Open letter to victims of workplace bullying
If you have ever been bullied in the workplace you are probably reflecting on recent events in the news. As you reflect, I would like to share my personal thoughts with you.
As someone who has held leadership and management roles for the past two decades, I want you to know that I completely and utterly fail to recognise any rationale which excuses sustained bullying behaviour. If you have ever been bullied I do not want you to be disheartened by the suggestion that bullying can be excused. It cannot. I unequivocally stand with you. I feel your pain, I share your pain and I disavow the bullies. I withdraw my support for any leader who engages in bullying behaviour.
Bullying behaviour plays no part in the role of a manger or leader. Bullying plays no part in civilised society.
I cannot comment on the particular circumstances of the issues in the news, because I do not know all the facts. But I can and do comment on the sentiments being expressed about bullies in general and about whether workplace bullying can ever be justified or excused.
I see only one difference between a manager or leader who uses physical violence towards an employee and the behaviour of someone who continually issues unreasonable demands, threatens careers, makes unjustified criticisms, deliberately uses nuanced feedback to unsettle and control, someone who ostracises, demeans, shouts, swears and spreads fear. The difference is that this behaviour hurts longer and harder than a mere punch to the face. The pain of a punch to the face lasts a matter of days. The pain of a sustained campaign of bullying results in a prolonged impact on confidence, mental health and wellbeing. It threatens to result not just in a few days of pain, but a broken career, lost opportunities, an inability to progress and more.
It is for this reason that I stand with you.
You may feel let down by the sentiment that a bully’s behaviour might be excusable because they received no feedback. I do not stand by this sentiment. It is not your role to tell the bully that they are bully. It is the leader’s role to at all times treat their colleagues with respect and humanity.
You may feel let down by the sentiment that a bully’s behaviour might just be excusable because they may think that performance was below expectations. I do not stand by this sentiment. It is the leader’s role to give feedback on performance in an appropriate, open, supportive and developmental manner.
You may feel let down by the sentiment that a bully’s behaviour might merely cause you to be upset. I do not stand by this sentiment. I know from my experience that the bully’s behaviour causes considerably more pain than this and has a much broader impact on your sense of security, confidence, wellbeing and purpose.
I stand with you and I’m sure that the overwhelming majority of leaders and managers stand with you. You are a wonderful human being, entitled to be yourself and to be valued for who you are. Whatever position you are in, you earned it. You achieved it through hard work, by succeeding in your education, through successful interviews and good performance. If a self-interested bully has acted in a sustained and deliberately bullying way to knock your confidence, let me assure you that they are wrong and you are their victim. The bully acts out of self interest and is willing to destroy the interests of others to further their own ambition. That is not leadership.
I stand with you, support you and consider that no bully can be a true leader and no true leader is a bully.