What is Bullying?
Bullying at work is when someone tries to intimidate another worker, often in front of colleagues. It is usually, though not always, done to someone in a less senior position. It is similar to harassment, which is where someone’s behaviour is offensive. However, bullying can also be in writing, over the phone or by fax or email.
Over the past 20 years, organisations have moved from ‘it doesn’t happen here’, to acceptance and research shows that now most organisations have anti-bullying policies in place but it is still costing organisations time, money, staff turnover, absence, disturbed working relationships, low morale and commitment.
Bullying is not acceptable workplace behaviour and it should not be tolerated in any form. There’s a fine line between reasonable management control and bullying, and it’s a line that’s often unclear. Some managers believe they are being ‘firm’ when they are actually bullying.
Bullies think they’re always right. They are adept at always justifying and defending their behaviour, making other people wrong, never apologising and never, ever admitting that maybe what they’ve done was out of line.
Bullying can involve arguments and rudeness, but it can also be more subtle. Excluding and ignoring people and their contribution, unacceptable criticisms, and overloading people with work are other forms of bullying.
There isn’t a single, specific definition; however, most researchers describe it as persistent hostile communication including verbal and nonverbal aggression. Bullying at work may take the following forms:
- abusive language
- offensive messages
- unfair treatment
- withholding of information
Though workplace bullying might also include physical acts, like shoving or pounding a fist, it’s usually verbal.
What are the symptoms to look out for?
Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at work. Being bullied makes people feel vulnerable, isolated and frustrated, and may lead to stress-related illnesses like constant headaches, weight loss, ulcers, or even kidney problems. Workplace bullying can also affect relationships with family and friends.
Victims of bullying experience significant physical and mental health problems:
- High levels of stress
- Financial problems due to absence
- Poor concentration
- Loss of self confidence
- Panic attacks
- Sleep and digestive disturbances
- Increased depression/self-blame
How to deal with bullying in the workplace
Workplace bullying can be harmful to organisations as well as individuals and should be treated like any other health and safety hazard. As part of normal workplace risk management procedures, bullying incidents, practices or potential for bullying should be identified, assessed for risk, and steps taken to minimise the risk.
It is easier to prevent bullying than it is to intervene after an event.
An employer can identify the tell tale signs through:
- Talking with staff
Establish whether workplace bullying actually exists, or whether there is a potential for bullying to occur in the workplace at some point in the future. Workplace bullying is often subtle or hidden. Although there may be no obvious signs of workplace bullying, it does not mean that such behaviour or conduct does not exist.
Determine, in consultation with those affected, the specific behaviours and circumstances that may result in incidents of workplace bullying and assess the likelihood of these behaviours affecting the health, safety and welfare of employees.
Develop and implement strategies and plans to minimise and control the risks relating to workplace bullying.
Review and evaluate the specific strategies and plans that have been implemented into a workplace to prevent and control workplace bullying. The ongoing evaluation and review process should ensure that the strategies implemented are effective in preventing or minimising incidents of workplace bullying within the workplace.
Your employment policies and procedures should ensure that workplace bullying/harassment of an employee is behaviour which is not tolerated by the organisation and will be regarded as serious misconduct if found to be occurring.
The most important part of any workplace prevention program is management commitment. 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).
A workplace violence prevention program must:
- be developed by management with consultation with the employee representatives
- apply to management, employee’s, clients, contractors and anyone who has a relationship with your company
- clearly define what you mean by workplace bullying (or harassment or violence)
- provide clear examples of unacceptable behaviour and working conditions
- state your organisation’s view toward workplace bullying and its commitment to the prevention of workplace bullying
- state the consequences of making threats or committing acts
- outline the process by which preventive measures will be developed
- ensure reports are made of all incidents of bullying or other forms of workplace violence
- outline the process by which employees can report incidents and to whom
- assure no reprisals will be made against reporting employees
- outline the procedures for investigating and resolving complaints
- describe how information about potential risks of bullying/violence will be communicated to employees
- make a commitment to provide support services to victims
- offer a confidential Employee Assistance Program to allow employees with personal problems to seek help
- make a commitment to fulfil the prevention training needs of different levels of personnel within the organisation
- monitor and regularly review the policy
The policy must be clearly communicated and kept in the forefront of employees minds.
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