Cure for the Common Bully

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I currently share my office with an amiable dog and a resilient and colorful succulent. These two inspire me to do good work and I don't mind taking orders from the dog sometimes. But I haven't always had such quiet and friendly coworkers. I have worked for the past decade in agency, in-house and contract roles where I saw first-hand, the effect of  'one bad apple' on office morale and talent.

 

Enter the "Office Bully" 

Who hasn't worked alongside one of these office bullies; talented but impossible to work with? Unapologetically difficult, above the rules, unreliable and demanding? People who get a hall pass for being bad for morale because their work ethic is high, their skillset is unique or their role is difficult to replace? Being assigned to work with them is like being tied to a brain-eating zombie in a sack race. Well-behaved team players are often overlooked and overworked. Good employees suffer quietly, company profits and progress are slowed (or reversed) and often good people begrudgingly move on to greener pastures, taking experience and good attitudes with them. 

 

Why They Exist

As a co-worker to one of these office bullies - you find yourself wondering how did this happen? Who put this guy in charge? Why aren't they gone yet? The office bully is a product of a company that prioritizes qualification-fit over culture-fit. Be it actively (hiring and promoting talented bullies) or passively (never penalizing the bad behavior) these companies have tunnel vision for talent that fulfills their skills list while ignoring the red flags of culture-misfits; divas, narcissists and general bad manners.

On the other hand, the bane of your work existence may be on the other side of the spectrum. What I'd call the 'Shiny Rock' - someone that is socially polished but aren't remotely qualified or productive in their role. Life of the party guy who has never been seen at his desk. AKA: The CEO's son, the 'Used to work at Google' coaster, or long-time golfing buddy - which is entirely different ball of wax for another post.

 

What Bullies Cost

“Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” Additionally, a 2015 study from Bersin by Deloitte showed that diverse companies had 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee over a three-year period than non-diverse companies did.
— http://fortune.com/2017/01/18/leadership-diversity-bottom-line-career-advice/

Women, minorities and people of color especially struggle to thrive and contribute where office bullies dominate the workspace. Office bullies are more than just an HR nuisance, they cost companies money, talent & progress. Diversity and bullying is not a liberal feminist issue - its a question of profit and progress. Companies that ignore a toxic culture, or worse, promote these bullies will struggle to attract and retain a diverse and talented pool of employees.

 

What Can be Done?

It was the first time I felt like I was treated as an engineer and not a female engineer,
— Tracy Chou

Thankfully there are companies that see the value of a healthy culture for diversifying and improving their employees work life that can be modeled after. Companies like Patagonia and Pinterest understand culture is a cultivated, intentional process, that done well, serves to benefit companies, society and employees profoundly.  Tracy Chou, founder of Project Include, felt this lack of diversity and lack of culture-forward thinking as a female engineer, and nearly left the field until she found a job with Pinterest whom prioritized culture and changed her entire career outlook. She then created a resource to address this diversity/culture issue within the tech industry with  Project Include  -check them out. 

 
Check out the tools at Project Include

Check out the tools at Project Include

 

As an employee, write down your personal values and then do the same for your company's values (they should be written and easily accessible). Seeing where they may 'diverge in a wood' is a good place to resolve conflict, consider moving on, or help your company address the discrepancies between what they practice and what they preach. Bullying is not a type of leadership. Lets make safe, friendly workspaces where diversity and values are more than aspirational words. :) 

 

My dog's values:  Sunshine, Consistency, Cheese, Curiosity, Security, Freedom, Chasing Kitties
My plant's values: Sunshine, Chlorophyll, Consistency, Beauty, Peace, Classical Music
(some of) My values: Sunshine, Authenticity, Curiosity, Compassion, Humor, Love, Chips' Salsa

 

 

Emily Bunnell