School yard bullying can be humiliating and isolating for the victim – even more so now that social media is an effective means of perpetuating the activity. Sadly, it doesn’t stop at the school gate. Bullying has many insidious forms in the workplace as well.
There are usually differences in the workplace format of bullying, and it can be intertwined with discriminatory practices as well. It’s puzzling, but people grouped in the one can develop a herd mentality. Those who look different, sound different, are older, are younger or think differently are singled out for exclusion. It may be one person who starts the behaviour, but it is soon picked up by others who don’t want to be seen as siding with a ‘loser’, particularly if the perpetrator is a person of seniority or influence, or both.
Sometimes the behaviour originates because the victim is seen as being a threat in some way. Perhaps they are perceived as being over-industrious or maybe the perpetrator thinks that the victim is after his or her job. A new arrival in a work team can threaten the cosy status quo and simply that can be enough. Sounds incredibly childish and it is. Sadly, there are also sociopathic personalities in the workplace, who have no compunction in identifying those who might be easy victims.
Bullying takes several forms and much of it is insidious in that it is not easy for the victim to prove. Many people suffer in silence because they don’t want to appear to be a whinger or not able to handle the situation in an ‘adult’ manner. They may also be concerned about the impacts on their job security. Those who are most desperately in need of a job are often most likely to be bullied and sadly most likely the ones who feel unable to complain.
Examples of bullying are illustrated by:
Withholding key information;
Not processing work or information that the victim requires to perform their work;
removing items that the victim needs to undertake his or her job;
spreading malicious gossip;
excluding a person from meetings;
excluding a person from social events; and
using derogatory language about the victim.
There are no doubt others as well. Some will be overt and obvious as fitting the definition of bullying and others are more covert. If anything, the latter form has a more devastating impact.
Those who do raise the issue with their HR personnel don’t always get assistance. Often the staff in those departments are not sufficiently experienced in managing a bullying environment, cannot understand the severity of the situation and the implications, or are generally dismissive of the complaint. The victim can be made to feel like a trouble maker, and given to understand that a complaint can put their career prospects in jeopardy. As awareness of bullying issues grow however, these reactions are declining.
As a co-worker who observes bullying, speak up when you can see that something is not right and does not accord with personal or corporate values. When one person makes a stand, others often follow and it can be the case that others have been suffering in silence but have been too intimidated to speak up. It goes without needing to be said that for whatever reason, you shouldn’t be bullying others or perpetuating the practice. It is a warped form or power trip, or an indication of your own insecurities.
Combatting the workplace bully is never easy and good advice is given on the Kick Bully website. http://www.kickbully.com/prepare.html. Document any incidents, including dates and details of any witnesses. Do not approach the bully in an emotional state and without planning what you will say, how you will say it and what you want the outcome to be. You need to be cool, calm and collected for this exercise. Most importantly, consider what the consequences might be for everyone involved. In no way do you want to be in a worse situation than before. Consider your Plan B if taking action does not have the desired effect.
Above all, look after your emotional and psychological health. You did not ask for this treatment and it is not appropriate. You are the one who is now taking control. If you are in a really toxic environment, and one in which cultural values are supportive of the bully, then get out. Take all your notes and documentary evidence with you. Consider what legal redress is available to you.
Life is too short to live and work in such misery and nothing you can do will improve the situation. Look after yourself because in that situation, no one else is going to. Look instead to the future and a life in which you have positive control.
How have you handled workplace bullying when you've encountered it? Leave a comment below.
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