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There seems to be an increase in the number of articles and advisory pieces focusing on bullying from HR consultants, particularly those in the health sector.  The mantra seems to be: get a good policy in place to deal with bullying, put a procedure in place to deal with complaints, and adopt a stance of zero tolerance.

On the surface, these seem to be worthy aims. Unfortunately, the issue of bullying is not so straight forward. If you accept the model that is prevalent in the HR community, the issue of bullying is a simple issue of right and wrong with management wading in to solve the problem. The trouble is, that’s not how it always works. On numerous occasions, KHES has observed a complaint of bullying that has been made by someone who turns out to be an avid tormentor of those in junior positions. All that has happened is that one of their intended victims has refused to play the game.

The roles in this particular scene are described as a Karpman Drama Triangle (go on, Google it!). The Karpman Drama Triangle states that for bullying to continue you need three willing participants: the persecutor, the victim, and the rescuer. Note the word “willing”. It often appears that the main thrust of policies and procedures classed as ‘zero tolerance’ is to cast management as the rescuer. In the Triangle, Karpman observed that the three roles are interchangeable. So if the management “rescuer” doesn’t act in a way the victim feels is appropriate, they can end up being persecuted by the victim or being held up as the persecutor. It is vital that management avoid being manipulated into this trap.

How to deal with bullying issues when they arise:

  1. Have a clear set of rules for behaviour in the workplace. When someone acts outside of those rules bring it to their attention. Don’t wait for a complaint.
  2. If you get a complaint of bullying, bring in an expert to help the victim deal with the situation themselves rather than becoming embroiled in the situation.

For more reading, visit this article in Psychology Today: