We’ve frequently talked about bullying in the workplace – including research on the topic and discussions of how the bully boss takes a toll. Now, a new study by an Australian researcher looks at the topic of bullying from the perspective of the accused, finding that alleged bullies were just as affected by the experience as people she had interviewed for an earlier study on victims of workplace bullying.
Moira Jenkins, a clinical psychologist in Australia, is interviewing managers accused of workplace bullying. Jenkins found performance or behavioral issues with subordinates often appeared to trigger a bullying complaint against managers, sometimes giving rise to something that one accused called “upwards bullying.” Jenkins notes:

“Bullying, when it does occur, is a serious problem. But some workers might be too quick to frame conflict as bullying. Human resources takes more notice when the word ‘bullying’ is used.” She defines bullying as repeated, targeted behaviour towards somebody that is likely to humiliate them and undermine their confidence.”

Does the term “bullying” get thrown around too lightly? Certainly, as with any other problem employment practice, such as harassment or discrimination, bullying accusations against managers may be unfair or mislabeled. Managers who were interviewed by Jenkins seemed to think that they were just doing their jobs in enforcing company policies. In some of the cited examples, it appeared that there was no suitable internal system of organizational conflict resolution or grievance procedures for the accused to address the charges against them. While some work cultures seem to actively foster bully managers, it may more often be the result of poor management skills or a lack of management training.

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