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New Data Suggests Being the Office Bully Doesn't Pay

Analysis  |  By HR Daily Advisor  
   February 06, 2024

Being a bully in the office is not a sound career strategy.

This article was first published on February 5, 2024, by HR Daily Advisor, a sibling publication to HealthLeaders.

Many readers have had the displeasure of working with an office bully. Even those who haven’t can probably imagine the type. The office bully archetype is so prevalent that American popular culture is full of examples, albeit fictional and often exaggerated portrayals. Think Biff Tannen forcing Marty McFly’s farther George to do Biff’s work for him in the “Back to the Future” series, or the demanding and intimidating Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada,” or stereotypical horrible boss Bill Lumbergh from “Office Space.”

Toxic Employees Mean Trouble

In each of these examples, the bully is in a position of authority or power, suggesting bullying might actually pay off. Indeed, even in the real world, toxic people and bullies often rise up in organizations due to personality traits and skills that are either part of their bullying nature or unimpacted by that nature. For example, a bully might be great at negotiating with suppliers. Or a bully might happen to be the best technical expert on a particular tool that the company has available.

But new data suggests being a bully in the office may not actually be a very sound career strategy. “Being aggressive in the workplace is going to cost you money, authority and reputation, according to a new study from Crucial Learning, a learning company with courses in communication, performance, and leadership,” according to a Crucial Learning press release. “And these findings don’t just point to an increased call for civility, they also indicate promising signs of equalization between the way men and women are perceived in the workplace.”

Changing Workplace Perspectives

The press release goes on to note that, “In 2016, a similar study from Crucial Learning found that women who spoke forcefully in the workplace experienced more of a social backlash than their male counterparts. Yet following prominent social movements calling for equity and fairness over the last few years, in a follow-up study conducted in October 2023, both male and female respondents rated men more negatively for their aggressiveness, indicating a shift in the way we perceive gender at work.”

This evolution in perception has profound implications for workplace culture. It suggests a growing intolerance for bullying and aggressive behavior, reflecting societal calls for equity and fairness. For employers, this means fostering a work environment where respect and civility are paramount. It also highlights the importance of recognizing and addressing toxic behaviors, ensuring they do not lead to unfair advantages or career progression.

Mutual Respect Matters

The changing perceptions of office bullies reflect a broader societal shift towards equity and fairness in the workplace. This evolution challenges the notion that aggressive behavior is a pathway to success, paving the way for a more inclusive and respectful professional environment. As we move forward, it’s crucial for both employers and employees to embrace these changes, fostering a culture where success is built on positive interactions and mutual respect.

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