One on One: Healthy Workplace Advocate

Dr. Leah Hollis is founder and president of the Patricia Berkly Group, a diversity training consulting firm based in Philadelphia. The firm specializes in workplace discrimination, bullying, EEOC, ADA, and Title VII regulations.

A healthy workplace advocate, Dr. Hollis’ efforts were inspired by her mother’s life-long career as an affirmative action leader at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. Dr. Hollis has written a number of books and essays on workplace bullying. She is the author of Bully in the Ivory Tower: How Aggression and Incivility Erode American Higher Education.

She recently spoke with to discuss workplace bullying, and how organizations can overcome this problem. Typically who fits the profile of a workplace bully?

Hollis: Bullying is about power. And there are different types of power. There is also personal power. Someone who has been there for 20 years and knows everybody. She or he has power. So, whatever power you have to use that and put someone in an inferior position that is the profile of a bully. But, they look…feel…smell any kind of way. Are bullies typically reprimanded in the organization?

Hollis: If the target can prove that the bully is costing the organization money. If the bully has done something that is going to bring an audit in this circumstance I’ve seen the bully reprimanded. Remember the bully is in the power position. Unless the target is able to say I’m being bullied…the bully has already built a case behind the target. Often times the target will be removed or transferred. What should the target do? How do you prove your case at that point?

Hollis: I have two answers. The study will say do not go to HR. The respondents from the study say HR does nothing. Only 14 percent of the respondents said yes go to HR. I agree you should go to human resources. If you sit there and take it you will have one side of the story. I think someone should stand up and say yeah this is happening to me. But, the way you stand up is keep you a journal to show instances where they are bullying you or treating you inappropriately. Gather information and files on them. Ask if they are breaking the rules? Are they playing favoritism? The target has to keep a file. Ultimately, who is responsible for overhauling the problem?

Hollis: The model came out of my study. It was the leader who said what’s workplace bullying. And we described it and she said we take care of that before it’s done. We had to define bullying because this leader had done such a good job of eradicating bullying, she didn’t know what bullying was. Her model was as the leader she was the executive in her organization. She made herself available. She let people know you can approach me without retribution. She let people know that executives were going to have what’s called 360 evaluations. She wanted to know if they were supportive. Nurturing. Understanding. She wanted to know about all those soft skills we don’t talk about. By doing that…it’s setting the model. Why do you suppose leaders don’t want to acknowledge workplace bullying?

Hollis: Organizations don’t want to police anymore. And if organizations actually look at dollars and sense of what a bully costs they would realize it’s more cost effective to squash out the bully. A lot of managers and employers do not like confrontation. They don’t like confronting people about their performance. One of the things I find most interesting is that in the research mobbing is always referenced. If you were called in as an external consultant to tackle mobbing what would you recommend?

Hollis: Have a heart to heart with leaders. Is the leader willing to change? Is the leader willing to model? Is the leader willing to put in check the snickering and chattering that’s happening? The second part to that is if you come up with ways to rebuild trust…when you have mobbing or people picking on each other. I’m talking about having these discussions once a month. Talk about what it means to be target. What you need to be prosperous. Some people like music. Some people like peace and quiet. Nobody likes to be picked on. Leaders need to determine what kind of environment we need to be successful. What kind of healing needs to happen here to come together as a team. And put this behind you. Second, what kind of process can we put in place so that we can heal and trust each other again. And somewhere in there an apology is necessary. That’s what we learned in kindergarten.

If you have questions or concerns about workplace bullying you can reach Dr. Hollis by logging onto


Categories: Growth & Development, Hot Topics, Leadership: Influence, Styles & Behaviors, Organizational Transformation

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