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  • Writer's pictureAustin Aloysius Tay

I read your profile.. you are a bully

Updated: Oct 21, 2023

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They come with different labels: toxic leaders, unsavoury personalities, and the dark side of personality, but what do they mean? In recent months, many articles have touched on how to identify rogue leaders and screen off employees who exhibit undesirable behaviours using personality questionnaires. This sudden surge of interest might be due to, perhaps, the disclosure of misbehaving executives in the financial industry. While I applaud these authors for creating awareness, I believe their approach to the issue is skin-deep.


While personality questionnaires are good for identifying and predicting future behaviours, they form only a small part of assessing an individual’s personality. To label someone as toxic or having a dark side personality and equate that to bullying seems too simplistic. How one behaves at work can be subjected to various situations, such as the need to perform, stress and re-organization. All these can be catalysts for acting negatively towards others. Can a personality tool tease out the unsavoury side of an individual and label them toxic? Or are these merely psychometric providers jumping on the bandwagon of bullying in the workplace, particularly since the culture of whistleblowing has been encouraged? (See https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11520274/Banker-dubbed-Crazy-Miss-Cokehead-awarded-3.2m-for-sexual-harassment.html)


The over-reliance on such a personality tool poses a few issues. The conversation would have been awkward if a proper debrief had been done. The organizations might have put themselves in a litigation position if the debrief had not been done. Lastly, identifying individuals who exhibit such behaviours and not employing them on such a basis does not eradicate the unsavoury behaviours but passes the bulk to another organization. I can fully appreciate organizations not wanting to risk employing someone who might become a liability that can be difficult to eliminate. How about those who have already been employed and have been working in the organization, what insights can a personality questionnaire provide that the organization does not already know? Should organisations interested in identifying such unsavoury characters in their midst be rushing to assess individuals using a personality tool? I will say, hold your horses! Just be mindful that a personality questionnaire, as intended, will only identify how individuals have behaved and predict how they will behave at work. That’s it!


Regardless of how such behaviours are labelled or packaged, these authors do not mention the repercussions of such behaviours on the recipients. What these authors are interested in is the identification of the behaviour of individuals, but they are not interested in addressing those of their actions, which are classified as negative acts or bullying.


Workplace bullying or negative acts at work are no new phenomena (for research on workplace bullying, check out http://www.iawbh.org), but I reckon it is a topic that most organizations like to avoid discussing. While a personality tool teases out behaviour, bullying research focuses on antecedents (such as the interplay of the work environment and stress) and the impact of bullying on both individuals (those being bullied, bystanders and also those who bully) and organizations (such as absenteeism, attrition and productivity). Unfortunately, while such actions are rife in the workplace, not many organizations are equipped to deal with bullying, i.e. having proper policies against bullying or having trained personnel mediating such conflicts. To date, except for Australia, no country has legislation that primarily targets workplace bullying.


So where do we go from here? I believe it is time for organizations to examine their policies to see how their employees are protected against bullying or negative workplace acts. They should seek help from experts and ensure resources are available to help employees exposed to negative acts. After all, they have a duty of care to their employees.


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