won’t change the the fact that someone has been bullied but it will arm them with the knowledge that the behaviours originate with the bully. We hope it will also reinforce that the bullying targets are not at fault and not alone--which unfortunately is part of the self-doubt we often hear from the individuals who reach out to us.
We need your help on the journey to end workplace bullying. Start a conversation with a colleague, a parent, a friend, a neighbour, a partner. Chances are they have a workplace bullying story to tell. Join the movement at www.projectmillie.org to make sure you don’t miss our next blog.
Tackling Workplace Bullying: It Takes More Than a T-Shirt
April 30, 2016
As I scanned social media on April 13th, it was great to see so many people supporting International Day of Pink with selfies, pink shirts and inspirational quotes. It’s a day that has become synonymous with being open minded and accepting of differences.
International Day of Pink started in 2007 when students David Shepherd and Travis Price saw another student, who was wearing a pink shirt, being bullied. They decided to take a stand and show some support for this fellow student by urging all the kids in school to wear pink. Within days everyone at school worked together to prevent homophobic & transphobic bullying. In 2016 we now have students, educators, communities and businesses supporting initiatives to stop bullying, homophobia, transphobia and discrimination. To bring social change it takes more than just wearing t-shirts or proclaiming anti-bullying days--although these are great actions for creating awareness and that’s the first step. In 2015 over 9 million people participated in Pink Shirt Day! That’s an incredible journey in less than a decade.
Can you imagine if the same could happen in our workplaces? What if 2 co-workers saw someone being bullied and they were able to publicly take a stand against the bullying without fear of retribution or job loss? What if the silent epidemic of workplace bullying gained so much visibility that our organizational cultures of tolerance ceased?
The reality is that in 2016 we are nowhere close to bully free workplaces, consider the following:
Project Millie is an organization dedicated to bringing visibility to workplace bullying. We have started the journey and we need your help to get the word out--workplace bullying can no longer be tolerated! Posing in pink t-shirts once a year sure makes a great corporate selfie, but we all know that it’s what’s underneath that counts!
Anger as the Fuel for Change
April 15, 2016
A few months ago while visiting family across the country I noticed something different about one of my nephews. As teenagers they’re always changing but this was different, he was thriving like never before. “What’s your secret?”, I asked. “You’re doing so well at sports and in school this year.”
He told me it was quite simple--he got angry, and when he got angry he decided that he would do something about it. At some point my nephew realized he wanted to be better than he was and for him that meant getting better grades and being a better athlete. He got angry and then he made a personal decision to make it happen.
When I think back to how Project Millie got started I see that just like my nephew I had gotten angry. It started small and it grew. As I listened to the many, many personal stories, I got angry! I got angry when I saw how workplace bullying affected the health of individuals. I got angry hearing how people had to remain silent because there was too much to lose. I got angry when people didn’t even know they were being bullied and thought they just had to “suck it up”. I got angry every time I heard about the hurtful things that bullies say that end with “just kidding”. I got angry whenever people shared that an HR manager made light of their complaint and let the bullying continue. I got the most angry when I heard bullying targets tell me it was probably their fault!
My anger, like my nephew’s, was not negative. It was just an emotional response indicating that we cared about something. In both cases, our anger was the fuel for change. He chose self-improvement. I chose to create Project Millie.
And so on my journey of increasing workplace bullying awareness I continue to learn more about the topic through research, stories shared, reading books and connecting with people in the field. I’ve come to know how big the problem of workplace bullying is worldwide. I see how many people are touched by it, how many personal lives are affected, how much amazing work is being done, and how much it costs the companies that don’t deal with the problem. Workplace bullying is a bigger problem than I ever imagined. So as you can imagine, I still get angry.
Project Millie is an organization dedicated to bringing visibility to workplace bullying. We know that a cultural transformation won’t happen overnight but we’re doing our part to move things forward. We have conversations, share stories and information and advocate for change. Raising our voice today means future generations of employees will have healthy workplaces. Isn’t that what we all deserve?
Increasing Awareness is the First Step to Social Change
April 3, 2016
It started with one woman—Millie. Since she told her story in 2013 we’ve collected the personal experiences of individuals affected by workplace bullying. These stories are often difficult to hear and some have devastating consequences on the person’s well being. Almost exclusively, people share their experiences on the promise of anonymity as concerns for retribution and job loss are at the forefront—whether these concerns are real or perceived, they influence behaviour and affect the lives of so many people around us.
Looking back, this journey began as a series of informal conversations. Over coffee I’d just throw in “Have you ever experienced bullying at work?”. Sometimes I’d get blank stares, some “I don’t know”, a lot of “I think so” but mostly they’d list off all the nasty things that they’d witnessed or that had been done to them by bosses and colleagues.
As people opened up to me, courageously sharing some very personal stories, I realized the disturbing prevalence of workplace bullying and I knew I wanted to do something. In the very places where the bullying occurs, people tell me they remain silent because there is too much to lose. Having the privilege of position to speak, it became clear that I also had the obligation to be a voice and I’m choosing to bring visibility to workplace bullying because increasing awareness is the first step to social change.
While there is a strong focus on youth and cyberbullying and we recognize that many organizations are doing excellent work in the anti-bullying movement in Canada, the team behind Project Millie believes there is a gap when it comes to the workplace. By all means not scientific, but our findings from those early conversations indicate that bullying targets and witnesses are not always clear on what amounts to workplace bullying and many second-guess what is normal and acceptable in today’s workplace. This uncertainty seems to play a large role in someone’s intention or willingness to speak up. The young woman below sticks out in my mind. She hesitated to believe me when I told her that her situation was not normal. She was convinced that she was the one who needed to change.
Julia. 25. Toronto.
“I just started my career in advertising and I guess bullying is just the way it is here in the real world. In school they bolster your ego, like you’re bright and have a good job ahead of you but no one prepared me for being yelled at during meetings, for being thrown under the bus and for being left helpless when I do make a mistake. I hide in the washroom and cry at least once a week but I’ll get used to this, eventually...I hope.”
Project Millie is an organization dedicated to bringing visibility to workplace bullying. We share personal stories, help start conversations and advocate for positive change. In other words, we're doing our part to achieve the healthy workplaces that young women like Julia deserve...that we all deserve.
Once I started down the journey it was impossible to turn back, and I’m grateful to those who’ve joined me. In addition to capturing stories, we’ve extensively researched the topic, we’ve talked to experts and individuals already engaged in the field and we’ve started to form connections with like-minded people and organizations. It’s been an adventure, one filled with ups and downs, but I know that we are making steps toward our goal and there’s already been an impact because we are out there talking about workplace bullying and the people we talk to turn around and talk to others. It’s far from the elimination of workplace bullying but again, increasing awareness is the first step to social change.
Sharon. 40. Burlington.
“Ten years ago my entire team was bullied by a client. We were yelled at, from the office secretary to the regional manager. We were pulled into unnecessary conflicts with other stakeholders to suit that client’s personal agenda. She repeatedly threatened to take her business away and have us fired with a call to the company President. Although no one really believed she had that much power, it caused on-going stress and lost productivity every time she visited or called our office. Despite having reported her behaviour to several levels of the organization, not one person wanted to address this and the replies we got from HR were ridiculous. Unfortunately that became a clear sign that the company would not uphold its commitment to a bully-free workplace when the bully was a client bringing in lots of money.”
Sharon’s story is not uncommon. We’ve heard from other sales professionals who are bullied by their clients. Sadly bully clients are often dismissed as typical and acceptable in the industry. How can we begin to have the healthy workplaces we deserve when workers cannot even recognize bullying? Project Millie aims to change that by bringing visibility to workplace bullying.
There is a lot work to be done so I leave you with a call to action. Start a conversation, like we did. Ask a colleague, a parent, a friend, a neighbour, a partner. Chances are they have a workplace bullying story to tell. Join the movement at www.projectmillie.org to make sure you don’t miss our next blog.