Workplace bullying

What it is and how to deal with it

Workplace bullying is rarely about overt physical violence or threats, public taunting, yelling or screaming. Rather, it tends to be much more subtle and covert. It is generally about power and control. It is often embedded in the corporate culture. It involves things like constantly changing work responsibilities, deadlines or priorities. It may involve someone taking public credit for joint projects. It may involve asking for input and then ignoring it. In some cases, there may be embarrassing scenes in front of co-workers, or being spoken to in a condescending or belittling manner. The intention, and it is an intention, is to slowly undermine the target's self-esteem and self-confidence.


Workplace bullying can, therefore, lead to high employee turnover and absenteeism and, to a small extent, workers' compensation claims.  Bullies can tarnish an organization's reputation and ability to recruit once word gets around when employees are miserable and leaving in droves.


According to the US-based Workplace Bullying Institute, targets are often competent and efficient at work. These are people who are bright, good at their jobs, popular with co-workers and highly educated (university degree or higher). Envy and jealousy are therefore some of the common motives for bullying. This means that when the more talented target is driven from work, either through termination or constructive discharge or quitting, the company loses out on the value that the employee added to the organisation Workplace bullies tend to target people


Many leaders and Human Resources practitioners don't realize the extent of bullying behaviour. One reason is that bullies can be calculating and manipulative. The face they present to their own bosses is charming and agreeable. In fact, bullies are often hard to identify because their behaviour is generally covert and not witnessed. On one hand, they appear to be civil and cooperative, while they do everything in their power to undermine their target.


Workplace bullying thrives in organizations with traditional command and control based cultures. It flourishes in workplaces where aggressive and competitive practices are encouraged. Disrespect produces a fear-based culture where good people are afraid to speak up.


In order to create a respectful culture where employees feel safe and can focus on their jobs, companies need to take action. They have to start asking questions about all the people who hold power within their organisation and ensure that they are not abusing it.


Also, everyone in the organisation must be educated so that they will recognize bullying when it happens. Employees must be empowered to speak up when they witness bullying behaviour, and those that bully should be coached to change.