Is workplace bullying a thing?

I once knew someone who was a victim of workplace bullying.

She was treated differently to other employees. She faced constant criticism over her work. She rarely received praise for a job done well. She never received positive acknowledgement. And when her work was particularly good, it was often thought to be that of someone else’.

While most of us think of bullying as a school issue, very often bullying takes place in other aspects of life – at work, at home and in the neighbourhood around us. While some forms of bullying escalate into physical assault, workplace bullying is silent and almost never addressed.

What is workplace bullying?
It is any on-going harmful or threatening behaviour or actions by a person or group of people in your workplace that creates a risk to your health and safety, as well as your career progression.

How does it manifest?
It can start off subtly, and migrate to things like:

  • Excluding you from workplace activities or conversations
  • Giving you pointless or demeaning tasks that don’t help you do your job
  • Making impossible demands and setting you up to fail
  • using your roster to deliberately make things difficult for you
  • withholding important information crucial to your work
  • spreading rumours, gossip or innuendo about you
  • hurtful comments, making fun of you or your work

And in more extreme cases:

  • insulting, yelling, swearing at you
  • physical violence, from pushing and tripping to outright attacks
  • threatening phone calls or texts or threatening you with workplace equipment

Who participates in bullying?
More often than not, the person doing the bullying can be someone in a position of power and authority such as a boss, manager, supervisor or senior staff etc. However, bullying can also happen between colleagues where a group of staff seek to isolate one or more staff. Unfortunately, bullying also succeeds where some chooses to stay quiet as they are not the target of these acts.

Why is it important to address workplace bullying?
A culture of bullying created in a work environment can be toxic and harmful to work performance. It can often lead to poor or low work outputs resulting in inefficiencies and subpar service delivery. In many cases, customers can sense negative vibes in the environment and are often unintended targets of such cultures. These harmful interactions at work can cause outstanding staff to quit their work therefore causing brain drain in the company itself. Overall, the company and eventually society as a whole suffers from a culture of bullying.

 How can you help stop workplace bullying?
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace. If you or someone you work with is being bullied, report the incident(s) to Human Resources. You might feel strange, embarrassed or scared to report it. You may be scared of losing your job, or escalating the situation, but you need to be brave because what you allow will continue.

What is NOT bullying at work?
Be clear though, that not everything is bullying at work. Sometimes even if we may feel prejudiced against, some things simply are not bullying. Getting fired, transferred, demoted or disciplined is not bullying if there is a justifiable reason behind it. It’s perfectly legitimate for your manager to criticise your performance, if you haven’t been doing well or your work is up for review. It’s their job to manage the quality of your work and ensure you are delivering outstanding work. You can easily differentiate between appraisal and bullying through language used – one builds you up, the other tears you down.

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