Another Thought About Bullying


A Glass Broken (c) R Dennison 2013

A Glass Broken (c) R Dennison 2013

I posted on the subject of bullying recently and co-incidentally the Guardian has just featured the topic too.  Their timely illustration (of the impact of workplace bullying) appears in the work advice section.  A reader’s letter recounts the difficulties linked to working with someone whose behaviour sometimes involves bullying.


Most people would recognise that typically the atmosphere in the workplace can combine both positives (interesting tasks) and negatives (challenging people).  Most people accept that sometimes their job can seem like the proverbial half-empty glass.


The Guardian’s advice-seeker has spent time trying to talk to a supervisor who can tackle the bullying issue.  The supervisor hasn’t grasped the situation successfully.  For the correspondent their glass is not half empty.  It is actually broken.


Reading between the lines the correspondent seems to have a narrow set of options.  Option one, they put up with the situation (more unhappiness for them and for the bully).  Option two, they start looking actively for other jobs they could be doing.


There is a crying need, I think, for coaching support to be made available to managers on this topic.  Bullying makes workplaces unproductive, creates stress and wastes time.  Managerial support would equip supervisors with the empathy, people skills and confidence to sense bullying is occurring, intervene firmly to end it and leave a climate of zero-tolerance afterward.  Hopefully this kind of learning is going to become commonplace in future and bully-friendly environments a thing of the past.


How Full Is Your Bucket?

Cover of "Understanding Psychological Con...

Cover via Amazon

In my experience some people resist change in their professional lives, even if they are unhappy.  They don’t want to benefit from taking on a new way of thinking, after a change to their circumstances.  Or they may feel that ‘at their time of life’ change is not possible and they have to put up with bad situations.

I think those people may be missing out.  That is especially true if the person is in a junior job role and change has happened around them, meaning their expectations about their working environment – personal development; pay rises; job security – are not being met.  This is true in the private sector and, the Daily Telegraph’s Jobs Editor Louisa Peacock suggests, amongst civil servants.

Hopefully senior managers already have, or are actively being coached to develop strategies to counteract the dip in staff morale that results from unmet expectations.

For senior managers who don’t see why action is necessary (or believe staff will put up with just about anything) Neil Conway and Rob Briner’s 2005 analysis ‘Understanding Psychological Contracts at Work’, includes the telling observation:

“When an employee believes that [their] organisation has failed to deliver its promises on a regular basis, he or she will question whether it makes sense to continue contributing to that organisation or whether it might be better to move on to another”.

The new look People Management magazine this month includes a feature on ‘Eight Ways To Reward Staff, Without Giving Them A Pay Rise’.  I like the simplicity of their final suggestion: try to say ‘thank you’ to others for their contribution.  The article suggests literally writing notes of appreciation and leaving them with colleagues who have done a good job (I can remember from personal experience how a simple act of appreciation can put a smile on someone’s face).

The magazine says this concrete expression of gratitude is an echo of Tom Rath’s and Donald O Clifton’s approach to combatting workplace negativity, set out in their book, ‘How full is your bucket?’.   I like the idea and I am going to try it out the next chance I get.

Back to Reality

When is the ideal time to learn something new?  Put another way, when is there ever a quiet few months in which to tackle personal development goals?  I doubt there ever will be an ‘ideal’ or ‘quiet’ time, since the stack of competing claims on our time is increasing daily.  It might take a very long time to roll the dice correctly to earn permission to start.

Two dice

Make a choice, don’t leave development to luck


There’s also always the risk that some senior colleagues view that time as time spent being unproductive.

I vividly recall saying as much to a colleague whom I mentored.  His aspiration was to earn a promotion from his entry level management role to the next management grade.

I encouraged him to look at the common attributes called for in the roles he wanted to hold.  I supported him in identifying voluntary opportunities in his current role that he could exploit, to demonstrate his potential.  We came up with a twelve month development timetable he could follow, to gradually build up his skills portfolio.  His goal was to be at the front of the promotion pack one year hence.  Then reality intervened.

Somehow my mentee’s line manager never got around to creating the space for his wider potential to be demonstrated.  Perhaps that manager liked the results he was getting from my mentee and thought my mentee was happy staying in that role.  Inevitably that line manager then left.

Their successor needed to focus on maintaining results, not developing people.

An internal re-organisation followed.

Before the dust settled the ideal time for development had passed.

If there is a lesson to take away from this example, it may be this.  However difficult the reality, the ideal time for development may just be ‘now’.