How to beat workplace bullies - fascinating keynote opens HR Indaba day 2

Psychopaths aren't just in the movies. They're in the boardroom and the staff room too. Up to 4 percent of CEOs display the traits associated with this sort of condition.

As a psychiatrist, Professor Renata Schoeman has seen the crippling effects of corporate bullying. And she herself has been a victim – to such an extent that she left her job. Now with the University of Stellenbosch’s Business School, she helps corporates and students to become more aware of the impact of workplace bullying, and has a particular interest in narcissists and psychopaths. 

While we generally think of psychopaths as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs or Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, psychopaths aren't just in the movies, said Schoeman. They're in the boardroom and the staffroom too. In fact, up to 4 percent of CEOs display the traits associated with this kind of condition.

Speaking at the HR Indaba in Sandton, Schoeman gave the audience insight into how widespread and damaging workplace is. Here are some stats:
?    19 percent of people have been victims of bullying in workplace
?    19 percent have witnessed bullying
?    29 percent of victims suffer in silence 
?    61 percent of people who are aware of what’s happening don’t speak up

The effect on individuals and on businesses is significant. Stress, burnout, illness, depression and increased suicide risk are linked to workplace bullying. 

From an HR perspective, bullying commonly results in increased absenteeism and staff turnover, and the cost of recruiting and hiring. One study shows that 65 percent of employees that had left a company within a year had left as a result of bullying. 

Who are the bullies?
Men are more commonly bullyies, although women bully too – particularly other women. Bullying tends to be top down, but can also be horizontal within the organisation, and occasionally even comes from subordinates. Some bullies have actual personality disorders as defined by psychiatrists, conditions like narcissism or psychopathy. Schoeman warned: “Not everyone who is brash or harsh or bullying has a personality disorder. We must be wary of diagnosing or labelling, but we can talk about some of the traits associated with these conditions.”

 

Narcissism
Narcissists can be charming, charismatic and inspiring. They’re often very hardworking. When things go well, they can be good and productive members of an organisation. On the downside, they tend to take credit for everything that goes well, and deny others input or credit. Common traits include arrogance, sensitivity to criticism, deceitfulness. They lack empathy, and tend to bully. They can fly into a rage when they feel humiliated or slighted.

Psychopaths
The traits can be similar to those of the narcissist – charming, confident, good decision-makers. People with this personality disorder are predators. They use people to achieve their own goals, and then discard them or hurt them without remorse or empathy. They might be involved in fraud and white-collar crime.

How to deal with them?
Whether you are dealing with a bully, whether or not they are a narcissist or a psychopath, Schoeman offered these tips:
?    Avoid contact where you can.
?    Don’t engage – it adds fuel to the fire.
?    Stay neutral and professional. 
?    Stick to the facts and avoid getting emotional.
?    Put down boundaries, eg, “That language is not acceptable.”
?    Build relationships at work. Often victims feel humiliated and then isolate themselves.
?    Don’t disclose personal information – it might be used against you.
?    Document incidents, times and so on – if things get legal, it will help show a pattern.
?    Communicate in writing rather than verbally where possible, so you have a paper trail.
?    Speak up! Seek help from HR and possibly even a labour lawyer or psychologist. 

The company’s role
As citizens and employees, our rights are protected against bullying in terms of the Constitution and in terms of the Harassment Act. Schoeman reminds companies that they have a responsibility to protect the organisation and its employees. Don’t be part of the silence around workplace bullying. Blow the whistle and speak up.