Bully for you: Intimidation at work
Personal intimidation in the workplace can be hard to define and doesn’t always come from above. Cath Janes looks at the grey area where bluntness ends and bullying begins
Bullying happens in many places, put is often hard to define in the workplace. Illustration: Simon Pemberton
The allegations levelled against Gordon Brown this week are a timely reminder that bullying is not simply the domain of the playground. Workplace bullying is on the rise, a by-product of the added pressure placed on workers and employers by the recession.
It can be hard to know where to draw the line between gruff management style and intimidation of a darker, more personal nature. Yet for some, the question of whether their boss is a bully needs no debate.
“Early in my career I had a boss so awful that I used to cry over the things he said,” says lawyer Julie English. “Nothing I did ever seemed good enough and he used to have tantrums and shout at people. Then two years later I found myself working with a boss who prided himself on his honesty. He was really brutal and I sometimes wondered if he too was deliberately trying to make me cry. Looking back, I was surrounded by dysfunctional people.”
It’s a familiar tale: tears, tantrums, the nagging feeling that you’re no good. So it may surprise you to know that English doesn’t believe this was bullying. “It never even occurred to me that this constituted bullying,” she says. “They were difficult colleagues but they made me raise my game and made me a better lawyer. I learned a lot of lessons from them that other, kinder bosses failed to teach me.”
Employers should have zero tolerance for intimidation or bullying, but does that mean there is no place for straight talking?
According to the Department of Trade and Industry, bullying is the intimidation of an employee by physical or verbal violence, abuse or humiliation. It includes being picked on, being unfairly treated or blamed for incidents, being routinely overworked and consistently denied career or training opportunities. It is behaviour that happens privately or in front of colleagues and in any form of communication.
It is an issue underpinned by startling statistics. A recent survey by the Unison union and Company magazine revealed one-third of young women claim to have been bullied, often by other women. The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) claims 70% of managers have witnessed bullying in the last three years and that bullying costs the UK £13.8bn per year.
Yet there is a danger in confusing bullying with straight talking. To assume that the latter is always the former could make us incapable of looking our colleagues in the eye for fear of unbalancing their delicate constitutions. So when is a bullying boss really only a gruff manager?
When their comments are connected to the work and not the person, says Mandy Rutter, clinical manager at Axa Icas, health and wellbeing specialist: “They won’t have personal criticisms about that person, won’t single them out and will be consistently straight talking with everybody. It may be difficult to hear comments connected to performance or behaviour but it is also adult-to-adult communication with evidence to back it up.”
Honesty can be warranted yet cruel and, according to Rutter, when we are under stress we respond emotionally.
There are occasions, though, when tough talking is needed. The recession has demonstrated this and redundancies, restructuring and bankruptcy have forced us to have the difficult conversations we’d rather avoid.
“We need to get better at having robust dialogue because difficult conversations about employee performance are one of the biggest challenges for managers and it’s too often avoided,” says Penny de Valk, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership and Management. “If there is not a performance culture in an organisation some employees will see this as bullying because they haven’t experienced it before. In fact it can be beneficial to have a frank approach and staff can thrive on that clarity. It is not bullying to address important issues, gain clarity or acknowledge what an employee has done to contribute to an issue. Softening the message too much means it can get lost.”
Nina Dar, founder of Cheeky Monkey, a change management consultancy, agrees. She admits she shocks clients’ employees because she is direct and honest, but believes this is the key to success.
“I’ve had grown men tell me that I’m scary. I’ve also seen people cry because of my comments. Yet increasingly we see employees who are happy to work with this style because they want to be treated like adults who can handle challenges,” she says.
“This is different to bullying, which means hurting someone, lashing out at them, being inconsistent and chipping away at their confidence. I recognise that if employees want to work as a team they have to talk to each other honestly. It’s about having adult conversations and enjoying the results.”
Yet tough talking can become bullying, an easy line to cross. Bullies erode an employee’s judgment, sometimes so subtly that it is hard to know what is unacceptable. The issue is further complicated by the stereotypes. We can be so busy scrutinising superiors for bullying behaviour we forget to scrutinise those alongside or below us.
“I took on a job with managerial responsibility and one colleague, to whom I was senior, caused me enormous problems,” says teacher Mike Durrant. “He was an awkward character and refused to co-operate with the changes I was proposing. He’d deliberately miss meetings and refuse to share tasks. I complained to our line manager and was told to learn to deal with him.
“It got worse. He’d shout at me in classrooms or meetings and became determined to battle me. I also discovered that my predecessor had left because of him, as had someone more senior. I had no control over him and my managers did nothing either, so I had no one to turn to for help.”
Durrant developed such serious depression he had to be hospitalised and has been unable to work since 2008. He is in no doubt this bullying is responsible for his ill health.
According to a CMI survey, 63% of managers have witnessed bullying between peers and 30% have witnessed subordinates bullying their managers.
Yet while some behaviour, such as discrimination, threats or violence, is clearly defined legally, bullying is a grey area. Elin Pinnell, an employment law specialist at Capital Law LLP, says: “There should be zero tolerance of bullying in any workplace yet there is no rule book about what defines it. Take swearing. If you work on a building site and it is part of the daily banter, does this constitute bullying? You can debate it until you are blue in the face but it really does depend on the impact it has upon each employee.”
Also, those displaying this behaviour may be unaware of its impact. “I don’t know if he was being a bully,” says marketing manager Jim Davies of a former-colleague. “There were times when butter wouldn’t melt and he’d be upset to know he’d hurt you. But then his deviousness would be so transparent that he looked like a man who actually enjoyed bullying people.
“He was also very manipulative. He’d temper his comments with ‘I’m only being honest’, or ‘It’s not about you, it’s about the business’, which allowed him to say anything he liked. Work was one big guessing game and innocuous actions would cause him to explode. The shock meant you’d be incapable of responding to it.”
Remind you of anyone? There’s an argument that the management style of celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay, Sir Alan Sugar and Simon Cowell don’t help. Most people confronted by such an approach would feel humiliated yet we tune in to point and laugh at chefs, apprentices and singers who are clearly distressed. Is it any wonder that we struggle to distinguish tough talking from bullying?
“What works on TV just doesn’t work in reality,” says CMI chief executive Ruth Spellman. “You can recognise tough behaviour if you know how, though. Ask whether your colleague or boss is a tough listener as well as a tough talker. Can you have your say as much as they have theirs? And are you confident you can trust them, and that they are acting consistently? If so they’re not necessarily your enemy. That confidence, consistency and trust could benefit you in a way that a bully never could.”
Some names have been changed
What to do if you think you’re being bullied
First, talk it over with someone to establish whether the behaviour you are being subjected to really does constitute bullying. If you belong to a union, your rep should be able to help. DirectGov, Citizens Advice (0844 848 9600) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (0845 604 6610) are also good contacts.
Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (08457 474 747), offers advice and has a useful leaflet entitled Bullying and Harassment at Work, which is available by post or online. If you speak to an outside agency or charity, make sure it follows clear guidelines on maintaining confidentiality.
Once you are sure you are being bullied, take the following steps:
• Try to find out if anyone else you work with is suffering from or has witnessed bullying behaviour from the person concerned.
• Keep a diary of incidents, including dates, witnesses and your feelings at the time. Keep copies of emails you think form a wider pattern of bullying.
• Make the person aware of his or her behaviour and ask them to stop. You could ask a colleague or union official to act on your behalf.
• If you can’t confront the person, consider putting your objections to him or her in writing. Keep copies of any correspondence. Keep your tone unemotional, and stick to the facts.
• Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment. If you decide to complain to your employer, ask for information on its grievance procedures.
• Instead of taking disciplinary action, your employer (or you) may wish to follow different ways of resolving the situation, such as mediation.
• If you have to resign due to bullying, take legal advice. You cannot make a legal claim directly about bullying, but you may be able to make a constructive dismissal claim against your employer on the grounds that it is neglecting its “duty of care”. You will have a better chance of success if you can show the tribunal you have followed the steps above and complied with any attempt by your employer to resolve the situation.
• Complaints can also sometimes be made under laws covering discrimination and harassment if, for example, you think you are being bullied on the grounds of age, sex, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or any personal characteristic. Graham Snowdon
To minimise the risk of bullying, employers should encourage appropriate behaviour from all employees in the workplace. They should not tolerate unacceptable conduct, should address complaints promptly and appropriately, …
A City lawyer who had claimed £19m in compensation over workplace bullying has settled for an undisclosed multi-million-pound sum. Gill Switalski, 54,
If you are a manager it is your responsibility to prevent workplace bullying. If you are a recipient of bullying, you are not alone, take action. If you are a witness to workplace bullying, you can do something about it. …
Fighting Back: How to Fight Bullying In the Workplace by David Graves
Targets are brainwashed into feeling powerless and paralysed.
Magistrate Peter Lauritsen’s ruling on the culpability of those responsible for the subtle and sadistic workplace bullying that led to Brodie Panlock’s death in 2006 may reduce the acceptance of such behaviour in the workplace.
This is only a small indication of justice and the manner in which victims are further abused by adversarial employers and our insurance and medico-legal systems. Nevertheless, it is a sign things may be finally, although slowly, changing for the better.
But the most-asked question is why don’t people just leave a toxic workplace. It’s hard to understand how a victim can stay and become increasingly hurt.
Philip Zimbardo’s famous prison experiment, conducted at Stanford University in 1971 with bright, normal university students, demonstrated that they had emotionally deteriorated to the point where after six days of abuse by their peers he ceased the experiment.
We know about learnt helplessness, where women stay because they have lost the confidence to leave abusive relationships.
We know that some parents keep their children at the same school for years, despite their child’s constant complaints of being bullied. But why didn’t this young woman leave the cafe?
Bullying occurs at any level in the workplace and studies show that one in five employees will experience it, more in some workplaces.
Strangely, most employers don’t understand that employees who feel safe and respected work harder and achieve more.
The problem is that most employers don’t truly educate their staff to identify bullying, provide systemic solutions to rectify the causes, develop interventions and empower victims to create ways to block bullying behaviours. Most policies are superficial, formed without adequate staff collaboration, regular monitoring, comprehensive training programs, meaningful consequences or conciliatory, restorative dispute-resolution processes.
Instead of identifying bullying as a sign of a toxic culture and managerial incompetence, many employers address a bullying case by attacking the confused, hurt victim, whose brain has already been scrambled by the abuse from co-workers.
Thus the victims face a gauntlet of hazards. Do they ever get flowers, balloons or caring phone calls from their employer when they are home, too injured to work? In most cases, victims are sabotaged by adversarial, aggressive or passive managers keen to avoid liability.
Many wait for promissory notes about employee safety and justice to materialise. While they wait for assistance, the bullying escalates like a slow-growing cancer.
Most don’t understand that they are being bullied until they are injured.
Just like Humpty Dumpty or the terracotta warriors of Xian, they have fallen to pieces, curdled, disintegrated. Their spirit is broken, their good name trampled on; they have been humiliated in front of peers. Their fight/flight instinct is paralysed and they become stuck in time, obsessing over what is occurring but unable to take action.
According to Canadian psychologist Pat Ferris, brain scans will soon show the extent of their serious injuries. Unlike the victim of a hold-up, their injuries are often only validated when there is legal evidence of bullying, which is hard to prove when bullying is subtle or there are many minor acts, rather than by their medical and psychological symptoms.
Besides, the current state of research seriously restricts general practitioners and mental health professionals. Many can’t distinguish between the biochemically different injuries of stress versus trauma.
There are no adequate evidence-based diagnoses and consequently no suitable treatments for victims of workplace bullying trauma. Few mental-health professionals know how to identify their symptoms. No wonder victims face a potpourri of diagnoses when they confront a medico-legal examination. Few have had training to deal with this crippling injury, leading some to blame victims for their personalities, without assessing work culture, management, bullies, employers and bystanders.
Worksafe and Medicare pay scant attention to the needs of this seriously injured group and the many years of treatment they require. Many caring mental-health professionals make big financial sacrifices to treat them.
Despite the excellent work being done by the National Centre Against Bullying and by many schools, the rates of school bullying have not fallen significantly.
So what hope do victims of workplace bullying have when they are unaware of the hazards facing them, their employers don’t care, safety and legal justice is virtually impossible, mental-health professionals are under-resourced, bullying awareness programs are a farce and instead of restorative practices to deal with disputes, employers unleash a battery of adversarial tactics?
No wonder victims become brainwashed into feeling hopeless, powerless and paralysed.
Evelyn Field is a practising psychologist and author of Bully Blocking at Work, a self-help guide for employees, managers and mentors to be published next month.
Article Source: Workplace Bullying And Brodie Panlock | Cafe Vamp
Fighting Back: How to Fight Bullying In the Workplace by David Graves
Managing Workplace Bullying by Aryanne Oade
In Darkness Light Dawns: Exposing Workplace Bullying by Lisa Barrow
Employee Well-being Support: A Workplace Resource by Andrew Kinder, Rick Hughes, and Cary L. Cooper
By Donna Reynolds
CYBER-bullying is probably more closely associated with children and teenagers, but digital bullying represents an extension of traditional workplace bullying that has long been recognised as a widespread problem in UK plc.
Of course, the bullying of colleagues pre-dates the printing press. However, the growth of new technologies, and the anonymity offered by them, has dramatically increased the opportunity to bully and harass colleagues.
So when does trendy social or corporate networking become something else?
If there were 50 ways to leave your lover, there must be at least that number of opportunities for electronic intimidation. Even a list of methods quickly adds up: SMS and MMS messages, mobile telephone, instant messenger services, circulating photos or video clips or posting comments within Web 2.0 sites, blogs or chat rooms. And none of these methods switches off at 5pm. Now bullies can invade our private lives 24/7.
The good news is that many employers have sought to articulate anti-bullying principles and policies. The bad news is that some are failing to implement them effectively. In fairness, what is tagged as bullying by one person may be regarded by another as perfectly appropriate workplace behaviour. Team-building is great but when does banter become bullying?
Bullying is just so diverse; it may be as subtle as simply excluding a colleague from round robin e-mails or as demeaning as a supervisor launching into what is effectively a public dressing down by sending an e-mail. That said, the nature of bullies has not changed – just their modus operandi.
Unsurprisingly, however, many bewildered employers are simply at a loss how to tackle the issue.
There is no consolidated piece of legislation dealing with cyber-bullying but there are various ways in which employees can bring employment tribunal proceedings in relation to bullying for which the employer may be liable, either directly or vicariously, if the bullying is perpetrated by employees in the course of their employment.
These range from contractually based claims, such as failing to provide a safe system of work or a breach of the implied duty of mutual trust and confidence to the statutory rights afforded, for example, under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (both examples typically depending on the employee resigning and claiming constructive dismissal).
There is also discrimination legislation where the bullying or harassment is based on, or makes reference to, someone’s sex, age, race, sexual orientation, religion and/or disability. Sending racist jokes or pornographic pictures by text or e-mail to a colleague may, if perceived as offensive by the recipient, amount to harassment.
Additionally, employees may seek to address cyber-bullying by means of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Though originally intended to deal with the problem of stalking, it allows an employee to complain about a course of conduct pursued by a colleague that causes alarm or distress, even though it may not amount to harassment under discrimination legislation.
This is a criminal offence and substantial damages can be awarded where the conduct engaged in by employees is likely to cause harassment that has a close connection with their work.
But when are cyber-bullies misbehaving in the course of their employment? What people get up to in their private lives is largely their own business. However, if an employee conducts himself in a manner so described within the vicinity of the workplace, or during an occasion associated with the employer, which brings the employer into disrepute, it could result in a disciplinary warning or even dismissal.
Thus a negative characterisation of a colleague posted by a cyber-bully on a workplace blog or even internet sites such as Facebook or MySpace may conceivably be deemed to be in the course of employment, as could an admirer’s “test the water” text to a colleague from a work Blackberry.
Having said all of that, the law is unclear and off the pace. Until it catches up, the starting point for employers in minimising the risk is to devise a policy that makes it clear that there is zero tolerance towards bullying and harassment.
Giving a number of non-exhaustive examples is likely to be helpful. The policy should also provide employees with a safe and, at least in the first instance, private means of redress either through the grievance procedure or a specific procedure for allegations of bullying and harassment.
Employers may also wish to consider whether lawfully monitoring employees’ use of e-mail, internet and social networking sites might go some way to deterring bullies who use the employer’s technology.
• Donna Reynolds is head of employment at CCW Business Lawyers
Workplace policies must improve to check cyber-bullies – Scotsman.com News
Workplace Bullying: Applying Psychological Torture at Work
What happens when a schoolyard bully grows up and enters the workforce? Or worse, what if that bully becomes your boss? The result can be outright aggressive behavior or a subtle psychological torture that can make the workplace a living hell.
Someone close to me is experiencing a horrible case of psychological bullying at work. In her case, the main bully is a supervisor, but the supervisor has created an “inner circle” that helps in applying the bullying tactics. Her story caused me to look back on other cases of bullying at work that I have encountered. Unfortunately, there have been far too many.
Workplace bullying is more common than you might expect. A 2007 Zogby survey found that 37% of workers – representing 54 million people — reported that they had been bullied at work. Some researchers have reported that workplace bullying is a greater problem than sexual harassment.
What are the effects of bullying? Targeted employees can experience fear and anxiety, depression, and can develop a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder – leading to psychological harm and actual physical illness. This leads to absenteeism and turnover as bullied employees avoid or flee the torturous workplace.
What are some of the tactics bullies use in the workplace?
Most commonly, bullies threaten the employment or career status of the employee. Threats of being fired, or in my friend’s case, a threat of “I will dock your pay!” can be particularly troubling (even though my friend is a union employee so her pay cannot actually be affected).
The Silent Treatment. Often a bully and his or her “inner circle” will ostracize victims to the extent of completely ignoring them – refusing to even acknowledge their presence. In other instances, the bullies will stop talking when the victim enters the room, but perhaps continue talking in hushed tones with furtive looks at the victim, giggling and/or making disapproving grunts. You know, the same kind of tactics used in the schoolyard.
Rumors and Gossip. Bullies love to spread lies and rumors about their victims, and these can sometimes be quite vicious. Although untrue, rumors and gossip can filter throughout the organization and actually tarnish an individual’s reputation. I’ve known many insidious cases where a bullied victim sought to fight back, and the bullies spread rumors that the victim was merely a “complainer” and a “problem employee.”
Sabotage. Bullies may go so far as sabotaging the victim’s work. This can be outright (e.g., destroying or stealing a work product, or more subtle (e.g., altering someone’s powerpoint presentation or omitting a page from a report).
What can you do if you are a victim of bullies? There is a very useful website, kickbully.com that discusses the causes and consequences of bullying and suggests how to fight back.
Let’s hear some of your stories of workplace bullies and how you fought back!
Fighting Back: How to Fight Bullying In the Workplace by David Graves
The Essential Guide to Workplace Mediation and Conflict Resolution: Rebuilding Working Relationships by Nora Doherty and Marcelas Guyler
Bullying at Work: How to Confront and Overcome it by Andrea Adams
Employee Well-being Support: A Workplace Resource by Andrew Kinder, Rick Hughes, and Cary L. Cooper
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SHORT-TERM contracts are being blamed for poor management within the Northern Territory public service as the Henderson Labor government faces pressure to stamp out bullying and harassment among workers.
A survey of the Territory’s 17,000 public servants this week revealed 43 per cent say they’ve suffered workplace bullying and harassment,, although some of the alleged behaviour was no more serious than petty criticism of their work.
A quarter of all Territory public servants participated in the survey and only 54 per cent say bullying and harassment is not a problem in their office. Twenty-two per cent reported they were bullied or harassed in the past year. Of these workers, 67 per cent complained to someone in authority, but only 28 per cent said they were satisfied with how the matter was handled.
The most common source of alleged bullying was managers and supervisors, followed by other employees.
Workers accused management of intimidating body language, nitpicking, withholding vital job information and unfair treatment.
The Community and Public Sector Union’s regional director Paul Morris says many public servants were reluctant to participate in the survey because they feared the computerised answer system would allow their views to fall into the hands of superiors.
“People were worried there’d be some retribution from a manager if they were too open and honest,” Morris tells Inquirer.
Fully 26 per cent of managers in the Territory’s public service are on temporary contracts and are under pressure to prove themselves, Morris says. “Some of the managers are out to prove themselves in a short period of time and tend to get a little heavy-handed in order to hang on to their contract. This culture of short-term contracts can breed a culture of poor management [and] lead to a culture of bullying.”
He has called on the public employment commissioner to investigate the bullying allegations and invest more in training managers.
Territory Public Employment Commissioner Ken Simpson has given assurances that survey confidentiality will not be breached. He says comments to the contrary are unhelpful and may discourage people from participating in the next survey, due next year.
Simpson says while he takes note of the sentiments expressed, “there are always two sides to the story” in cases of bullying. “Many of the complaints that are raised using the word bullying quite often refer to issues that have arisen in a particular workplace around a person’s performance.”
He says the survey is a way of ensuring staff get proper feedback and at the same time it acts as a reminder of their obligations. “For the first time we’ve asked the question about what our staff think about the public service and it gives us a lead into areas we need to pay attention to.”
The Territory opposition has seized on the survey.
Country Liberal MP John Elferink has blamed the situation on a leadership vacuum within the government of Chief Minister Paul Henderson as reason for sour faces in the public service.
Aside from the personal cost, it’s estimated bullying incidents on average cost $20,000 to an organisation in lost productivity and output, Elferink says.…………………………….My comment.
The above article appeared in The Australian, I wonder how the statistics compare with the UK and the rest of Europe.
Whatever the reason given for it, workplace bullying should not be tolerated, whether it be for reason of disability, race, sexuality or any other reason. Workplace bullying can significantly effect a persons mental health through depression, stress and wellbeing, as well as lowering levels of confidence and self esteem, increased eating problems and sleepless nights. It impacts not only on the victims ability to function at work but also on their home life and out of work relationships.
Adequate sanctions should be put in place to deter managers and colleagues from bullying staff members and all staff should be aware that complaints are treated confidentially, fairly and should a finding be made against the offending person that a punnishment made is suitable harsh that it sends out signals to others that the organisation will NOT tolerate behaviour of this nature by anyone.
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