Organisational Behaviour: victim of workplace bullying?

Do you wake up afraid in the morning to go to your work? If yes and you do it frequently, then you may be experiencing bullying in some kind on the job – threats, harassment, ostracism, tantrums, public humiliation, verbal abuse, screaming, insults and other bad behaviours. You may be a victim of workplace bullying. In my career, I have witnessed quite a number of cases. In fact bullying is a problem that affects a high percentage of employees, many of whom suffer in silence instead of reporting the matter to higher authorities. Mostly psychological in nature, workplace bullying may also go unnoticed by unthinking management.


But how do we define bullying? Wikipedia defines bullying as “an act of repeated aggressive behaviour in order to intentionally hurt another person, physically or mentally. Bullying is characterized by an individual behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person (Besag, 1989). Behaviours may include name calling, verbal or written abuse, exclusion from activities, exclusion from social situations, physical abuse, or coercion (Carey, 2003; Whitted & Dupper, 2005)…. Although some bullies do base their abuse on issues such as gender, race, religion, and physical ability, most instances of bullying focus on the victim’s competency. Bullies are often insecure about a particular aspect of their own professional abilities, and feel threatened by colleagues who are competent in the same area(s).


Victims of bullying are often referred to as targets whereas the persons committing it are referred to as bullies. Imagine the following scenario: Your boss calls for a meeting without any prior notice and justifies it as an urgent meeting. There is no formal agenda and at the start he announces that the meeting has been called to discuss office work. During the meeting your boss without any apparent reason criticises you openly, calling you by all sorts of names, humiliating you in front of your colleagues and even tags you as incompetent, belittling you in the eyes of your friends. Usually a meeting is meant for discussing issues and after deliberation, a decision is reached. If the decision is already taken by the boss and the meeting is used just as a platform to intentionally hurt you, then it may be bullying. Another scenario: your boss calls you in his office and shouts in a very threatening way and aggressively tells you to leave his office, treating you like a ‘shit’. Or very often your boss passes derogatory remarks on your performance in front of other people. This is clearly not a constructive criticism. All these may be tantamount to bullying. Stories like these abound in many organisations.


Some signs that you are being bullied:

·   Loss of confidence in what you are doing in your job

·   Your supervisor changes rules as per his/her whims and caprices

·   Your efforts are belittled by your supervising officer and vital information that you need to do your work properly are withhold.

·   You are given meaningless work and all important files /projects are taken away from you

·    You are being deliberately socially excluded

·    Work environment makes you sick; you feel uneasy and desperately wait for long weekends. As soon as you leave office you feel better

·  You often think to quit your job to get rid of the bully

·  You start blaming yourself for the situation


Effect of bullying

In some cases, bullying can have very serious consequences and even fatal. There have been reports in foreign countries where victims have been bullied to death (Mona O’Moore Ph. D of the Anti-Bullying Centre, Trinity College, Dublin). Victims of bullying can suffer long term emotional and behavioural problems and unable to bear the trauma, they prefer to commit suicide. Office bully may turn your livelihood into a living nightmare causing depression and vulnerability to illness.


At organisational level, there result tense industrial relations. Employees’ morale is down which leads to lower productivity, higher turnover, customer churn out and even litigation. Organisations suffer as business is affected negatively. Bullying may be very costly to organisations if bullies are not purged in the workplace.


Victim of bullying: how to deal with the problem?

Occurrences of bad behaviour towards you should be clearly documented and reported to higher authorities. Refer to any bullying policy, if available in the organisation to substantiate your points. Code of ethics for the profession may also be cited. Make it known to the bullying supervisor that you do not appreciate his behaviour towards you and express your concerns without being emotional. Do not give up easily nor end up by quitting your job. Write to management and move upward the hierarchy if the problem is not solved. Seek advice from friends who have experienced bullying in their workplace. Specialised associations in such matters may counsel you to make the right move. Trade union and legal actions may be considered as a last resort if there is no improvement in your situation. Remember your ultimate goal is to survive the experience with your self-confidence and keeping your integrity intact.


Management: how to deal with bullying?

In the first instance, you need to identify a true bully. It is relatively easy if there are complaints of verbal abuse, insults, public humiliation, screaming or other manifest signs of bad behaviour. Even in cases where people are scared to speak up, there may be visible signs of obvious tensions in certain groups. Once such bully is identified, management should act promptly and with firmness to show that bad behaviours are not tolerated. Employees should not have the discretion to decide on themselves what is acceptable and what is not. Supervising authorities should have the power to reprimand problem workers. Failure to do so may result in a crisis situation.


In dealing with human relationships in an organisational set up, it is always advisable to take prompt decision whenever grievances emerge. Not taking any action is equivalent to encouraging bullying. In dealing with a bully, it is recommended to be tactful and direct rather than being confrontational and emotional. Caution should be exercised not to personalise the issue or target the person. It is the behaviour of the person that should be targeted and with a view to find a solution. Objectivity and impartiality should at all costs be maintained even when receiving conflicting accounts of incidents. A written bullying policy that outlines behaviour that is inconsistent with organisation/ company culture would help immensely in combating workplace bullying. Officers aware of the policy would resist better to bullying. Training managers and supervising officers on handling complaints, grievances, managing industrial conflicts and techniques for communicating should not be neglected.


What if bullying comes from the very top managers? In that case, it would be extremely difficult to root out workplace bullying. I personally know of organisations which are facing such problems. Lax management has rotten the whole organisation. Clearly the right person is not in the right place. How do you fit a square peg in a round hole?


R. Hauroo


Organisational Behaviour: Corporate Culture

In the field of Organisational studies and management, the term ‘corporate culture’ often refers to the set of values, assumptions, beliefs, attitudes, experiences, and the relationships between the individuals and functions that define the way the organisation conducts its business. It is the combined beliefs, ethics, values, procedures and atmosphere of an organisation that create the organisational culture. Put in simple terms, it is a ‘perception’ of how things are done in the organisation. This corporate culture influences the behaviours of employees and becomes the natural way of doing things. As such, the organisational culture is more apparent to an external observer than to an internal employee. Very often the organizational culture matches the style and comfort zone of top management. Hiring of people is generally done on the basis of compatibility to and fitness in the existing culture. Such practices reinforce the established organisational culture. If new hires do not espouse the existing organisational culture, they may be misfits. Culture is powerful and invisible and its effects are far reaching. 

Every organisation has a culture and different organisations have different corporate cultures and their ‘ways of doing things’. In your library environment where you work, try to figure out all the elements that combine together to form your corporate culture.  These refer to the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of your library and define its nature. You will surely note that most of the factors affecting the various elements are caused by management behaviour. Good management understands the fundamentals of human nature and how management actions influence employees’ behaviour. Poor management always affect the corporate culture negatively. Lack of understanding of the fundamentals of human nature and ignorance of the psychological origins of poor management behaviour perpetuate a bad corporate culture. Since corporate culture is built from the combined experiences of the employees, their interactions with each other and outsiders, and the psychological tone set by management, it is possible to work to correct and improve the culture of the organisation. It is in the interest of all, employees and management to develop a healthy corporate culture. However, this is easier said that done. Employees need to work together in team to achieve corporate objectives. Good management practices that foster participation of employees in the management of the organisation (as opposed to authoritarian or autocratic management) allow such healthy corporate culture to grow. Employees are committed, motivated in executing projects and their productivity are boosted in an organisation where a healthy corporate culture exists.  Employees view themselves as part of a winning team in the attainment of corporate objectives.  Their empowerment in decision-making and in crafting strategies gives them the feeling that their contributions are valued.  They are associated in the success of their corporate business. Ultimately such an environment provide them  satisfaction in their work.


In many organisations and libraries, staff may be experiencing unhealthy work environment. Bad corporate culture happens but it is not an irreversible phenomenon. It can be corrected and improved. Culture originates in the behaviour of the members of the culture and a “savvy” management should be sensitive to the following key elements:


  • Prevailing corporate culture begins at the top level of the organisation. Existing corporate culture reflects the style of management which is enshrined in the vision of top management and which becomes the vision for the organisation.
  • The principle of equity in the treatment of all employees should be the guiding principle in human resource management. Perceptions of injustice, nepotism or undue favours to “blue-eyed boys” create frustration which in turn impact negatively on corporate culture.
  • Communications upward and downward should never be neglected. Communicating well throughout the organisation with all employees is essential. Discussing problems openly and realistically with employees enlist their help in solving them. This is very likely to create a healthy internal environment as well as ensuring the participation and commitment of employees.


Employees evolving in libraries where a negative corporate culture dominates are subject to stress, frustration, low productivity and frequent absenteeism. They are sick with the work environment and would prefer not to turn up to work for petty reasons. Demotivated staff will just do the minimum. No force can make them give the maximum out of them. “Over-bossing”, “bullying” staff and adopting attitudes like “Do it because I decided it” just worsen the situation. In the worst scenario, staffs are conditioned to accept / expect abuse and poor quality management. Such behaviours are interiorised as normal and they replicate same style in their dealings with colleagues and customers. Those having the possibility to quit the organisation will unfailingly do so on the first available opportunity while others are always on the look-out for greener pastures elsewhere.


Those Managers who are aware of the bad corporate culture prevailing in the library and having at heart the interest of the institution will make sincere efforts to redress the situation. A good understanding of human nature and psychology will help but in the first instance the real causes of the negative corporate culture should be known.  Good managers will take the time and exercise the introspection to think through their beliefs about management and their management styles, trace them back to past experiences and learning, and establish better ways of thinking. In other words, they would undergo a reconditioning of themselves to be better managers.  Are our bad library managers capable of such exercise and remould themselves into better ones…for the benefit of the organisations they are managing and for the library profession in general?


R. Hauroo