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A profile of a workplace bully, P.S. I forgive you bully

Posted by Joanne on October 30, 2012 Comments (4)

Last week in “Is a high performing bully ever acceptable?,” I shared statistics about bullies in the workplace, and information on workplace bullies from informal interviews I conducted.

While searching for information on bullying in the workplace, I came across, “In Darkness Light Dawns: Exposing Workplace Bullying” by Dr. Lisa Barrow ( In her book Dr. Barrow gives a detailed profile of a bully at work. Take a look and see if the profile reminds you of anyone you work with or might have worked with in the past. Her profile sounds very similar to some of the descriptions compiled from the informal interviews I conducted earlier.

The profile of a workplace bully

[excerpt from Dr. Barrow's book, “In Darkness Light Dawns: Exposing Workplace Bullying”, reprinted here with permission]

Upon first meeting, a bully may come across as polite, amiable and even jovial. The term “wolf in sheep’s clothing” comes to mind. At the outset, a bully may be winsome and engaging, seeking to win your trust. All the while, he or she is gathering information that may prove useful later in thwarting the goals and desires you’ve revealed.

Bullies typically possess a “Type A” personality; they are competitive and appear driven, operating as they do from a sense of urgency. This has its advantages in the workplace but the shadow side of Type A is the tendency to become frustrated and verbally abusive when things don’t go according to plan. Impatience and temper tantrums are common for Type A individuals who haven’t engaged in the personal growth required to gain self-awareness, maintain emotional stability and consider situations from multiple points of view.

Because of the bully’s “two-faced” nature—considerate if things are going well and abusive if not—his or her presence in an organization can cause the work environment to become tense. People feel as if they are “walking on eggshells” around the bully. They feel he or she is a “sleeping giant” who could, upon awakening, explode with rage.

Above all, bullies crave power and control, and this craving underlies much of what they do, say and fail to do and say at work. Bullies use charm and deceit to further their own ends and seem oblivious to the trail of damage they leave behind, as long as their appetites for power and control are fulfilled.

When confronted, bullies typically ramp up the negativity rather than curtail it because they feel a loss of control. The more threatened they feel, the more aggressive they become, and unfortunately, they are easily threatened because of the deep-seated insecurity they strive at all costs to hide, even from themselves.

If you’ve been bullied, you may find it difficult to see past the bully’s shortcomings enough to feel sorry for him or her, and in that way to begin moving past bitterness toward forgiveness. It may help you to remember that despite all of their arrogance and bravado, bullies are needy, weak and yes, unwell. They abuse their power in order to feel good about themselves. They lash out at others in order to protect themselves. At the end of the day, they are afraid their inadequacies will be exposed. They are terrified of the emptiness inside their hearts, which they have not allowed love to reach.

I forgive you bully

Dr. Barrow suggests that, perhaps a victim of bullying may be able to feel sorry for the bully, and be able to feel “I forgive you bully.” This does not mean that bullying behaviour is acceptable. But being able to forgive a bully who, as Dr. Barrow notes, is weak and unwell with an empty heart, just might allow a victim of bullying to heal and move on, without bitterness, with life and work. By forgiving, the victim takes back the power from the bully and that is a powerful statement.

Next week, I’ll share some tips on handling bullying behaviour at work.

Related blogs:   Bullying in the workplace series

Is a high performing bully manager ever acceptable?

Posted by Joanne on October 23, 2012 Comments Off

Does your company have a high performing manager who gets results? Sounds ideal doesn’t it. Well it is not always ideal especially when that high performing manager is a bully. What does a bully manager sound like and act like in the workplace? Over the past weeks, I asked several people from different industry sectors this question and the following is a compilation of their answers:

Often bully managers are Type A personalities who work long hours and seem to get results, but unfortunately they have little emotional control or self-awareness, so they often take their frustrations out on their employees. They are like ticking time bombs waiting to explode and they are rude. Because of this, they are heart-attacks in the making and sometimes have serious health issues.

Unfortunately employees, especially GenY employees in their first job straight out of college or university, might put up with the bully. Maybe they don’t realize what a good manager should be like, or maybe they are worried about paying the bills. With a bully manager, once confident and performing employees, become frazzled and unhappy. They begin to feel stressed, desperate and trapped. They worry about how they might get out of the bully’s clutches and each day it becomes harder and harder to go to work. Unfortunately nothing is ever said to the bully boss (or it is glossed over), even though complaints are made and workplace violence and harassment legislation noted, because the bully “gets results.” Absenteeism and presenteeism are the norm in the departments of bully managers.

Bully managers often have the ear of top executives. They give passive-aggressive compliments praising employees, but then effectively negate the praise by immediately disclosing mistakes made. They revel in negative side conversations and back stabbing, pointing out even the most trivial mistakes and distributing emails to everyone, including those who don’t need to know. They thrive on office politics. They like to appear as the saviour leader, who coaches (aka bullies) people into becoming better employees and scared to death sheeple (people who follow like sheep, without thinking).

Bully managers, don’t have any self-awareness so they don’t realize that employees are leaving because of their bullying behaviour. Paying more won’t help stop the revolving exit door and the high turnover costs the organization big bucks. It won’t decrease absenteeism and presenteeism either.

Did my informal interviews uncover the same behaviours noted in formal research on bullying in the workplace?

M. Sandy Hershcovis of the University of Manitoba, and Julian Barling of Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, reviewed 110 studies conducted over 21 years on bullying and sexual harassment. They found different forms of workplace aggression and bullying behaviour, including:

  • incivility, rudeness and discourteous verbal and non-verbal behaviours,
  • bullying included persistently criticizing employees’ work,
  • yelling,
  • repeatedly reminding employees of mistakes,
  • spreading gossip or lies,
  • ignoring or excluding workers,
  • insulting employees’ habits, attitudes or private life, and
  • interpersonal conflict included behaviours that involved hostility, verbal aggression and angry exchanges.

The researchers found that bullied employees are more likely to:

  • quit their jobs,
  • have lower well-being,
  • be less satisfied with their jobs
  • have less satisfying relations with their bosses than employees
  • reported more job stress,
  • less job commitment and
  • higher levels of anger and anxiety.

Bully managers and those who support them because “they get results” are hurting not only employees but also the company’s productivity and profit levels. And it can cost organizations big bucks if a bully boss causes a “constructive dismissal” such as the $1.4 million dollars (yes, that is correct) awarded to a former employee of Walmart Canada, who was forced to quit her job because of a bully manager (Rudner, 2012). It can cause serious branding issues for the company if an employee leaves on bad terms because nothing was done about the bully. Who wants to work for a company that does nothing about bullies?

There has been lots of talk about bullying in the school yard, and bullying on social media, with some tragic results, but sadly, bullying still happens in the workplace too. What has your experience been with a bully manager? Have you brought the issue forward and nothing was done about it? Is a high performing bully manager ever acceptable? Please share your thoughts below.

Next week, my post includes one of the best profiles of a workplace bully developed by an expert on bullying. Will you recognize someone you work with?

Related blogs:   Bullying in the workplace series


M. Sandy Hershcovis, and Julian Barling. “Bullying more Harmful than Sexual Harassment on the Job, Say Researchers,” article from American Psychological Association, , March 8, 2008.

Stuart Rudner. “Constructively dismissed Walmart employee gets $1.4 million,” article from HRReporter, October 11, 2012

A little recognition goes a long way

Posted by Joanne on October 17, 2012 Comments (2)

My daughter secured a full-time job in an office this past summer. It was a new experience for her because her summer jobs in the past consisted of part-time work as a grocery store cashier. She learned a lot from going on her first formal interview to learning about the job itself and workplace technology. But she also learned about working with a team in an office environment, and communicating directly with people by phone, in-person, and by email. In addition to the people she worked with on a daily basis, she enjoyed the company sponsored Friday lunches, and the cupboards stocked with snacks.

I got a present from work!!

One time in the middle of the day, I received a text message from her and our conversation went as follows:


Can you “hear” the excitement, evident by the multiple exclamation marks? A little recognition goes a long way! And that good news story got repeated over and over again. When employees feel their efforts are appreciated and recognized, they are more engaged at work, and they bring more enthusiasm, thought, creativity, time and effort to the job. They feel their work is appreciated and recognized and that “doing good work” on a daily basis is important to the success of the team and the company.

As a mother and HR professional, I was glad her first office job was with a great place to work. She was fortunate to work for an organization that knows how to treat people right. She could have easily found herself in a workplace that wasn’t so great. She doesn’t know that in her lifetime she will more than likely experience a workplace that isn’t so great. But because she has experienced a great place to work she will know the difference and this will allow her to make choices about whether to stay or to look for a better work environment.

Great organizations encourage a culture of respect, trust, cooperation, and teamwork, and they do little things to recognize the efforts of their employees. Not so great workplaces encourage disrespectful and bullying behaviour (more on this next week), gossip and conflict, and disregard or denigrate employee efforts.

And there is a great business case to create a great place to work. Did you know that:

  • companies with high-engagement grow their earnings-per-share 28% faster, (Towers Perrin, Closing the Engagement Gap: Global Workforce Study)
  • shareholder returns are 19% higher than average with high-engagement firms, while those with low-engagement were 44% below average, (Hewitt Associates)
  • greater productivity, customer satisfaction, profit, and decreased absenteeism, turnover, and accidents are correlated to increased levels of engagement, (Business-unit-level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology)
  • and employees who are engaged work more efficiently, share more, find solutions, aren’t scared to speak up, provide suggestions, and meet customer’s needs more often, resulting in repeat business. (Schweyer)

Creating an engaged great place to work will help your employees feel recognized and appreciated which really benefits everyone. So what are you doing to make sure a little recognition goes a long way?


Source for the stats:

Business Value of Employee Engagement & How to Measure Employee Engagement,” March 29, 2012,

Do you bring your sunshine to work?

Posted by Joanne on October 10, 2012 Comments Off

One rainy day last month my husband and I were in Kingston, Ontario where we had two very different customer experiences in the retail setting. I worked in retail in the past, so I know that dealing with customers all day can be challenging. This is what we experienced.

1. Home Depot

My husband and I visit Home Depot looking for a specific order. We are greeted by several employees – “Good morning. Do you need any help?” We are assisted with our order and then proceed to the loading area, where we wait for the order. Again we are greeted and asked if we need help. There is a positive buzz around the place. As we wait for our order, we overhear two coworkers greeting each other.

Coworker 1: “How’s your morning so far?”

Coworker 2: (with a huge smile on her face and a bounce in her walk), “Just livin’ the dream. Just livin’ the dream.”

It made us both smile and brought the sunshine in on a rainy day. The people working at Home Depot that morning sure did bring their spirit to the workplace.

2. Coffeeco Espresso Bar

My husband and I enter our favourite coffee shop with smiles on our faces, each anticipating a truly magnificent cup of coffee. We look at one stony-face behind the counter and then look at the other stony-face. No smiles, no greeting. Undaunted, we cheerfully ask for our coffees, still no smiles. These two co-workers certainly don’t seem like they are enjoying work at all. (This by the way is very uncharacteristic of our favourite coffee shop because the staff are usually happy and upbeat, so make sure you drop in). As my husband and I fix up our coffees, we look at each other, and we are both thinking the same thing. It’s a rainy day, SMILE and let the sunshine in.

What different customer experiences we had that day!

It made me think about the blog post, “Optimism and Pessimism – What makes us who we are.” The author Elaine Fox explains that:

“Some people appear to be incurable pessimists, seeing the negative in everything. Others are upbeat and optimistic convinced they could cope with whatever life throws at them. At the extremes, these two different ways of seeing the world can tip people towards anxiety and depression or flourishing and wellbeing. Such divergent outlooks on life seem to be fairly hard-wired. Remarkable new evidence, however, is questioning just how wired-in traits like optimism and pessimism really are.”

It does not matter whether we have an optimism or pessimism “gene,”  because we can, thankfully, learn to be more upbeat and optimistic. The author states we have a sunny (optimistic) brain and rainy (pessimistic) brain and the good news is that both are highly “malleable and open to change.” Who wants to be a negative energy vampire anyway?

It starts with the power of one. We can each bring a smile, and our sunshine into the workplace. And when we do it sparkles and spreads!


Do you lead like an DHB (decent human being)?

Posted by Joanne on October 2, 2012 Comments (1)

Lately I’ve been seeing many references to books on how to fix dysfunctional organizational culture and leaders not leading like decent human beings. This proliferation of organizational and leadership self-help books is extremely sad because it infers many organizations do not lead with decency and goodness. It seems that certain leaders forget about being a decent human being.

What’s going on? A recent Towers Watson Survey states that “nearly two-thirds (65%) of the more than 32,000 full-time workers participating in (the) study are not highly engaged.” Key findings of the study include: increased stress and anxiety about the future, keeping employees has more to do with the “quality” of the work experience overall, and employees have doubts about the level of interest and support coming from senior leaders.

It saddened me to read Paul Copcutt’s blog post “Do you really know how to resign?” about an employee’s resignation email. When this particular employee resigned he sent an email to all employees in his organization, and then the email was posted on Twitter and went viral with its own hashtag. The email outlines what transpired and the not so great actions of his boss, from the the view point of the employee. Sending this type of email is never a great resignation idea, but while reading it, I heard a seemingly decent human being destroyed by a leader who wasn’t. (I don’t know the facts other than the information in the email, so I can’t comment on who is the DHB or who isn’t). The email portrays a previously performing employee who is so burnt out that his well-being is at risk along with his decision making ability, hence the poor decision to send the resignation email.

When values are not in sync, eventually performance and well-being suffer.

Is your workplace a cross between a “high school (think Mean Girls … and guys) and the Mafia?” That is actually how I heard someone describe the workplace that they went to every day. Do you want to work for an organization like that, where the values of the organization and your own values are not aligned? When values don’t align it isn’t good. It destroys well-being by causing stress, mental fatigue, anxiety, and feelings of not wanting to go to work. It results in increased absenteeism, and very unproductive presenteeism at work! In fact, a dysfunctional workplace can destroy the well-being and productivity of previously stellar performing employees. And that isn’t good for the employee or the company.

When leaders are not decent human beings, productivity, profit, and company brand suffer.

Think about how this one resignation email impacted the brands of the employee, the boss, and the company they work(ed) for. Would you want to work for the boss? Would you want to work for the company? Would you hire the employee who resigned? Which brand suffered the most? Do we really know what kind of workplace, employee, or leader were involved? No, but unfortunately social media and people’s perception become the new reality.

In real life mean-spirited mafia-like workplaces are not good for anyone.  If you want to create a decent workplace, please contact us. We can help make your business an awesome place to work. I’m not talking about group hugs and fluff; I’m talking about making the world a better place one company at a time, by creating happy, healthy and productive workplaces where individuals are respected for their contributions, held accountable for their actions, and developed to their full potential. (This just happens to be our vision statement!) Oh, yes, and we’ll help train your leaders to be Decent Human Beings!

Related posts from the archives:

The Grandma litmus test for ethical behaviour,

What makes a great leader

 Joanne Royce

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Use our insider tips on human resources, training, and interpersonal relationships to create your own happy, healthy, and productive workplace. We'll also comment on life in general and share info and highlights from books.

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