Fighting against workplace bullies

Assured Angel By Assured Angel, 2nd Jul 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Jobs>Employment Law

Bullying comes in many forms and guises. It is not restricted by time, race, class or even location. Workplace bullying has been the subject of some debate that governments, HR directors and even employees themselves have tried to answer and find remedies for with limited success. So what can you do when you find yourself the target for bullies in your workplace?

Bullying in the Workplace - How it happens and how to fight back

I make no apologies for covering the bullying topic in this much detail. For far too long, there has been inadequate attention and incoherent policies made in the area of bullying and it is only in very recent times that people's eyes and ears have been opened. But for some victims and their families, it is too late. Victims' health are sometimes irrevocably compromised (depression, self-harm, mental problems, the list goes on)and in some cases lost because they cannot face another day of abuse and hurt. In my previous factoid, I spoke about the organisations in the United Kingdom who have started make their voice heard in this area. It is about time too. So this factoid will deal with one area of bullying that the law does protect against but still goes on...As you will have noticed, I have not been putting disclaimers in my factoids, but I feel one is necessary here. This is because this is a sensitive area and I do not want people unduly distressed by anything that is written here.

The statistics in this area are alarming. In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that 80% of people are affected by bullying at work with very few having any guidelines on how to deal with it and even fewer having a zero tolerance to it (BBC Website, January 2008). Here are more disturbing statistics according to the charity the Samaritans (they surveyed just over 2500 people):

A third of those who were surveyed said that the bullying was so bad they considered leaving their job

Over 13 million days (costing nearly £4bn) were lost to stress, anxiety and depression brought on, in many cases, by bullying

Half of those spoken to worried about the impact that the stress was having on their health and well-being

The most affected were young people aged between 18 and 25 years old. They did not feel able to go to colleagues or superiors for support

These findings were supported by the Trade Union Congress whose representative said that bullying in the workplace "can take many forms but it always causes stress and anxiety for the victims" and allowing bullying to continue in the workplace will cause morale and thus productivity will be adversely affected. Even with this, the attitude is well, it is not that many people so it should not really be dealt with. The government analyst said "it is important not to exaggerate the problem - government data shows that less than 4% of employees have experienced bullying in the workplace in the last 2 years." My answer to that is that 1% of people getting bullied at work is 1% too many. No-one should have to suffer it. Strong action should be taken to prevent and to punish any form of bullying in the workplace. So what forms of bullying in the workplace are there and how can they be prevented/reduced? This list is by no means exhaustive but gives an indication on what to look out for. I am going to divide them into what I call passive and aggressive bullying. They are just as damaging as each other.
Here are some examples of 'passive bullying':

Problem: Being ignored - as I have said repeatedly in my articles, 'no man is an island' and that is definitely true when it comes to the workplace. When reading about lawsuits brought on by ex-employees, a lot of them talk about being ignored either during the course of their duties or when they report wrongdoing. This is uncalled for and should be stamped out.
Course of action - If you have tried to speak to your colleagues and/or manager and nothing is being done, do not give up. This is sometimes easier said than done. Keep a record of all your efforts including emails you sent, calls you made, meetings you wanted to set up but could not due to lack of support. Speak to support agencies and a counsellor if that will help you. If things should get worse, then you will have evidence to support your claims. Try and get senior management and Human Resources involved if possible. If they are ignoring you too, speak to your union representative. You should not have to put up with it.

Problem: Being left out of things - when meetings are called that you should be part of and you are not informed or even being left out after-work drinks something is not right. If someone made an error and forgot to add your name, fair enough. But when you have informed them and it happens again and again, then know that something is afoot and make sure you confront the problem.
Course of action - Check to make sure that your name is added to the appropriate lists and if possible, be there when it is done. If someone did not invite you to something that you felt you should have been, it could have been a mistake so speak to them in private rather than make a big deal of it. If they turn nasty, walk away and inform whoever you need to.

Problem: Being the subject of 'behind your back' rumours - when your ears are burning as you walk past your colleagues, then you might be the victim of a whispering campaign. This can be very painful and add to a feeling of isolation. It can also be very difficult to deal with. Many people do not see this as a form of bullying but for someone to be the subject of something that they don't know about is horrible. I call it cowardice bullying...
Course of action - if you know who the ringleader is, confront them. If you want to scatter the flock, go for the shepherd. It is not easy to know who it is, but when you do, make sure you make your voice heard. The vast majority of times, they do not expect you to do anything about it and that could be the shock they need to stop. Sometimes they continue, then make a note of what they are doing and report it, if it gets nasty.

Problem: Being constantly overlooked for promotions/projects/bonuses/praise etc - this one is difficult to prove but is no less painful. If you have made your case, worked hard and have shown that you deserve some recognition and others who are less deserving are getting the plaudits and the promotions, then again, something is not right. Maybe your superiors genuinely don't know and your colleagues have been passing off your hard work as theirs. But it is clear that it is your hard work, then you need to take action.
Course of action - make sure you have clear achievements e.g. you have saved the company thousands in phone bills and you can prove it. Speak to your supervisors and show them what you have been doing and why you deserve a chance. Make a list of all the ideas and things you have done to contribute to the company/team. DO not be aggressive but do be firm. Don't burn your bridges but don't be a doormat.

Some forms of more aggressive bullying in the workplace are:
Discrimination (based on race, sex, politics, religion, etc) - this can be covert or overt. The main one is name-calling and making remarks that some may class as 'jokes' or 'innocent teasing. There is nothing innocent about making someone at best, uncomfortable at worst, humiliated to the point of depression. If you feel like this is what is happening, it is not acceptable.
Course of action - speak to your superiors and do not be afraid to name names; be specific about times, incidents, save and print emails. If you can, confront the people behind the abuse. Many will stop, some will not, so be prepared for the fight.

Physical harassment - I am not necessarily talking about being beaten up (I have not come across it yet, but that does not mean, it does not happen)unwanted human contact that makes you feel uncomfortable should be nipped in the bud. This is not only limited to women, men can be the victims of this phenomenon too. Do not be ashamed to report it because the bully thrives on your fear and silence.
Course of action - Tell the person to stop doing what they are doing and keep an 'events diary.' Try to include as many details as possible. If they do not stop, you should go to your manager. If they do nothing, speak to your union representative. If it helps, see a counsellor and gain support of friends and family.

I know that there is much more, but I only meant this as an introduction to this area. No-one should have to put up with bullying especially in the workplace. Thank goodness that legislation is catching up although there is still someway to go. Employers have to be more proactive and guidelines more robust to counter this problem. Let's hope this scourge becomes extinct and soon...


Bully, Bullying, Employee Relations, Workplace

Meet the author

author avatar Assured Angel
Talented and experienced freelance writer/ businesswoman with a legal background whose engaging, confident but professional attitude is reflected in her writing.
I have also written extensively (over 100 articles) and continue to do soon many subj...(more)

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author avatar Retired
14th May 2013 (#)

Very powerful. Keep up the work my friend, we need more writers like you. I'll continue to follow your writings as you do the same for me. Thanks

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