Friday, September 11, 2015

A Podchat With Workplace Bullying Expert Suzi Benoit

Update: It's 2018. Suzi and I are now part of a strategic partnership that works with business owners, leaders and HR professionals addressing issues surrounding harassment, sexual and otherwise. Our mission is to help companies create positive, healthy cultures that can consistently thrive. We recently did a webcast on sexual harassment that you may want to check out as well. Click here

In the meantime - this an interesting and revealing podcast.

Below you'll find her site link. She has some good very helpful information on her blog! The podchat is an expanded discussion of this post. Please pass on -- a must listen for all HR professionals, managers and employees in this precarious situation!

Download here

6 Reason Employees Don’t Disclose Workplace Abuse

I recently saw an article called 7 Reasons Children Don’t Disclose Abuse” by Ginger Kadlec (you can follow her @gingerkadlec). In the world of mental health and child protection, this article provides an easy-to-understand summary – a neat list of the forces of silence. Those of us who have worked with abused children know these things instinctually. We know why kidnapped children don’t run away. Perhaps this is how I understand the dynamic of workplace abuse so well.

I’m not saying that workplace abuse is as bad as child abuse. Children are much more vulnerable and in need of our protection. Adults are in a better position to know when something just isn’t right. However, the power dynamics are similar and when the bully is successful, it is because he or she has used these familiar tactics. The same issues are at play and at the center is fear. This fear doesn’t have to have a rational basis for us observers but it has great power over the employee victim. It is the reason employees endure workplace abuse and intimidation for years without approach management with a complaint. Instead of worry about their family’s safety as child victims do, it’s the desperate need for employment and the thought of job loss that keeps many abused employees at work. Here are my counterpart reasons, paralleling the original article noted above.
1. “Keep this a secret.”
There are workplaces where truly evil things go on and about which leadership has no idea. Sure there are clues like turnover, employee absenteeism, etc. But workplace bullies are often skilled at making employees feel as though management agrees with them and sanctions their tactics. Fear of straight-forward confrontation with this manipulative individual keeps employees silent. In addition, sometimes bullies draw coworkers into their confidence and offer full membership into the “power group” cultivating the idea that the bully is right and representing a safe haven from isolation. There have been times when I describe what has gone on in a workplace and senior leadership stares back at me, mouths open, incredulous.
2. Threats and fear
Employees learn very quickly who’s in charge, who calls the shots. An example is when an employee questions the bully and gets punished with rumors, defamation and marginalization. Everyone sees what happens, how the victim of retaliation suffers. No one wants that to happen to them. Most people want to be liked at work. We want to be a part of the group not sit alone at the lunch table. When you add the need for employment and fear of losing one’s livelihood it creates the perfect opportunity for emotional blackmail.
3. Love
Ms. Kadlec notes that children are often abused by persons they love on another level. Perhaps it’s someone they look up to. In a work situation I see employees who love the company and basically love the content of their jobs. They don’t want anything really bad to happen to the company. With this mindset, they have difficulty take a posture they see as “against” the company. Employees wrestle with the question: “Doesn’t management understand we’re suffering? on the one hand and: “This bully must be doing something right for management to keep them on.”
4. “No one will believe you”
This one is easy. Employees know that this bully has been behaving this way for many years. They know that no one has been able to get them fired. In the worse case, they have seen the bully dispatch complainers swiftly and with little strain. The dynamic of emotional manipulation sets up punishment of coworkers that the bully sees as unfriendly to their view. Employees wonder, “If all those people weren’t successful in stopping the abuse and intimidation, why would anyone believe me?”
5. “It’s all YOUR fault”
You would be surprised at how long employees sit with feelings that it’s them, that if they could only say the right thing in the right way, the bully would see the light. When companies bring me in to help with long-standing workplace bullying, I speak with employees who have endured terrible treatment. Even after the bully is gone, they still have residual feelings that there was something they could have done. Bullies are so good at manipulating others to feel responsible for keeping them happy and comfortable. This codependent relationship is well understood in clinical and substance abuse counseling practice and it surely applies here.
6. Grooming 
Finally, bullies select their victims carefully. They cultivate power-over relationships with those whom they can successfully manipulate. These might be new staff or employees who are fundamentally shy or insecure. These folks are more likely to bend to ideas that the bully is well-connected in the office and much more powerful. Bullies, like abusers, have two ways to deal with coworkers perceived to be more powerful. They can cultivate positive relationships with senior management or they can undercut powerful coworkers with rumors and promoting them as bad or mean. Peremptory strikes are an extremely successful technique for getting rid of those who might otherwise have the power to hold the bully accountable. The same way that domestic abusers don’t hit their boss, the workplace bully reserves their really abusive treatment for coworkers they perceive as no particular threat to them.
I would love to hear from you about your workplace experience with these dynamics.
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  1. I see the writer's point of view but I've had two books published that dealt with child abuse ("Unspeakable Acts: The Ordeal of Thomas Walters Rimmer" and "The Kids Next Door: Sons and Daughters Who Kill Their Parents") thus I as a writer would never try to compare abusive parents/family members with people who bully. The dynamics are distinctly different. With that said, I still like the information but because of my research I can filter out that with which I don't agree and still take note of the valuable information available.

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