Globe Careers

January 29, 2022

Do you work with a jerk? A culture that promotes bullying pays the price

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Do you work with a jerk? A culture that promotes bullying pays the price

Radhika Panjwani

It’s been four years since best-selling author Robert Sutton, a Stanford professor, organizational psychologist published The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt, but people still ask him for advice on dealing with a bully. After all, Prof. Sutton is an expert whose body of work on the topic has laid out how bullies aren’t just an office nuisance, but cost companies and employee health.
In the 2017 book, Prof. Sutton mentions a chat he had with a professor from Europe who lamented how his university was “like an airport” for jerks, with one landing “every minute.”
The problem was deep-rooted. Apparently, rude, arrogant and selfish faculty members were more likely to be offered – and accept jobs – at his university than civilized ones, the European academic rued.
Incidentally, incivility, bullying and harassment are everywhere and not limited to one area.
To deal with a bully, Prof. Sutton suggests switching departments and if that’s not possible, quit. He advises to avoid the bully or limit exposure by waiting as long as possible before responding to nasty messages and phone calls – and fighting back by documenting the encounters and finding allies.
The buck stops at the top
Al-Karim Samnani, an associate professor at University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business, said when bullies realize they can get away with bad behaviour, over time, this may embolden other employees to emulate them. Eventually, the organization’s culture will become toxic.
“It’s not what you write (in the employee handbook), but what you do that matters,” he said.
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Prof. Samnani’s paper, Workplace Bullying: Considering the Interaction Between Individual and Work Environment, which he co-authored with Parbudyal Singh, professor of human resource management at York University was referenced in Prof. Sutton’s book.
Stress, organizational culture, and power imbalances between supervisor and subordinate, and weak leadership all contribute to the problem. Over time, bullies wreck team cohesion and cause employee turnover, Prof. Samnani said.
“Research shows stress promotes abusive behaviours in leaders, which in turn influences the stress and burnout of subordinates,” he said. “There’s a lot that can happen in terms of the costs and implication for the organization. It’s not just that people may leave, but who are the ones that are likely to leave? The better performers who can find work elsewhere easily.”
Screening for the jerks
Several companies now implement a “no jerk policy.” For example, Chieh Huang, co-founder and CEO of Boxed, an U.S. based online wholesale retailer, has a three-question test to evaluate people’s curiosity, openness, and ability to work well with others. Overconfident and condescending jerks don’t make the cut. Book+Street, a company that provides finance and administration services, talks about its strict “no jerk” policy on its website.
Prevention better than cure
Luc Chalifoux, a clinical psychologist with Montreal-based Humà Experts² Consultants, specializes in post-traumatic stress and prevention of bullying and psychological harassment in the workplace.
Mr. Chalifoux along with Shawn Martin, a human resource professional and Sylvain Dorais, a lawyer, provide a bullying prevention and intervention protocol for organizations. The framework, Humà Radar, is a training program for employees that ensures trust and mutual respect are integral pillars to fostering a healthy corporate culture. Radar measures and monitors respect (through a scientifically validated questionnaire). It has in real-time monitoring capabilities as well.
“Research shows seven out of 10 people are harassed or bullied at work and there’s no immediate outreach or help for them,” Ms. Martin said, adding that the trio are members of the International Association of Workplace Bullying and Harassment (IAWBH). “We believe it’s better to work on prevention than to change the corporate culture or climate.”
Research has shown when colleagues have respect for one other, incidents of harassment and bullying drop dramatically, Mr. Chalifoux said.

What I’m reading around the web

  • How will you know your company is invested in remote work? An article from CNBC says letting people work from home isn’t the same as ensuring employees’ remote-work experience is a good one.
  • Elon Musk will likely not view this article in Jalopnik favourably. In the story well-respected automated driving expert, Brad Templeton, gives Tesla FSD beta an “F” grade. Mr. Templeton tested and tried Tesla’s FSD Beta software. His verdict? Terrible.
  • Finally, an artificial intelligence idea that will get a unanimous thumbs up. This article from CNN is about three Robots – Tom, Dick and Harry – developed by Small Robot Company in the U.K. to get rid of weeds with minimal use of chemicals and heavy machinery. Currently, Tom is operational and working on three farms in the U.K. It can scan 49 acres a day and collects data for Dick, a “crop-care” robot, to zap weeds. It will then be Harry’s turn to plant seeds in the weed-free soil. Dick and Harry are still in the prototype stage.
  • This long-read article from BBC is a fascinating, first-person account by tech reporter Joe Tidy about his close encounters with Russian hackers, many of whom are on the FBI’s most wanted list.
This is the weekly Careers newsletter. If you’re reading this on the web or someone forwarded this e-mail newsletter to you, you can sign up for Globe Careers and all Globe newsletters here.
Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.
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