Business

Friday, Feb 04 2011 12:00 PM

ROBIN PAGGI: Provide skills to prevent workplace bullying

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    Robin Paggi

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BY ROBIN PAGGI, Contributing columnist

Bullying has been at the forefront of our national dialog as we have heard more and more news stories of children being bullied by classmates. In a story by news.discovery.com, Marlene Snyder, development director for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in the United States, was quoted as saying, "The simple reason (kids bully others) is it shows that they have power over others." She goes on to say "one of the big myths is that bullies bully because they feel bad about themselves. The research consistently shows that they have average or above-average self-esteem."

Evidently, the situation changes somewhat as people grow up.

People in positions of power tend to bully others because of feelings of inadequacy, suggests a study released in 2009 by the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Southern California. According to an article about the study on sciencedaily.com, "Bosses who are in over their heads are more likely to bully subordinates. That's because feelings of inadequacy trigger them to lash out at those around them." The article goes on to say that the researchers "found a direct link among supervisors and upper management between self-perceived incompetence and aggression." Serena Chen, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and study co-author, emphasized "Incompetence alone doesn't lead to the aggression. It's the combination of having a high-power role and fearing that one is not up to the task that causes power holders to lash out."

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as "repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevented work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation and humiliation" and its 2007 national survey revealed that 37 percent of respondents reported being bullied at work. According to the survey, 72 percent of the bullies were supervisors/managers and 55 percent of the bullied were rank-and-file employees.

This information might shed light on the most recent report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which revealed that more employees are now voluntarily leaving their jobs than are being laid off.

In her article, "10 Reasons Why People Quit Their Jobs in a Tough Economy," Barbara Safani identified reason No. 4 to be that "they couldn't stand their boss." According to Safani, "For some, the stress of managing the relationship outweighed the stress of a job search."

Indeed, in his posting on todaysworkplace.org, Bob Rosner, best-selling author of "The Boss's Survival Guide," clearly demonstrated that he believes the increase in voluntary terminations can be attributed to poor management skills when he said: "Wow, we really suck at management. In a terrible economy, more workers are actually jumping off the boat than are being pushed."

All this suggests some managers and supervisors who lack the skills and knowledge they need to do an adequate job lash out at their subordinates and, in response, their subordinates leave, even when they have nowhere else to go. The obvious remedy is for employers to provide their managers and supervisors with the skills and knowledge they need to reduce their frustration and inspire employees to stay instead of hitting the road and, perhaps, filing a lawsuit.

What skills and knowledge do managers and supervisors need? At a minimum they need to know how to:

* Interview applicants in a fair, consistent and legally-defensible manner.

* Communicate with employees in a way that inspires them to achieve more instead of inspiring them to complain to a governmental agency and/or attorney.

* Manage the performance of others by providing clear expectations and giving effective feedback.

* Document performance in a manner that is legally sound.

* Terminate employees in a fair, consistent and legally-defensible manner.

* Make decisions that are consistent with employment law and their employee handbook.

Employers who do not invest in training their managers and supervisors to successfully perform their jobs do themselves and all of their employees a disfavor. As John F. Kennedy said, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."

-- Robin Paggi is a Certified Human Resources Professional with KDG Human Resource Solutions, a division of the Klein, DeNatale, Goldner law firm. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.

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