Monday, March 9, 2015

Revisiting bullying in the workplace

I have said publicly many times over the last several months how important it is that the members of KCPD are OK. And I mean OK physically, mentally, emotionally and many other ways. Because if they’re not OK in some way, it can affect their own safety and the service they provide. We want capable individuals to have satisfying careers here, and sometimes that can be derailed by how they’re treated within their own organization. Thinking about the well-being of everyone who works for the Kansas City Missouri Police Department reminds me of this post about bullying I wrote in September 2013. I wanted to share it again today, not because of any particular incident or pattern, but because it remains a concern of mine and because how it is handled can contribute to the success of our organization:

Heavy on my heart this morning is the subject of bullying – not cyber bullying, bullying at school or even sibling bullying – but workplace bullying. Bullying is not solely germane to those more commonly discussed areas. It frequently occurs in the workplace. 

I began writing this blog at 2:39 this morning. For some unknown reason, the topic was weighing on me with a sense of restlessness that I haven't felt in months. As I tried to discount the heaviness on my heart and to rationalize the restlessness as excitement for being on a few days of vacation, I realized I had to share the realities and perception of workplace bullying, especially in a law enforcement environment.

To the best of my knowledge, this topic has not been broached by any police department, and certainly not by the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. Realizing that it might not resonate well for some, I'll risk stirring the pot because this is a serious issue. But it would be a risk well worth the effort if it positively impacts the manner in which people are treated. Some might ask, "Why shine the light on the problem?" Because we must speak for those who can't speak for themselves!

Let me be clear, the issue within the KCPD is not systemic or wide-spread. Many of the bullies are no longer associated with the police department. The Kansas City Police Department is composed of courteous, dedicated and servant-minded individuals who have proven their commitment to our city.

At least on a weekly basis, I stress to my executive-level command staff the importance of ensuring all members of the department be respectful, courteous and fair, and that they immediately intervene if anyone is behaving unprofessionally. They've been asked to share my request and concerns with those they lead. They've been told if they see something, say something, and that no one should suffer in silence. Recently, executive level staff was provided a copy of "The Bully at Work," by Gary Namie, PhD, & Ruth Namie, PhD. This is one of many steps we'll take toward better identifying, addressing and eventually alleviating such an emotionally damaging practice.

In May of this year, the department's lead attorney from the Office of General Counsel began gathering information regarding internal suits, claims and EEOC charges of discrimination. The information will be reviewed to determine if policy and/or patterns of practices need to be revised.

As I reflect on my 28-year career with this great organization, I can't help but reflect on the many real incidents of bullying. Oftentimes, the bullies were in higher ranks or positions than those who were being bullied. I've witnessed and have been the victim of bullying at KCPD. I reported the bullying, and in most cases it was discounted as: "He does that to everyone," "You need thicker skin," or "Don't make any noise about that." As I progressed through the ranks of the department, I found better ways to confront bullies.

Throughout the years, many others have communicated their experiences, often hearing identical trite expressions from those who had the authority to intervene but didn’t. There have been incidents in which individuals were cursed out and even threatened, but no actions were taken against the bully. Transfers requests have been lost and denied without explanation. I've witnessed above-average yearly evaluations change to an employee who suddenly can't do anything right in the eyes of his immediate supervisor/commander. Most alarming, oftentimes no one intervened on behalf of the one being bullied. In some cases the bullies garnered the support of others, resulting in group bullying. The result in several cases was civil action being filed with monetary compensation being awarded to the bullied employee.

Although bullying can occur anywhere at any time, it's imperative to address bullying at its onset in a work environment. We must set the tone of non-tolerance, and most importantly, prevent the long-term emotional toll on those who are being bullied.

I encourage anyone who's being bullied to report the bullying to any supervisor or commander so the allegations can be properly investigated.

While not as prevalent as in my early years on the department, bullying still rears its destructive head far too often. I'll continue to promote employees who don't subscribe to the philosophy of going along to get along, but those who are willing to intervene to cease destructive practices, regardless of the personal consequences. I decided to express my feelings about this topic so others, within the department as well as those outside the department, might not stand by silently while others are tormented by unbridled bullies. I and many others have intervened to stop bullying over the years, and rest assured we'll continue to do so. My desire is that we create, nurture and maintain a bully-free environment and a culture that's comfortable sharing about any form of mistreatment.

I respectfully share this topic because it's important that all employees, as well as other segments of the community, understand what's being done to alleviate bullying within the KCPD.

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