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