Whilst no one likes a bully, it’s sadly likely that we have all encountered one of them at some point in our life. Their presence can often make school or work a complete misery. Whilst we would all no doubt like to think that such odious characters would not thrive in life, recent research suggests that may not be altogether true.
The study, written by researchers from the University of Buffalo and published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, suggests that in reality, the same skills that make the bullies so adept at bullying, are also quite useful for forging a successful career.
The research explains how bullies will use advanced social skills to strategically abuse and chastise their colleagues, yet still receive the kind of praise and positive feedback from their bosses that ensure their career flourishes.
The study claims to be one of the first insights into how bullying behaviour is connected with job performance, and believes it offers an insight into just why it is that bullies continue to thrive in the workplace, even when so many have policies designed to stop their behaviour.
“Many bullies can be seen as charming and friendly, but they are highly destructive and can manipulate others into providing them with the resources they need to get ahead,” say the researchers.
Is there a bully in every workplace?
The study underlines just how pervasive bullying in the workplace really is. It reveals that around 50% of all employees in the United States have seen or witnessed bullying at work in some form, whilst around 35% have suffered from it directly.
The study saw researchers collect both behavioural and job performance data from a pool of employees over two distinct time periods. The aim was to try and measure the perception of bullying in the workplace, and collect individual experiences of it.
Interestingly, the study found that there was a very strong correlation between bullying, social competence and the kind of performance appraisals employees would receive.
The finding chimes with previous research that suggests that as many as 75% of bullies are in managerial positions.
The researchers suggest that their findings should be invaluable for organisations and managers who are looking to both discover bullying behaviour and decouple it from successful career progression.
Employers can work to reduce the prevalence by finding organizationally appropriate ways for employees to achieve their goals, by incorporating measures of civility and camaraderie into performance evaluations, and by helping staff to develop the skills needed to manage bullies,” the researchers say.
The researchers hope to conduct further studies into the issue to explore how bullies go about selecting their ’victims’. What is clear however is that managers should not fall into the trap of believing that bullies will stand out as odious characters in the workplace. This research underlines how adept they are at portraying the appropriate image towards managers whilst making the lives of their victims thoroughly miserable. Alas studies have suggested that under 20% of employees think their employer takes action against bullies, so either the bullies do a superb job of hiding their behaviour, or too many employers are happy to brush this under the carpet.
How does your own workplace deal with bullying?