Women, Sabotage & Bullying … Oh My!
Workplace … We have a problem … still.
Women aren’t soloists when it comes to sabotage and bullying behaviors. Men do it. Women do it. But, and it is a “but,” men do it differently.
For co-workers, the fear of potential harm from a saboteur or bullier to them personally or professionally creates an environment that is highly stressful and toxic. That means they are less productive, morale takes a dive, and common goals within the organization suffer.
When times are good, employees start looking for a new job—the toxicity isn’t worth it—no matter how much they get paid. Employers lose money because work doesn’t get done. Over-time, temp help, lost time because of grumbling amongst the staff or the energy that is put out to avoid the saboteur at all costs. When the economy is not so hot, it actually breeds the saboteur–bullying increases. People are less likely to jump ship, which creates fertile ground for the bullier in the workplace.
It’s impossible to be fully productive when you’ve got a back or front-stabber lurking in your midst.
When times aren’t so good, like in today’s economy, people don’t entertain an exit strategy. And the bully/saboteur knows it. Bad times can be the perfect elixir for the nasty people in your workplace to step up to the plate.
Whether you are a manager or an employee, ignorance isn’t bliss. You’ve got to deal with sabotage and undermining activities in your workplace. If you don’t, you can lose big—your reputation, your position, and your bottom line. Money. Lots of it.
Sabotage is the act of undermining or destroying personal or professional integrity; it creates mayhem in personal or professional lives;
and it damages personal and professional credibility. Sabotage can be done intentionally or unintentionally and it can be delivered overtly or covertly.
Women don’t own the art of sabotage, men do it too. Quite well.
Women, though, are different in their targets and methodology. They are more inclined to be covert and deceptive as they unravel it. A factor that has been consistent with every study that I’ve conducted, as well as those of others, is that women discriminate—their preference for undermining and bullying their own gender is the method of choice. In contrast, men don’t discriminate—either gender is target material.
Men are more inclined to be overt when they create conflict, sabotage or a bullying act, even letting you know the day and time it will happen. It’s the difference between backstabbing and front-stabbing. In one case, you’re unsure who caused the action; in the other, the perpetrator is blatant and bold. If they could garner a badge for their deeds, they would wear them.
Because of the distinct differences in sabotaging behaviors of men and women, it’s wise to know how to identify a saboteur in your workplace midst. Ask a few questions—
• Does anyone encourage gossip? Saboteurs are superb messengers and can hardly wait to pass on discrediting information.
• Does information pass you by? Are you out of the loop? Saboteurs isolate their targets from regular communication links.
• Is anyone’s job in jeopardy? Change is in the air. When change occurs, anxiety and fear becomes its companion. Either creates a breeding ground for sabotage.
• Does anyone routinely take the credit of others or discount them (or yours)? Saboteurs don’t bravo anyone else’s contribution to a project or idea. The only thing that really counts is that they get credit, who cares if they did the work or not.
The work place is a breeding ground for saboteurs and bulliers. Men and women at all levels must learn to recognize the action, who creates them and learn how to confront them. If the bullier/saboteur isn’t, it’s tantamount to giving approval to continue with the offending and abusive behavior.
Not everyone lands in the national press when set up. But feelings of personal betrayal are no less devastating. When a woman shafts another woman, there is a sense of violation—how could you do this … to me … to “women”?
Managers routinely ignore this problem, more out of fear for charges of sexism than anything else. The question becomes, “Why do they fear this?” It’s because when businesses hold programs about sexual harassment, since they don’t consider themselves as harassers. This is because it’s assumed that the male is the harasser.
Women are more likely to sabotage other women, rather than harass men. It’s a form of gender harassment. Why should women be treated any different? Harassment—whether caused by men or women—is a problem.
American businesses lose billions of dollars each year in lost productivity because of its unwillingness to deal with this issue. Verbal and physical abuse, sabotage and bullying should be in no workplace. Ever.
Carefronting Employees in Your Midst …
You’ve been recently promoted to manager of your department. You loved being on staff, but the management role hasn’t been what you expected. Your pre-management department friends seem to have new expectations from you (as you do from them). The camaraderie you relished for the past two years has almost disappeared.
On top of that, Bertha, one of the best employees you’ve ever worked with seems to have had a personality transplant. She routinely challenges your authority, grumbles about anything and everything, and appears to be the creator of some of the conflict your department is experiencing.
The quickest way to reduce red ink culpraits is to address them when inappropriate behavior surfaces. Your reward for resolution is increased retention, higher productivity, increased patient satisfaction and a less stressful workplace.
Your solution cycle starts with observation, communication, confrontation and spelling out clearly what the consequence is if the behavior continues.
Don’t concentrate on being the “employer of choice.” Instead, become the Employer of Choice of Choice Employees. The real choice should be to keep the keepers and lose the losers. The end result is a healthier workplace . . . a win-win for all.
Nasty and demeaning behavior is alive and well in the workplace today. It’s not exclusive to gender and breeds easily. In fact, the bad economy acts as a breeder.The Susans (and Sams) of the workplace who practice the art of being pit bulls, bullies and jerks are the latest topic of author and management consultant Robert Sutton. In his best-selling book, The No #$%hole Rule (Warner Business Books), he identifies his “dirty dozen”—common, everyday actions that #$%holes typically use:
Invading one’s “personal territory”
Uninvited physical contact
Threats and intimidation—either verbal and/or non-verbal
Sarcastic jokes and teasing used to insult
Withering e-mail flames
Status slaps intended to humiliate the recipient
Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals
Treating people as if they are invisible
So, what do you do with a Susan or a Sam—who may be a boss or a co-worker?
If you are a manager, and not the pit bull, start quantifying what the behavior is costing you. How much time do you spend dealing with the employee that is an outcome of their behavior? How much is spent with staff that is the recipient of the bully’s output? Have HR professionals been called in—what’s their time worth? Have you had to interact with those senior to you? Is overtime paid out that could be tied to last minute demands or not getting things done? Has counseling been required? Have others quit because of the bully—what are your recruitment, replacement, and retraining costs? Could this person’s behavior contribute to lower productivity among other workers, even causing some to toss in the towel and transfer or quit?
The moneys mount up. Just replacing someone can cost you between one to three times an annual salary! Loss productivity factors in both reduced output, the need for overtime or temp help and added stress to staff. Few people say that the reason they are terminating is because of a specific person, it’s usually “a better opportunity,” “more pay” (even if it’s a nickel an hour more), or “less of a commute.”
Pit bulls (with and without lipstick) and bullies are key causes of good people exiting a workplace. Keeping them can have staggering costs. In the multiple worklace studies that I’ve done for my books (the latest is in Stabotage! How to Deal with the Pit Bulls, Skunks, Snakes, Scorpions & Slugs in the Health Care Workplace), over 51% reported that they had quit jobs because of the toxic behavior of their co-workers and bosses.
Unless their contributions are worth mega millions to your workplace and it would vaporize without them, it’s time to end it. The sooner, the better
Sutton advises, “Don’t hire #$%holes and don’t let them get away with it.”
For employees, he encourages them to change the “norms”—what’s acceptable and non-acceptable among co-workers; to get out; or create an attitude of indifference toward them.
In my own research and work with organizations, I know that the more confidence you display (even faking it), the less likely these creeps will attack you. Why?—it becomes too much work on their part to bug and/or pull you down.
When a company allows and enables rotten behavior, they support bad business practices and tell their workers they don’t count. Dumb.