Search for "workplace bullying" on the Internet and you will find a plethora
of websites, articles and books devoted to describing, analyzing and
eliminating the behaviour. Bullying is a widespread and enormous problem
that seriously affects productivity and the emotional well-being of those
who are bullied. Luckily, interest in the topic is booming while tolerance
for the behaviour is waning.

Workplace bullying is an insidious problem that can be difficult to identify
and to challenge, largely because bullies create a culture of fear and
intimidation that discourages employees from asserting themselves. Bullying
erodes self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence. This in turn disempowers
employees and alienates them from one another making them less likely to
unite against a bully.

Jacinta Kitt, in an article for Mandate Trade Union, says "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

Examples of bullying include, but are by no means limited to:

- Intimidating a person,
- Yelling or using profanity,
- Persistently criticizing a person, and
- Belittling a person's opinions.

Most of us don't like conflict and we value our jobs. So when bullies are in
management positions with the power to affect our working life, we tend to
fear retribution, marginalization or worse being sacked. When you have a
mortgage to pay or a family to support, standing up to a bully can feel like
financial suicide. Putting up with abuse can seem like the safer option but
this comes with a price.

Continuous aggressive behaviour intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or
humiliate a person affects the emotional and physical health of employees.
Research suggests that employees who have been bullied in the workplace
typically present with headaches, gastrointestinal problems, exhaustion,
insomnia, anxiety, depression, burn-out, panic attacks, palpitations or
dermatological disorders. Jacinta Kitt says that employees who have been
bullied invariably exhibit great unhappiness and desperation. They are also
frequently tearful, irritable, confused, sad or angry.

So why do organizations allow bullying to persist? Many managers are
reluctant to address bullying for the same reasons that employees are. They
lack the skills to confront bullies, they fear how the bully will retaliate
and they hope the problem will just go away. This makes it unsurprising that
studies show 1 in 5 people are bullied at work.

*Impact on productivity*
Research suggests that bullied employees waste between 10 and 52 per cent of
their time at work. Instead of working, they spend time defending themselves
and networking for support, thinking about the situation, being unmotivated
and stressed, not to mention taking sick leave due to stress-related
illnesses. Organizations who manage people well outperform those who don't
by 30 to 40 per cent.

There is general consensus that workplace bullying results in negative and
destructive organizational effects, including:

- reduced commitment,
- higher absenteeism,
- high personnel turnover,
- lack of employee motivation,
- less creativity and vision,
- poor morale, and
- adverse publicity and poor public image.

Employees who are psychologically abused in the workplace have little time
or mental energy for productivity. Abuse makes them disillusioned,
exhausted, and burnt-out, unable to perform their jobs effectively or

*Profile of a bully boss*
Research suggests that over 80 per cent of bullies are bosses and that a
bully is equally likely to be a man or a woman. Jacinta Kitt's research
indicates that the key characteristics of workplace bullies are selfishness,
self-obsession, inadequacy, insecurity and total insensitivity toward
others. They are extremely autocratic, exhibiting an unrelenting need to be
fully in control. They dictate how and what decisions are made, allowing no
real debate.

She says that bully bosses exaggerate their own contribution and are
reluctant to acknowledge the contributions of others. They adopt a
territorial approach to running their workplaces and often use loud voiced
aggressive tactics to dominate decision making and day-to-day operations. An
important feature of the bully is their compulsion to have their own needs
met at all costs. This compulsion is also highlighted in the bully's
constant demands for respect and consideration while persistently denying
similar treatment to others.

Bully bosses, by their self-centered, selfish behaviour, effectively treat
their subordinates as non-persons. They frighten and belittle their victims
in a vain attempt to conceal their own fears and to make themselves look
big. They diminish the confidence and integrity of others in order to
deflect attention from their own inadequacies. They use their power to
disempower others.

*Addressing workplace bullying*
Bullying only survives in a workplace if management allows it, either
through lack of understanding of the problem, inadequate measures to deal
with it and a tolerance of disrespectful, inappropriate behaviour.

There are many options available for employers to use when confronted with
workplace bullying.

- Don't blame the victim. You will often hear managers tell employees
not to take it personally. This kind of statement shifts responsibility away
from the bully. It implies that the employee is at fault and that there
wouldn't be a problem if the employee was thicker skinned. It reinforces the
bullying culture and isolates those who find the behaviour unacceptable.
- Since bullying is a form of violence in the workplace, employers may
wish to write a comprehensive policy that covers a range of incidents (from
bullying and harassment to physical violence). They should make bullies
aware of the consequences of their behaviour. A climate of unacceptability
must be created in relation to bullying and all employees must be made aware
that it is neither condoned nor tolerated.
- Employers can provide a confidential counseling program to help
employees manage the emotional consequences of bullying. Such programs can
also be offered to bullies to assist them with managing their behaviour and
in dealing with the mental health issues that cause it.
- Employers may wish to consider sending managers and other interested
staff to training courses in how to address and prevent workplace bullying
to develop skills sets across organizations.
- Employers can also use performance management processes to address
bullying and initiate underperformance if bullying persists. To facilitate
this process, employees should be encouraged to keep records of all bullying
incidents which can be used as evidence when addressing behaviour with a

If you feel that you are being bullied, discriminated against, victimized or
subjected to any form of harassment, the Canadian Centre for Occupational
Health and Safety recommends the following.

- Firmly tell the person that his or her behaviour is not acceptable
and ask them to stop. You can ask a supervisor or union member to be with
you when you approach the person.
- Keep a factual journal or diary of daily events. Record the date,
time and what happened in as much detail as possible, the names of witnesses
and the outcome of the event. Remember, it is not just the character of the
incidents, but the number, frequency, and especially the pattern that can
reveal the bullying or harassment.
- Keep copies of any letters, memos, e-mails, faxes, etc., received
from the person.
- Report the harassment to the person identified in your workplace
policy, your supervisor, or a delegated manager. If your concerns are
minimized, proceed to the next level of management.

*Legal implications*
Employers, managers, supervisors and employees are facing new obligations
and responsibilities in connection with the quality of work environments and
workplace interactions. Behaviour such as yelling, loss of temper over minor
issues, expressions of opinion in an obscene manner, offensive, foul and
obscene language, belittling and demeaning remarks or behaviour is being
legally characterized as personal and psychological harassment and as
creating an unacceptable offensive environment. Such behaviour is construed
as falling below standards of legally acceptable workplace interactions and

Many nations and jurisdictions have already adopted legislation to prevent
workplace bullying and it is likely that others will follow suit. Some
examples are included below.

On June 1, 2004, Quebec became the first North American jurisdiction to
include protection against psychological harassment of employees in its Act
*Respecting Labour Standards*. The Quebec legislation signals a changing
legislative and judicial attitude to abuse in the workplace that is likely
to be mirrored across Canada.

From 15 August 2005, employers in South Australia can be fined up to
$100,000 for failing to "adequately manage" bullying behaviour. Other
Australian states are currently considering adopting similar legislation to
combat workplace bullying.

In the United Kingdom, there are means to obtain legal redress for bullying,
most notably through the *Protection from Harassment Act 1997 *. In one
notable case, Green v DB Group Services (UK) Ltd, a bullied worker was
awarded over £800,000 in damages.

*Human Resources Feature
by Trilby McGaw*

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