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Crystal Hyde is an executive coach and principal at Scout Public Affairs

I once had a boss throw a pen across the boardroom table out of frustration when I announced I was resigning and joining a competitor. I knew she wouldn’t like the news and thus I had taken steps to be as open, amicable and accommodating as possible to ensure a smooth transition. I had also prepared myself for the possibility I would be walked out, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, my boss insisted I work my notice period as a way to show her displeasure with my decision and proceeded to make it as unpleasant as possible as a form of punishment. That notice period felt like the longest one I’d ever served, but I persevered with each day convincing me that my decision to leave was the right one.

A friend of mine with an excellent sales record was apparently overwhelming the company co-ordinator with his multiple orders. My friend discovered the co-ordinator was manipulating entry of his sales into the company’s record-keeping system, fraudulently dividing his commissions among a group of staff members or diverting the commissions earned by this salesperson by offering clients credit on their accounts. After months of complaints to company leadership, initially dismissed as a “personality conflict,” the salesperson finally secured a meeting with his boss and a member of the accounts team. The co-ordinator’s fraud was soon uncovered, showing the salesperson had received less than 10 per cent of the commissions he had earned. Finally, the salesperson received the outstanding commissions, and to correct the situation, the experienced coordinator was offered retraining. The co-ordinator refused the training and the tension continues.

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Sadly, poor behaviour in the workplace is not uncommon. I have witnessed sinister behaviour by those jostling for position, undermining others in the hopes of a promotion and showing no mercy or adherence to facts when picking a person’s character apart to get ahead. Often as a result, good employees leave organizations and the bullies are emboldened to continue and intensify their behaviours. This pattern will continue until there is a culture shift, one where leaders lead with both integrity and the business goals in mind. Cutthroat cultures inevitably leave a trail of good employees by the wayside and eventually the organization’s results will suffer.

A group of executives from a telecom company in France are currently on trial for the aggressive harassment of their work force resulting in 35 employees committing suicide. These executives used psychological warfare in an attempt to get the employees to quit, and now are facing charges. These bullying behaviours do not stop after high school and are no less harmful in adulthood. Anti-harassment policies need to be prominent and enforced in the workplace with a zero tolerance policy.

Aggressive and mischievous behaviours cannot go unchecked; turning a blind eye only allows these behaviours to grow in power. If you are not comfortable confronting a bully, rely on the resources available to you:

  • If your company doesn’t have an anti-harassment policy one must be established and it is a policy that needs attention, reminders and revisited with employees on a regular basis. This is the backbone of your argument to defend your culture against bullying behaviours.
  • Reach out to your human resources team or manager. Employees often hesitate to use these resources for fear of being a “rat” and often feel as adult professionals they “should” be able to handle the situation themselves. You do not need to defend your discomfort in the workplace alone and these resources are there for exactly this reason.
  • Conflict training or working with a professional coach can help give you the tools to navigate and address bullying behaviours. Interoffice politics can become all-consuming and it is easy to lose sight of the business goals that unite you and your own capabilities and expertise. An outside perspective can shed light on a situation and help define clear solutions.

Office politics are tricky to navigate and sometimes difficult to see clearly from the inside; seeking outside support can help leaders identify the issues and introduce a strategy for change. Employers are competing for talent and cannot afford to sit back and watch their talent pool slip away because of an uncomfortable, intolerable work environment. A culture shift starts at the top and making bullying behaviours unacceptable in your workplace is imperative to the success of any organization and your humanity as an employer.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

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