To better our workplaces, these opposites must attract

To readers following this blog for any length of time, it’s no secret that I frequently write about the so-called dark side of work: Workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment get a lot of attention here, and it’s the primary cluster of topics that leads people here via search engines. We’re still learning about the impact and costs of these forms of interpersonal abuse, and I’m committed to discussing them. However, we also must apply our insights on these destructive behaviors to the broad objectives of creating better workplaces and treating workers with dignity.

Sometimes our perspectives on work are split between more abusive, exploitative employment practices and more positive, wellness-oriented behaviors. At times, for example, I’ve sensed some distance with folks who favor a positive psychology perspective on employee relations; they may see my emphasis on workplace bullying and related topics as being immersed in the negative, to a point of excess. However, when I write pieces coming from a more positive, solution-oriented perspective, I may feel resistance from those who are steeped in hurtful workplace behaviors, with an underlying message that I’m being overly sunny.

The bottom line is that we need to understand the light and dark sides of work in order to be effective change agents. If we don’t acknowledge that psychopaths, almost psychopaths, and narcissists constitute a narrow but sizable and destructive bandwidth of CEOs and managers, then we often will be blind to the darkness coming out of certain corner offices and boardrooms. If we overlook the possibilities of creating healthy, even (yes) happy job situations and of transcending debilitating fight-or-flight work environments, then we often will find ourselves stuck in a dark place for an extended period of time.

It’s about balance and integration, yes? For my part, I’ll do my best to examine destructive behaviors at work and their impact on workers and organizations, while also highlighting how organizational change, law reform, and individual and social change can lead us to better, more dignified workplaces and work experiences.

We’ve got a lot of work to do, and understanding the bigger picture, with all its possibilities and limitations, is a good starting point.

11 responses

  1. No matter what you write about with regards to workplace abuse/bullying, the fact that you keep the discussion ongoing and in conscious thought is appreciated. Thank you!

    I look at workplace abuse as part of a continuum of behaviors vs. looking at it with a ‘light’ vs. ‘dark’ perspective. The fact that workplace abuse is so pervasive gives evidence that change isn’t going to be about getting rid of the ‘dark’ but, instead, it’s going to be about looking at why it exists. Each of us has to be able to examine the ‘dark’ that is in us and how it contributes to the dysfunction. If a magic wand could be waved and tomorrow we’d all go to work where collaboration is paramount and rankism is obsolete, I dare say that many of us would struggle with the change. Hopefully we’d see some of our own ‘darkness’ come to light – so to speak. In the meantime, though, almost anything that can make our workplaces accountable to treating employees with respect is needed. The ‘at will’ laws need to change shape. They are one of several doors that open to abuse.

    • I appreciate your comments, but I have to disagree that we would miss the “rankism” were it to disappear altogether. When management tackle bullying successfully, the relief is immense. It is like paradise. From being with no energy and with severe depression there is suddenly energy and ideas and happiness. If you have ever been bullied, you would know that “rankism’ is not ever, ever, BUT EVER needed to be a happy and high functioning (even, just: functioning) person. Also, I have observed that bullies are happier in themselves when they are well managed to stop bullying (i.e. they keep their jobs, their positions, all the respect, etc, etc – just had to quit the racist jokes, the nasty quips about co-workers, etc).

      • Yes, I have experienced the direct impact of targeted work abuse. The consequences of such brought me to my knees. Initially I searched for meaning, trying to understand how and why something like what I experienced could happen. I’ve now studied the phenomenon of work abuse for years and I have no doubt that I will keep learning about it as long as I am able.

        I didn’t say rankism would be missed or that it’s necessary for functioning workplaces. I said there would be struggle with the change.

        If there was sudden change (via a magic wand – because that’s what it would take) and rank and authority were all of a sudden ‘gone,’ how things function would be impacted by many factors. In (by far) the most cases, some form of authority and rank would be assumed by someone, somehow. What that looks like – in any given situation – would vary by the people involved. There would be struggles because most of us have not been conditioned to work collaboratively. The ‘rules’ and culture would change. That would invoke fear for most – at least initially. The transition would be challenging.

  2. I read your blog regularly and feel it is important because:
    1) simply writing about this topic is vital. you bring focus and attention to the issue.
    2) you give people a place to go to learn they are not alone. someone reading about workplace bullying can say ‘yes, this describes what’s happening to me’.
    3) you offer up best practices for both employees and employers. suggestions to remedy toxic situations and strategies to prevent it in the first place.
    4) updates on legislation. If every employer had a policy and followed through on correcting the unacceptable behavior, we wouldn’t need laws. the fact is the bullied need protection.
    Thank you, David, for your tireless efforts.

  3. You present a very sensible way to look at the problem of bullying. It is not just a “bad” person, it is not just the “bad barrel.” We know that all individuals have both positive and negative potential. Our institutions seek to educate and guide all, with some form of justice and rewards/punishments to encourage behavior that remains within limits. Bullying can flourish in some environments, but it can be discouraged and controlled by the right kind of structure and management.

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I agree with you. A tweet I retweeted yesterday read: Do not internalize feelings of self-pity, work towards abolishing the forces of your alienation. (Tweeter: Ann Landers). This is true. The worst thing about any kind of discrimination is the hate it seeds in those it would offend. It kills off good people by making them angry and hateful. It just took me 4 years, and much of that time feeling suicidal, to get to the point where I was strong enough to stop hating and start acting on my attackers effectively without myself being slaughtered. The bullying I have been witness to is race related. I have taken to twitter: @RainbowJane12 and would like to gather insights about how racism is manifesting itself. I have witnessed subtle racism and it is really more deadly than overt, name-calling racism. Thanks.

  5. I am a student studying to become a I/O psychologist oneday, we are currently learning about Aggression and bullying in the workplace. It made me really nervous at first when I started reading your blogs. It made our study topics real to me. The thing that frustrates me is that we learn about all the different types of bullying and what causes people to bully others as well as the affect it has on the employee’s that are being bullied, but they never taught us how to resolve bullying in the workplace. Like all of you mentioned how it affected you and how bad it is, but how would you resolve it? I came up with my own conclusion how we can look at bullying. So there are many types of bullying one being racial like GEJ gave the example. Discrimination accourding to race is the one that hurts the most, a specially in my country ( South Africa). Recently we had a situation with people that felt like they were discriminated against, but when we had a meeting to resolve the issue it turned out that it was a misunderstanding of each others culture’s. Sometimes people do certain things that are acceptable in their own culture which is not necessarily part of someone else’s. Will bullying maby stop if communication between management and their employee’s were better? I believe communication is the best acquiptment to have to over come any obstacle in life. Just telling your bully that he/she is hurting you or how you feel about your bullies behaviour won’t it make your bully realise wat he/ she is doing? The world would be a lot easier if we knew what every one was thinking or feeling.

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