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Would you know an upward bully if you saw one?

By Shandel McAuliffe | |6 minute read
Would You Know An Upward Bully If You Saw One

If you've ever been in a situation where you've felt like you're being bullied by your subordinates, but dismissed it as not being possible, you may have been the victim of 'upward bullying'.

Maureen Kyne shared on a recent episode of The HR Leader how to identify upward bullying. She described it as "negative acts that take place generally over six months or more, and it's always a power imbalance and a perceived power that the subordinate has ... Upward bullying is a form of subordinate retaliation. It's an act of subordinate staff members inflicting intentional or unintentional bullying behaviours towards their manager."

She continued: "We generally see it playing out as either passive or aggressive in nature. It includes refusing to accept or complete work assignments, missing work, sometimes showing up late for meetings, spreading professionally damaging rumours, sometimes withholding information, which is one that I see a lot of, and making false claims of work prosecution in attempts to avoid discipline reactions and sabotaging the manager."


Businesses need to be prepared to deal with this sort of bullying behaviour, just like other forms of bullying at work.

If a manager approaches the business, worried they might be experiencing upward bullying, Ms Kyne stated that the first thing is to ask "Does HR and do the executive team really understand what upward bullying is?"

"Because they need to know that first, to then be able to provide the support that's required of the manager who's coming and talking to them about that. And it's something that I've found within some discussions that I've been having worldwide is that upward bullying is a new definition and it's not fully understood. I believe that organisations right now need to be reaching out and having an understanding around what is upward bullying, what are the systems and processes that we've put into play?" said Ms Kyne.

Having a 'policy' on upward bullying is key.

Ms Kyne stated "The workplace needs to have well-developed policy around, what actually is upward bullying? It needs to be included in their workplace bullying policy. We need to have education and training for all people in leadership roles. And we need specifically HR and CEOs and those in executive positions to be able to recognise when upward bullying is taking place and how they're going to then support the line manager. It could be perhaps a new line manager. And making sure that they're supporting that person in the appropriate way, and being able to call out and investigate the people who are perpetrating this behaviour, whether it's an individual or whether it's part of a mob or a gang, but being able to call out that behaviour and go through the due diligence process of the complaints handling process."

Ms Kyne also indicated that upward bullies might not act alone. She described the scenario "...it's actually like they've created their own little army. So they created their army of soldiers. And some of those soldiers come on board willingly and are prepared to support everything that the upward bully is exhibiting. But then you also have the soldiers who are being called to duty and it's like a conscription ... 'I don't want to be here. I fear being here'. But they're there and they become part of that gang and will do all of the footwork, the foot slog in relation to bullying and playing out all of the behaviours or the characteristics that the upward bully wants to perpetrate against the victim or their target."

To learn more about upward bullying, and why home working might be making it worse, listen to the podcast with Ms Kyne below.

The transcript of this podcast episode, when quoted above, was slightly edited for publishing purposes. The full conversation with Maureen Kyne is below.




Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel has recently returned to Australia after working in the UK for eight years. Shandel's experience in the UK included over three years at the CIPD in their marketing, marcomms and events teams, followed by two plus years with The Adecco Group UK&I in marketing, PR, internal comms and project management. Cementing Shandel's experience in the HR industry, she was the head of content for Cezanne HR, a full-lifecycle HR software solution, for the two years prior to her return to Australia.

Shandel has previous experience as a copy writer, proofreader and copy editor, and a keen interest in HR, leadership and psychology. She's excited to be at the helm of HR Leader as its editor, bringing new and innovative ideas to the publication's audience, drawing on her time overseas and learning from experts closer to home in Australia.

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