The “bullying epidemic,” as it is now known may have recently surfaced in the mainstream media through tragedy, but it is by no means a rare occurrence within educational systems or within corporate environments. Gossip, singling out other people within meetings for disparagement, public humiliation in the form of shouting, and verbally policing other people’s behavior are psychologically damaging and can (in extreme cases) result in such physical symptoms as post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, lost days at work, hypervigilance, and self-injure. Less senior colleagues and those not considered “mainstream” are the most likely to receive this type of mistreatment.
Why do any institutions (and especially one for profit) tolerate and sometimes even encourage this type of behavior? It seems that anything that has the potential to negatively impact the bottom line would be subject to organizational scrutiny, and at the very least to a managerial intervention. Given the potential negative impact, I’m surprised that more stockholders do not demand to know if organizations in which they invest have a civility credo, and a commitment to practices and policies which encourage respectful interaction. The concept of socially responsible investing suggests that we can vote with our dollars, in that stockholders are now able to pinpoint their investments into funds that support specific values. Perhaps with the current anti-bullying focus, we will see just such funds in future markets.
To counteract bullying within your own organization, consider the following:
- Be a force of benevolent action, and not a bystander. How many times have you watched someone verbally bludgeon a colleague, while others in the meeting remained silent? Support of other people (through confrontation of inappropriate behavior) counteracts the poison of personal hate which manifests in aggression. Instead of cowardly participating in gossip, instead choose to say something positive.
- Take a proactive role. If you chair a meeting, do not allow events to spiral out of control. Abdication of your responsibility can result in a false sense of empowerment experienced by those who are unashamed to brutalize their peers.
- Apologize. If you lost your temper or embarrassed another person, take steps to restore that individual’s dignity and mend the relationship. Do not self-righteously behave as if you were justified in bullying behavior.
Writer Gary Zukov (1993) argues that we are on the cusp of an evolutionary leap – one which will be facilitated by the atmosphere within corporations. Business spirituality enfolds the desire to make a profit into a larger framework that values workers’ opinions and their personal development. In A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America, Mitroff and Denton highlight (1999) several companies that are governed by a higher purpose and a transcendent set of values. They conclude:
“A far deeper transformation of organizations than has even been dreamed of is required. Unless this happens, neither organizations nor the individuals who work in them will prosper materially as well as spiritually.”
Mitroff, I. I., & Denton, A. A. (1999). A spiritual audit of corporate America: A hard look at spirituality, religion, and values in the workplace. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Zukav, G. (1993). Evolution and business. In The new paradigm in business, M. Ray and A. Rinzler (Eds.), pp. 239-249. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.