Recognise This! – You must act reactively (remove the bullies) and proactively (support the “weird”) to end bullying.

Bullies destroy your company. Not only do they destroy the culture of your company, they destroy the ability of employees to produce their best work.

There is no more pernicious, destructive myth in the workplace than people who believe, “I push them hard, set high expectations and, yes, bully people to get the best out of them. But then they deliver their truly best work.”

In his Great Leadership blog, Dan McCarthy pointed to recent research showing it’s not just those who are actively bullied or abused who suffer. Those who merely witness the abuse also suffer. The bottom-line impacts also cannot be ignored.

“The researchers found similar negative impacts of first-hand supervisory abuse and second-hand vicarious supervisory abuse: greater job frustration, tendency to abuse other coworkers, and a lack of perceived organisational support. In addition, the negative effects from either type of abuse were intensified if the coworker was a victim of both kinds of supervisory abuse.

“’Our research suggests that vicarious abusive supervision is as likely as abusive supervision to negatively affect desired outcomes, with the worst outcomes resulting when both vicarious abusive supervision and abusive supervision are present,’ the researchers said. ‘Top management needs further education regarding the potential impacts of vicarious abuse supervision on employees to prevent and/or mitigate the effects of such abuse.’”

So what do you do about bullies in the workplace? Take these two actions, proactive and reactive.

1) Remove the bully. Typically, I advocate for coaching, retraining and other similar measures. With bullies who have a history of bullying behaviour, I do not. If you already have bullies in your organisation, remove them. They are poison to your company, your team and your success.

2) Encourage and support the “weird.” In a recent blog post, Seth Godin explained bullying is what happens when people with power try to make those who are “different” fit in – “”I will punish you because you don’t fit in, and I will continue to punish you until you do.” To counteract this human tendency, create a culture in which the “weird” is actively encouraged. Seth explained it this way:

“At the fabulous lab school in Manhattan, they’re making huge progress at undoing this problem. A recent assembly (organised and run by students and volunteers) was created around weirdness, fear and most of all, ‘owning it.’ … When students are given permission to be their best selves, they take it, just as you and I would like to. Because, it’s true, we are all weird. When there isn’t a race to fit in the most, bullying those that don’t fit in loses much of its power.”

Why is this critically important? It’s out of the “weird” and the different that innovation comes. Doing things the same way as everyone else leads to mediocrity. If you want innovation in your organisation, be sure you are encouraging the weird in the face of tendencies to make others conform.

What kind of culture do you work in? Is bullying tolerated or is weirdness encouraged?