Pit Bulls, Bullies and Jerks at Work

Susan is the star of your sales team. She’s closed more deals than others in the division, her customers have commented to management that they felt that they got a good deal when she represented them and that they would work with her again. Management loves her.If you spoke to others on the team, the only praise offered was she knows how to close a sale.

Co-workers report she was the queen of constant digs and innuendos at both staff meetings and the coffee room; sarcastic jokes and remarks are the norm, ending with “I was just kidding, don’t take it so personally.”

She’s the master of sending dirty looks across the room and rolling her eyes if she disagreed or sensed someone was a tad slow in catching on or couldn’t do the job, at least in her opinion. Her cutting emails were legendary—one of the team created an internal email scrapbook of Susanisms to collect them and if she decided you weren’t worth her time, you were treated as if you were invisible.

Susan is the Golden Girl. But, is she? Mostly likely, a big no.

Over the recent Labor Day Weekend, the Workplace Bullying Institute released a study of 8,000 American adult workers.

The key question asked, “At work, have you experienced or witnessed any or all of the following types of repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevented work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation, humiliation?” Over 24 percent responded that they had in the past year; 13 percent were experiencing it right now; and 12 percent said that they weren’t the victim, but were witnessing it happening to someone else. Less than .4 percent fessed up to actually being a perpetrator.

Nasty and demeaning behavior is alive and well in the workplace today. It’s not exclusive to gender and breeds easily. The Susans (and Sams) of the workplace who practice the art of being pit bulls, bullies and jerks are the latest topic of author and management consultant Robert Sutton. In his best-selling book, The No #$%hole Rule (Warner Business Books), he identifies his “dirty dozen”—common, everyday actions that #$%holes typically use:

§ Personal insults

§ Invading one’s “personal territory”

§ Uninvited physical contact

§ Threats and intimidation—either verbal and/or non-verbal

§ Sarcastic jokes and teasing used to insult

§ Withering e-mail flames

§ Status slaps intended to humiliate the recipient

§ Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals

§ Rude interruptions

§ Two-faced attacks

§ Dirty looks

§ Treating people as if they are invisible

So, what do you do with a Susan or a Sam—who may be a boss or a co-worker?

If you are a manager, and not the pit bull, start quantifying what the behavior is costing you. How much time do you spend dealing with the employee that is an outcome of their behavior? How much is spent with staff that is the recipient of the bully’s output? Have HR professionals been called in—what’s their time worth? Have you had to interact with those senior to you? Is overtime paid out that could be tied to last minute demands or not getting things done? Has counseling been required? Have others quit because of the bully—what are your recruitment, replacement, and retraining costs? Could this person’s behavior contribute to lower productivity among other workers, even causing some to toss in the towel and transfer or quit?

The moneys mount up. Just replacing someone can cost you between one to three times an annual salary! Loss productivity factors in both reduced output, the need for overtime or temp help and added stress to staff. Few people say that the reason they are terminating is because of a specific person, it’s usually “a better opportunity,” “more pay” (even if it’s a nickel an hour more), or “less of a commute.”

Pit bulls and bullies are key causes of good people exiting a workplace. Keeping them can have staggering costs. In the same Workplace Bullying survey, over 40 percent of targets reported that they quit their job; 23 percent actually got fired from the bully’s actions and 13 percent transferred to another position in the same organization.

What about bully? Only 14 percent were terminated and another 9 percent experienced some type of punishment, but weren’t fired!

Unless their contributions are worth mega millions to your workplace and it would vaporize without them, it’s time to end it.

Sutton advises, “Don’t hire #$%holes and don’t let them get away with it.”

For employees, he encourages them to change the “norms”—what’s acceptable and non-acceptable among co-workers; to get out; or create an attitude of indifference toward them.

In my own research and work with organizations, I know that the more confidence you display (even faking it), the less likely these creeps will attack you. Why?—it becomes too much work on their part to bug and/or pull you down.

When a company allows and enables rotten behavior, they support bad business practices and tell their workers they don’t count. Dumb.