Whose responsibility is it to stop bullying?

In the last few months one of my friends has cried on my shoulder because of her manager at work. Specifically, she was bullied. Over and over again she was humiliated and felt as though all her self-worth was gone. Image is a keyboard with a red key saying bullying instead of enter

She also got ill, very ill.

My friend, who was in an international senior role, broke down completely at work, got physically ill, got burned out and even clinically depressed after being treated unfairly.

In her case the bullying manager had taken a dislike to her from the beginning and got upset because my friend could not read her thoughts and understand what she meant, when what she ‘meant’ had never actually been communicated. When my friend spoke in meetings her manager would roll her eyes, never giving her a chance to feel comfortable.

Why do we put up with this behaviour time and time again?

Same plot, same characters and same results.

Who should do something about it?

Ultimately, the head of the organisation, the CEO, the MD or whoever’s at the top, should take the lead in highlighting that bullying colleagues is unacceptable.

I once had a bad manager who was acting as a bulldozer. He had been setting very unfair goals and had given me tasks that were not at all in line with my skills. I called the global HR department and asked if my manager’s behaviour was something that was acceptable. The HR person’s reply was: ‘We would never tolerate this kind of unfair behaviour.’ When I spoke to an HR person based in London the comment was: ‘Well, that kind of behaviour is not uncommon here.’

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Mixed messages about what kind of behaviour is acceptable is why you need the head of an organisation to lead change.

Having people become ill and depressed is not the way forward and does not create good leadership models.

Can we prevent bullying from happening? Or, is it human nature to bully each other?

Being a greedy, ruthless and intolerant hypocrite is not something that is needed or appreciated in 2015. Having a bully leading a team sucks energy away from everyone. What we need are organisations that work well on all levels, otherwise they won’t survive.

We want to work with people who behave in a trustworthy way and who display credibility and competence.

Nothing new here, but what we need is long-term planning that takes into account everyone’s interests, health and happiness.

Even the most aggressive person can change but only if they are motivated to do so. We all have dark sides to our personalities but you can learn how to be in control.

One simple thing you can do is to study your own behaviour and emotions. Awareness of how you behave as a leader is key for your ability to lead.

Leaders who are in denial that bullying is happening right in front of them, and then act in a cowardly way contribute to people falling ill. This kind of leaders only plan for the next few years in their career, and that doesn’t include health and joy for everyone in the organisation.

A short-term perspective will only add to problems and will never allow anyone go deep enough to find a solution.

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Time goes fast, so spend it with people who are good to you. My friend I mentioned earlier left her job and is exploring a new career path. And I will continue to listen to friends who have issues at work, my shoulder will always to be there to cry on.


If you would like to read more about how to handle bullying at work you can download information from the CIPD. I found the material and case studies well worth reading.

This article was first published in The London Business Journal.

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Sofie Sandell by the Southbank in London

Photographer Sandra Donskyte