Identifying and dealing with bullies in the workplace


More than a third of employees reporting acts of bullying in the workplace.

With more than a third of employees reporting acts of bullying in the workplace, this has become a significant issue in South Africa that negatively impacts teamwork and morale. In this article, I discuss what bullying entails and the precautions companies can take against this form of abuse.

Given the outdated belief that being ruthless gets you to the top, managers often adopt a bullying nature. Exacerbating this is the fact that they are rewarded with promotion sooner than their non-bullying colleagues. Of course, being a bully is not limited to managers but can be any person in the organisation.

So, how do you define a bully? Workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating. It can also involve work interference, such as sabotage, which prevents work from getting done and often includes verbal abuse.

Identifying bullying

What many people seem to forget is that there is a difference between being authoritative and being a bully. If someone makes a mistake, it is not necessary to shout and swear at them. Everyone should be treated with respect.


Additionally, there are several types of bullying that can occur in the work environment. Direct bullying is generally face-to-face (although it can include electronic communication) and includes acts of verbal abuse as well as threatening behaviour and intimidation. Verbal abuse can encompass anything from belittling remarks to public humiliation and inaccurate accusations. Indirect bullying usually takes place through emotional manipulation. Think about office gossip, manipulating the information that victims receive, and ‘freezing’ them out of office communication.

While shouting and swearing are the more obvious forms of bullying, harshly rating someone’s performance, or being stricter on some people than others is a bit more difficult to prove. Bullying could even be something as subtle as an extra firm handshake.

Steps to take

Simply put, bullying is an unfair labour practice. After all, there is no fair way to bully someone. All companies must have an internal grievance procedure in place as well as a company code of conduct to deal with matters of this nature. Any employee who feels bullied should report it to the HR department immediately. Nothing can be done if HR is not aware of what is happening. That being said, HR must be truly impartial when handling cases of bullying, even if the perpetrator is a member of management.

However, if the company does not have a grievance procedure or code of conduct, and an employee feels victimised after reporting the bullying, it is best to approach the CCMA to request that an independent commissioner handle the case through external dispute resolution.

Companies must not tolerate bullying under any circumstances and should give it the attention it deserves. The perpetrator must be disciplined and educated with the necessary sensitivity training. This is the only way to reduce the number of these incidents taking place in South African organisations.

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Pamela Xaba is the founder of Nonkosi Creatives, and has over two decades of experience as a corporate HR professional. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion both in workspaces and society.