Bully at Work: An Interview
with Tim Field
By Sam Vaknin
Global Politician, 5/28/2005
In 1994 Tim Field was bullied out
of his job as a Customer Services Manager which resulted
in a stress breakdown. Turning his experience to good
use he set up the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice
Line in 1996 and his web site Bully
OnLine in 1997 since which time he has worked
on over 5000 cases worldwide. He now lectures widely
as well as writing and publishing books on bullying
and psychiatric injury. He holds two honorary doctorates
for his work on identifying and dealing with bullying.
He is the Webmaster of Bully Online.
is workplace bullying?
bullying is persistent, unwelcome, intrusive behaviour
of one or more individuals whose actions prevent others
from fulfilling their duties.
is it different to adopting disciplinarian measures,
maintaining strict supervision, or oversight?
Answer: The purpose
of bullying is to hide the inadequacy of the bully
and has nothing to do with "management"
or the achievement of tasks. Bullies project their
inadequacies onto others to distract and divert attention
away from the inadequacies. In most cases of workplace
bullying reported to the UK National Workplace Bullying
Advice Line, the bully is a serial bully who has a
history of conflict with staff. The bullying that
one sees is often also the tip of an iceberg of wrongdoing
which may include misappropriation of budgets, harassment,
discrimination, as well as breaches of rules, regulations,
professional codes of conduct and health and safety
it be distinguished from harassment (including sexual
harassment), or stalking?
is, I believe, the underlying behavior and thus the
common denominator of harassment, discrimination,
stalking and abuse. What varies is the focus for expression
of the behavior. For instance, a harasser or discriminator
focuses on race or gender or disability.
Bullies focus on competence and
popularity which at present are not covered by employment
Bullies seethe with resentment
and anger and the conduits for release of this inner
anger are jealousy and envy which explains why bullies
pick on employees who are good at their job and popular
with people. Being emotionally immature, bullies crave
attention and become resentful when others get more
attention for their competence and achievements than
is the profile of the typical bully?
Answer: Over 90%
of the cases reported to the UK National Workplace
Bullying Advice Line involve a serial bully who can
be recognised by their behaviour profile which includes
compulsive lying, a Jekyll and Hyde nature, an unusually
high verbal facility, charm and a considerable capacity
to deceive, an arrested level of emotional development,
and a compulsive need to control. The serial bully
rarely commits a physical assault or an arrestable
offence, preferring instead to remain within the realms
of psychological violence and non-arrestable offences.
are bullying's typical outcomes?
Answer: In the
majority of cases, the target of bullying is eliminated
through forced resignation, unfair dismissal, or early
or ill- health retirement whilst the bully is promoted.
After a short interval of between 2-14 days, the bully
selects another target and the cycle restarts. Sometimes
another target is selected before the current target
you provide us with some statistics? How often does
bullying occur? How many people are affected?
of bullying in the UK indicate that between 12-50%
of the workforce experience bullying. Statistics from
the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line reveal
that around 20% of cases are from the education sector,
12% are from healthcare, 10% are from social services,
and around 6% from the voluntary / charity / not-for-profit
After that, calls come from all
sectors both public and private, with finance, media,
police, postal workers and other government employees
featuring prominently. Enquiries from outside the
UK (notably USA, Canada, Australia and Ireland) show
similar patterns with the caring professions topping
the list of bullied workers.
you estimate the economic effects of workplace bullying
- costs to employers (firms), employees, law enforcement
agencies, the courts, the government, etc.?
is one of the major causes of stress, and the cost
of stress to UK plc is thought to be between GBP5-12
billion (US$7-17 billion). When all the direct, indirect
and consequential costs of bullying are taken into
account, the cost to UK plc (taxpayers and shareholders)
could be in excess of GBP30 billion (US$44 billion),
equivalent to around GBP1,000 hidden tax per working
adult per year. Employers do not account for the cost
of bullying and its consequences, therefore the figures
never appear on balance sheets.
Employees have to work twice as
hard to overcome the serial bully's inefficiency and
dysfunction which can spread through an organisation
like a cancer.
Because of its subtle nature, bullying
can be difficult to recognise, but the consequences
are easy to spot: excessive workloads, lack of support,
a climate of fear, and high levels of insecurity.
The effects on health include,
amongst other things, chronic fatigue, damage to the
immune system, reactive depression, and suicide.
The indirect costs of bullying
include higher-than average staff turnover and sickness
absence. Each of these incur consequential costs of
staff cover, administration, loss of production and
reduced productivity which are rarely recognised and
even more rarely attributed to their cause.
Absenteeism alone costs UK plc
over Â£10 billion a year and stress is
now officially the number one cause of sickness absence
having taken over from the common cold. However, surveys
suggest that at least 20% of employers still do not
regard stress as a health and safety issue, instead
preferring to see it as skiving and malingering.
The Bristol Stress and Health at
Work Study published by the HSE in June 2000 revealed
that 1 in 5 UK workers (around 5.5m) reported feeling
extremely stressed at work. The main stress factors
were having too much work and not being supported
by managers. In November 2001 a study by Proudfoot
Consulting revealed the cost of bad management, low
employee morale and poorly-trained staff to British
business at 117 lost working days a year. At 65%,
bad management (often a euphemism for bullying) accounted
for the biggest slice of unproductive days with low
morale accounting for 17%. The study also suggested
that in the UK 52% of all working time is spent unproductively
compared to the European average of 43%.
The results of a three-year survey
of British workers by the Gallup Organization published
in October 2001 revealed that many employers are not
getting the best from their employees. The most common
response to questions such as "how engaged are
your employees?" and "how effective is your
leadership and management style?" and "how
well are you capitalising on the talents, skills and
knowledge of your people?" was an overwhelming
"not very much". The survey also found that
the longer an employee stayed, the less engaged they
became. The cost to UK plc of lost work days due to
lack of engagement was estimated to be between Â£39-48
billion a year.
can be done to reduce workplace bullying? Are firms,
the government, law enforcement agencies, the courts
- aware of the problem and its magnitude? Are educational
campaign effective? Did anti-bullying laws prove effective?
Answer: Most bullying
is hierarchical and can be traced to the top or near
the top. As bullying is often the visible tip of an
iceberg of wrongdoing, denial is the most common strategy
employed by toxic managements. Only Sweden has a law
which specifically addresses bullying. Where no law
exists, bullies feel free to bully. Whilst the law
is not a solution, the presence of a law is an indication
that society has made a judgement that the behaviour
is no longer acceptable.
Awareness of bullying, and especially
its seriousness, is still low throughout society.
Bullying is not just "something children do in
the playground", it's a lifetime behaviour on
the same level as domestic violence, sexual harassment,
Bullying is a form of psychological
and emotional rape because of its intrusive and violational
Sam Vaknin, is the author of Malignant
Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After
the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served
as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters,
Bellaonline, and eBookWeb, a United Press International
(UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor
of mental health and Central East Europe categories
in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor
to the Government of Macedonia. Sam Vaknin's Web site
is at http://samvak.tripod.com