As leaders we have all dealt with difficult employees that have been low performers. But, what do we do with the difficult employee that is destructive, a bully, or worse yet, sabotaging the performance of other employees or even the organization?
Bullies and tyrants are not just limited to school play grounds, they are found in the corporate board room, and even within our peers and direct reports. Understanding the impact of followers that are destructive or bullies will be explored in this article.
Before we can look at destructive behaviors and their impact it is helpful to have an accurate definition of destructive behavior. Tepper (2000) defined abusive work behaviors as hostile and/or non-verbal behaviors that are acted out. Usually these behaviors exclude physical contact.
Destructive behavior is a systematic and repeated behavior by an individual that violates the legitimate interest of the organization by undermining and/or sabotaging the organization’s goals, tasks, resources, and effectiveness and or motivation, well being or job satisfaction (Einersen, Aaland & Skogstad, 2007).
Barrow (2010) defined work place bullying as “Repetitive, abusive behavior that devalues and harms other people on the job. Workplace bullying is not physically violent but relies on the formidable weapons of hostile actions and words” (p.77).
When employees are exposed to bullies or destructive co-workers in the work place their work is impacted. Motivation is limited and productivity falters. In addition, employee health issues increase. Physical and emotional symptoms include, headaches, GI issues, depression, isolation, and in some cases suicide (Barrow, 2010). Furthermore destructive behaviors affect personal and job satisfaction including turnover intentions, health problems, psychological distress, and citizenship within the organization.
One Bad Apple
As leaders we are all busy with strategic plans, operational strategies, inspiring and motivating our employees. However, when leaders have destructive employees in the work place it makes our jobs 10 times harder to perform. What is surprising is that one bad apple can spoil and destroy a highly functioning unit within a very short period of time; often times within a matter of a few weeks. Destructive, bullying, and toxic employees create an environment that is full of strife, angst, and destruction. It wreaks havoc on job satisfaction and creates an environment where our high performing employees, are sitting at their desks during lunch time looking at job boards or our competitors’ job boards. As much as we hope and wish it is not the destructive bully leaving our organizations; it is our hard working, high performers that are exiting to remove themselves from the abuse that surrounds them.
Look for Symptoms
So what can leaders do to address these types of behaviors in the work place? For many leaders they know that it is happening but, they are not equipped to handle the bullies. Many leaders close their eyes to what happens, hoping that the problem will go away or take care of itself. In some cases organizational cultures will morph to accommodate destructive or bullying behaviors, creating a toxic environment for all (Roter, 2011). As leaders, we hope that the problem will resolve itself or go away. Yet that is not the case. Rarely do these behaviors stop and in many cases they escalate. Others see these behaviors occurring and sometimes jump on the bandwagon in hopes of becoming friends with the bully and hoping to divert their attention to someone else.
As a leader, it is important to keep your ear to the ground and look for the signs that something isn’t right.
- Is there increased absenteeism in a single department?
- Is there loss of productivity or high turnover rates in a department?
- If employee satisfaction surveys are conducted, what are those surveys telling you?
Employee satisfaction surveys can tell leaders a lot about what is going on in the organization. Are you connected to the grapevine and hearing what is going on within the organization? Most importantly, are you and other leaders equipped to handle these types of behaviors? Partnering with your Human Resource professionals will help to identify and address these behaviors in the work place.
Workplace bullying and destructive behaviors are rampant in today’s work place. It can be displayed as subtle bullying behaviors or it can be displayed as aggressive, destructive and dangerous behaviors which can sabotage your organization. As a result your organization may be faced with increased turnover of high performers, increased absenteeism, and decreased productivity. As a leader you cannot afford to face these types of workplace issues. Your focus should be on the strategy of the organization. In order to maximize organizational strategy, leaders need to also address bullying and destructive behaviors. Organizations should establish policies which address destructive and bullying behaviors. Having a strong infrastructure which addresses destructive behaviors is a critical component of leadership and organizational strategy. A strong and aggressive infrastructure will help to address bullying and destructive behaviors.
Have you had experience with destructive, difficult employees? Comment in the box below so we can learn from your ideas.
Barrow, L. (2010). In darkness light dawns: Exposing workplace bullying. Port Colborne, Ontario: Purple Crown.
Einarsen, S., Aasland, M., & Skogstad, A., (2007). Destructive leadership behavior: A definition and conceptual model. Leadership Quarterly, 18 (3), 207-216. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global.
Roter, A. (2011) The Lived Experiences of Registered Nurses Exposed to Toxic Leadership Behaviors. Doctoral Dissertation. ProQuest
Tepper, B. (2000). Consequences of abusive supervision. Academy of Management Journal, 43(3), 178-191. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global.
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