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Managers get bullied too. The cost of upwards bullying

by | Feb 22, 2020

Did you know that a quarter of managers are targets for upwards bullying?

I often have managers tell me they have encountered or are experiencing bullying by one of their team members. What’s more alarming is, they feel they will not be supported by their boss or the organisation if they were to tell them about the things they are being subjected to

They believe they will be labelled as a poor manager if they cannot manage inappropriate behaviour by their own staff and that their position will be at risk. They tell me about the impact this behaviour is having on them, both in the workplace and personally, and that they believe they would be better off looking for another job.

What’s the problem?

Upward bullying in the workplace occurs when a team member(s) pursues a campaign of bullying against their manager or supervisor. The bully is likely to be oppositional towards authority, which means they oppose the views, aims or wishes of authority figures in principle. Some managers who have spoken with me say they feel like they are being held hostage by these individuals.

Upward bullying can be:

  • Refusing to co-operate with peers and directions from their managers
  • Obstructive behaviour making sure tasks don’t get completed
  • Disagreement with directions from managers
  • Being rude and obstructive
  • Subtle and/or hostile behaviours towards the manager
  • Excluding managers from meetings and decision making on the floor

Why this matters:

Universal studies show that between 22% – 25% of managers say that they have experienced upward bullying.

Over half reported an increase in stress, along with anxiety symptoms. Participants also reported experiencing anxiety attacks and clinical depression.

When inappropriate behaviour goes unchecked it creates a serious set of issues for the manager involved and the organisation.  One area that must be addressed is the manager’s own relationship with his/her own authority.

Speaking brutally, these managers are not comfortable setting direction, giving feedback or influencing their team. When choosing not to assert authority, even with good intentions, it becomes an ill-advised attempt to prevent the escalation of conflict. It leaves a clear path for bullying to continue.

Other considerations are risks to organisation such as

  • Lack of leadership and boundary confusion
  • Risk of stress claims
  • Resignations
  • Impact on productivity and the bottom line
  • Safety breaches and possible accidents
  • Brand damage

Let’s look at some ways to solve the problem?

To prevent this problematic behaviour, checks and balances are to become the norm in the workplace. Organisations need to initiate policies and intervention strategies to prevent incidences of upward bullying. These are the guidelines to assist managers who are targeted.

Organisations need to approach not only upward bullying but all bullying behaviour with preventative measures.

Preventative steps for MANAGERS to take:

  • Create close working relationship with senior people in your organisation
  • Seek out coaching and mentoring to build on your self-confidence
  • Creating self-awareness for self and others
  • If you are new to the position don’t seek to create too much change upfront
  • Resist the temptation to fight back at the bully
  • Demonstrate legitimate ways to add value to your team
  • Education (and training) about what is and what is not bullying

Preventative steps for ORGANISATIONS to take:

  • Create relevant new policies and procedures
  • Re-commit to implementing core organisational values
  • Provide education/training across the whole of the organisation
  • Undertake risk assessments across key elements such as Culture, Change, Structure, Diversity etc
  • Create team culture agreements across all teams to commit to consensual ways for treating each other
  • Invest regularly in developing new and emerging leaders 
  • Support managers in building and maintaining legitimate authority

The payoff getting it right:

  • When an organisation has a harmonious workplace free from bullying and inappropriate behaviours, it is extremely productive and has a high-performance bottom line.
  • Communication will be effective and more forthcoming. Employees will be prepared to express ideas and views as well as improvements.
  • A highly inclusive workplace where vibrant people want to work.
  • Strong leaders who are accessible and approachable with a sound level of self-awareness
  • A workplace that thrives on respect and values differences.

At Maureen Kyne and Associates we specialise in helping organisations with prevention strategies to eliminate both upwards and downwards bullying and inappropriate behaviour.

Maureen Kyne



Maureen Kyne

Maureen is a leading authority in workplace bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination. With qualifications and a career spanning nursing, manufacturing, construction, transport, HR, IR & WHS she brings wide-ranging experiences.

Having lived and worked in both regional towns and capital cities, Maureen understands the economic and workplace pressures faced across diverse environments from harvesting sheds in farming communities to metropolitan corporate boardrooms.

Maureen presents with a warm demeanour and easy conversational style yet is fearless in raising the issues most prefer to avoid. Whether wearing a prevention, detection or correction bullying hat, Maureen knows how to peel back the layers and get to the root cause of the toughest and most complex situations.

Respect drives change and as a confidante and training facilitator Maureen will do what it takes to save lives and build better futures.


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