Searching for insider threats in a network. 3D illustration.

Intimidation…it’s not a word you hear often now in the work context. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb as ‘to frighten or overawe’ which surely has no place in today’s politically correct workplace?

There was a time when bosses used intimidating tactics to reinforce their status and show visibly, who was in charge….separate floors, entrances, lifts, dining rooms…these were all signs that there was a top tier and segregation kept them out of view. They were faceless.

So, today’s flat organisation works on the principal that everyone has a contribution to make based on their skills and experience. Open plan offices and cross-functional teams heralded an era of specialisation, which extended vertically as well as horizontally and meant that you were there because of your knowledge and experience.

But wait a minute, social media has been reporting a scale of industrial action which ‘is truly remarkable’. The Guardian reports online that Health Care professionals and Construction Industry workers are striking in the US because their salaries haven’t kept in step with the hours they’ve been working during Covid. The latest estimate is that across all industries, 1 in 4 workers are contemplating a job change.

It seems that there are limits to the social contract on both sides of the table as more people  discover the market value of their skills.

Does intimidation at work still exist but in more subtle ways and not vertically but horizontally?

What I have in mind are situations where the silo you’re working in doesn’t get the resources it needs to implement a project fast enough, costs are indiscriminately cut, specific projects are favoured over others.

It’s tough if you’re giving your best at work and are used to being recognised for it, then suddenly to find that you’re no longer appreciated.

Let’s take the search for intimidation to the interpersonal level i.e. horizontally. It’s called Open Communication and it allows employees to be more engaged and understand their part in the success of the business…making sure they see the big picture, the part they play in the success of the organization, why decisions are made and how they impact them specifically. Open Communication makes sure everyone is on the same page and moving toward the same goal. It used to be called ‘Being in the Loop’ and was restricted to those mysterious directors on the second floor.

But what happens if someone in a silo team is, for some reason, not in the loop? It could be because of a weak link in the communication chain, politics or a personal vendetta, a rumbling grievance against another team member. Whatever the cause, being cut out of a loop could, in my view, be considered to be intimidating especially if it continues over a period of time.  It’s difficult to get it out into the open especially if it’s aimed at you personally.  

Working from Home is another potential cause of communication blockage which, if not dealt with swiftly, could create a feeling of intimidation especially if it’s done deliberately.

Manager’s particularly can feel out of touch at this time because they aren’t getting the normal flow of information coming in through the usual random encounters like passing in the corridor or in the pantry this can also create discomfort. 

So why not check your channels and make sure everyone is on the same wavelength? There may be some lonely people out there.