The Fine Line Between Bullying and Strong Management

There’s a growing interest in the UK about management styles. Many organisations want their senior staff to exhibit a strong management approach. But this can easily spill over into employees being bullied. Not all managers realise this. They take the view that they are being abrupt and tough out of necessity. A bullying manager being left unchecked risks the company falling foul of employment law.

a distressed worker being shouted at by a bullying manager

Bullying Managers & Employment Law

Workplaces and managers with an aggressive management style might be unaware that employers have a duty of care to ensure worker safety. It’s important to understand that this extends to protecting the mental health of workers. Failure to address a bullying management style could result in an employee feeling they had no alternative but to resign. They may then be in a position to claim constructuve dismissal at tribunal and seek compensation.

Reduced Staff Retention

Apart from the potential for legal action, can feel harassed and treated badly. They become demoralised. They start looking for employment elsewhere resulting in high staff turnover. A lot of consultants and trainers are now focusing on this problem. They offer advice to managers on identifying the fine line between bullying and strong management.


What is a Bullying Manager?

Surveys show that most people believe they know what constitutes bullying or strong management. This clarity, however, isn’t necessarily objective. Personal circumstances and opinions often dictate what people believe.

An objective definition of bullying is the use of superior influence or strength to intimidate. The purpose of this intimidation is to force someone to do something.

At work, a manager has a position of superior influence over his or her staff. The definition of a bullying manager is one who abuses this position to intimidate staff.


Examples of Bullying by a Manager

  • Making threats.
  • Handing out Physical and Verbal Abuse.
  • Humiliating people in front of others.
  • Refusing to listen to staff concerns.

These forms of bullying are obvious and aggressive. There are also many subtler forms of bullying. Among these are:

  • Ignoring people for promotion.
  • Needlessly reviewing someone’s work.
  • Addressing people by their job title or grade rather than by name.
  • Sending intimidating or hurtful emails or text messages. This form of bullying is know as Cyber Bullying.

What is Strong Management?

In contrast, strong management is direct and clear. Managers explain what they want done. They listen to staff feedback even if they don’t act on it. Strong managers have no need to make threats or to intimidate. They expect staff to meet reasonable demands and to do their jobs.

With strong managers, staff know where they stand. Staff may not like what is happening; but they understand why it is happening.

Management Styles in Practise

These definitions of bullying and strong management work well in theory. In practice, there’s a problem. The attitudes of managers and staff can blur the line between bullying and strong management. In these circumstances, consultants and trainers propose ways of tackling bullying by encouraging strong management.

Workplace Culture

The main responsibility for a strong management style, for instance, lies with the head of an organisation. The chief executive, or his or her equivalent, must lead by example. This example must create respect in the workplace. For any chief executive who wants to create a culture of strong management, respect is the most effective tool. By encouraging respect in every area of work, a chief executive can eliminate much day-to-day bullying. But openness must accompany respect. Managers need to use an open style of communication. They must explain to staff why they have to do things in a certain way.

This doesn’t mean that managers needn’t be firm with staff. In fact, it is easier to be firm when staff fully understand a situation.

The other key proposal from consultants and trainers is confrontation. Everyone who is aware of bullying must confront it.

This can be difficult for staff to do and managers must therefore take the lead. They should look out for bullying behaviour among their colleagues. They must then address this behaviour head-on and insist that their organisations are no place for bullies.

Further Reading

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