Tough boss vs. workplace bully: Malice makes the difference

Distinguishing between tough management styles and workplace bullying is a frequent topic of conversation among those who deal with employment relations.  In the June issue of HR Magazine, published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Teresa Daniel provides a summary of her doctoral research on workplace bullying that identifies malice as the linchpin factor:

Workplace bullying is an unambiguous and intentional form of abusive behavior, and participants in this study describe clear distinctions between the two types of managers. The findings suggest that whether or not a conflict situation is workplace bullying can be determined by the presence or absence of malice—defined in Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary (2008) as “the desire to cause pain, injury or distress to another.”

Daniel’s analysis buttresses a key component of the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB), anti-bullying legislation I authored that has been introduced in over a dozen states since 2003.  The HWB requires a bullied employee to establish that s/he was treated maliciously in order to state a valid legal claim.

For Daniel’s article:

Daniel’s new book, Stop Bullying at Work: Strategies and Tools for HR and Legal Professionals, also is published by SHRM.

2 responses

  1. The article males an interesting comparison between a tough boss & a bully boss. However, the comparison made is a bit too black & white in my opinion, when in reality it is not always the case.

    For instance, I have seen several “tough” bosses who make their employees work very hard & hold them accountable for even the smallest of mistakes – but at the same time they will never encourage or support their employees during difficult times & often they will threaten and intimidate their subordinates for forcing them to work on weekends so that they can be relaxed at home during that time!!! So in this case the tough boss is also a bully.

    I have also seen bosses who have no concern for their subordinates or the company itself & they often shout and yell abusively at their subordinates for small things & often resort to threatening and intimidating them to achieve their personal objectives. Of course, that sounds like a typical bully boss – but these same bosses tend to be very supportive and encouraging to their subordinates during difficult and critical situations like meetings with customers or presentation to top management etc. So in this case they are very nice and supportive – but back to the routine job, they’re back to their bullying ways again.

    Therefore, the point I’m trying to make is that there are no purely “tough bosses” or purely “bully bosses” out there – they generally tend be a bit of both (although there could be exceptions). This is the real problem HR professionals face while dealing with complaints – they shouldn’t be branding bosses as tough or bully – they should instead focus on the bad things or bullying actions done by them & take steps to correct them.

  2. Malicious management bullying goes a long way, especially when the bullying threatens an employee’s livelihood with retaliation. Too many HR managers and supervisors, have no idea about the businesses their charged to run. All of this creates a hostile work environment.

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