- PART 1
Workplace Bullying - An Overview
Jacinta Kitt has completed a Masters
Thesis on the subject of bullying in the workplace.
In the first of three articles for Mandate
Trade Union News, Jacinta points out that 'criticism
is one of the most preferred forms of bullying'.
bullying of adults in the workplace, although it is
a phenomenon that has been with us for many years,
has only recently been recognised as a problem of
significance. With this recognition comes an awareness
of the prevalence and seriousness of the problem.
Workplace bullying causes great pain and hurt to its
victims. Anyone, irrespective of personality or ability
can be bullied. Reasoning with the bully, attempting
to please them, exhibiting distress or anger are all
frequently used but are inadequate victim responses
to bullying. Victims may take a long time
to realise that they are dealing with totally irrational,
unjust and unjustified behaviour. They have
not contributed to it and they have no control over
it. They are unlucky enough to be in the wrong place
at the wrong time encountering the absolute wrong
person. Effective responses to workplace bullying
have to be two fold. Employers and managers
need to take the problem seriously. They
must be aware of the devastating effects of bullying
on individuals and on the workplace generally. No
one has anything to fear from exposing bullying except
the bullies and they contribute nothing constructive,
positive or productive to the workplace. Individuals
subjected to bullying need to use learned and practiced
strategies to confront the problem. They require enormous
courage to implement these strategies such is the
power and control of the bully. Workplace bullying
is often euphemistically called intimidation, rudeness,
bad attitude, conflict, tough management, personality
clash or just two people who do not get on together.
These are inadequate labels that can contribute to
the conditions under which bullying thrives. It is
important to recognise the problem for what it is
and to name it appropriately.
A definition of workplace bullying
common to all literature and research on the subject
does not appear to exist. However, from the many and
varied definitions offered, a clear picture of the
phenomenon emerges. The terms consistent, relentless,
continual and systematic are inferred in relation
to bullying behaviour that undermines, insults, devalues,
demeans and intimidates another. Bullying
is a process. Rarely is it an isolated incident
or a cathartic outburst produced by tension, stress
or anger, although a single incident may have a dramatic,
long-lasting effect. The underlying assumption in
most definitions of bullying is that typically a victim
would feel unable to defend him or herself. They are
pushed into a position of helplessness.
is difficult to identify primarily because of its
secretive nature but also as many of its characteristics
are disguised as legitimate behaviour.
consensus emerging from those involved in researching
the subject is that workplace bullying is a widespread
and enormous problem. It is on the increase, wreaking
havoc on personal lives and organisational effectiveness.
The most common forms of bullying are subtle and devious.
The people responsible for these most inappropriate
and manipulative of behaviours are masters at disguising
their actions and the effects on victims are difficult
to detect or to isolate. A central component of this
type of abuse is its ability to deeply hurt and demean
the victim, while remaining well obscured from the
onlookers. It is difficult to identify primarily because
of its secretive nature but also as many of its characteristics
are disguised as legitimate behaviour.
The psychological nature
of bullying makes it difficult to document and almost
impossible to prove. The individual incidents that
make up the abuse very often seem trivial, innocuous
and even pathetic. Notwithstanding this,
bullying creates an environment in the workplace that
is exploitative, unhealthy and destructive. Victims
are thrown into a downward spiral, shattering their
own beliefs about their worth and abilities. Their
motivation and loyalty are eroded and their level
of trust is completely diminished. Telling a bullied
victim to stand up to the bully is like telling a
person with depression to snap out of it. The qualities
that would have enabled this response in other situations
become redundant and impotent in the face of bullying.
The Manifestations of Bullying
most obvious and visible manifestation of bullying
at work involves overt aggression such as physical
violence and angry verbal outbursts. Less obvious,
more prevalent and equally, if not more devastating
are the insidious and more subtle forms of abuse.
These include, criticism, isolation, exclusion, discrimination,
humiliation, obstruction, invasion of privacy, surveillance
and slander. In effect bullies make it difficult
if not impossible for victims to do their jobs.
They attack and damage the self-esteem, self respect,
dignity, relationships, reputation and health of their
victims. They lie, manipulate, control and destroy
and make it appear like the victim is mad.
Criticism is one of the most preferred
methods of bullying. Criticism in the context of bullying
is never about creating awareness or addressing a
professional or personal shortcoming. It is simply
about undermining and hurting. Many bullied victims
become perfectionist in an attempt to avert the criticism.
This is a futile exercise in the context of the bully
scrutinizing work with the sole intention of finding
is progressive and escalating.
It is coercive, insensitive and cruel...
It takes laughter and fun out of lives and work ...
may be the most prevalent form of bullying, but exclusion,
isolation and/or ostracism are certainly the most
devastating. When someone is singled out to be snubbed,
ignored, left out, given a nothing job or never afforded
an ounce of recognition or praise, it can produce
feelings of total despair. While it is the bully who
orchestrates the isolation, it is a strategy that
will not work without the involvement of others. Some
work colleagues act as accomplices to the bully while
others, through apathy, fear or disbelief that an
injustice is being perpetrated, fail to support the
victim and become co-conspirators. This lack
of support complicates the victims' situation and
exacerbates their suffering. Lack of support prevents
victims from putting the bullying into perspective
and makes them vulnerable to self-doubt, self-blame
and to being completely controlled.
Bullying is progressive and escalating.
It is coercive, insensitive and cruel. It communicates
disrespect through words and actions. It takes laughter
and fun out of lives and work and it diminishes the
'feel good factors' in the workplace.
1 2 3
has been added in this series of articles for emphasis.)