By Tavis Stewart
I imagine the majority of people have experienced bullying, in some form or another, at some point in their lifetime. It’s so unfortunate that it’s still found in most businesses, whether big corporates or small companies, and we could go into the phycological reasons of what makes a bully, but that’s a huge academic discussion, so let’s focus on the results on the victim and the companies they work in.
Bullying needs an environment that facilitates the ability of the bully to ply their trade. And a top down lack of awareness, or care, that allows bullying to become systemic in a business. So, before the COVID pandemic, these environments had been created over years of people building and nurturing micro-environments, where they could control their departments through fear and retain their false assumption of power.
The result of this has been a hidden or ignored reduction in productivity that would take big personnel changes to fix. This has been resisted, as most CEO’s do not have the knowledge or experience to deal with the change management required to facilitate and sustain it.
The Status Quo has been there for decades and nothing could shift it. Until now. The COVID pandemic, and the resulting lock down, has forced companies around the globe to resort to working from home and to communicate via virtual meeting software like Zoom and Teams. The HR departments have had to shift their focus to deal with the mental stress of being isolated, and the risk of reduced productivity as people sit in their pyjamas to work and get tempted to watch Netflix..
The Status Quo has been there for decades and nothing could shift it. Until now. The COVID pandemic, and the resulting lock down, has forced companies around the globe to resort to working from home and to communicate via virtual meeting software like Zoom and Teams. The HR departments have had to shift their focus to deal with the mental stress of being isolated, and the risk of reduced productivity as people sit in their pyjamas to work and get tempted to watch Netflix.
· Fewer interruptions (68%)
· More focused time (63%)
· Quieter work environment (68%)
· More comfortable workplace (66%)
· Avoiding office politics (55%)
This improved productivity may help explain why 61% of workers review remote work more positively and why 50% also say their employer views remote work favourably now. (1)
These are some great results and my theory regarding bullying in the pandemic is that the change in the work environment has broken the power base of the bully. No longer can they intimidate you at the coffee machine or threaten you in the private meeting room. You don’t feel you’re being watched if you go and talk to colleagues or HR about problems you may be having, and even the canteen is quiet, and the food is to your liking.
Virtual communication has created privacy and governance. All your meetings can be recorded and transcribed into minutes automatically, shutting the door on abusive language and even gestures. Finally, the person who wants to work hard can do so in their own time without being judged for staying late or leaving early.
Of course, working remotely doesn’t stop the abusive phone calls coming or the worry that people are still talking about you behind your back, but what you don’t see shouldn’t worry you. Bullying is achieved mostly through body language and intimidation. The angry look or the glance from two people at the water cooler as they giggle like school children. Bullies get their power from this, and when it’s taken away, they fade like fog burning off in the morning sun.
So, the question is, will the bullying return when the business opens up again?
The question should be, have businesses and bosses learnt that by removing the environment conducive to bullying the productivity in their business has increased? And have they realised that by making sure the openness and communication remains fluid, the bullying will not and cannot return.
Also, will businesses allow more people to work from home or turn the office into a flexi-desk system that allows workers to come in on a rotation for when they need to be in the office?
So, what difference will you make when you return to work? Will you go back to tolerating the person who intimidates you? Will you stand by when you see someone else being bullied? Or maybe you are the bully, and by being at home with your family, you have learnt some lessons in humility and values.
Which ever one you are, please don’t revert to the norm, be a change catalyst, bring your personal values to work and share your concerns and observations when you see or hear something that you know is wrong.
“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
This famous quote was from British statesman Edmund Burke and it says it all, if you let someone get away with bullying, they will take advantage of you and be encouraged to bully others. So don’t sand by and do nothing, stand up and say something.