Why Do Bully Bosses Bully Their Stars – And Redheads?

Why Do Bully Bosses Bully Their Stars – And Redheads?

office bully bullying workplace harassmentWhere do workplace bullies come from?

Simple – from bully kids. “What happens to bullies when they grow up? One would hope these mean girls and guys would stop their antics, but … [s]ome of them graduate to workplace bullying.”

In an earlier column, I wrote that “Currently there are no federal or state laws defining or regulating workplace bullying. Justice Scalia put it bluntly in Oncale: Title VII is not ‘a general civility code for the American workplace’ (so get over it!).” But the absence of such laws doesn’t mean that there’s no litigation risk – bullying is actionable if based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and almost every employee is in some protected class.

Does Childhood Bullying Affect Adults?

You bet.

New research published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry “suggests the stress a child feels when bullied in childhood may increase the risk of a chronic disease in adulthood.”

The researchers say that childhood bullying “might have lifelong health effects related to chronic stress exposure, including an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. … and can contribute to the development of diseases including depression, diabetes, and heart disease as well as psychiatric disorders.”


What Is Workplace Bullying?

As the Workplace Bullying Institute notes, “Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work-interference, i.e., sabotage, which prevents work from getting done.

And workplace bullying has been found to occur about four times more often than sexual harassment or racial discrimination.

What Causes Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying is way different than childhood bullying – but not unrelated. “Unlike schoolyard bullying, you were not targeted because you were a ‘loner without friends to stand up to the bullying gang. Nor are you a weakling.”

As one website comments, “The bully’s goal is to intimidate you and diminish your self-worth. She chose you as her victim because she sees you as a threat. It is not because you have no value, but because you are very good at what you do. By intimidating you, she hopes to weaken you. By her reasoning, diminishing your self-worth will build hers up.”

As the Workplace Bullying Institute says, “Targets are independent. … They refuse to be subservient. Bullies seek to enslave targets. … Targets are more technically skilled than their bullies. … Targets are better liked, they have more social skills, and quite likely possess greater emotional intelligence.”

But Why Bully Workplace Stars?

We sorta answered that question – generally speaking, it’s because they are threatening to a boss’s self-esteem.

One study found that “ringleader bullies” want to be dominant, and “[g]enerally, the data supported the claim that bullying is dominance-oriented strategic behavior, which suggests that intervention strategies are more likely to be successful when they take the functional aspects of bullying behavior into account.”

An in-depth analysis can be found in an article in the Harvard Business Review by Sherry Moss, who did original research. She says that “bully bosses” bully those employees with low self-esteem who appear weak and vulnerable; or they may be negative or hostile, or poor performers who “are challenging to deal with and often cause frustration and angst for their supervisors.”

But, she cautions, “star performers are sometimes bullied by their bosses as well.”

But why? Why bully your best performers? Seems counterintuitive.

Well, it’s more about the bully than the star.

Moss cites what’s called Social Dominance Theory, which “postulates that some people have more of a tendency toward ‘social dominance orientation’ (SDO) than others. … People with high SDO are more likely to have ‘a view of the world as a competitive, dog-eat-dog environment of winners and losers.’ They’re attracted to institutions and professions that enhance and reinforce social hierarchies and will tend to discriminate against individuals from lower-status groups.”

Bully bosses may be high in social dominance orientation, and “high performers represent a threat to supervisors who place a high value on their dominant position in the hierarchy. To such a boss, an up-and-coming subordinate who performs beyond expectations might replace them, supersede them, or garner some of the resources normally reserved for them, such as status, attention from higher-ups, or advancement opportunities.”

And – to make matters worse – there are, as always, gender, race and class elements to this.

“Males are more dominant than females, and they possess more political power (the iron law of andrarchy). Most high-status positions are held by males. Prejudiced beliefs, such as racism, sexism, nationalism and classism, are all manifestations of this same system of social hierarchy.”

If bully bosses act on this perceived threat, this ultimately results, of course, in “driving out top talent.”

This is a lose-lose proposition.

So Where Do Redheads Come In?

This has only a tangential relationship with the topic at hand, but it interests me.

Seems that there exists discrimination against people with red hair – called “gingerism.” According to one article, “Redheads may endure schoolyard bullying as children and find themselves the butt of endless jokes in pop culture.”

In fact, a few years ago I read an article called “Do redheads need to be a protected minority?” The author noted that “Redheads were burnt at the stake in medieval England as witches. Aristotle was said to have called them ‘emotionally un-house broken,’ although that has never been substantiated.”

Burnt at the stake? Talk about an adverse employment action!

But wait – there’s at least some good news for redheads!

Red hair is a recessive trait attributed to a variation in the MC1R gene, and research published in Current Biology found that people with the MC1R gene tend to look several years younger than their non-ginger counterparts.”

So to sum up: bullying bad; redheads young-looking.

Earlier: Don’t Count On Anti-Bullying Laws Being Enacted Under The Next ‘Precedent’

richard-b-cohenRichard B. Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex business and employment disputes for almost 40 years, and is a partner in the NYC office of the national “cloud” law firm FisherBroyles. He is the creator and author of his firm’s Employment Discrimination blog, and received an award from the American Bar Association for his blog posts. You can reach him at Richard.Cohen@fisherbroyles.com and follow him on Twitter at @richard09535496.


Published at Thu, 16 Mar 2017 21:57:29 +0000

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