Workplace Bullying: The War of the Nerves

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I know of many people who have worked in companies for many years, occupying professional positions but when a new manager with whom they did not see “eye to eye” problems occured.  Sometimes they just couldn’t take it anymore especially if they didn’t share the same views on workplace policies.

It is not not so much what was said but often the manager would always made it a point to show that was disliked.  The staff member often ignores me or sneered at should they suggest something or express and opinion.  What often makes a bad situation worese is when colleagues are being influenced by the new manager or reluctant to speak us thus appearing to silently endorse the managers behaviour.  Failing to speak up against a bullying manager can be seen as imitating the bullying thus making the situation exculate.

There are many examples of workplace bullying.  The staff member who is being bullied or harassed often experiences anxiety and panic attacks.  According to research conducted by the The Workplace Bullying Institute,  workplace bullying is now among the causes of poor employee retention, resignation, and other organizational problems.  A third of the human-resource executives surveyed said that they had personally witnessed or experienced workplace bullying.

 “Bullying” is also known as “mobbing”, or a frequent and systematic form of harrassment. So-called school based bullying occurs when a child torments, taunts or intimidates another child  in school.  The workplace version may be looked at as en extension of that form of harassment into the world of adults in the office.  In the workplace, bullying comes in the form of criticism, teasing and even sarcasm directed an another employee. Harassment in the workplace ranges from antagonism and up to extreme acts that could even lead to physical injuries.  The target is subjected to character assassination, aggressive behavior, verbal abuse, and the cold-shoulder treatment. Some are deliberately singled out to do unpleasant or hard tasks. Colleagues may even try to sabotage the victims’ work, hampering his or her productivity even going so far as hacking the victims’ office computer, making their day at work more stressful and problematic, alienating them from department or staff activities etc.

The common stereotype of a bullied person is someone who is a loner or weak in character. However, there are cases when the one being bullied is a capable staff member and may even be well-liked by co-workers. The bully considers their capability a threat and, therefore, is determined to make that person’s work life miserable or so hard that the victim no longer poses as a threat to the bully’s career.

Effects of this harassment can cause victimes to suffer from stress, anxiety, and serious health problems. Absenteeism from work is one clear sign of a stress-related illness. Sleeping disorders, depression, and anxiety panic attacks are the most well-known consequences of harassment. The effects of harassment goes beyond the workplace as it also affects the victim’s marriage or personal life. 

A bully can contaminate a workplace environment by causing fear, anger, and low morale. About 80% of bullies are bosses.  Some co-workers and a few higher-ups can alsoo engage in bullying taactics.  A bully can either be a man or a woman.  Bullying affects productivity and, as a result, the bottomline of a company.  On the other hand, bullying can also be a source of problems for management especially when victims file law suits and compensation claims due to work-related stress.

To address bullying, there must be clear and strict workplace policies in order to stop or prevent this form of workplace harassment. Employers must conduct risk assessments and implement guidelines and stress management programs.  With better decision-making processes and policies,  the employer can prevent a potential “war zone” in the company.  This will take efforts that may entail the conduct of investigations and conflict resolution to prevent the escalation of a problem between employees.  Employers must always take allegations of harassment and bullying very seriously, this is often difficult where managers who bully do so with the protection of putting everything down to organisational issues, keep secret logs and notes on victims and build cases behind the staff members back which when produced as a record months or years down the line are very difficult for the employee to respond too.

Further Reading

Fighting Back: How to Fight Bullying In the Workplace by David Graves

Bully
in Sight: How to Predict, Resist, Challenge and Combat Workplace
Bullying – Overcoming the Silence and Denial by Which Abuse Thrives
by Tim Field

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