How to Beat the Workplace Bully: Workplace Bullying Has Become a Hot Topic. Even ACC Has Been Campaigning against It. How Should Managers Deal with It? Andrea Needham Has Some Answers

By Swanwick, Debbie | New Zealand Management, June 2004 | Go to article overview

How to Beat the Workplace Bully: Workplace Bullying Has Become a Hot Topic. Even ACC Has Been Campaigning against It. How Should Managers Deal with It? Andrea Needham Has Some Answers


Swanwick, Debbie, New Zealand Management


Andrea Needham may be an extraordinary person, her experience, however, is not. Needham was a target of workplace bullying. The success of Workplace Bullying--the costly business secret, her book on the subject published last year, has touched a nerve with many employees.

Workplace bullying is currently a hot topic. But in a corporate game that is shrouded in management non-disclosure agreements, cover-ups and a lack of willingness by perpetrators to talk about it, Needham discovered that it is difficult to sell a secret or the answer to it if employers refuse to acknowledge its very existence. Now the secret is out, however, and Needham is intent on talking about it to prevent the workplace bully from 'coming to an organisation near you'.

Needham does not come across as the type of person a workplace bully targets. She appears assertive, in control and self-aware. But her self-awareness was tested at an early age. With knowledge gained from growing up in a violent household she recalls: "I used to come home from work and think--I feel like a battered wife." This awareness enabled her to confront senior management with evidence that put an end to the bullying.

Her experience, however, is all too common. Australian research conducted by the Beyond Bullying organisation in Queensland in 2002, cites that up to half the country's working population has been targeted at sometime or other by a workplace bully. Hayden Olsen, development manager for Rotorua-based Workplaces Against Violence in Employment (WAVE), suggests bullying in New Zealand is four times more prevalent than sexual harassment in the workplace and responsible for between 30 and 50 percent of workplace stress.

Stories about managers who rule by intimidation are never hard to find. When Auckland management consultancy Stratos established a workplace bully hotline last year, it received 1100 phone calls in the first three days of operation.

The profile of a typical bully's target suggests they are:

* good at their job,

* popular with their colleagues, or

* have befriended the bully's current target.

Once selected, the bully moves to exclude his or her target from meetings; separate them from their peers; belittle their efforts behind closed doors; halt their career advance within the organisation and crush their self-esteem.

Needham is well qualified for commenting on workplace bullying. For the past 30 years she's worked as a management consultant in human resources strategy, mostly in the United Kingdom and United States.

Her book reached number one on Whitcoulls' best-seller list, outselling more than the list's next two placegetters combined. However, as one senior manager in a major public organisation was heard commenting to staff recently: "Since Andrea's book came out we've had nothing but trouble." Needham's response is unequivocal. She hasn't, she says, created the problem, but simply "labelled a behaviour" that others have chosen to ignore.

Ignorance, according to Needham, is bliss for the organisation, if not for the employee. She believes workplace bullying exists in New Zealand management culture because many senior managers are poorly skilled in conflict management.

Overseas research from the United Kingdom suggests senior managers usually support colleagues who bully for tear of showing weakness in the management ranks. …

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