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Identifying Workplace Bullying and What You Can Do About It

Workplace Bullying

WBI defines Workplace Bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. Behaviours enough to intimidate, humiliate or threaten the victim can all be said to be in the realm of bullying. Research conducted under the University of Phoenix proved that about 75% of the surveyed employees had been affected by bullying. Workplace bullying is less physical and more psychological and verbal in nature. And the perpetrators are not limited to those in a higher position or those who exercise power. Bullies can be amongst even peers, colleagues and managers.

Before taking any action, one should know if you or your colleague is being the victim of bullying at work. More often than not, it’s mild. Subtle. You aren’t sure if it should be a concern for you. This attitude does more harm than good and bullying escalates in terms of severity or frequency.

What does it look like?

Some bullying behaviours include but are not limited to unnecessary questioning or making demands that are clearly unreasonable. Beneath all these actions resides a motive of troubling the victim, all in the name of getting work done. Most bullies are careful about their behaviour in front of the boss or colleagues while they save their unacceptable behaviour for their victim in private. Such behaviour is often exhibited in emails and is work-related, making it difficult to pin-point. Leaving the victim out from discussions, conversations, decisions, events etc. are other tell-tale signs. If you live in dread and a constant sense of anxiety clouds your mind, debilitating your ability to work efficiently, then it’s time you seek help and take action.

Taking steps

The more evidence you have, the more equipped you are to deal with questions thrown your way if an investigation gets underway. Always make sure to keep track of the date, time, place and the people involved. As it often happens in a private setting, maintain a note of all communication whether it is over email, SMS, or any other app. All conversations, comments should be saved to help you prove the bullying. Talking to people like your family, friends, co-workers helps significantly. Confiding in a colleague you trust, also helps with corroboration later, in the event of an investigation. You can even approach a therapist to help you cope.

In most cases, bullying goes unreported. Even colleagues who do know, do not take a stance from the fear of being bullied themselves. A toxic work environment is damaging and can range from an increase in stress and related diseases to low self-esteem and depression. Physical manifestations of bullying may appear in the form of high blood pressure, ulcers, panic attacks etc. On an organizational level, bullying hampers an employee’s ability to perform at their jobs. Trouble concentrating and making decisions at work leads to lower productivity.

It is of utmost importance to have a culture where minor instances of bullying aren’t swept under the carpet. Normalizing behaviours may lead to bigger and more frequent occurrences of them. Challenges come in the form of inability to identify and prove bullying, leading to inaction against it. Hence, preventive measures like a policy should be in place beforehand – Nipping it in the early stages so that it doesn’t escalate to a level where someone’s wellbeing is compromised.  Companies with a strong culture of integrity have zero-tolerance policies. As a manager or the boss, it’s your responsibility to tackle issues and not treat them as trivial. Strive to have a work environment that is free of bullying and tackle all related issues promptly. An environment that supports cooperation, teamwork and a positive attitude, as well as consistently respecting the opinions of employees, no matter their age or designation – these are the cornerstones that foster a bullying free culture.

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