Horrible Bosses: The Bullying & The Beat Down.

Rat Entertainment Production Company (ironic huh?) is betting that enough employees hate their bosses that they will be willing to part with ten bucks to live vicariously through the characters portrayed in Horrible Bosses (July 8th).  Three bosses played by Kevin Spacey, a white-collar jerk; Jennifer Aniston, a sexual predator; and, Colin Farrell, a drug addicted toad are the targets of the ultimate demise by their respective employees.  Workplace bullying is real, misery loves company, and I’m willing to bet Horrible Bosses will make some bosses at Rat Entertainment a few bucks.  The sad irony of this is that cathartic experience or comedy, the natural market audience for this theme seems to be growing.

According to a recent survey in the US, 37% of American workers have been bullied at work.  Additionally, 40% in Brazil, 32% in Bulgaria, 52% in South Africa, 48% in Thailand, and up to 67% in Australia have reported bullying in the workplace. In the UK, the bullying accounts for up to half of all employment stress. But the negative impact is not limited to just the target; as you would expect, workplace bullying also creates a demoralizing environment for people who witness it, affecting almost half (49%) of American workers.

Yet in the movies, really bad bosses are fascinating, edgy, sexy and really cool, adjectives rarely, if ever, used to describe our real life really bad bosses.  Think of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street or Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada.  We might not like the tactics and we definitely don’t like them, but beneath all the disdain is a certain degree of respect.  In the movies, horrible bosses are really evil and really smart.

Horrible Bosses is a movie, but the behaviors and consequences are real in the real world. Workplace bullying involves repeated, targeted, psychological violence including threats, intimidation, withholding, abusive language, etc.  Workplace bullying is not tough-but-fair management, and it’s not the same as corrective feedback or normal conflict, either.

Workplace bullying damages mental and physical health. It costs organizations millions in lost productivity and staff turnover.  A University of North Carolina survey stated that 53% of targets lost work time worrying about future encounters with the perpetrator, 28% lost work time in an effort to avoid the instigator, 12% actually changed jobs, and 37% believed their commitment to the organization changed because of what they had encountered.

So, what should you do if you’re currently a target of workplace bullying?  As much as I’d tend to go for the traditional beat down, it’s suggested that the first step is to define what’s going on and realize that while you own it, it’s not your fault. It’s not only the quiet or weak who are victimized, and while these cowards generally pick on people who avoid social confrontation, they also pick on the popular or successful if they perceive them as threats.

While you’re away from work create and keep a detailed document in which you record dates, times, and locations related to each verbal attack or aggressive act.  Write to the bully after each incident, objectively stating your observation of his or her behavior. Ask if they would want a member of their family treated this way. It is extremely important to report factual behaviors only (specific words of a joke told or the tone of the voice). Take the high road and avoid character attacks as it takes you to their level and demonstrates that you are engaging in, and OK with that type of communication. (“You were an immature jerk when you told that offensive joke yesterday). Most importantly request that they stop.

If you get no response or an escalation of the behavior, send copies to senior management and HR suggesting a business case to senior management as to why it’s so expensive to keep the bully (turnover, absenteeism, disruption, loss of productivity).  If nothing changes or the situation gets worse, then you need to seriously consider leaving the organization for your own well-being

Lastly, if you are an observer of bullying you have a role to play too.  Bullying sucked in grade school, and it sucks in the workplace. It’s wrong and we have a collective responsibility to not let it continue by staying quiet. Suggest implementing an anti-bully policy where you work, consider supporting pending state legislation, and be alert to supporting those in need.

I’ll enjoy the flick, and I hope many others do as well; however, I genuinely wish that the buzz creates discussion regarding the real issues and potential solutions to work place bullying.

Check out the Workplace Bullying Institute which has loads of resources, articles, coaches, overviews of laws, etc.


Posted on July 5, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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