HR and workplace bullying: A revealing online conversation

In a recent blog article assessing the anti-bullying movement in 2010, I stated that we saw both breakthroughs and backlash during the past year. This post reports an example of the latter.

I call to your attention a recent, revealing online exchange about workplace bullying, employers, and human resources that took place on the discussion board of Workforce Management (link here). Several self-identified HR folks suggested that:

  • concerns about workplace bullying are greatly exaggerated;
  • many claims about bullying at work are without merit; and,
  • the anti-bullying movement is a “fad” — like sexual harassment and diversity concerns generally — that eventually will go away.

Two individuals who urged that workplace bullying be taken seriously, workplace consultant Catherine Mattice (“catmattice” on the discussion board) and mediator Debra Healy (“mgoose12”), were cuffed around by those who said they were trying to cash in on bullying concerns for the benefit of their practices. Fortunately, they more than held their own. (It helps to have the facts on your side.)

Later on, Catherine posted a lengthy commentary on this exchange to her blog.

If a sign of progress for an emerging movement is resistance and criticism, then I guess you can say this exchange reflected that. Still, it shows that we have a lot of work left to do in order to persuade employment relations stakeholders of the destructive impact of psychological abuse at work. The tone of dismissiveness, annoyance, and even derision from some of the folks who posted to that thread was palpable.


For related commentary (and one of this blog’s most popular posts), see “HR was useless”, explaining the realities of HR’s role in the workplace.

7 responses

  1. I’m sorry that the problem exists, but I really appreciate this post which validates my own experiences in 30 years of progressively responsible positions in HR departments in several different industries.

    I’ve not been a manager but I’ve worked at the professional level in all of the functions of HR for over 20 years and have witnessed bullying as well as experienced it myself.

    It’s been so hard to watch the many good employees leave companies because Human Resources would not come along side someone to try to affect a change in understanding and behavior of those who were blatant bullies.

    Bullying cultures are allowed to live and grow by executive management’s protection of their own jobs and their extreme salaries and bonuses.

    Because of this greed, they don’t hire enough people to do their jobs well and without stress because of overwhelming workloads; they don’t hire qualified people opting rather to hire a friend of a colleague who has no qualifications or experience; they hire only people who will do their bidding whether it’s the right way to do business or not; they don’t really care about the lowly workers or their workplace issues — they just don’t want to be sued — so they keep people on who don’t deserve to keep their jobs, thereby creating a hostile workplace. There are many more.

    It really boils down to character. Just having the word INTEGRITY in your company’s mission statement does not make it so. Money still rules.

    • Mary, there is has been a fairly contentious, ongoing discussion about whether HR is friend or foe when it comes to bullying. Obviously it’s going to be some of each, but which way HR leans is where the disagreement happens to be. My own sense is that HR is pretty much going to be a reflection of overall management values, which isn’t good for bullying targets.

      • Yep. I totally agree. Of course, I can speak only from my own experience, but I do think that HR has lost sight of it’s original purpose which was to walk the line between a work force needing representation and management needing to reach certain goals. It is a hard line to walk, but more HR people than not don’t even know there’s a line. I really believe HR people have failed to educate their own. Instead, they also have taken the easy way out. Their executive managers definitely are more important to them than those who have no say in their futures.

  2. (sarcasm alert): Of course the claim of workplace bullying is silly. So go smoke a cigarette; everyone knows that the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer is unproven. And the rise in fast food/junk food and high fructose corn syrup in processed foods has absolutely nothing to do with obesity. Lost your job because of the Great Recession? Well, it must certainly be your own fault. All of those people who lost their jobs, homes, farms, etc. during the great depression of the 1930s were to blame for their own problems. And while we’re at it, let’s smear every returning war veteran who has issues: it’s their own fault they can’t deal with the effects of carnage and violence. Women and minorities? They should know their place.

    And on and on and on . . . .

    • It’s interesting to note, too, that a couple of HR-related articles I’ve read recently have said that companies are still recruiting from the pool of currently employed workers.

      They still view, even in these particular economic times, that workers who were laid off are tainted in some way.

  3. Pingback: HR and workplace bullying: A revealing online conversation (via Minding the Workplace) « Pilant's Business Ethics Blog

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