Project Bullying

December 9, 2015

Believe it or not, project bullying in the workplace does exist. It is not a threat only at schools and on playgrounds. Project bullying can come for any source including the Project Manager, the Sponsor, a Stakeholder, or a Team Member. Though the goal of any team member might be to complete a project on time and under budget, the process one takes to complete projects is as important as the outcome. I recently attended a webinar which was hosted by PMI (Project Management Institute) discussing this very topic, and learned some important key take-aways.

In this blog, we will be delineating what project bullying is, how to spot it, what the consequences are, and how to prevent it. I have worked in the pharmaceutical and biologics industry for over 13 years. As a Program Manager at ProPharma Group, I have worked with many clients in implementing new processes such as our Nine Gate Approach to Tech Transfer and new products such as our CMO Compass® and I am happy to report that I have not been subjected to such incidences. But I have been witness to it and, at times, I have been proactive when others were not. Standing idly by while bullying occurs is not an option.

What is project bullying? It can manifest itself in many ways such as humiliating, threatening, or intimidating a coworker. Verbal abuse, and certainly physical abuse, is an example of project bullying in the workplace. These can both interfere with progress in the workplace or on a particular project, and it can certainly have health-harming effects. It is important to note that disagreements or differences of opinion are not bullying. Additionally, constructive feedback for possible improvements or personal development should not be considered bullying either.

Why should organizations “care” about project bullying? Not only is it an ethical obligation to ensure your employees, consultants, contractors, and customers feel safe, but it is also important for the integrity of your business. Bullying can have legal, financial and reputation ramifications on your business. Additionally, your project completion can depend on your teams’ safety and comfort level. Team members may underperform if they feel bullied. Additionally, they may quit and even impact your ability in finding additional resources to join that team. The customers might walk away from the project and from your business. Team and company morale may suffer, as well as creativity.

Warning signs of project bullying:

  • Insults, taunting
  • Anger-filled communications (written or verbal – in person or on social media)
  • Threatening confrontation (gritting of teeth, invading of one’s space)
  • Impossible workloads or deadlines for the purpose of intimidation
  • Threat of demotions, monetary losses, disciplinary action
  • Sabotaging of project success

Awareness and swift response are of the utmost importance. Whether it is the team leadership or the site leadership that responds appropriately to bullying situations, the important part is response and zero tolerance for bullying. Ensure appropriate policies are in place at your facility to combat bullying. Sanction any and all employees to raise awareness or to step in to stop project bullying. Train your employees to see the signs and empower them with effective ways to respond to those signs.

Ask yourself this, can you really afford not to? Can you afford to possibly lose your best team members or possibly the business that each project brings?


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