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Warning: Bully Managers are Hazardous to Your Health

Warning: Bully Managers are Hazardous to Your Health

One by one, a long line of unsuspecting recruits accepted, and eventually quit, the marketing assistant position. The problem was the department manager. Although clever and politically connected, her devilish ways wreaked havoc on her people. Each time the position opened up, recruiters would search for the right candidate with Teflon skin and stone-cold emotions. Most victims, however, transferred to another department or altogether quit within a few short months.

It didn’t usually take more than a week or two before the next new recruit would schedule their first meeting with our employee relations manager to solicit advice in dealing with their bully boss. With a leadership blind spot the size of Nova Scotia, the marketing manager was convinced each new recruit was a complete idiot. She never accepted individual responsibility for her own department’s revolving door.

Then there was the employee who had a nervous breakdown during the lunch hour.

After just a few weeks on the job, the assistant had to be hospitalized in a mental health facility after she was found by police, dangerously parked on a busy expressway. Apparently she mentally shut down after experiencing weeks of severe anxiety trying to cope with the maddening manager.

As the HR director, I expressed my deep concern to the president that it would be completely unethical to hire one more potential target for this inhumane manager. Her evil management style literally caused the employee’s nervous breakdown.

You think this decision would be a no-brainer, right? Wrong! Although she was the queen of caustic culture, the president felt she was technically competent and too valuable to terminate.

Why do companies put up with bullying managers? According to the 2007 Workplace Bullying Institute-Zogby Survey, bullying is inhumane but not illegal. Results of the survey showed the following reasons workplaces continue to employ health destroying bully managers.

  • Forty percent (40%) of targets do not come forward.
  • In 80% of cases, bullying is legal.
  • Sixty-two percent (62%) of employers either do nothing or worsen the situation by retaliating against the target.
  • Seventy-three percent (73%) of bullies are managers – senior managers and HR reflexively side with management when disputes arise.
  • Bullies derive 73% of their support from executives, peer managers and HR.
  • Executives are afraid to act. They have a disproportionate fear of lawsuits brought by the bully if they dare investigate or sanction the bully.
  • Bullies invented their reputation as indispensable high-performers in case they were ever exposed. Target complainants are then not believed.
  • Employers don’t actually know how to stop it. They forgot the lessons learned from having to correct and prevent illegal discrimination.
  • Employers don’t recognize bullying as violence in the workplace. The problem is erroneously defined as “conflict,” and the wrong solutions are applied.
  • Our society is highly aggressive and competitive. Bullies embody these two popular tactics. Hostility is more normative than the exception. So, bullying, abuse and psychological violence at work is positively embraced more often than despised.
Kevin Kennemer is founder of The People Group based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Kevin is driven by his passion for company owners and their need to earn a profit, employees' desire for a positive and fulfilling work experience, and the community that benefits when both groups do well.


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