IT Careers: Success vs. Bullying

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Human Resources

IT Careers: Success vs. Bullying

“Every office full of ambitious people has them. And we have all worked with at least one—the co-worker with an inexplicable ability to rise in the ranks,” wrote the Wall Street Journal recently in an article entitled What Corporate Climbers Can Teach Us. “‘How do they do it?’ we may ask ourselves or whisper to friends at work,” it continued. “They don't have more experience. They don't seem that brilliant.”

The answer it suggests is the “dark triad” [pdf] of personality traits identified by psychologists as: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. “These traits are well-known for the bad behaviour that they can cause when dominant in people's personalities,” explained the article. “At milder levels, however, they can actually foster skills that can help people rise through the ranks.”

Of course, there’s a very fine line between demonstrating these skills for the purpose of career progression and becoming that covert workplace bully. And the latter is a serious problem. Recent research from the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) released in Feb 2014 [PDF], shows 27% of all adult Americans have directly experienced “repeated abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage or work abuse.”

Dr. Namie, Director of WBI and widely regarded as North America’s foremost authority on workplace bullying, tells us that bullies also usually exhibit this dark triad. In fact, he demonstrates that the sort of qualities that facilitate career progression are indelibly linked to workplace bullying. “Look at that package,” Dr. Namie tells us: “these are the people who are willing to meddle with others. They fill their days with political gamesmanship. And the other people, the targets, come to work to do their job.”

“[For the bullies] climbing the ladder is all of their work,” Dr. Namie continues. “It is their focus. It becomes a zero-sum game where they must obliterate all competition. They see co-workers as competition as opposed to peers, or a possible pool of friends. They see them as someone to dupe, overcome and climb over. And it is just Machiavellian. And some people don’t have that view at all. They’re co-corporative. They’re nice. They’re kind. The targets are in that group.”

Our own new research into bullying in tech supports this slightly sinister, nefarious view of career climbers who clamber on up, at both the expense of the company and their victims. Findings reveal that from a self-selecting study of over 650 IT professionals, 75% reported they had been bullied. Of these 94% highlighted psychological bullying, and in 74% of cases, the perpetrator was senior. This perfectly fits the profile of individuals who strategically abuse others to maintain their own position. And this type of manipulative self-protectionism can really hinder the bottom line.

Suzi Benoit who has investigated numerous US organisations across the spectrum is keen to stress there are two types of bully. “One is a straightforward bully who vents their anger and feelings onto other people. But to me, a toxic employee is a bully who has a strategy for maintaining their own power.”

“More toxic bullies who are trying to prevent themselves from being held accountable and are attacking people who are trying to improve the workplace,” she continues. “That toxic bully, or more strategic bully, is harder to deal with. They are really good at manipulating other people.  They are very good at covering themselves.”

This viewpoint was strongly corroborated by numerous testimonials that came from the 400 in-depth accounts compiled for our study: “I showed up to do the best possible work and her [the bully’s] entire function was to advance herself,” wrote one. “I don't care about upward mobility” wrote another, “only about delivering the best product I can - for that I was driven out.”

Of course, all this is certainly an extremely one sided, and certainly doesn’t paint any kind of comprehensive portrait of corporate life. However, it does all seem to highlight that whilst some personalities might be better at making their way up the corporate ladder, they are not necessarily the best individuals either for the workplace, or for the organisation as a whole.

In fact, as we all know, superficially pleasant people who harbour such nasty character traits can find it particularly easy to move through workplaces that promote competition and hierarchies. And this can rapidly become an unequal contest. If an individual speaks out about perceived abuse by someone in a senior position, at best they run the risk of looking silly, whiny and emotional. At worst, they run the risk of being fired. Either way it is likely to damage the subordinate’s career prospects, especially as all this is notoriously difficult to prove and there is no overt legislation.   

The most worrying part about our own survey results overall though, is that when we asked respondents who had been bullied to rate the scale of their abuse from one to ten, where one was mild, and ten was “virtually unbearable”, 76% rated it seven or more out of ten. Whilst 22% overall rated it as the full ten out of ten, “virtually unbearable.” Some people even told us they had contemplated suicide.

In truth, it is hard to pin down that fine line between rampant careerism and wantonly abusing others and the organisation for personal gain. However, all this does serve to raise awareness about some very real workplace issues. Maybe you were right to be suspicious of that unfathomably successful office fast-tracker?

 

Bullying: The Uncomfortable Truth about IT:

 

bully-infographic-1

 

Full report: Bullying: The Uncomfortable Truth About IT

Video: Video: Bullying in IT

Infographic: Bullying Amongst IT Professionals

Summary of findings: IDG Connect Announces New Research

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Kathryn Cave

Editor at IDG Connect

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Raman M on August 08 2014

The numbers are not surprising by the way. Of course, there is always a small 15 - 20% of the folks who make it to the top in any organisation, and the balance 80% would say what is being said. Disclaimer: These opinions are purely mine, nothing do with my employer or employment

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Keep It Professionalon Aug 10 2014 | 02:45

Raman, disagree completely. IT should be professional and professionalism is essentially characteristics and behaviours that facilitate and enable people to work together productively. The stats from the survey show that many have been in a position where there hasn't been professional behaviour. From their view sure. But the essence of professionalism is to play the ball not the man (or woman). You cannot argue it is professional to intimidate. Now if it was a survey on views of competence of managers then your 'sour grapes' argument might be true. But bullying is different.

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Denis D on August 08 2014

case might be more useful if the author had touched on ways to counter this kind of behavior in more detail

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Kathryn Caveon Aug 12 2014 | 10:04

Thanks for your note Denis - we will certainly be looking at ways to combat workplace bullying over the next few weeks.

no-images

mark anthony padilla on August 08 2014

Bullying can develop in any context in which human beings interact with each other. This includes school, family, the workplace, home, and neighborhoods. Just want to share this Mobile App to help people on emergency cases. View this link for more information http://safekidzone.com/#!/page_home

no-images

Monika Gangwer on August 14 2014

I love this article. I'm sharing it everywhere! work + others = connection is a true equation no matter how you look at it. A bit weary of the term "self reflection", I call it a motive-check. During a grueling time at work, I realized I was so overworked trying to be super-girl, and I was terrified of asking for help. A serious motive-check revealed I no longer had the youth or the luxury of caring if my boss thought less of me. I had to stop the constant motion. I'm not saying I 'embraced' the vulnerability it took. It sucked. I was out of my 18 yr. old comfort zone. But it was necessary. Guess what happened? Not a fairy tale ending to this story, as my boss actually DID think less of me! I was bullied out of my job before I knew what hit me. I learned something about ego. Mine, for hanging on too long, afraid of looking weak and inferior. Hers ego, on the other hand, allows no motive-checking. Only ROI. When my work-machine utility ran out, I was of no use to her (and there's the not-so-small detail that this person never valued me as a person and, I now see is void of empathy and the capacity to reflect. I made the decision to be me, tell the truth, and I asked others for help. I did my best, knowing it may never be enough. To survive, we don't need to get tougher. We need to reveal our weaknesses & limitations. The bully may use this against you, but at least you'll be able to breathe. You will slowly learn again. I am still trying to relearn the intuitive thought I used to have before I met my bully. I'm learning to say "no" when necessary. And I have HAD to accept help because no one can do "life" alone. BE REAL, BE HONEST, BE HUMAN, BE YOU. Then let those chips fall, baby! You will be ok. No matter what. Get out of the eye of the tornado and don't look back. Email me & ask for help. I have resources for bullied targets. info@thesafespacesproject.com

no-images

Alan Hillon Aug 15 2014 | 14:03

Monika, I also have posted this article on my sites including my Google+ page. I was bullied recently and I went to HR about it. Sad fact is that when you raise something like this, the company will ALWAYS back the manager. I eventually left and could not be happier with a fresh start. To be honest I was getting ill with the pressure. Other people reading this will say why didn't you "man up" and sort it out! But unless you yourself have been the target of such focused long term AGGRESSION, people will will never appreciate what it's like or how it can effect you.

no-images

Raman M on August 08 2014

The numbers are not surprising by the way. Of course, there is always a small 15 - 20% of the folks who make it to the top in any organisation, and the balance 80% would say what is being said. Disclaimer: These opinions are purely mine, nothing do with my employer or employment

no-images

Keep It Professionalon Aug 10 2014 | 02:45

Raman, disagree completely. IT should be professional and professionalism is essentially characteristics and behaviours that facilitate and enable people to work together productively. The stats from the survey show that many have been in a position where there hasn't been professional behaviour. From their view sure. But the essence of professionalism is to play the ball not the man (or woman). You cannot argue it is professional to intimidate. Now if it was a survey on views of competence of managers then your 'sour grapes' argument might be true. But bullying is different.

no-images

Denis D on August 08 2014

case might be more useful if the author had touched on ways to counter this kind of behavior in more detail

no-images

Kathryn Caveon Aug 12 2014 | 10:04

Thanks for your note Denis - we will certainly be looking at ways to combat workplace bullying over the next few weeks.

no-images

mark anthony padilla on August 08 2014

Bullying can develop in any context in which human beings interact with each other. This includes school, family, the workplace, home, and neighborhoods. Just want to share this Mobile App to help people on emergency cases. View this link for more information http://safekidzone.com/#!/page_home

no-images

Monika Gangwer on August 14 2014

I love this article. I'm sharing it everywhere! work + others = connection is a true equation no matter how you look at it. A bit weary of the term "self reflection", I call it a motive-check. During a grueling time at work, I realized I was so overworked trying to be super-girl, and I was terrified of asking for help. A serious motive-check revealed I no longer had the youth or the luxury of caring if my boss thought less of me. I had to stop the constant motion. I'm not saying I 'embraced' the vulnerability it took. It sucked. I was out of my 18 yr. old comfort zone. But it was necessary. Guess what happened? Not a fairy tale ending to this story, as my boss actually DID think less of me! I was bullied out of my job before I knew what hit me. I learned something about ego. Mine, for hanging on too long, afraid of looking weak and inferior. Hers ego, on the other hand, allows no motive-checking. Only ROI. When my work-machine utility ran out, I was of no use to her (and there's the not-so-small detail that this person never valued me as a person and, I now see is void of empathy and the capacity to reflect. I made the decision to be me, tell the truth, and I asked others for help. I did my best, knowing it may never be enough. To survive, we don't need to get tougher. We need to reveal our weaknesses & limitations. The bully may use this against you, but at least you'll be able to breathe. You will slowly learn again. I am still trying to relearn the intuitive thought I used to have before I met my bully. I'm learning to say "no" when necessary. And I have HAD to accept help because no one can do "life" alone. BE REAL, BE HONEST, BE HUMAN, BE YOU. Then let those chips fall, baby! You will be ok. No matter what. Get out of the eye of the tornado and don't look back. Email me & ask for help. I have resources for bullied targets. info@thesafespacesproject.com

no-images

Alan Hillon Aug 15 2014 | 14:03

Monika, I also have posted this article on my sites including my Google+ page. I was bullied recently and I went to HR about it. Sad fact is that when you raise something like this, the company will ALWAYS back the manager. I eventually left and could not be happier with a fresh start. To be honest I was getting ill with the pressure. Other people reading this will say why didn't you "man up" and sort it out! But unless you yourself have been the target of such focused long term AGGRESSION, people will will never appreciate what it's like or how it can effect you.

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