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Bullying is a system of harassment acts or regular instances of negative behavior of one employee towards either the other or the entire group of coworkers. After a single act of persecution ends, bullies are likely to prosecute another victim. They are characterized by the reluctance to acknowledge their behavior as destructive. Nevertheless, bullying can also be unintentional. In most cases, however, perpetrators skillfully manipulate their subordinates ultimately undermining the victim's confidence in his/her own abilities. The paper will assess the negative role of leadership in the occurrence of the incidents of bullying. It will argue that the effective management and appropriate policy are central in responding to and preventing the cases of harassment in the workplace.
Bullying and harassment are complex and dynamic phenomena. They not only lead to the negative consequences for the employees, but also to the detriment of the businesses (Carr-Ruffino, 2013). They cannot be explained by a single factor. The consideration of the interconnectivity of the causes is essential. To this end, Salin & Hoel, (2011) emphasized the role of circumstances and poor work environment that could target anyone and had little to do with the specific "victim personality." The recipients of bullying generally reported a more negative work environment. To a large extent, situational factors increase the vulnerability of the targets and affect their response. The authors acknowledged that the studies traditionally paid little attention to the more destructive aspects of leadership. In fact, they usually focused on effectiveness versus ineffectiveness of the leaders. However, certain management styles, such as tyrannical, laissez-faire, autocratic, and non-contingent punishment style, are among the strongest predictors of bullying.
Thus, although bullying occurs on all organizational levels, managers are typical perpetrators. Hoel, Glas, Hetland, Cooper and Einarsen (2010) studied the negative impact of the different leadership styles. They claimed that the lack of managerial effort in addressing the issue was the main cause of the problem. The study found, among other things, that the passive management may be as damaging in terms of eliciting bullying complaints as some of the active leadership styles. The destructive outcomes of such behavior of managers include the experience of "toxic" emotions by subordinates, such as pain, despair, suffering, frustration, feeling of violation, and uncertainty. The authors suggested that the shortcomings of the destructive leadership may be addressed by a company through the means of acknowledging the particular leadership styles that can be perceived as bullying. It is important that management training programs develop an overall understanding of leadership activities as a potential source of the problem, which is complementary to the policy documents stating management’s intent. Moreover, managers should be encouraged to assess their behavior on the regular basis.
Nonetheless, establishing training activities may not be a sufficient measure. Moreover, Gumbus and Meglich (2010) claimed that even the lack of laws against harassment and bullying is not that critical factor. Thus, the way to respond to the problem is to consider establishing an organization culture based on respect and civility, as well as policies that provide an understanding of acceptable behavior and impose consequences on those who fail at complying with such expectations. Moreover, leaders must be ready to act swiftly and aggressively in addressing the issues. They should also employ additional strategies, including engaging peer listeners to provide assistance to bullied workers, establishing a position of a confidential counselor to work with the bullies, and professionally train the supervisory staff. Furthermore, a company can implement a zero-tolerance policy against bullying or expand the existing policies. They should contain a clear definition of bullying and include an effective procedure to raise and handle complaints, as well as a disciplinary measure to punish perpetrators. They must also develop a non-retaliation clause to protect the targets from bullying and encourage them to register complaints.
Being a major source of the problem, leadership is also a means of its solution. Rayner and Lewes (2011) argued that the successful policy of bullying prevention and intervention is based on managers' ability to demonstrate clear leadership in reacting immediately to bullying events, on the one hand, and not engaging in the bullying tactics themselves, on the other. With this purpose, the managers’ feelings and attitudes must be closely monitored. A company has to make sure that it hires and promotes the right people; has a clear policy outlining the acceptable behavior; provides trainings in conflict management and mediating; controls important information flows making them transparent for the employees; makes consistent decisions; and refuses the practice of "untouchable" staff.
In many cases, managers not only cease to help the victims of bullying, but also participate directly in the persecution of the employees. Often they are the initiators of such harassment acts. However, to date, there were positive signs that the current generation of professional managers would be more open to such problems as bullying. The positive changes begin by acknowledging leadership as a source of the issue. In addition, it is important to note that one measure is not as powerful as the combination of an effective training of the leaders with the dissemination of an appropriate policy. The worst response in the case of workplace bullying is to do nothing. It means that a company essentially supports the abuse, which, in turn, encourages the aggressive behavior among the employees.
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