The fear behind the mask – why managers don’t act to stop the workplace bully

Why don’t management intervene when there is a bully in the workplace? Can’t they see the damage that is being done to their business? The risk to employees’ mental health? The Workcover claims? The lost productivity? The good employees walking out the door?

In response to those questions, some of us may brand our company management simply as being evil. Others might say that management don’t care, that they only care about the bottom line only or that they are spineless.

However, Laura Crawshaw, who has spent over thirty years working with companies and their bullying or abrasive bosses, suggests the response is more complicated than those common responses. Crawshaw believes that managers don’t do anything because they feel afraid, hopeless and helpless.

The reasons that managers feel this way when it comes to the workplace bully are many and varied. This includes the following.

  • Some managers have a fear of being harmed. They fear that the employee using the bullying behaviours may turn their anger towards them. However, that harm is not just to them. They fear this harm will be towards the business. The bully may be a top performer for the business in a particular area? What if he or she quits?
  • Some have a fear of doing harm. For example, they employee who is using the behaviours may be going through a tough time. The manager may not want to exacerbate their stressors or situation. If they are unwell, they may fear exacerbating their illness.
  • They fear dealing with the individuals response. Some don’t know how to intervene if the bully responds with anger or if they burst into tears.
  • Others will not intervene because of the lack of hard evidence and they feel they can’t intervene without it. If they haven’t seen the behaviour, or haven’t had it documented through a formal complaint, they don’t see an avenue of intervention.
  • Some managers feel that if they raise the issue with the bully, they become responsible for changing that employee, not just their behaviour leading them to avoid the situation.
  • Others hold a belief that “people can’t change” so won’t do anything to stop the bullying behaviours.
  • Finally, some managers believe there is only one pathway, that of termination, so they do everything to avoid taking action.

When you have managers who are feeling afraid, hopeless and helpless, Crawshaw states that you will see them flee acting through rationalisation. They brush off behaviour’s with “nobody’s perfect”; minimise blow ups that occur; blame his or her team or colleagues; or pass it off as just the way he or she is.

While the above may be why managers don’t intervene, it doesn’t excuse managers not intervening. Under the law, they have a responsibility to act and ensure all employees remain safe and well at work, free from the risk of harm.

What the above tells us is what we need to do to change this and education in managing behaviours is the key. We need to teach our managers:

  • how to move beyond their fear providing appropriate coaching, mentoring and support;
  • how to manage difficult responses both in a way that doesn’t leave them feeling afraid, helpless and hopeless; and
  • we need to teach them how to manage conduct, even when the hard evidence doesn’t exist.

Is it important to you to educate your managers in managing difficult behaviours?

Contact us today for a confidential discussion on how we can help educate your managers prevent bullying and manage challenging behaviours.

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