Bullying (10): Workplace Bullying

Work colleaguesWhen we talk about bullying, we mainly think of children and the perceived increase in acts of bullying at schools. However, as we discovered in Home of the Bully, it is very likely that the parents or older siblings who are raising child bullies have been bullied by their parents or are being bullied at work themselves. Therefore, they are merely trapped in a cycle of bullying.

In Australia, it is estimated that 1 of 6 people are bullied at work. A research done by Duncan and Riley on the staff of a school cluster found that 97% of staff thought they had been or were still being bullied by another person at work.

In 2002, it was estimated that workplace bullying cost the Australian economy 36 billion dollars a year, not including stress leave people took due to bullying.

But the implications of this phenomenon are far more devastating than the financial toll society pays for bullying. People who are bullied and made to feel weak at work have a higher chance of finding someone weaker to pick on to regain their power. If they have kids, those kids might become their victims at home.

Besides the “obvious” workplace bullies – employers and managers (“the boss”) – anyone may act like a bully: subordinates, colleagues, clients, suppliers, individually or in groups. Anyone who feels weak may use bullying to regain their power by putting another down.

Brodsky (1976) claimed there were five types of bullying at work:

  1. Work pressure
  2. Name calling
  3. Physical abuse
  4. Scapegoat – framing and blaming someone
  5. Sexual harassment

These still rely on the 4 forms of bullying: physical, verbal, social and cyber (Brodsky did not talk about cyber bullying in 1976, but today it is just another way to extend the verbal and social bullying). Also like with the definition of bullying with kids, workplace bullying is considered an act that repeats and persists with the aim of frustrating, tormenting, wearing down, provoking, frightening, intimidating or bringing discomfort to another person. Workplace bullying is also done with the conscious or subconscious belief that it will help the bully gain power.

Psychologically, bullying is a form of trauma, so victims react to workplace bullying by developing Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome and the impact on our society is severe. Bullying may affect victims in one or a combination of the following ways:

  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Stress
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Panic attacks
  • Low concentration level
  • Lack of motivation
  • Challenges with memory
  • Difficulties learning new skills
  • Loss of self-confidence
  • Challenges making decisions
  • Low performance
  • Poor health: increase of sick days, weight gain, cancer, heart attack and more
  • Higher chance of being injured
  • Loss of income
  • Loss of promotion
  • Decreased savings
  • Early retirement
  • Unemployment
  • Social difficulties and shrinking of personal support system
  • Low sex drive
  • Domestic violence
  • Divorce
  • Suicide

Mafia boss with cigarIf you consider a parent having any of these symptoms, you will see easily that the chance of them taking their frustrations out on their kids by bullying them at home go up a great deal. When their kids try to get their help, they have little to give, which brings the quality of their parenting down. When calculating the implication of bullying on the economy, I do not think the bureau of statistics took into consideration the expenses the system needs to pay to overcome parents’ inability to educate/support their own children.

When kids’ most important socializing agents are bullied and made to feel weak, it is very hard to make sure their kids will not become bullies or victims in turn. At work, bullying is a bit different. Some people are bullies in a way that everyone can see and recognize, while others do it so subtly it is difficult for detect. Another problem at work is that the practice of bullying at work was considered acceptable for many years – “Boss” was almost a second name for a manger being inconsiderate, demanding, threatening and abusive.

Here is a list of forms of workplace bullying. If you experience any of them at work on an ongoing basis, check which “player” you are – the bully, the victim or a bystander. Regardless of your role, you have the power to stop the cycle:

  • Blaming
  • Negative criticism without encouragement
  • Name calling
  • Teasing
  • Humiliation
  • Gossip
  • Spreading rumors
  • Threats of dismissal
  • Threats to career
  • Threats on financial status
  • Threats on social status
  • Harassment (based on race, gender, sexuality, etc)
  • Discrimination (based on age, religion, gender, etc)
  • Overloading with extra work
  • High expectation to stay overtime
  • Changing job requirements without consent
  • Making fun of someone
  • Sabotaging someone’s reputation
  • Professional or personal exclusion or isolation
  • Micro management
  • Cyber bullying
  • Framing someone
  • Blackmail
  • Overt aggression/violence
  • Criminal assault and murder

Join me next week when I discuss workplace bullying and the bullied victim at work. In two weeks, we will start going into solutions, so stay tuned.

Until next time, be happy!